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Creating the Muslim Manchurian Candidate
Posted on Mar 30, 2012
By John Feffer, TomDispatch
The Upcoming Elections
The 2010 midterm elections witnessed a sharp uptick in anti-Islamic sentiment. In addition to the concocted “Ground Zero mosque” controversy, Florida preacher Terry Jones threatened to burn the Qur’an in front of the world’s cameras; a group called Stop Islamization of America bought anti-Islamic ads on buses in major cities; and a movement to pass anti-Sharia legislation at a state level began in Oklahoma. In response to this brushfire of hatred, Time magazine devoted a cover story to Islamophobia that year. On the right at least, Islam seemed on the way to becoming a litmus test in the way communism was during the Cold War.
Two years later, the hysteria seems to have subsided. The Islamophobes haven’t gone into hiding. They tried to organize an advertising boycott of the TV show All-American Muslim; they campaigned against halal meats. But these efforts didn’t get much traction.
Meanwhile, Park51—the real name of the cultural center inaccurately dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque”—opened in its original Park Street location with an exhibition by a Jewish photographer. Terry Jones is pursuing a quixotic bid for the presidency far from the media spotlight. Time has returned several times to the topic of Islamophobia, particularly after Anders Breivik’s bombing and shooting rampage in Norway in July 2011, but with none of the intensity of the summer of 2010. The anti-Sharia campaign has passed legislation in several states, and laws are pending in more than a dozen more. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Oklahoma anti-Sharia statute unconstitutional, and the anti-Sharia crowd has been unable to provide a single piece of evidence that Islamic law poses any challenge to the U.S. legal system.
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Mitt Romney has a more ambivalent relationship to religion as a wedge issue, given the level of discomfort that many American have toward Mormonism. But there are no Mormon countries to which Romney can be accused of owing primary allegiance. It will be safe, in other words, to challenge Obama for acting rather than being Muslim, for deferring to the Muslim world much as anti-Catholic voters in 1960 imagined John F. Kennedy to be taking his orders directly from the Pope.
Romney is already lining up his ducks, welcoming onto his team Islam critic Walid Phares and attack ad specialist Larry McCarthy (who did a distortion-laden spot on the “Ground Zero mosque” back in 2010). After securing the nomination, Romney will simultaneously appeal to the center and shore up support among evangelicals. The message that Obama is weak, anti-Israel, and appeases Islamic movements and countries could catch the attention of both constituencies.
A disconnect between accusation and reality hardly matters in American politics these days. Obama the “socialist” somehow manages to work hand in hand with Wall Street financiers. Obama the “Nazi” courts AIPAC. Obama the “peacenik” has been very much a war president. And Obama the “Muslim” gets a big thumbs-down from the Muslim world.
The president makes a lousy Muslim Manchurian candidate, for he has disappointed his imagined Muslim handlers at virtually every turn. In an election in which racist slogans are off the table, however, the Islamophobic accusation of “acting Muslim” remains a politically acceptable chauvinism. Given the deep anti-Islamic currents in American culture, such accusations might unfortunately prove effective as well.
John Feffer is the author of the just-published “Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam” (City Lights Books). A TomDispatch regular, he is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and will be starting an Open Society fellowship later this year.
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© 2012 John Feffer
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