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James Zogby

James Zogby

Posted: July 3, 2010 10:08 AM

Two Failed Efforts at Muslim-Bashing

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Two separate incidents of Muslim-bashing occurred last week. Because they involved comments by prominent individuals and were so brazen, they caused some concern. But because neither resulted in any benefit to the offenders, only embarrassed silence or scorn, there is some hope that we may be turning a corner.

The first of these came from Senator Jeff Sessions (Alabama), the Republican Party's point person in their effort to defeat President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan. One of the GOP's arguments against Kagan was her refusal, as Dean of the Harvard Law School, to allow US military recruiters to publicly recruit on campus because she opposed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gay soldiers and sailors.

In making his case against Kagan, Sessions charged that the nominee was "less morally principled... than has been portrayed", noting that at the same time that she was taking this stand "Harvard University accepted $20 million from a member of the Saudi royal family to establish a Center for Islamic Studies and Shariah Law." Sessions goes on to argue that "Under Shariah... sexual activity between two persons of the same gender is punishable by death or flogging." He concludes that "Ms. Kagan was perfectly willing to obstruct the military which has liberated countless Muslims from the tyranny of Saddam and the Taliban, but it seems that she was willing to sit on the sidelines as Harvard created a center funded by - and dedicated to - foreign leaders presiding over a legal system that would violate what would appear to be her position".

One could, of course, rebut the Senator's fatuous charge by noting that Kagan had nothing to do with setting up the Center, in question, or by noting that the Center is called "Islamic Studies" (and does not mention "Shariah Law"), but these arguments miss the point and that is that Sessions was Muslim-baiting, plain and simple. Fishing for a way to taint Kagan, he threw "Saudi money", and "Shariah" at her hoping it would catch. It did not.

With the exception of a few obsessed Islamophobic bloggers, most everyone ignored Sessions' line of attack, causing the Senator, himself, to drop it altogether.

It is also worth noting that one of the prospective witnesses that Republicans had listed to appear at the hearing to testify against Kagan was former Bush Administration official, Lt. General William Boykin. Boykin, it will be recalled, was the subject of controversy in 2003 after he made a number of anti-Muslim comments. Reconsidering, the Republicans dropped Boykin from their list.

The second display of bigotry came from Jeff Greene, a candidate competing in the Democratic primary for Senator from Florida. Greene was quoted in a Washington Post feature article saying that the Quran contains, "all kinds of crazy stuff. And unfortunately that's motivating a lot of these extremists."

When challenged by a Florida newspaper, Greene's campaign responded, insisting that he was quoted out of context. However, reviewing Greene's complete remarks only further put his ignorance on display, particularly when one considers the question posed to him. [What follows is the transcript]

Question: "I don't know what's going on in the Muslim world. They are scaring me very much. Over in Europe, there are Muslims taking over the population. Here in America, they talk about building a mosque at the scene of the Twin Towers. What is your take on what's going on, really, and what can be done if there is a bigger problem?"

Greene's answer: "I'm not an expert on Muslims. It is my understanding that there are 1.2 billion Muslims, and that about 200 million of them are pretty devout followers of parts of the Quran. Parts of it that say something like, everyone has a chance to accept Allah and Muhammad's teachings, and if they don't the infidels must be killed, there's all kinds of this crazy stuff. I think, unfortunately, that's motivating extremists. Most Muslims are like everyone else in the world -- they want peace. But there are people that follow some of those crazy teachings, you know, the suicide bombers. It's a scary world out there. I believe what I read in the media, and I'm scared, and I'm scared for the world, and I'm scared for America, and that's why I'm running for office. Like I said earlier, we have to make our enemies tremble. We have to stand by our friends, be they Europeans or Israel or anywhere, and not let these extremists do anything to destroy the wonderful lives we've created for ourselves."

Of course, the only part of Greene's answer that makes sense is his acknowledgment that "I'm not an expert on Muslims." The rest is a crude caricature of the Quran and the faith of more than a billion people -- and a missed opportunity to educate a prejudiced questioner. The bad news is that Greene had his McCain moment [when a voter accused President Obama of being an "Arab" during a campaign rally in the 2008 presidential race, McCain responded by saying "No, ma'am. He is a decent family man"] and blew it, failing to challenge the bigotry implied in the question. The good news is that Greene's bizarre comments were greeted with derision and evidence that he is not ready to be a serious candidate.

The news of the week then, is that two efforts at Muslim-bashing were tried, and both failed. Cause for concern, yes. But cause for some hope as well.