Aug 24, 2010

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news.

Read today's column "The right-wing, blinded by its own hysteria" in which Gene writes: "Is the far right really afraid of its own shadow? Do these people really have so little faith in our nation's strength, resilience and values? I hope this is all just cynical political calculation, because there are genuine threats and challenges out there. We'll be better off meeting them with a spine, not a whine."

Hi, everyone. Welcome to a special 11 a.m. edition of our weekly discussion. Much to discuss, of course -- that Lower Manhattan mosque won't go away, and of course there are primary elections today in Arizona, Florida and Alaska. The economy's in the dumps and Shirley Sherrod is back on the (new) job at the Agriculture Department. Let's begin.

Thank you for taking this question, Mr. Robinson. Much of your writing appears to be animated with the belief that dangerous forces exist on the American political right- but as for Islamic culture/religion, only a bigot should be concerned about the intention of the mosque builders or Islam in general. QUESTIONS: Do you think this is a failure of imagination on your part? Does Islamic subjagation of women, racialist intolerance of non-Arab peoples, hostility towards homosexuality deserve or merit our attention? Again, thanks for taking this question.

Of course these things merit our attention, but you're painting all of Islam with a very broad brush. That would be like saying that because of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, we should look askance at not just all Catholics, which would be absurd, but at all Christians as well -- that they all must be a bunch of child molesters. Not all Muslims are alike.

It never ceases to amaze me how the way the right wing frames an issue is perpetually picked up by the mainstream media-- the "Ground Zero Mosque" is a fine example: it's not at Ground Zero, it's not a mosque, yet we see that terminology everywhere. Or "Abortion doctor"-- as if that doctor ONLY performs abortions. Or referring to Jeremiah Wright as a "radical preacher"-- I doubt that all of his speeches are as "radical" as the snippet we all saw over and over. My point is, any theories on why the right wing is SO effective at getting their talking points to become the accepted terminology?

The right has been extremely nimble and effective at defining the rhetorical battlefield. I don't know why progressives have been so slow to study the right's technique and match it. Language makes a big difference in how the public sees a given issue.

You are simply misinformed and misguided and blinded by your liberal bias. It was a minority of Germans and Japanese that brought the horrors of WWII to the world. It similarly is a minority of Muslims that have brought 9/11 and soon nuclear horrors to the world. Like the Germans and Japanese ALL Muslims must bear the responsibility and wear this stain on themselves for generations until they have cleansed themselves thru good acts as have the Germans and Japanese. Additionally Obama said this Mosque will prevent another 9/11. Why haven't the exiting 100 Mosques prevented 9/11? This Mosque is a symbol of Muslim domination over America and IT WILL NEVER STAND.

Sigh. first, since the Germans invoked God in committing their atrocities, by your logic we should blame all Christians, no? Second, establishing an open-door community center devoted to interfaith understanding would seem to me to be a "good act." There is no question of  "Muslim domination over America." Give me a break. Do you have so little faith in our Constitution and our nation?

This whole "Terror Baby" theory has to be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. All these years after 9/11, I am left with the thought that the terrorists got way more then they could have hoped for. We went to war in Iraq and accomplished nothing other than a great expenditure of blood and treasure while taking the ball off of Afghanistan. We have eroded our global standing. Now we are turning against our own citizens simply because they are Muslim, giving these extremists a propaganda tool. Are we really this stupid? Thank you.

I hope we're not that stupid. The "terror babies" paranoid fantasy is about the craziest thing I've ever heard. I mean numero uno on the wacko chart.

Last night Rick Santorum upped the ante by calling Iman Rauf a jihadist. I guess Gingrich wasn't inflammatory enough with the nazi conflation - so when does the narrative change to republicans over-playing their hand?

