Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Back in the day, I participated in clinic defense in Davis and Sacramento when the religious right targeted clinics that provided abortion and birth control services. There was an arson of a clinic across from McKinley Park in East Sacramento. But that was mild compared to what happened elsewhere. Throughout much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a concerted campaign of anonymous threats and violence directed towards driving abortion clinics out of much of the country, and the perpetrators succeeded.
Now we are reliving the same experience, except that this time, Muslims are the target of the religious right. Just as its previous participants concluded that reproductive rights services could be eliminated by threatening the employees of such facilities and vandalizing them, the current generation is focusing upon mosques as a means of pursuing the goal of driving Muslims out of their communities. The methodology is a common one on the right, the populist instigation, with the the mainstream media serving as a megaphone, of factually unconnected acts of violence and intimidation in the service of a broader effort to prevail through fear.
Accordingly, in this instance, the media characterizes it primarily as a conflict in various places around the country over the construction of new mosques, a zoning dispute, as it were, with the so-called Ground Zero Mosque being the most highly publicized instance. But the question posed in relation to the proposed Islamic community center in New York City, how far away from Ground Zero is acceptable, get to the heart of the matter, because the answer is increasingly outside the United States, as opposition to two other mosques in the greater New York City region, as well as the eruption of opposition to mosque projects in other parts of the country, indicates.
So, through a combination of religious right intimidation and media hyperbole, the Islamic community center has already been reduced to the status of an the architectural equivalent of a Guantanamo detainee. Upon release, the US finds it difficult to find any country, including the detainees' country of origin, willing to accept them, and there is no location within the city in which the proponents of the community center can seek to construct it without vehement opposition. By concentrating on the conflict in Manhatten in the Hearst tradition, the media has participated in the intensification of more hostility towards Muslims even as it fails to connect the opposition to new mosque construction with the nascent effort to get rid of existing ones.
Hence, for the larger public, an emerging nativist campaign, reminiscent of the ones that resulted in the forced deportion of Latinos in 1930s and the subsequent internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, remains largely unrecognized, allowing its religious right participants to manipulate populist sentiment to generate more support while ensuring that only the targets of its effort, Muslims, know their true intention. In fact, when one combines the opposition to new mosques with the vandalism directed towards existing ones, it becomes evident that the campaign can be summarized with the slogan Get Rid of the Muslims by Getting Rid of the Mosques. As the attack upon the taxi driver today suggests, we may be about to enter a more violent phase marked by random assaults upon Muslims consistent with the dramatic increase in hate crimes against them after 9/11.