Combating Islamophobia: At long last, a sense of decency

AP FILE – In this March 28, 2012 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. listens during a news conference on … Continued


FILE – In this March 28, 2012 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor to defend Huma Abedin – a Muslim American who serves as an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Although a small blip in the news cycle, McCain’s speech may ultimately prove to be a turning point in the struggle to combat Islamophobia in the United States.

Witch hunts, history teaches, only cease when witch hunters go too far – and some courageous soul dares to cry “enough.”


U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) addresses the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, in this February 9, 2012, file photo.

McCain was responding to accusations from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and four other members of Congress that Abedin has connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and influences Secretary Hillary Clinton on its behalf.

“These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit,” said McCain. “And they need to stop now.”

Other voices joined in defending Abedin, including Bachmann’s former campaign manager Ed Rollins who described the charges as “wild and unsubstantiated” and called on Bachmann to apologize.

But it was John McCain – a leader of his party and a war hero – who may have finally have done to the anti-Muslim crusade of the 2000s what Joseph Welch did to the Red Scare of the 1950s.

Recall that on June 9, 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Sen. Joseph McCarthy accused a junior attorney in Welch’s law firm of communist ties. Welch, a lawyer for the U.S. Army, stood up to McCarthy, calling his tactics “reckless” and “cruel.”

Then Welch uttered the words that helped seal McCarthy’s fate in the court of public opinion: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Six months later, on Dec. 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted to condemn McCarthy for conduct unbecoming of a senator. It was the beginning of the end for McCarthy.

Welch understood then, just as McCain understands today, that America has real enemies that endanger our national security. Sixty years ago, the challenge was Soviet-style Communism; today, the challenge is a network of extremists who promote terror and violence in the name of Islam.

But Welch also understood that McCarthy’s tactics of blacklists, guilt by association and intimidation did nothing to “fight Communism,” but only served to undermine the very principles of freedom McCarthy claimed to defend.


Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff and aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, take her seat as she attends Iftar dinner hosted by President Barack Obama in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011.

Similarly, the anti-Muslim movement in America today does nothing to fight terrorism, but only serves to undermine the religious freedom of American Muslims. Anti-mosque protests, anti-Sharia laws and other efforts to demonize Muslims and Islam are the new McCarthyism.

Although Islamophobia has its critics, condemnation of the ideological bullies who attack American Muslims and Islam has been muted on the Right, especially among conservative Republicans on the Hill. But McCain’s defense of Abedin may now inspire others to speak out who have been afraid of being labeled “pro-Muslim.”

The ugly attack on Huma Abedin by five members of Congress – based on unsubstantiated allegations from an anti-Muslim group – may have been the step too far that finally exposes the anti-Muslim movement for what it is.

“Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person,” McCain said. “This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be.

“When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

A sense of decency, at long last.

Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center and director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington.

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  • Mstrdiver

    I might wish to point out that Americans don’t always have to be the first to compromise but even should we ‘take the higher road’ the Islamists themselves are not endearing themselves to us or others by their own lack of action in these matters. US Muslims have always claimed their religion is one of peace and we would certainly or should certainly welcome it into our mixed culture but after considering so many recent actions attributed to Jihadists or Muslim extremists, why are there no words of denial or protests to counter these acts from the ‘fringe’ of a so-called peaceful religion. They are for the most part being convicted by their own inaction and deafening silence.

    Instead we see CAIR (Center for American Islamic Relations) coming to the defense of dipsticks who, for whatever reason if only to have a good time pushing someone’s buttons, pull nonsense on an aircraft like in Minnesota when they imitated the actions of the World Trade Center bombers and then call foul when the aircrew or passengers react in a less than pleasant manner.

    That is not anti-religion so much as it is calling a flag on a bone-headed play. These less-than-timely actions when everyone is [and remains] in a heightened state of awareness considering the Detroit Christmas [would-be] bomber and other recent acts like Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, seemingly stress the fact that even though they claim Islam is a religion of peace, they don’t make much of an effort to support that verbal offering with any substantive actions.

    Others point to the circumstances in England, France and The Netherlands wherein Muslims are pressuring for religious freedoms and claiming intolerance by European countries but at the same time make demands that those nations make Sharia law and their Islamic court systems part of the national judicial system as a sort of extra-judicial process answerable only to them. We’ve even seen efforts along these lines that Sharia law is being pushed in communities in Mi

  • kurtmanwaring

    Perhaps some good can come from Michele Bachmann’s irresponsible, inappropriate, and dangerous remarks. Maybe this incident will go down in history as being a turning point in our efforts as a society to move beyond religious bigotry.

    I am pleased to see John McCain stand up, with other members of Congress, in decrying Bachmann’s comments. It is my understanding Huma Abedin has received death threats as a result of Bachmann’s allegations. I hope that we can all, regardless of our religious affiliations, pray that her safety can be secured.

    I commend Charles for reporting on the incident and sharing his personal insights. America is too great of a country for politicians to use dangerous misrepresentations of religoius beliefs and affiliations for personal or political gain.

  • Turtle Pond Cinema says

    Please don’t change then subject by quoting excerpts from Fox News.

  • WmarkW

    What’s wrong with Fox as one of many sources of news? During the Arab Spring, they included experts on their discussion panels predicting that democracy there would result with backward practices like persecution of Christians and turning back of women’s rights, while all the other networks were tripping over themselves praising how wonderful it was that the people were taking over.

