The religious right’s minister of propaganda, David Barton of the Texas-based group WallBuilders, is helping turn up the volume in the right’s anti-Muslim campaign. Barton’s Internet radio program this week features two shows on the controversy over a proposed Islamic community center near 9/11’s Ground Zero in New York. Expect both shows to be virulently anti-Muslim and nakedly anti-Obama.
The first segment, set for Wednesday, features guest Debra Burlingame, cofounder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, and sister of one of the airline pilots who was killed in the attack on the Twin Towers. Burlingame is clearly and understandably still angry and grief-stricken by the murder of her brother and nearly 3,000 other Americans on 9/11. Our hearts go out to her and all those who lost loved ones on 9/11. We can’t possibly feel the level of their pain even if we share their desire to honor the victims and a passion to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.
Sadly, however, Burlingame’s rhetoric — particularly in opposition to the proposed community center — is terribly misleading, needlessly divisive and sometimes even incendiary. For example, in an August 14 essay Burlingame leveled heavy fire at President Obama’s call for religious freedom and tolerance in the debate over the community center. She disingenuously portrayed the president’s remarks as suggesting that anyone who disagreed with him is a religious bigot, and she lumped the supporters of the community center together with the murderous extremists behind the 9/11 attacks.
Of course, Burlingame hardly speaks for all families of the 9/11 victims. See here, for example. Will Barton invite on to his show those family members who support the proposed community center? Don’t hold your breath.
The next day Barton’s guest is Walid Shoebat, a self-described former terrorist who orbits on the fringes of the far right and has even insisted that President Obama is “definitely a Muslim.” Watchdog groups have questioned the claim by Shoebat, who converted to Christianity in the 1990s, to have been a terrorist at one time. See here and here. Some have asked this question: if Shoebat is a former terrorist, as Barton also asserts on his website, why hasn’t he been arrested for crimes he claims to have committed? Are you awarded a “Get Out of Jail Free” card if you renounce your crimes? Or is is possible that Shoebat has simply made up key parts of his past? We don’t know the answer to those questions. Does Barton? More to the point, would it matter to him either way?
The “interviews” Barton has scheduled with Burlingame and Shoebat will further feed the current anti-Muslim campaign in this country, and you can bet they will be used to further Barton’s political campaign against President Obama. But don’t expect them to be much more than the kind of propaganda tools we have all come to expect from the former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party.