Experts say anti-Muslim rhetoric undermines struggle against extremism

››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

Foreign policy experts have warned that anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding the planned Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York City threatens to undermine anti-terrorism efforts. Moreover, the Bush administration maintained that it is "very important that we show the world that America is a very tolerant and diverse society where people are welcome to practice their faith."

Foreign policy experts, commentators note anti-Muslim rhetoric undermines anti-terrorism efforts

Haass: World watching "to see whether Muslims in America have rights, have opportunities that Muslims in lots of other countries don't." During the August 16 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former adviser to Colin Powell, stated that "this has now become an international issue" and part of "the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world":

HAASS: The anti-American aspect of this -- this has now become an international issue. One of the great ironies is the people doing this mosque, this community center, want to develop an American version of Islam that competes around the world with the Wahhabi -- with the Saudi intolerant version of Islam. So this issue now is being watched around the world to prove or to see whether Muslims in America have rights, have opportunities that Muslims in lots of other countries don't.

So this has actually become an important aspect of our battle for the hearts and minds. It's no longer just a New York issue or a national issue. This has something really to do with the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world and whether there can be an American version of Islam that is more open and tolerant.

NSN policy analyst James Lamond: Attacking Ground Zero mosque is "counterproductive to our anti-terrorism efforts." In a July 30 article, James Lamond, a policy expert for the progressive National Security Network, condemned Newt Gingrich's statements about Islam and against the Islamic cultural center as "counterproductive to our anti-terrorism efforts. First at a strategic level, it plays into al Qaeda's framework that the West is at war with Islam." Lamond wrote:

But the frame that Gingrich is promoting is not only un-American and counter to our values, it is also counterproductive to our anti-terrorism efforts. First, at a strategic level, it plays into al Qaeda's framework that the West is at war with Islam. As Malcolm Nance, a former military intelligence officer and author of An End to al-Qaeda, recently told the American Prospect's Adam Serwer: "When you frame it as a fight against Islam and Islamic fundamentalism ... you're almost encouraging Osama bin Laden's line of thinking. He loves this idea that this is seen as a clash between Islam and the West; he wants that, he thrives on that."

At another level, this fear mongering and overreaction serves to diminish America's resilience, an important component of America's counterterrorism strategy. The National Security Strategy says that resilience is, "the ability to adapt to changing conditions and prepare for, withstand, and rapidly recover from disruption." There are many facets of this approach, from a resilient infrastructure to a resilience economy. However an important part is also a resilient society that does not abandon its core values as soon as they're challenged. Yet a decade after 9/11 Gingrich is ready to give up on America's strength and resiliency. In addition, Stephen Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy, who has been the leader for years on promoting resilience, says that there is also a deterrent value to resilience saying that, "if an adversary believes that Americans are well-prepared to prevent, withstand, and rapidly recover from acts of terrorism, the appeal of engaging in such acts would be diminished." Basically, by his hysteria, Gingrich is feeding into al Qaeda's goal of promoting a hysterical reaction.

Goldberg: "Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants." From an August 3 post by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg:

I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I've spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation. He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country. Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants.

Gerson: Solidarity with non-radical Muslims is "a matter of national interest." In an August 16 Washington Post column, former Bush official Michael Gerson wrote that "[p]undits have every right to raise questions about the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero," but added that "inclusive rhetoric toward Islam" is "a matter of national interest." Gerson questioned how "our cause [is] served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave":

An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between "us" and "them" in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.

How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own.

[...]

There are many reasons to criticize Obama's late, vacillating response to the Manhattan mosque, and perhaps even to criticize this particular mosque. But those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.

Amr and Singer: "The world constantly watches to see whether we actually live up to our ideals." In a 2008 paper, Hady Amr, foreign policy fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, and Peter Singer, senior fellow and director of Brookings' 21st Century Defense Initiative, wrote that "a zero-tolerance stand against anti-Muslim statements and bias" is necessary "to be able to inspire the Muslim world to support our vision of 'liberty and justice for all' in the world":

There are six broad principles that should guide our strategy to improve U.S. security through winning the war of ideas and broadening and deepening relationships between U.S. citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad. These overarching principles include:

Confronting who we are. Harkening back to the civil rights era and the Cold War, unless we take a zero-tolerance stand against anti-Muslim statements and bias both in government and among our political elite, we risk being cast as undertaking a "war on Islam" instead of a "war on terror." America must clearly confront its civil liberty concerns at home--and in our military campaigns--if we are to be able to inspire the Muslim world to support our vision of "liberty and justice for all" in the world.

[...]

In an age of globalized technology and communication, the world is watching to see if we live up to our ideals of civil liberties and constitutional values, and is waiting to see if we stamp out anti-Muslim bigotry at home. A series of anti-Muslim statements made by various policymakers and close Administration supporters have undercut President Bush's post 9/11 message that Islam was not to blame for the attacks. Even though media in the Middle East give extensive coverage to these sorts of statements, the Administration has usually failed to condemn them or separate itself from the speakers. Bigotry in our midst is not just distasteful; in the age of globalization, it directly undermines our security. We live in an era where the world constantly watches to see whether we actually live up to our ideals. At a time when many in the world expect the worst of us, such positions only support the enemy's propaganda and recruiting efforts. Efforts on this front alone will determine if we have the moral authority to build multi-government coalitions and can inspire other countries to follow suit.

