Tag Archives: Muslims

Fear–The Demagogue’s Friend

When people are afraid, they do unfortunate things.

As recent paper from the Brookings Institution points out, fear is a demagogue’s best friend. That’s why so many of Donald Trump’s actions in just the first few weeks of his disastrous presidency have been so dangerous.

President Trump’s Executive Order severely restricting visa-holders and refugees’ freedom to enter the United States is not only immoral and un-American—it’s also likely to fail on its own terms and lead to an increase in terrorist attacks against Americans. Yet if terrorism does increase, support for Trump and for harsh and self-defeating policies are likely to grow.

Although I doubt Trump is capable of that level of strategic planning, Actual-President Bannon clearly is.

The paper was written before several courts interrupted enforcement of the Order. As a number of observers have noted, should there be a terrorist attack during that interruption–or after the Order is finally invalidated, as I expect it will be–Trump has already telegraphed his intention to blame the courts and “so-called” judges.

The article reiterates many of the well-known criticisms of the Executive Order–the fact that zero terrorists have come from the countries subject to the ban, and –coincidentally, I’m sure (cough)–the countries that have produced terrorists and whose citizens weren’t banned happen to be countries where Trump has business interests; and the fact that refugee screening is exceptionally thorough, even draconian.

Refugees get the most scrutiny and Syrian refugees get the most scrutiny of all. So the vetting procedures are working. Refugees from other countries affected by the ban—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—have been involved in few plots since 9/11.

In different ways, all these countries have a terrorism problem, but that’s not the same as saying that the people visiting America are terrorists. Indeed, residents of these countries know first-hand the evils of terrorism and loath the groups accordingly. Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

As the article also points out, saying a country has a terrorism problem is  not the same as saying that the people visiting America from that country are terrorists. Quite the contrary: people who have experienced the evils of terrorism are the people most likely to hate and oppose them.

Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

And there’s those pesky little things…I think they call them “facts”–that suggest most terrorist attacks in the U.S. come from home-grown, white right-wing extremists.

So we have alienated the allies around the world on whom we depend for intelligence information, we have sent a message to moderate Muslims that we make no distinction between the millions of peace-loving adherents of that religion and the radical fringe, and we have dramatically increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack that can only help Donald Trump.

The horrible reality, however, is that a terrorist attack, especially one at home, is likely to “prove” that Trump is right. Terrorists’ successes are always a bit random, but at least some low-level attacks would be likely regardless of who was president. Trump, however, ran a campaign of fear and dishonesty about the terrorism threat and the attitudes of U.S. Muslims (for example, the false claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks). Polls show fears of terrorism were at near-record levels before the election despite the small number of attacks and deaths in the U.S. since 9/11, and this fear increased support for Trump’s candidacy.

Once an attack happens, Trump will probably tweet that he called for vigilance and tough measures only to be opposed by bleeding heart liberals, the failing New York Times, and Muslim-lovers naïve to the true danger. The fact that his policies made the attacks more likely will be lost in the uproar.

Nothing will please President Bannon more.


It Really is All or None….

At its most basic, government is a mechanism for living together. Politics, as the old saying goes, is war without the weapons–the process of mediating the demands of various interest groups and constituencies. Some governments are expressly established to privilege members of certain groups over others; America’s legal system, in contrast, is based upon a belief that people should be treated as individuals–that government should treat its citizens based upon their behavior, rather than their identity.

Being true to that ideal has always been a struggle; there have always been Americans who want to single out others as “less” not because those individuals have behaved badly, but simply by virtue of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. That–as Paul Ryan recently noted–is the textbook definition of bigotry.

In the Age of Trump, those voices of bigotry are in danger of being legitimized. They are certainly being amplified.

From Talking Points Memo, we learn that

The same Republicans who have argued that gay couples should not be allowed to marry, that LGBT Americans don’t need federal anti-discrimination protections and that trans people should not use the bathroom that matches their identity are now claiming that they — not Democrats — are the party on the LGBT community’s side.

