Park51 and the Ground Liberals Are Forced to
Fight On

This post has been updated.

My friend Michael Tomasky has a characteristically insightful post about how liberals have framed the Park51 issue too much in terms of constitutional rights and without enough understanding or nuance of the sacred and the profane. “Contemporary liberalism,” he writes, “thinks far too often in terms of rights and speaks of those rights in a way that alienates a lot of regular people.”

At the same time, though, he acknowledges how liberals have been forced to react to the right’s demagoguery (see, for example, the Guardian’s Andrew Brown’s post about the Pamela Geller-Robert Spencer duo, or Justin Elliott’s breakdown of same), a conundrum from which he depressingly sees no foreseeable escape.

Given how ham-handed, false, and mean-spirited the conservative campaign has been, it pains me to say how the right has played this to its advantage. As I wrote yesterday, the shadowy suggestions of Obama — dating back, of course, to the 2008 presidential campaign — with being a Muslim, and therefore being a terrorist, and this therefore being the “Obamosque” representing a fifth column of sharia-supporting enemies, has undoubtedly played a role in the uptick in Americans who believe Obama is a Muslim. (Oh, and there’s Franklin Graham again, telling CNN Obama was “born a Muslim.”)

The opposition to Park51 hasn’t been just about the location — it has been about how Islam is un-American, offends supposed notions of being a “Christian nation,” and somehow represents a threat to our way of life. David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network tsk-tsked the White House yesterday for “blow[ing] off” the “Muslim poll,” adding:

Don’t get me wrong: the economy is the number one issue for sure but when you start seeing an increase in people thinking the President is a Muslim then that seems pretty significant. Why? Because it’s showing that more people are not trusting him. The trust issue is important. Plus, news flash: the last time I checked America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles so it’s kind of important when you see a poll that says a growing number of Americans think you might be a Muslim. The President continues to tell everyone he’s a Christian but yet the number rises.

See that? Which came first, the thought he was a Muslim or the lack of trust? If he is a Muslim, he can’t be trusted? Or if you can’t trust him, he must be a Muslim?

In any case, Obama strained mightily to placate the likes of Graham and Brody while he was campaigning for the presidency. His “faith outreach” played up his faith in Christ, but these conservatives, for whom faith outreach has a cramped, limited meaning, obviously weren’t listening (or “trusting” him). Obama’s defenders will point out his Christian cred, even if he hasn’t (scandalously! his detractors believe) chosen a regular church to attend.

That brings me back to Mike’s point about the lack of effective rhetoric from liberals on the sacred. There are a lot of reasons for that — a significant secular base not interested in mixing religion and politics, a religious base that has relied too much on kumbaya cliches, and a Democratic fear of alienating sought-after center-right Catholics and evangelicals, to name several biggies. But I think in this case, the sacred is our protection of religious freedom and diversity, not ground zero or 9/11, which have already been subject to much sacrilege. And that’s exactly why Democrats “getting religion” has to mean getting all religion, and not just the right’s monopolistic definition of what it means to be trustworthy.

UPDATE: Hussein points out how Franklin Graham’s claim about Obama being “born to a Muslim father” has been repeatedly debunked:

Although he was born to a Muslim father, his father renounced his faith. To be a Muslim is not a legal status that is transmitted by birth, like Judaism is confirmed through the mother. A child can be raised as a Muslim, but still renounce the faith when she reaches the age of comprehension without penalty. To be a Muslim is a voluntary act that must be taken on with full knowledge of what is entailed. In this instance, Sen. Obama was not even raised as Muslim. He did not choose to leave the faith; he was never part of it.

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