If you listened closely during the various speeches at the RNC convention, you'll notice that the times when the crowd was most animated was when Republican rage was focused on what Sen. John McCain calls the "trancendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism." Various speakers through the convention returned to this theme, which consistently galvanized the crowd. "John McCain hit the nail on the head," thundered former Gov. Mitt Romney. "Radical violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it." Rejecting calls to avoid using the term "Islamic terrorism" for fear of fomenting hostility towards Muslims, former NY mayor Rudy Giuliani was defiant. "Please tell me who they are insulting when they say Islamic terrorism," he said. "They are insulting terrorists."
(Note to Mr. Giuliani: Terrorists who are Muslim love being called "Islamic." It gives them legitimacy. "Terrorist" they don't like so much, because they think they are freedom fighters. You'd think this would be obvious.)
I don't have a problem with fighting radicals who manipulate Islam for violent ends. What I do have a problem with is that these Republican leaders, and the crowd they lather up, have such a vague definition of "radical Islam" that it demonizes millions of law-abiding Muslim Americans in the eyes of their fellow citizens, few of whom could tell the difference between a radical Muslim and a peaceful one.
I have a Muslim friend who has been a Republican for 30 years (surprisingly enough, there are an embattled few Muslim Republicans) who emailed the McCain campaign to get some clarification on exactly what they define as "radical Islam." To sum up the long answer that came back: there are up to 100 million radical Islamists in the world who are determined to kill us, and the US needs to resolutely defeat them. No word on how to tell the radicals from the moderates, or if there is any solution other than a military one. Just a recipe for open-ended war against an undefined enemy.
You might think, "Well, this is all for the cameras, and they're just venting." But the crowd at the RNC (unfortunately) holds a significant amount of political power in this country. Reinforcing the theme of Islam being the enemy will seep in at the convention and emerge later in the form of discriminatory surveillance, lopsided laws that treat Muslims as guilty until proven innocent, and and increased desire to bomb the hell out of any Muslim country that doesn't toe the US line.
To tell you the truth, I'm not scared. In my experience, this country has far more reasonable people in it than the crowd chanting "USA! USA!" with anger in their eyes during Romney's speech. In the wake of 9/11, far more Americans offered comfort to the Muslims I know than offered insults. (No prize for guessing the political orientation of those two groups of people.) I'm upset that politicians feel they need to resort to declarations of war to get themselves elected, and saddened that they are oblivious to the very real damage the cause to decent American citizens who work hard, pay their taxes, and don't deserve to be lumped into the same category as those who perpetrated 9/11.
Cross-posted from Beliefnet's Progressive Revival blog.