Fearmongering Smear

NOTE: On May 21st, 2012 a 3/4 page paid ad ran in the Winston-Salem Journal attacking Imam Khalid Griggs, who had been asked to serve as chaplain to Muslim students at Wake Forest University.  While we don’t want to give the attacker a bigger soapbox, we have made a JPG of the ad available HERE for those who do not receive the Winston-Salem Journal.

We have a great deal to fear in our country.

The appalling personal smear ad placed in the May 21st edition of the Winston-Salem Journal by “Alumni for a Shariah-Free Wake Forest” represents one of the true and constant threats to religious freedom in our country: fearmongering demagoguery.

I do not know Don Woodsmall, the person who placed the ad, but I do know Imam Khalid Griggs personally. He and I have met on numerous occasions. I serve a congregation that is in the same area as the Community Mosque. Our church youth group has visited the Community Mosque, and their youth have in turn visited a Moravian Church in order to better understand one another. Far from being the fanatical Jihadi extremist that Woodsmall’s diatribe portrays, I have found Imam Griggs to be a reasonable and fair man who has worked hard for justice and mutual understanding in our community. Finding the accusations of Woodsmall’s smear completely unsupported by facts or experience, I spent some time reading some of the articles on the website Woodsmall references, and a little digging there revealed the classic toolbox of the inflammatory propagandist. Tenuous connections are exaggerated, words are selectively defined, important and pertinent information ignored. A close look at the qualifications of the contributors to the website reveal lots of self-referencing; the author of the article cited by Woodsmall is credited as being a “senior fellow at the Clarion Fund,” but that is the same group that funds the web site itself; a few attempts to verify her credentials revealed a circular referencing of several incestuously-related reactionary “think tanks” which are very vague about their sources of funding.

I recognize the exact techniques used by Joseph McCarthy, by Hitler, by Mussolini, by Stalin, and by every other group of witch-hunters of the past.

 

Not knowing Don Woodsmall personally, I cannot speculate on his motives. I am sure he believes every word he said in that ad. But I do recognize in his ad and in the web site he cites the classic demagoguery of the fearmonger, I recognize the exact techniques used by Joseph McCarthy, by Hitler, by Mussolini, by Stalin, and by every other group of witch-hunters of the past. All have used a broad brush, a smattering of a few facts, and a bucket of convincing-sounding fallacies to spread misinformation and fear among the gullible, to demonize ordinary people into fearsome threats in our own back yard. These are powerful weapons, weapons of hate and fear that work to undermine the very freedoms that our country is supposed to be about.

Dr. Hatch is right to simply ignore Woodsmall’s demands for a symposium, which I suspect would be anything but “civilized and rational” given the tone and tenor of the Journal ad. Hatch would be equally right to ignore demands from an extremist alumni to hold a symposium on alien abductions.

Most Muslims in the world are not extremists. It is as wrong to paint every Muslim with the Al-Quaida brush as it is to claim all Christians are the same as Timothy McVeigh or to claim that the Lutheran church down the street is secretly recruiting neo-Nazi white supremacists.

What I fear far more than having a Muslim chaplain to appropriately serve the needs of Muslim students on the Wake Forest campus are radical Christian Dominionists who believe that they have the God-given right to impose their narrow and questionable interpretations of the Bible on everyone. Yes, it’s wrong for actual radical Muslim terrorists to advocate for violence against innocent Americans; it’s equally wrong for TV preacher John Hagee to advocate for the bombing of the Middle East and the killing of thousands of innocent people in order to bring on his version of Armageddon. The frightening thing is that the radical extremists of all persuasions have more in common with each other than they have differences. They are all willing to use fearmongering diatribes to spread hate and fear without conscience or honor to achieve their distorted goals. This is the threat from within that I fear.

We have recently celebrated Memorial Day, a holiday to honor the brave men and women of the military who gave their all in defense of the freedoms that our nation is supposed to stand for. But we must each stand up for religious freedom in our own communities, and the first way we must do that is through understanding and respect of the rights of our neighbors, no matter what religion they are – or if they have no religion. Religious liberty doesn’t mean much if you feel free to keep it only for yourself deny it to others.

Journal Response

I am hard pressed to recall any time that the Journal has run a similar ad attacking a local clergy person (of any faith) who was not running for public office.  In fact, I don’t recall a political ad that was quite as personally attacking as this one was.  The Journal did run a story reporting on the controversy about the ad: Wake Alumnus Wants School to Address Shariah Law. They also ran a few letters addressing the issue, including a letter from Don Woodsmall reiterating his accusations: 5-24-12 and 5-28-12.  The editorial above was submitted to the Journal, and editor John Railey declined to run it “because we want to move on to other issues.”  No doubt, no doubt!  I suggest that the Journal should think long and hard before accepting another such scurrilous attack on a local religious leader who, after all, is not seeking public office or any of the other posts that might make him “fair game” for a public attack in certain circumstances.

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