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Resisting the Rage Trade

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The anti-gay, xenophobic, and misogynist bullies of the Christian right are so determined to defeat President Obama and promote orthodoxy that they endanger American diplomats and undermine fundamental principles of freedom.

Attacks on Secretary of State Clinton's motorcade in Egypt in July were fueled by false claims from radical-right provocateurs that President Obama had a secret pro-Islamic agenda and was financing the Muslim Brotherhood. More recently, Egyptian-American anti-Muslim activist Morris Sadek promoted the cheesy video disparaging the prophet Muhammad that provided a pretext for the Sept. 11 terrorist assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

On Sept. 21 Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) accused "President Barack Hussein Obama" of helping to "jump-start a new Ottoman Empire." Jerome Corsi of WorldNetDaily speculated as to whether Chris Stevens, our murdered ambassador to Libya, was gay (as if that would show weakness and ineptitude by the State Department). Anthony Wile of The Daily Bell suggested that the pro-American demonstrations by moderate Libyans denouncing radical Islamist gangs were "orchestrated" by Obama. For those on the far right who insist that all Muslims are the enemy, Muslims favoring democracy are an unwelcome deviation from their script.

The "rage trade" peddles an assortment of poisonous goods, too rarely contested by more humane voices. Yet some on the receiving end are not buying. Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, whose colleague David Kato was murdered last year, states, "Many Africans believe that homosexuality is an import from the West, and ironically they invoke religious beliefs and colonial-era laws that are foreign to our continent to persecute us. The way I see it, homophobia -- not homosexuality -- is the toxic import." He refers to missionaries of hate like Scott Lively, whose slanders helped inspire Uganda's "kill the gays" bill.

Power politics cloaks itself in faith. Heretics are denounced by self-styled American patriots who evidently think it was another country whose founders embraced the Enlightenment. As Salman Rushdie said, "Free societies are societies in motion, and with motion comes friction." America's religious bullies strive to stop that motion in this country while exporting all the friction they can muster. The concept of mutual tolerance and restraint eludes them.

Sometimes you cross a border, as Rushdie said, and sometimes a border crosses you. The social and intellectual commerce enabled by the Internet challenges the insularity demanded by authoritarians, as when a Facebook page created by Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim fueled the protests that led to the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak.

The moderate Libyans, who mourned and thanked the American diplomats who had helped them, illustrate a welcome wave of resistance to what Rushdie calls the "manufactured outrage" used by tyrants to divert attention from their own disastrous rule. Right-wing partisans will exploit the murders in Benghazi as an excuse to write off Libya, as if our own revolution was trouble-free, but we have a stake in this game. Withdrawing aid amid upheaval would further imperil our friends and gratify thugs.

Americans who do not crave the apocalypse need to repudiate the holy warriors for their bloody and treacherous mischief. At the same time, we must engage and collaborate more with those like Ghonim who recognize secular democracy not as an imperialist threat but as essential to their own development and happiness.

We have our work cut out, from refugees fleeing anti-gay violence incited by American evangelicals to activists and foreign service officers carrying on and innovating amid backlashes against human-rights efforts. Progressive religious charities are essential as partners.

It is necessary, but not sufficient, to elect politicians who respect and value diversity. We can best honor the spirits of the dead by expanding and strengthening our own international networks for freedom and dignity. We are behind the curve.

This piece originally appeared on Bay Windows and Metro Weekly.

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