Monday, May 12, 2008
for Archival Purposes. Original Posting Date:
An inflammatory first report on the domestic threat of “violent Islamist extremism” issued a week ago via the Senate Committee on Homeland Security turns out not to have been drafted by the Committee at all. The report was drafted solely under the direction of Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (CT)– a pro-war “Independent Democrat”– and ranking Republican Susan Collins (ME). It appears that other members of the Committee, including Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), had no part in authoring the controversial document, titled: “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat.”(PDF). “Neither Senator Obama nor his staff had any input into the report,” said the spokesperson in Obama’s Washington, DC, office Wednesday evening.
The international news service Reuters carried a story identifying the report as coming from the Homeland Security Committee as a whole, and the confusion is understandable. Senator Collins’s office in DC, however, stressed that “It was never a full Committee report” and that the cover and inside text of the report itself made that clear. The spokesperson added that “There is a lot of cooperation on this Committee, it is very bipartisan.”
Bipartisan perhaps is not the proper word to describe this report, as Lieberman, the chair, is campaigning against his former political party, the Democrats. Nor is it just an interesting anecdote that Democratic Senator and presumptive Democratic nominee for president Obama happens to sit on the Committee, since the report (and the Committee’s threatened follow-up reports on “Violent Islamist Extremism”) can easily be turned against Obama by his political adversaries.
It has become clear that one of the leading themes of the general election campaign being promoted by Republicans is that Obama is weak in the fight against terrorism. McCain has already personally attempted to tie Obama to the controversial Palestinian political party Hamas and President Bush yesterday in a speech to the Israeli parliament transparently likened Obama to “Nazi appeasers” for his willingness to “negotiate with terrorists and radicals.” Lieberman’s senate committee report, therefore, is uniquely positioned to influence the political discourse. If Obama fails to embrace the document and the hard-line national security legislation it is preparing the ground for, the case may be made that he is choosing to ignore the import of his own congressional committee’s findings, that he is knowingly failing to appreciate the threat of “radical Islam” here and abroad and is therefore willfully soft on terrorism.
At least three other Democratic Senators–Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE); and Carl Levin, (D-MI)–who sit on the Committee with Obama had no role in the writing of the report, according to their DC Senate office spokespeople. I placed calls to the DC offices of all members of the Committee over several days, but most had yet to return phone calls or emails sent to their press secretaries when this article was published.
“Minority staff reports” and “majority staff reports” are common enough, but this report– coming from the ostensibly bipartisan leaders of the committee– can leave the impression that it took into account the views of all of the committee members, which it clearly does not. Reports authored together by the majority and minority staff of a committee are not unheard of and in fact come more often than usual from the Homeland Security committee, but they are not generally common. In addition, Capitol Hill insiders say the report was primarily driven by Lieberman’s staff. One Democratic Party operative grumbled that the staff didn’t even send Democratic members of the Committee courtesy copies of the report before it was issued.
Lieberman is no neophyte on the political scene. He surely knows the report, its release timed as it is to coincide with the heating up of the general election campaigns, will be used for political ends– to whiplash Barack Obama and to push both Obama and Hillary Clinton toward hard-line policy positions on the Middle East, as well as to more generally soften opposition to civil liberties abuses by the Bush Administration. More than any serious attempt to examine the serious issues it addresses, the report seems a mere election year political trick.
A spokesperson for the Senate Committee said Thursday afternoon, however, that there was “zero truth” to assertions that the report was politically motivated. “We held six hearings going back for over a year. There were multiple drafts. It was a long process. The staff worked hard on it. There was never any consideration of the political impact.” She said that in an election year season when “even the weather is being interpreted through a political lens,” such speculation is common but regrettable. There was “absolutely no connection to Obama” or the campaign, she continued. The report came out of Senator Lieberman’s deep and sincere interest in the topic and was issued when it was finished.
The Lieberman report has been condemned by critics as based on dangerously thin analysis and so a threat to freedom of expression, civil liberties, and civil rights. The report echoes an equally flawed legislative bill stalled in Congress titled “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007,” which I criticized last November.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, summarized the ACLU response to the report: “Once we begin trying to regulate belief systems, we have veered perilously far from the Constitution.”
