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The Far-Right's Anti-Mosque Mania Spreads from Ground Zero to Across the U.S., Pointing to Dark Politics Ahead

The phony 'debate' over the construction of an Islamic cultural center near the former World Trade Center portends darker things to come.

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In its 2009 civil rights report, CAIR said it had processed 2,728 civil rights violations, including 721 that involved mosques or Muslim organizations, up from 221 mosque incidents in 2006. The organization expressed some optimism in its report, however, because there had been a decline in the number of reported hate crimes to 116 in 2008 from 135 the previous year. Again, CAIR reported serious mosque attacks and vandalism without separating out the figures.

It seems hardly coincidental, at this point, that when authorities announce another incident or terror plot -- the failed effort to blow up an SUV in Times Square in May, for instance -- random attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions as well quickly follow.  For example, a bomb was detonated at a mosque in Jacksonville, Florida, shortly after the Times Square incident.  As the Lower Manhattan controversy spread in the news, arsonists attacked a mosque in Texas, and a church in Gainesville, Florida, announced that it would hold a bonfire of Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11.

The change in presidential administrations has had no discernable moderating effect on such passions. In fact, as if to assert its own toughness, the Obama administration has now given its tacit blessing to legislation introduced in Congress late in July by Adam Schiff, a congressman from California, that would carve out “terrorism exceptions” to constitutionally mandated Miranda warnings. The legislation would extend to up four days the period when law enforcement agents can question terrorism suspects without informing them of their right to remain silent and to receive the assistance of an attorney. If past is prelude, such exceptions will initially have a disproportionate impact on Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims in America, only later spreading to wider groups of Americans taken into custody.

Parallel to the federal law-enforcement focus on Muslims, the past decade has witnessed a proliferation of anti-Muslim “analysts,” “terror experts,” political commentators, and websites. This burgeoning industry, focused on Muslims as virtually a fifth column seeking to take over the country, has attracted ever more media attention, particularly as FOX News has chronicled and promoted the rise of the Tea Party movement.

It is in this alternate universe, after so many years of heightened anti-Muslim sentiments, that a Lower Manhattan prayer space designed to promote reconciliation has become the dreaded Mosque at Ground Zero, a “monument that would consist of a mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god,” as Mark Williams, then-chairman of a group known as the Tea Party Express, put it.

Waiting for the Demagogue

Here we come to the real source of unease over what’s now going on -- the realization that we’ve seen something like this developing before, only it wasn’t diaperheads and terrorism inflaming the country. It was dirty commies and Jews then.

Sixty years ago, on February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy rose before a Republican women’s club in Wheeling, West Virginia, and delivered the famous speech in which he waved a sheet of paper and claimed that on it were the names of -- there is dispute -- 57 or 205 known communists “working and shaping policy in the State Department.”  In doing so, he put his incendiary, eponymous stamp on the most oppressive period of the Cold War, and as it turned out, the nation was ready for the message.

McCarthyism did not emerge on that cold day solely from the fevered imagination of the Wisconsin senator. There had been a drumbeat of anti-Communist red-baiting, hearings, speeches, treason charges, and grandstanding coming from Washington for years. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, anti-communist informer Whittaker Chambers, ambitious congressman Richard Nixon, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, President Harry Truman -- all did yeoman’s work in preparing the soil for McCarthy and his reckless accusations of “20 years of treason!”

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