The Guardian’s Michael Tomasky, and the 9th anniversary of 9/11

Michael Tomasky on American Racism

The Guardian columnist Michael Tomasky doesn’t think too highly of Americans.  Let me restate that.  He doesn’t think too highly of Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party activists, or opponents of the Mosque at Ground Zero.  This last group represents up to 70% of all Americans (and includes a good percentage of Democrats).

As we’ve come to the 9th anniversary of the series of coordinated suicide attacks by al-Qaeda upon the United States on September 11, 2001, such contempt for his fellow Americans strikes me as especially relevant.  Allow me to explain.

On “Islamophobia” in America, Tomasky said:

“I did not expect to see this much hatred, this depth of conviction that the president of the United States is an enemy of his own country, this intensity of bigotry directed at American Muslims, this degree of belief in obvious and poisonous lies.”

On the threat by ONE pastor to burn a Koran, Tomasky said:

“I’ll say it again. This stuff is definitely on the rise, and it has to be correlated in some psychic way to the rise of extremism in this country.”

On the stabbing of one Muslim cab driver in NYC, Tomasky said:

“Anyone surprised that a Muslim cab driver was stabbed in New York? If you are surprised, you’ve been sleepwalking the last two weeks….The man, Ahmed Sharif, will survive. But from reports it seems clear that he was stabbed because of his religion.”

Later, Tomasky Updates his original post: “

“[The] initial reporting is that Enright doesn’t fit the profile at all of an angry “Foxer”. He’s a film student who recently went to Afghanistan and who’s been working with a project that supports the building of the Cordoba House.”

Indeed, a law enforcement source told journalist Ben Smith that Enright made “nonsensical statements” to police after his arrest, but that investigators do not see an evident connection to the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” project.

On opposition, by 9/11 victims’ families, to the Cordoba Mosque at Ground Zero, he said

“Victims are entitled to their irrational hatreds. What they’re not entitled to is for those hatreds to become the basis of policy and to override the principles in the Constitution and the law.”

Yet, he offers no evidence that such incidents are anything but lone acts, nor does he even suggest that there’s data available indicating a rise in (Islamic or any other) extremism.  Indeed, Mr. Tomasky’s chimera of an Islamophobic America doesn’t fit the “profile”.  According to the most recent (2008) released FBI Hate Crime Statistics Jews are nearly 10 times more likely than Muslims to be victims of Hate Crimes in the U.S.

Is this to say that Jews in America are experiencing a wave of anti-Semitism, that there’s a climate of hate directed towards Jews, that Americans are inherently and irredeemably anti-Semitic?  Actually, far from it.  Jews, by any reasonable standards, enjoy religious freedom and economic prosperity that’s simply unprecedented in their long diaspora history.  But, such figures do refute suggestions that U.S. Muslims are especially prone to acts of intolerance.

On political opposition to President Obama, he said:

“About 30% of Americans call themselves tea-party supporters. Given that the tea party movement is almost all white, and that the country is about 70% white, this means that around 43% of white Americans subscribe to this basic [racist] view. That’s nearly half….a black cosmopolitan president to rally against, who seems to them to represent everything they hate and fear.”

Yet, interestingly, Obama won the largest share of white support of any Democrat in a two-man race since 1976. It seems that Mr. Tomasky’s argument – devoid of any empirical data – rests solely on his belief that opposition to the President is based on his race.

Most importantly, his broader and more implicit point – that conservatives are more bigoted than liberals – has also been contradicted in recent polls. For instance, a poll conducted by Boston Review in June of 2009, which attempted to gauge how much the financial crisis had caused an uptick in anti-Semitism, noted:

“In order to assess explicit prejudice toward Jews, we directly asked respondents “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” with responses falling under five categories: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. Among non-Jewish respondents, a strikingly high 24.6 percent of Americans blamed “the Jews” a moderate amount or more, and 38.4 percent attributed at least some level of blame to the group.”

Interestingly, Democrats were especially prone to blaming Jews: while 32 percent of Democrats accorded at least moderate blame, only 18.4 percent of Republicans did so (a statistically significant difference).

The authors of the study noted:

This difference is somewhat surprising given the presumed higher degree of racial tolerance among liberals and the fact that Jews are a central part of the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition.

The significance of Tomasky’s seemingly religious belief that America is immutably racist  is that, to a large degree, such an ideology is the perfect representation of a political culture tempted by the dangerous moral equivalence which equates our nation’s faults with those of our enemies.  Such folks are willing to denounce, in the most vociferous terms, every American sin, real and imagined, yet can’t summon such outrage to condemn the actions of reactionary political movements such as Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and their supporters.

Indeed, the Journolist scandal revealed Tomasky to be one of those who conspired to kill news stories, during the 2008 Presidential election, related to videos of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, angrily denouncing whites, the U.S. government and America itself.

Tomasky wrote the following to fellow journalists:

“Listen folks–in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people.”

