Good morning Austin:
Today is Chris Kyle Day in Texas. That, above, is Chris Kyle’s gravesite late yesterday afternoon, just before the gates of the Texas State Cemetery in Austin closed for the day. It was very bright with a stiff breeze. The flags flapped and rippled.. You can hear a light clanging in the background that sounds like a harbor bell but I think is that of flag fluttering against its flagpole.
Kyle’s gravesite is a work in progress with no headstone yet. Right now it sill looks more like an impromptu roadside memorial.
He is buried next to Borah Van Dormolen, an important figure in Texas Republican Party politics, who also died in 2013. Van Dormolen enlisted in the U.S. Army and rose through the ranks retiring after 23 years with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Nearby are Darrell Royal and Wally Pryor, the voice of the University of Texas Longhorns.
Greg Abbott has declared today Chris Kyle Day. He will sign the official proclamation at noon in his office. The flag at the state cemetery will fly at half mast. It is and was a brilliant gesture. From what I know, Chris Kyle is the quintessential Texas hero. “American Sniper,” the movie about his life, has quickly become the top-grossing war film in history. Kyle and “American Sniper” have also become a proxy for much deeper feelings about America and its place in the world.
When Abbott announced his declaration of Chris Kyle Day at the Texas VFW Convention in Austin on Friday, a female veteran from Corpus Christi, who had just walked into the hall, approached me to ask whether the holiday would be just for this year or in perpetuity. I said I wasn’t sure but I assumed it was just for this year. She was displeased. After all, she said, we have a holiday every year for Martin Luther King Jr.
A day earlier there was an alarming scene outside the Capitol, with a small group of protesters disrupting Texas Muslim Capitol Day. The juxtaposition of that fiasco and Chris Kyle Day were just happenstance. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing, really. But, of course, everything
I wasn’t at Muslim Texas Capitol Day Thursday. I was a couple of blocks away at a meeting of the Texas Historical Commission, at which they unanimously approved a historical marker for the 1910 Slocum Massacre, a rampage of white-on-black violence in rural East Texas, that had, in the intervening century, been mostly lost to public memory.
Patrick Beach and Sean Collins Walsh offered a vivid account of what happened Thursday in the Statesman:
What was supposed to be a rally at the Texas Capitol on Thursday promoting tolerance and inclusion for Muslims and their supporters was largely derailed by sustained screams from protesters loudly advocating for something quite apart from peace and love.
Texas Muslim Capitol Day was organized by Texas chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose members intended to raise awareness on issues, advocate on a number of bills and celebrate their right as Americans — and in one speaker’s case an eighth-generation Texan — to be part of the political process.
But not one of the 10 or so speakers at the hourlong event managed to finish a sentence without being heckled by a group of maybe two dozen that fanned out about 20 paces from the south steps of the statehouse. A patriotic song by the Houston Koran Academy didn’t even silence the screaming.
CAIR-TX spokeswoman Ruth Nasrullah had barely begun the program when a woman briefly commandeered the podium and attempted to claim the Capitol in the name of Jesus Christ. The woman, a native Michigander who now goes “wherever the Lord calls,” later said she was seized by “righteous anger” and felt she’d accomplished what she attempted to do Thursday morning.
Lauren McGaughy was there for the Houston Chronicle and posted something quite beautiful about it on Facebook:
I haven’t been in this business that long, but I’ve seen some pretty horrible things. I saw a man in his 70s, withered from cancer and years in solitary, get reindicted just days after being released from prison. I saw people writhing on the ground, gunshot victims of the insane, unbelievably selfish Mothers Day second Line shooters. I’ve seen people spew homophobic diatribes at couples wanting to seal their love with a union recognized by the state they know as home.
But yesterday was just the second time I cried on the job. It wasn’t because of what Molly White wrote on Facebook and it wasn’t even because of what the protestors yelled at the Muslims who had gathered on the steps of the Capitol to pray and sing the national anthem. The tears came when I was watching this little Muslim girl in the crowd. Sporting a headscarf and pink satchel in hand, she stood listening to the speakers tell her it was OK to be Muslim in America, that it was just enough the protestors right to be there as hers. Then I looked down. Over her thin white stockings she wore little silver shoes with bows.
Seeing those little girl shoes, standing there, bracing her body as she faced away from the hatred and vitriol spewed by that group, wondering where else those little girl shoes have taken her, what other hardships she’s faced by virtue of that thin piece of fabric on her head and others hatred, that’s what got me.
The most amazing thing – me? Couldn’t hold it together. That little girl? All dry eyed. What strength.
Apologies for the long post. Just needed to get that thought out of my head and down on “paper.”
Overlaid on this was what freshman Republican Rep. Molly White posted on her Facebook page.
To judge by the reaction of White and the protesters outside the Capitol, one might have thought that Thursday was Texas Muslim Capitol Open Carry Day, and not an earnest, innocent expression of Muslim-American patriotism and civic engagement.
