21 November 2008

McCarthyism redux -- Islam as America's new Communism

One of a number of disturbing phenomenon in the recent U.S. presidential election was the constant undertone of anti-Islamism. Obama was "accused" of being a Muslim and had to pointedly deny the charge. To his credit, he upheld Islam as a great world religion; nonetheless, the fact being Muslim was something he had to defend himself against is unsettling.

It echoes that dark period in the 1950s when a variety of demagogues, epitomized by Senator Joseph McCarthy, ran roughshod over American civil liberties, to say nothing of common decency, in the pursuit of a Communist threat that was more phantom than real. As a result of the witch hunting, many Americans -- particularly government employees, people in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists -- lost their jobs, saw their careers destroyed, and were even imprisoned.

The politics of fear is very much alive in the United States today and a new McCarthyism is feeding off it just as the old McCarthyism fed off fear in the 1950s. Fear is the enemy, not Communism then or Islam now. Communism never posed a serious threat inside America; it did however provide a convenient catchword for demagogues. And Islam poses no serious threat to the American way of life today, but it too has become a convenient catchword for demagogues. And the demagogues are legion, catalyzed by the Bush administration which has thrived on fear, and include as a major perpetrator Fox News network. Bush and his outlaws will soon be gone, but Fox will persist with its mischief. Some with good reason dismiss Fox pundits as a bunch of clowns, but McCarthy was a clown and still managed to ruin a lot of lives. Demagoguery is a formidable weapon.

If an Obama presidency calms the fear, offering confidence and hope in its place -- "Yes, we can," and so forth -- it will do the nation a great a favour.

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