Tag Archives: Muslim

Placating Extremists

When nations fail to denounce their radical extremists, they risk being defined by them.

In an instant, an already contentious and acerbic presidential campaign season, principally driven by economic issues, shifted focus to the mounting foreign policy crisis playing out across the Middle East and North Africa region, and descended into an even darker place.

A protester in Cairo throws a rock at police as demonstrations over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad continued. Egypt's president criticized the use of violence in the protests.

A protester in Cairo throws a rock at police as demonstrations over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad continued. Egypt’s president criticized the use of violence in the protests. (Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” said presidential candidate Mitt Romney late Tuesday evening, shortly after news broke that a diplomat in Libya lost his life during an attack on the Libyan consulate.

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” continued Romney. At the time of Romney’s statement, news of the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others in the attacks on the Benghazi compound had not yet been reported.

The administration’s response that Romney was referring to was actually a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which published the remarks prior to the demonstrations against a deplorable amateur film produced in the United States that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed. Specifically, the part of the statement that aroused the ire of Romney was the embassy’s condemnation of “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” According to Reuters, “the embassy’s statement was an apparent attempt to ease tensions in Cairo before protesters got out of hand.”

Shortly after Romney’s comments, we learned that the embassy’s statement had neither been approved by the administration nor the State Department, but was posted to the embassy’s website by an individual who had been explicitly instructed not to do so.   In fact, Obama issued a statement disavowing the embassy’s release at 10:10 p.m., fourteen minutes before Romney characterized it as the administration’s response.

Despite those orders, senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz issued the release and repeatedly publicized and defended the statement via Twitter in an attempt to quell the  protests outside the embassy’s gates. While Schwartz’s actions were questionable, Romney’s were inexcusable.

In what President Obama aptly described as a “shoot first, aim later” response, Romney erroneously characterized the embassy’s release as the administration’s initial reaction to the attacks on our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya. Disturbingly, he doubled down on his statements even after reports had surfaced that administration had no knowledge of the release prior to its issuance, saying “I think it’s a terrible course for America to apologize for our values.”

This was conceivably the most disturbing aspect of Romney’s response to the crisis, and indicative of what has tarnished the United States’ reputation abroad. Assuming, as Romney had, that the statement was Obama’s decree, for what values, exactly, did the president apologize? Was it the condemnation of those who intentionally seek to offend others who hold certain religious beliefs? Of course we believe in every citizen’s right to freedom of speech, but does that prohibit us from the same right to deride those who exercise it in morally objectionable ways?

Or perhaps it was the defense of Muslims. Even as Romney was being lambasted by the media for his reactionary remarks, and as his GOP colleagues on the Hill seemingly left him hanging out to dry, Sarah Palin echoed Romney’s statements on Facebook, saying that the embassy “went so far as to chastise those who use free speech to ‘hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.’ Funny, the current administration has no problem hurting the ‘religious feelings’ of Catholics.”

She continued to say that “we already know that President Obama likes to ‘speak softly’ to our enemies. If he doesn’t have a ‘big stick’ to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one.” The post has been “liked” by nearly 3.5 million people.

A Libyan woman holds a sign that reads "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam"

Courtesy of Global Voices

Both here in the United States and throughout the Middle East, we risk being defined by the most extreme contingents within our citizenry when we fail to denounce them with expedience and resoluteness. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi fell into that trap when he immediately called on the U.S. to prosecute those responsible for the production of the offensive film that sparked the demonstrations, while taking days to condemn those who stormed the embassy. Romney made the same mistake when he failed to chastise the makers of the film, while attacking those who would demonstrate against it and the President for his supposed sympathy for the demonstrators.

The crux of the issue is not Romney’s gaffe, nor is it the spread of these mass protests to a dozen countries across the region. It’s a more insidious problem. The simple truth is that in America, there is a perception that the entirety of the Middle East is anti-America, while in the Middle East, there is a perception that America is anti-Islam. And we encourage this perception when we not only fail to denounce those who spew hateful rhetoric about Islam, but encourage their participation in our most mainstream political dialogues. When we do not repudiate those who denigrate our president by falsely claiming he is a Muslim as a means of attack, how are Muslims across the world supposed to perceive us?

This is not to argue that we should limit what anyone can say or how they should say it. Rather, we have a moral obligation to proclaim to all who are willing to listen that their hateful beliefs and ideals do not represent us as a whole. We should always defend the right to free speech, but we should also always counter hate speech with a full-throated rebuke. Until we demonstrate that we are capable of doing just that, the world will continue to view our self-proclaimed moral superiority with great skepticism, and we can anticipate more events like the ones we have witnessed this week to unfold.


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Is Islamaphobia Sweeping the Nation?

Anniversary of 9/11 and Proposed Mosques Stir National Debate About Islam

9/11 Attack on the World Trade Center

Courtesy of mommylife.net

It is hard to believe that nine years have elapsed since terrorists devastated our collective national psyche.  The attacks left us feeling vulnerable and confused, compelling us to seek swift vengeance against an enemy we couldn’t fully understand.  Despite the fact that I never supported the war in Iraq, I understand why initially, the nation overwhelmingly supported the campaign.  We did not have the luxury of time to be contemplative or deliberative.  We also had little experience dealing with the Arab world.  Prior to 9/11, our primary dealings with the Middle East consisted of mediating the peace process between Palestine and Israel.  We had an oversimplified understanding of the Muslim world, so it not surprising that we failed to realize that our aggressors were not somehow connected to Saddam Hussein.