But for going on 14 years, since Sept. 11, 2001, America has been at war on one battlefield or another with radical Islam, and the biggest movie in America right now is a film in which the opening sequence poses the sniper’s ultimate moral dilemma as really no dilemma at all. Kyle has what appears to be a Muslim mother and child in his scope. He sees the woman passing the child a grenade. He has to decide whether to shoot them. His comrade warns, “they’ll fry you if you’re wrong.” But for the viewer, the choice seems unambiguous. Any red-blooded American, myself included, is rooting for Kyle to pull the trigger and kill them, mother and child. He is saving American lives.
Here from a June profile of Kyle in the New Yorker, In the Crosshairs, by Nicholas Schmidle.
Kyle seemed to consider himself a cross between a lawman and an executioner. His platoon had spray-painted the image of the Punisher—a Marvel Comics character who wages “a one-man war upon crime”—on their flak jackets and helmets. Kyle made a point of ignoring the military dress code, cutting the sleeves off shirts and wearing baseball caps instead of a helmet. (“Ninety per cent of being cool is looking cool,” he wrote.) Like many soldiers, Kyle was deeply religious and saw the Iraq War through that prism. He tattooed one of his arms with a red crusader’s cross, wanting “everyone to know I was a Christian.” When he learned that insurgents had placed a bounty on his head and had named him al-Shaitan Ramadi—the Devil of Ramadi—he felt “proud.” He “hated the damn savages” he was fighting. In his book, he recounts telling an Army colonel, “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”
And this from Toby Harnden, Washington editor of the London Times
Many soldiers are haunted by the lives they have taken. Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American history, was not one of them. Three years ago I interviewed the tobacco-chewing former cowboy about his tally of 160 confirmed kills in Iraq — he estimated the true number was 255 — and asked whether he regretted any one of them.
“No, sir, not at all,” he replied, in his characteristic soft Texas drawl. He then chuckled. “To be honest with you, I wish I’d killed more because every kill saved American lives and that was what I was out there for.”
A US Navy SEAL who served four tours in Iraq, was wounded twice and earned two Silver Stars for gallantry, he was the son of a church deacon and had grown up hunting deer, turkey and quail. He was a committed Republican who espoused the American heartland values of “God, country and family”. He was as far from the attitudes of the urban sophisticates of New York and Los Angeles as it was possible to be. As one writer dubbed him, he was “a true American badass”.
Kyle was delighted by the runaway success of his book, which had triggered a “huge fascination” with the art of delivering death through a telescopic sight.
“It’s been taboo for so long, I’m glad that people are actually looking at it with an interest and saying these guys are actually something we need,” he told me. “Before, it was looking back to Vietnam and everybody was looking at it as if it was black ops and it wasn’t a fair fight.”
Less than a year after we spoke, Kyle was killed on a remote Texas shooting range by a mentally disturbed veteran he was helping. He was shot in the back at close quarters. Kyle would doubtless have been delighted by the success of American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, whose role in Dirty Harry established him as the ultimate Hollywood tough guy, a forerunner of Kyle himself. He might also have been gratified by the way it exposed the divide he had spoken of to me, between those who believe he is a hero and those who view him as a serial killer.
The sense of menace from jihadists has metastasized with the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings, and, most recently, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
How to react? What to do?
Here from something Shadi Hamid, a fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, wrote recently in the Atlantic:
The impressive and inspiring show of solidarity at France’s unity march on January 11—which brought together millions of people and more than 40 world leaders—was not necessarily a sign of good things to come. “We are all one” was indeed a powerful message, but what did it really mean, underneath the noble sentiment and the liberal faith that all people are essentially good and want the same things, regardless of religion or culture? Even if the scope is limited to Western liberals, the aftermath of the assaults in Paris on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket has revealed a striking lack of consensus on a whole host of issues, including the limits of free speech, the treatment of religions versus racial groups, and the centrality of secularism to the liberal idea. Turns out, we are not all one.
French schoolteachers were reportedly dumbfounded that (some) Muslim students refused to stand up for a moment of silence after the attacks. But this is where confusion seeps into the debate. Within France, there is not a cultural divide on the attack that left 12 dead at the offices of a satirical magazine. To even suspect that a significant number of French Muslims might support the slaughter of innocents is troubling. But beyond the killings themselves, there is, in fact, a cultural divide—one that shines light on some of the most problematic aspects of how we in the West talk about Islam, values, and violence.
