August 16, 2010

The Most Terrifying of All Battles: When the Enemy Lies Within Ourselves

[Update added.]

I've come across one item that merits a followup to my recent discussion of the entirely false controversy about the "Ground Zero mosque," and of the bigotry that is the source of opposition to the "mosque."

One of the themes constantly repeated by many opponents to the construction of Cordoba House is that they recognize the right for the project to be built, and their objection is only to the project's planned location. This is the formulation offered by John Boehner, for example: "The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn't necessarily make it the right thing to do. That is the essence of tolerance, peace and understanding."

I discussed the illegitimacy of the reasons for objecting to the particular site in the earlier post, and let's leave that aside for this discussion. Here, I'm focused only on the fact that opponents almost always say that they have no problem with the project being built anywhere else -- they just don't want it at or near Ground Zero. This is the obvious implication of Boehner's statement, and many other opponents have said the same. Many opponents also note that there are many mosques (some of them actual mosques!) elsewhere in New York City, perhaps as many as 100.

If they're comfortable with mosques anywhere else in New York City, just not at or very near Ground Zero, they should be completely comfortable with mosques outside the city altogether, correct? They certainly should be comfortable with mosques scattered around the United States, sometimes thousands of miles from Ground Zero.

Are they? Not three thousand miles away, in California:
The dispute over the mosque is just the most prominent in a series of debates around the country where Muslim groups have sought to build mosques. In the community of Temecula, Calif., where a proposed mosque has sparked an intense dispute, Mr. Obama's comments spurred a surge of letters to local newspapers decrying his statements. Pastor William Rench of Calvary Baptist Church, next door to the proposed mosque site, said he now expected opposition to the mosque plan to harden.

"It will galvanize their desire for resistance to the mosque," he said. "It confirms in their minds the idea that Mr. Obama seems to be more accommodating to the Islamic world than he is for the Christian representation in America."


[S]ince he has begun reading more commentary from American Islamic leaders, he said, he has grown concerned about extremist statements such as one imam declaring Islam the "dominant" religion. He said he now worried that a large mosque could attract an extremist crowd in contrast to the current local Muslim community.
From the same story, some people don't seem all that comfortable in Tennessee:
In Tennessee, where the growing Muslim community wants to build a larger mosque in Murfreesboro, Darrel Whaley of Milton said the president's remarks angered him. A local pastor at Kingdom Ministries Worship Center, Mr. Whaley has spoken at county meetings against plans for the mosque and recreational facilities.

Asked how the president's comments might influence the local debate over the Islamic center, Mr. Whaley said Mr. Obama "didn't help it any, that's for sure." Mr. Whaley said he was concerned that "if Islam comes in with the Sharia law, there's not going to be any such thing as religious freedom."
The situation is markedly better in Wisconsin, but note opponents' concern about "extremists" there, as well:
Recently approved plans to establish a mosque in Sheboygan County, Wis., have also stirred intense feelings. Imam Mohammad Hamad, president of the Islamic Society of Sheboygan, appreciated Mr. Obama's emphasis on religious freedom. "The issue here is not the issue of a religious building, it is an issue of the Constitution," he said. Another Sheboygan mosque supporter, the Rev. Gregory S. Whelton, a pastor at St. John's United Church of Christ in Sheboygan, said Mr. Obama articulated the same issues of religious tolerance that were at stake there.

"It falls right in with the middle of our debate," he said, adding that the local debate centered on religious tolerance and opponents' concerns that the mosque would attract extremists, a notion Rev. Whelton called "really funny."
Yet even Whelton expresses doubts about the "Ground Zero mosque": "'To do it in light of what has happened,' he said, 'I'm not sure I would agree with that. But as far as their right to do it, absolutely.'" At least Whelton did support the building of a mosque in his own backyard, which is much more than can be said of many of the other "anywhere but Ground Zero" opponents.

And that's the point: many of the "anywhere but Ground Zero" opponents don't mean it when they say they're fine with mosques being built in other places. There are some individuals like Whelton who will actively support construction of a mosque in their own cities and neighborhoods, but they're rare. Most of the "Ground Zero mosque" opponents don't want any mosques constructed anywhere, period.

