An America Fatwa?
There were two massive stories that recently emerged: the FBI’s retrieval of top secret material from Mar-a-Lago and the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie, who has had a target on his head since Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa related to his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses. Both stories are connected. That we had an American president commit a nonstop crime spree is the second most damning political story in America. It stands behind his party leadership’s continued support of him. Over the past several days, that support has taken the form of blasting the FBI, attacking a judge, accusing the Justice Department of crimes, and often idiotic rage directed at people doing their jobs. These aren’t just soundbites. From NPR: “Since the FBI search … researchers who track extremism have sounded the alarm about an escalation of violent rhetoric from the far-right, including talk of another ‘civil war’ and threats against federal law enforcement. By Thursday, an attempted attack on an FBI field office in Cincinnati appeared to underscore the real danger behind those threats, particularly given a digital trail of ominous posts that were left under the name of the suspect.” Meanwhile, the synagogue attended by the judge who approved the Mar-a-Lago search warrant had to cancel a weekend service following an onslaught of violent antisemitic threats.
Given his track record, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump spent the weekend attacking the FBI despite ‘unprecedented’ threats to agents. But it should worry you more that his enablers got on board and, “immediately after the search, congressional Republicans, including members of leadership, reacted with fury, attacking the nation’s top law enforcement agencies. Some called to ‘defund’ or ‘destroy’ the F.B.I., and others invoked the Nazi secret police, using words like ‘gestapo’ and ‘tyrants.’” A supposedly law-and-order party’s leadership is inciting violence against America’s own legal agencies to further genuflect at the altar of a serial criminal who attempted to overthrow an American election. And these are not just words. These words can incite people to commit deadly acts, just as the words about Salman Rushdie inspired a violent act decades later.
Did Trump and his enablers issue a fatwa ordering the killing of FBI agents? No. But he’s done nothing to lower the heat or violent rhetoric among his most rabid followers. The message continues to be “stand back and stand by.” Like with the Rushdie story, there’s no gray area here. There’s a clear right and wrong. America doesn’t have a polarization problem. America has a GOP leadership radicalization problem. It’s time the media covered it that way.
When Rushdie was attacked, I was reminded of the words of his friend Chris Hitchens when the threat on Rushdie’s life was issued — words that have a much broader meaning at this moment in America’s history: I felt at once that here was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defense of free expression.
Rushdie survived the attack. Hopefully, America will.