Indeed, the Right and the neocons may have American blood on their hands because of the ugly histrionics over a plan to build a mosque and Islamic center two blocks from 9/11’s Ground Zero.

As American troops are undertaking dangerous operations to win the “hearts and minds” of Muslims – now including flying helicopter missions in flood-ravaged Pakistan – Republican politicians and right-wing media outlets are fueling hysteria over the planned mosque.

So, instead of the United States appearing to be a nation tolerant of Islam and all other religions, the world is seeing red-faced Americans screaming at New York City officials who allowed the building plans to go forward.

Sensing another useful wedge issue, prominent Republicans, including potential presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, then jumped into the fray, escalating the rhetoric ever further.

Gingrich told Fox News that “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” thus likening Islam, even the sort practiced by the moderate Muslims involved in the so-called Cordoba House in Lower Manhattan, to Nazism. Gingrich’s metaphor also connected Muslims, subliminally at least, to one of history’s great crimes, the Holocaust, which incidentally was carried out primarily by European Christians.

Gingrich, who is portrayed by the mainstream U.S. news media as a deep-thinking intellectual, also played the victim card by casting the mosque as a symbol of Muslim “triumphalism.”

Not to be upstaged, Palin, in a Twitter message, called the mosque an "unnecessary provocation" and a “stab … in the heart.”

So, the construction of a mosque on privately owned land is not simply an American Muslim group exercising its constitutional and property rights. It is a case of al-Qaeda sympathizers doing something of a victory dance near Ground Zero and further twisting the knife into the American people.

After the Right made the mosque an emotional national issue, a poll showed about two-thirds of Americans objecting to the mosque’s construction.

The message to the Islamic world couldn’t be clearer:

Despite soothing words from Gen. David Petraeus and President Barack Obama (and even from former President George W. Bush), Americans do see the “war on terror” as a war against Islam, not just against a few violent extremists but against all Muslims including moderates who have risked their own lives to condemn Islamic radicalism.

Military Concerns

While the U.S. press corps has focused on the political implications of the furor – mostly, how it should help the Republicans in November – and, secondarily, on the constitutional issues regarding freedom of religion, there has been little attention given to the military implications of the controversy.

Just as Bush’s clumsy remark calling the “war on terror” a “crusade” was a propaganda boon to al-Qaeda, so too is this grotesque demonstration of anti-Islamic bigotry. It makes the work of American troops -- conducting a delicate withdrawal from Iraq and mounting counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan -- all the more hazardous.

The nasty mosque debate also undercuts the humanitarian message conveyed by dispatching U.S. military helicopters to flood-ravaged Pakistan and, indeed, the controversy escalates the dangers facing those crews.

Further, there is an important strategic factor. In nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the civilian government is fragile and viewed as out-of-touch with the suffering of average citizens, the last thing that pro-U.S. elements need is to be tainted by the anti-mosque Islamophobia being stirred up by right-wing and neocon activists in the United States.

Think for a minute about how differently this controversy could have played out: The proximity between Ground Zero and a mosque could have been held out as proof that American leaders mean what they say about welcoming moderate Muslims. The message at home would have reinforced – not contradicted – the message carried by U.S. soldiers and diplomats abroad.

The United States would have stood up before the world as a confident nation that lives – not just talks – its principles. The American welcoming of a mosque near the 9/11 site could have represented a propaganda blow to al-Qaeda and other extremists.

Instead, the opposite has occurred. The world has seen the United States appearing as a weak, prejudiced and vengeful nation, blaming an entire religion for the actions of a few adherents.

Even worse, the Americans most likely to pay for this political posturing are the U.S. troops on the front lines. The Right and the neocons may profit at the polls but the price will be paid in blood, mostly by American soldiers and U.S. allies in faraway places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.  

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