Politics & Media
Sep 15, 2010, 10:35AM

Islamophobia as the "New McCarthyism" Doesn't Wash

There's always going to be bigoted idiots, so let's stop with the senseless comparisons.

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How many roads must a man walk down before he realizes the ghost of Joseph McCarthy is not lurking around every corner? It’s a pertinent question today, in the midst of a tumultuous Congressional midterm election campaign, as aghast and pissed off liberals are pointing fingers aimlessly looking for someone to blame. You’d think that pundits—elite or scruffy, left- or right-wing—might finally understand that constantly evoking Hitler, Stalin, Mao and McCarthy in propping up this or that argument, just has no credibility anymore. Barack Obama’s not a socialist or undocumented alien, just as George Bush didn’t have a shrine to the Third Reich in a cubbyhole at the White House.

Peter Beinart, one of the most pretentious of the early middle-aged Beltway/New York intelligentsia, hasn’t received that message, as his latest Daily Beast post, “The New McCarthyism” amply demonstrates. It’s Beinart’s contention that America is in “the midst a national psychosis: the worst spasm of paranoia and bigotry of the post-Cold War age.” Had he been referring to the appalling anti-immigrant fervor directed mostly at Mexicans and other Hispanics, I could see his point, if not the hyperbole. But no, in the wake of the ongoing debate about the plans for an Islamic center near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan (which will probably never come to fruition) and a publicity-seeking minister from Florida who threatened to burn a copy of the Koran, Beinart insists “the American Muslim” is the symbol for everything U.S. citizens fear.

This is predictable and far too easy: yes, loudmouths like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich (whom Beinart cites) are quick with a slur against Muslims to audiences they consider appropriate and advantageous to their own political goals. But if Beinart’s going to raise the Joseph McCarthy specter, shouldn’t he at least provide some evidence of Congressional inquisitions of Muslim-Americans (which haven’t occurred under the presidencies of either Bush or Obama), blacklisted men and women in academia, entertainment or even those applying for a mortgage or credit card, or mass deportations borne of rampant Islamophobia? After all, it’s not as if the United States has made it a crime for Muslim women to wear a burqa or other full-body robes: no, that was France—France!—the allegedly enlightened European intellectual paradise that Hollywood liberals often threaten to move to if a Republican is elected president.

Ratcheting up the rhetoric, Beinart concludes by playing the Yom Kippur card at the conclusion of his misguided article: “It’s an ancient idea, the scapegoat, onto which the nation transfers its burdens and sins. Now we Americans have new one, the American Muslim, and a new set of sins for which we will, I pray, one day atone.” Good gravy! I don’t dispute Beinart’s opinion that there exists a degree of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country today, but if there’s been a rash of torched mosques and murders of devout Muslims I’ve missed the news reports.

  • Way to go, Smith. I hope there are three opinion writers like you for every rabble rouser, because I fear it takes that many to have a chance of calming the waters.

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  • Couldn't agree more Russ. Islamophobia is much different from McCarthyism. On the other hand, when the Bachmans, Angles, and O' Donnalls start talking about house members being anti-american and traitors, I am reminded of early McCarthism. They too want investigations etc.

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  • why the histrionics re Islamophobia on the Left? Stategic move to conjure up a big racism deal against Republicans, claim the high road, and try to shame Independents back into the Democratic fold for the midterms. Remember the Obama camp accusing the Clintons of racism in S. Carolina during the primaries? It worked. Beating the Islamophobia drum could work too.

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  • Russ Smith is suffering from "Islamophobia-phobia", the fear of and revulsion towards the rise of Islamophobia. "Islamophobia-phobia" fosters an environment that is not intellectually or morally healthy. It can undermine the critical scrutiny of Islam as somehow impolite or ignorant of the religion's true nature"(Piers Benn, New Humanist).

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  • There's no "high road" in presenting a dishonest premise. The plain fact is that today in the United States there is FAR more hatred and discrimination aimed at Hispanics than Muslims. I was writing about an elitist left-wing canard, that, as usual in this fall of Democratic fear, is off the mark.

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  • Parents who warn their children not to play in the street are suffering from Trafficophobia. I've known hundreds of drivers and they have never run over any children. Only a tiny minority of drivers hit children with their cars, so why are fearful parents blaming all traffic for the acts of only a few who don't represent TRUE traffic? They have perverted and distorted the safe traffic laws. We must end this fear and bigotry against vehicular traffic and let our children again use the nations streets as a playground because the constitution guarantees the right to the "pursuit of happiness".

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  • I don't know what planet you're on, but high marks for the creativity.

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  • The INS actually did try to deport several thousand Muslims with visa violations after 9/11 (NSEERS). No one has been blacklisted, but people like Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib couldn't enter the country for the better part of a decade. Anti-Muslim hate crimes may well end up spiking this year once the statistics are in. I don't have anything invested in Beinart's thesis, but it's a shame that you're minimizing or ignoring the injustices Muslims and everyone else have had to endure over the last few years to try to refute it.

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  • I'm not minimizing the prejudice against Muslims in America, or, for that matter, prejudice against any group. What I objected to was the idea that Islamophobia is rampant in the U.S., as the comparison to McCarthyism would suggest. Once again, antipathy to Muslims doesn't compare to the hate against Hispanics, particularly in the border states.

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