I think Gingrich did it, but surely we're there by now with the Santorum screed.

dear eugene, i am a great fan of yours, but i believe you are missing half the picture in this case. you are right to say that conservative, far-right politicians are stoking fear for political gains in the upcoming congress elections. but the controversy about this mosque does show something much deeper than the usual dirty tricks in american politics: it is the fact that a statisticaly relevant part of american society spouses religious fundamentalist views. why dont you come out and simply state the truth that the rest of the world has been following on a daily basis since the latest eruption (yes it is like a volcanic eruption!!!) of polical and ,above all, religious fundamentalism.

That would be a different column, and maybe I'll tackle it one day. The fact is that there has been increasing opposition to mosque construction projects around the country, as The Post has reported. The Constitution makes clear that there is no state religion in this country, but some people obviously don't understand -- or don't accept -- that fact.

The opponents of the NY mosque being located where it is are right-wing hysterics? You ignore, purposely it seems, the 9/11 families in your silly partisan myopia. You even ignore Harry Reid. Is he a right-wing hysteric? Are the 65% of Americans who, unlike our feckless "Leader", are not afraid to comment on the wisdom of putting the mosque at 51 Park all right-wing hysterics? Or, have you simply hyperbolized beyond any rational point. And last week your silly column about giving He Who cannot Be Wrong Because He's You-Know-What "credit where credit's due" for removing troops from Iraq and the GM bailout without even mentioning the 2008 U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement providing for drawdown or the fact that Bush started the bailout to howls from his own party only further illustrates your partisan detachment from reality. Your stuff does provide regular laughs, though, so keep it coming.

Happy I provide you with such amusement. As you would know if you bothered to read, I have written that Harry Reid is wrong on this issue. Most of the 9/11 families oppose the project, but not all of them. As many as 300 innocent Muslims died in the collapse of the towers at Ground Zero, but I suppose you lump them and their survivors in with the perpetrators. Our Constitution protects the rights of the minority against the will of the majority; I'm certain that if poll results had been followed  in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, Central High School would never have been integrated. Bush set in motion the Iraq drawdown but it was accellerated by Obama, and it was the Obama administration -- to howls from critics -- that effectively nationalized General Motors and saved it. Whew.

What?! It was the governments and the armies and navies of those governments that brought those horrors. That's not "a minority."

I know. I thought that should be obvious, but you're right to point it out -- never assume that anything is obvious.

There is always talk of Islamic moderation but lets look at countries where Islam rules. Saudi Arabia. Kuwait. Afghanistan. Yemen. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be a woman in any of those countries, but I realize I have a different perspective on that than you. Or how about Iraq? Muslims are blowing people up because they're the wrong kind of Muslims. The next time a group of Christians blows themselves up in the name of Jesus we can talk about equivalency. Until then I'll lend you a quarter if you need it so you can buy a clue.

Where to begin? In "Christian" Argentina, where I was once The Post's correspondent, pious, church-going generals and admirals murdered tens of thousands of people whom they suspected of being leftists. This was in the 1970s, not back during the Spanish Inquisition -- and the church sat idly by. If you think the Christian world has a monopoly on morality or civilized behavior, you need to keep that quarter.

The planners of the community center say they wish to do so as a way of improving community relations, etc. I have no doubt their stated intent is sincere. That opportunity has passed, however, and the Imam's wife's digging in her heels only exacerbates the situation. I would be mush more impressed if they came out and said, "Although we would prefer the current site, we understand it is sensitive and offends the sensibilities of many. In the interest of building bridges with all of our neighbors, we have decided to build it at an alternate site and encourage the community at large to help."

That's no way to build bridges, in my opinion. It's a way to recruit terrorists around the world. Our most dangerous enemy right now isn't Osama bin Laden, who's presumably hiding in a cave somewhere. The enemy is the poisonous narrative that jihadists use to recruit assassins and suicide bombers, and that narrative is that the United States and the West really aren't at war with just the extremists, we're at war with Islam itself. Telling a peaceful, officially sanctioned imam -- a man recruited by our government to represent our country around the world -- that he is not welcome, that his community center somehow dishonors the neighborhood in a way that, say, the strip clubs don't... This just reinforces the narrative and wins converts for jihadism. It's not just the wrong thing to do, it's a stupid thing to do in terms of our fight against terrorism.