Now we have no excuse

You would think that after nearly a decade, we would better know our enemy. Sadly, this is not the case.  The ideological battle line that we drew against Islam remains intact, and it fails to account for the difference between Muslim extremists and pacifists.  This is painfully obvious if you’ve turned on the news anytime within the past month and seen the reports covering the national uproar concerning the proposed site of an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site.

Proposed New York City Islamic Center Site in Relation to Ground Zero

Courtesy of Wikipedia.com

Where to begin

I couldn’t figure out where all the controversy surrounding this project began, so I took to the internet.  I came across a Washington Post article that credits conservative blogger “Pam Geller, a former New York Observer publisher” with leading the charge against the mosque.

“Through her blog, Atlas Shrugs, television interviews and appearances at political rallies, Geller has become one of the chief organizers of opposition to the so-called Ground Zero mosque as well as efforts to build other Muslim prayer centers across the country.”

“Geller has become a prominent voice in the debate despite the fact that she once promoted the view that Obama is Malcolm X’s love child. She frequently warns that Muslims are trying to impose repressive sharia law on the United States, refers to the president’s holiday message to Muslims as “Obama Ramadamadingdong” and promotes a Web site, Religion of Peace,that claims to tally the number of people killed around the world by Muslim extremists.” – WP

OK, OK.  She’s a nutbag, but maybe she has a point.  Perhaps it is a bit insensitive to build a Muslim center within a stone’s throw (if you’re Roberto Clemente) from the World Trade Center site.  But that doesn’t explain the protests at mosques proposed in Tennessee and California.

OK… Now things are starting to sound a bit Reichy

Burned construction vehicles at proposed mosque site in Tennessee

Courtesy of AOL News

A few weeks ago, construction vehicles parked at the site of the future Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, a Nashville suburb, were set ablaze in an arson incident.  As with the people of New York, Tennesseans in Murfreesboro don’t want to see a mosque built in their town.  Unfortunately, they don’t have the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history to fall back on as justification for this sentiment.  Instead, they’ll settle for blatant racism.

According to the Associated Press, opponents of the Islamic center fear that the mosque will be used as a “terrorist training ground for Muslim militants bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.”

“They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group,” said Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old area retiree quoted in the AP article.

Man carrying Islam protest sign

Courtesy of mediamatters.org

According to CBS News, “Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators who recently wore ‘Vote for Jesus’ T-shirts and carried signs that said ‘No Sharia law for USA!’ Others took their opposition further, spray painting a sign announcing the ‘Future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’ and tearing it up.”

Other protesters expressed strong opinions opposing the mosque.

“No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don’t want it. I don’t want them here,” Evy Summers said. “Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity.”

This country was founded on freedom of religion… so long as it’s my religion

Islam Protest Sign: "Islam is the Enemy - Shove Shariah Up Yours"

Courtesy of mediamatters.org

Here’s where I take issue.  I can understand how the mosque near Ground Zero could be upsetting to people.  Moving it out of Manhattan altogether?  Probably a bit much, but OK.  But what’s the excuse in Tennessee?  Or at the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, where conservative protesters, angry about another proposed mosque, stood outside prayer services “shouting slogans of hate through a bullhorn, carried signs with messages like ‘No More Mosques in America’ and brought along several dogs, hoping to offend Muslim sensibilities.”

Pastor Terry Jones backed his way out of the national spotlight when he decided not to demonstrate against Islam and the New York City mosque by burning a pile of Qurans.  He ultimately pulled the plug after Gen. David Petraeus said “the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.”

Jones did, however, justify the “Burn a Quran Day” event by saying he’s hurt “when people burn the flag when they burn the Bible [and] when they burn down churches.”  Here’s a question for Mr. Jones: When was the last time Muslims in the United States demonstrated against Christianity by burning Bibles and churches?  The Hill’s Armstrong Williams put it best:

“God-inspired or not, what Terry Jones was promising to do is simply un-American. We don’t burn our own flags. We don’t like it when others do. And we sure don’t burn the symbols of other cultures and religions simply because we have that right. I respect the constitutional rights of any American — every American, for that matter. But there’s something inherently wrong with what Pastor Jones threatened to do before coming to his senses.”

Time Magazine posed a great question in the title of an August article: “Islamophobia: Does America Have a Muslim Problem?”  Can anyone really argue that we don’t?  In a Washington Post poll, “49 percent of all Americans say they have generally unfavorable opinions of Islam, compared with 37 percent who say they have favorable ones.”  Those numbers don’t really weigh in favor of tolerance.

Ask any Catholic if his religion is practiced the same way a Methodist practices his.  Ask a Reform Jew if he practices the same way as a Hasidic Jew.  As any Ijtihad (moderate) Muslim if he practices Islam the same way as a Jihadist.  All will vehemently defend their faiths as distinct from the other.  So before we allow ourselves to label the entire Muslim world as a conglomerate of militant extremists, consider the fact that “’only 15 percent of the fatalities resulting from al Qaeda attacks between 2004 and 2008 were Westerners,” according to a report in  the Washington Times.  Let us also consider the fact that 94 percent of the terrorist attacks perpetrated in the United States between 1980 and 2005 were perpetrated by non-Muslims.

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