Deafening silence on Islamophobia

Predictably, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama has received a massive amount of media coverage. What is striking though is that the single issue that Powell chose to highlight above all others has been received so little comment. Out of a 1250-word endorsement, Powell devoted 325 words to his revulsion for the vilification of Muslims that has been fueled, sustained and tolerated by the McCain campaign and the GOP.

Here’s a typical response to what Powell identified as the particular point about which he feels so strongly. Josh Marshall writes:

…[Powell] said he was “disappointed” in McCain’s sleazy campaign tactics. Yes, ‘sleazy’ is my word. But Powell’s own words were pretty clear — he was talking about McCain’s campaign of distortion and innuendo aimed at painting Obama as a crypto-Muslim and terrorist. It “goes too far”, said Powell, in something of an understatement.

No comment on Powell’s central point that no one should be insinuating that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim in America.

Or this from Matthew Yglesias:

We can’t allow ourselves to become a society where “Muslim” or “Arab” is a dirty word.

But the blatantly obvious truth is that we do live in a society where “Muslim” and “Arab” are dirty words.

The near universal response to claims that Obama is a Muslim has been to vigorously deny it and point out that he is a Christian. Peripheral to those denials have been the occasional and rather tepid denunciations of the use of this term as a slur.

If Obama was “accused” of being a Jew, his accusers would without hesitation be denounced as anti-Semites — no need to identify Obama’s actual religious affiliations. The issue that would be confronted unequivocally would be the use of the label “Jew” as a slur.

When a highly respected public figure highlights a social issue and fails to provoke debate, it is clear that what he has touched upon something that is insidious and crosses political and demographic lines.

The war on terrorism is widely perceived in the Middle East as a war on Islam. But that should hardly be surprising since in the minds of most Americans, the words “terrorism” and “Islam” have become deeply intertwined.

In this country, for every foul-mouthed Islamophobe there are a thousand others who might not share his or her hatred, do not see themselves nor are seen by others as bigots, but who nevertheless facilitate the expression of that hatred by failing to stand up for Muslims.

We have become to Muslims what so many million Germans were to the Jews.

The Obama campaign, unwilling to risk sacrificing itself on this point of principle, has sadly been among the passive facilitators of Islamophobia.

How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin

Palin’s sudden rise to prominence, however, owes more to members of the Washington élite than her rhetoric has suggested. Paulette Simpson, the head of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women, who has known Palin since 2002, said, “From the beginning, she’s been underestimated. She’s very smart. She’s ambitious.” John Bitney, a top policy adviser on Palin’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, said, “Sarah’s very conscientious about crafting the story of Sarah. She’s all about the hockey mom and Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington—the anti-politician politician.” Bitney is from Wasilla, Palin’s home town, and has known her since junior high school, where they both played in the band. He considers Palin a friend, even though after becoming governor, in December, 2006, she dismissed him. He is now the chief of staff to the speaker of the Alaska House.

Upon being elected governor, Palin began developing relationships with Washington insiders, who later championed the idea of putting her on the 2008 ticket. “There’s some political opportunism on her part,” Bitney said. For years, “she’s had D.C. in mind.” He added, “She’s not interested in being on the junior-varsity team.”

During her gubernatorial campaign, Bitney said, he began predicting to Palin that she would make the short list of Republican Vice-Presidential prospects. “She had the biography, I told her, to be a contender,” he recalled. At first, Palin only laughed. But within a few months of being sworn in she and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President. Palin also learned that a number of prominent conservative pundits would soon be passing through Juneau, on cruises sponsored by right-leaning political magazines. She invited these insiders to the governor’s mansion, and even led some of them on a helicopter tour. [continued…]

Power’s shifting, but not in the way you expect

Historians identify changes in eras in terms of decades, even centuries. Commentators are a much more impatient bunch: A few weeks of turmoil on Wall Street, a year of the credit crunch, and they’ve formed an instant consensus that a new era has begun, that points have turned or tipped or gushed over a watershed.

This consensus, on both sides of the Atlantic, has formed around four themes. One is the idea that the dividing line between the market and the state, between conservative economic thinking and progressive intervention, will now shift decisively away from the market. A second is that America’s status as a free-market beacon and provider of the dollar standard will decline sharply. A third idea is that this Western economic crisis is going to confirm, and probably accelerate, the shift in economic power to Asia, and in particular to China. And when you put those three themes together, you get a fourth: that authoritarian nations, where the state runs the economy and where the political leaders are instinctively hostile to America, are going to become stronger, both internally and as role models.

The haste with which this agreement has been reached should make us suspicious. It’s time to wonder whether all four of these themes may be wrong. In fact, it’s time to wonder whether the ultimate consequence of this economic turmoil could be the precise opposite of what’s expected. [continued…]

Barak: Israel considering Saudi peace plan

Israeli leaders are seriously considering a dormant Saudi plan offering a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for lands captured during the 1967 war, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday.

Barak said it may be time to pursue an overall peace deal for the region since individual negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians have made little progress.

Barak said he has discussed the Saudi plan with Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni, who is in the process of forming a new Israeli government, and that Israel is considering a response.

Saudi Arabia first proposed the peace initiative in 2002, offering pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab lands captured in 1967 — the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. [continued…]

Five million people face starvation in troubled Zimbabwe

Aid experts are warning that millions of Zimbabwe’s people face starvation as the country’s political leaders remain deadlocked over a power-sharing deal and the economy heads for total collapse.

While officials of the Southern African Development Community prepare for a meeting tomorrow in Swaziland, where they will try to persuade President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders to resume negotiations, the United Nations World Food Programme has warned that the number of Zimbabweans needing food aid is expected to double by early next year, to just over five million. The UN has appealed for an extra $140m (£81m) to deal with the crisis.

Richard Lee, a WFP spokesman in Johannesburg, said the organisation was already giving emergency food aid to 2.5 million people in Zimbabwe after the failure of this year’s maize harvest. On top of erratic weather, which resulted in droughts in some areas and flooding in others, there were shortages of seed and fertilisers. The government, which buys all grain production, had also failed to set a price that would encourage farmers to grow more than they needed for their own families. [continued…]

Shiite bloc’s demands stall U.S.-Iraq pact

Key members of the Iraqi parliament’s largest political bloc have called for all American troops to leave this country in 2011 as a condition for allowing the U.S. military to stay here beyond year’s end, officials said Sunday.

The change sought by the influential United Iraqi Alliance would harden the withdrawal date for U.S. troops. A draft bilateral agreement completed this week would require American forces to leave by December 2011 but would allow for an extension by mutual agreement.

The Shiite bloc, which includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, also insists that Iraqi officials have a bigger role in determining whether U.S. soldiers accused of wrongdoing are subject to prosecution in Iraqi courts, said Sami al-Askeri, a political adviser to Maliki. That proposal has been resisted by the Pentagon.

If the Iraqi alliance’s conditions are not met, “I cannot see that this agreement will see the light,” said Askeri, who is also a lawmaker from Maliki’s party. [continued…]

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