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Tomgram: Arnold Isaacs, Promoting Islamophobia in America

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Honestly, if you're trying to grasp our strange new world, this Washington Post headline gets you at least part of the way there: "New NSC Chief of Staff Is From Group That Believes Muslims Are Plotting to Take Over U.S." No, that NSC isn't the National Student Clearinghouse or the Norfolk Southern Corporation or the National Sports Center. It's the National Security Council, the outfit that advises the president on, well, national security, and that happens to be headed by new National Security Advisor John Bolton, a man who never saw a country he couldn't imagine bombing. Now, as its Bolton-appointed chief of staff, it has a genuine Islamophobic crackpot by the name of Fred Fleitz. He previously was vice president for policy at Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, an outfit that, as the Post puts it, "propagates the conspiracy theory that Islamists have infiltrated the U.S. government in a plot to take over the country" (and that's barely to crack the surface of its mania about Islam).

By the way, you remember that flap about Roseanne Barr calling former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett a spawn of the Planet of the Apes, right? If not, it's not your fault. Since that controversy exploded across the Twitternet ("Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes = VJ"), our president has been transforming himself into King George III, claiming unprecedented powers over this country and, if he has his way, the world, while there have been so many other manic explosions in our media world that it's mindboggling. On such a planet, attention spans are understandably short. Nonetheless, it might be worth revisiting the Barr controversy briefly, in light of the Fleitz appointment, since the racist comparison of Jarrett, an African American woman, to an ape proved explosive, yet the other half of Barr's insulting equation ("Muslim Brotherhood") was barely noticed.

As the invaluable Juan Cole writes at Informed Comment, however, Barr seems to have picked up much of her Jarrett slam from Gaffney and Fleitz's center, which has worked hard to "single out Jarrett as a baleful influence on Obama and... connect her to Iran [where she was indeed born], and then implicitly to the Muslim Brotherhood. (Only, the Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni Muslim organization and Iran is Shiite)." Oh yes, and Jarrett isn't Muslim.

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Well, small points indeed in an American world where wearing the label Islamophobe seems to disqualify you from nothing -- certainly not the presidency or becoming secretary of state or, for that matter, chief of staff of the NSC. It's no longer a problem at all, as TomDispatch regular Arnold Isaacs makes all too clear today. Tom

Giving a Pass to Anti-Muslim Bigotry
Islamophobia Enters the Government, Is Incorporated into the Law, and Becomes Increasingly Acceptable in America
By Arnold R. Isaacs

Imagine that a nominee for secretary of state had shared platforms with white nationalist Richard B. Spencer and been given a major award by his National Policy Institute, which describes itself as "an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world." With that on his record, is it likely the nominee would have been confirmed, or nominated in the first place, to head the State Department?

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Or what if someone under consideration for a top White House job had written an admiring foreword for a book by Holocaust denier David Irving or perhaps one by the psychologist and alt-right sympathizer Kevin MacDonald, who describes Jews as "a hostile, adversary elite" conducting "ethnic war" against Christianity and "traditional institutions of European-American culture"? Would such an endorsement keep him from being named as the president's national security advisor?

While those are hypothetical questions, there can't be much doubt about the answers. Views like Spencer's ("This country does belong to white people, culturally, politically, socially, everything. We defined what America is") and MacDonald's ("Given Jewish influence over the political process... it is vitally important for those of us attempting to reverse White dispossession to understand this, to call attention to it, and to combat it") certainly have a following, but are broadly seen as inconsistent with mainstream American values and beyond the borders of acceptable public discourse.

A Double Standard on Bigotry

When Muslims are the target of bigotry, however, the reaction is quite different. Evidence of that double standard abounds. Consider Brigitte Gabriel, not quite a household name but a leading voice in the Islamophobic choir. Gabriel, whose organization ACT for America is one of the most active and visible anti-Muslim groups in this country, has maintained longstanding and warm relations with various high-ranking political figures, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In rhetoric that is very similar in tone and logic to that of the white nationalists, Gabriel argues that the people she disparages are not true Americans: "A practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day -- this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America."

Pompeo not only delivered speeches at ACT conferences while a member of Congress, but arranged for the group to give a presentation at the Capitol and, in 2016, received its highest award. He faced some sharp questioning in his Senate hearing about those connections, but did not repudiate either Gabriel's views or those of her organization and yet his association with her did not derail his confirmation as the nation's top diplomat.

Similarly, earlier this year when John Bolton was tapped to replace Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as President Trump's national security advisor, numerous critics called attention to his associations with various anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists, including his enthusiastic foreword for a book by two leading Islamophobes, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (no relation to white nationalist Richard Spencer), filled with ominous insinuations about former President Barack Obama's supposed Muslim ties. That book was titled The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America. Bolton used the same label in the opening sentence of his foreword, which says: "Barack Obama is the first post-American president" -- that is, not a real American president, which was the book's central message.

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When Bolton's White House appointment was announced, numerous commentators recalled that and other instances when he aligned himself with prominent anti-Muslim activists, including Frank Gaffney, the leading campaigner against the supposed Muslim conspiracy to replace the U.S. constitution with sharia, or Islamic law. But the criticism never came close to the critical mass that might have kept Bolton from assuming the post. Nor did it deter him from appointing Fred Fleitz, one of Gaffney's top associates, as chief of staff of the National Security Council (NSC). As a senior vice president at Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, Fleitz was one of the authors of a 2015 publication arguing that naturalized Muslim citizens who advocate sharia observance should be subject to loss of citizenship and deportation. Fleitz's NSC appointment, announced May 29th, brought a new flurry of criticism but no indication from the White House that Bolton would be overruled or the appointment withdrawn.

That's been a fairly typical American response: anti-Muslim opinions are criticized, often strongly, but not treated as out of bounds, the way other expressions of bigotry would be.

The pattern has been strikingly consistent since a network of strident Islamophobic activists appeared rather suddenly on the national stage at the beginning of the present decade. They initially blasted into public view in the furor over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, an Islamic center in New York City close to (but not on) the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed on September 11, 2001. With increased visibility after that controversy, anti-Muslim organizers turned up across the country supporting local campaigns to oppose building permits for new mosques, organizing rallies against "creeping sharia," and pressuring state lawmakers to pass bills banning sharia law in their states.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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