The Defending Dissent Foundation (on whose board I sit) coordinated an open letter to the Senate Committee even before the report was released. According to the letter, already signed by 20 civil liberties groups:
We must be clear; the need to prevent criminal acts of violence is unquestionable. Studying and understanding the origin of terrorism and what provokes violence is an important element of prevention. But one of the greatest challenges to countering such movements is drawing the line between advocacy of ideas, including violence, and taking concrete steps toward carrying out a violent act. It is also important to distinguish between violence that injures or kills people and minor acts of vandalism that are part of an act of civil disobedience. Properly viewed, dissent can be an antidote to terrorism, not a precursor to it.
More groups are signing onto the letter, already endorsed by civil liberties activists across the political spectrum from the Republican Liberty Coalition to United for Peace and Justice.
Senator Lieberman has pushed out a report that many experts say is full of superficial stereotyping of Muslims and grade-school analysis of terrorism. It seems one more way that Lieberman, the “Independent Democrat,” is campaigning for Republican candidate McCain. Kate Phillips on the New York Times Politics Blog calls their dance “the McCain-Lieberman duet.”
The Democratic Party is reluctant to criticize Lieberman because the Senate is home to 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats, with two independents (Lieberman and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) who line up with the Democrats in caucus, thus giving the Democrats a voting majority and senior status on Senate Committees. If Lieberman moves to caucus with the Republicans, it would mean the Senate was evenly divided, sending more tied votes to Vice President Dick Cheney, who serves as the President of the Senate. In addition, Democrats would no longer unilaterally control the chairs of all Senate committees, and would have to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans.
There are certainly political groups who will use the report to fire bigoted salvos on behalf of McCain, just as they used falsehoods and fabrications to sink the candidacy of John Kerry. McCain at the time called the charges against Kerry “dishonest and dishonorable.” Yet McCain, who has a long track record as a militarist., is the clear beneficiary of election year fear-mongering about Islam and terrorism, and has reached out to leaders of the Christian Right who have a track record of Islamophobia.
When McCain stood before the audience of some 2000 Christian conservatives last year at the FRC Action Values Voters “Washington Briefing” conference, it was already clear that he was seeking to mend fences with the Christian Right. Now McCain has cultivated support from apocalyptic preacher John Hagee, who has stated that “Jihad has come to America. If we lose the war to Islamic fascism, it will change the world as we know it.” Hagee is not just talking about “radical Islam,” he also believes that the Quran itself gives Muslims a mandate to kill Christians and Jews. According to Hagee, “Well, the Quran teaches that. Yes, it teaches that very clearly.”
American Muslims have launched a campaign to encourage more precise language when linking Islam and terrorism, just what the Lieberman report fails to do. According to Religion News Service:
While Muslim Americans have made this argument for years, U.S. government officials have only recently adopted it. In March, the National Counterterrorism Center drafted a memo for the State Department urging diplomats to drop words like “jihadists” or “mujahedeen” (those engaged in jihad) when describing terrorists because it “unintentionally legitimizes their actions.”
In fact, in January the Department of Homeland Security suggested that “We should not concede the terrorists’ claim that they are legitimate adherents of Islam,” according to a memo obtained by the Associated Press. This fact has already attracted attention in the blogosphere, but mainstream media have yet to offer any meaningful coverage of this entire episode. My first report on this matter was posted on the HuffingtonPost / OffTheBus last Monday.
The group Muslim Advocates notes that “The Senate report, issued by Senators Lieberman and Collins on May 8, 2008, with bold red letters on the title and provocative graphic photos of al Qaeda overseas, insinuated that American Muslims are ripe for radicalization and present a potential ‘homegrown’ security threat to the nation.”
