The latest GOP election sleight-of-hand? Divert attention from the news that projected Republican gains are going to be confined largely to the South by amping up the rhetoric on the mosque project in Lower Manhattan.
All of the hysteria and hype that Fox News and the Republicans are trying to manufacture over the construction of a mosque in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site helps enable the very terrorists that Newt Gingrich and the Fox News crowd claim to oppose.
Why all of the fuss over a mosque that had been largely a local issue? Diversion tactics.
Republicans, in spite of the effective drumbeat of the mid-term election curse for Democrats, are not any more trusted than they used to be. According to an MSNBC poll taken last week, the South is the only turf where the GOP is strong.
The GOP has a HUGE generic-ballot edge in the South (52%-31%), but it doesn't lead anywhere else. In the Northeast, Dems have a 55%-30% edge; in the Midwest, they lead 49%-38%; and in the West, it's 44%-43%.
That divide is the same, though, regionally, as it was back in 2008. So what do you do when you have spent the last two years failing to legislate, and the prior eight tanking the economy with a couple of wars and setting loose an unfettered Wall Street? Engage in scare tactics to try and tilt any close contests your way.
Republicans and their defense-industry sponsors benefit from the fear of terrorism as much as Osama Bin Laden. Take "the lead" on looking tough on terrorism, and you make Democrats who stand up and defend the United States Consitution look soft.
So the GOP and its publicity unit, Fox News, began this week engaged in the shameful practice of tarring American Muslims in Lower Manhattan with 911.
Fomenting the mob mentality on Monday was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on Fox Monday, who said:
"The folks who want to build this mosque -- who are really radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists -- Those folks don't have any interest in reaching out to the community. They're trying to make a case about supremacy. That's why they won't go anywhere else, that's why they won't accept any other offer."
Of course, another, more reasonable point-of-view might be that Islamic "folks" who live or work in Lower Manhattan, and want to worship several times a day near their jobs or homes, probably might find the hour+ trip up to a proposed alternative site in the South Bronx a bit of a long commute.
Gingrich does nothing to substantiate his claims, and, not surprisingly, those crack journalists at Fox do not ask him to do it either.
President Obama spoke out on Monday, affirming the group's First Amendment rights to worship where they will largely in reponse to the growing drumbeat from the GOP to make this a national issue.
What did Democrats do to backstop the First Amendment and their president? Fold like a house of cards.
Harry Reid, in the fight of his political life in Nevada, abandoned the Constitution in favor of politics yesterday by calling for the mosque to be moved somewhere else. U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene of Florida's remarks are typical of the reaction of Democrats in heavily Red states:
"President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans," Greene said. "Freedom of religion might provide the right to build the mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero, but common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else."
Except, Jeff, that there already is a mosque near the World Trade Center site, and it has been there for almost thirty years.
The mosque, run by Masjid Manhattan had been in a location adjacent to the World Trade Center for 28 years, until the landlord forced them out of the building in 2008. The group found a smaller location nearby and continues to operate without incident.
No one, not the FBI, or the NSA, or Homeland Security for that matter, has found any evidence that the members of that mosque were in any way connected with the goings-on of 9/11. There is no evidence that anyone affiliated with the other group seeking to build the second Downtown mosque is connected to 9/11 or terrorism.
Does anyone recall landlords around the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City closing down the churches of the same faith as the one that Timothy McVeigh attended? I didn't think so. Terrorists that look like you and me do not provoke that kind of reaction.
It is easy to whip up hysteria over 9/11, one of the most traumatic attacks against the United States in our history. It is a psychological open wound which the Republicans stick their thumb in when they think it will score points politically to force Democrats to support the rights of Muslim Americans, who, after all are as American as they are Muslim.
On other issues, like picking judges, Gingrich and his pals like to fancy themselves strict Constitutionalists. Yet here, they're willing to toss that venerable document, and its crystal-clear viewpoint on religions including Islam, out the window. The framers knew Islam well, and, even though the country's commercial fleet was frequently attacked, along with the British, by Barbary pirates who enslaved American seamen, they were not swayed in their concept of religious freedoms applying to Muslims, Jews and Hindus along with Christians.
As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in an article in Slate , the framers of the Constitution were specific to extend protection of religious worship rites to all faiths:
"As to the invocation of Jefferson, we know that when he and James Madison first proposed the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom (the frame and basis of the later First Amendment to the Constitution) in 1779, the preamble began, 'Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free.'
Patrick Henry and other devout Christians attempted to substitute the words 'Jesus Christ' for 'Almighty God' in this opening passage and were overwhelmingly voted down. This vote was interpreted by Jefferson to mean that Virginia's representatives wanted the law 'to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahomedan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.'"
Jefferson studied the Qur'an, and it remains a part of his estate to this day. Benjamin Franklin was also specific about the breadth of American religious tolerance.
"Even if the Mufti [chief jurist] of Constantinople [from the Muslim Ottoman Empire] were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."
They held to these beliefs, in spite of their "9/11," the Barbary Pirates. Plying the coastal waters off of what is now Libya, these early "terrorists" severely impacted overseas trade by kidnapping and enslaving more than a million British, American, and European sailors at a time when the U.S. had a small navy and could do very little to defend itself.
Sane people, who recognize that we have both freedom of religion, and the right to peacefully assemble to celebrate whatever variation of God, or lack thereof, that we so choose, from President Obama to New York mayor Bloomberg to Florida governor Charlie Crist, among dozens, have recognized the right of the Muslims who are trying to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan to practice their faith under the same protections afforded every other denomination or faith in this country.
Nationwide, mosque building has been a tough problem for American Muslims.
Tennessee Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey called Islam a "cult" in response to a proposed mosque in his state. Mosques have been chased out of neighborhoods across America, or banned outright.
A group calling itself 911familiesforamerica.org tried to shift this argument away from religious freedoms protected under the Constitution with this bit of hysteria:
"This controversy is not about religious freedom. 9/11 was more than a 'deeply traumatic event,' it was an act of war. Building a 15-story mosque at Ground Zero is a deliberately provocative act that will precipitate more bloodshed in the name of Allah. Those who continue to target and kill American civilians and U.S. troops will see it as a symbol of their historic progress at the site of their most bloody victory."
American Muslims did not declare war on this country, any more so than Japanese Americans in World War II. Al-Qaeda, which has far more financial and social ties to Saudi Arabia than most other countries, did. Yet we saw Saudis shuttled out of the country immediately after the attacks, even when everyone else was banned to fly. Later we got a lovely shot of George W. Bush walking hand-in-hand with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.
Beyond that, people forget that Muslims working in the World Trade Center, and first responders of that faith also perished alongside people of every race and creed when the towers came down. They weren't given the "heads-up" not to come into work. The attack was an equal-opportunity killer perpetuated by mad men with a warped view of their faith.
The only time that the 9/11 attacks were a success is when they are used as the justification to diminish the freedoms that are the cornerstone of our nation.
When you diminish one group's rights, yours, and others who think themselves in the majority are not far behind.
"In this country, we treat everybody equally, in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion," President Obama told reporters this morning in Florida. "I was not commenting on, and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque [near the World Trade Center site]. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. It's what our country's about. I think it's very important, as difficult as some of these issues are, to stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about."
Building a Mosque is not victory for Al-Qaeda. Living in the irrational fear of American Muslims is.
My shiny two.