What a surprise. In the aftermath of Paris, Republicans have rediscovered one of their favorite illnesses, Islamophobia. Painting with a predictably broad brush, Marco Rubio compares Muslims to Nazis. Donald Trump talks about shuttering mosques. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush want to ban all Syrian refugees who are Muslim, and admit only those who are Christian.
They’d probably laugh at this plea for tolerance, voiced by the president:
“Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect.”
Yeah, that Barack Obama is such a bleeding-heart, and his predictable response to our enemies is weakness.
Unfortunately, those aforementioned tolerance remarks were voiced six days after 9/11 by President George W. Bush.
Obama did make similar remarks on Tuesday, saying it’s wrong to cull the ranks of Syrian refugees by practicing religious discrimination. He said that “slamming the door” would betray America’s pluralistic values.
“In America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity and tolerance toward others .... That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Qur’an.
Oh, wait! That’s not Obama. That was George W. Bush, again - on Jan. 20, 2005.
Obama did talk at length Tuesday about the GOP’s Islamophobia. He said it’s “shameful” that Republican politicians want to impose a religious test on refugees, that they’re trying to redefine the war on terror as a war on Muslims.
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what islam is all about. Islam is peace. [Muslims] must not be intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value.”
You guessed it. That was George W. Bush again.
Bush’s message - now ignored by his own party, which has veered so far xenophobically rightward that even W looks like a lefty - was both moral and practical. He understood, as does Obama, that it makes no sense to reframe the war on terror as a war on Muslims, because, for starters, we need to make common cause with the 99 percent of Muslims who categorically reject (and are so often victimized by) the tiny violent minority.
More importantly, ISIS wants to pit Christians against Muslims in an existential religious conflict - and, sure enough, Republicans are playing right into ISIS’ hands, doing exactly what ISIS wants. Rubio sees “a clash of civilizations.” Cruz and Jeb! smear Muslim refugees as inherently dangerous, simply because they’re Muslims.
Oh, these Republicans. What a bunch of chumps.
“All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in America, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists,” warned conservative commentator Michael Gerson, who served as W’s director of speechwriting. “If American politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative. They are materially undermining the war against terrorism.”
But to truly appreciate the current GOP mentality, consider its hard-wired myopia.
Republicans have no qualms selling weaponry on a routine basis to home-grown psychos of the Christian faith - the kind of Christians who shoot up schools and rack up 11,000 gun homicides a year in the West’s most violent nation. But when Republicans are faced with the prospect of hosting refugee families of the Muslim faith, all of a sudden they’re in a big dither about violence.
Alas, George W. Bush’s praise of Islam (“a faith that has enriched civilization for centuries”) was eight years ago. It stains our national character, and the party he once led, that his aspiring successors have unwittingly become propaganda megaphones for the enemy.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com