The Islamic enemy within

Right-wing warrior-pundits seize on a new poll to fan the flames of anti-Muslim hysteria.

Published May 22, 2007 5:41PM (EDT)

(updated below - updated again - Update III)

Pew released a new poll today regarding the political beliefs and attitudes of American Muslims and -- needless to say -- our right-wing warriors, within hours of its release, have exploded in shrieking alarm. These revelations about American Muslims are "hair raising!," and the warrior-pundits are working in unison to milk every ounce of anti-Muslim fear-mongering that can be squeezed from this new poll.

It is literally difficult to overstate the prominence that fear and hatred of Muslims assumes in the worldview of these right-wing war proponents. They frantically search every news story for any possible angle to seize in order to exploit anti-Muslim hysteria. It is the centerpiece, the animating "principle," of the vast bulk of their public commentary.

The intensity of their hope and excitement when the Virginia Tech shootings first occurred -- could he be Muslim? -- was palpable, overflowing. Charles Krauthammer ran to Fox News within 48 hours to claim that a tattoo of Seung-Hui Cho "draws its inspiration from the manifestos, the iconic photographs of the Islamic suicide bombers" and Krauthammer blamed "Islamic terror" and the Palestinians for inspiring the shootings. Once it was established that Cho was no Muslim, they lost interest completely in the story and went in search of new Muslim villains.

Malkin's Hot Air site has as one of its central purposes the scouring of news wires in order to find possible stories of Scary Violent Islamists in the U.S, resulting in one inane and hysterical item after the next of this strain:

BREAKING! Loud noise heard in parking lot at Topeka Wal-Mart! Islamic Terror?!?!?

UPDATE: Zawahiri vowed a "big attack" 12 days ago! Is this it? The Big One??

UPDATE!: Witness says woman in scarf was seen near Wal-Mart the day before, looking nervous! Test run?

UPDATE: Possible false alarm. Police say noise was caused by boy lighting a firecracker.

UPDATE: False alarm confirmed. Woman in scarf located -- is a 72-year-old grandmother who was wearing scarf because it was snowing.

The next day . . . .

BREAKING! An Arab-looking man bought 10 cell phones near Houston! Alert salesman saves America???

Satirical though that may be, it is quite representative of the standard daily fare that spews forth from those precincts -- all led by the woman who expressly defends the internment of innocent American citizens based on their ethnicity and who is now the most frequent guest host of America's most-watched cable news show. And it is this mentality that gives us today's cast of flame-fanning obsessives, seizing these new Pew poll numbers in order to insinuate that there is some sort of emerging treasonous Fifth Column within America composed of Muslims.

Today's anti-Muslim warrior ritual is based upon nothing more substantial than the series of exciting loud noises and bulk cell phone purchases at various Wal-Marts that proved to be so disappointing. They cite the findings that minorities of American Muslims can conceive of circumstances in which suicide bombings are justified to defend Islam, and that a majority of the respondents (a) believe the war in Afghanistan is wrong; (b) think of themselves as "Muslims first," rather than "Americans first"; and (c) favor larger government. How much longer can the Republic withstand the grave Islamic Threat From Within?

Polling data of this type can be used to "demonstrate" that substantial numbers of virtually every religious group within America holds similar views, and in many cases, views which are even more extremist and, one could say, rather deranged. A 2005 Pew poll, for instance, found that large majorities of Christians believe in torture -- not "enhanced interrogation techniques," but torture:

Note that majorities of white Christians want to torture not merely actual terrorists, but they also want to torture "terrorist suspects" as well, i.e., a group that almost certainly includes perfectly innocent people.

And majorities of white Christians -- Catholics, evangelicals and protestants -- believe in torture not merely in the improbable-in-the-extreme "ticking time bomb" scenario; rather, they believe in torture as a matter of course (i.e., more than "rarely" -- either "often or "sometimes"). (By stark and revealing contrast, "secularists" oppose torture in far greater numbers). Think about how depraved that is: what kind of religious individual affirmatively believes that people should be routinely tortured, including people who have never been proven to have done anything wrong?

