Family & Friends,
Once again it’s a pleasure to let you know about several excellent books recently published by friends of mine. This year’s list includes something for every taste: novels, non-fiction, and a book that inventively uses comic art to make history come alive.
But first a quick note about some writings in other forms.
As many of you already know, a new team of younger activists is stepping up to write the “Month in Review” column and other articles for War Times; I am shifting to the role of editor and mentor. You can find the first three exciting contributions by these fresh voices at http://www.war-times.org. And you can check out War Timer and provocative blogger (http://happening-here.blogspot.com) Jan Adams’ hard-hitting piece on the hate campaign against the Cordoba Project Community Center/Mosque at the end of this message. Also, even though it’s been eight years since my own book, Revolution in the Air, was first published (and four years since the updated paperback edition) the volume is still getting new reviews: Esmee Hanna’s evaluation from Capital & Class February 2010 is in the reviews section of https://revolutionintheair.org/ You can also find previous years’ “Books by Friends” messages in a special section on this website.
Now to this year’s exciting list of books by friends.
First up is Karen Tei Yamashita’s I-Hotel, an “epic saga that explodes and combines the genres of the political novel, the postmodern historical novel, and the testimonio to imagine San Francisco’s I-Hotel as a great, global hub of Asian American culture, art and politics during the decade of the 1970s.” With art by Leland Wong and Sina Grace this is truly a unique volume not to be missed.
Also examining a period of massive social struggle is FDR and The New Deal for Beginners written by left historian and old Madison friend Paul Buhle, illustrated by Sabrina Jones and including an afterword by the recently deceased pioneer of comic art Harvey Pekar. The innovative format of the volume, with original comic art and accessible writing, makes this history of hard times and huge battles come alive.
Next up is an accessible “un-textbook”: Toxic Loopholes: Failures and Future Prospects for Environmental Law by Craig Collins. Here’s a tantalizer from the author himself: “I tried to avoid the non-committal, austere, academic prose that forces students to consume copious amounts of coffee to avoid text-induced narcolepsy. Also, I abandoned all pretense of being a detached, disinterested academic and wrote instead as an outraged citizen of planet Earth.”
Also demonstrating that dedicated people in the academic world can be outraged activists and excellent scholars at the same time is a new volume co-edited by Margo Okazawa-Rey and Julia Sudbury. Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism and Social Change includes contributions from scholars based in the U.S., Canada and Nigeria who are involved in feminist, antiracist, indigenous sovereignty, queer liberation, antiglobalization, antimilitary, and ntiprison movements.
Speaking of outrage and activism, Jordan Flaherty’s Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six will move you from page one. This first-hand account from New Orleans and the Gulf region before and after Katrina weaves together the interconnected stories of Mardi Gras Indians, Arab and Latino immigrants, public housing residents, gay rappers, spoken word poets, victims of police brutality, out of town volunteers, and grassroots activists.
Returning to historical novels, Daniel Cano’s Death and the American Dream is a perfect read for this centennial year of the 1910 Mexican Revolution in its tracking of the “conflicted biculturalism of the revolution-driven Chicano diaspora in California.” The author’s second Pepe Rios novel follows six years in the life of a fugitive from the Revolution who settles into a Mexicano community, not in East L.A., but a barrio that occupied today’s Brentwood on the tony west side.
Last, two books that were about to come off the press when I sent last year’s “Books by Friends” message are now available for your reading pleasure. Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan, the latest Primer in an excellent series by Phyllis Bennis (this one co-authored with David Wildman), could hardly be more timely. Likewise Venezuela Speaks!: Voices from the Grassroots, edited by Carlos Martinez (one of the new War Times writers) and Michael Fox and JoJo Farrell.
I hope you all are well. Happy reading!
Right-Wing Hate Balloon Takes Off
by Jan Adams
The right in the U.S. thrives on launching “hate balloons” — wacko claims such as “President Obama is not a citizen,” or “Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod is a racist.” The list of these eruptions seems never ending. Sometimes, as in the first example, these fables gain traction among a minority of citizens but fail to capture the mainstream; some, like the second, blow up in the faces of their proponents.