Given the opponents' beliefs, their across the board opposition to Islam and any of its manifestations is entirely consistent and unsurprising. Remember the statement from one mosque opponent mentioned in the WSJ story: "Mr. Whaley said he was concerned that 'if Islam comes in with the Sharia law, there's not going to be any such thing as religious freedom.'" The same hysteria appears at the conclusion of the WSJ article:
Mr. Obama's remarks quickly energized local opponents of the proposed mosque. Gary Berntsen, a New York Republican Senate candidate, fired off a statement Friday criticizing the president's comments. In an interview Sunday, Mr. Berntsen, a former senior Central Intelligence Agency officer who served in Afghanistan, said a mosque near Ground Zero would become a national security risk.

"He missed the point that people found this offensive because it's very, very close to Ground Zero," he said. "That mosque will become a magnet for militants. They will be drawn there in large numbers, and they will seek to impose themselves on that mosque, regardless of who the leaders are."

Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, founder of a group called Stop Islamization of America and a vocal opponent of the mosque near Ground Zero, blasted Mr. Obama in a statement. The president, she said, "has, in effect, sided with the Islamic jihadists."
To be candid, I would expect to see these three paragraphs in a textbook on severe clinical neurosis, more particularly, neurosis that combines fantastic grandiosity with delusions of universal persecution. I would not expect to see them in a newspaper article discussing a current controversy -- that is, I wouldn't but for the fact that I've been paying careful attention to this phenomenon ever since 9/11 revealed that a significant number of Americans enthusiastically embrace dangerously distorted views of the world. This kind of delusional thinking has become part of our new "normal."

Consider the immense distance between such views and the operative facts, even interpreting those facts in the most negative and threatening of lights. A mosque, anywhere at all and even at Ground Zero, is "a national security risk"? It's going to be "a magnet for militants"? While all this is happening, what's going on with the NY Police, or the many-headed hydra of the national surveillance state? They all fell into a deep coma? They're all on permanent vacation? "Hey, the militants are magneting at the national security risk mosque! Let's keep on fishin'!" I mock such views because such views are stupidly insane as well as insanely stupid.

I also find it wonderfully amusing that Berntsen is "a former senior Central Intelligence Agency officer." Dementia of this kind frequently sprouts in the ever-fertile brains of "intelligence" officers. I recently wrote about the fundamental fraud of "intelligence" and why its greatest significance is its utility as propaganda. All too often, the greater one's devotion to "intelligence" work, the greater one's removal from anything remotely connected to reality.

And Pamela Geller with her "Stop Islamization of America." Good God. Truly, what can one say? The United States spends more on defense than all the rest of the world combined. It has the most powerful military that has ever existed in the entire history of the planet. The U.S. has weapons that could wipe out all of human life many times over. How exactly is it that the U.S. is going to be eviscerated, exploded and/or trampled by "Islamization," with Sharia law being imposed in all 50 states? Hmm? Howzat happen, my friend? These dreaded enemies are having a lot of trouble just building a few mosques, and the one near Ground Zero isn't even a "mosque" as that term is commonly understood. But they're going to take over the world? This is cartoon political analysis, leavened with severe psychological disturbance.

This is where we come to the horrifying truth about this ludicrously overblown, even hysterical viewpoint. While people like Berntsen, Geller and their many compatriots are furiously denouncing the enemy they perceive as the "apocalyptic crusader," the awful fact is that they themselves are crusaders of precisely the kind they condemn. Some months ago, I discussed the vicious racism displayed by Tunku Varadarajan, and this was one of my major points. [See the Update, which discusses Varadarajan's views on the "mosque" controversy.] For while Varadarajan and the opponents of the "Ground Zero mosque" are consumed by irrational loathing of the fearsome, despised Other, they reveal that it is they themselves who are the source of the evils they condemn:
I will observe that if one chooses to engage in this kind of demonization of huge groups of what are, in fact, individual human beings, individuals possessed of widely different convictions and exhibiting greatly variable behavior (as is true of all such broad designations), you might more profitably start with Christians. For much of human history, that is also where you can end. In that connection, I've written at length about the "apocalyptic crusader" psychology, one which has led to horrifying consequences in the foreign policy of the United States. Among my articles on that subject are: "The Apocalyptic Crusader: Redemption, Purification and a New World -- Through Sacred Violence and Death" and "The Apocalyptic Crusader, Continued: American Apocalypse."
Those who repeatedly and furiously denounce the "Ground Zero mosque," as they speak in horrified tones of the coming conquest of America by Islam, tremble before one possibility far more than any enemy they have chosen to identify. Their capacity for more accurate perception and even minimal self-awareness is altogether obliterated by their greatest of all fears: that they might have to hold up a mirror to their own souls and see the diseased, twisted nature of what they have allowed to permanently reside there.

