Are the Right-Wingers Stoking Islam Fury Invested in a Never-Ending War?

In a New York Times column titled “How Fox Betrayed Petraeus,” Frank Rich argues that the right-wing freak-out over the Islamic community center to be erected in downtown Manhattan hurts U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. “How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar,” asks Rich, “when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?” 

One might call it the 'national security argument,' and it is irrefutable. Last week, Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who has interrogated several violent extremists, wrote, “When demagogues appear to be equating Islam with terrorism…it bolsters the message that radicalizers are selling: That the war is against Islam, and Muslims are not welcome in America.” Osama Bin Laden’s “next video script,” wrote Soufan, “has just written itself.” 

It is no doubt a tempting argument for the New York Times liberal and highly educated audience. It throws the neoconservative rhetoric back at the Right: if Islamic extremism is an existential threat to the United States -- if the future of the country rests on its defeat -- than surely sensitivity to how these protests are perceived by the rest of the world is a vital national security issue. “You’d think that American hawks invested in the Afghanistan ‘surge’ would not act against their own professed interests,” writes Rich. “But they couldn’t stop themselves from placing cynical domestic politics over country.” 

Rich’s analysis is flawed, however, because he’s fallen into a trap of rationalism, unable to contemplate that those behind the “nontroversy” aren’t necessarily interested in “winning the war” in Afghanistan or defeating violent Islamic fundamentalism. It is no doubt the case that the cynical Republican politicians who have inserted themselves into the debate -- Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and a host of others -- are prioritizing short-term electoral gains over their hope of success in the Afghanistan conflict.

But Rich misidentifies “The prime movers in the campaign against the ‘ground zero mosque’.” He thinks of them as “American Hawks” who are “among the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan.” The furor may be amplified daily by Fox news and the rest of the GOP establishment, but this is an issue being “ginned up” -- in Rich’s words -- by feverishly paranoid “War-bloggers” who for the past nine years have built their identities around not only the “War on Terror,” but also see themselves as fierce defenders who alone guard the homeland not only against dangerous invaders but also liberal Americans who don’t share their simplistic bloodlust.

Rich rationally assumes that they desire “victory,” but doesn’t contemplate the possibility that they might rationally see an enduring campaign against the Taliban or Al Qaeda as an inherently good thing, a trial that will eventually cleanse the U.S. of its weakness, its misguided devotion to liberal pluralism. Hw doesn’t get that while the “war” against the Taliban may be an obsession of “American hawks,” the battle against Islam is a product of the war-bloggers and dedicated Right-wingers whose poisonous invective taints the airwaves of AM talk-radio.

A moment that revealed that kind of personal investment occurred in 2006, when blogger and radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewed Time Magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief Michael Ware by phone from Iraq. Ware had just narrowly escaped several bombings, but Hewitt wanted to brag of his own courageous contribution to the war effort, saying, “I’m sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I’m sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target…. This was the front line four and a half years ago.”

The conservative writer Julian Sanchez offered a sort of taxonomy of war-bloggers in 2002. He noted that “there is a distinctly ideological ‘line’ that virtually all of these blogger types seem to embrace: the War is good, bracing, and invariably righteous, and all its opponents are wimps, traitors.” What’s more, they “were inspired by the onset of the war” and saw themselves as the sole keepers of an unvarnished truth. “The ‘Big Media’,” wrote Sanchez, “are being ‘challenged’ by these little one-man sites, kept honest, as it were.”

Chris Hedges wrote a book titled, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and it is certainly true of the war-bloggers. Sanchez described a typical war-blogger as “some punk kid who thinks the world is a friggin' computer game and cannot distinguish fantasy from reality.”

Peace is "boring," and only war is enough to excite the passion of our militant young nerd. Armed with the "galactic perspective" that only someone who has read the complete works of Isaac Asimov can possess, [the war-bloggers] are marching off to war, ready to lay low the entire Middle East.

Tim Cavanaugh, writing for the Annenberg School of Communications’ Online Journalism Review, noted that “The War On Terrorism, with all its world-historical moment, has combined with the relentless drive of the bloggers to create an explosion of unfathomed energy, vitality, and pure wind.” He wrote that without a war to give their lives meaning, many would be trapped in the doldrums of less bracing partisan battles:

Glenn Reynolds -- whose title 'Instapundit' merrily undermines his credibility (or at least foregrounds his lack of credibility) -- doesn't have to be content with zinging Cornel West when he can rail against the treachery of the Saudis. Postrel gets to take on serious issues of rights and security where otherwise she might just be noting how some taxicab eureka she had proves the necessity of privatizing Social Security. Best of the Web editor James Taranto, who in some alternative universe has nothing else to discuss except how the Democrats are shamelessly using Enron as payback for Whitewater, now gets to pre-empt every argument with what appears to be the only weapon in his argumentative arsenal: 'Don't you know there's a war on?.'

For many, the “War on Terror” took on gendered aspects as well -- it not only gave them vicarious excitement, but became integral to their sense of manhood (or womanhood, as the case may be). In a classic of its genre, the blog DBKP featured a rambling post titled, “Why Liberals Aren’t Real Men.” 

Try this simple exercise: Picture President Obama as a grunt on the front lines of a battle in Afghanistan, shooting at the enemy, and fighting for America. That image doesn’t compute, does it? In a nutshell, this is the difference between liberal males and real men.

Real men know that terrorists threaten our very existence. Liberal males choose to believe they are merely misunderstood victims of America’s excesses. Real men know that feelings count for zilch when faced with evil. Liberal males have bought into the notion that real evil exists only on the right.

For those whose entire identity is invested in the War on Terror, its continuation is anything but a bug -- it’s a feature. That’s not to suggest that their feverish Islamophobia is a concerted effort to undermine our supposed “progress” in Afghanistan -- they’re not conspiring to continue the war. It’s that they are detached from the actual conflict abroad and consumed with the ideological war at home. The real enemies aren’t some dusky devils hiding in a cave 4,000 miles away; the real enemies are their political opponents at home, those who challenged their worldview.

Frank Rich, who travels in far less unseemly circles, simply can’t appreciate how irrational and all-encompassing their hatred and fear really is. His rational national security argument, again, is irrefutable, but other than affirming the beliefs of those who already agree with him, it will continue to fall on deaf ears.


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