Apr 5th 2010

Before It's Too Late

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute
The arrests of nine members of an armed militia group in Michigan, hell bent on fomenting violence, should serve as a wake up call to those in political leadership roles who are inciting rage against the government. My fear, however, is that they will not see the connection between their rhetoric and the rage they inspire.

Back in January of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning (based on analysis compiled during the closing days of the Bush Administration) that right wing militia-type groups were a growing threat here in the US, noting that "the historical election of an African American president... the prospect of policy changes... and the economic downturn...are proving to be a driving force for right-wing extremist recruitment and radicalization...Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States".

An FBI official told me, at the time, that law enforcement agencies were focusing more of their attention on this phenomenon. And bearing out these concerns, a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that in just the past year, these armed "patriot" militias have tripled in number - with over 130 such armed groups now known to be operating across the U.S.

It is important to recognize that the Obama election, was, in many ways, born out of the same set of circumstances. Having studied social movements that emerge in response to social dislocation and stress, I know that in periods of great anxiety, the public can be motivated in different directions. They can be inspired by hope, believing that positive change is in the offing, or, as is also the case, they can be moved to respond in fear and anger, striking out at targets identified as the cause of their distress.

Obama's messages of hope and change won the election, but, as we soon saw, did not put an end to those who preyed on discontent. Donning the robes of populism, they focused their attacks on "them" - whether the government, liberal elites, or the President, himself. Their rhetoric was vile, if not also violent. Watching the "Tea Party" movement emerge and play a disruptive role last summer shouting down and at times breaking up town meetings called to discuss health care reform, was instructive. On the one hand, the established political leaders and TV personalities who fomented this mob-like behavior were no doubt pleased as they saw this anti-government movement grow and suit their anti-reform agenda. Then again, when their offspring acted out of control, they were able to disassociate themselves from the fruits of their labor with a wink and a "tsk, tsk".

But the danger remains and the possibility of violence is real. And those in respected leadership roles need to recognize that, in the current environment, playing with matches can start fires. We've seen the ugly racist placards, heard the chants and shouted epithets, and witnessed the raw anger at rallies. Can violence be far behind?

I know this to be true and can speak from experience of the dangers of incitement. In the past decade alone, federal law enforcement officials have arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced three individuals for making violent threats against me and my family. In these threats I have been called "a rag head", a supporter of "jihad" and "Hizbollah" - all rather weird, one might say, since I am a Catholic who has consistently spoken out against all violence. Where, then, did these deranged fellows get their distorted ideas? The answer is: from a group of individual associated with right-wing "think tanks" who write "blogs" or articles that consistently defame or distort the positions of most recognized Arab American and American Muslim leaders.

And it hasn't stopped. When, for example, I was given the honor of delivering the closing remarks at the Department of Justice's commemoration the 40th anniversary of the signing of the civil rights bill, an article written by one of these characters termed it an outrage that the DOJ would invite a "Hizbollah supporter" to speak at this affair. And when the Pentagon invited me to speak at their annual Iftar, honoring the service of Muslim Americans in the US military another writer decried my presence at the event calling me an extremist "Wahhabi supporter".

Just as I feel that these writers bear responsibility for their words and for the behavior of those whom their words motivate to commit illegal acts, so too those elected officials and political leaders who rant on the floor of Congress or at mass rallies about "creeping communism", or "Obamunism", or about "death panels", etc, must own up to the atmosphere they are creating and the behavior of desperate lost souls who will use their words as a license to violence.

Given the circumstances we face, the old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" needs to be updated by adding "but may provoke others to break my bones". A warning is in order "Put away the matches". It's dangerous out there and you don't know who's listening or what they might do to act on what you say. It's time to lower the temperature and tone down the rhetoric, before it's too late.

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Jun 12th 2021
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Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
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May 25th 2021
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May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
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May 13th 2021
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May 7th 2021
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May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."