Press TV talks with author Max Blumenthal who illuminates a hate campaign against Barak Obama by the Republic Party that targets Obama’s religious identity as a Muslim and how this campaign is having real life consequences on the entire Muslim community inside America.
Press TV: How far back does the Islamophobia campaign in the US go?
Max Blumenthal: It goes back to the 1930s and 40s when the American public was bombarded with anti-Arab/oriental images in the pop culture through cartoons and Hollywood movie productions for example. The movie Exodus (1960) with Paul Newman was about the foundation of Israel and the reason the film was made was because the American Jewish public was insufficiently sympathetic to or interested in Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel so it portrayed Jewish terrorists as heroic and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem collaborating with Nazis portraying the Palestinians as Nazis.
There was already a pre-existing context where Americans were cultivated to hate and demonize Arabs. And after 9/11 it turned into a full-on political campaign. Through my research this campaign really started in the 1990s in earnest with a documentary called Jihad in America, which was broadcast on public television with a self-styled terror expert – Steven Emerson who claimed in this documentary that there were terror cells inside the US.
This led to round ups and prosecutions of Muslim leaders of which all of these prosecutions have been completely discredited, with no links to terrorism yet some were thrown in Jail anyway. People in congress at this time were not taking Emerson seriously, not until 9/11.
Even after 9/11 American attitudes toward Muslims were not affected in any direct way. They were always negative and their attitudes toward the Palestinians were very negative. But there was no spike of change and George W Bush who was poised to unilaterally invade Iraq and change the geo-political atmosphere of the Middle East condemned Islamophobia at the National Cathedral – something Barak Obama has never done.
So it really took the election of Barak Obama, whose middle name is Hussein, to make this campaign into something national and much more coherent and powerful than before and it’s because it has become part of the Republican campaign to attack Obama.
So by attacking Muslims they are actually waging a political campaign they think will have consequences in 2012 (election time) and so they see every Muslim in the US as a symbol of the Federal government, which is something we’ve never had before, because of this misperception of Barak Obama as himself a Muslim.
50% of Republicans according to a recent poll believe Barak Obama is not an American.
Press TV: These legal hearings about Islam that are being organized- Do you think they have more to do with partisan issues and upcoming presidential elections than casting an extreme net on a religious community inside the US?
Max Blumenthal: There are a lot of issues at play with these hearings; one of them is partisan politics. Peter King who convened the hearings is very close to the Israel lobby and has been in favor of all the American wars in the Middle East, but he also has a large group of moderates to placate also. He has to balance between conservative and moderate.
It is the far right of the political spectrum that have taken over the Republican Party and people like Peter King actually feel threatened by this element. What he’s doing by calling these hearings is making himself out to be a hero to the far right movement while trying to balance his two constituencies of far right and moderates.
The far right is obsessed with Muslims and believes there is a secret plot to install Shariah law in the US. In fact they’ve been passing laws in states that are heavily controlled by Republicans like in Oklahoma to ban Shariah law as if there is attempts to make Shariah somehow affect the lives of Americans. And so you see this hysteria playing out and it starts with cynical partisan considerations, but then it has real life consequences.
Look at what happened in Yurbelinda, which is a conservative outer lying suburb of LA, San Diego where some Muslims gathered at a community centre to raise money for homeless Muslim women and they were surrounded by hundreds of people that I just consider to be the modern-day Ku Klux Klan who were shouting “Go home” and calling them terrorists; and these were just families walking by with children.
I heard from one of the Imams who helped plan the event that harassment has continued in supermarket parking lots in that community and in schools and where Muslim families are finding their property defaced. A lot of this isn’t reported because first-generation Muslim immigrants feel intimidated by law enforcement because law enforcement is being typically used against them so to report these hate crimes is a big step.
My book begins with Dwight Eisenhower who was a Republican US president in the early 50s, you would consider him a moderate Republican and he warned about the threat of the far right because he and his administration were under attack by the early antecedents of the Tea Party of the far right called the John Birch Society – they had accused his secretary of state of being a communist agent for the Soviets and this is the same language you hear about Barak Obama; they even said Dwight Eisenhower’s brother was raising money for the communist party – crazy stuff. The Republican Party at that time was considered the ‘big tent’ party – a moderate establishment.
There was a shift in the Republican Party in 1964 under Barry Goldwater when Southern Democrats who had opposed civil rights moved into the Republican Party when then President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil rights Act allowing African Americans to have voting rights etc.
There is really no leadership in the country right now that is capable of putting this hatred back in the box; instead what you have are a bunch of Republican presidential hopefuls who really have no chance of defeating Obama competing with one another for who can be the most extreme – because the far right controls the party.
Today, Newt Gingrich who is the former House majority leader; who has had three wives and who cheated on his second wife with a congressional staffer and then left his second wife while she was recovering from cancer, he’s going to the church of Pastor John Hagee, the foremost leader of Christian Zionism in the US.