Muslims worldwide have a huge PR problem. They ARE a religion of anger and intolerance. Ask the woman stoned to death for adultery or anybody gay in any Muslim nation. Ground Zero isn't just the footprint of the World Trade Center; it's the entire devastated area, where dust of burnt bones clouded the air. After 9/11, Muslims did far, far too little to remedy the life-altering disaster -- and I mean, life-altering for THEM. The blood stain is on all their hands. Why do you enable them to offend us further, rather than help all Muslims rid their religion of its menacing reputation?

Wow. And you're accusing THEM of intolerance? Interesting.

At least no one can accuse you of not printing submissions by your critics.

Not today, at least.

Sir, in Islamic history, conquering lands and buildings mosques go hand-in-hand. Please read about what "Cordoba" was one of the most bloody conquests of Muslim history against Christians in Europe. Not exactly a peaceful reference! If you look at Islamic history, building mosques in conquered lands has been a way of showing the benefits of Jihad. That's why the Saudi Prince after 9-11 was grinning at Ground Zero and why Mayor Giuliani refused his money. Building a mosque near ground zero continues a long tradition of Muslims building mosques over conquered lands. It will encourage more attacks. We always hear about Americans needing to be more sensitive...well, I am fed up. I want to see the Muslim world respect western sensitivities for once.

Have we slipped through a time warp and gone back to the time of the Crusades? Or maybe we're in the 1400's and we should drive out all the Muslims, as they were driven out of Spain? What leads you to think for a moment that Ground Zero is "conquered" land? We were attacked, not conquered.

Daniel Pearl's widow asked Iman Rauf to speak at his memorial. Can anyone think seriously argue that she is not opposed to religious terrorism?

No. People like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich can lie about Rauf, but they can't change the facts.

It seems that the logic of collective Islamic guilt for 9/11 is an example of expediency rather than consistency. I have no doubt that those who descry the Islamic center near Ground Zero would take umbrage at the accusation that the entire anti-abortion movement bears guilt for the murderous acts of Paul Hill and Scott Roeder.

Well, I would take umbrage at that accusation. I am pro-choice but I respect the pro-life position and don't blame all who hold it for the murderous acts of a few.

In response to the writer "Islam" and Christians not blowing each other up. I guess he forgot about Northern Ireland and the Protestants and Catholics. Apparently that little Christian episode just doesn't fit the story line.

No, it doesn't.

How is it that the media is swept up in the wrong belief that incumbents are being thrown out on the street? The reality is that to date over 95 percent of incumbents have won their primaries.

I agree that the anti-incumbent thing has been overdone, at least as far as the primaries are concerned. Incumbents begin any campaign with a huge advantage, and this year -- in the primaries, at least -- isn't any different. The question, though, is how many incumbents will lose in the general election.

In response to "right wing language" post of today, the right is better at labeling things because their world is simple. One is either with them or against them. Everything is black and white. The left has to be certain and precise. It would shrink from calling Cheney "the Grand Puppeteer" for example.

That's true. Purely from the standpoint of public relations, nuance is heavy burden. But I wonder if there shouldn't be a way to be precise but also quick -- to define the issue before it gets framed in us-or-them terms. The right shouldn't have a monopoly on deciding who qualifies as "us" and who is relegated to being "them."

The hate and anger that many of today's submission cite when referring to the Islamic world fail to take into account non-Middle Eastern parts of the Islamic world community. Indonesia is the largest Islamic country on the planet, and we don't seem to have these same issues that supposedly typify Islamic communities. Can anyone see a big picture anymore?

Hope springs eternal -- and I hope that discussions like this help us all see a little farther.


But my time is up for today, folks. Please come back next week, at the usual 1 p.m. hour. Until then.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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