A letter critical of the report and asking for a dialogue has been sent to the committee by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and Muslim Advocates. The letter notes that “Given that only one of nineteen witnesses before the committee represented the American Muslim community, we also urge you to include representative American Muslims at future hearings on Islam or the American Muslim community.” The letter suggests that the report undermines its own stated goals, and points out:
As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testified to the committee, in response to a question from Senator Tester, “It is very important that …we make clear that we are not racially profiling people. We are not imputing to people that they are dangerous or threatening because they are Muslim. … We have to continually treat every American with the same respect that our Constitution requires, regardless of their heritage, regardless of what their religion is, and when that is not honored, that actually has a counterproductive effect.” Unfortunately, the committee’s report undermines fundamental American values (as well as its own stated recommendations) by encouraging alienating suspicion of several million Americans on the basis of their faith. Contrary to Secretary Chertoff’s recommendations, it thus exacerbates the current climate of fear, suspicion and hatemongering of Islam and American Muslims.
Fear-mongering by Republicans about terrorism, Islam, and the Middle East is ratcheting up in the campaign, and Islamophobia has consequences, as I outlined in my previous post about the firing of school principal Debbie Almontaser, Muslim bashing is the New Witch Hunt.
Lieberman has a long track record of supporting an aggressive U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is tilted in favor of an aggressive stance by the government of Israel. This serves to mobilize that sector of the Christian Right known as “Christian Zionists,” profiled by Max Blumenthal here on HuffPost in an article and video about Christians United for Israel, which McCain endorser Hagee heads. While some critics of U.S. foreign policy slip into a stereotypical conflation of Israel, the Israeli government, Jews, Zionism, and Christian Zionism, the relationships among “Culture, Religion, Apocalypse, and Middle East Foreign Policy” are well studied. Christian Zionists help push U.S. foreign policy in a bellicose direction that undermines chances for a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis; a matter for reflection this week, when the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel is being celebrated.
The 2008 Christian Right Values Voters Summit scheduled for September places “immigration” and “radical Islam” just after “marriage and the family” on its list of the important “highlights” of the conference. For the past two years, the Values Voters conference and “Washington Briefing” has featured a range of Islamophobic speeches and publications. If McCain moves to the Political Right to shore up the Republican voter base in the Christian Right–which trial balloons about Gov. Mike Huckabee being considered for the VP slot make more plausible–then Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric will find an eager audience. Summit co-sponsor FRC Action is already bashing Obama.
Last year on HuffPost I wrote that “A McCain-Huckabee ticket, however, could pull voters to the polls across several core Republican constituencies mobilized around the economy and immigration.” I should have added Islamophobia, because it clearly is going to play a role in election 2008, no matter who ends up as the final presidential standard bearers for the Republicans and Democrats.
Friday, May 09, 2008
for Archival Purposes. Original Posting Date:
A bigoted bombshell was lobbed from Inside the Beltway last Thursday when the Senate Committee on Homeland Security under the “leadership” of Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman and ranking Republican Susan Collins. The report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat,” (PDF) combines Muslim bashing with suggestions that would further undermine Consitutional rights in the United States.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, summarized the ACLU response to the awful Lieberman/Collins Senate Committee report:
Though the need to prevent criminal acts of violence is unquestionable, targeting communities based on religious beliefs is unacceptable and unproductive. We will only end up stigmatizing the Islamic community and creating a nation of Islamophobes. We should not be legislating against thought and we should certainly not be regulating religious or unpopular thought. A dynamic debate can only make this country stronger and safer. (More here)
Is Islamophobia something to worry about? I think so. Islamophobia has been simmering of the back burner of Campaign 2008 for some time.
Take the case of Debbie Almontaser in New York. There are lots of statistics and studies, but sometimes a personal story is the best illustration of a problem.
Almontaser was removed as the principal of a new Arab language public school in New York City in 2007. She was thrown to the circling wolves by her own union and the NYC department of education.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Almontaser explains that she began to “help safeguard my Arab, Muslim, and South Asian neighbors in Brooklyn.” Aha! Typical! After all, Almontaser is an Arab Muslim immigrant from Yemen. What do you expect? Well, expect more, because Almontaser had already spent years working with a “group of Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, and others who meet on a monthly basis to talk about world issues and give each other a sense of hope and support. Immediately after September 11, some members of the dialogue called to check up on how my family and I were doing. Based on the concerns and issues I raised, I was invited by these members to go to their churches and synagogues and to speak on behalf of the Arab-American and Muslim communities in Brooklyn.”
