Dogwhistle While You Work
As people continue to assert that this current brouhaha over the alleged mosque is about religion or even about terrorism, I think it's probably a good idea to talk to American Muslims about how they have, up to now, experienced American life. The Washington Post talked to some students:
"We've all been talking about it," said Farah Mohamed, 19, a sophomore who grew up in Massachusetts, adding that the conversations have permeated every layer of their world -- from class discussions to Facebook status updates.
She and many of her peers have never felt like outsiders, not even in the tense days after the Sept 11 attacks. With their scoopneck shirts and skinny jeans, they are part of the patchwork of ethnicities and religions woven through most U.S. campuses. For them, any suggestion that being Muslim is incompatible with being American is disturbing.
They weren't outsiders. The only time anybody ever looked at a Muslim (or arab looking person) askance was on airplanes. I live in Los Angeles and there are millions of Muslims here and they have been mingling and working and living like any other American since the day of the terrorist attacks. Aside from some brief apprehension in the very early days when the authorities were looking closely at Muslim organizations, things have been remarkably and quite inspirationally normal here in the US especially since we have been involved in two wars with Muslim countries during that time.
So, tell me, what the hell has happened recently that made everyone suspicious of Muslims all of a sudden? We haven't been attacked. There has been no public debate.
The only thing that's happened is that we elected a black president to whom his political enemies conveniently attached the Muslim label. And thus they have extended the hatred for him to hatred of Muslims in general. It's not that these people hate American Muslims. It's that they hate Barack Obama and everything he stands for. The conservative leadership has, as usual, very deftly tickled the racist lizard brain of their constituency once again.
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
I think Atwater was being too optimistic. They can always find a new dogwhistle. And no matter how abstract (or absurd) it will work on a certain number of people. The question is how many.