For instance, French Muslims are more likely than non-Muslims to view blasphemy as unacceptable. They are more likely to think that attacks on the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran should be criminalized as hate speech and incitement, much like denial of the Holocaust is. It is problematic, then, to view condemning the Paris killings and affirming the right to blaspheme as two sides of the same coin. For many Muslims, they aren’t. To treat them as a package deal is not only odd—after all,
After the attacks of September 11, author Christopher Hitchens, essayist and critic Paul Berman, and others framed the war against terrorism as an existential struggle. They were enlisting readers in a fight about something bigger—a fight over ideals and ideas. This wasn’t just about terrorism. It was about reasserting faith in Western liberalism in order to defend it against Islamist totalitarianism, which, itself, drew inspiration from European totalitarianism. The prose was romantic too, befitting a new ideological struggle that would be waged on an epic scale. In reading the great political theorist Michael Walzer’s recent meditation on Islamism and the Left in the age of ISIS, I was reminded of Berman’s 2003 book Terror and Liberalism. I remember its stark, white cover. Even the title suggested a certain clarity. Walzer’s essay is a continuation of this sort of polemic, ending appropriately with a call to arms. “My friends and neighbors are not ready to enlist; many of them won’t acknowledge the dangers posed by Islamist zealotry,” he writes. “But there are dangers and the secular left needs defenders. So here I am, a writer, not a fighter, and the most helpful thing I can do is to join the ideological wars.
It is worth believing that, in times of tragedy, people come together; they rethink their biases and assumptions; they reach out to the weak and disenchanted; they embody grace; they try to take steps to avoid other tragedies, at least the ones they might have some control over. But, when it comes to fallout from the Middle East, tragedies are rarely teachable moments. They are just as likely to bring out the worst in us as the best.
With every act of terror, Western powers and their populations are tested. The temptation to react, and overreact, grows. I am not optimistic that we will calibrate the right responses, or even that we can. But, at the very least, we will have to try.
Well, based on the unprovoked hostility on display at the Capitol Thursday, we will have to try harder.
When I called Robert McCaw, government affairs manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose Texas chapters had sponsored Texas Muslim Capitol Day, he said that, all in all, he counted it as a very successful event. In his view, a few protesters and and a single lawmaker had brought discredit to themselves and provoked a deluge of sympathetic support for CAIR and the Muslims who had come to the Capitol Thursday.
(When I called CAIR’s Washington office to try to reach McCaw, the voicemail menu included “Press 5 for Islamophobia.”)
But, as the tweet above from the enormously influential Erik Erickson indicates, Molly White’s national debut will enhance her standing on the right – where mainstream opprobrium is the coin of the realm. I already envision her as the star of the first tea party musical – The Unthinkable Molly White – in which an irrepressibly politically incorrect Texan offends polite sensibilities while winning the hearts of the people and and unlikely role as national power broker.
Just consider the example of U.S. Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican, whose pronouncements on immigration make our own Rep. Louie Gohmert sound like Adlai Stevenson, and who recently hosted the Republican “Freedom Summit,” where Republican presidential wannabes, right up to and including Chris Christie, lined up to pay their respects.
Here, a critical account from veteran political writer Dick Polman:
In Iowa, at a so-called “Freedom Summit,” a cavalcade of prospective presidential candidates competed to kiss the ring of Republican congressman Steve King, the anti-immigrant extremist best known (among all his remarks) for characterizing young immigrants as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes.” Meanwhile, at an invitation-only confab in Palm Springs, a few more prospective candidates competed to kiss the rings of the Koch brothers. And meanwhile, down in Louisiana, prospective candidate Bobby Jindal prayed for America at a confab sponsored by the American Family Association, a right-wing group that seeks to spread The Word that gays are “in the clasp of Satan” and “should be disqualified from public office.”
So much pandermania packed into one weekend, it’s hard to know where to look first…
OK, Iowa. The very fact that Republican hopefuls actually pay obeisance to Steve King, of all people, is proof positive that the GOP hostage, more than ever, to its primitive wing. Last week alone, King took aim at one of Michelle Obama’s State of the Union guests, calling her a “deportable,” but no matter. Iowa goes first during the primary season, the caucus electorate is dominated by out-of-the-mainstream conservatives and evangelicals, and apparently those are sufficient reasons to pander. Even though Iowa’s last two winners – Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum – flamed out on the campaign trail.
So what we saw, in Iowa, was the usual red meat on high flame – with various candidates attacking Chris Christie for physically touching Barack Obama after Sandy hit Jersey; with Donald Trump and his hair assailing the immigrants (“Half of them are criminals!”), with Jeb Bush’s potential rivals attacking Jeb Bush in absentia (because he supports national education standards), with Sarah Palin conducting yet another master class in free-associative incoherence. Plus, the hopefuls – including Christie, Santorum, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee – had to sit for a video and answer six queries, including: “Does erotic liberty trump religious liberty?” and “”What will you do about the impending Supreme Court marriage case if it goes against state constitutions?” (The sane answer to the latter question is, “Obey the law,” but, in the Iowa caucuses, that would probably land you in last place.)
