WASHINGTON — There is a direct link between the controversy against the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic community center, recently renamed Park51, in New York and the recent uptick in commentary promoting an American war with Iran. The linkage is that these issues are rooted in fear and scare mongering, and are being advocated by the same provocateurs that brought you war with Iraq.
It’s much easier to appreciate now, in retrospect, the lies that were being promoted by neoconservatives in the years leading up to the Iraq invasion. Remember how we were told — falsely it turns out — that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida were connected, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Baghdad and imminent mushroom clouds in America, and that the Iraqi people would greet us as liberators?
We now unfortunately know that Saddam had no connections to al-Qaida, that there was no nuclear program in Iraq, and that we were greeted with roadside bombs, not sweets and treats.
After more than 150,000 dead Iraqis and more than 4,000 American servicemen and women killed in action, you would think that those who actively promoted the war with Iraq would be humbled enough by these failures to hesitate to promote similar solutions on Iran.
You would be wrong.
Not only are they pushing for war with Iran, they are doing this by stirring up xenophobia about Muslims at home. The neoconservatives are now developing a narrative that, much like the one that was used for war with Iraq, dehumanizes Muslims, tramples our Constitution and that ultimately empowers our enemies while weakening our national security.
This is relevant to the Cordoba House issue because — and let’s be honest — the reason that there is such vocal opposition to its construction is because those who want to build the center are Muslim. This is true because while Ground Zero is sacred space, it is not so sacred as to prevent all human activity from taking place there, including continuing business activity and routine construction by non-Muslims.
The net result is that Muslims are being marginalized and our country is sullying its reputation around the world, playing into the hateful rhetoric of our enemies about a clash of civilizations.
Likewise, while Iran’s support for terror both inside and outside its country, as well as its development of an illicit nuclear program, are sufficient cause to provoke harsh economic sanction, international condemnation, and political isolation, they do not merit Iran’s being on the receiving end of an aggressive unilateral military invasion.
So why, then, does Newt Gingrich compare the planners of the Cordoba House — whose leader routinely advised former President George W. Bush on Muslim issues — to Nazis? Gingrich clearly doesn’t know anything about the Holocaust and offends anyone who understands the depth of Germany’s murderous behavior during World War II. But what he is doing is willingly creating a narrative of dehumanization of Muslims in America that furthers enmity towards Iran.
He does this by claiming, “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” By stirring up fear at home, Gingrich beats the war drums against Muslims, which dovetails grotesquely and neatly into neoconservative arguments that push for an invasion of Iran in order to stop new Muslim threats.
So here’s the inherent dilemma: the United States is engaged in multiple wars in Muslim lands fighting violent extremists who seek to cause mass murder in the name of their version of their religion. We are also engaged in a war of nerves with a Muslim country, Iran, which is run by religious autocrats who utilize terror both abroad and against their own people to maintain power and project their worldview.
Yet all the while, the United States is home to millions of law-abiding Muslim citizens who have been arriving on these shores since the early days of the slave trade, and who in the case of the Cordoba House, are legally exercising their rights to assemble and practice their religion.
So how do we maintain our nerve, in these challenging times, when certain political leaders and their acolytes are willing to demonize Muslims in America while simultaneously proposing war with another Muslim country?
One way is to learn from the Iraq experience in order to be resilient to the arguments of those who, like Gingrich and the neoconservatives, foment panic to advance their agenda. It is time for common sense and experience to determine our fate, and to reject these arguments once and for all when it comes to the Cordoba House and Iran.
By living up to our laws and values at home and rejecting militarism as the only foreign policy option abroad, we will lay to rest the fear-based agenda of these neoconservative radicals, whose ideas have gotten us into too much trouble already.
Yet the jury is still out on where this is all heading.
Where do you stand?
(Joel Rubin, deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Security Network in Washington, D.C., and a Pittsburgh native, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the National Security Network.)