FOR those who like me are news junkies, one of the most significant news stories going on in the world today is in the United States. It is one of those ugly clashes incorporating religion, politics, power and xenophobia and it makes for a disturbing cocktail of ingredients.
The kerfuffle surrounds the proposed building of an Islamic center a few blocks away from ‘Ground zero’ in New York which was the main site of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.
The proposed construction of the site has aroused a considerable amount of fury, mainly among Republicans but incorporating other areas of the political spectrum as well. Republican figures like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have strongly opposed the proposed ‘mosque.’
The main argument is that it will somehow desecrate the memory of those who died on 911 because the attacks were carried out by Muslims who used religious tenets to justify the murder of so many innocents.
Gingrich’s argument was a lot more toxic- suggesting that because Saudi Arabia wouldn’t allow a church to be built in Mecca, the United States should provide a similar retaliation. The absurdity of that argument is nearly mind-blowing. For others, vague terms like ‘inappropriate’ provide a substitute for actual arguments and reasoning.
Of course left out of this anti-Islam frenzy is a lot of key issues. For one, as one political commentator pithily put it ‘It’s not a mosque, and it’s not at Ground Zero.’ For many however, those kinds of distinctions are inconvenient facts that get in the way of pontificating. Secondly, the people behind the proposed center have not in any way been proven to be extremists.
The mere fact that they share a religion with the men who attacked America nine years ago is enough to create a kind of guilt by association. This is infantile politics. Those who hold this position are conveniently neglecting the fact that Osama Bin Laden would probably happily blow up the center if he could.
After all the aim of Al Qaida is not simply to strike at the godless heathen and wage jihad, but also to purify Islam. The moderate Muslims behind the center-like most American Muslims- would almost certainly not be considered to be ‘true’ Muslims.
However the sad truth about the campaign is that it has been effective in rallying the right-wing base in America. The politics of fear is a deadly weapon because it touches a very primal part of us. Few emotions are as raw and overriding as fear, and the fact that our capacity for fear can take in an infinite amount of things makes such politics effective and divisive.
It was the card that Victoire Ingabire attempted to play when she arrived in Rwanda to run for president. Playing the politics of fear is almost always a transparent attempt to prompt base emotions to run riot and trample over reason and logic. It is not surprising therefore that it is usually used by those who have little else to offer the electorate and who have the moral laxity to prioritize divisionism and hatred over all else.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer