From the Belly of the Beast: Anti-Muslim hysteria erupts in US

Plans by a mainstream Islamic group to build a cultural centre a few blocks from where the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood in New York have suddenly been seized on by right-wing media and politicians to whip up a storm of Islamophobia.

“Suddenly” since these plans have been public for some time, without creating a stir. The New York Times printed a front-page article on the proposed centre last December. In May Rupert Murdoch’s press began to take up the issue. As part of the campaign, his New York Post reported that US President Barack Obama was the illegitimate son of Malcolm X. (It’s too bad that Obama has no relation to the ideas and personal integrity of the great African-American revolutionist.)

Right-wing demagogues like Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Murdoch’s Fox News jumped in. Beck and Limbaugh have radio audiences of millions ready to lap up their virulent racism. It appears that they want to fan the flames of belief of tens of millions that Obama is a Muslim, to further the extreme right of the Republican Party in its hope to win big in the November elections.

Not to be outdone, mainstream Republicans such as Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, joined in. The Zionist Anti-Defamation League lent its voice to the campaign. Newt Gingrich, former leader of the Republican Party, who wants to make a comeback, compared the proposed centre to the Nazis erecting a monument at Auschwitz.

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims

The centre will include a mosque, so the racist cry emphasises that. The irrational undertone is that it would be an “insult” for a mosque to be built near the “hallowed ground” of the terror attack of September 11, 2001. Many of the racists claim they are not against all Muslims, that there are “good” Muslims, but this attempt to cover their Islamophobia falls flat given their opposition to any Muslims, including “good” ones, building any mosque near “ground zero”.

The raucous mobs demonstrating against the “mosque” scream that the centre would be a Muslim “victory monument” celebrating the 9/11 attacks. One sign a protester held up said, “Everything we ever need to know about Islam we learned on 9/11/01”. Existing or proposed mosques hundreds or thousands of miles from the former Trade Center site, from Tennessee to Wisconsin to California, are under siege.

The group that wants to build the new Islamic cultural centre owns the site, an abandoned building that already is home to a temporary mosque. An existing mosque is four blocks from “ground zero”. Another is 12 blocks away. Right-wing Christians opposed to the centre are OK with an establishment called “New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club” next door to the proposed centre. But don’t expect racists to be logical.

President Obama made a speech defending the right of the cultural centre to be built. Under fire from Republicans, the next day he backtracked. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, and Democratic Party spokesperson Howard Dean came out against the “mosque”. Every Republican move to the right has Democrats scrambling to catch up. To his credit, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire Republican and Jewish, made a forceful speech against bigotry and for the centre.

Polls claim that 68% of Americans oppose building the cultural centre anywhere near the former World Trade Center. Of course, the majority of these are not part of the extreme right, but the poll does reflect anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in many.

Decades of demonisation

The background of this sentiment is more than 60 years of government and mass media support of Israel and its wars, and demonisation of Palestinians and other Arabs. Add to this 30 years of virulent attacks against Iranian Muslims after the 1979 overthrow of the shah.

Then came 9/11 and the establishment’s unanimous loud and constant denunciations of “Islamic extremists”. Two major wars against Arab countries followed and are grinding on today. Soldiers are inculcated with the view that Iraqis and Afghanis are sub-human, to inure them to the atrocities they are forced to commit daily. This attitude spills over into the public at large.

The official line is that Washington is waging war only on the “terrorism” of “Islamic extremists”, not against Arabs and Muslims in general in the Middle East. But the ongoing wars, including Israel’s, give the lie to this.

Liberals, and some leftists, echo this line. They defend building the Islamic cultural centre on the grounds that the leader of the project is a “moderate” Muslim. Indeed, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is known for his ecumenical views, and his proposed centre is to be a place opposed to all prejudice and bigotry. Imam Rauf also supports the state of Israel, although he does oppose some of its policies. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have sent him to Muslim countries as a “good will ambassador”. He is currently on a two-week mission to the Middle East for the State Department.

Terrorism

Imam Rauf has been attacked in the current dispute because of some mild statements he made to the effect that US policies in the Middle East were partially to blame for 9/11.

Washington’s definition of terrorism is any form of armed resistance by the oppressed against their oppressors. Thus Irish Republicans were considered terrorists. Likewise the African National Congress’ armed struggle against South African apartheid. Or the Vietnamese resistance to the French and US imperialists. Or the Algerian battle against the French.

Marxists have always opposed individual terrorism as both ineffective and harmful to the organisation of the oppressed masses to fight for their own liberation. No individual heroes can do this for them. The Russian Marxists had to do ideological battle against a strong terrorist current which thought that blows against hated tsarist officials could overthrow the monarchy. In contrast, it was the mass movement of the workers and peasants that actually did the job.

In Russia, the terrorists targeted truly evil and hated officials. In the attacks against the World Trade Center, Al Qaeda targeted ordinary citizens, mainly workers, including many Muslims. This cut across the need for the oppressed to forge alliances with workers in the oppressor countries. The main onus for forming such alliances falls, of course, on the working classes in the oppressor countries, by repudiating the oppression carried out by their own ruling classes. By carrying out the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda reduced itself to the level of common criminals. Washington cynically utilised 9/11 to whip up anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hatred to launch war against Afghanistan and Iraq, a blow to Arabs and Muslims.

Such acts of individual terrorism must be condemned. But their root lies not in some kind of religious insanity, but in the decades of Western imperialist exploitation and military conquest of the Middle East, today led by the US. Imperialism itself was the cause of the 9/11 attacks, however misguided they were. To the extent that Imam Rauf referred to this truth, he was right.

We in the belly of the beast can best help forge the necessary alliance with the Arab and Muslim masses in the current situation by fighting the Islamophobia erupting in opposition to the Islamic cultural centre in lower Manhattan.

More lies about the Gulf of Mexico

A few weeks ago, the US government announced that most of the oil from the BP gusher had disappeared. It had evaporated, been swept up, burned off or harmlessly dispersed in the ocean. BP announced it was curtailing clean-up efforts.

But independent scientists from the University of Florida and others now say that up to 80% of the oil is still in the water or already on land. The oil dispersed into tiny droplets is not harmless, nor are the toxic chemicals used to disperse the oil. How harmful remains to be seen in the next months and years. A big fish kill has recently been reported.

It will help minimise BP’s liability if it is assumed that the leaked oil is almost “all gone”.

New guidelines for compensating fishers and others hurt by the massive gusher put the onus on them to prove they were hurt and by how much. Any money BP does pay out for such damage, and also the costs of the clean-up, can be deducted by BP from taxes.

Big business as usual.

[The title of this regular column, “From the belly of the beast”, was how the great Cuban fighter against US imperialism Jose Marti, signed his letters to friends back in Cuba when he was in the US.]