The word on the street in the Muslim world is increasingly becoming, "Americans don't like us."
Ground Zero mosque Park51 debate has become one of the defining issues of the summer, with every conservative politician and pundit from Pat Robertson to Sharron Angle weighing in to voice their almost unanimous opposition. What began as a debate over a Manhattan building permit mushroomed into a "cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization" in what seemed like a blink of an eye. The past few months have seen the Right turn into a pack of political dingoes, foaming at the mouth over the newest attempt to turn Lower Manhattan into a place of public stonings where the dreaded Sharia Law reigns supreme.
The anti-mosque hysteria would spread nationwide: the American Family Association called for a complete moratorium on mosque construction and called Park51 the "Timothy McVeigh mosque"; Sarah Palin called Park51 a "stab in the heart," saying her sentiments were how the "heartland" feels in America. And the "heartland" would take her "stab" comment to heart.
One thousand people showed up in Murfreesboro, Tenn. to protest the expansion of the local Islamic center, bringing a level of hate and rhetoric the imam said he had never seen before. Candidates for Congress in Oklahoma are being asked to weigh in on the issue in debates. Opponents of a new mosque in Temecula, Calif. brought dogs to "intimidate Muslims" during prayer services. In Brooklyn, one resident of Sheepshead Bay said of a new mosque planned for his area, "If they build a mosque there, I'm going to bomb the mosque ... I will give them a lot of trouble. They're not going to stay here alive."
Al-Qaeda's Anwar al-Awlaki released a statement back in March, alerting Muslims that Islamophobic rhetoric is only a harbinger of apocalyptic future events:
In a March posting, Mr. Awlaki, who lived in the United States for nearly 20 years, predicted that America would become "a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps."
"Don't be deceived by the promises of preserving your rights from a government that is right now killing your own brothers and sisters," he wrote. "Today, with the war between Muslims and the West escalating, you cannot count on the message of solidarity you may get from a civic group or a political party, or the word of support you hear from a kind neighbor or a nice co-worker. The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!"
What has the recent rhetoric against Park51 done if not give credence to Anwar al-Awlaki's words?
General Petraeus had been attempting a "last-ditch," "counterinsurgency" strategy in Afghanistan as the war there drags on, but trying to win over the hearts and minds of the public on the ground in Kandahar will now be impossible.
The new "worldwide black eye for the United States" is spreading from Bali to Baghdad to Bahrain -- the Right's rhetoric is no longer a secret in the Arab world. As the LA Times put it, "The proposed Cordoba House has become a symbol of America's fraught relations with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims."
We seem to forget that the entire reason al-Qaeda exists as a violent organization is because of fear-mongering and the stoking of Crusader-era hate by its "pundits" like Anwar al-Awlaki and Ayman al-Zawahiri. We seem to forget that al-Qaeda positions itself as the avenger of Muslim interests against the violent, aggressive West; terror organizations buttress their military programs with social services to reinforce the idea of "we're your friends while the West hates you." The Right has now not only given their words credence, but also given them impetus to create other "calls to action."
Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich may have brought us closer to "another 9/11" than any Cordoba House ever could. If their voices continue to go unchecked through frenzied news channels, we Americans may come to regret their words more than we already do.