That center: Tamp down the rhetoric — or ignore it


Matt Duss at the Center for American Progress wants folks to stop saying critics of the Islamic Center proposed for south Manhattan are "stabbing America in the back," noting that it’s as unwelcome — and as untrue — as when the same charge was leveled against critics of the Iraq war:

While I think (The New York Times’ Frank Rich) is correct to note the bigotry and cynicism that underlies the most virulent opposition to Park 51, and the cowardice that underlies most of the rest of it, I think we should be careful not suggest that, by engaging in free speech, however ugly and false that speech may be, critics of Park 51 are undermining the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan, or national security more broadly.

We saw similar arguments leveled against critics of the Iraq war — first that, by questioning the case for war, they were “objectively pro-Saddam,” and later that, by continuing to criticize the war as it went worse and worse, they were emboldening insurgents.

The idea that success or failure in Afghanistan will be determined by whatever stupid things Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck say about Muslims is just daft, just as was the idea that those who criticized the Iraq war bear responsibility for the Bush administration’s disastrous incompetence.

At The New Republic, John McWhorter says the best way to deal with bigots is to ignore them — and one way to start would be for Barack Obama to show us he’s among the handful of bilingual American presidents, and speak a little Indonesian:

Almost certainly we never see it because Obama feels that speaking it would fuel the fires of the Muslim rumor. Well, he should care little enough about such foolishness as to go ahead and speak a good paragraph of it with cameras rolling. It would mean that he is comfortable showing America and the world that he spent formative years in a Muslim country, was integrated deeply enough into it to speak its language, and is aware enough of the impotence of the rumor that this makes him a Muslim to feel no need to hide any of this. The clip would roll on assorted chatter sites as further evidence that he is a Muslim—the quintessence of the mere. Meanwhile Obama could continue in the larger, and realer, task of leading the free world.

To McWhorter’s Martin Van Buren (Dutch) and Herbert Hoover (Mandarin) I’d add Thomas Jefferson (French), FDR (French and German) and George W. Bush (Spanish, at least as good as Obama’s Indonesian.) And that’s not counting the classical languages.

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