Hagee believes the end of the world could come any day and that Islam is the religion of Satan and that if Jews fail to convert to Christianity they will burn in an everlasting lake of fire. Yet he is also a great supporter of Israel and hailed by Netanyahu as a friend to the Jewish people. Now, Newt Gingrich is making a pilgrimage to his church.
So this just shows how extreme the party has become; how it’s gone from the big tent of Eisenhower to a one-ringed circus of Palin and Gingrich.
Press TV: You talk about Barak Obama in your book and that these current Republican figures have no chance of defeating Obama in the long run, but do you believe that Obama is in denial of the power of the extreme right? After all, he does put a lot of emphasis on bi-partisanship, which we haven’t really seen succeed in the last years.
Max Blumenthal: Yes, his whole campaign was about coming together, about getting beyond partisan divisions; this is part of his rhetoric; And now 50% of the Republican Party refuses to accept the fact that he is even an American.
It began almost immediately after he was elected, Republicans claimed that his health care plan was designed “to kill the elderly and infirmed” said by Senator Chuck Grassley. Everything Sarah Palin is saying about Barak Obama is coming from the extreme fringe. People are claiming he has no birth certificate and so they refuse to accept his legitimacy as the president.
The Republicans refused to accept Bill Clinton as president and they staged a defacto coup attempt against him because he had not been forthcoming about his famous affair, which I think had nothing to do with his legitimacy as president.
Barak Obama should have taken a lesson from this, but he was trying to outflank the Clintons and portray the Clintons as too partisan and what he in fact did was to ignore the whole history of race and religion and the treatment of immigrants in the US because he represents all of that and believed he could simply stand there and be allowed to govern when these people don’t accept first of all a Democrats right to govern – they have a dictatorial mentality: they don’t accept the right of immigrants to have children in the US to become citizens; they believe Muslims practice the religion of Satan – These are the people who opposed civil rights in the deep south and who continue to oppose programs like affirmative action.
So, Barak Obama essentially represents everything that the right wing hates. And if the right wing dominates the Republican Party, why would he expect any degree of bi-partisanship or cooperation? Right now, he is negotiating whether the Federal government will continue to operate because the Republicans are talking about shutting down the Federal government to force budget cuts, which will be basically cuts on the backs of working people, especially minorities.
Press TV: You lived in Israel, tell us about that?
Max Blumenthal: The mood in Israel is extremely right wing. I think it will remain that way until the country’s effectively de-Zionized. By that I mean all of their laws and policies that discriminate in favor of anyone that can prove that they have Jewish ethnicity. The part of Israel that is considered legitimate – not the West Bank, is to establish an ethnically pure Jewish state; there’s enormous pressure on the Palestinians inside Israel to leave.
And we see that every week an anti-democratic and racist law passes through the Knesset demanding loyalty oaths or handing out penalties to Palestinians of Israel who observe the Nakba, or who observe the dispossession of1948 publicly; a bill banning anyone from calling for a boycott of Israel until it withdraws from settlements – things like that are happening and every day we see it reflect in the attitudes of Israelis’ wide majority according to the Israeli democracy institute.
Take Avigdor Lieberman – he is the most popular politician in Israel and his political platform is transferring Palestinian Israelis out of Israel; getting rid of them. Basically putting an end to the conflict without negotiating anything, this will never put an end to the conflict. Turning hundreds of thousands of people into refugees… that’s his platform…that’s why he’s popular.
Where I lived in Jaffa – Jaffa is a suburb of Tel Aviv that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 – there was one neighborhood there that still has Palestinians in it. I lived there for two months and witnessed the pressure on this population every day. A ‘Jews only’ settlement was built by illegal settlers in the heart of Jaffa to create ethnic friction and to exploit it and to push people out, and the far right there marches through the streets every week, mosques have been attacked there and so now that area is coming apart at the seams.
The media tends to look more at the West Bank and Gaza where Israel is maintaining an open air prison and makes no secret of it, which is incredibly disturbing, but inside Israel -Well, let’s say there is a two state solution – even after that you are going to still see fascism continue to move into the open in Israel and pressure on citizens of Israel who are not Jewish increased to the point where I think there will be a breaking point.
Press TV: Getting back to the Republican Party to finish off our time together – Is the Party shattered because of this movement? Why did the Republicans do well in the mid-term congressional elections?
Max Blumenthal: They did well for two reasons: Barak Obama failed to confront the Republicans in a direct way and to warn people about what might come with a Republican radical agenda. What happened in Wisconsin recently is one example. It is his fear of confrontation and non-sensical belief in bi-partisanship. And the economy of which people are upset, the Tea Party is blaming big government for everything; to make everyone forget about how George W Bush doomed the economy or how Clinton deregulated the economy and how privatization is a problem.
And they’ve succeeded to some degree by playing on people’s frustrations. But they won’t be able to impact nationally because this country is not going to stomach someone like Palin or Gingrich or Huckerbee who are considered wackos by the majority of Americans. Even though Obama is weak he can’t be defeated because the Republican Party as a Big Tent is so unacceptable.