Unhappily, one of the right’s current hate campaigns has ignited a fire. This is the notion that Muslims are crowing over the 9/11 terror attacks by planning to build a “Ground Zero Mosque” two blocks (600 feet) from the Manhattan site where the World Trade Center stood. Apoll on August 11 showed 68 percent opposed to the proposed Park51-Cordoba House, which would serve as an Islamic community center, including meeting rooms and fitness facilities, as well as a prayer space. Interestingly, Manhattan residents favored the project; opposition seems to increase with distance from the city.
The opposition has been fueled by the usual array of right wing media (Fox News; the Weekly Standard) and its usual mouthpieces (Sarah Palin; Newt Gingrich; Rudi Giuliani) with assists from mealy mouthed politicians of both parties with their fingers in the wind and from some relatives of 9/11 victims for whom Lower Manhattan is a kind of sacred ground.
Casting remembrance of the victims of 9/11 in a different light, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke up for keeping government out of decisions about who gets to practice their religion — and so in support of the project: “We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.” As of now, there is no legal impediment to the building’s sponsors going ahead if they can raise the money.
Because this fight over a mosque is happening near Ground Zero in the nation’s media capital, it has commanded mainstream attention. But similar efforts to block or harass Muslim institutions are going on all over the country: nearby on Staten Island, where the Catholic Church backed out of selling an empty convent to a mosque; in the suburbs of Chicago; in Murfeesboro, Tennessee where Republican candidates for office have made preventing the building of a mosque one of their talking points; in Riverside, California where opponents planned to intimidate Muslim worshippers with dogs; in Florence, Kentucky; in Bridgeport, Connecticut where conservative Christian protesters have traveled all the way from Texas to incite religious harassment of Muslims. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, a right wing outfit more commonly known for opposing women’s and gay rights, took the argument to its logical conclusion: “Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America … each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government. Each one is a potential jihadist recruitment and training center …”
Why is this particular right wing hate balloon so attractive and what are its special dangers? Too many people in the United States are living with shapeless fears and welcome having a visible local enemy to fight, one they might even be able to triumph over. The economy promises no prosperous future for most folks. Wars overseas drag on inconclusively. The government proved helpless to prevent or stop a huge oil spill. There are more and more Black and brown people around, even a Black president. Some of these strangers are probably “illegal” immigrants, come to steal the country. Muslims as enemies present a three-fer: religiously suspect, dark, and foreign.
This convenient outlet for a variety of frustrations provides a perfect stage for the “clash of civilizations” story, which much of the right has pushed for a decade. If the story really takes hold in the public imagination this time, the country is in big trouble. Josh Marshall at TPM took a shot at describing the mindset this hate balloon aims to institutionalize:
“It’s not us versus a series of interconnected terrorist networks which are relatively small but episodically quite lethal. It’s us, the white Christians and our Jewish junior partner sidekicks versus the brown Muslim people. (If you’re keeping score at home, let’s call it the Judeo-Christians -white jerseys- vs. the Muslims -brown jerseys.) …heck, the Holy War is still on. …I think it is the mindset. Because only in that mode does it make sense that American Muslims building a community center near the site of a terrorist attack from a decade ago constitutes such an outrage.”
If most people in the United States fully internalize what Marshall calls “the Holy War,” we can forget religious liberty, ever getting U.S. troops out of the Middle East, and as horrors mount, meaningful democracy under universally applicable laws. We’re not there yet, but successful hate balloons move us closer.
UPDATE: Nice to be on the same page as the President on this. On Friday Obama chimed in:
“As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.”
What can progressives do while this toxic brew festers? Some thoughts:
- Other faith communities that value their own free exercise of religion need to be in the forefront of defending Muslims’ religious freedoms. Anyone can learn more about the struggles of U.S. Muslims by subscribing to the mailing list of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
- Political leaders need to step up and join Mayor Bloomberg in telling people to calm down. Their constituents need to remind them of that leadership responsibility.
- The peace movement needs to continue and step up its efforts. The public has become disillusioned with the wars, but doesn’t see closure ahead. Until we end the shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the apparently endless “war on terror” that began with a criminal act at Ground Zero will still grind on.
Jan Adams is a member of the War Times/Tiempo de Guerras committee. She blogs at http://happening-here.blogspot.com/.