Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent contributor Jay Sekulow attacked Attorney General Eric Holder for a speech he gave highlighting the work of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in combatting threats against Muslims, a timely topic given the anti-Muslim backlash seen in right-wing media following the Boston Marathon bombings.
On April 29, Holder spoke at the centennial summit of the ADL and commended the organization for its long history fighting anti-Semitism, stating the organization would continue to "find a committed and active ally in this Attorney General." Holder closed his remarks by noting that it was two weeks to the day of the Boston bombings and praised ADL for its additional work fighting anti-Muslim bigotry, a commitment Holder assured the audience the Department of Justice shares. As explained by Holder, “just as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities - the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation.”
In a “Fox News Alert” segment on America Live, Kelly attacked this speech by asking, “Has there been backlash against Muslims in the wake of Boston? And is this a time for the attorney general to be effectively scolding Americans, not to be bigoted and not to be ignorant?” Kelly also claimed that because Holder said this at the ADL's summit, “the context could be perceived by some to be somewhat offensive.” In addition to pushing the argument that the bombing suspect should have been treated as an un-Mirandized "enemy combatant," Sekulow admonished Holder because “the attorney general of the United States needs to do us all a favor. Catch the terrorists. That's what he needs to be doing.”
Kelly and Sekulow's anger at Holder for warning against anti-Muslim hate in the wake of the Boston bombings is strange on multiple levels. First, Kelly and Sekulow ignore the fact that Holder's speech is evocative of the famous "Islam is Peace" speech former President George W. Bush gave six days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when he too stated that the United States government would not tolerate intimidation of American Muslims as a response to terrorism. Described as another "anniversary worth honoring" in addition to the September 11 attacks themselves, The New York Times recently recounted Bush's speech and its importance:
The other anniversary is of the visit President George W. Bush made to a Washington mosque just six days after the attack, where he spoke eloquently against the harassment of Arabs and Muslims living in the United States and about the need to respect Islam.
This act of leadership and statesmanship, however, has all but vanished from the national collective memory. It deserves, instead, to be noted and heeded and esteemed.
In its immediate moment, Mr. Bush's appearance at the Islamic Center of Washington may have helped to quell vigilante assaults on American Muslims and on those, like Sikhs, who were mistaken for them. At the policy level, the president's words also served notice that unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he would not intern or in any way collectively punish innocent American citizens who happened to share a religion or ethnicity with foreign foes.
As Mr. Bush recounted in his own book “Decision Points,” in the days after Sept. 11, he was disturbed by reports of bias crimes against American Muslims. And he had heard firsthand accounts of the Japanese-American internment from one of its victims -- Norman Y. Mineta, a Democrat who served as Mr. Bush's transportation secretary.
Out of that combination of historical perspective and visceral decency, Mr. Bush sent instructions to the White House's Office of Public Liaison to arrange for him to visit a mosque. For the men and women in that office, the stakes were instantly clear.
“In the aftermath of 9/11, when every move the president made was being watched extremely closely, it was important to demonstrate that American Muslims were not the same people who attacked the U.S.,” said Matt Smith, the liaison office's associate director at the time. “When you show that these people are Americans, it goes a long way.”
Second, Kelly's skepticism of whether there has in fact been anti-Muslim backlash ignores multiple high-profile incidents that occurred in the wake of the Boston bombings. The New York Post misidentified a teenage Moroccan-American as one of a pair of “bag men” sought by authorities, linking the innocent 17-year-old to the investigation. Glenn Beck continues to push the debunked claim that a Saudi Arabian national is connected to the bombings. CNN falsely claimed that law authorities had apprehended a "dark-skinned male."
On Fox News, Ann Coulter has argued that the suspect's sister-in-law "ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab." Fox News host Brian Kilmeade called for "bugging U.S. mosques," pushed racial profiling of those with Middle Eastern heritage, and claimed not all Americans are "worthy of the constitutional rights that we have." Fox News' Bob Beckel argued for suspending student visas for Muslims, so "we can absorb what we've got and look at what we've got and decide whether some of the people here should be going -- be sent home or sent to prison."
It is this type of indiscriminate and dangerous anti-Muslim bias that Holder was warning against and that the ADL has fought, a fact Holder specifically noted in his speech. Indeed, three days after the Boston Marathon bombings, the ADL itself expressed similar worries and warnings. From the ADL's April 18 press release:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed concern over the alarming number of conspiracy theories circulating online in the aftermath of the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon, including spurious claims that Jews, Muslims or the government were secretly behind the attack.
Just minutes after the attack, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists took to the Internet and blamed Jews and Israel for the bombing, according to information compiled by ADL's Center on Extremism. Anti-Muslim activists and anti-government activists also piled on with outrageous conspiracy theories of their own.