Furthermore, the Pew Poll from today itself revealed that 42% of American Christians -- 42% -- consider themselves "Christians first," not "Americans first." A very substantial portion of Christians, then, place allegiance to their religion above that of allegiance to the United States.

And then there is the findings by a recent Newsweek poll:

Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.

They simply deny scientific reality and, in the case of creationists, cling to patently false beliefs about the origin of the world.

Similarly large numbers of Christians -- 31% -- believe in "Christian Zionism." In the poll, that was "defined as a belief that Israel must have all of the promised land, including Jerusalem, to facilitate the second coming of the messiah." It thus seems fair -- even necessary -- to assume that at least some sizable support among Christians for the Bush administration's Middle Eastern militarism is due not to their loyalty to U.S. interests, but instead to their theological desire to strengthen Israel in order to bring about the return of the messiah.

American Jews (.pdf), like American Muslims, oppose Bush's "war on terrorism" policies in large numbers. A full 65% believe that the U.S. "should have stayed out of Iraq," while 62% disapprove of the way the U.S. is handling the war on terror. And a majority would oppose any American military action against Iran. Hair-raising.

Similarly, there are several findings that could be cited to generate some of the same allegiance and loyalty questions about American Jews which right-wing warriors are raising about American Muslims today -- including the large majorities who say their Judaism is "very important" in their lives, who say they feel "very close" or "fairly close" to Israel, and the overwhelming 75% who agree that "caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew."

Most religious people, by definition, place their religion as the most important aspect of their identity. Religious fervor of all types can easily engender fanaticism. Thus, every religion has extremists driven to violent and illegal acts in the name of their religion.

And while right-wing warriors are pointing most enthusiastically to the minority of Muslims who said that suicide bombings may be justified in defense of Islam, isn't that exactly the same reasoning used by the Republican throngs in South Carolina who cheered most aggressively when the GOP presidential candidates talked excitedly about torture last week -- i.e., that if one can even imagine a hypothetical scenario where X is justified, then it should be embraced generally as an option?

Is there any doubt that Christians would argue -- correctly, I'd suggest -- that there may be a case where suicide bombings would be justified in defense of their religion, such as, say, if the U.S. were invaded and occupied by a foreign army which began burning churches, banning the practice of Christianity, and arresting and executing Christians? Though undoubtedly some American Muslims embrace the most reprehensible fringes of Islamic extremism, the notion that suicide bombings may, in some hypothetical case be theoretically justified, is hardly the mark of an Enemy of Civilization.

The frothing, drooling anti-Islamic hysteria that one finds from Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and right-wing blogs -- not to mention pandering, craven GOP presidential candidates -- is so unhinged and cartoon-like that there is a temptation not to take it seriously, to do nothing but mock it.

But there is something rather extraordinary taking place. Presidential candidates of the political party that has dominated our country for the last two decades are competing with each other to prove who will most aggressively embrace policies such as torture and indefinite detention well beyond even what the Bush administration has ushered in. And this is occurring in the midst of still new extraordinary emergency presidential powers, along with allowing the Bush administration's radical framework of presidential omnipotence, constructed over the last six years, to remain largely undisturbed. The tenor of our political discourse becomes increasingly unrecognizable -- mainstream presidential candidates openly and happily advocate torture and life imprisonment with no charges while the audience wildly cheers.

The U.S. already has at least 14,000 people held in detention around the world without charges of any kind -- the vast, vast majority of them Muslim, many of whom have been tortured. And yet, there is a sizable portion of the country -- and clearly large portions of the GOP base -- which believe we have been too restrained against our Islamic Enemy, that we need more torture and more detentions and still fewer restraints, that the principal failing of the Bush administration is that they have been too meek and too compromising when dealing with the Great Islamic Threat.

