What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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Germany faces first far-right party in parliament since World War Two

The Guardian reports: Germany is bracing itself for a watershed moment in its postwar history, with an overtly nationalist party is set to emphatically enter the country’s parliament for the first time in almost six decades.

Rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland has strengthened its upward trajectory in the last week before the vote, with two polls published on Friday showing the party on third place.

Founded just four years ago as an anti-euro force, the AfD is polling on between 11% and 13%, with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats dropping percentage points while the Left party slipped into fourth place.

According to polls by respected institutes INSA and Enmid on Friday, Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance was on between 34% to 36% and the SPD on between 21% and 22%. Die Linke was polling at between 10% and 11%, the pro-business Liberal Democrats on 9% and the Greens had crept up to 8%.

The results would pave the way for the continuation of a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD or a so-called Jamaica Coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the FDP and Greens, never before seen on the national stage.

AfD leaders have urged their members to act as election observers, keeping a close eye on the voting process amid mounting suspicions within the party that their results might be manipulated, citing the threat the party posed to the established parties.

The AfD, under their top candidates Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old management consultant – who has made much of her same-sex relationship in recent days – and Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old German nationalist with strong anglophile leanings, have made considerable strides over the course of the campaign in spite of a rightward lurch in its rhetoric criticised even by the party’s leader.

Vowing in its manifesto to ban all mosques and minarets, prohibit Muslim calls to prayer and criminalise people wearing the veil, the AfD has also called for a change in attitude to Germany’s historic crimes in the second world war.

If polls are accurate, the AfD is expected to garner between 60 and 85 parliamentary seats, and would become the largest opposition group in parliament if Merkel’s conservative alliance and the SPD agreed to continue their coalition. [Continue reading…]

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How violence in Myanmar radicalized a new generation of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Nazir Hossain, the imam of a village in far western Myanmar, gathered the faithful around him after evening prayers last month. In a few hours, more than a dozen Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fighters from his village would strike a nearby police post with an assortment of handmade weapons.

The men needed their cleric’s blessing.

“As imam, I encouraged them never to step back from their mission,” Mr. Hossein recalled of his final words to the ethnic Rohingya militants. “I told them that if they did not fight to the death, the military would come and kill their families, their women and their children.”

They fought — joining an Aug. 25 assault by thousands of the group’s fighters against Myanmar’s security forces — and the retaliation came down anyway. Since then, Myanmar’s troops and vigilante mobs have unleashed a scorched-earth operation on Rohingya populations in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

From its start four years ago as a small-scale effort to organize a Rohingya resistance, ARSA — which is known locally as Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement — has managed to stage two deadly attacks on Myanmar’s security forces: one last October and the other last month.

But in lashing out against the government, the militants have also made their own people a target. And they have handed Myanmar’s military an attempt at public justification by saying that it is fighting terrorism, even as it has burned down dozens of villages and killed fleeing women and children.

This radicalization of a new generation of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist-majority country, adds fuel to an already combustible situation in Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest state.

Increasingly, there is also concern that both the relatively few Rohingya who have taken up arms and the broader population — hundreds of thousands of whom are crowded in camps in neighboring Bangladesh — will be exploited by international terrorism networks, bringing a localized struggle into the slipstream of global politics.

ARSA’s attempt at insurgency politics has been disastrous so far — a cease-fire that they declared this month was rejected by the military, and they are reported to have suffered lopsided casualties compared with the government’s. But the men caught up in the cause insist that resistance is worth the steep cost, even to their families. [Continue reading…]

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‘Blood flowed in the streets’: Refugees from one Rohingya village recount days of horror

The Washington Post reports: The soldiers arrived in the Burma village just after 8 a.m., the villagers said, ready to fight a war.

They fired shots in the air, and then, the villagers claim, turned their guns on fleeing residents, who fell dead and wounded in the monsoon-green rice paddy. The military’s retribution for a Rohingya militant attack on police posts earlier that day had begun.