Their reasoning? That somehow, in the wake of the Orlando shooting at a gay night club that left 49 people dead, there’s now a mutually exclusive choice between supporting Muslims and protecting gay people, and Democrats have chosen the former.

The unlovely premise of that rationale is that all Muslims are terrorists, as one Republican congressman has baldly stated.

It is hard to think of anything more un-American–or more dangerous– than treating any group of people as a monolithic whole. The truth of the matter is that–idealism and fundamental fairness aside–no one in any group is safe in a society that allows government to pick and choose which identities are to be privileged and which marginalized and demeaned.

The effort to set one marginalized group against another is particularly despicable, although politically understandable. (You guys go fight each other and don’t pay any attention to the fact that we “real Americans” are running the show.)

Fortunately, the LGBT community understands–and rejects–the tactic.  An essay titled “We Are Strong, but We Are Not Okay” posted in the wake of the Orlando massacre, included this paragraph:

We are not okay when you criminalize the Muslim community because of the actions of one evil man. We have been the Muslim community: hated, feared, misunderstood. Questioned, berated, threatened, afraid to show our faces. Why would we condone treating an entire community as poorly as ours has been treated in the past, and in many scenarios, still is? When you come for one minority, you come for us all.

Treating citizens as individuals, refusing to discriminate on the basis of group identity, is a central premise of this nation’s approach to government. An attack on that premise is an attack on America.

Unfortunately, that’s a lesson we keep having to learn.


Juanita Jean Asks an Impertinent (and Relevant) Question

One of the blogs I read regularly is “Juanita Jean’s, the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc.,” where “Juanita” sometimes appears to be an incarnation of the much-missed Molly Ivins.

There’s something about tough Texas women with drawls and rapier wits….

At any rate, Juanita has taken note of the seizure of a national park headquarters building by supporters of Cliven Bundy (you’ll remember Cliven, whose definition of “liberty” included the liberty to graze his cattle on public land without paying for the privilege.) As she quotes from news reports,

Militia members protesting a federal prison sentence for two Oregon ranchers convicted on charges of setting fire to federal land have occupied the headquarters of a national park, the OregonLive reports.

The protesters include Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s son, Ammon, and two of his brothers. Also among them is Ryan Payne, who organized snipers to aim weapons at federal officers during the Bundy Ranch standoff last year.

They told OregonLive that they are accompanied by about 150 others and are hunkered down at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. The group is described by reporter Les Zaitz as “hard core militia” who adopted the ranchers’ cause as their own.

Her impertinent question/observation?

Now I want you to consider this: Let’s pretend it was Muslims who set federal land a’blaze and that Muslims overtook a federal building. In your wildest dreams imagine Fox News and Ted Cruz having a snarling cat over that.

Actually, it doesn’t take much imagination. As Vox recently headlined its story about the armed takeover, media coverage sure looks different when the demonstrators (terrorists?) are white.

Just one more day in America, where the double standard runs so deep that satire is on its deathbed, and self-awareness is likewise a vanishing commodity…..

This Is a Test

History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but close enough.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to an article from the LA Times that began

The year was 1915, and the strange new newspaper in Aurora, Mo., had grown so quickly in its first four years that rail officials had to build extra tracks for all the paper and printing materials suddenly rolling into town.

The Aurora post office, according to one account, more than tripled its staff to handle mail to and from the publication’s astonishing 1.5 million weekly subscribers — a circulation that dwarfed the largest daily newspapers in New York and Chicago.

Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America.

Eventually, that virulent anti-Catholicism (and the anti-Semitism that usually accompanied it) subsided.

Racism–America’s “original sin”–has proved harder to eradicate. When President Obama took office, racist sentiments that had largely been confined to family dinners, “humorous” emails and small town bars once again erupted into so-called “polite society.”

And that racism has now joined with seething anti-immigrant, and especially anti-Muslim, xenophobia.

Yesterday, at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall posted a thoughtful–and frightening–piece about Donald Trump and the pernicious influence of the Fox News “worldview.”

