Who could doubt the veracity of someone with a university named after him? But can 10 percent of all Muslims really be terrorists, as Glenn Beck, the founder of that exemplar of academic excellence, Beck University, claims?
That the demagogic and strangely lachrymose Beck enjoys a large following is testament to our fraught times. When the going gets tough in America the tough get going. The rest wallow in bigotry. It’s a very natural if unfortunate reaction to adversity, and we Americans are not immune to it—no American exceptionalism in this case, regrettably.
In the past, Catholics, Japanese-Americans, “communists” (read: liberals), and a host of other “others” served the useful role of unwelcome outcasts. Today that honor goes to Muslims. Some of this is to be expected following 9/11. But that was nearly a decade ago. One might think that reason and tolerance would by now have been re-born phoenix-like from the horrible mass of crushed steel and concrete that was the World Trade Center. America, if nothing else, is resilient. Yet our hate endures, providing a resounding triumph to Mohamed Atta and his 18 fellow 9/11 co-conspirators, who succeeded in separating us from our better angels.
The popularity of a buffoonish blowhard like Beck is a measure of our fall. It’s not the only indicator. The hysteria over the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the passing of an anti-Sharia measure by voters in Oklahoma, a state with just 15,000 Muslims, and widespread belief in Obama’s Islamic faith are manifestations of xenophobic fear whipped up by a host of opportunists, Beck included.
Apparently, bigotry loves company, as the specter of the ghastly Mohammedan haunts Europe, too. A leading Muslim basher across the pond is Geert Wilders, the founder of the nativist Dutch Party for Freedom. Wilders is a whirlwind of invective. “I don’t hate Muslims,” he told The Guardian. “I hate Islam.” It is a distinction without a difference, similar to that of homophobes who claim not to despise gays but rather the “sin” of homosexuality. Besides, why is it okay to abhor Islam?
Wilders has also called the Koran, which he tried to have banned in Holland, a “fascist book,” and referred to Mohammed as “the devil.” Like Beck, he believes a high percentage of Muslims—five to 15 percent—are extremist. All of this has landed him in hot water. British authorities denied Wilders entry into the country, designating him an “undesirable person” who presents a threat to public security (the ban was later overturned).
Wilders makes the rounds. He recently addressed a rally in New York City in opposition to the Islamic community center near Ground Zero organized by Stop the Islamicization of America, an outfit founded by a blogger with ties to white supremacists. Even more recently, he spoke at a gathering in Tel Aviv sponsored by a pro-settler group that believes the Land of Israel (West Bank included) belongs exclusively to Jews.
Wilders told his receptive audience “Islam threatens the entire world” and, as such, Israel represents the provorbial “canary in the coalmine” for Western civilization. Should Jews be denied dominion of the Holy Land (again, including the West Bank), then “we will all face darkness.”
That Muslim states historically have been far more tolerant of religious minorities than have Christian ones went unmentioned, as this would undermine Wilders’ caricature of a uniquely intolerant Islam. Nor did he mention his own country’s disreputable recent history—75 percent of Holland’s 140,000 Jews died during the Holocaust, a percentage only exceeded by Poland—as this also would throw into doubt his assertion of Western (and Christian) superiority. But then rarely do demagogues quibble over inconvenient facts and logical inconsistencies; their stock in trade is exploiting fear.
Glenn Beck knows the game. After conceding in an interview with Mark Leibovich of the New York Times that Obama is not a Muslim, he doubled back, ominously citing the president’s hosting of Ramadan dinners. “But then you just add all of this stuff up—his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation,” he added. “What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra palace mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages? I don’t know. I don’t know.”