Friday, July 29, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

Yesterday approximately 50 people milled around in front of the Strand Theater in Rockland, Maine, parting to make way for the swells arriving for a fundraiser of the General Henry Knox Museum. Because the museum had invited Al Jazeera's Washington DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara to speak, they were being protested by around a dozen ACT! For America activists who were furious that the museum would honor such an un-American guest. Mr. Foukara hails from Morocco and previously worked for the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting system. Probably other angry Americans would see him as one of those immigrants allegedly taking our jobs, but that wasn't the agenda on display at the Strand.

Because the call had gone out to stand against racism, hate speech, and Islamophobia, about 30 of us were on hand with messages of support for free speech, tolerance, peace and love in general, and specifically for the journalists of Al Jazeera. One woman, a Quaker, carried a sign that said: “Thanks Al Jazeera for the Arab spring reports.” Although what propelled me there was alarm over the rising tide of hateful thoughts and words that might lead to horrible deeds, I decided to go with a Founding Father quote that tied in to the issue of whether democracy requires an unfettered press: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” - Thomas Jefferson. This was a crowd pleaser, especially with the bow tie crowd going in to hear the talk. Numerous museum supporters called out “thank you” to the assembled peaceniks as they passed by, and one, a young woman wearing a keffiya, said she was thrilled to see CODEPINK there, and posed for a photo with us.

The hating ranters appeared to be attracting the lion's share of press coverage at the event (so what else is new), but more interesting was that they appeared to be deliberately trying to engage the witnesses for peace in public argument. (Someone who is aggressive at many peaceful events got into a shouting match with them – but that is another story.) It was my impression that the women targeted women, and the men targeted men. Their group had a commercially produced banner with the stars and stripes logo of ACT! For America, expensive glossy color brochures, books, and numerous other handouts. I overheard a reporter from the political blog Dirigo Blue telling another reporter that a Tea Party organizer in southern Maine (Rockland is in the midcoast region) had started this particular anti-Islamic ball rolling, but I see from their literature that they give a P.O. Box in Penascola, Florida as their mailing address. The spokespeople on hand were well-rehearsed, and what I overheard of their statements to reporters and to those they tried to engage in argumentation, they stayed on message and were consistent with the key points of their literature.

I have to say that the sophistication of their messaging strategy impressed me. It is neatly summed up by a cartoon from one of their handouts that specifically targeted Al Jazeera (which I heard described several times as “a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood”). A strung out, depressed looking Uncle Sam is holding a pillar labled Western Civilization in his right hand while his left hand inserts a gun labeled Liberalism into his mouth. Guess what label is on the finger about to pull the trigger for him? (Answer below.)

Islamic jihad and political correctness are equal in threating bedrock American values, according to this group. Both are portrayed as equally dangerous; because political correctness tolerates Islam, and sees extremists as hijacking what is essentially a peaceful religion. One handout included the number of deadly terror attacks by Muslims since the fall of the World Trade Center towers (17,447 in case you were wondering). It included a quote from Rep. Mike Pence claiming that Al Jazeera in March '03 “paraded five American POW's, including one woman in front of TV” and then went on to ask, “So Why is the Knox Museum giving our sworn enemy a venue to speak?” It also claimed Al Jazeera serves as an outlet for propaganda produced by al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. This would explain why one of the group told my husband after he admitted he reads or watches Al Jazeera daily, “That just shows how sick you are.”

The organization producing the slick brochure has a photo of a possibly Black woman named Brigitte Gabriel as its face, another clever move to address possible charges of racism I suppose. A little online research turned up the author statement on Amazon: "Brigitte Gabriel (a.k.a. Nour Saman, born October 21, 1964) is the pseudonym, of a Lebanese American journalist, author, and activist." She also claims four languages, one of which is Hebrew. The folks in Rockland had signs about how all women will be slaves if we let Islam take over, so a female face works that way, too. Then, while equating “the evil scourge of Islamofascism” with Nazism and Communism (which America rose up and defeated), it invokes the statement often used by social justice workers that what is required for evil is triumph is for good men (sic) to do nothing.

Did I mention that the crowd also included several police officers in uniform, several plainclothes officers, and a sprinkling of curiousity seekers and tourists, some of whom seemed a tad too well dressed and a tad too curious to blend in well?

A woman who tried to nudge my husband off the curb into the street was visibly angry that the peaceniks had showed up at all, demanding that he move because her group had initiated the protest and felt that the sidewalk belonged to them. Luckily it was a wide sidewalk and the police were content with keeping a corridor open for pedestrians and those entering the theater.

A woman with a handmade sign claiming that your tax dollars paid for the Al Jazeera bureau chief to speak could not explain why this was, just that we could look it up online. (Me, politely: “What websites do you suggest?” Her, irritably: “I don't know, I got it from a news outlet. A reliable news outlet.”) Another woman badgered me about whether and why I was a rude person as I held my pink sign aloft behind the head of one of the Christian fundamentalists being interviewed on camera. Interestingly, though many of those present self-identified as Christian, there is not a trace of reference to that religion in the literature we brought home; this may indicate something about the money behind the organization at the national level versus where they are recruiting the boots on the ground who will take two hours on a gorgeous summer evening in Maine to picket outside a theater.

I will be interested to see how the event is portrayed in the corporatist mainstream press. More on that tomorrow.

(Answer: Islam, of course. Feel free to use this image yourself, substituting Banksters for the label on the trigger finger, and inserting Neo before Liberalism on the gun.)

No comments: