Since it was revealed last fall that Robert George sits on the board of a conservative foundation that funds some of the worst anti-Islam extremists, the prominent Princeton professor has remained silent on the issue. Even when asked directly, he refused to discuss the subject.
Monday, his colleague Jennifer Bryson of the Witherspoon Institute tried to defend him. Unfortunately her attempt comes up short.
Bryson starts by conceding that the anti-Islam organizations in question are “in [her] view, misguided” before moving on. But let’s be clear, the people we’re talking about are indefensibly hateful. They describe Muslims as “Islamic Nazis,” tell lies about the President’s faith, and promote elaborate conspiracy theories about secret Muslim infiltration of the United States government and civil society. They also bear some responsibility for the rise in attacks on the religious freedom of Muslims in the last few years. And their work is being funded to the tune of over $4 million dollars by the board on which Robert George sits.
Bryson goes on to allege that critics are charging George with “being anti-Muslim” or being “hostile to Islam” and rebuts these charges with a litany of George’s statements criticizing anti-Islam bigotry. I might have missed something, but none of the posts I’ve written or read on this subject have said any such thing. In fact, I’ve made a point to laud these very statements and suggested his otherwise positive record on this issue is exactly what makes his place on the Bradley Foundation board so disappointing.
After twelve paragraphs refuting this straw man, Bryson finally gets to the fundamental moral conflict at stake, relaying George’s defense:
Yet what about George’s position on the Bradley Foundation board? Is it inconsistent with his advocacy of the rights of Muslims and his work for Christian-Muslim cooperation? The Bradley Board discussions are confidential and, says George, “what I have to say about Bradley grants and grantees I will say to them and my colleagues on the Bradley board.”
But this of course is a non-answer. Under the guise of confidentiality, George refuses to say what (if anything) he says to the board about the Bradley Foundation’s record of funding the Islamophobia industry. Did he show them the disgusting records of the people they’re funding? Was there a fight about this decision? Even if he protested and voted no, is he embarrassed that his colleagues are contributing to the same religious bigotry he opposes in other contexts? We don’t know any of this, because George won’t say.
Bryson, however, jumps to conclusions:
Frankly I am glad that he is part of the Bradley Board. He can have more influence by participating inside than by protesting from outside, and having so prominent a defender of Muslim rights, and of Islam as a faith, in such a visible place of honor and influence in the conservative movement sends a clear message to other conservatives that they need not, and should not, view Islam with contempt or regard their Muslim fellow citizens with suspicion.
If George’s strategy is to influence the board from within, he’s failing spectacularly. The foundation has been giving money to these extremists since 2001. George’s election to the board in 2006 failed to do anything to stop the flow of funds — publicly available annual reports through 2010 show that grants have been awarded in every year since.
Moreover, Bryson has her cause and effect wrong. George is not a prominent conservative leader because he is on the board, his stature comes from his other work and lends the board credibility and visibility. Given that practically no one knew about this situation until a few months ago, can Bryson really argue with a straight face that George’s secret, silent protest of an unknown issue has “sent a clear message” about religious tolerance to his fellow conservatives?
Of course not. George’s silent participation does the exact opposite, sending the message that these organizations are credible and worthy of funding.
What if the groups in question weren’t anti-Islam extremists, but active racists? Would George act the same way if the Bradley Foundation were funding the KKK? Would being a silent advocate for African Americans be morally sufficient? Would conservatives accept George’s “behind the scenes advocate” defense?
Imagine, though, what kind of message George could send by making public his vociferous opposition to his colleagues’ decision and resigning from the board in protest. Now that would be a moral example that might inspire fellow conservatives to refuse to sit by silently while xenophobic extremists hijack their movement.
But instead, George appears content to whistle past the graveyard. That’s certainly a moral and strategic choice he has a right to make. But it’s a choice that deserves to be made public, especially for someone recently appointed to a prominent position defending religious liberty around the globe. And he and his allies shouldn’t be surprised if others determine that his association with anti-Muslim groups disqualifies him from such an important and prestigious role.
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Last seen being forced to withdraw from a speech at West Point Academny, Islamophobic retired general Jerry Boykin is back in the news, this time giving a keynote for the National Rifle Association prayer breakfast (yes, that exists).
Media Matters explains:
The prayer breakfast comes on the final day of the four-day convention, which will be held in St. Louis, Missouri and feature speeches from Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and a variety of Republican officeholders.
Boykin received international attention in 2003 after the Los Angeles Times and NBC News reported on speeches he had given in full military dress at religious events suggesting that the United States was fighting a “spiritual battle” in the Middle East against “a guy called Satan” who “wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” Boykin also said of a Somali fighter who said that Allah would protect him from Americans, “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
(Boykin later apologized and claimed that he had meant that the man’s God was “money and power.”)
