For more than a month now, Republicans have been stoking the anti-Muslim fires in America. This shameful campaign has centered around plans for Park51, the Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero.
Sarah Palin was one of the first to ignite the controversy, calling it an “unnecessary provocation” and saying that it “stabs hearts.”
Newt Gingrich, also a GOP Presidential hopeful, blew hot air all over the flame by saying, "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington."
Gingrich implies that the Muslim Americans at Park51 are disciples of Osama bin Laden, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Nazi analogy is a smear in and of itself. (And by the way, Nazis do have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum if they owned the property there or if they were carrying the sign on a public sidewalk. But Gingrich would love to have this argument, since every repetition of the word “Nazi” in conjunction with this controversy is a public relations victory for his side.)
This past weekend, protesters in New York City gathered to oppose the Islamic community center with such signs as “All I Need to Know About Islam I Learned on 9/11.”
Ignorance and intolerance and political opportunism make for a poisonous concoction.
And Republicans are serving it up neat and on ice.
On Sunday, there was Mitch McConnell, defending the President in a backhanded way while stoking the fears of those who believe he’s a Muslim.
"The President says he's a Christian," McConnell said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute." How about telling his fellow Republicans to knock the whole thing off instead of this mealy-mouthed denial?
Last week, a Republican National Committee from Iowa named Kim Lehman actually said Obama “told the Muslims that he IS a Muslim. Read his lips.”
And Franklin Graham told John King on CNN:
"I think the President's problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother.”
Today, 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim when, in fact, he’s a Christian. That’s up from 11 percent a year and a half ago, according to the Pew Foundation.
Republicans are cynically trying to drag Obama down by raising the issue of the Islamic community center near 9/11 and by confecting a controversy over his religion.
They may even succeed at gaining political ground this way. But it’s a scorched-earth policy, charring our Constitution and our cherished values of tolerance and freedom of religion in the process.
By so doing Republican demagogues are, wittingly or unwittingly, preparing an invitation to fascism, which Noam Chomsky has been warning us about.
Republicans, have you no shame?
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “Xenophobia Runs Rampant.”
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter