Last week, the biggest political rally to hit these parts in a while occurred. Except for the president of the United States, I doubt that any politician of any stripe could have drawn a crowd as large as someone known as Brigitte Gabriel.
Some 650 people attended a gathering of the Central Minnesota Tea Party July 29 at Little Falls Community High School. The Tea Party usually meets in Browerville, and usually draws somewhere between 25 and 45 people to a meeting, so something happened. Word of mouth allegedly drew a crowd from as far as 150 miles away to hear Gabriel, who uses the name as a pseudonym. Some people were actually turned away once the auditorium was filled to capacity.
A group called the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota sent out a press release beforehand saying Little Falls Superintendent of Schools Stephen Jones should never have rented the space to the Tea Party, which would have been a good way to stand the First Amendment on its head.
As a result, law enforcement made a show of force and the half dozen protesters who picketed were respectful as were the Tea Partiers.
As expected, Gabriel was critical of the Islamic faith. The Morrison County Record reported Gabriel claimed her childhood home in Lebanon was bombed by Islamists, and that she spent a good share of her childhood living in an 8-foot by 10-foot bomb shelter. It’s easy to see how that would affect one’s world view.
Regardless, interesting things happened outside of Central Minnesota during the same week as her talk.
We live in a low-information society in which most people are more concerned about who should win the next “Bachelorette” or maybe the Victory League than about global politics. The average American thinks Jews and Arabs have been killing each other for the past few thousand years, so don’t expect us to care about it as long as a few thousand miles of salt water stays between us and them.
Even though 9/11 caused a momentary stye in our global glaucoma, as long as it wasn’t our son or daughter who was sent into combat by one of our misguided presidents, most Americans really aren’t that concerned.
Be that as it may, during the same week as the Gabriel visit, the U.S. announced that it is closing most of its diplomatic facilities in the Mideast. The argument was that we are concerned that al-Qaeda — the group behind 9/11 that both Obama and Bush have repeatedly declared no longer a threat — now is likely to generate another attack. If anybody should know, it is certainly the U.S. government, which has been monitoring almost every phone conversation on the planet for a while now.
President Obama’s opponents say that our hightailing it out of the Middle East is a sign of weakness. I’m not so sure about that because, hard as it is to believe, sometime our government says one thing when it means another.
If you give the situation a slightly broader perspective, it might be prudent to abandon diplomacy for the immediate future. A friend recently sent me an article by an Internet blogger named Fay Voshell, who writes frequently for the American Thinker. She outlines the historical context that led up to last week’s closings.
Among her points is that the fundamental Islamist movement has been growing ever since the Iranians took 60 Americans hostage in 1979.
It is now spilling over national borders, so that what reporters once dubbed “the Arab Spring,” is now a tinderbox ranging from Libya on the west to Pakistan on the east.
Within that area, Voshell writes, the national boundaries, that were drawn up for the most part at the end of World War I, are now being threatened more than ever.
Egypt is just one example. A year ago it elected Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as its president. The Army threw him out of office a few weeks back for being too Muslim. Since then, there have been riots in the streets.
In Iraq, where Obama declared victory two years ago and walked away, more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in assorted bombings last month.
In Yemen, it seems, the U.S. government offers more flights (albeit by drones) than any private carrier can manage.
But Voshell touches on another point as well. For several years, observers have speculated that Israel will bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Israelis, for good reason, have never let their eyes stray far from survival mode.
Meanwhile, gobal commodity prices have been mostly falling — except for oil. Since Iran is a major petroleum exporter, an attack on its nukes could disrupt oil deliveries.
Maybe all that is afoot is that the president wants to avoid “another Benghazi,” but when all the dots are connected, it doesn’t look so simple.
Back to Gabriel’s speech, if you don’t pay close attention, it’s hard to determine how credible she is or, for that matter, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The vast majority of people who practice religion — any religion — do so because it gives them hope for a better tomorrow, faith in life beyond the mortal and a way to show love to their fellow humans.
However, human nature being what it is, some people twist religion and play upon the fears inside all of us to label those who worship differently as unworthy of respect or even life. When Muslim extremists fly jets into buildings, killing thousands, or blow up your childhood home or take over a nation, you’d best be concerned.
If the Middle East blows up, some of the fallout may land here, even with an ocean between us. Double or triple the price of oil, and you may not care much anymore who the next Bachelorette is.
Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.