Ted Cruz won the weekend prize for Most Energy, because he managed to indulge Steve King and fly to California for the Koch brothers.
As for Jindal, here, from the Atlantic, is Peter Beinart on what he calls, The Sophisticated Bigotry of Bobby Jindal.
If Bobby Jindal runs for president, he will likely campaign on two major themes. The first, which he outlined last February at the Reagan Library and last May at Liberty University, is that Christians are at war with a liberal elite that is trampling religious liberty and secularizing American culture. The second, which he laid out this month at London’s Henry Jackson Society, is that “non-assimilationist Muslims” are endangering America and Europe.
Unfortunately for Jindal, these two arguments contradict each other.
So let’s imagine a scenario. A devout Christian emigrates from Nigeria to a progressive American college town, where she takes up work as a pharmacist. She quickly finds herself at odds with the dominant culture around her. Co-workers mock her modest dress and her insistence on interrupting work to pray. When she calls homosexuality a sin, they denounce her as a bigot. Ultimately, her employer fires her for refusing to dispense contraception.
Based on his speeches at Liberty University and the Reagan Library, Jindal’s advice to this woman would be clear: Wage “silent war” against the culture that oppresses you, even if you’re a minority of one. If necessary, “establish a separate culture within” the dominant one so you can raise children who fear and obey God.
Now imagine that our devout Nigerian is a Muslim. Suddenly her resistance to the dominant culture makes her not a hero but a menace.
In 2012, Herman Cain distinguished himself as the leading Islamophobe in the Republican presidential field. Jindal is now well-positioned to fill that role. The only difference is that Cain spoke like a pizza executive while Jindal speaks like a Rhodes Scholar. But strip away the fake sophistication and it’s bigotry just the same.
Two years ago, Jindal wrote a piece in Politico under the headline, The End of Race.
My parents immigrated to the United States from India a few years after Dr. King was assassinated. They came looking for an equal opportunity, and they got it, in the Deep South, in Baton Rouge, La. My parents wanted only to be judged based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
In 2003, I decided to run for governor of Louisiana, a state where David Duke got 44 percent of the statewide vote in 1990. The pundits said I was insane to even try. Friends worried about my mental stability and begged me not to run. I narrowly lost that first race, but I’ve won every race since then. I wish I had a nickel for every time East Coast political journalists have asked me about discrimination, and I wish I had a dime for every Louisiana voter who has broken those journalists’ ugly stereotypes.
Here’s what I’ve found in Louisiana: The voters want to know what you believe, what you stand for, and what you plan to do, not what shade your skin is. And I think that’s true of the country as a whole: America’s younger generation pays less attention to skin color than the generations that preceded them. (By the way, I noticed recently that the president of the United States, a man with whom I disagree with on almost everything, seems to have darker skin than most Americans. He hasn’t had a problem getting elected.)
This all became consequential because Scalise is now the House majority whip.
I covered Steve Scalise in Washington and can tell you, he is no David Duke.
As Rep. Cedric Richmond, the black Democrat who represents New Orleans and has been friends with Scalise since the both served in Baton Rouge told The Times-Picayune, “Steve and I have worked on issues that benefit poor people, black people, white people, Jewish people. I know his character.”
“I don’t think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body,” Richmond said.
On the other hand, when I met David Duke some years ago at a white nationalist gathering I was covering outside D.C., he informed me, by way of introduction, that he could tell I was Jewish. I can tell you the man’s Jewdar is in good working order, but, based on my profile, I’m not sure what a brilliant deduction this was.
In any case, I don’t think Duke would have been capable of a friendship with Richmond, and Scalise has survived his brush with Duke.
But now, this first reported by Buzzfeeed:
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke says he might run for office against Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Scalise faced questions earlier this month about a 2003 appearance he made as a state representative before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) — a white supremacist group founded by Duke.
Scalise called the appearance “a mistake I regret” and condemned the sort of views groups like EURO hold.
Now Duke, who initially was supportive of Scalise, calling him a “nice guy” to the Washington Post, says he is a “sellout” for apologizing for speaking to the group over a decade ago.
“Steve Scalise, let me tell you something, this is the way I view it now: I mean this guy is a sellout. I mean he’s a sellout. He’s not David. He used to say that he was David Duke of course without the baggage, whatever that means,” Duke told Louisiana radio host Jim Engster of the Jim Engster Show Wednesday.
“The New York Times admitted that the Republican Party won office and got control of the United States House of Representatives, essentially on my political issues. Opposed to the massive illegal immigration, the issues of welfare reform, so many other issues that I’ve talked about, and but the difference is with someone like me Steve Scalise, or David Vitter, you know the prostitution king. The difference between myself and those guys is that I did not sellout. I’ve never sold out…”
In Scalise, Duke seems to be saying, he has discovered what to him is a new, particularly contemptible species of RINO – Racist In Name Only.