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The Mosque and the 'American Street'

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The circus around the mosque should start to lose audience. New York officials have the authority to decide whether an Islamic center may be built near the tragic site of the attacks on the Twin Towers. They've given it a green light.

Our foreign policy establishment worries that the intemperate rants against the project are hurting efforts to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, the mosque debate could "take a toll on prospects for U.S. policies throughout the greater Middle East." The experts fear that the nastiness will antagonize what is sometimes called the "Arab street" -- roughly defined as the frustrated, angry masses in much of the Mideast.

Well, here's the American street. Perhaps it is useful for our makers of foreign policy to understand these feelings, as well. Perhaps their military interventions to turn the Islamic cultures into Jeffersonian democracies have not quite won the hearts and minds of Americans. They certainly haven't delivered the promised groundswell of affection from the people that Condoleezza Rice kept saying we were liberating.

Left-wing columnist Frank Rich accuses right-wing media agitators of undermining the military effort in Afghanistan by stoking anger against the project. He writes, "So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right ... that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus' last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative."

Surely he knows that Fox News and Sarah Palin don't give a damn about Afghanistan or the brave Americans fighting there. All they care about is ratings and attention.

Texas Republican/libertarian Rep. Ron Paul similarly berates the foes of the Islamic center. Like Frank Rich, he insists that this controversy was driven by neo-conservatives who "never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill-conceived preventative wars." 

Both men have been right about "ill-conceived preventative wars," but they're wrong about neo-conservatives' using "hatred" to promote them. On the contrary, real neo-conservatives use a sickly humanitarian language to justify their crazy attempts to make over entire countries and cultures by use of force.

Indeed, neocon George W. Bush was "America's First Muslim president," according to Muslim-American leader Suhail Khan. Writing in Foreign Policy, Khan recalls how the Republican national convention that nominated Bush for president in 2000 included a Muslim prayer. He notes that Bush frequently celebrated Americans who regularly attend a "church, synagogue or mosque." Bush won over 70 percent of the Muslim vote that year.

The need to turn the Mideast into democratic, peace-loving societies -- for their good and ours -- was a chief neocon rationale for invading Iraq. But it took the phony "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction to bring the American public securely onboard. The specter of "a mushroom cloud" rather than the beauty of nation-building had clinched the deal.

Over at ground zero, a lot of bigots are getting their ugly mugs on TV, but the polls taken nationwide show broad opposition to the Islamic center proposal. Clearly, many good people are against this also.

Perhaps they feel that the project to make common cause with very different cultures has been a one-way street. They've been told for years to tiptoe around Islamic sensitivities, while Islamists have provoked theirs. If a mosque two blocks from the site of outrage done in the name of Islam, albeit a twisted brand, bothers so many Americans -- rightly or wrongly -- why not just move it elsewhere? 

The American Street is talking. The Street sees its government's program to win hearts and minds delivering only contempt. This was not the `neocons' vision at all.

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