Demagoguery and Islamophobia in the Precincts; (or) Fear and Loathing in The Flyover

By Barry Dredze

Updated from an article originally published in The Township Democrat, the official newsletter of the Winfield Township Democratic Organization, Autumn, 2012

While network and cable news presented opponents of the development with fearful concerns of “the Ground Zero Mosque,” generated by a contrived insensitivity on the part of Muslims toward the feelings of families of 9/11 victims, what now prevails in the heartland of the American flyover precincts is a cynical bigotry and willful ignorance.

About thirty miles west of Chicago in Winfield, Illinois, then Winfield Register Editor-in-Chief Robert C. Greer penned an editorial in his September 19, 2012 issue, “Islam: Back on the Front Burner.”

“Some of us erroneously think that moderate Muslims are the true Muslims,” Greer wrote. “They are actually hybrids. They have blended Western values with cherry-picked passages from the Qur’an.”

Greer recently quit the newspaper business to run for the Village of Winfield Board of Trustees.

To advance his argument (and promote his books) Greer went long on assertions and short on specific examples of any homegrown threats from the Islam and the local Muslim community.

“Here in the Chicago suburbs, jihad is principally coming to us via cultural jihad,” Greer wrote. “This is seen, for example, in the use of Shari’a law in our courts, especially in domestic cases where divorce and inheritances are being addressed among Muslim families.”

Indeed, Islamic law, or Shari’a, guides the decisions about everyday living and life-cycle events, from how practicing Muslms eat to how they conduct business and from marriage to estate planning, in the very same manner that Jewish rabbinic law, or Halacha, guides the lives of practicing Orthodox Jews.

If we are to take the application of these religious laws by members of our communities as genuine threats on our Constitutional liberties, then consider for comparison the “blue laws” that still exist in some of our communities prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Christian Sabbath or ongoing attempts by religious leaders to restrict public family planning services and to outlaw particular legal medical procedures.

The fifth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday occurred on this past October 7, when clergy intentionally preach explicitly political sermons, usually opposing gay marriage, abortion and other “culture war” issues, and send the recordings to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The intention is to protest the prohibition against tax-exempt organizations from political partisanship (in exchange for federal tax exemptions and the right to accept tax-deductible donations) by inviting an IRS investigation and to challenge the law in court. A fringe benefit of this year’s timing is the opportunity to sustain claims by the religious right of a “War on Religion” being waged by the Obama administration.

When Oklahoma voters approved an initiative in 2010 preventing courts from basing decisions on international law, specifically mentioning Shari’a, the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Executive Director Muneer Awad filed suit. Awad argued that the measure denied him rights that are available to people of other religions. For example, Awad said that his will instructs the courts to consider Islamic precepts in situations where his wishes are otherwise unclear but that the Oklahoma measure would prevent it, even though the judge could consider religious instructions for Christians and Jews.

“Given the lack of evidence of any concrete problem, any harm Appellants [Oklahoma lawmakers] seek to remedy with the proposed amendment is speculative at best,” 10th Circuit Judge Scott Matheson, writing for a three-judge panel of the court, concluded.

We have seen this same demagoguery used to gin up the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy during the run-up to the 2010 mid term elections, when former Bush administration advisor Dan Senor raised concerns about funding provided for the Manhattan Islamic Center development, Cordoba House, by an unnamed Saudi royal. FoxNews hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade interviewed Senor regarding the funding sources for Cordoba House.

“The Kingdom Foundation,” Senor said, “so you know, is this Saudi organization headed up by the guy who tried to give Rudy Giuliani $10 million after 9/11 that was sent back, he funds radical madrassas all over the world.”

What Senor failed to note, so we would not know, is that The Kingdom Foundation’s principal benefactor is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the largest shareholder of FoxNews parent company News Corp. outside the family of CEO Rupert Murdoch.

Meanwhile, the College Preparatory School of America, an Islamic school in Lombard, Illinois was vandalized on the night of August 12, 2012, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when someone hurled a 7-Up bottle filled with a noxious chemical cocktail at the school during the nighttime Ramadan prayers.

If we tolerate demagoguery against Muslim Americans, then any subgroup of American society may become fair game. Christian churchgoers generally can be exploited as terrorist sympathizers by characterizing the murderers of OB-GYN surgeons and bombers of women’s clinics as the true Christians acting out the pure intent of the Gospels. Many Jewish organizations can be held in suspicion of placing the Israeli Likud party platform over consistent foreign policy objectives of the US State Department.

Indeed, the publisher of Greer’s own books InterVarsity Press of Downers Grove describes as its purpose to “serve those in the university, the church and the world by publishing resources that equip and encourage people to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in all of Life.” Not only to encourage Christians but apparently any and all people to follow the Christian messiah as “Savior and Lord in all of Life” – much like the theocratic threat that Greer would have his readers fear from Islamic Shari’a law.

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