“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Solemn Law. Words that too many Republicans are ignoring.
On June 13th, a number of Republican members of the House, led by Michele Bachmann, sent letters to various federal agencies, asking them to conduct internal investigations toward preventing a supposed Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy against the United States. Yesterday, on the floor of the Senate, John McCain spoke out against an attack on the dignity of an aide to Secretary of State Clinton who was targeted in Bachmann’s letter to the State Department. As McCain put it, “When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.” Senator McCain is right. This attack was unjustified (based on a report written by a wacko), immoral and symptomatic of a casual and idiotic anti-Islamic sentiment that has crept into Republican dialogue.
The trend began a couple of years ago with the uproar that surrounded the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Although this mosque proposal was approved by the local planning committee with an overwhelming vote and was not actually at Ground Zero, far too many Republicans leapt out in absurd statements of opposition to its construction. While originally, we might have been able to write off this opposition as the result of confusion over the location of the mosque and the identity of its fundraisers, other incidents that have followed help paint a more concerning picture.
Consider the Republican primary race. During his campaign for the Republican nomination, Herman Cain elevated anti-Islamic sentiment to the forefront of the race. After first declaring that he would be suspicious of a Muslim American in his cabinet, Cain then went far further on Fox News, when to the disbelief of host Chris Wallace, he declared that if a local majority was against it, a community should be able to prevent Muslims from engaging in worship. Cain the supposed constitutionalist had forgotten the First Amendment.
However, it is not Cain’s actions that should trouble us the most. More alarming is the degree to which the generally libertarian tea party has subscribed to anti-Islamic absurdity. A few examples?
There was the tea party leader who referred to Muslims as terrorist worshippers of a “monkey god.”
There was the tea party-favored candidate who challenged Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison on the basis of Ellison’s religion. This candidate asserted that Ellison was pursuing a surreptitious effort to usurp the Constitution. The absence of any evidence in support of this statement didn’t matter. For this Republican politician, fear and hostility trumped patriotism and respect.
There was the tea party mob that screamed abuse at Muslims who were attending a charity event. A mob that Republican Congressmen Ed Royce and Gary Miller happily addressed. A mob that evoked memories of the Nazi treatment of Jews in pre-war Germany.
There was tea party favorite Pamela Geller’s willing affiliation with the far-right English Defence League (EDL) in the UK — a group that threatens children as well as proud British Muslims like a friend of mine, who is the organizer for his local mosque and this year, as in 2010, was the head of player security at Wimbledon (a position of great trust and responsibility).