By even suggesting that Mecca could be bombed in retaliation for a terrorist attack, Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) has made the world a more dangerous place. He is not alone, of course. Ironically, the Congressman has plenty of company among those who, either because of the evil they do or the stupid things they say, have endangered us all.
Now before I am attacked for establishing a moral equivalence between terrorist bombers and unthinking macho politicos, let me be clear: I know the difference. The sick malevolence that led to 9/11 (US), 7/7 (UK), and 7/23 (Egypt) is dramatically and immediately more evil than the lies that led the US and UK into Iraq or the hate-filled incitement practiced by religious extremists of all stripes. Right thinking innocents can reject and counter the latter, while we are all potential victims of the former.
At the same time, however, it would be wrong to ignore the ways the "evil doers" and the "stupid sayers" feed off of each other. They both prey on fear and anger and contribute to exacerbating the fear and anger that exists on both sides of the ever widening divide. Both the "doers" and "sayers" operate with absolute certainty and a sense of moral superiority. And both commit their deeds and utter their threats convinced not only of their righteousness, but impervious to the damage they do.
Look at Tancredo’s comments.
During a radio interview, the Congressman was asked what the US’s response should be if our cities were targets of a terrorist attack. He replied, "Well, what if you said something like, ‘If this happens in the United States, and we determine it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their Holy Sites.’" "You’re talking about bombing Mecca," clarified the host. "Yeah," Tancredo affirmed.
I had the opportunity to debate Tancredo on CNN last week and was struck not only by his insistence that his remarks made America safer-presumably because he felt "terrorists" now knew we meant business-but also because of his inability to understand the damage that his remarks had done to our country.
He is after all, a Congressman and his words matter. When I reminded him that his words had reverberated all over the world, he seemed pleased. When I observed that the State Department had issued a strong rebuke (The State Department spokesperson said: "Such remarks…are insulting and offensive to us all. Speaking on behalf of the United States Government, let me say that we respect Islam as a religion, we respect its holy sites…"), he insulted and dismissed the State Department. And when I noted that there was no logic, no proportionality, and no moral justification for threatening to bomb the holiest city of over one billion Muslims, he rejected this as "political correctness."
Like demagogues everywhere, Tancredo is performing. He is in search of a constituency and will spare no effort to find one. He is, after all, running for President (having made more visits to New Hampshire and Iowa than any other 2008 aspirant), and like other right-wing nativist zealots before him, he is playing to an angry and fearful base that wants a "strong and decisive leader" to defend "us" against "them."
Having done enough radio talk-shows on this issue and after reviewing a few of the e-mails I received after our CNN encounter, I know that there is a small hard-core constituency out there that wants that kind of champion.
What I also know from the vast majority of the e-mails I received and from the public criticism Tancredo has received from other elected officials and the press, is that should he run for high office, he will fail, as have other demagogues before him.
Where, then, is the danger? Certainly not in the sense that anyone responsible for US policy would take Tancredo seriously. Rather it is that his words, coming as they do from a Congressman, do reverberate throughout the Arab and Muslim world and only serve to fuel fear and anger at America. Far from serving as the deterrent he intended, Tancredo’s threats will only play into the hands of extremists and encourage anti-American violence.
That is why I write. To make it clear that Tancredo’s brand of "America" is not, at all, American. His comments are the bluster of a weak and unthinking buffoon.
Ironically, Tancredo said it best a week earlier when he condemned a similar threat from a Chinese general. In response to Major General Zhu Chenghu’s threat to use nuclear weapons against the US should China be threatened, Tancredo responded, "For a senior government official to exhibit such tremendous stupidity by making such a brazen threat is hardly characteristic of a modern nation…"
"Stupid, brazen, and uncivilized." That may be the smartest thing the Congressman ever said.