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General News    H3'ed 8/10/10

Tomgram: Stephan Salisbury, Extremism at Ground Zero (Again)

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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Hand it to Muslim terrorists, at least when it comes to truly long-term planning and the Fourteenth Amendment -- according to Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert. On the floor of the House of Representatives, he recently offered the following explanation for his desire to change that amendment, which makes anyone born in this country a U.S. citizen:

"I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn't even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty... thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life. 'Cause they figured out how stupidwe are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system, hurt our economy, get setup in a position to destroy our way of life."

This may be mad, as well as a figment of Representative Gohmert's feverish imagination. It's no joke, though, as Stephan Salisbury, author of Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland, a rare reporter who has long been attending to what's happening to Arab American communities in this country, indicates below. The anger about the prospective "mosque at Ground Zero," for instance, has caught the media eye, and in news reports has looked like a singularly strange "controversy" until last Sunday when the New York Timesreported on several other examples, ranging from Tennessee to California, an indication of the sort of growing hysteria that two centuries ago here might have centered around imagined Catholic or Masonic plots.

There's no countering hysterias like this with reason or logic. It doesn't matter, for instance, that (as Justin Elliott pointed out recently in Salon.com) no "mosque" controversy ever developed around Pentagon prayer practices. And yet Ramadan is celebrated in that building. As the Washington Timesreported in 2007, a Navy imam called to prayer 100 Department of Defense employees. "Uniformed military personnel, civilians, and family members," the Times'reporter wrote, "faced Mecca and knelt on adorned prayer rugs chanting their prayers in quiet invocation to Allah." All this happened, and continues to happen, not two blocks from Ground Zero, but, as Elliott writes, "insidethe building where 184 people died on Sept. 11, 2001." It seems, however, that right-wing reverence for the U.S. military still exceeds right-wing mania about Muslims, and so "our infiltrated military" stories have yet to develop.

The present hysteria remains part of a process launched by the Bush administration in 2001 and since promoted by a veritable Fear Inc. in this country, which has blown anxieties about Islamic terrorism staggeringly (and profitably) out of all proportion, while turning this country into a nation of cowards. But beware what you launch: often, you have no idea where it will end up -- and in whose hands. Tom

Mosque Mania
Anti-Muslim Fears and the Far Right

By Stephan Salisbury

There is a distinct creepiness to the controversy now raging around a proposed Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. The angry "debate" over whether the building should exist has a kind of glitch-in-the-Matrix feel to it, leaving in its wake an aura of something-very-bad-about-to-happen.

It's not just that opposition to the building has coalesced around a phony "Mosque at Ground Zero" shorthand (with its echoes of dust, death, and evildoers). Many have pointed out -- futilely -- that the complex will be more than two blocks from the former World Trade Center, around a corner on Park Place, and will feature an auditorium, spa, basketball court, swimming pool, classrooms, exhibition space, community meeting space, 9/11 memorial, and, yes, a prayer space for Muslims. The shorthand still sticks.

Nor is it just that this is only the most visible of a growing number of nasty controversies over proposed mosques in Tennessee, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Illinois as well as Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and Midland Beach, Staten Island, in New York City. Such protests are emerging with alarming frequency. Nor is it simply that political leaders -- from Republican presidential wannabes to New York gubernatorial hopefuls -- have sought to exploit the Lower Manhattan controversy. (Sarah Palin demanded that "peaceful Muslims" step up and "refudiate" the plan; Newt Gingrich denounced the building of such a "mosque" as long as Saudi Arabia bars construction of churches and synagogues; Rick Lazio, a Republican campaigning for the governorship of New York state, asserted that the plan somehow subverted the right of New Yorkers "to feel safe and be safe.")

No, it's the dà jà -vu-ness of the controversy that kindles special unease, the sense that we've been here before as a country, and the realization that, for a decade, a significant number of our nation's political leaders have been honing an anti-Muslim narrative which fertilizes anti-Muslim sentiment to the point where it is now spreading like a toxic plume, uncapped and uncontrollable.

The mosque controversy is not really about a mosque at all; it's about the presence of Muslims in America, and the free-floating anxiety and fear that now dominate the nation's psyche. The mere presence of Muslims at prayer is now enough to trigger angry protests, as Bridgeport, Connecticut, police discovered last week. Those opposing the construction of the center in New York City are drawing on what amounts to a decade of government-stoked xenophobia about Muslims, now gathering strength and visibility in a nation full of deep economic anxieties and increasingly aggressive far-right grassroots groups. Lower Manhattan and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Temecula, California, are all in this together. And it is not going to go away simply because the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission gave its unanimous blessing to the Islamic center plan. Since that is the case, it's worth pausing to consider what has happened here over the past 10 years.

Panic in the Streets

In the panicked wake of 9/11, revenge attacks on Muslims (and dark-skinned people mistaken for Muslims) swept the country. Hundreds of beatings and even some random reprisal killings were reported coast to coast.

On Sept. 17, 2001, the day after he told the nation that a "crusade" against terror was in order, President Bush stood in the Islamic Center of Washington and piously proclaimed that "Islam is peace." At virtually the same moment across town, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III were at a press conference, announcing that 55,000 tips had flooded into their ballooning 9/11 investigation, an undisclosed number of immigration violators and uncharged material witnesses were being hauled into custody, Arabic and Farsi speakers were suddenly in demand at the FBI, and major legislation was already in the works to beef up government surveillance, immigration, and anti-terror capabilities. But no, Mueller said, there was nothing at all to complaints of ethnic targeting from Arab-American communities.

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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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