Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Glenn Beck reborn in the image of King?

The rally Glenn Beck staged the other day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial raises the question of whether he has been reborn in the spirit of the great man he repeatedly invoked: Martin Luther King Jr.

Up to now, there was no confusing Beck with King. Truth be told, Beck was more in the mold of a nemesis of the civil rights struggle, George Corley Wallace, the Alabama governor who stood at a university doorway to block its first two black students from registering. Wallace ran for president as a populist, broadcasting the slogan “Stand Up for America” and railing against “pointy-headed intellectuals” and other assorted liberals. He won strong support in pockets of white America fearful of the racial, social and cultural upheaval under way in the land (think Archie Bunker) – the very same sectors that today revere Beck as a leader of their effort to take their country back.

At Saturday’s rally, however, Beck cooled his shrill, divisive rhetoric, saying: “There’s a lot we can disagree on, but our values and our principles can unite us. We must discover them again.”

What’s more, the next day the talk show host took back the slur he made against President Obama last year – remarks that had epitomized Beck’s tendency to polarize the nation. He had accused Obama of harboring a deep-seated hatred of white people and of being a racist – without resting the accusation on any facts. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, however, Beck finally admitted he had erred and that he regretted the remarks, adding: "I have a big fat mouth sometimes and I say things"

So does Beck’s revival-like rally signal he has atoned for his sins, that he has seen the light, that he has become a new man, in the spirit of King?

I happened to have basked in that spirit at the original March on Washington in 1963. I was a high school kid, D.C. was my home town, and King and his fellow freedom fighters were my heroes. I felt awed and honored to walk in their midst.

Despite the often brutal resistance the civil rights warriors faced in the South, peace and love pervaded the original march. The participants heeded King, who said in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

So has Beck now ascended to that plane? Unfortunately, the signs so far are that Beck’s conversion is phony.

A case in point: In taking back his Obama slur, Beck still dismissed the president as “a guy who understands the world through liberation theology,” as if that was a bad thing, Yet, liberation theology is precisely what King practiced, as alluded to in his 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and stated perhaps most emphatically in his 1958 book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. The relevant excerpt:

“Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind that Marxists like to see - an opiate of the people.”

At the rally right-wing darling and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin likewise spoke contradictorily about King. On the one hand: “On this ground where we are so honored to stand today, we feel the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” On the other hand: “We must not fundamentally transform America as someone wants. We must restore America and restore her honor.”

That “someone” is, presumably, Obama. More to the point, the fundamental transformation of America is what King was all about, as he particularly made clear in his 1967 “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. An excerpt:

“The Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. … One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.”

Since fundamental change through liberation theology was so central to King, there is absolutely no way to trash either concept and still claim to be his disciple.

Beck and Palin remain lost in the wilderness of social unfairness, self-delusion and hucksterism.

Relevant links:

“Martin Luther King would have been on Glenn Beck's chalkboard,” Media Matters
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech

King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail"
King’s “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech
Paper on the 1968 campaign rhetoric of George Wallace
Youtube video comparing King’s words at 1963 March on Washington with words of participants at Glenn Beck’s rally

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Call Agent Mulder: Memories of Obama’s Christianity wiped out!

Remember that humongous hullabaloo not so long ago when candidate Barack Obama’s detractors were super-gluing him to his retired United Church of Christ pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in the hope of gumming up the Illinois senator’s campaign for the White House?

There was much talk then about Obama’s longtime attendance at a church with a pastor who gave fiery, controversial sermons. Needless to say, the United Church of Christ is Christian – a major Christian denomination, in fact.

Well, memory of that episode has suddenly evaporated from the minds of many of Obama’s present detractors. What is he? Christian? Muslim? Hard to tell, they now say.

The ranks of the amnesiac include the Rev. Franklin Graham, who told CNN in effect that all he had to go on was Obama’s word that he was a Christian. Yes, he was quick to add, he had no choice but to believe Obama. The faithful caught the wink: You may exercise the choice not to believe.

