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The Right Manipulates Muslims -- and Boy Scouts

Not for the first time have elements of the right shamelessly tried to use the Boy Scouts, of all organizations, to impugn the Obama White House.

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Now all of this would be simply silly if not for the fact that this is the pattern: find a bright, shining lie, an often trivial issue, reshape it to your agenda of attack and fear, distort and dissemble, bang it like a drum to rouse the media circus and distract the public -- and its public servants -- from the critical work necessary to survive as a republic.

The Shirley Sherrod debacle at the Department of Agriculture last week is just one example. The current fight over building an Islamic “mosque” near (not “at”) Ground Zero here in Manhattan is another and perhaps the loudest.

Once again, downtown New Yorkers are faced with outsiders telling us our business. Newt Gingrich: "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over." Sarah Palin: “Many Americans, myself included, feel it would be an intolerable and tragic mistake to allow such a project sponsored by such an individual to go forward on such hallowed ground. This is nothing close to ‘religious intolerance.’ It’s just common decency.”

But as developer Sharif El-Gamal told Jordana Horn of The Jerusalem Post, “Those aren’t my neighbors, my friends or my New Yorkers. A vocal minority have come out to amplify their own agendas of hate and bigotry that have nothing to do with my project.” He notes, too, as have many others, that calling it a mosque is an exaggeration. “There will be a mosque component, which will be a separate not-for-profit component of the project,” Gamal said. “It’s going to be a small component in a community center, just like the 92nd Street Y has a synagogue.”

This is not to deny the emotions that always will be stirred by 9/11, especially by the friends and families of those who died there, but as Padraic O’Hare, director of the Merrimack College’s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations at Merrimack College, wrote in The Washington Post. “Build a house which nurtures and cultivates less wounded, less ego-driven and more just and peaceful Muslims, people of real and healthy prayerfulness? Hand me the shovel.”

Meanwhile, as the citizenry has its attention diverted by xenophobic anti-Muslim harangues, on Thursday night, Republicans in Congress killed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to help emergency workers and others near Ground Zero. As the New York Daily News reported, the bill “would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.”

GOP members called it a “slush fund.” Is there a merit badge for classy?

Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

 
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