Mohammed Roshid, a rice farmer, heard the gunfire and fled with his wife and children, but his 80-year-old father, who walks with a stick, wasn’t as nimble. Roshid said he saw a soldier grab Yusuf Ali and slit his throat with such ferocity the old man was nearly decapitated.

“I wanted to go back and save him, but some relatives stopped me because there was so many military,” Roshid, 55, said. “It’s the saddest thing in my life that I could not do anything for my father.”

The Burmese military’s “clearance operation” in the Maung Nu hamlet and dozens of other villages populated by Burma’s ethnic Rohingya minority triggered an exodus of an estimated 389,000 refugees into Bangladesh, an episode the United Nations human rights chief has called “ethnic cleansing.” The tide of refugees is expected to grow in the coming days. The newly arrived refugees — dazed, clutching their belongings, some barefoot in ankle-deep mud — have crowded out an existing camp and put up makeshift shelters. Others simply sit on the roadways, fighting crowds as large relief trucks fling down bags of rice or water. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wants to unravel Obama’s legacy, he could start with Burma

Ishaan Tharoor writes: President Trump has made no secret of his desire to dismantle the achievements of President Barack Obama, be they domestic reforms on health care, an executive order governing the status of undocumented youth, a landmark international agreement on climate change or the deal inked between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.

Many of Trump’s efforts to unravel Obama’s legacy, though, have stalled. More often than not, they have also proved widely unpopular among the public, according to a slate of opinion polls. But there’s one hot spot where Trump could probably walk back the effects of Obama’s foreign policy with little condemnation: Burma. [Continue reading…]

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‘Textbook example of ethnic cleansing’: 370,000 Rohingyas flood Bangladesh as crisis worsens

The Washington Post reports: The number of Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Burma has now topped 370,000, a crisis the United Nations human rights chief called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Hundreds of thousands of the long-persecuted ethnic minority continued to stream via land and rickety boats into Bangladesh this week, arriving exhausted, dehydrated and recounting tales of nightmarish horrors at the hands of the Burmese military, including friends and neighbors shot dead and homes torched before their eyes.

“It seems they wanted us to leave the country,” said Nurjahan, an elderly Rohingya woman who escaped her burning village 10 days ago and ended up camped by the side of the road, unsure of where to go.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration put the number fleeing Burma at 370,000 but admitted it could rise sharply. [Continue reading…]

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Russia used Facebook events to organize anti-immigrant rallies on U.S. soil

The Daily Beast reports: Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S., including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho, The Daily Beast has learned.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Beast that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

“This is the next step,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia’s influence campaign, told The Daily Beast. “The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.” [Continue reading…]

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More than a quarter-million Rohingya have fled Burma in the past two weeks, UN says

The Washington Post reports: On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency significantly revised upward its estimate of how many Rohingya people had fled Burma to neighboring Bangladesh over the past two weeks, to 270,000 from just 125,000 earlier this week.

Renewed violence has engulfed Burma’s Rakhine state, where tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and the country’s Burmese and largely Buddhist majority have simmered and flared for decades. Some 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya already lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh before this summer. An estimated 1.1 million remained in Burma. Since Aug. 25, nearly a quarter of that remaining population has reportedly fled.

Human rights groups and journalists have been reporting a statewide scorched-earth campaign by Burmese security forces to kill or otherwise expel Rohingya from the country. A BBC reporter who was on a government-chaperoned trip around Rakhine state said he spoke with Burmese men who admitted to burning a Rohingya village with the help of local police. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on Burma — also known as Myanmar — said Friday that more than 1,000 mostly Rohingya people may have been killed over the past two weeks. [Continue reading…]

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Massacre at Tula Toli: Rohingya recall horror of Myanmar army attack

The Guardian reports: It was the fast-flowing river that doomed the inhabitants of Tula Toli.

Snaking around the remote village on three sides, the treacherous waters allowed Burmese soldiers to corner and hold people on the river’s sandy banks. Some were shot on the spot. Others drowned in the current as they tried to escape.

