Today’s Republicans are coming off as panicked hotheads with their Muslim-bashing. They could learn a thing or two by watching this six-minute video of one of their own.
When the politician steps to the microphone, instantly you can tell something is different. He isn’t wearing any shoes.
That’s because when you’re in an Islamic mosque, you’re supposed to take your shoes off. So George W. Bush did.
When the then-president, right after 9/11, went on to read a quote from the Quran, Arsalan Bukhari could scarcely believe it.
“Just the fact that he was there, in a mosque, the symbolism alone made a powerful statement,” says Bukhari, a former contract administrator at Boeing who now runs the state Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group.
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“It was huge to American Muslims. The video of Bush in that mosque went everywhere.”
It seems incredible now, but Bush gave that famous “Islam is peace” speech just six days after 9/11. The video is making the rounds again. Only now it’s to highlight the stark contrast with the rancid anti-Islam rhetoric that’s taken hold in today’s GOP.
Then, nearly 3,000 Americans were dead and Ground Zero was still smoking. Yet Bush, who we now know was already plotting to invade the wrong country, still had the discernment to know it was wrong to blame everyone who practices one religion for the acts of fanatics.
Watch the six-minute speech if you get a chance. He stands in front of a woman wearing a hijab, in a ceramic-tiled mosque, and talks about how the “face of terror” that we all had just witnessed in New York and Washington, D.C., “is not the true face of Islam.”
At one point he stresses: “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.” (Emphasis mine.)
I teared up a little watching that. Not because it was especially eloquent or expertly delivered. It’s that the extreme contrast to today is depressing.
I’m not criticizing the various calls to make sure the refugee resettlement program has proper security. Bush did that, too, after 9/11 — in fact he shut it down for seven months while the background-check system could be overhauled. It’s those Bush-designed post-9/11 reforms that are vetting refugees today.
But calls to, say, target U.S. mosques for closure or create a database registry of all Muslims — those are just rank discrimination (courtesy of Donald Trump). So is the idea of banning all Syrian refugees unless they’re Christian (as proposed by Ted Cruz and others). These are front-runners for the presidential nomination in Bush’s own party, but compared to him they come off as panicked hotheads.
What’s doubly troubling is that people don’t seem to care much about Muslim-bashing. Trump’s poll numbers only rise. Locally we had state Rep. Jay Rodne of Snoqualmie maligning all of Islam as “barbarian medievalism.” This bigotry got exactly zero public pushback from anyone in the local GOP (though Rodne did eventually take the worst of his Facebook posts down).
It’s apparently no big deal now to suggest all Muslims are a scourge, or at best a gang to be registered and warily monitored. That’s even when they are U.S. citizens — and your own constituents.
Bukhari says 500 to 1,000 Muslims live in Rodne’s Eastside legislative district. There’s a mosque in Snoqualmie. The Eastside as a whole vies with South King County “as the biggest population center of Muslims in the state.”
“Anti-Muslim comments are everywhere, but I don’t know that people realize how damaging they can be when elected officials make them,” Bukhari said
Whatever else you make of him, Bush understood that. What impulse compelled him to that mosque after 9/11? Maybe a strategic calculation that we need Muslim friends to defeat terrorism. Maybe a responsibility to calm a rattled nation. Maybe simple human decency.
All seem missing from today’s GOP. Never thought I’d look back wistfully to the halcyon days of the Bush administration. But that’s how much his party is losing its mind — or, worse, its heart and soul.