What got Almontaser fired? She became the target of right-wing media fanatics who used her to whip up fears of terrorist Muslims teaching children to become suicide bombers.
The New York Post and New York Sun led the attacks. Sun columnist Alicia Colon was especially nasty: “So whose insane idea was it to have an Arabic public school in Brooklyn open this September? Are they out of their minds? Have they learned nothing from the Netherlands about the danger of pandering to multiculturalism?”
When I first heard of this proposed school, I thought it was a joke. But then I read Daniel Pipes’s column about this disguised ‘madrassa’ and discovered who the major principals were. Now I can’t dispel this feeling of disbelief and outrage. This proposal is utter madness, considering that five years after September 11, ground zero is still a hole in the ground and we’re bending over backwards to appease those sympathetic to individuals who would destroy us again. Smart, really smart.
In one online essay, Daniel Pipes, a scholar and anti-Islamic pundit, claimed that Almontaser said, “Arabs or Muslims…are innocent of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”
The actual quote? Almontaser said “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims…. Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and have stolen my religion.”
The bigoted media feeding frenzy was a disgrace. Months later the New York Times did the right thing and published a thoughtful article titled “Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School” (online here).
The Bush administration policies in the Middle East have been a disaster, and part of the blowback has been a tragic escalation of both Islamophobic and antisemitic rhetoric in volitile political debates. Muslims are portrayed as a barbarous, tribal force prompting a “Clash of Civiliaztions” in the analysis by Samuel Huntington. Jews loyal to Israel are said to be controlling U.S. foreign policy through the U.S. neoconservative movement and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The lurid and bigoted claims wash across the Internet. Such xenophobia and stereotyping has no place in a country that aspires to be a real democracy.
Debbie Almontaser was engaged in working in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities to challenge stereotypes and build bridges across communites. There are several initiatives across the country twinning the issues of Islamophobia and antisemitism. Almontaser, an early leader in such efforts has been slapped down by fanatics. Almontaser is still fighting to clear her name and regain her position in the courts. (Read more about Almontaser and an earlier Witch Hunt here)
It is into this target rich political environment of fear and xenophobia that Lieberman and Collins toss their bombshell report. And they promise more to come. More than fifty years ago, a lawyer representing another target of a political witch hunt confronted the head of an earlier Senate committee: “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
History may be repeating itself. Time will tell, and history will judge our response.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
for Archival Purposes. Original Posting Date:
When a bipartisan Congressional committee issues a report on the threat of domestic terrorist violence during an election year, you can be sure that the centrist establishment is worried about the popular backlash against government repression and the threat to civil liberties.
That’s nothing new.
Scholar William W. Keller argues that in times of wide-spread social unrest and tensions, some liberals retreat from their oversight function as protectors of civil liberties and allow authoritarian methods to be implemented in order to restore order and defend the state. Right now in Washington, DC, civil liberties activists have built a coalition that spans the political spectrum from left to right. This coalition recently managed to block legislation titled the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.” It was, as detailed here, lousy legislation and deserved to be squashed.
Many voters do not support the war in Iraq and are suspicious of Bush administration demands for even more erosions of civil liberties and Constitutional rights.This scares the bipartisan status quo brigade, and centrist Republicans and Democrats now rally behind the power of the state. Dissidents on the left and right already are all potential suspects in the “War on Terrorism.” Who better to pick as the main target for the New Witch Hunt than Muslims in America? Is there a more vulnerable community for a new campaign based on fear?
So now comes a “series of reports by the Majority and Minority staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs…on the threat of homegrown terrorism inspired by violent Islamist extremism.” The first report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat,” (PDF) was published today, 8 May 2008.
What’s really amazing, is that this travesty of a “majority and minority” report is not even really “bipartisan.” The committee authors include Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican, and Committee Chairmen Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who has effectively lent himself to the McCain campaign for the last few months.
The ACLU has issued a press release: “ACLU Skeptical of Senate Report on ‘Homegrown’ Terrorism,” and a broad civil liberties coalition signed a letter of protest that was actually issued the day before the report was made public.
