Narratives about subversion and contamination in the Park51 controversy

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 14:27 EDT
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There are a lot of interesting points made in this video from Rachel Maddow’s show on Monday, mainly about how blatant racism has been the go-to tactic since Obama was elected for conservative political operatives trying to gin up excitement in their base. The list of faux stories about evil minorities doing evil things that invariably turn out to be false or overblown is literally too long to be included in the segment. Rachel hits some highlights, but doesn’t have time to include the Skip Gates controversy or the stories about Mexican drug bandits supposedly taking over Texas ranches, to name a couple of stories sold to the wingnut public as evidence that ending white supremacy is a bad idea. It’s gotten so bad that even the usual suspects in the Village are having trouble denying that conservatives are being straight-up racist in an attempt to get enthusiasm behind Republican candidates and generally make life harder for Obama.

But one thing that really was new information for me in this video was Suhail Khan’s* description of what Pam Gellar and Frank Gaffney have been up to in general, which is finding Muslims who work as bureaucrats and “outing” them, i.e. targeting them for attack from the flying monkeys. I found the entire narrative behind this kind of action alarming, because the insinuation is that these people weren’t “out” as Muslim before. Which is a way for Gellar to reinforce the narrative that Islam is a subversive force that hides itself, basically the same narrative that flying monkey wingnuts used about communism in the red-baiting days. The notion that communists were hiding themselves and working undercover in the government made everyone suspect in the eyes of wingnuts, which is why John Birchers believed that Eisenhower was a communist agent. The parallels between the beliefs about Eisenhower/communism and Obama/Islam should be immediately apparent.

The thing is, I doubt that anyone that is “outed” as Muslim was hiding this fact about him or herself. Or broadcasting it much, either. Barring a handful of Christian fundies looking to create stories about how they’re martyrs at the hands of secularists because they get pushback for disruptive evangelizing and/or hating on people that aren’t them, most people tend to keep religious discussions out of the workplace. Of course, aggressive Islamophobes deny that Islam is a religion, which is their justification for singling it out for attack despite our constitutional right to freedom of religion. Instead, they view it as a cult and/or a subversive ideology.**

This is why the “we don’t want to ban mosques, we just want that specific one to move” thing isn’t as innocent as it’s supposed to sound. Conflating all Muslims with the terrorists of 9/11 is a mandatory aspect of the argument, but it’s more than that. It’s about making Muslims officially second class citizens. Even if it’s just one place you’re not supposed to go in the public square, that’s already a form of segregation. If the presence of Muslims around the WTC somehow contaminates the area, then I don’t imagine the demands will stop with this community center. Do people who think there shouldn’t be a community center feel okay with all the Muslims who live and work in the area anyway? How many of the opponents of the mosque would support a program where Muslims have to be “outed” and made to wear badges so that their access to certain areas can be monitored carefully? It sounds crazy, but it’s the logical next step once you buy the logic of the people who are pushing this controversy, which is that Muslims are secretive and subversive, and the public at large needs to take steps to counteract that.

*By the way, why did he have to diss the Island of the Misfit Toys? They’re the good guys!
**Which I also think people have absolute freedom to believe. Laws barring communists from certain activities strike me as the sort of thing that really should be unconstitutional, too. But that’s a different discussion. The cult/religion distinction is clearly bullshit that was concocted in order to deprive certain people of their religious rights.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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