Graham gave further comfort to these swallowers of tall tales, claiming Obama was born a Muslim – which would have been news to his agnostic mother and atheistic father. Yes, the senior Barack Obama grew up Muslim, but came to believe that religion was mere superstition, according to his son’s autobiography. What’s more, the elder Obama played little role in raising his son, having walked out of his life when he was 2.

Graham’s mealy mouthed words go a long way to explaining why outlandish myths persist about this president, as underscored by a recent poll showing a surprising growth in the share of Americans who buy the lie that Obama is Muslim – from one of every nine in March of last year to one of every five now, according to the Pew Research Center. Uncertainty grew, too. The share of Americans who say they don’t know to which religion Obama belongs shot up from 34% to 43%.

The growth testifies to the success of a campaign of disinformation being waged against Obama -- in the blogosphere, over talk radio and on Fox News. And instead of acting responsibly by dispelling the myths forthright, many leaders on the right, like Graham, are abetting the campaign.

There are bigger whoppers than the claim Obama is a Muslim. A huge, out-and-out lie with stubborn currency is the claim that Obama was not born in America and is not an American citizen – a fabrication Republican leaders have been loath to dispel.

Though the Rev. Graham doesn’t think so – he believes Islam is evil – describing Obama as Muslim would be OK if in fact he was. His enemies are trying to attach that false label to him, however, so that the prejudice that some Americans feel toward Muslims would redound on Obama.

Yes, the current anti-Obama narrative – that the president may be Muslim – contradicts an earlier one – that Obama was a longtime disciple of a mad Christian minister. But nobody seems to notice, much less care.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Questions and answers about the Islamic center planned for Lower Manhattan

Why build a mosque that will loom over Ground Zero?

No looming will occur. Without x-ray vision, you won’t even see the Islamic center from Ground Zero. The 13-story center will sit two blocks away amid an array of tall buildings – we’re talking Manhattan, remember. By the way, the center won’t be just a mosque. It will be like a YMCA with a basketball court, a swimming pool and everything, as well as a place to worship.

Why then does the news media keep referring to the planned center as the “Ground Zero mosque”?

The news media has the unfortunate habit of parroting loaded terms coined by the rightwing blogosphere and punditocracy.

Still, wouldn’t an Islamic center sully hallowed ground?

That makes sense only if you believe Islam is evil or profane and that its contamination can leap two densely packed, commercial blocks. An argument can be made that Ground Zero’s hallowedness is all the more reason to have places of worship nearby, including mosques.

But the fanatics who destroyed the Twin Towers were Islamic extremists who acted in the name of Allah. Wouldn’t a nearby mosque disrespect their memory?

Actually, the center could serve their memory by acting as a moderating force within Islam and thereby tamping down terrorism. The imam behind the development opposes Islamic extremism and he has invited New Yorkers of all faiths to visit the center. Besides, if terrorists had destroyed the Twin Towers in the name of Christianity, would it follow that Christian churches should be barred from the area? In fact, Timothy McVeigh had destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge a Christian cult for its fatal confrontation with federal authorities in Waco, Texas. Yet, that bombing didn’t put Christianity on trial.

But what about the relatives of those who died in the attack on the Twin Towers? They oppose construction of the center. Shouldn’t their wishes, whether right or wrong, be respected?

Actually, some relatives do oppose construction and some don’t. Keep in mind, too, that dozens of those who died in the Twin Towers were themselves Muslim. Like the relatives in general, the ones who oppose the center are generally in pain, but punishing a whole group, whether a race or a religion or a nationality, for the sins of some of its members remains wrong.

If opposition to the center has no merit, how did this controversy get so huge?

Well, rainstorms on Manhattan get more news play than rainstorms in, say, Peoria, Ill. Credit mostly, however, the rightwing punditocracy, which knows how to push the right buttons. The basic development – an effort to build an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan out of the view of the Twin Towers site -- has only local newsworthiness. After all, two mosques already lie in the vicinity of Ground Zero, and without controversy. But the fear mongers on the right blew up the innocent effort to open a multi-use cultural center into a dastardly plot to erect a monster mosque at Ground Zero as a sort of Islamic trophy for the destruction of the Twin Towers. The big, dumb media, alas, is just too slow-footed to fight assaults on the truth from that quarter.