Masking the real issue with the mosque

It's time for us to admit it: Americans, at least a lot of us, simply don't like Muslims very much.

A lot has been made of the recent CNN survey about that proposed mosque at the 9/11 site. Politicians, particularly those on the right, have jumped all over the 68 percent negative response when participants were asked whether they favored or opposed constructing that particular Islamic Center. But a new one gives the more complete picture.

Time magazine's brand-new poll gets to a much more relevant fundamental issue when it shows a full 43 percent disapproval of Islam — not the proposed New York mosque, but the religion itself.

The demagogues know that full well. But they've gotten a free pass. They've been allowed to tiptoe around our ugly true feelings and declare they are for religious diversity and all that good stuff, just against the mosque on that particular site, "sacred ground" that it is. 

That is a subterfuge, and they know it. Saddest of all, they've been able to terrify some candidates who are otherwise more measured but are now showing just how craven someone can get when he's running for his political life, say in Nevada.

By the way, the
Time poll does not reflect a spike resulting from the current controversy. Gallup last January got an identical result: Forty-three percent acknowledged "a little prejudice" against Muslims.

Those are the ones who admitted their feelings openly. Surveys like this are incomplete because so many prefer to camouflage their true feelings, out of embarrassment or a lack of self-awareness. Even so, 31 percent acknowledged their view of Islam in its entirety was "not favorable at all."

Back in 2006, still another poll listed 38 percent saying they would never vote for a Muslim president. We've all seen the fruits of that one, with many of President Obama's opponents getting good traction with their claim he's really a Muslim by birth and upbringing. And a new Pew poll shows that one in five believes that, thanks to incessant continuous use of the "Big Lie" tactic by the blogger blatherers, toxic talk radio hosts, Fox fantasy peddlers and so many others on the wrong-headed right.

Whatever their scruples, or lack thereof, it is an accusation, a pejorative perceived as one — so much so that Mr. Obama's supporters have used up a lot of energy trying to deny it.

At the very least, most Americans don't really comprehend very much about the religion, even though the best guess is that slightly under 3 million Muslims live in the United States. And when we don't understand something, we become all too receptive to those exploiters who will demonize it.

Even Ed Gillespie and Grover Norquist, as hard-nosed partisans as you'll find, are quoted as worrying their fellow Republicans might be overplaying their hands. They may be correct, but perhaps not, if political advantage is the name of the game. Tragically, it probably is.

As for the contention that the resistance is not based on aversion to Islam but on the "insult," claimed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, over building at that particular site, that ignores similar uproars at locations around the country. It seems that each time a new proposal is discussed, the locals get a bad case of the NIMBYs, as in “Not in my backyard!”

And back to the New York site: President Obama's comments that showed sympathy to the idea drew such condemnation, mainly from his adversaries, that he furiously backpedaled less than a day later. This is a man who has been trying very hard to repair relations between this nation and Muslim countries.

He probably needs to begin here. Until then, his words in that world will be regarded as ludicrous by those who see the West as enemy territory, populated by small-minded religious bigots.

It's just what the fundamentalist crazies need to justify their violent extremism. We need to do better and open our hearts. And not just for tactical reasons and foreign policy, but because it's right.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.