I know I’m preaching to the choir when it comes to noting the factual shortcomings of Fox News. But this is why this isn’t really about Trump. Trump’s genius — and I don’t use that word loosely — is that he is an intuitive. He can feel the public mood in ways that none of these others can. I don’t think Trump began his campaign with really any of this. “Mexicans” were his thing. But even that was I think largely shtick. Terrorism and Muslim-hating wasn’t his thing. But like a gifted jazz musician, he can pick up the rhythms of whatever group he’s sitting in with, adapt, improvise and take them further. Yes, he’s almost a Coltrane of hate and incitement. But it’s not about Trump. It’s about his supporters. A big chunk of the Republican base is awash in racism and xenophobic hysteria. And this is the food that they feed on every day. It’s a societal sickness and we can’t ignore it.

It’s one thing to discuss this emerging fascism in the abstract; it’s heartbreaking to confront it personally.

I have a young colleague who joined our faculty right after earning her doctorate about five years ago. She’s a sweet, delightful person–not only a good teacher and researcher, but an unfailingly collaborative and helpful co-worker. Since moving to Indiana, she and her husband have had two little girls.

She’s Muslim. And she’s terrified.

She’s gotten hate mail. In a masterpiece of understatement, she says she’s found the rhetoric “very hurtful.” She and her husband are increasingly afraid to go out. As she told me yesterday, people in her suburban neighborhood and at the University have been supportive and welcoming, but it only takes one –one (armed) unbalanced person to respond to the rhetoric and do the unthinkable.

She may stop wearing her headscarf. “I have small children.”

I came home and cried.

We are about to see whether Americans have learned anything from history–ours or others’. We are about to see whether we can isolate and contain this virus. We are about to see whether America is truly better than this.

Edmund Burke said it best: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

This is a test.


The Danger of “Easy Targets”

A couple of days ago, I blogged about the environment created by political rhetoric demonizing people based upon their politics or religious beliefs. (For example, see: Trump, Donald) One consequence of that environment has been an uptick in attacks on Americans who are Muslim.

The AP reports that–in the case of anti-Muslim rhetoric, at least–the demonization is quite deliberate.

Some leading Republican presidential candidates seem to view Muslims as fair game for increasingly harsh words they might use with more caution against any other group for fear of the political cost. So far, that strategy is winning support from conservatives influential in picking the nominee….

Because Muslims are a small voting bloc, the candidates see limited fallout from what they are saying in the campaign.

The notion that Muslims are “fair game” because they are a small minority ignores the likelihood that many non-Muslims will find the tactic repellent. The article quotes Suhail Khan, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, who said  “There’s no doubt that when specific candidates, in this case Dr. Carson and Mr. Trump, think that they can narrowly attack one specific group, other Americans of various faiths and backgrounds are paying attention.”

The Washington Post recently ran a column by the pollster Stanley Greenberg predicting a tidal wave against the GOP in 2016. Listing the data that led him to his conclusion, Greenberg shared a demographic reality:

Consider that nearly 40 percent of New York City’s residents are foreign-born, with Chinese the second-largest group behind Dominicans. The foreign-born make up nearly 40 percent of Los Angeles’s residents and 58 percent of Miami’s. A majority of U.S. households are headed by unmarried people, and, in cities, 40 percent of households include only a single person. Church attendance is in decline, and non-religious seculars now outnumber mainline Protestants. Three-quarters of working-age women are in the labor force, and two-thirds of women are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners of their households. The proportion of racial minorities is approaching 40 percent, but blowing up all projections are the 15 percent of new marriages that are interracial. People are moving from the suburbs to the cities. And in the past five years, two-thirds of millennial college graduates have settled in the 50 largest cities, transforming them.

It’s reasonable to assume that these voters will notice when candidates use bigotry against “easy targets” as a campaign strategy.

Let’s hope that “reasonable assumption”–and Greenberg’s prediction– prove true.