TWO SETS OF EXTREMIST LEADERS UNLEASH CHAOS
In the current dustup between Digby and George Packer, I don't think either side has a monopoly on the truth. I absolutely agree with Digby that the irrationality of the American right has been hiding in plain sight for years, and should have been obvious to anyone -- Packer, Barack Obama -- who was paying the slightest bit of attention:
I would love to know where people have been the last decade or so. The right impeached a president over sex, they stole and election, they invaded a country that hadn't attacked us and they created a bizarroworld media which purposefully misinforms its audience. This isn't new.
... It's just a little bit late in the game for for our intellectual betters to take notice of something that's been going on for quite a long time.
But Packer's right to detect a recent uptick in the irrationality:
Right after 9/11, a man named Frank Roque, from Mesa, Arizona, shot and killed an Indian-born gas-station owner, threatened a gas station attendant of Lebanese descent, and fired shots into the house of an Afghan family. It was a horrible story, somehow made worse by Roque's ignorance and stupidity (the murdered man was a bearded, turban-wearing Sikh, not a Muslim). Under arrest, Roque yelled, infuriatingly, "I stand for America all the way!" ... It was a little remarkable that there weren't more Frank Roques in those early days. We Americans congratulated ourselves for our tolerance and restraint.... the President joined an interfaith service, and the mayor of New York talked about equal citizenship, and Oprah devoted a show to Islam.
Nine years later, no, Frank Roque has not won the day. Not even Terry Jones is Frank Roque. Crazy, murderous violence hasn't spread across the land. But unreason, cheered on by cable news, has won the day. We have undeniably gone sour on interfaith tolerance. We have turned inward in sullen exhaustion.
Lawrence Wright, Packer's New Yorker colleague, has some thoughts about how such things happen:
When a dozen cartoons satirizing the Prophet Mohammed appeared in the conservative Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, in September, 2005, there was only a muted outcry from the small Danish Muslim community, and little reaction in the rest of the Muslim world. Six months later, however, riots broke out and Danish embassies were burned; more than a hundred people died. Assassination threats were made, and continue to this day.
Last year, when plans were announced for Cordoba House, an Islamic community center to be built two blocks north of Ground Zero, few opposed them.... [Now] it is the focus of a bitter quarrel about the place of Islam in our society.
... what happened? A group of radical imams in Denmark, led by Ahmed Abu Laban, an associate of Gama'a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist organization, decided to use the cartoons to inflate their own importance. They showed the cartoons to various Muslim leaders in other countries, and included three illustrations that had not appeared in the Danish papers.... The leaders saw them and were inflamed. The Sunni scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi demanded a Day of Rage. So far, we have had five years of rage.
In the dispute over Park51, the role of the radical imams has been taken by bloggers and right-wing commentators. In this parable, Pamela Geller ... plays the part of Ahmed Abu Laban....
Geller framed the argument for the New York Post, which added the false information that Park51 was going to open on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Deliberate misrepresentations of Imam Abdul Rauf as a supporter of terror further distorted the story, as it moved on to the Fox News commentariat and from there to political figures, such as Newt Gingrich....
So, yeah, Digby, something has happened. You're right that our political climate was already quite toxic, but it's gotten worse.
And Wright essentially nails what's gotten worse. Our imams are named Murdoch and Ailes and Geller and Gingrich; they 've come just short of deciding that anything, including bloodshed, is worth it if it advances their Cause. (And they may have decided not to support the Koran-burning plans of Terry Jones only because they felt the likely bloodshed that would ensue wouldn't help their cause. It's possible that they'd have welcomed attacks on U.S. troops and embassies if they felt they could control the spin.)
Yes, the crazies have run amok for a long time, as Digby says, but they're less restrained now. They took it to another level in the past year and a half, particularly in the past few months. They probably would have done this more often in recent decades if they hadn't spent so much of the time in control of the White House, Congress, or both. They've been at war with the rest of us, for sure, but it hasn't been total war. They've kicked it up a notch now.