Mitt Romney has attacked Al Sharpton's remark about his being defeated by those who 'really do believe in God' as a piece of religious bigotry.
But first of all the remark came in the context of Sharpton's debate with Christopher Hitchens concerning belief in God, and Sharpton maintains that he was just saying that it wasn't the Hitchens types who would defeat Romney, but the believers. So it isn't clear that Sharpton intended to say that Mormons don't really believe in God.
But Romney is maybe not the most credible person when it comes to decrying religious bigotry. He is himself guilty of conflating Muslim movements in a way that does injustice to them. Last week during the debate, he said:
' "We'll move everything to get him [Bin Laden]. But I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shi'a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate. They also probably want to bring down the United States of America. This is a global effort we're going to have to lead to overcome this jihadist effort. It's more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he will die." '
What does he mean, "this is about Sunni and Shia?" Is he saying that all Muslims of both major branches are his targets, and that he associates them with al-Qaeda?
The inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in this list of jihadi groups willing to use violence does a grave injustice to the many members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who eschewed violence to participate in civil politics. The Muslim Brotherhood has 88 seats in the Egyptian parliament, and Egypt is a non-NATO ally of the United States. Did Romney just declare war on them? Isn't this lumping together of disparate Muslim parties a form of Islamophobia, i.e. religious bigotry?
By the way, Tariq al-Hashimi, the Vice President of Iraq who met with US VP Dick Cheney on Wednesday, is a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, founded at Mosul in 1938. Paul Bremer appointed an IIP leader to his Interim Governing Council, so the party has for long been a cornerstone of what policy toward the Iraqi religious Sunnis the Bush administration has had. Is Mitt Romney at war with al-Hashimi?
(For more about the Muslim Brotherhood, see this article from Foreign Affairs.)
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As for the Lebanese Hizbullah, as a Shiite group it just isn't like the others Romney named, and it is a deadly enemy of al-Qaeda. It has seats in the Lebanese parliament and until recently had a couple cabinet ministries in the government, and is among the most reliably nationalist of the Lebanese political parties. Although it has tangled repeatedly with its neighbor, Israel (which has invaded Lebanon three times since 1978 and occupied Lebanese territory for nearly two decades), it hasn't been involved in international terrorism for a good decade. As Shiites, the members of Hizbullah do not believe in a caliphate, unlike some sectarian Sunnis. Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah 'has condemned al-Qaeda for terrorist actions that target “innocents,” and he has disassociated himself from the extreme Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban.'
Hamas likewise has local aspirations and is not part of a world-wide jihadist conspiracy to create a caliphate and destroy the United States. Its leaders have repeatedly said that they do not and will not attack US targets. If anyone has faced high-level political conspiracies and is being destroyed, it is the Palestinian people.
Will Romney apologize for "it is about Sunni and Shia," or for his grouping of the Muslim Brotherhood with al-Qaeda, or for his allegation that Shiite Hizbullah wants a caliphate?
How are these gross and inaccurate generalizations about Muslims groups different from those of Sharpton about Mormons?
Is Romney, who is so concerned about religious bigotry, willing to condemn the phrase "Islamofascism," which libels Islam by linking it to a set of European authoritarian parties?
Will he stand against groups that attempt to deny American Muslims their first amendment right to worship?
(Romney's statement was discussed extensively in the blogosphere last week, by Spencer Ackerman, by Kevin Drum, by Daniel Larison, by The Plank, and at Reasons and Opinions — no doubt elsewhere as well, but this is what came up at the top of a google search.)
Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that US Vice President Dick Cheney was greeted, on his surprise visit to Baghdad, by a rain of mortar shells on the Green Zone and by protests in several cities organized by Puritan Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. One could have added the bombing in Irbil, the seat of close US ally Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan leader.
Aljazeera is alleging that high on Cheney's agenda is getting the new petroleum bill passed through parliament. That legislation is certainly one of the four benchmarks the Bush administration has pushed on the al-Maliki government, and given Cheney's background as CEO of Halliburton, it is plausible that the oil bill looms large in his visit. It is probably behind his scolding of Iraqi parliamentarians for even considering a two-month hiatus this summer.
Cheney arrived a day after a majority of Iraqi parlimentarians signed a petition in favor of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Actually, last fall 131 signed a similar petition. By the rules of the Iraqi parliament, such petitions have no force. The sense of those deputies was communicated to a committe, which promised to report out the resolution to the entire parliament, which it apparently never did. So, Tuesday's move shows a 10% rise in commitment to the principle of withdrawal over 6 months ago, but may be no more consequential. A petition is not a vote, and is a sign of how powerless the parlimentarians feel.
Reuters reports political violence in Iraq on Wednesday, including the killing of one US soldier and wounding of 3 others by a roadside bomb in Diyala. There were several bombings in Baghdad. Two more members of the Yazidi religion were killed at Mosul.
Police found 21 bodies in Baghdad on Wednesday, and 8 in Diyala Province.
Juan Cole blogs at Informed Comment
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