E.J. Dionne: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally wrong

Good commentary:

The polling is imperfect, but it’s fair to say that more than 70 percent of American Jews and Muslims vote Democratic.

They do so, in part, because Democrats have spoken out strongly against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And now, both groups are horrified by Trumpism’s embrace of discrimination against Muslims and its trafficking in anti-Semitism.

Just watch the Trump campaign ad attacking what it claims is “a global power structure that is responsible for economic decisions that have robbed our working class,” while flashing images of prominent Jews.

And you can’t help but cheer the fact that Jews and Muslims across the country have stood in solidarity when local institutions of either group have been defaced or attacked.

Bigotry is bigotry. It must always be opposed.

This is why the dangerously careless use of language by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) about Jews and Israel — she spoke of people who “push for allegiance to a foreign country” — has been cause for both heartbreak and anger.

I get that some readers will see my use of the word “careless” as too soft because the dual-loyalty charge has historically been so poisonous. But in refraining from stronger language I’m putting my bet on hope. I’m wagering that Omar’s personal history ought to mean that she understands the dangers of prejudice better than most.

In November, many of us celebrated her breakthrough election. She won strong backing from the Jewish community in her district. Maybe I’m also giving her a break because she’s progressive. Anti-Semitism is utterly antithetical to anything that deserves to be called liberal or progressive. Surely Omar doesn’t want the Democrats ensnared in the sort of left-wing anti-Semitism now haunting the British Labour Party.

Opposing anti-Semitism should be axiomatic for everyone. And for me, it’s also personal.

My observant Catholic parents moved to our city’s most Jewish neighborhood shortly after I was born, and my sister and I were raised to see anti-Semitism as sinful. My very first friends in the world were Jewish, and my mom regularly sat down with our next-door neighbor to compare notes on Catholic and Jewish views about the nature of God. As I’ve written before, my informal second father was Jewish. A dear man named Bert Yaffe informally took me into his family after my dad died when I was a teenager, and his kids welcomed me as a brother.

Partly because of this history, but also in common with almost all liberals and social democrats of a certain age, I have always — and will always — support the existence of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.

I spent a month in Israel in the spring of 1974, as the country experienced searing existential anxiety after its close call in the Yom Kippur War, and I visited Kiryat Schmona, a development town in the north that suffered under regular Palestinian attacks. It was an enduring lesson in the constant fear that haunts Israelis over the prospects of their country’s survival.

But Israel’s commitment to democracy is also an important reason for my admiration, which is why I support a two-state solution and oppose continued settlements in Palestinian areas. Israel will not remain democratic if it continues to occupy the West Bank and Gaza, and justice requires Palestinian self-determination.

When I covered the war in Lebanon in the 1980s, a Palestinian friend underscored for me the cost of being stateless. All he wanted, he would say, was the legitimacy that citizenship and a passport confer. It did not seem too much to ask.

Thus, my sympathies have always been with the beleaguered peace camps on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. This has led to deep frustration with Palestinian rejectionists, but also with the politics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has done enormous damage to Israel’s standing with young Americans who did not grow up with my gut commitment to Israel’s survival. His appearance before Congress in 2015 to trash President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran greatly aggravated this problem. His alliance with a virtual fascist party leading into next month’s elections is unconscionable and a gift to anti-Israel propagandists.

So, yes, I know full well that you can love Israel, be critical of its current government and truly despise anti-Semitism, all at the same time. What you cannot do is play fast and loose with language that cannot help but be seen as anti-Semitic. I pray Omar now realizes this. At this moment, opponents of bigotry must be able to rely on each other.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

Source: E.J. Dionne: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally wrong

Saudi Arabia Declares War on America’s Muslim Congresswomen

Of note:

Ever since the midterm election, conservative media in the United States have targeted with special zeal Ilhan Omar, an incoming Somali-American Democratic congresswoman and a devout Muslim who wears hijab. In response to Democrats’ push to remove a headwear ban on the House floor to accommodate Omar, conservative commentator and pastor E.W. Jackson complained on a radio show that Muslims were transforming Congress into an “Islamic republic.”

The Democratic Party has several rising political stars with Arab or Muslim backgrounds, all of whom have become objects of such conspiracy theories. But it’s not only American conservatives who have been indulging in this culture war. The organized attacks have also been coming from abroad—specifically, from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The midterm elections have amplified an existing suspicion in Middle Eastern media of Muslim political activism in the United States. Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Rashida Tlaib (another newly elected Muslim congresswoman), and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On Sunday, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya published a feature insinuating that Omar and Tlaib were part of an alliance between the Democratic Party and Islamist groups to control Congress. The article accused the two of being “anti-Trump and his political team and options, especially his foreign policy starting from the sanctions on Iran to the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood and all movements of political Islam.”