  • WmarkW

    Calling it “decency” that an appropriate security check shouldn’t be run on a high State Department official, is a variation on what John Derbyshire has called “better dead than rude.” Our society’s rules for discussion of any issue that touches on a demographic characteristics, resembles less a robust pubic debate than those about telling a man his wife is ugly: whether true, false, or an informed opinion, talking about some things just isn’t DONE.

    Feminist organizations have become very adept at putting out false reports about how schools shortchange girls, or that women make 23% less for the same work (it’s for different work) and making it seem so UNGENTLEMANLY to call BS on them for it. Anyone who challenges that idea that race differences in homicide and unwed pregnancy rates are anything but a legacy of slavery or similar victimization, are not just mistaken, but evil and cretinous.

    It’s time to return to the traditional respect American values has accorded those willing to speak unpopular views that challenge received norms, like political correctness.

  • Mstrdiver


    Let’s address your comment concerning honor killings… Now while you point out that others perform such actions, nowhere did you comment on the legality of the killings according to US law or the attempts by larger Muslim communities to insert Sharia law into the US legal system as has been tried in several European nations as I stated before. If you will note, I have said nowhere in my discussion that somehow Christians are above the fray or better than any other group, yet you use these comments to deflect from my discussion points.

    As stated in my first post and extracted below, where are the moderate Muslim voices that do not like these actions of a fringe element? They aren’t being heard by many if they are there. — US Muslims have always claimed their religion is one of peace and we would certainly or should certainly welcome it into our mixed culture but after considering so many recent actions attributed to Jihadists or Muslim extremists, why are there no words of denial or protests to counter these acts from the ‘fringe’ of a so-called peaceful religion. They are for the most part being convicted by their own inaction and deafening silence.

    Your visceral reaction and acidic comments don’t refute any statements I have made above nor is your name calling by labeling anyone an Islamophobe furthering this discussion or clarifying any of the points I wished to discuss. That is the key point here in that I wish to have a rational discussion and what I received was hyperbole and derogatory statements as a defense. Please tell me this is NOT the extent of your argument, vitriolic comments and deflection… NEXT!

  • rednova

    What’s wrong with Fox News? Your very next statements that they bought in “experts” to talk about Arab Spring, the very anti-Muslim personalities masquerading as experts to an audience woefully ignorant of Islam, which doesn’t even know the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslim.
    And typical to the script they pigeon holed themselves in showing us yet again how biased FoxNews is against Muslims and their aspirations for freedom. Fox’s routinely brings in only pro-Israel “experts” and not any Muslim expert (you’d think with 1/5 of humanity being Muslim they’d find one). Its no wonder Faux was so hostile to the Arab Spring since it is the mouthpiece of the pro-Israel neocons because Israel was the only nation not celebrating the downfall of dictators it secretly supported included a pact between it and Saudi Arabia.
    So if you want your argument to be the least bit credible, don’t quote Faux.

  • rednova

    “Appropriate security checks?”
    Are you that Islamophobic that you’d think appropriate security checks wasn’t done ‘enough’ on Huma Abedin? That she got a free pass?

    Or that she deserves more scrutiny solely because of her Muslim faith? If so, those religious tests make you anti-American. I bet you’d also believe in a different set of rules and have a problem with the Constitution itself.

    People like you are the problem. Maybe if you’re white we need to do additional security checks on you since the largest killer/mass shooting in the US is found to be a white male James Holmes.

  • rednova

    So Islam is not a religion of peace because you state examples of Muslims who use violence or attempted to do so (Underwear bomber). IF that’s the standard what do you call America (a nation of peace or freedom) that killed over 500,000 Muslims in Iraq alone in the name of democracy and freedom?

  • WmarkW

    The fact that her religion is Islam is nothing.

    The fact that she has several close relatives with strong ties to The Muslim Brotherhood, an organization whose charter calls for infiltrating and taking over the West, is worthy of investigating.

  • Mstrdiver


    Let’s get right into it, shall we? I neither stated for or against Islam. I only quoted what has been said or written in numerous press articles and interviews concerning American Muslims and THEIR views of Islam. I will draw this out so it is clearly understood by all… that Muslims, by not making public pronouncements concerning THEIR views of Islam as peaceful religion aren’t being made some damning assumptions [for good or ill] are being drawn by non-Muslims as they are only hearing from the more radical [and vocal] elements of this religion. Non-Muslims see the violent actions of a very active and vocal few [considering that Muslims number over billion souls] without virtually any counter actions and draw a conclusion that all of Islam is this way.

    You are also using a deflection to obscure the points I’ve made above. I’ve not said that non-Muslims, whether they’re Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Taoists, etc, are better or worse. What I stated was that I’m not seeing or hearing from many moderate Muslims taking a stand and condemning the actions of these fringe groups. Since the ‘radical fringe’ is making the most noise and receiving the most press, non-Muslims will believe what they see and hear and due to the lack of concerted countering campaign by moderate Muslims, the actions of some are tarring the many.

    What you are missing here is that the actions taken by the US in Iraq or elsewhere didn’t actually start this conflagration, did it? According to some, this Muslim retribution goes all the way back to the Crusades. Now please, since you appear to speak for Islam in some fashion, address the issues I posted, concerning honor killings, Sharia law and attempts to insert them into the US or European legal systems, etc. By your deflection, it appears that you do not have a coherent response to my questions. I’m not making accusations and not claiming that the US is wrong [or right] for its past actions. I’m speaking of the here and now.