Former President Bush Sidesteps Park51 Debate

Nov 10, 2010

George W. Bush dipped his toes into the debate over the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center this morning when he appeared on the "Today Show." In the past few months, some hoped the former President would denounce the election-season attacks on Park 51 and on Muslims in general. Pointing to Bush’s remarks immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, when he declared, "the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace," many hoped he would help halt Muslim bashing by addressing conservatives.

But at the time, Bush remained entirely silent on the matter, allowing the rancor to grow and the violence to spread.

Now, in the wake of the elections, the Park 51 controversy has calmed some, and Bush has apparently decided to offer a couple words on the matter. In his interview with Lauer, the former president succeeded in saying almost nothing while covering over facts and misplacing blame. These, of course, are rhetorical tricks he developed into an art form during his eight years in office.

Live on the show, Lauer asked the former president, "Well without saying whether they should build the community center or not are you disappointed by the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric in this country that we’ve seen recently?"

Bush prefaced his response with an a cowering explanation about why he would not say more and then offered this:

"I think most Americans welcome freedom of religion and honor religions. I truly do. And the problem with the arena today is a few loud voices can dominate the discussion and I don’t intend to be one of the voices in the discussion.

But, of course, silence is tantamount to acceptance and, even more, Bush is wrong. It’s simply not true that it’s just "a few loud voices" that created this mess. As Think Progress points out:

The Islamophobia that has dominated American political discourse over the past two years is more than just "a few loud voices." GOP members of Congress, Tea Party leaders, and conservative pundits — including those who were once top advisers to President Bush — have recently promoted anti-Muslim rhetoric and advanced the ridiculous and non-existent fear that somehow Sharia law will take over America.

In the case of that later fear, the state of Oklahoma recently passed an absurd law that bans judges in that state from upholding Sharia law. On Tuesday, a court there issued an injunction in response to a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, those loud voices, which are many more than a few, have helped fuel real violence all across the country. A Muslim cab diver was knifed in New York City, a handful of mosques have been vandalized, burned and fire bombed, and a number of others have been physically attacked because of their faith. At least five federal hate crimes investigations are under way from this past summer alone.. have been attacked because of their faith or their perceived faith. The leader of one of the county’s leading Tea Party groups called for the ouster of Rep. Keith Ellison from his congressional seat because he’s a Muslim.

And even if Bush were right that the Muslim bashing was really only coming from a few loud voices, the whole framework in which the venomous attacks are discussed misses a vital part of the story: that the Bush government implemented a set of domestic and international policies that vilified and terrorized Muslims. From torture to indefinite detention to the unprecedented denials of constitutional rights and civil liberties, special registration and mass deportations, Bush built an Islamophobic political culture from the ground up. Now, many of these policies have been continued under the current administration.

Bush’s rather sudden emergence on the talk show circuit, as he stumps around trying to sell his new book, is likely to bring with it a lot of unwelcome commentary on the state of things from a man largely responsible for much of what’s going wrong in the world. Just when Bush’s smug, resentful voice was fading from memory, it appears he’s back for more.