In another example, a talk show on Saudi-owned station MBC discussed the Muslim congresswomen and more broadly the implications of Democrats taking the House. Prominent Arab anchor Amr Adib debated the matter with Egyptian political scientist Moataz Fattah, who suggested that Trump’s successful combating of Islamists would be undermined by the Democrats’ victory. The attacks have become so ubiquitous in the Persian Gulf that the trend itself is the subject of debate, both online and on television.

Occasionally these attacks have been made by officials of those governments, in apparent anxiety that their countries’ expensive public relations and lobbying efforts might be undermined. Just hours after Omar won her election, for example, a staffer at the Saudi Embassy in the United States accused her of following the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he said has permeated the Democratic Party. “She will be hostile to the Gulf and a supporter of the political Islam represented in the Brotherhood in the Middle East,” tweeted Faisal al-Shammeri, a cultural advisor at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States, which is part of the embassy, and a writer for Al Arabiya.

El-Sayed, an American born to Egyptian immigrants, noticed the attacks from the region during his campaign. Media in the Middle East amplified accusations by a Republican candidate for governor, Patrick Colbeck, that El-Sayed had links to the Brotherhood. Egyptian newspaper Youm7, for instance, reported that El-Sayed likely lost the election to his link to the “radical” Nation of Islam, and his relationship with Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour, “known for her radical views.”

El-Sayed told me that political elites in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE felt threatened by American politicians who are also Muslim. For average Middle Easterners, his story is inspiring. (The clearest instance of Middle Easterners drawing such inspiration, ironically, was the first presidential election victory of Barack Obama, who faced false accusations of being a Muslim.)

The rise of politicians like El-Sayed, Omar, and Tlaib also undermines a core argument advanced by dictators in the Middle East: that their people are not ready for democracy. “People would not have access to power in their countries but they would if they leave; this destroys the argument by Sisi or bin Salman,” El-Sayed said, referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “What’s ironic is there is no way I would aspire to be in leadership in Egypt, the place of my fathers.”

American allies in the region also fear that the Democratic Party’s new Arab leaders will advocate for political change in their countries. Having spent millions of dollars for public relations campaigns in Western capitals, the Persian Gulf countries feel threatened by any policymakers with an independent interest in and knowledge of the region. They have thus framed these officials’ principled objections to regional violations of human rights and democratic norms as matters of personal bias. One commentator, who is known to echo government talking points and is frequently retweeted by government officials, recently spread the rumor that Omar is a descendent of a “Houthi Yemeni” to undermine her attacks on the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The most common attack online by the Saudi-led bloc on the Muslim-American Democrats has been to label them as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or more generally as ikhwanji, an extremist catch-all term. These attacks started long before this year’s elections. In 2014, the UAE even announced a terror list that included the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The attacks attempting to tie Omar and Tlaib to the Muslim Brotherhood started in earnest after CAIR publicly welcomed their election to Congress. One UAE-based academic, Najat al-Saeed, criticized Arabic media for celebrating the two Muslim women’s victories at the midterms, and pointed to CAIR’s support for them as evidence of their ties to the Brotherhood.

The attacks on Omar have also indulged in racism. While Tlaib and Omar have both been the targets of smears, it’s been easier for Gulf Arabs to single out Omar for insults because of her African heritage. Negative stereotypes about Africans— who serve as poorly treated migrant workers in the Gulf’s oil economy— are widespread throughout the region.

This was evident in the social media campaign launched last month against Omar by Ahmad al-Farraj, a Saudi writer and researcher with UAE-based Trends Research and Advisory—a firm founded by a former Dubai police official and consultant. He attacked Omar for criticizing Trump’s muted response to the CIA assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely directed the murder of former U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. “These miserable beings coming from the underdeveloped worlds are more hateful to their race and to you than any enemy,” Al Farraj tweeted to his more than 60,000 followers. A steady stream of racist attacks followed in response. One person tweeted a picture of Omar accompanied by the caption “whenever you buy a slave, buy a stick along with the slave. The slave is miserable filth.”

Other than the flurry of racist comments, Omar was trolled based on two false accusations: that she was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and that she had married her brother. Hashtags also began trending with dozens of anonymous accounts tweeting slightly different variations of the same language, and echoing known government-affiliated accounts. The pattern is typical of Twitter troll armies that seem to be used regularly by Mohammed bin Salman to silence the kingdom’s critics.

It should be little surprise that America’s authoritarian allies have responded with panic and fear to voices like Tlaib and Omar. These regimes have always benefited from the false choice they present to policymakers in the West—in Muslim countries, they say, extremists are the only alternative to dictators. That argument is eloquently undermined by American politicians who share those regimes’ religion, but not their cynicism about democracy.

Source: Saudi Arabia Declares War on America’s Muslim Congresswomen

Do Republicans Believe in Religious Liberty for Muslims?