Online, there has been almost no comment since the report was issued, hours ago, but it’s easy to imagine what the Republican spin doctors and neo-McCarthyites are already whipping up in order to attack Democrats in this election cycle as soft on terrorism. The blogosphere will soon pulsate with their purple prose. This series of reports is a readymade script for the Swift Boating of the Democratic Presidential nominee and a bludgeon with which to push all of the candidates– Democratic and Republican– into a corner where they will accept more government repression as the price for being elected.
I will be posting more details about the New Witch Hunt and how it intersects with election 2008 over the next few days. Tomorrow, the story of Debbie Almontaser, hounded out of a job as a school principal by bigoted fanatics.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
for Archival Purposes. Original Posting Date:
Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee started out his evening speech on Super Tuesday with two Biblical references, when in fact, his Biblical base is slipping–but not far away.
Huckabee is getting a lot of press attention for doing so well with Southern evangelicals, but if you examine vote totals and exit polls closely, it is clear that many conservative white evangelicals in the South have opted for “pragmatism” over “purism” within the Republican Party.
Huckabee represents “purism.” McCain and Romney represent “pragmatism.”
Let’s start with baseline figures. Among white Protestant evangelicals, about 70% of those who vote generally turn out for Republicans, while 30% vote Democratic. No surprise there.
Over the last 30 years, about 15 percent of voters say they are close to the Christian Right, and 70-80 percent of Christian Right voters vote Republican. No surprise there.
Vote totals and percentages in Bible Belt states and their neighbors on Super Tuesday, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee, show Huckabee doing well, but not as well as would be expected if conservative white evangelicals in the South were voting as a bloc. They are not. Huckabee held onto his Biblical base in his home state of Arkansas, but not elsewhere across the South. So while the pundits are noting how well Huckabee did among evangelicals in the South–which is hardly a surprise–few are mentioning that Huckabee did not manage to keep white evangelicals in line behind his candidacy.
This confirms the collaborative investigative report on HuffPost’s OfftheBus with the somewhat misleading headline:
Not “Diminished,” but certainly “Divided.”
According to this excellent study:
After contacting nearly a hundred churches and interviewing more than 20 pastors and evangelical leaders, OffTheBus has uncovered a ‘house divided’, although that ‘house’ was never really united in the first place.”
Exit polls show that some 40% of Republicans voting nationally say they are “evangelical” or “born again” in the broadest sense of the term. With Southern Republicans, however, roughly 70% say they are “evangelical,” (it varies by state), yet in this group, only about 40-50% voted for Huckabee in the South on Super Tuesday.
Here is a simple formula–a bit rough, but not bad.
In the Bible Belt states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee, add up the vote percentages for McCain and Romney. If that combined total is more than the percentage received by Huckabee, there is a significant split among conservative white evangelicals. Do the same for Missouri. Note the variation by state. According to exit polls, Republicans voting for McCain tended to list the economy as their chief concern. These McCain voters clearly include a significant number of white evangelicals.
This illustrates two important points.
1). Not all Republican white evangelicals are part of the Christian Right socio-political movement.
2). For white evangelicals–Republican or Democrat–the economy and poverty are also moral values.
Sometimes hot button social issues such as abortion and gay rights are the most important “moral values” for Republican evangelicals in a given election–and sometimes issues such as the economy, political corruption, and opposition to the course of the war in Iraq are the most important “moral values.” Oddly, as noted by Faith In Public Life, Democrats are seldom polled about their faith, even when asked about “moral values.” (See here)
That some white evangelicals are swing voters is nothing new. In the 2006 midterm election, a small but significant number of white evangelicals were swing voters who switched from the Republicans to the Democrats over the latter two issues of war and corruption.
The variation in the percentage of white evangelicals voting Republican or Democrat between two elections is dubbed the “God Gap.” (View a chart on the God Gap here).
Both the larger group of conservative white evangelicals, and the subset that is the Christian Right, have played key roles in electing Republican candidates to public office over the past thirty years. Muddled polling about “moral values” voters–which can include Republicans and Democrats or progressives and conservatives–has obscured this reality. Time and time again, careful scrutiny of polling data shows that in some elections and in some states, conservative white evangelicals provide the margin of victory for Republicans. Analyst John C. Green and a few others have been pointing this out for many years, but few reporters pay much attention.