Former Bush official Armitage discussing mosque: Terrorists are winning "when we change our own ideals." On the August 9 edition of The Charlie Rose Show (accessed via Nexis), former Bush deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage responded to the question, "We should put [the mosque] there and be confident about it?" by saying: "My own view is don't let the terrorists win. When we change our own ideals and our own principles, they're winning, we're not." From The Charlie Rose Show:

ROSE: There is this also. What are the biggest challenges to America today?

ARMITAGE: The first and biggest challenge is to regain our confidence as a nation.

ROSE: Our confidence?

ARMITAGE: Our confidence.

ROSE: In ourselves?

ARMITAGE: Yes. I'm tired of running around being scared of my shadow, having time spent talking about 14th Amendments by pandering politicians who on the one hand say they want to be strict constructionists of the Constitution and on the other hand want to throw out amendments which have been pored over by the courts and I think validated over the years.

So I think getting our confidence back as a nation. I might say this also extends to the controversy over the mosque in the 9/11 site.

CHARLIE ROSE: We should put it there and be confident about it?

ARMITAGE: My own view is don't let the terrorists win. When we change our own ideals and our own principles, they're winning, we're not. So that's the most difficult thing.

Former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon: Anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding cultural center is "reinforcing Al Qaeda's message we are at war with Muslims." On the August 16 edition of Morning Joe, GOP strategist and former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon stated that the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the the cultural center is "stunning, and it is so contrary to our country's principles." He later said that the anti-Muslim rhetoric is "reinforcing Al Qaeda's message we are at war with Muslims."

Bush administration touted religious freedom, respect for Muslims as argument against extremist enemies

Karen Hughes: After 9-11, it was "very important that we show the world that America is a very tolerant and diverse society where people are welcome to practice their faith." During a June 11, 2006, interview, Karen Hughes, the former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs during the Bush administration, stated that it is important to distinguish between Muslims "who are very peaceful citizens" and "violent extremists" and to "show the world that America is a very tolerant and diverse society where people are welcome to practice their faith":

HUGHES: I was one of the people who advocated that the president visit the mosque in the aftermath of [the] September 11[, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington] to send a signal that we understood that we have many Muslims in America who are very peaceful citizens, who are proud Americans, and that this was not about the faith of Islam, but this was about some people who were violent extremists, who were trying to use the cloak of religion to try to cover acts that were really acts of murder. So I was an advocate of that, and I think it's very important that we show the world that America is a very tolerant and diverse society where people are welcome to practice their faith.

Bush: "We respect" Islam; "It's practiced freely by millions of Americans." In a September 20, 2001, speech, President Bush stated "to Muslims throughout the world": "We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends." Bush similarly stated in a September 17, 2001, speech that "America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens" and "they need to be treated with respect."

Condoleezza Rice: "We have American Muslims who ... practice their faith freely, are a part of America. That's what America was founded on, religious freedom." During an October 19, 2003, interview on ABC's This Week (accessed via Nexis), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated, "We have American Muslims who within our democratic system are not just tolerated but, of course, practice their faith freely, are a part of America. That's what America was founded on, religious freedom":

RICE: The president has been absolutely clear that this is not a war of religions. This is a group of people, a group of killers and murderers who take a great religion like Islam and pervert its teachings to kill and maim. Islam is a peaceful religion. The president is respectful of those who practice the Islamic faith. I will just remind everybody that Islam is, is the fastest growing faith in the United States. We have American Muslims who within our democratic system are not just tolerated but, of course, practice their faith freely, are a part of America. That's what America was founded on, religious freedom. America was founded on the belief that every person has the right to practice his religious beliefs and we have great respect for all the world's great religions and the president foremost among them. The president will very soon during Ramadan, for instance, welcome Muslim leaders to the White House for an Iftar, because he wants it to be very clear that this is no war of civilizations, this is no war of religions, this is about people who murder and maim and in fact pervert Islam which is one of the world's great religions and which after all shares with Christianity and Judaism an historic and spiritual past.

Bush: "We welcome Muslims in our country." In 2003, Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin was criticized for saying that Muslims worship "an idol." Responding to questions about those remarks, Bush said that "we welcome Muslims in our country. In America, we love the fact that -- that we're a society in which people can pray openly, or not pray at all, for that matter." He added: "We've got to fight off the imagery of a society which condemns entire swaths of people because of the acts of a few. It's just not the way we are":

Our war is not against the Muslim faith. As a matter of fact, as you mentioned, tonight I -- we're celebrating the Iftar dinner with Muslim leaders. And we welcome Muslims in our country. In America, we love the fact that -- that we're a society in which people can pray openly, or not pray at all, for that matter. And I made that point to the Muslim leaders.

[...]

And so, those were the two main points that were brought up. There was a concern about General Boykin. It seemed like to me that we've got a challenge to make sure that people in countries like Indonesia understand the nature of the American people; you know, how we think. It's going to be an important part of good diplomacy in the long run. We've got to fight off the imagery of a society which condemns entire swaths of people because of the acts of a few. It's just not the way we are. And I was pleased to get the opportunity to make that case to the leaders that were there. It was a very cordial and good discussion. And I'm -- you know, I'm going to drop them a note thanking them for showing up and giving me a chance to talk about the America I know and love.

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