Zahir Ahmed made a panicked dash for the opposite bank, where he hid in thick jungle and watched his family’s last moments.

“I was right next to the water,” he recalled in an interview a week later at a refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh, his eyes bloodshot and his shirt stained with sweat and dirt.

Ahmed said teenagers and adults were shot with rifles, while babies and toddlers, including his youngest daughter, six-month old Hasina, were thrown into the water.

He cried as he described seeing his wife and children die, meticulously naming and counting them on both hands until he ran out of fingers.

More than 160,000 of Myanmar’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya minority have fled to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories that they say describe ethnic cleansing.

During interviews with more than a dozen Rohingya from Tula Toli, the Guardian was told of what appeared to be devastating carnage as Myanmar’s armed forces swept through the village on 30 August and allegedly murdered scores of people. [Continue reading…]

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Pro-Trump/anti-Muslim/alt-right rallies in 36 states cancelled

Patch reports: ACT for America, the so-called “national security agency” known most recently for organizing anti-Sharia law rallies across the United States, has canceled 67 pro-Trump “America First” rallies in 36 states, citing “the recent violence in America and in Europe.” Instead the group said the 67 rallies planned for Sept. 9 will be replaced with an online “Day of ACTion.”

The group made the announcement in a statement given exclusively to Breitbart News, which it shared on its website and social media pages. While the group says the rallies were canceled “out of an abundance of caution,” the cancellation also comes at the heels of a “Free Speech” rally in Boston where thousands of counter-protesters drowned out a small group of rally-goers. [Continue reading…]

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In Barcelona, a heartening rejection of Islamophobia

The Washington Post reports: On Sunday, thousands of local Muslims marched down La Rambla, the scenic, tree-lined boulevard where the first of two coordinated attacks took place. Young and old, men and women, many of whom were veiled, the demonstrators chanted in unison: “I am Muslim! Not a terrorist!” Non-Muslims lined the sidewalks, clapping and crying. Some stepped forward to hug demonstrators as they passed.

At a Sunday news conference on the investigation, Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s regional president, grew most animated when he spoke in defense of the local Moroccan population. “The Moroccan people are integrated in Catalonia, and they have made important contributions to the community,” he said.

Some, especially in rural Catalonia, might have said otherwise. Home to the largest percentage of Spain’s Muslim population — about 25 percent — the region is also the locus of Islamist militant activity in the country. Roughly a quarter of those arrested on suspicion of radicalized tendencies between 2013 and 2016 were arrested in Barcelona and its environs, according to data released by the Real Instituto Elcano, a Madrid-based think tank.

Carola García-Calvo, a senior terrorism analyst at Elcano, said that part of the reason was that Barcelona has long been a receiving center for immigrants and one of the few places in Spain where the vulnerable group of second-generation immigrant youths has matured in a concentrated mass.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after the Las Ramblas attack, a small group of demonstrators from the far-right Falange movement — named for a fascist group active in 1930s Spain — protested what they called the “Islamicization of Europe.”

But that was far from a widespread sentiment. Thousands of counterprotesters ultimately turned out in response, drowning out the handful of rightists and forcing them to disband. [Continue reading…]

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Trump believes fiction can defeat terrorism

 


Snopes fact checks Trump’s story. Conclusion: False.

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Double standard decried as Minnesota mosque bombed

Al Jazeera reports: Social media users have voiced frustration at what they described as a double standard after a mosque was bombed in the US.

The explosion at around 5am local time (09:00 GMT) at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, caused damage but did not cause any casualties.

Worshippers had been preparing for the dawn prayer when the attack happened.

There were between 15 and 20 people inside the building at the time, according to Star Tribune, a local newspaper. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Rick Thornton, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the investigation, told reporters Saturday afternoon that the blast was caused by an “improvised explosive device” but offered no further details about its composition or possible suspects. Neither the FBI nor the Bloomington Police Department, which initially responded to the explosion, speculated on a motive for the incident.