Keep in mind, this is not “religious right” voters who shifted [in 2006] . It’s moderate and liberal evangelicals who were concerned about the war and corruption.& They’re also conservative on gay marriage and abortion but were more worried about these other issues.
So for me, the bottom line is that there was indeed a meaningful shift among churchgoing Christians toward the Democrats and that there is a real dissatisfaction among many moderate evangelicals with the Republican Party. But because it was triggered by two issues–Iraq and corruption–that can’t be counted on in 2008, the Democrats will have to take some fairly dramatic steps to solidify these temporary gains.
This time around, John McCain represents for many Republicans the protest vote over the economy, keeping more white evangelicals inside the Republican Big Tent. For Republican-leaning white evangelicals for whom the War in Iraq is the most important moral value in this election race, the Democratic candidate might offer an acceptable alternative and prompt some swing votes.
In November, most white evangelicals will undoubtedly vote for the Republican presidential candidate, no matter who wins the nomination. But this is still a complicated situation. A McCain-Huckabee ticket, however, could pull voters to the polls across several core Republican constituencies mobilized around the economy and immigration. McCain is also attractive as a candidate among some Democrats and Independents.
First, the Christian right is here to stay. In a decade of studying and writing about it, I have spoken to many reporters, and when they don’t want to know why the movement is on the verge of extinction they want to know why it is succeeding in its plan to take over the GOP or the nation. Both story lines are exaggerations.
Surveys show that the core constituency of the movement has remained rather steady since the late 1970s, even as its policy fortunes rise or fall with changes in government leadership and public opinion.
Second, analyses of the Christian right should be focused less on national figures and organizations and more on grassroots activism, above all in the South. News of the Christian right has for years gravitated to the big-name personalities who are media savvy, controversial, or both. Yet the real impact of the movement lies with its activist base….
While some Republican white evangelicals swung to vote Democratic in the 2006 midterm elections, at the same time, the Christian right brought a large number of evangelicals, Black and White, to the polls. In tight races, this makes a difference that can cost a candidate an election.
Democrats can pick up votes if they learn to mobilize and recruit white evangelicals around the “moral values” issues of the war and the economy, but they need to do this without selling us out on the issues of reproductive, LGBTQ, and immigrant justice. So far Democratic Party leadership inside the Beltway has not demonstrated the ability to do this.
See, for more information:
Chip Berlet & Pam Chamberlain. 2006. Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters, and the Culture Wars in 2006. Political Research Associates.
Chip Berlet, “Midterm Election 2006: Pundit Watch,” Talk to Action.
Chip Berlet, “The Christian Right, Mid-term Elections, & Social Movements,” Talk to Action.
John C. Green and Mark Silk, “Why Moral Values Did Count,” Religion in the News, 2005, (Spring).
Scott Keeter, “Evangelicals and the GOP: An Update. — Strongly Republican Group Not Immune to Party’s Troubles,” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, October 18, 2006.
Geoffrey C. Layman, and John C. Green, “Wars and Rumors of Wars: The Contexts of Cultural Conflict in American Political Behavior,” British Journal of Political Science 36(1), (January 2006): 61-89.
Andrew Kohut, “The Real Message of the Midterms,” Pew Research Center, November 14, 2006.
Mark J. Rozell, “What Christian Right?” Religion in the News, Spring 2003, Vol. 6, No. 1.
Steven Waldman, “The Smaller God Gap,” On Belief, BeliefNet,
Election cycle disclaimer. These are my personal essays written on my own time.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
for Archival Purposes. Original Posting Date:
Yes, it’s true. A weird hermit, writing about his visions in a cave one hundred years after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, will sway a lot of Republican voters in the upcoming Super Tuesday primary elections 2008. An astonishing number of Christian evangelicals take Bible prophecy so seriously that it shapes the way they will vote this year. But that’s not the problem.
There are millions of Christian evangelicals who read Biblical prophecy in a way that encourages them to vote to feed the poor, protect the environment, support ethics in government, provide adequate health care, housing, and education–even vote against the war in Iraq. These are all moral values for many Christians.