So, it seems that some stories about racism and bigotry “serve the people” and others don’t.  And, naturally, Mr. Tomasky, is the one to judge what’s in the best interest of “the people”.

The attacks on 9/11, and American tolerance

In the 9 years since al-Qaeda terrorists murdered nearly 3000 Americans on 9/11, there have been 30 additional plots (thwarted by federal law enforcement), by such radical Islamist groups, to launch deadly attacks on our country, yet Mr. Tomasky, and his fellow journalists at CiF, rarely devote space in their columns to characterize such plots  as expressions of insidious, unadulterated, intolerance and hatred that they are.

The lesson 9/11 isn’t the need for America to continually apologize for our supposed intolerance.  America – one of the most multi-cultural nations in the world, and one with the highest rate of legal immigration in the world – needs no such apologies.

Indeed, the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined.

Additionally, since World War II, more political refugees have found homes in the U.S. than any other nation (More than two million refugees have arrived in the U.S. since 1980). Of the top ten countries accepting resettled refugees in 2006, the United States accepted more than twice as much as the next nine countries combined.  And, really, does it even need stating that Americans – of all races, religions, and ethnicities – enjoy political freedoms and economic opportunities which generations of citizens from around the world could only dream of attaining?

While, of course, as a nation, we are not perfect. However, it is profoundly important to the future of freedom and democracy that we not allow such a sober understanding of the world to paralyze us and prevent us from making difficult decisions on the world stage, and from understanding the more fundamental truth about both the personal as well as the political: that the perfect is indeed the mortal enemy of the good.

The dangers of anti-Americanism and  false moral equivalencies

It’s no accident that Tomasky is one the Guardian’s American correspondents, as he perfectly illustrates both the Guardian world view, and the views of a segment of the left increasingly unable to distinguish the profound moral differences between the U.S. and its adversaries.

The “Tomasky Left” goes far beyond the obvious truth that constructive criticism of your own country isn’t necessarily unpatriotic to a profoundly distorted understanding which seems to suggest that criticism, no matter how extreme or incendiary, is synonymous with patriotism.

Mr. Tomasky, like so many other knee-jerk critics of America, arrogantly declares her every fault and misstep as proof that she is not exceptional, not the single most powerful force for freedom.  While it is indeed healthy that, as Americans, we are prone to self-criticism, as realists we also need to acknowledge that America’s faults are small in comparison to her contributions. Our pride in being Americans is indeed well founded! While protest is clearly consistent with patriotism, it is indeed unpatriotic to engage in gratuitous criticism completely divorced from any reasonable sense of balance or proportion.

Extreme criticism of our nation – incendiary, facile, and, often, out right juvenile rhetoric suggesting that the U.S. is uniquely racist, xenophobic, imperialist, etc. – saps the moral confidence of its people, and convinces them that they are not special, not uniquely qualified to fight for human rights and democracy around the globe.

Really, could a nation possessing such humility have had the strength to defeat Nazism and Communism? It took a nation – whatever its very real flaws – with the strength of conviction, and a belief in its own moral righteousness, to muster the national will and courage necessary to defeat such profound threats to the values of peace and human freedom.

Would a United States in the 1940s crippled with self-doubt have had the fortitude to launch the all-out assault on our enemies – which, after all, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, and even more enemy combatants (as well as tons of innocent civilians in those countries) – necessary for victory?

The threat posed by Islamic Extremism is certainly different in many ways than the threats of the past (for instance, it’s not represented by any single one state actor) – but one no less serious for those who take democracy and individual rights, and religious pluralism seriously. The stakes are so, so high.

9/11, and Love of Country

It is not enough to love a mere “ideal” of America, or some lofty abstraction disconnected from the actual place we call home. True patriots indeed try to learn from our mistakes, but, just as importantly, they still get chills when the Star Spangled Banner is played; they are moved by the photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag in victory by U.S. Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima;  they stand in awe at the Lincoln Memorial; and take enormous pride in the improbable story of 55 men who spent a hot and humid Philadelphia summer furiously arguing, debating, compromising, but eventually agreeing on the U.S. Constitution – a document which codified the notion that the rights of man are self-evident and unreserved, and idea which inspires democratic movements to this day.

Real patriots – in a deep and visceral way – love the land, the rises and falls, the real history of an entirely human people, the particular, imperfect people of the United States.

On United Airlines Flight 93, black box recordings revealed that crew and passengers attempted to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning. The revolt on Flight 93 resulted in the terrorist mission having to be aborted.  The plane ultimately crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, organizer of the attacks, mentioned in a 2002 interview that Flight 93’s target was the United States Capitol.

Todd Beamer was one of those leading the passenger revolt.  Here are his last words before attempting to overtake the terrorists and storm the cockpit:

May the haunting memory of that fateful September day remind us that there are those out there who continue to hate and plot against us not for what we do, but merely for who we are. And, further, may it also serve to remind us that an unbridled and passionate love of country not only requires no apologies, but represents our only true long-term defense.

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