Thursday, March 10, 2011

Republican Party conspiracy theories

Peter King's witch hunt hearings on Islamunofascistoliberalism are a reminder that the Republican Party is now a welcoming home to a number of crackpot conspiracy theories. Sarah Posner provides a primer on the anti-Muslim conspiracy theories current popular with the Republican right - and is there anything but the right remaining in the Republican Party? - in Welcome to the Shari'ah Conspiracy Theory Industry How the American right demonizes Islam for political gain Religion Dispatches 03/08/2011.

Alexander Zaitchik summarizes his research on the conspiracies that flow freely from Glenn Beck's feverish mind to his mouth to his FOX News audience in
Fringe Mormon Group Makes Myths with Glenn Beck’s Help Intelligence Report Spring 2011.

The invaluable Gene Lyons muses about the latter in Scrooge ain't broke and neither is the government Salon 03/09/2011:

Maybe instead of playing budgetary chicken with congressional Republicans, the White House should search carnival side shows and TV shopping channels for a Democratic Glenn Beck. Any glib pitchman could outline a Republican scheme to sabotage the U.S. economy to gain political power far more plausible than Beck's shaggy-dog conspiracies.
Posner's article calls attention to one of the stranger aspect of the scary-Muslims-are-coming-to-git-us conspiracy theory, the idea that Muslim jihadists are in cahoots with the left, however they conceive that term:

[Andrew] McCarthy [of National Review], author of the books The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America and How Obama Embraces Islam’s Sharia Agenda, links both President Obama and the American left to this supposed plot, claiming that they share collectivist goals. He told Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism in 2010 that "Islamists" and "leftists" share totalitarian goals, "totalitarian in the sense that they want to control every aspect of the individual’s life, and [are] virulently opposed to capitalism and individual liberty," adding that "even though they [Obama and Saudi King Abdullah] part company on the details of what they would transform it into, they both need to topple American constitutional republicanism in order to install their utopias."
Since the hard right sees "the left" - in which they include President Obama, of course - as anti-American and their enemies, this is largely about creating sort of unified theory of political evil to lump together "the left" and Muslim jihadists. While visions of the Black Panthers from the 1960s haunt their fantasies, what most American rightwingers call "the left" is really today's Democratic Party.

For people who want to be scammed by something this kooky to begin with, facts won't make any immediate difference. But here in the real world, it's absurd. In terms of ideology, Democrats in general and in particular people who see themselves as liberal or progressive Democrats have little at all in common with Muslim jihadists who support theocracy, oppose anything that looks like democracy or freedom of speech and press, oppose basic human rights for women and promote anti-Semitism. Not even the bitterest American critic of US foreign policy wants to be blown up by a terrorist bomber or plane hijacker acting in the name of what by any normal definitions is a rightwing political and religious ideology. And, to my knowledge, there aren't any cases in the US or Europe where groups that understand themselves as "left" have actively cooperated with Muslim jihadists.

Republicans oppose Muslim terrorism and, as Peter King is reminding us this week, hate Muslims and Islam much more generally. Simple patriotism and nationalism are involved. Political Christianism is all-but-universally accepted as an ideology in the Republican Party. And both history and "pro-Israel" Christian Zionist ideology make overt anti-Semitism far more problematic than promoting fear and hatred of Muslims. Still, there's a large religious (mainly Christian) component of the American Right's targeting of Islam and Islamism.

Muslim jihadist ideology as we know it today is ultra-conservative both in politics and within the Islamic religion. Less extreme forms of political Islam, from Hosni Mubarak's former ruling ideology to that of the ruling Islamist party in Turkey to the right's current bogeyman, the Muslim Brotherhood in its varied current incarnations tend toward conservative ideas: mixing politics and religion, a restrictive attitude toward women's rights, etc.

The Cheney-Bush Administration consistently voted with Muslim countries and the Vatican on family-planning programs in the UN, because Republicans like conservative Muslims and the Vatican don't want to promote abortion or birth control, and are dubious about the enhancements of women's status that accompany both. On issues of women's rights and other "culture war" issues in the American sense, Islamists are conspicuously conservative.

I'm not making a mirror-image point, i.e., "See? Its the Republicans who are in bed with Islamic extremists!" I'm just pointing out the reality that in terms of American politics, actual Islamism to the extent that it exists is political isolated from both Republicans and Democrats and from fringe groups of the left and the right. And on a broader scale, these are conservative movements. Reality still counts for something, even if you wouldn't think so from watching FOX News.

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