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Calvin Freiburger

Peter Beinart Recycles Trash Talk of Republicans as Islamophobes

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Posted on March 7 2011 6:04 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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The nice thing about being on the Left is that your arguments never become stale. Regardless of what the facts say, whether or not a claim has been soundly refuted in the public arena, or how many times you’ve said it, you can always recycle the same smears. Today’s recycler is Peter Beinart, who takes to the Daily Beast to bemoan the Republican Party’s descent into bigotry:

I once ate a Shabbat meal in Salt Lake City, where my hosts—staunch Republicans and Orthodox Jews—talked with wonder about the extreme courtesy with which their Mormon neighbors accommodated their religious needs. Conservatives, they explained, were actually more tolerant of minority faiths than liberals. I’d like to believe that a Muslim family in Utah or Alabama could say the same today. In a sense, the Republican Party’s honor depends on it.

My, that does sound serious! Whatever could have been the catalyst for this clarion call?

[Rep. Peter] King, a Long Island Republican, will hold hearings this week on terrorism by American Muslims. Think about that for a second. King isn’t holding hearings on domestic terrorism; he’s holding hearings on domestic terrorism by one religious group.

Yes, think about that for a second—and you’ll apparently have reflected on the issue more than Peter Beinart. As Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney explains, one of the reasons King’s hearings are so important is that they present the opportunity to “explore the extent to which virtually every prominent group that purports to speak for that community is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood or sympathetic to its agenda.” And if you know anything about the Brotherhood or other Islamist organizations, you know this is hardly an answer in search of a problem. Gaffney makes the following point:

[C]onfusion about the true nature and intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood is much in evidence at the moment.  The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, contributed to it, first by testifying last month that the Brotherhood is “a largely secular organization.”  He subsequently recanted that preposterous characteri­zation, but nonetheless downplayed concerns about the group by insisting that it is “heterogeneous,” has “eschewed violence” and is engaged in good works, like hospitals and day care.

Such contentions are, presumably, contributing to the Obama administration’s intention – as reported on the front page of the Washington Post last Friday – to establish relations with Muslim Brotherhood-dominated or other Islamist governments emerging from the revolutions sweeping the Middle East.  The implications of that decision would be incalculably problematic for our homeland security, as well as our foreign policy interests.

But Beinart can’t be bothered to actually analyze and address the reasons for King’s hearings, and continues on:

Is most American terrorism Muslim terrorism? Actually, no. Over the last decade or so, there’s been at least as much domestic terrorism by folks like Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph (who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics), Bruce Edwards Ivins (the main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks), and most recently, Jared Lee Loughner. But even if American Muslims are statistically more likely to commit terrorism than non-Muslims, it is still wrong to define the problem in religious terms. I’m pretty sure that in the 1950s, Jews—given their overrepresentation in the American Communist Party—were overrepresented as Soviet spies. Italians may have been overrepresented in organized crime. Yet for a member of Congress to define either Soviet subversion or organized crime as the province of a particular religious or ethnic group would still have been wrong.

The likes of McVeigh and Loughner were not acting on behalf, or with the support of, a global movement with millions of members, political control over an entire region of the planet, and foundations in the core texts and early history of one of the world’s major religions. (Likewise, Communism is not rooted in Jewish principles or theology.) Even if, just for the sake of argument, we were to concede that the jihadists are practicing a theologically unsound version of their faith and Islam really is a religion of peace, that still wouldn’t invalidate King’s efforts—even bad theology can still be influential enough to demand attention.

Nor would King be wrong even if Islamic terrorism was no more than a matter of statistical correlation. Maybe Beinart will take the word of American Muslim journalist Asra Nomani more seriously than he takes that of a white, Christian right-winger like me:

According to a terrorism database at the University of Maryland, which documents 60 attacks against airlines and airports between 1970 and 2007, the last year available, suspects in attacks during the 1970s were tied to the Jewish Defense League, the Black Panthers, the Black September, the National Front for the Liberation of Cuba, Jewish Armed Resistance and the Croatian Freedom Fighters, along with a few other groups.

In each of these groups’ names was a religious or ethnic dimension. For that time, those were the identities that we needed to assess. Today, the threat has changed, and it is primarily coming from Muslims who embrace al Qaeda’s radical brand of Islam.

Back to Beinart:

But wait, you say, there’s a difference: It wasn’t their Jewishness that made Jews disproportionately join the Communist Party or their Italianness that made Italians disproportionately join the Mafia. Well, in a sense, it was. At a certain moment in time, certain aspects of Jewish-American or Italian-American sociology disproportionately predisposed Jews and Italians to certain problematic behavior. That may be true for Muslims today, but what the government should be targeting is the behavior, not the religious or ethnic group.

Earth to Peter: assessing radical ideologies explicitly rooted in religion and appeals made overtly on the basis of ethnic identity is “targeting the behavior.”

Were it only King and his committee, perhaps all this might be laughed off. But anti-Muslim bigotry is not a fringe view in today’s GOP. Most of the party bigwigs denounced the “ground zero mosque,” insisting that Muslims should have the good taste not to practice their religion in a place where non-Muslims might be offended, no matter how irrationally. Across the country, Republicans are rushing to head off the threat that America will soon be governed by Sharia (Islamic law). What’s next? The threat represented by Halacha (Jewish law)? After learning that the University of Michigan offers foot-washing stations to facilitate Muslim prayer, Mike Huckabee recently declared that “the accommodation we’re making to one religion at the expense of others is very un-American.”

Beinart can repeat “criticizing the Ground Zero Mosque is bigoted!” until he’s blue in the face, but that won’t make it true. For all of his caterwauling about Islamophobia, I’m still not convinced Beinart has ever familiarized himself with the radicalism of the Cordoba House’s head honcho. As for the likelihood of America falling to Sharia law, I don’t think it’ll happen “soon,” either, if it happens at all, but you don’t need an ETA to recognize something as a credible threat—after all, de facto Islamic speech control is already happening in parts of Great Britain, and Sharia has its defenders on this side of the pond, too. The way you keep outlandish possibilities outlandish is vigilance.

Smearing conservatives as bigots has been going on forever, and defending ourselves against defamation is getting old. But as long as people like Peter Beinart insist on recycling these memes, we’ll be there to take out the trash.

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