“At this point, our focus is to determine who and why,” Thornton said at a news conference. “Is it a hate crime? Is it an act of terror?…Again, that’s what the investigation is going to determine.”

The attack was quickly condemned by religious leaders and politicians. Hussein said a “standing opposition group” has regularly protested against the mosque — and sometimes its mere existence — since it opened in 2011.

“Hate is not okay,” Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, told reporters, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We need an America where people are safe with their neighbors.”

If the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, it would represent “another in a long list of hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions nationwide in recent months,” CAIR-MN civil rights director Amir Malik said. CAIR said in a report last month that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States nearly doubled in the first half of this year over the same period in 2016. At least 35 anti-mosque acts — including vandalism and arson — were reported during the first three months of this year, the organization has said. [Continue reading…]

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The U.S. government’s fight against violent extremism loses its leader

Peter Beinart writes: George Selim, the federal counterterrorism official who works most closely with the organized American Muslim community, tendered his resignation on Friday [July 28]. His ouster is a victory for Trump officials like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who see mainstream Muslim organizations as Islamist fronts, and for those American Muslims who oppose any counterterrorism cooperation with Washington. “There were clearly political appointees in this administration who didn’t see the value of community partnerships with American Muslims,” Selim told me. It is the clearest sign yet that government cooperation with Muslim communities, which has proved crucial to preventing terrorist attacks, is breaking down.

The news was first reported on Sunday afternoon by The Conservative Review, a journal edited by the talk-show host Mark Levin, citing a senior administration official. It called Selim “a prominent Obama administration holdover known for engaging fringe Islamic radicals.”

But Selim, who confirmed to me on Sunday night that this will be his last week on the job, is not a Democrat with Islamist sympathies. He’s a conservative Republican who many Muslim activists viewed with suspicion. For the past two years, he’s been the founding director of the Office of Community Partnerships in the Department of Homeland Security, and the leader of the federal Countering Violent Extremism Task Force.

Selim’s biography evokes a bygone era. He’s an Arab American—his family is of Egyptian and Lebanese descent. Early in his career, he worked at the Arab American Institute, which advocates for Arab American civil rights, and in 2004 served as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention. Soon after that, he joined the Bush administration. [Continue reading…]

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Islamophobes get spooked by empty bus seats

Adam Taylor writes: Last week, a photograph that appeared to show six women wearing burqas on a bus sparked a heated debate in a private Facebook group for Norwegians critical of immigration.

For many members of the group, which is called “Fedrelandet viktigst” or “Fatherland first,” the image encapsulated the problems Norway was facing after an influx of Muslim immigrants in the past few years.

It also played into a continent-wide debate about Islamic dress across Europe. Norway’s right-wing government recently proposed a law that would ban some forms of dress worn by Muslim women in schools and universities — the first Scandinavian country to do so.

The burqa, a long, loose veil worn by some Muslims in Afghanistan and other parts of South Asia, would be restricted under the law, as would the face-covering niqab more commonly worn in Arab countries. Masks and other items of clothing that cover the face would also be restricted.

Some group members took the picture — posted with the comment, “what do people think of this?” — as proof that a ban was needed. More than 100 soon commented on it. “It looks really scary, should be banned. You can never know who is under there. Could be terrorists with weapons,” one user wrote, according to a translation from the Local website. Others described it as “frightening” and “tragic.”

However, when you look at the photograph above more closely, it may become apparent that the photo itself is irrelevant to any debate about Islam in Norway. Why? Well, those are not burqas. They’re bus seats. [Continue reading…]

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How ‘new atheism’ slid into the alt-right

Phil Torres writes: The “new atheist” movement emerged shortly after the 9/11 attacks with a best-selling book by Sam Harris called “The End of Faith.” This was followed by engaging tomes authored by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens, among others. Avowing to champion the values of science and reason, the movement offered a growing number of unbelievers — tired of faith-based foolishness mucking up society for the rest of us — some hope for the future. For many years I was among the new atheism movement’s greatest allies.

