The Shameful Bipartisan Reaction to Park51
I pitched a story to an editor two days ago that went something like this. The GOP’s explicit strategy to inject anti-Muslim rhetoric in the guise of opposition to Park51 — fallaciously known as the “Ground Zero Mosque” — shares strong similarities with the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” of Goldwater, et al. That is to say, both strategies rely on exploiting base tribalistic tendencies through language that seeks to demonize the Other.
The Southern Strategy relied on dog-whistle phrases like “States Rights,” which politicians employed to assure white Southerners that they weren’t anti-segregation. The anti-community center crowd uses, whether consciously or not, an almost identical tactic. When you hear the phrase, “I support their right to build, but it should be somewhere else,” make no mistake — whoever is saying that is winking at xenophobic non-Muslims, assuring them that we’re all Americans, yeah, but some of us are More Real than others and we don’t want them Muslims getting all upity on our hallowed ground.
I still believe that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. My pitch didn’t get picked up, and now I’m glad it didn’t, because it would be unfair and inaccurate to criticize only the GOP for their reaction. Some leading Democrats, and indeed 68% of the country, believe the community center should be moved, creating a de facto Muslim-free zone in the blocks surrounding ground zero. This bigoted stance should be resisted by every tolerant person in this country. It must be called out as the xenophobic hatred that it is. Harry Reid continues to prove himself to be little more than a jellyfish in a suit and wire-rim glasses, and Howard Dean’s unprincipled wavering leads me to think he’s auditioning for the role of “The Un-elected Bill Clinton” of the Party.
The Islamophobia we’re seeing now would never be acceptable, but the fact that this backlash against the building of a community center is rearing its head nearly 9 years after 9/11 speaks volumes of the latent fear of Muslims in this country. Elected leaders, as well as leading cultural figures, must stand up against the majority of Americans and support the building of Park51 exactly where it is being planned. History won’t look kindly on those who seek refuge in the coward’s lament: “But everybody else was doing it.”
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