The Progress Report
by Faiz Shakir, Benjamin Armbruster, George Zornick, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, and Tanya Somanader
This Saturday, Americans across the country will mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. While many view this as a time for Americans to unite in remembrance of the lives lost that day, some virulently anti-Islamic groups are using the anniversary as an opportunity to launch divisive attacks against Muslim Americans and the Islamic faith. The radical right-wing group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) is channeling the prevalent paranoid hysteria over the proposed Cordoba House Islamic community center into a rally against the project in New York City this Saturday. Doubling-down on the Islamophobia, a church in Gainesville, FL — ironically-named the Dove World Outreach Center — plans to insult Muslims across the world by hosting an “International Burn a Quran Day” rally in which members will burn Islam’s sacred text “to destroy the works of the devil.” As one of the church’s pastors puts it in his instructional video, “If you call yourself Christian, this is something you should be doing.” While the leaders of these rallies, SIOA’s Pam Geller and Dove World Outreach Center’s pastor Terry Jones, claim to push a patriotic view, their protests have created a polarizing divide among Americans. On the right, high-profile conservatives have embraced Islamophobia as a political tool in a radical shift towards extremism. But a variety of religious and political leaders, as well as 9/11 families, have denounced the rallies as disrespectful events that trample on the American ideals of religious freedom and tolerance. Moreover, the ideological battle has led to very real and violent consequences that could endanger the lives of U.S. soldiers serving abroad.
A BLESSING FROM THE RIGHT: In promoting their respective events, Jones and Geller have injected increasingly hateful rhetoric into the dialogue over Islam in America. Jones, author of the book “Islam is of the Devil,” insisted that “the times call for” Quran burning to say “stop, stop to Islam, stop to Islamic law, stop to brutality.” As “chief spokeswoman against” the Cordoba Initiative, Geller has appeared on ABC, CNN, NBC Nightly News, and Fox to express her view that Muslim-Americans “will be attempting a political takeover, and if that doesn’t work, they will turn to further intimidation, murder and terrorism — just as they’ve already proved in dozens of countries around the world.” Geller’s well-documented Muslim-bashing has expectedly found support “from nearly every sector of America’s racist right.” The racist neo-secessionist group League of the South, the white nationalist organization National Policy Institute, and “the oldest and largest white nationalist forum,” Stormfront.org have all given resounding support to Geller’s views and her blog. At her rally this Saturday, Geller will also be hosting far-right Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who notably said “Islam is not a religion” but “the ideology of a retarded culture.” Indeed, Wilders’ racist film “Fitna” compelled the Court of Amsterdam to charge him with inciting discrimination and hatred. While many would say support from such figures make Geller “a fringe character” with little credibility, a number of high-profile conservatives have jumped on Geller’s bandwagon and legitimized her as a representative of a more radical right. Those who have “given their blessing” to Geller’s anti-Islam rally this weekend include former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, New York Senate candidate Gary Berntsen (R), and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginny Thomas. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who recently cited Nazis as an argument against the proposed Islamic center, originally agreed to send a video message to the rally but later rescinded the offer.
A PLEA FOR SANITY: While many conservatives are not troubled by the hate-inspiring anti-Islam rallies, a variety of organizations have decried these events as an affront to America’s bedrock principle of religious freedom and tolerance. The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest body of evangelicals, released a statement last month urging the Dove World Center to “cancel its plans” because they show a “disrespect” for Muslims and are “rooted in revenge.” Geller’s 9/11 rally has earned the scorn of Where to Turn, a organization representing 9/11 victims’ families. The group states that the rally “disrespect[s] the memories of our loved ones on this sacred day at this sacred site.” Having always protested any rally on 9/11 at Ground Zero, Where to Turn “will be joining other 9/11 organizations in asking that the organizers change the date for these events.” The hateful rhetoric aimed at the Islamic center also spurred a new coalition of 40 civic and religious organizations, including families of 9/11 victims, to contact officials and ask them “to support the project as a reflection of religious freedom and diversity, and the rejection of ‘crude stereotypes meant to frighten and divide us.'” Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who came under criticism for pushing to move the center, dubbed Geller’s rally “un-American.” Foxman views Wilders as “an anti-Muslim bigot” and Geller’s SIOA as a group that “vilifies Islamic faith and is engaged in [claiming] there’s a conspiracy to destroy American values, which is nonsense.” “For people with political agendas to use the place and the moment for their own interests and their own platforms is desecrating the memory and very sad,” he said.