From the start, though, the movement had some curious quirks. Although many atheists are liberals and empirical studies link higher IQs to both liberalism and atheism, Hitchens gradually abandoned his Trotskyist political affiliations for what could, in my view, be best described as a neoconservative outlook. Indeed, he explicitly endorsed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, now widely seen as perhaps the greatest foreign policy blunder in American history.

There were also instances in which critiques of religion, most notably Islam, went beyond what was both intellectually warranted and strategically desirable. For example, Harris wrote in a 2004 Washington Times op-ed that “We are at war with Islam.” He added a modicum of nuance in subsequent sentences, but I know of no experts on Islamic terrorism who would ever suggest that uttering such a categorical statement in a public forum is judicious. As the terrorism scholar Will McCant noted in an interview that I conducted with him last year, there are circumstances in which certain phrases — even if true — are best not uttered, since they are unnecessarily incendiary. In what situation would claiming that the West is engaged in a civilizational clash with an entire religion actually improve the expected outcome?

Despite these peccadilloes, if that’s what they are, new atheism still had much to offer. Yet the gaffes kept on coming, to the point that no rational person could simply dismiss them as noise in the signal. For example, Harris said in 2014 that new atheism was dominated by men because it lacks the “nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

This resulted in an exodus of women from the movement who decided that the “new atheist” label was no longer for them. (I know of many diehard atheist women who wanted nothing to do with “new atheism,” which is a real shame.) Harris’ attempted self-exoneration didn’t help, either — it merely revealed a moral scotoma in his understanding of gender, sexism and related issues. What he should have done is, quite simply, said “I’m sorry.” These words, I have come to realize, are nowhere to be found in the new atheist lexicon.

Subsequent statements about profiling at airports, serious allegations of rape at atheist conferences, and tweets from major leaders that (oops!) linked to white supremacist websites further alienated women, people of color and folks that one could perhaps describe as “morally normal.” Yet some of us — mostly white men like myself — persisted in our conviction that, overall, the new atheist movement was still a force for good in the world. It is an extraordinary personal embarrassment that I maintained this view until the present year. [Continue reading…]

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Defeated anti-Muslim amendment a sign of Trump’s normalizing of Islamophobia

Faiza Patel, Margot Adams and Emily Hockett write: Recently, the House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that targeted the Islamic faith. Sponsored by Arizona Republican Trent Franks, the amendment instructed Defense Secretary James Mattis to conduct a strategic assessment of the use of “violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.” The Defense Department would have been required to identify “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts, or schools of thought” used by various extremist groups, and provide recommendations for identifying “key thought leaders or proponents” of these doctrines. The amendment failed in the face of strenuous opposition by every House Democrat as well as 27 Republicans and numerous advocacy organizations.

It is, of course, sensible for the government to study the motivations of terrorist groups that seek to harm us. Indeed, the U.S. government has been studying the belief systems of terrorists for years. The Franks amendment is fundamentally flawed, however, in that it assumes that “unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine” is the motive, to the exclusion of all others. It’s not unique in this regard. Government officials from both parties have long sought to frame political violence in the Muslim world as primarily one of religious “extremism” or “radicalization,” to avoid a broader evaluation of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. support for autocratic, and often brutally suppressive, regimes in the region as sources of instability and anti-American sentiment.

Coming on the heels of President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw, which described terrorism carried out in the name of Islam and the refugee crisis as an assault on “Western values,” and combined with the overall anti-Muslim tenor of the current administration, the Franks amendment simply continues the narrative of counterterrorism as a civilizational struggle—a narrative that Franks himself has long embraced—laying the blame for the violence of a relative few at the doorstep of a faith practiced by almost two billion people around the world. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (a former Marine infantryman), speaking against the Franks amendment on the House floor, said, “By singling out a faith tradition…we are sending a dangerous message and signal that America is at war with Islam.” [Continue reading…]

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