Media Matters: Of mosques and mendacity


If you've followed the conservative media over the past few weeks, you can be forgiven for thinking that it's a tough time for white Christians in America right now, what with the New Black Panthers denying white people their voting rights and undocumented workers clogging up our civic machinery with "anchor babies." The message coming from Fox News and some of the more determined attention-seekers on the right is that we're in a battle for white America's Jesus-worshiping soul, beset as it is by immigrants and black USDA officials and, perhaps most threateningly, Muslims.

The New York City landmarks commission decided this week to act in the interest of New Yorkers rather than out-of-state conservative pundits and voted to clear the way for the construction of an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from the site where the World Trade Center once stood. This was unacceptable to said pundits, who insisted that this site of America's mourning should be exempted from American values. "We're all about religious freedom," explained Sarah Palin, but only "down the road." Newt Gingrich announced, "I favor religious freedom," but not "right at the edge of a place where, let's be clear, thousands of Americans were killed in an attack by radical Islamists."

The argument from the right is relatively straightforward -- Muslim terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers, therefore we should ban all things Muslim from the area, in the interest of healing and sympathy (although, as Salon noted, they were curiously silent when Muslims began praying in the Pentagon shortly after 9-11). That argument necessarily holds all Muslims accountable for the detestable acts of the small and violent minority of Muslims who take up the terrorist mantle. On its own, that would be offensive enough, but people like Palin and Gingrich purport to be sensitive to that distinction and nonetheless run roughshod over it. Palin famously took to her Twitter account to exhort "peaceful Muslims" to "refudiate" the Islamic center. Gingrich acknowledged the differences between "radical Islamists" and other Muslims before launching into an unhinged attack on the "Ground Zero mosque" and "Creeping Sharia in the United States."

Others simply can't be bothered to even pretend to understand that "Muslim" does not equal "terrorist." A "recruiting tool for domestic extremists" was how Rush Limbaugh described the Islamic center. Glenn Beck called it an "Allah tells me to blow up America mosque." Comments like these badly mischaracterize what the "Ground Zero mosque" actually is and the role it will play in America's unsettled relationship with the Muslim world.

The people behind the mosque are Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, and contrary to what the right wing would have you believe, Time magazine says they're "actually the kind of Muslim leaders right-wing commentators fantasize about: modernists and moderates who openly condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents." Rauf has written a book titled What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America. In late 2001, after the 9-11 attacks, Rauf was quoted in New Jersey's Bergen County Record as saying that Islam must "define its 'American-ness,' that is, adapt to the American culture." The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, who knows Rauf, describes him as representing "what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country."

That message, however, is unimportant to right-wingers who are more interested in turning the "Ground Zero mosque" into a wedge issue and stoking Islamophobia for political benefit. The tragic farce of it all, as described by Slate's William Saletan, is that people like Palin and Gingrich, who purport to be standing up against terror and for America, are actually promulgating the same message as Osama bin Laden -- that "the United States represents Christianity, al-Qaida represents Muslims, Christians won't protect Muslims, the West hates mosques, peaceful coexistence is a fraud, and the 'war on terrorism' is really a war on Islam." It's hard to argue with that assessment when you hear the likes of Limbaugh claiming that the "Ground Zero mosque" means Muslims are "planting the flag of victory."

Jonathan Chait surveyed the right-wing opposition to the mosque and concluded that "a lot of people are going to eventually feel ashamed about where they stood." That might be true, but all signs seem to indicate that these people are about as familiar with the concept of shame as they are with religious freedom.

A big week for "judicial activism"

If the conservative media have taught us anything else -- and they haven't -- it's that members of the judiciary who are progressive and don't adhere strictly to right-wingers' shifting interpretations of the law are "judicial activists" who "legislate from the bench" and see the Constitution as a "living document" and so forth. Of course, the conservative faction of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts is carving out quite a legacy of judicial activism, but that doesn't count because they're conservatives.

And speaking of the Roberts court, it picked up its newest member this week as Elena Kagan, President Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, was confirmed by the Senate in a largely party-line vote that, while it got the job done, did not portend well for future nominations. She will be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court in spite of a spirited smear campaign by conservatives who were not about to limit themselves to cries of "judicial activism." They hurled just about every attack they could at Kagan throughout the nomination process, and it's still going strong even though the deed is done.

Just this week alone, conservatives attempted to force a delay on Kagan's vote by screaming that she lied to the Judiciary Committee about her stance on partial birth abortion. When that failed, they claimed she does not believe in and seeks to destroy the Constitution, they attacked her looks, and even called her a stealth Muslim.

But as intense as the attacks on Kagan were, the fusillade against Judge Vaughn Walker was even worse. Walker ruled this week that California's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and right-wingers lit into him not just because he ruled against their interests, but because he's gay. "Nero, like Judge Vaughn, wanted the community to embrace his unnatural way of life," declared The Washington Times, perhaps subconsciously acknowledging the stale antiquity of its position. The Times also insisted that Walker should have recused himself from the case because he is gay, a ludicrous argument that earned swift rebukes from people who actually know what they're talking about.

The intense right-wing focus on Judge Walker's personal life, however, managed to overlook one aspect of his background -- the fact that he was nominated as a federal judge by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

But such things are bound to happen to "judicial activists" when they do clearly unconstitutional things like stand up for equal rights.

He meant what he said, he said what he meant, Fox News stood by him, 1,000 percent

It's been clear for some time now that the culture of accountability at Fox News doesn't, you know ... exist. If you're a Fox News employee, you can get away with pretty much anything. Photoshopping the faces of New York Times reporters to make them ugly caricatures of themselves? No problem. Bringing on a racist anti-Semite to attack the African-American presidential candidate? Nothing to worry about. Cropping video of the president to claim he spoke for terrorist sympathizers? Give that man a raise!

But if there's a poster child for Fox News' permissive attitude toward media malpractice, it's Glenn Beck. After all, this is the guy whose attack on the president as a "racist" cost the network millions in ad revenue, and the worst he got was Rupert Murdoch's enthusiastic "good on ya!" (a Fox News spokesman later said Murdoch "does not ... think the president is a racist"). And this week we learned that there really doesn't seem to be anything Beck can do that will get him in trouble with his bosses.

It all started back on May 28, when Beck attacked Simon Greer of the Jewish Funds for Justice, who had called Beck a "con man" for "bottling [his] ideological agenda and labeling it theology." Beck responded by saying that Greer's philosophy "leads to death camps. A Jew, of all people, should know that. This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany. Put humankind and the common good first." After Beck attacked this prominent Jewish individual for helping to promote a second Holocaust, Fox News executives decided it might be a good idea to meet with Greer on behalf of their once-again wayward star and talk things over.

According to TVNewser, Fox News senior vice president Joel Cheatwood made clear to Greer that, in spite of Beck's horribly offensive rhetoric concerning one of the worst instances of genocide the world has ever known, Fox News "absolutely stood behind Glenn Beck 1000%."

So while this is obviously a disheartening development for society at large, Fox News hosts should be excited. If Fox executives will allow Glenn Beck to accuse Jews of, in the words of Greer, " paving the way for fascism," then they're free to get as creative as they want and attack anyone for pretty much anything.

Of course, they already do that anyway, but at least now it's official.

Simon Maloy is a Research Fellow at Media Matters for America.

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