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A Muslim Community Center? Why Not?

Why Should Jews Care?

by Robin Podolsky with Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak,, September 7, 2010

(Page 6 of 8) Print version

Auschwitz was a place where Jews were killed for being Jews (and Poles for being Poles, Rom for being Rom, etc.) The nuns made it their mission to pray for the souls of all the departed—including, as one fundraising brochure suggested for "the conversion of strayed brothers." Ground Zero was a place where people of many religions and ethnicities were all were killed for being Americans and doing business with Americans. The convent was perceived to be a place where people prayed that Jews cease to be Jews; the Park51 community center will be a place in which Americans will pray for America to be blessed and strengthened.

Why now?
There is no denying the raw pain felt by families of 9/11 victims and by survivors. Their emotions are real. But somehow that pain has been co-opted into a political and cultural war that goes beyond the personal. When Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, John Hagee and Daniel Lapin, sharing a platform at a rally in Washington DC, start to harness this energy in service of a particular (not conspiratorial—it's right out there!) agenda—when the ACLJ, Pat Robertson and Daniel Pipes are not far behind, then we might be forgiven for seeing cold calculation behind the rhetorical fire.

We have seen this configuration and this message before. In 2008, prior to the historic presidential election, millions of unsolicited DVD's were inserted into newspapers delivered to homes in swing states. It takes serious funding to pull off a campaign of that size. The DVD, Obsession, begins with horrific footage of the two towers attack, mixed with images of ordinary Muslims at prayer along with images of Muslims in uniform practicing with weapons. Therein lies the message of the film. Although it ostensibly seeks only to warn Americans of the danger posed by violent Muslim fundamentalists, the effect is to suggest that all Muslims must be legitimately regarded with suspicion and required to prove themselves.

Obsession preaches that the United States is engaged in what Senator John McCain called a "transcendental struggle" against all of worldwide Islam—except for the good Muslims whom we can recognize by their revulsion at the very notion of combining into social action groups unless those groups have the sole purpose of telling everyone else who the bad Muslims are. A Muslim ADL, we are to assume, must be an arm of the soft Jihad. The Clarion Fund, which distributed Obsession, has the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" splashed across its website, which features a section, under the rubric "Homegrown Threat" called "U.S. Mosques" and which accuses Muslims of "the infiltration of school boards, textbook distributors, and government entities."

What interests might be served, then and now, by this sort of thing? Just as they did two years ago, the political veterans who are shaping spontaneous responses to Park51 into a movement with slogans and memes, are people on the political right. Now, as they did then, they have a beef with President Barack Obama. They wish to see him and his party disempowered.

As was the case two years ago, the right wing is faced with some problems. To truly focus on the economy—the key issue in our last presidential election and a driver of the congressional races—is to veer too close to the legacy of disaster left by the last Republican president. The only solution to massive unemployment that they can countenance is the lowering of corporate and personal taxes on those for whom the marketplace is still generating prosperity. That solution cannot work—did not generate jobs during the Bush era and ignores a key ingredient in beating the recession: rebuilding the middle class with jobs and investments. (See also Peter Laarman's essay Labor Day of Mourning)

But, let's be honest, the economy has never been the Republican Party's happiest métier. They do far better with transcendental struggles. In the absence of the Soviets, during the Clinton years, they suffered. Now, in Al Qaeda the right wing of the Republican Party (which is hard, these days, to distinguish from its mainstream) has found a partner who will rock and roll all night and party every day. And if Al Qaeda isn't quite enough, if the global struggle has to come down to anybody who is a Muslim and everyone else, well this crowd has the stomach for it.

On August 9, the John Hagee Ministries' Weekly Update conflated the Park51 issue with anger at the President's economic policies. It reads in part:

When the people of New York City don't want a mega-mosque built at Ground Zero, but the mosque goes forward while liberal elites lecture us about tolerance… When the American people don't want the government telling them what they must buy, but they must buy it anyway, which is exactly what ObamaCare does...this is dictatorship.

Elsewhere in the article, the defeat in court of Proposition 8, which had banned same-sex marriage and the federal challenge to Arizona's anti-immigrant law were also mentioned.

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Hagee, of course is famous for founding CUFI, Christians United for Israel, an organization that supports the Israeli Likud Party policies with regard to the occupied territories, because its members believe that all of Biblical Israel must be in Jewish hands. Hagee is also famous as a millenarian, who pins great hopes on the founding of the State of Israel as a sign that the War of Armageddon is at hand. In his book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee indicates that a necessary stage in the process of global redemption is a period of tribulation in which Israel is almost wiped out through wars with her neighbors. This conflict is necessary so that the "remnant" that remains will be in a position to recognize Jesus as the true Messiah and give up Judaism altogether.

Hagee is also allied with that section of the Christian right which is working to re-brand the United States as a Christian nation. A common tactic of such groups is an appropriation of the language of the civil rights movement, in attempts to paint themselves as fighting for an embattled minority. An example of the double standard such groups promote is the entire project of the American Center for Law and Justice. A look at the ACLJ's actual work indicates that the sort of "religious freedom" being promoted is entirely one sided. In addition to a lawsuit filed by the ACLJ against Park51, the group invoked the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment along with other legal doctrine to protest a junior high school assembly in Houston in which students were taught basic facts about Islamic beliefs. However, in their "Education" issue brief, the ACLJ asserts that:

Perhaps more than in any other arena, Christians find that their values and beliefs are under continual attack in the nation's public schools.…The so-called "doctrine" of separation of church and state has become the battle cry of those who wish to purge all religious expression from the public schools.

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