The Islamic cultural center/Ground Zero mosque madness is a defining moment. It pits the energized yahoos of the creepy, authoritarian right—given wink, wink support from the cynical and opportunistic Republican leadership—versus our fragile and inconsistent traditions of pluralism and civil rights. The appalling video of the black guy being jeered and accosted by the spittle-flecked crowd this weekend is a good sign of where things are headed if this hateful movement is not confronted.
Juan Cole, as usual, nails it in comparing the screaming mobs waving their American flag placards at the Ground Zero site with the segregationist die-hards of yesteryear:
‘We saw this sort of thinking in the Jim Crow era, when African Americans, though full American citizens, were prevented from living, shopping, working and inevitably from worshiping in certain geographical areas, on the grounds that their doing so would offend and hurt the feelings of the White majority’. [my emphasis]
Many others have weighed in with similar observations and historical background, no need to repeat it. But this is the moment for President Obama and his terminally weak-kneed Democratic Party to grow a pair and defend what is right. This means not just mouthing proper sentiments about the general principles of religious tolerance but facing down the blowhards without buckling and offering phony ‘compromises’, backpedaling, hedging or creative phraseology (of the sort favored by doublespeak master Anthony Weiner).
It is time for those who tirelessly trumpet the memory of Dr Martin Luther King to act with one-tenth of his moral courage. Need we imagine what King would have said about this display of racial and ethnic animosity and its enablers like McConnell and Beck?
Although everyone and his cousin is having their say on this growing outrage, the ball is in Mr Obama’s court. Obama famously refused to be drawn into acting like the ‘angry black male’ during the 2008 campaign, and his strategy was proven to work. But running for office and being president are not the same things—the stakes are much higher now, and passivity will cost us all a lot more than a lost election. Sometimes you have to take a stand on principle even if you make some people mad—and anyway, who cares about people who think Obama’s a closet Muslim?
Cole says it best: ‘Those who believe that giving the Lazios and Palins and Gingriches this one will deflate the tension are misreading the historical moment. These are ravenous beasts, and giving them red meat will only send them into a greater frenzy, not satiate them’.