DANGEROUS BACKLASH: The hateful rhetoric behind the rallies is doing more than desecrating the memory of 9/11, it is leading to very real and violent consequences that endanger Americans at home and abroad. The anti-Muslim sentiment not only has driven paranoid individuals to commit violent attacks against Muslims and mosques across the country, but it is “playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.” Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies said the “extreme anti-Muslim views in the United States ironically mirror a central tenet of extreme Islamists” by “suggesting that Islam has no place in the United States.” Indeed, Gen. David Petraeus said actions like Dove World Center’s rally “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems” for the 120,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops “still battling al-Qaeda and its allies in the Islamic fundamentalist movement.” In a statement against the rally yesterday, Petraeus warned that the demonstration “could endanger troops” and “the overall effort in Afghanistan.” Echoing Petraeus, commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan Gen. William Caldwell insisted that the Dove World Center’s “actions will in fact jeopardize the safety of the young men and women who are serving in uniform over here and also undermine the very mission that we’re trying to accomplish.” Despite these warnings, Jones said on CNN today that he will not back down from the event. While “we are definitely praying about it,” he said members “have firmly made up our mind” to go through with the rally. As if to confirm Petraeus’s fears, hundred of Afghans railed against the U.S. at a rally in Kabul yesterday protesting the church’s plans. While the U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend” Muslims, some protesters blamed President Obama for the planned Quran burning event and even called for his death.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that for the “first time in more than four years, Republicans run about evenly with Democrats on the basic question of which party they trust to handle the nation’s biggest problems.” Forty-three percent of voters say they trust the Republicans more to deal with the economy, while 38 percent trust Democrats — the first time the poll has found the GOP ahead on that question since 2002.
A new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll finds that, among likely voters, “the Republicans own a dramatic 49% to 40% advantage” when it comes to who they want to control Congress following the next election. The same poll finds that the approval rating of President Obama’s handling of the economy is at a low 39 percent.
“Seeking to bolster the sluggish economy,” President Obama announced yesterday that he will ask Congress for $50 billion for new investment in transportation infrastructure. Meanwhile, “in one of his most dramatic gestures to business,” Obama will also propose Wednesday “that companies be allowed to more quickly write off 100% of their new investment in plants and equipment through 2011.”
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles are significantly reducing troop deaths from roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan “at a time when insurgent bombings are at record levels.” The military said that MRAPs — specifically designed to shield troops from IED blasts — have reduced deaths and injuries by 30 percent since January 2009.
Former Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orzag writes in the New York Times today that the GOP and Democrats can reach a compromise on the Bush tax cuts: extend all the tax cuts for two years and then “end them altogether.” It would “make sense,” he said, because “over the medium term, the tax cuts are simply not affordable” but ending them now would stagnate the job market.
According to a new U.N. inspection report, Iran is steadily stockpiling enriched uranium, despite strong sanctions from the international community. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that due to a pattern of Iranian obstruction, it cannot confirm quantities of enriched uranium, but that there’s a growing list of questions about Iran’s stockpile.
New research suggests that the influx of foreign aid into Pakistan after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake significantly increased survivors’ trust in the West. Experts found that hard-line Islamic charities did little to actually help local residents.
And finally: While President Obama often employs automotive metaphors to accuse Republicans of being bad “drivers,” it seems everyone in Washington could use some lessons, as the city was recently ranked number one (for the third year in a row) for most accident-prone drivers. An Allstate insurance survey found that D.C. drivers are “96 percent more likely to get in a wreck than the average driver in the United States.”
Jordan is cracking down on internet freedom.
Petraeus: burning the Quran “could endanger troops.”
Target’s reputation is plummeting following donations supporting an anti-gay politician.
Gary Bauer falsely claims that the two-state solution is “rejected by vast majority of Arab Muslims.”
Education in Brazil continues to lag.
Turning to direct action in the climate movement.
The crisis in Afghanistan.
For the media, it’s always about conflict.
“[There were] no acts of terror under [President Bush’s] watch [after 9/11].”
— Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher, 9/06/10
“When people send anthrax through the mail to hurt people and invoke terror, it’s a terrorist act.”
— Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, 3/01/04, referring to the anthrax attacks in the U.S. that began on Sept. 18, 2001