Our Zany March Toward Intolerance
by Michael I. Niman
Decamping the Roma, bashing the mosque, underwriting the hate-mongers
Things aren’t looking too good on the tolerance front lately. In a move darkly reminiscent of the European pogroms of the 1930s, France’s beleaguered right-wing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is ordering mass deportations of ethnic Roma. Like Europe’s Jews, who before the Holocaust were a minority in every European country and a majority in none, the Roma too are present across the continent as an oppressed minority without an independent homeland. And like the Jews, they too were rounded up by racist governments and sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust. So it’s not too much of a stretch to say someone hit the replay button here. Sarkozy’s government is borrowing one of the oldest scripts from the playbook, tossing raw meat to the xenophobes by scapegoating a minority, all in order to distract the public from his own government’s failings.
The Roma certainly make for an easy target. Most of the world knows them only by the racial slur “gypsies,” which is so common that Roma themselves sometimes have been forced to use the term to avoid confusion when talking to an ignorant majority. The “G” word is like the “N” word, only much more popular—so popular, in fact, that the United States’ largest news service, the Associated Press, headlined their Sarkozy-friendly article last week: “France to Repatriate 93 Gypsies to Romania.” “The flights,” the AP article continues, “are part of a crackdown by France’s conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy,” who “has linked Gypsies, or Roma, to crime and spearheaded a campaign to dismantle their illegal camps and send some home to Eastern Europe.”
If you’re feeling a bit smug, thinking maybe us Americans, minus perhaps the AP, are somehow above the amnesiac French, you might want to take a gander at our own nation’s own metastasizing “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. Having trumped catastrophic climate change, the BP oil spill, and all news coverage of pet torturers, this fabricated controversy is emerging at the center of the 2010 Republican election strategy. Muslims, like the Roma in France, are fair game, so the media is plugging away with polls, idiot-on-the-street interviews, and all sorts of intellectual gasoline to fan the flames of this season’s hottest non-story story.
Of course it’s not exactly a mosque, and it’s not exactly at Ground Zero, but hey, it’s not exactly a news story, either—but then again it seems to becoming one. The proposed building is actually a 13-story structure with a community pool, a gym and fitness center, a 500-seat auditorium and theater, and a prayer space, which we’ll call a “mosque.” It would be two blocks over from the edge of the World Trade Center site, and would contain the neighborhood’s third mosque, with the other two being four and 12 blocks away. Houses of worship and cultural centers aren’t really anything new in lower Manhattan. For example, St. Paul’s Chapel and St. Peter’s Church are both less than one block from Ground Zero, the John Street Methodist Church and the Battery Park Synagogue are both one block away, Trinity Church is two blocks away, as is the Amish Market, as would be the new Islamic center. The Museum of Jewish Heritage is five blocks away. You get the idea. There’s nothing novel here.
But non-issues like this always bring out our own loony, native-born Sarkozys. Seemingly back from the dead, we have former Republican House Speaker Newt (as in the insect-eating amphibian who’s comfy both wallowing in the mud and slithering on dry ground) Gingrich. He’s found a ready and willing media machine to disseminate his bile. This “family values” adulterer who sprung divorce papers on his wife as she lay on a hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery recently argued, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” as if such an abomination would be analogous to American Muslims constructing a community center in lower Manhattan. He went on to explain that President Barack Obama, a former constitutional attorney, in explaining that an Islamic organization has a legally protected right to construct a community center on their private property, a concept that like family values is a cornerstone of Republican identity, was actually “pandering to radical Islam.” This was too much even for a normally fire-breathing Pat Buchanan, who attacked Gingrich for being a “political opportunist.” Perhaps Newt’s courting the loonier-than-Palin vote.
But it gets better. Buffalo developer (and, if you follow the public money supporting his development career, welfare queen) Carl Paladino, now a contender for the Republican nomination for New York governor, is also grandstanding on the issue, apparently courting the loonier-than-Newt vote. According to Paladino, “This isn’t about moderate, peace-loving Muslims; this is about a sect of radical fundamentalist Islamists who attacked our nation and who are tied to this mosque by an ideology of hate…This is the same ideology that advocates stoning women and gay people to death.”
Okay. So Paladino doesn’t want to stone women to death, but that’s about as liberal as he gets on the gender front. This is the same Carl Paladino who was distributing internet bestiality pornography to his email circle, including a rather explicit photo of a horse penetrating a woman’s vagina. The gubernatorial hopeful, a darling of New York’s Tea Party, defended himself, explaining to the Buffalo News that he only sent the bestiality pornography to “a very specific bunch of friends.” No biggie—just guy fun. It seems that Paladino either really likes horses or he really hates women, or perhaps both. Another Paladino email contained a photo of a plane about to crash on a group of running black children, with the caption, “Run Nigger, Run.” This also, no doubt, went to a very specific group of friends.
These misogynist and racist emails were made public early in the campaign, when Paladino was relatively unknown across the state. Rather than kill his fledging candidacy, the scandal seems to have ignited it. Hell, everyone sends that sort of stuff to a very specific group of friends, folks said. Carl’s just a victim of the liberal media.
Today that same media has all but forgotten about Carl the racist bestiality fetishist, and regrooved him into Paladino the populist. Not a madman, but a man with a message. And hence, in this better-than-France country of ours, suddenly thousands of other madmen are peppering their dandelion-free lawns with “I’m Mad Too Carl” signs. Make of it what you will.
Of course we shouldn’t easily dismiss Paladino and the loonier-than-Newt crowd as just being good for a few hoots. They might very well have some staying power, at least in the Republican party. A recent Pew poll found that a full 18 percent of Americans, and 41 percent of Republicans, now believe that the Hawaiian-born Obama was either “probably” or “definitely” born in a foreign country. As for his birth certificate? Well, the Kenyans put it there in Honolulu back in 1961, knowing their sleeper agent would one day dupe the country into electing him president.
Then there’s the Target controversy. Y’all remember that little Supreme Court ruling last September that paved the way for corporations to dump unlimited amounts of cash into political campaigns, essentially closing the door on our little experiment with democracy? Well, it seems Target recently donated what Tony Soprano would term “150 large” to a political action committee, Minnesota Forward, that’s underwriting the candidacy of anti-gay zealot Tom Emmer for governor of Minnesota. As for Emmer, the Minnesota Independent reports that his political organization donated money to support a “Christian” hate rock band fronted by Bradlee Dean, who recently spoke in support of the practice of Islamic extremists executing people for being gay or lesbian. Get it? Community center—bad. Fellow nut jobs killing gays—good.
Target’s CEO, Gregg Steinhafel , in response to the controversy, sent a memo to Target workers citing the corporation’s rhetorical commitment to gay rights. The donation, Target brass explained, was a business decision and in no way was connected to Emmer’s stance on gay folks. Just buying a bit of influence in the statehouse. Understand?
Diversity is a thin veneer under which any bigot who supports corporate tax cuts can get a pass. We’ve also seen this before, with corporations sucking up to repressive governments around the world, all in the interest of shoring up their bottom lines. Think Chevron in contemporary Nigeria, or IBM in Nazi Germany. Apparently following this logic, Best Buy forked over another $100,000 to Minnesota Forward. Prepare for this to be a depressing election cycle. Perhaps, as his madmen help him surge in the polls, Paladino too might cash in on some Target and Best Buy largesse.
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