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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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There are some substantial differences between then and now. Most importantly, McCarthy operated from within the political system, using his subcommittee chairmanship as a vehicle for pseudo-investigations and attacks. When his Senate colleagues turned on him following a particularly reckless campaign against the U.S. Army, McCarthy was stripped of his chairmanship and his power. A true demagogue, he had no organization to speak of, only those who feared him and those who followed him.

By contrast, while some extreme anti-Muslim sentiment is in evidence in Washington, the real juice for an anti-Muslim movement is now bubbling up outside the Beltway, much as virulent racist hysteria has, in the past, bubbled up from the grassroots. In that regard, it’s worth noting that about a third of America’s five to eight million Muslims are African American.

Some mainstream politicians have actually tried to tamp down the Lower Manhattan controversy.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has, for instance, made numerous comments in support of the project and the principle of freedom of religion that goes with it.  Such statements have, however, had little effect in quieting the dispute, countered as they are by opposition not only from the fringes, but from some mainstream Republican politicians and establishment non-governmental organizations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), for example, recently came out with a statement opposing the construction plan, despite the fact that the rest of the opposition, the group said, exhibited elements of bigotry.  It is better to side with bigots, the ADL essentially argued, than ignore the post-9/11 “healing process.”

Because of the decentralized, grassroots nature of this anti-Muslim movement and the accompanying hysteria, it will be no easy task to put the mosque-at-Ground-Zero genie back in its bottle. Those who think that the decision by the New York City Landmarks Commission to clear the way for construction is likely to end the antagonism are undoubtedly engaged in wishful thinking. There are virtually endless potential flashpoints embedded along the road ahead, nor are the issue and its passions purely dependant on what happens in Manhattan, where a recent poll showed a majority of residents favor construction (although a majority of all New York City residents do not).

In California, those opposed to mosque construction in Temecula were urged to protest by rallying at the mosque with their dogs. Muslims “hate dogs,” an unsigned email alert erroneously claimed. Counter-demonstrators turned out.  There, too, the dispute continues. “The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don't want to see their influence spread,” Pastor Bill Rench of Temecula’s Calvary Baptist Church told the Los Angeles Times.  “There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it's a religion of peace? Many others have said the same thing.”

In Kentucky, a fledgling controversy over a proposed mosque in Florence, south of Cincinnati, is also spreading thanks to anonymous communications. One unsigned protest flyer stated that “Americans need to stop the takeover of our country, our government is not protecting us.”

Such sentiments are common to virtually all anti-Muslim protests: somehow, Muslims are taking over.  Oklahoma legislators, fearing the imposition of Islamic law in Oklahoma courts, have even asked voters to amend the state constitution to forbid it.  The government, increasing numbers of Americans evidently believe, is passively allowing Muslim subversion, and citizens need to defend themselves.

In Tennessee, a rancorous fight over a planned mosque in Murfreesboro has been rife with such sentiments. Lou Ann Zelenik, a Tennessee Republican congressional candidate locked in a tough primary race, denounced the mosque plan, characterized its leaders as foreign agents with a “radical agenda,” and received strong support from the Wilson County Tea Party, a local group.

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