There are many other millions of Christian evangelicals, overwhelmingly White and conservative, who read Biblical prophecy in quite a different way. So on Tuesday keep an eye on Republican voters in those southern states in what is traditionally called “The Bible Belt.” This will determine how the split between “pragmatists” and “purists” among conservative White evangelicals is playing out. Pragmatists may divide their votes between Mitt Romney and John McCain. Purists are likely to vote for Mike Huckabee, especially in Arkansas, where he was governor. But also scope out Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.
There’s a good article explaining this in the here.”>Boston Globe
Pundits over the next few days are likely to talk about the splits in the Christian Right, or even predict its demise. Don’t bite on that baloney. Does anyone seriously think most conservative Christian evangelicals will bolt the Republican Party and vote Democratic in November? I think not.
This does not mean that Democrats or progressive movement activists should treat Christian evangelicals or other people of faith in a disrespectful way–millions of us are already Democrats and progressive movement activists (and we don’t think they are the same thing, either, Matt Bai).
So as a Christian, what is it that bothers me about how many people in the Christian Right view Biblical prophecy?
It’s how they read it.
The last book of the Christian New Testament is “Revelation,” written by John of Patmos. It was originally thought to have been written by the same John who was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). It most likely was not.
John of Patmos was a hermit who lived in a cave on an island off the coast of what is now Turkey. He had visions and wrote them down. Standard stuff for prophets. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches urge their followers to read “Revelation” as a metaphor, as do most “mainline” Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians.
In the older Christianity–the one Jesus the Jew actually practiced–women were revered for their wisdom and spirituality. But that didn’t suit St. Paul nor apocalyptic St. John the Evangelist who was doing LSD on Patmos (I visited his cave) where he wrote about the four horsemen and the blazing fires in the sky. (It could have been the Patmos sunset seen by a stoner emerging from a cave–or the Patmos sunrise–equally bewitching).
God, I wish I could write like that. (Fat chance.)
Anyway, the Christian Bible’s book of Revelation describes in graphic terms what will happen when an angry God finally intervenes in human affairs at the end of time. The prophetic narrative describes the End Times as a period of widespread sinfulness, moral depravity, and crass materialism. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride in bringing God’s wrath in the form of wars, disease, civil strife, and natural disasters. Satan’s chief henchman appears in human form as the Antichrist, a popular world leader who secretly harbors sympathy for the Devil. He promises peace and unity of all nations under one world government–but it’s a conspiracy. His agents are tracking down and punishing Christians who refuse to abandon their faith. Satan’s allies receive a mark–the Mark of the Beast–represented by the number 666.
This period of hard times are called “the Tribulations” and culminate in a final cataclysmic doomsday confrontation of massed armies in the Middle East, at a place named Armageddon. Good triumphs over evil at the battle of Armageddon, ushering in a millennium of Christian rule.
The book of Revelation (and other prophetic verses in the Bible) provides important clues for understanding the rhetoric and actions of devout Christians who are influenced by apocalypticism and millennialism. Among Christians, belief in an actual coming apocalypse is particularly strong among those Fundamentalists who not only read the Bible literally, but also consider prophetic Biblical text to be a coded timetable or script revealing the future.
Christians who believe the apocalypse is at hand can act out those theological beliefs in social, cultural, and political arenas. An example might be when believers view current world events as “signs of the End Times” or see those with whom they disagree as agents of the Antichrist.
Here is the really bad news. For a few million Christian Fundamentalists…
…we are the agents of the Antichrist!
You and me. Liberals, secularists, humanists, Muslims, progressives, feminists, everyone in the LGBTQ community, and more. Even Christians who don’t think the way they do–like me–are enemies of God and Country in their theological worldview.
We are Satan’s scum.
And on Tuesday, some of these Christian Fundamentalists will be voting for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, after which us sinners and Devil’s disciples will have our bodies crushed like grapes until our blood runs ankle deep through a valley in the Middle East.
That’s how they read the Bible.
So on Tuesday, keep your eyes on the Bible Belt.
