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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26, 2011: Fighting for America

As I’ve read more about the political and cultural beliefs of, and especially the huge manifesto penned by, Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, it’s become clear that while his perspective was broadly anti-multiculturalism and –liberalism, he was specifically and centrally obsessed with what he saw as the threats posed to Western nations like Norway and America by Muslim immigrants. (Jihadists, he would say, but he very overtly meant not only Al Qaeda terrorists but all Muslim immigrants and arrivals.) To that end, the source quoted and referenced most often in his manifesto is (per Jeffrey Goldberg’s story at the second link below) Robert Spencer, a so-called “counterjihad” writer who has made his name and career arguing for this same kind of broad and sweeping anti-Muslim position in the United States. Spencer and his friend and co-blogger Pamela Geller were at the forefront in the controversies over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” and have two of the most prominent anti-Muslim voices in our national conversations for some time now.
To folks like Spencer and Geller, fighting for America means doing exactly what they’re doing—fighting for what they see as our cultural identity and values against this hostile, invading Muslim presence. That’s certainly how Breivik saw the battle unfolding as well, both in his native Norway and around the Western world. The very tragic irony, of course, is that this perspective mirrors quite precisely how Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda ilk think of the presence of Westerners in Arabic and Muslim nations—as an invading presence, one threatening to change all that the nations are at their core, one that thus can and should be answered, with violence if necessary (and isn’t it always to such thinkers?). As Goldberg puts it so succinctly and correctly in that linked piece, the most likely future victims in this fight, at least here in the United States, would seem clearly and horrifically to be Muslim Americans, particularly those associated with “controversial” projects such as the proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. How long before projects like that, or other mosques or Muslim gathering places, begin suffering the brutal fates of black churches during the Civil Rights era? And will Geller argue of such violence what she did of Breivik, that “if anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists”?
There are a whole host of ways one could respond to these arguments, but I don’t know that anybody has ever or could ever do so with more elegance and passion than Colin Powell. In the midst of endorsing Barack Obama for president in October 2008, Powell stepped back to address the question of Obama’s alleged Muslim identity, and of Muslims in America more generally. If you haven’t seen or read this part of his statement, or even if you have, it’s worth quoting in full:
“Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That's not America. Is there something wrong with a seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion that he is a Muslim and might have an association with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel particularly strongly about this because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay, was of a mother at Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star - showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith.

And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life."
Khan lost his life fighting for America too, in a way that puts the Spencers and Gellers and Breiviks of the world to shame. Or should, if they had any capacity for that emotion or any other recognizably human one other than fear and hatred. I don’t believe in violence, but I do believe that those of us who care about America and all of its citizens must and should fight back against this perspective in every other way. More tomorrow,
PS. Three links to start with:
1)      A story on Powell’s statement, including the beautiful New Yorker photo:
2)      Jeffrey Goldberg on Norway and anti-Muslim sentiment in America:
3)      OPEN: What do you think?

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