Such people cannot be reasoned with, and it is futile to try. But we should always remember what it is that actually drives them to such destructive rage, and that it has nothing at all to do with the source they are willing to identify. This pattern is, of course, as old as humankind. What we loathe in ourselves, we place in others. Then we destroy those others, believing we thus destroy what we loathe.

But the enemy still lives, inside us. Until that is understood, the battle will never end, nor will the destruction, the suffering and the death.

UPDATE: I refer above to "Varadarajan and the opponents of the 'Ground Zero mosque...'" The "and" was important: when I wrote that, I was aware that I didn't know Varadarajan's views about the "mosque." He might have agreed with the opponents; he might not have. The "and" was not intended to equate Varadarajan with the opponents with regard to the mosque specifically -- but in connection with the racism they share, which is the more fundamental issue.

In fact, Varadarajan does not agree with those opposed to the "mosque." In his column, he refers to "Many of us who are libertarian..." May the gods save us from another "libertarian," especially one who writes vicious racist screeds such as "Going Muslim," which I discussed here. And may they save us from "libertarians" who write vicious attacks on Julian Assange and Wikileaks, which I analyzed in the concluding section of this article.

And it is the combination of those other views of Varadarajan's that make his own support for Cordoba House ultimately meaningless. Yes, it's very marginally better than being opposed, but only on this single question. And to consider it "better," we have to disregard the meaning and implications of Varadarajan's other views. If we keep all of Varadarajan's views in mind, his support is meaningless in the same way that Obama's initial remarks were meaningless. Even a war criminal like Obama, and even a vicious racist like Varadarajan, can happen to be right on one issue. It means nothing.

Having said that, emphasizing that is what's most important here, Varadarajan criticizes Obama's backpedaling in ways with which I am largely in agreement. However, and it's a very significant however, when Varadarajan moves into the broader policy reasons as to why the "mosque" should be built, he enthusiastically embraces American exceptionalism in an especially false and dangerous form:
Obama had the chance to make a larger, grander, more beautiful point. America will let a mosque be built near ground zero—yes, hallowed ground, defiled by Islamist terrorists—because we are a great nation, more tolerant, more civilized, more open to debate and to resolution of conflict by words, more enlightened, elevated, proud, polished, humane, unafraid, accommodating, gracious, and resilient than any other place in the world.
"Than any other place in the world"! Focus on just one part of this peroration (we'd consider all of it, but our spirit and body protest in ways we dare not ignore): America is "more open ... to resolution of conflict by words..."

America peacefully resolves conflict more than any other place in the world? Seriously? About a nation whose government criminally occupies one country following a criminal war of aggression, makes criminal war in another country, seeks to widen that war to more countries, and threatens still more countries that refuse to behave exactly as the U.S. demands? About a nation that systematically uses torture as a legitimate method of warfare? And so forth and so on. See this recent article for more.

It's one hell of a way to resolve "conflict by words..." We may do that here and there in isolated domestic matters, but it has precious little to do with any aspect of U.S. foreign policy, which uniformly relies on covert operations, overthrow, outright war, occupation, etc., all in the drive to worldwide hegemony. (It also has less and less to do with domestic policy: "Terrorist State, Abroad and at Home.") And someone who so fully embraces American exceptionalism will also necessarily embrace the most primitive form of racism -- because racism lies at the heart of American exceptionalism itself.

So the fact that Varadarajan happens to support the "mosque" near Ground Zero means less than nothing. He remains, as I said before, a thoroughly vile human being.