The group that has embraced this worldview is a minority group, though a large and influential minority. But the danger of laying the foundation for policies of the type they have sought and continue to seek is that once they take root, once the premises on which they are based become accepted and lose their taboo, much larger-scale abuses are easily imagined.

For a country that has been primed to view Muslims, including American Muslims, as a mortal threat, and which has come to embrace policies of torture and arbitrary, indefinite detention as ordinary and normal -- really to lose any moral or political limits of any kind -- another terrorist attack or even general instability can easily generate all sorts of excesses, as can a new president who campaigns on an ethos of eroding still further our moral and legal limits. Exactly that has happened many times in the history of our country alone. The mix of mindless anti-Muslim hysteria and an open embrace of torture and limitless detention is truly toxic, and yet that has become the central, defining trait of the base of the Republican Party.

UPDATE: BREAKING! Jihadist on the loose with bombs in the U.S.!

Even in death, the Rev. Jerry Falwell rouses the most volatile of emotions.

A small group of protesters gathered near the funeral services to criticize the man who mobilized Christian evangelicals and made them a major force in American politics -- often by playing on social prejudices.

And Campbell County authorities arrested a Liberty University student for having several homemade bombs in his car.

The student, 19-year-old Mark D. Uhl of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting the funeral service. The devices were made of a combination of gasoline and detergent, a law enforcement official told ABC News' Pierre Thomas.

"There were indications that there were others involved in the manufacturing of these devices and we are still investigating these individuals with the assistance of ATF [Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms], Virginia State Police and FBI. . . .

Three other suspects are being sought, one of whom is a soldier from Fort Benning, Ga., and another is a high school student. No information was available on the third suspect.

Authorities were alerted to the potential bomb plot after relative of Uhl called to say that he had homemade bombs in his possession. Officials searched Uhl's car where they found five incendiary devices in the trunk.

With just a slight modification (if only the bomb plotters were Muslim rather than almost certainly Christian), this story would generate days and days of rabid coverage on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and among the right-wing warrior-bloggers, as well as at least one major address from Dick Cheney about how this shows how much we need to keep people in Guantanamo and torture them. But without the modification, no meaning will be inferred and there will be virtual silence in those corners.

UPDATE II: This is the MySpace page for the alleged Liberty University bomber, Mark David Uhl. He lists his religion as "Christian," claims to be Caucasian and straight, says that among the types of music he enjoys is "worship" music, and vows that he "will join the ARMY as an officer after college" (emphasis in original). He also indicates that he is now in the Army ROTC, and advises that his name, "Mark," means "Mighty Warrior."

His favorite book is the Bible. He claims to be a "Solider of Christ." The first MySpace friend he lists is "Jesus". Under "ten movies which define who I am," he listed as number 8: Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (number 9 is Beauty & the Beast and number 10 is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; The Lion King (number 5) and Alice in Wonderland (number 6) also define him).

It is difficult to imagine the endless uproar to which we would be subjected if, instead, his favorite book were the Koran, he identified as Muslim, listed Mohammed as his Best MySpace friend, and belonged to the "Jihadist" MySpace group rather than "Soldier of Christ." That -- rather than trying to infer anything from his Christianity -- is the point here.

UPDATE III: A couple of weeks ago, Dave Neiwert examined an arrest in Austin, Texas of a pro-life activist planning an Eric-Rudolph-like bombing of an abortion clinic, along with the arrests of members of the "Alabama Free Militia" who were stockpiling grenades (h/t Hume's Ghost). Just today, USA Today reported on the problems law enforcement is facing from vigilantes and other lawbreakers who resort to violence to advance their anti-immigration agenda, and a Free Republic employee and anti-immigration activist was recently arrested for bringing large numbers of weapons to an anti-immigration protest and having Molotov cocktails in his home (h/t reader BR).

It should go without saying that the vast majority of pro-life activists and anti-immigration advocates -- like the vast majority of American Muslims -- do not engage in violence. But the difference in the treatment of individual cases of violence could not be any more stark.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------