I will be posting more “revelations” about the Christian Right and election 2008 over the next few months. But remember, millions of Christian evangelicals already vote for Democrats. Some 95% of Black evangelicals, for example, vote Democratic in Presidential elections. Some White evangelicals are swing voters. There are progressive Christian evangelicals. There are even progressive Christian Fundamentalists. And you know what? None of us spiritual folk can leave our beliefs outside the voting booth. That’s just stupid. We don’t ask secularists to leave their morality and ideology outside the voting booth. Get over it.
So don’t cost Democratic candidates some votes by being an ignorant jerk who goes around saying stuff about Christians and other spiritual people that just is not true.
I will be on Pacifica radio at 9pm Tuesday evening discussing these issues. Tune in.
Election cycle disclaimer. These are my personal essays written on my own time.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
for Archival Purposes. Original Posting Date:
Ron Paul wants us to believe that he wasn’t paying attention when the newsletters that went out under his name for twenty years carried articles that were racist, homophobic, and antisemitic.
This story has circulated before; however when The New Republic posted a story on Tuesday detailing some of the nastier morsels with extensive direct quotes, Ron Paul responded:
“The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts….I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.”
Well, no, Paul really hasn’t taken any responsibility. Paul so far refuses to name the author of the turgid bigotry in his newsletter, and Paul’s responses over the years are less apologetic than non-denial denials. He didn’t write it. He didn’t know. He wasn’t paying attention. Don’t blame him.
Who else is there to blame?
And what about the overall slant of Paul’s newsletters and public pronouncements? For decades Ron Paul has been promoting bogus right-wing theories about a conspiracy to erode America’s national sovereignty–a conspiracy supposedly involving the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Trilateral Commission. These are the same allegations spread by the armed militia movement of the 1990s. Paul’s current claims about a proposed North American Union and a so-called “NAFTA Superhighway” from Mexico to Canada echo pet conspiracy theories of dubious right-wing information sources such as World Net Daily and Human Events.
Paul denies he promotes these conspiracy theories, even though they are essentially identical to right-wing conspiracy theories circulated since the 1950s. In the 1960s the font of such New World Order conspiracy theories was the John Birch Society, an ultra-conservative organization who today still carries forward the proposition (first articulated in the late 1790s) that a secret society called the Illuminati are constructing a One World Government and manipulating elected officials in the United States.
Paul, no surprise, has become a hero to legions of conspiracy theorists, including some for whom White supremacy, homophobia, and antisemitism are as American as apple pie. Organized racist groups use generic conspiracy theories as an entry point for recruitment. Since the 1800s, claims of sinister plots for global subversion have been interwoven with lurid antisemitic stories of Jewish plots for global conquest.
It is not fair to suggest that Ron Paul is part of any of these bigoted movements, but it is more than fair to ask Paul why he lacks the common decency and common sense to quickly return a campaign donation from a notorious neonazi. It is also fair to ask Paul to explain in more detail how his views about the covert plans of global elites to destroy U.S. sovereignty differs from the generic or antisemitic New World Order conspiracy theories easily found on the Web. What are Paul’s specific sources of information for his claims? When Paul provides his sources we can compare them to the theories promulgated by the John Birch Society–as well as groups with more bigoted baggage.
The rhetoric of Ron Paul over the past decade has been interpreted by some constituencies as coded support for bigoted ideas. This use of coded language in public debate is nothing new. As a Presidential candidate, George Wallace refined the art of coded White supremacist appeals to a high political art form. Wallace knew he was speaking in code, as did President Richard Nixon who adapted the Wallace rhetoric for the Republican’s racist “Southern Strategy.” Does Paul ever wonder why ultra-right crackpots, conspiracy theorists, bigots, and neonazis champion his cause? Does Paul not realize his rhetoric tends to support bigots unless it is clarified?
Why is it so hard for Paul to see that his name is being bandied about by bigots who suggest that Paul holds beliefs that he claims he does not hold? Why doesn’t Paul realize he has an obligation to forcefully distance himself from such claims? This isn’t about guilt by association; this is about a major political candidate standing up and setting the record straight using clear language. Otherwise it gives the appearance that Paul is seeking public plausible deniability, while continuing to court the very constituencies he suggests he rejects.
Read more on conspiracism and coded language here.