The Progress Report
by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, Tanya Somanader
In December, the New York Times reported that “for months,” hundreds of Muslims had been gathering every Friday at an abandoned building two blocks north of the World Trade Center for prayer and readings from the Qur’an in Arabic. A group of Muslims purchased the building — which had been damaged from debris resulting from the 9/11 attacks — and now, led by the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and the Cordoba Initiative, plan to build a 15-story Islamic community center there that will include a mosque, an arts center, a workout facility, and other public spaces. ASMA founder Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said the project “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.” “We want to push back against the extremists,” he added. Other faith leaders offered support for the project. “[Abdul Rauf] subscribes to my credo: ‘Live and let live,'” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a spiritual leader at a nearby synagogue. “Building so close is owning the tragedy. It’s a way of saying: ‘This is something done by people who call themselves Muslims. We want to be here to repair the breach, as the Bible says,'” said Joan Brown Campbell, a Christian leader in New York. Despite interfaith support for the project, the idea of having a Muslim center anywhere near Ground Zero has set off right-wing outrage based in bigotry, paranoia, bias, racism, and intolerance.
RIGHT-WING FREAK OUT: In May, news of the project grew more widespread and inflamed anti-Muslim rhetoric from the right (even though there has been a mosque in the neighborhood since the 1980s). Enraged (and now disgraced) Tea Party leader Mark Williams said the site would allow Muslims to worship their “monkey-god.” From there, a right-wing freak out was born. “I hope somebody blows it up,” said conservative radio talk show host Michael Berry. Rush Limbaugh said that because of the project, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed won’t “have an impossible time” getting a “sympathetic jury” if he is tried in New York. The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol writes today that in order to save his presidency, President Obama should say the Islamic center is “a bad idea.” Conservative blogger and executive director of “Stop Islamization of America” (SIOA) Pamela Geller said the Islamic center is a “triumphal mosque” on “conquered lands.” The National Republican Trust PAC — which has doled out funds to various Republican candidates for Congress, including Sen. John Thune (R-SD) — recently launched an ad urging Americans to “join the fight” against the mosque project. Not making any distinction between the 9/11 terrorists and ASMA or Muslims in general, the ad says, “On Sept. 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. … That mosque is a monument to their victory and an invitation for more. A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand.” Hostility to building mosques has spread across the country. In Mufreesboro, Tennessee, residents gathered to protest the construction of a mosque, while the planned construction of a mosque in Southern California is inspiring similarly fierce opposition from local conservatives.
MAINSTREAMING BIGOTRY: Republicans both in and out of Congress are attacking the project, while conservative news outlets Fox News and the Washington Times have joined the chorus. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the proposed Islamic center “very offensive” and “wrong.” Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called on “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the Ground Zero mosque. And, criticizing the proposal, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich argued that the U.S. should model itself after a non-democratic country. “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” he said, calling the ASMA and the Cordoba Initiative “hostile to our civilization.” Last week, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which describes itself as “fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism” sided with the hate. The group acknowledged that the attacks on the project stem from “bigotry” and are “unfair,” but nevertheless agreed with the extremists that a mosque should not be built near Ground Zero. “This is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right,” an ADL statement said, adding, “In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.”
SANITY RESPONDS: “The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Time’s Joe Klein noted that “[d]uring the high-tide of anti-semitism, and then again during the civil-rights movement, and often since, the Anti-Defamation League transcended its Jewish origins to stand as a courageous American voice against prejudice.” But now, he said, the ADL has joined “the intolerant know-nothings” and “has sullied American Judaism’s intense tradition of tolerance and inclusion. “What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States…than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. The New America Foundation’s Robert Wright agrees: “[Opposition to the mosque center] fits perfectly with his recruiting pitch — that America has declared war on Islam.” Moreover, state and city politicians and local community leaders widely support the Islamic center. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (I) recently criticized the right’s reaction to the project. “If we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us? Democracy is stronger than this,” he said, adding, “The ability to practice your religion was one of the real reasons America was founded.” Indeed, in a letter promoting religious tolerance to a Jewish community in Newport, RI, founding father George Washington said, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” In fact, the FBI said that the ASMA’s Abdul Rauf helped the agency reach out to Muslim communities after 9/11. “We’ve had positive interactions with him in the past,” an agency spokesperson said. A family member of a 9/11 victim called ASMA’s proposal a “bold step,” and considers the plan “a noble effort.”