Agree, this is a test:

Donald Trump and his GOP talk and talk about their love of “religious liberty.” In May, there was Trump declaring that religious freedom is a “priority” of his administration.  And in July, Trump’s Department of Justice even announced the formation of a religious liberty task force.

Well, if Trump and the GOP truly believe that religious liberty is not just for Christians, then here’s a no-brainer for them. The Republicans in the House should unanimously support a recently proposed rule to ensure religious liberty for a soon-to-be-sworn-in Muslim member of Congress and push back against the anti-Muslim voices in their party when they attack this change—which, if history is any guide, they will!

Come January 3, 2019, Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar (D-MN) will be the first Muslim member of Congress ever to wear a hijab (head scarf). The problem is that a House rule enacted in 1837 bans any type of headwear, which would include Omar’s headscarf.

In response, Democratic House leader and expected next speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has formally proposed to ditch this 181-year-old ban on headwear in order to “ensure religious expression.” As Pelosi explained to NBC News, “After voters elected the most diverse Congress in history, clarifying the antiquated rule banning headwear will further show the remarkable progress we have made as a nation.”

This rule, while on the books, doesn’t seem to have been enforced. As AshLee Strong, the spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, explained in an email, “Under both Republican and Democratic Speakers, the House has never prohibited any kind of religious headwear.” That’s great to hear. But forgive me if I’m not quite reassured.

“In Minnesota, Republican activists this year pushed a resolution to prevent Muslims from even being a part of the GOP.”

So now, Pelosi and the Democrats want to take it one step further and go beyond ignoring a rule and instead affirmatively make it clear that they support religious freedom for all Americans. And Omar herself took to Twitter to celebrate the proposed change, writing, “No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It’s my choice—one protected by the first amendment.”

She added, “And this is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift.” Omar, a Somali refugee who would literally not be permitted to enter the United States today because of Trump’s current Muslim ban, clearly has her sights set on changing that Trump policy.

So why would GOP House members not support embracing religious liberty for Muslims? I suppose they still might in this case—we’ll see how they react when the next Congress starts. But the fact is that Republicans have a recent track record of being outraged over Muslims receiving equal treatment in this country. To many of them, we don’t deserve the same religious accommodations that Christians are afforded, and some don’t believe we belong in American politics—or even in America for that matter.

For example, several years ago the University of Michigan installed a number of foot-washing stations so that Muslims there could wash themselves before praying. (This washing ritual is called wudu and is intended to purify a person before prayer.)

The response by former GOP presidential candidate and Fox News staple Mike Huckabee summed up what we heard from others on the right as he vocally objected, saying, “the accommodation we’re making to one religion at the expense of others is very un-American.”

In Tennessee, GOP state legislators freaked out when they saw in their state capitol what they thought was a new sink installed to allow visiting Muslims to wash before prayers. These Bible Belt Republicans, though, were relived to find out the large sink was installed for washing mops, not Muslims.

And this year we saw two examples of Republican elected officials trying to prevent religious freedom for non-Christians. In South Dakota, a GOP state senator publicly objected to interfaith dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians who had come to the state capitol to meet with their elected official because in his view, “Interfaith dialogue is a part of a war… of taking away the Christian fabric of our nation.”

And in Oklahoma, each session of the state legislature opens with a prayer by the “chaplain of the day.” Well a conservative Christian GOP state representative recently took over administering that program and changed the rules to so that only a Christian cleric would be eligible to deliver that opening invocation.

So much for religious liberty for non-Christians. And sadly, often when we hear the phrase religious liberty uttered by a conservative Republican, it’s not just to deny it to other faiths, but worse, it’s used to demonize or discriminate against the LGBT community.

So here’s a chance for the GOP to champion religious liberty in the best of ways. Not only should every Republican in the House vote for this proposed change; they should speak out publicly in favor it and push back against the extreme voices in their party who no doubt will declare sharia law has taken over the Congress. Expect these extremists to say things like, “Next, Muslims won’t want bacon served in the congressional lunchroom!” (Putting aside religion, turkey bacon is much better for you!)

Sadly, I doubt the GOP will do the right thing. Look what we are seeing now in Texas as Republicans are trying to remove a Muslim American from a leadership position in their own party because some there allege, without a shred of proof,  that he wants to impose Islamic law.

In Minnesota, Omar’s home state, Republican activists this year pushed a resolution to prevent Muslims from even being a part of the GOP, with two Republican elected officials claiming that Muslims are trying to “infiltrate” their party. But none of this is surprising given that the leader of the GOP is Trump, the most anti-Muslim president our nation has ever seen.

But with that said, here’s an opportunity for the GOP to evolve. Will they finally embrace an America for all faiths and push back against voices of intolerance within their own ranks? We will know soon enough.

Source: Do Republicans Believe in Religious Liberty for Muslims?