Boykin’s remarks drew widespread criticism, including from President Bush, who said that Boykin ”doesn’t reflect my point of view or the point of view of this administration.” Later that year a Defense Department investigation found that Boykin’s speeches had violated regulations and called for the taking of “appropriate corrective action.” In 2010, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Boykin to testify on the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, then revoked that invitation following media reports of the pending testimony, with a spokesman stating that the 2003 comments “would be used to distract” from Kagan’s record.
Since his 2007 retirement, Boykin has continued to use a variety of religious and media platforms to attack Muslims and Islam.
It probably goes without saying that xenophobic extremism and fanatical firearm enthusiasm is a dangerous combination.
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Patrick Glennon reviews John Feffer’s new book Crusades 2.0 on the recent rise in Islamophobia over the last few years:
What makes right-wing alarmism difficult to grasp is its timing: The recent uptick of Islamophobia coincides with a steady decline in domestic terror plots connected to Muslims. A study by the Triangle Center of Terrorism and Homeland Security found that the number of Muslim Americans involved in terror plots fell for a third year in a row, from 49 in 2009 to 20 in 2011. Of the 14,000 murders that occurred in the United States last year, none were connected to Islamic extremism. In Crusade 2.0, Feffer argues that Islamophobia is “sustained by U.S. government [foreign] policy” as well as the “growing economic, political and global influence of modern Islam.” In other words, having grown accustomed to the Muslim character of America’s global enemies, Islamophobes instinctively view the ascendancy of Muslim nations and the prospect of Islam-inspired democracies with trepidation.
But RNS’s Omar Sacirbey points to the way that increasing pushback is helping to slow some of the spread of Islamophobia, at least when it comes to state-level “anti-shariah” legislation:
But even in states where the legislation is still alive, anti-Shariah advocates are facing increased criticism. For example, the Philadelphia City Council in February passed a resolution condemning an anti-Shariah proposal being considered in Pennsylvania’s state legislature. The Virginia legislature moved a vote on the issue to 2013, a move that some observers said showed wariness about the legislation.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie pounced on critics last year who said he was allowing Shariah into American courts after he appointed a Muslim judge to the state’s Superior Court.
“This Sharia law business is crap,” Christie said in his signature blunt style. “It’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”
Sentiments are changing among the electorate, too. According to a February survey by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, 14 percent of Americans said they believed Muslims wanted to impose Shariah in America, down from 30 percent in September.
The power of prominent leaders and institutions like the Philadelphia City Council and Gov. Christie speaking out against this extremism shouldn’t be underestimated. These examples send a prominent signal to the public about what to think about an issue they have little information on and provide a stark contrast with the conspiracy-theory radicalism of the anti-Islam activists.
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Prominent Catholic Right figure Robert George and conservative scholar Zuhdi Jasser were both recently appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. As the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty reports:
“The Commission’s principal responsibilities are to review violations of religious freedom internationally and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress on actions that should be taken to advance greater protection for this fundamental human right. Becket’s Director of International and Government Relations responded to the announcements, stating ‘Professor George’s expertise in America’s philosophical basis for and historic commitment to religious freedom will re-invigorate the Commission’s founding purpose.’ ”
Some have already noted that Jasser, a self-appointed “expert” on radical Islam and terrorism who was the primary witness during Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the supposed threat of Muslim radicalization, is an inappropriate appointee to carry out this mission.
However, George may also have somewhat of a conflict of interest behind the scenes. As detailed in the Center for American Progress’ Fear Inc. report – a study documenting the extensive funding that fuels the Islamophobia industry – George sits on the board of a foundation that contributes to at least three extreme anti-Islam organizations.
Earlier this month, when Nick asked George whether he saw a conflict between publicly defending the religious freedom of Muslims and privately funding organizations that seek to defame and distort Islam, George refused to answer. But the conflict is evident.
This is symptomatic of a larger issue within the conservative community: the double standard when it comes to religious freedom and the Muslim community. The far right simply cannot continue to champion the value of religious freedom without applying that freedom to faith traditions across the board. George’s and Jasser’s new roles are a stark reminder of this contrast.
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Harry J Enten at the Guardian puts together some explanations for the continuance of polls showing many
conservatives still believe the President is Muslim:
The belief that Obama is something other than a Christian born in the United States has everything to do with ideology. Republicans are just perturbed beyond belief by Obama, and when you offer them a prompt about said person, they are likely to say anything that might be seen as a negative. It’s as Julian Sanchez (via Graham) put it, “symbolic belief”:
“Propositions you profess publicly, maybe even sincerely believe, you believe; even while, on another level, there’s some part of you that knows better.”
So, what should take away from this data? When you read this polling data about Obama being a Muslim, understand what it’s actually telling you. It’s fascinating from an ideological standpoint (that is, people are willing to say stuff they probably don’t believe, deep down), but nothing more.
Most Republicans probably don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. They just really, really don’t like him.
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