Under the Radar
IMMIGRATION — THREATS FLOOD INTO ARIZONA JUDGE’S OFFICE AFTER SB-1070 RULING: After federal district court judge Susan Bolton blocked several key provisions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law in a long-awaited decision last week, she “received hundreds of threats at her court offices within hours.” U.S. Marshal David Gonzales reports Bolton has been “inundated” with the threats: “About 99.9% of the inappropriate comments are people venting. They are exercising their First Amendment rights and a lot of it is perverted. But it’s that 0.1 percent that goes over the line that we are taking extra seriously.” He added, “It is policy at a juncture like this to increase security at the courthouse.” Bolton is not the only official facing hostility following Wednesday’s ruling. On Thursday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) was forced to close his district office in Yuma, AZ, after “finding a window shattered and a bullet inside.” In April, on the same day SB-1070 was signed into law, Grijalva — an outspoken opponent of the legislation who had called for boycotting the state — closed two district offices “after a man called the Tucson office twice threatening to ‘come in there and blow everybody’s head off,’ and then go to the U.S.-Mexico border to ‘shoot any Mexicans that try to come across.'” Local militiamen have organized “combat veterans, with kill records, to camp out and patrol” the U.S.-Mexico border, and Neo-Nazis in Arizona now “patrol the border” aiming to “kill or capture immigrants.” Besides immigration-related violence, “threats of violence against lawmakers” also “spiked in the immediate aftermath of the healthcare reform battle in Congress,” when vandals targeted the offices of pro-reform members and threatened to “assassinate” the lawmakers’ children.
The Financial Times’ Ed Luce documents the “crisis of middle-class America.” Noting the “median wage stagnation” that has afflicted most American families, Luce writes, “the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 — having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation.”
The passage of the Affordable Care Act will save the Medicare program about $8 billion by the end of the year, “and $575 billion over the rest of the decade,” according to the Obama administration. The savings are anticipated to add “12 years of solvency” to Medicare’s trust fund for inpatient care.
Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said on NBC’S Meet the Press yesterday that “the slowing economic recovery in the U.S. feels like a ‘quasi-recession.'” He warned that a “double-dip” recession is possible “if home prices go down.”
“Driven by increasing anger at Democratic policies” and enabled by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, “business and conservative groups are preparing a flood of campaign money” for this Fall’s mid-term elections. While labor unions and allied liberal groups also plan to spend, “the momentum and the new money” are coming from business and its allies.
Gen. David Petraeus, “who in July took over as head of the allied force in Afghanistan,” has issued revised airstrike rules that will ease restrictions on the ability for U.S. troops to call in strikes on suspected insurgents. The new rules make it “clear that troops are allowed to request airstrikes and artillery strikes against insurgents hiding in dilapidated buildings or other abandoned structures.”
President Obama will deliver a speech at the Disabled Veterans of America in Atlanta where he will “mark the formal end of the combat mission” in Iraq. “As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Obama says in his prepared remarks. “And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised, on schedule.”
Engineers plan to begin a “static kill” operation today on BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, which will pump in mud and then cement to plug the well. The operation “carries no certainty,” and BP engineers still plan to use relief wells to cap the well for good, but the company says the static kill will “make it even easier for the crews drilling the relief well” to permanently seal the well.
The White House Correspondents Association has granted Fox News a “much-coveted front-row seat in the White House briefing room.” The seat was previously occupied by the AP, which “has been moved to the front-row center seat previously occupied by Helen Thomas.” Bloomberg News and NPR had also both lobbied for Thomas’ seat and now remain in the second row.
And finally: The Joe Biden bobblehead.
The conservative version of health care rationing.
Are the long-term unemployed organizing politically?
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH): “I don’t need to see GDP numbers or listen to economists.’
Rand Paul invokes the Nazis.
A “disastrous” oil spill is contaminating the waters of Michigan.
“It’s getting embarrassing to be a conservative.”
Sarah Palin blames the media for her low approval ratings.
Who will be the next Secretary of Defense?
Q: Some of these border towns [in Arizona] that were thought to be susceptible to lawbreaking of illegal immigrants. Crime is actually down. Crime in Phoenix for instance is down significantly over the past couple of years.
KYL: Well, that’s a gross generalization.
— Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), 8/01/10
“According to the FBI, the four large U.S. cities (with populations of at least 500,000) with the lowest violent crime rates — San Diego, Phoenix and the Texas cities of El Paso and Austin — are all in border states. ‘The border is safer now than it’s ever been,’ [said] U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.”
— Time Magazine, 7/30/10