Miss Him Yet?! Part II
by Jack Landsman, Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 03:12:39 PM EDT
Speaking of the Cordoba Games, the ceaseless controversy over this thing has occasioned the return of a vintage character from Bushworld: Karen Hughes. In what is certain to be the former president speaking through an emissary, Ms. Hughes took to the pages of the Washington Post to civilly aid opposition to the Ground Zero mosque.
The proposed site of Park51, an Islamic cultural center that will include a mosque, is especially contentious because it goes to the heart of who is to blame for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I stood in the Oval Office just two days after those horrific attacks as President George W. Bush spoke by telephone with New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He highlighted the importance of distinguishing between those who committed the acts of terror and the broader Muslim community. "Our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab Americans who live in New York City, who love their flag just as much as the three of us do, and we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war that we treat Arab Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve," the president said.
Days later, I recommended to President Bush that he visit a mosque to set an example of respect for our fellow Americans who are Muslim. With anger still high and emotions raw, some argued against the visit to the Islamic Center of Washington, but the president felt it sent an important signal. "America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country," he said that day. "In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect."
In the decadence of his old age, George W. Bush appears to have receded into the kinder, gentler conservatism of Peggy Noonan, his father’s Karen Hughes. Good Lord.
… I became convinced that our nation should avoid the language of religion in our discussion of terrorist acts. When Americans say "Islamic" in front of "terrorists" or use religious terms such as "jihadist," many Muslims hear those words as an attack on their faith. Some of my fellow Republicans and conservatives have accused me of political correctness on this point, but that is not my rationale at all. I believe it is in America's strategic interest, and in the interest of defeating terrorism, that we make clear that we view most Muslims as our allies in a common struggle against extremists.
This sort of waspy condescension perfectly captures the compassionate—or nicer and softer or whatevs—conservatism of the Bushes. Ms. Hughes is very concerned that our sloppy designations for the mass murderers of 9/11 wound the sensibilities of good Muslims. (They exist!) Orly? While we all can’t be well-traveled courtiers to presidents like Karen Hughes, it only requires a modicum of intuition and common sense to know that normal, or “moderate,” Muslims are probably more animated by specific foreign policies than the American public’s linguistic sloppiness. Nice try, Karen.
[W]hen I was at the State Department, a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The debate around the world was heated and strikingly similar to this one. It pitted those supporting the right of a free press to publish anything, no matter how offensive, against those who took to the streets and threatened death to the cartoonists. Many of those citing freedom as they advocate locating the mosque near Ground Zero were on the other side of the argument when it came to the cartoons. At that time, I joined with many Muslim friends in saying that while newspapers were free to publish the offensive materials, I hoped they would show respect and restraint and decide against it. That is an instructive model now.
Hughes’ obsequious, pc sensibilities led her to the wrong perspective on the Danish cartoon bonfire, but she’s correct in that the Ground Zero stuff is completely analogous to that situation. In those days, as a burgeoning agnostic—I have since graduated—I can recall being outraged by the threats of violence emanating from brutish Islamic reactionaries. These extremist actors were totally disdainful of the democratic customs of an open society; a true threat to the modern secular state we’ve achieved.
Though the contours of the Danish and Ground Zero controversies are remarkably alike, a key difference is the specific people for whom this isn’t all academic. With that in mind you don’t have to be a New Atheist bomb-thrower to sympathize a hell of lot more with folk who actually lost loved ones forever in the World Trade Center than hypersensitive Muslims unable to countenance even the artistic or satirical rendering of their Prophet.
A mosque at the edge of Ground Zero would be much more than a house of worship; it would be a symbol, interpreted differently by different audiences. For some it would be the ultimate expression of the freedom of religion we enjoy in America; for others, a searing reminder of terrible deaths at the hands of murderers calling themselves Muslims. I suspect that the terrorists might celebrate its presence as a twisted victory over our society's freedoms. Rauf and his congregation are certainly free to locate their mosque near Ground Zero. But I hope and pray that they will show uncommon courtesy and decide not to.
So there’s former president Bush speaking through Karen Hughes.
(Ms. Hughes, btw, is a cautionary tale for bright, young politicos. Reading Karen Hughes, or listening, for even a short period of time, to people like David Axelrod, Matthew Dowd, or Howard Wolfson, reminds me why personal attachment to politicians is ill-advised. A few reasons for this: 1) “They love you and then they stop lovin’ you,” is the inconvenient truth Billy Bob Thornton’s Carville character relays to the black George Stephanopoulos in Primary Colors; 2) They are often hapless losers—Imagine for a second how awkward and pwned Bush aides must have felt on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration; and 3) Some presidents grow increasingly unlikeable, pitiful or enamored of themselves in office.)
This declaration dashes the desperate hopes of Peter Beinart, Eugene Robinson, Maureen Dowd (an on-and-off flame of mine) and other liberals yearning for the “relatively” decent Bush to weigh in. Beinart and company’s brief idea of Beelzebul swooping in like some sort of deus ex machina to selflessly rescue Barack Obama from the fire of cultural backlash is a sign of the liberal establishment’s intellectual poverty. And it was fucking laughable, too.
A word concerning the current president: Obama’s behavior in this ordeal is entirely consistent with prior behavior. There was no need for the president to restlessly wade into the Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair last year and he did so anyway. He acted that impulsively only because the distinguished Harvard professor is a close personal friend.
What motivated the president to enter the Ground Zero fray is his “affinity” for Islam, as Krauthammer says it. Of course, this is perfectly understandable and more than fine for a person that came up with two Muslim fathers. Liberals should take the brave view that to the extent Barack Obama really is a secularized Muslim, it only makes him a more compelling figure, and leave it at that.
President Obama’s flaky reversal was far more revealing to this soft opponent of the mosque. Obama’s actions provided much humor for those of us who witnessed a host of liberal throne-sniffers falling over themselves to applaud the president for his uncharacteristic bravery. Instead of acknowledging they had been had once Obama completely reversed himself, their collective response was to clap louder. They have proven themselves to be a resilient bunch. Carrying the Obama cross grew to be impossible way back in the spring of 2008 for some of us, but like good devotees, they trek on.
Message to Dr. Dean: Count me as at least one black Democrat who might be open to lending you his Race card. You’ll need it if someone’s gonna mount a serious challenge to this feckless lawprof in the White House.