Pickering’s pontifications came two and a half weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named him to head a State Department “Accountability Review Board” tasked with examining the circumstances surrounding the deaths on Sept. 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, and security personnel Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
At last week’s panel discussion, Pickering piously but incorrectly invoked the Holocaust to argue that American Muslims were somehow in danger.
“I’m not great at quotations,” he said, foreshadowing a misattribution to come.
“Perhaps it was [German theologian and dissident] Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said of the Nazis, when they came for the Jews, I didn’t speak up. I was not a Jew. When they came for the Catholics, I didn’t speak up, I was not a Catholic. When they came for us, no one spoke up. There was no one left to do so,” Pickering said, paraphrasing famous, poignant verses actually spoken by Third Reich-era German pastor Martin Niemoller.
Pickering said that Americans’ lack of familiarity with Islam –and not Islamic terrorist attacks on Americans— fuels hostility toward Muslims.
“Data shows that those Americans who do not know Muslims, who do not know much about Islam, are the ones who harbor the greatest feelings of prejudice,” he said.
There is a “strong, continuing, and perhaps, in an unfortunate way in some areas, growing, prejudice against Muslims and Islam,” he said.
However, he added that veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far avoided embracing this anti-Islamic bigotry. “Many of the soldiers are still serving and I think that also is helpful because they understand that as loyal Americans that kind of prejudice is not to be expressed.”
Pickering urged what might amount to a zero-tolerance policy against so-called Islamophobes in American society. “There are strong efforts as well that we must make to deal with opinion leaders who harbor these prejudices, who espouse them and spread them,” he said.
Although the former envoy did not elaborate on what those “strong efforts” might consist of, his statement is worrisome. The Obama administration is openly hostile to the First Amendment.
After the Benghazi debacle, President Obama went before the United Nations General Assembly and apologized for America’s free speech protections. Pushing the false cover story that the attacks on U.S. missions this past Sept. 11 were prompted by an anti-Islam video virtually no one saw, the president said that “the future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Weeks before that, Department of Justice official Thomas Perez pointedly refused during a congressional hearing to rule out supporting Saudi-style anti-blasphemy laws.
Pickering wasn’t the only panelist last week to describe ordinary Americans as a threat to Muslim inhabitants of the United States.
In a particularly revealing soliloquy, Arab American Institute president James J. Zogby, whose younger brother is renowned pollster John Zogby, passionately inveighed against his fellow Americans, and particularly Tea Party supporters, labeling them dangerous racist Islamophobes:
“I think that there’s a direct correlation between the president of the United States and Islamophobia. As we do our polling, we find that it is not the universal phenomenon. This hatred toward Muslims is largely concentrated with middle class, middle age, white people, and then it overlaps almost identically with the Tea Party. It is not a Republican thing. It’s a generational thing.
And it is a phenomenon born of a simple set of conditions, collapse of home mortgages, foreclosures increasing, pensions in collapse when the stock market went down, unemployment doubling, the decline of the American dream. In our polling we always used, when we’d say, are your children going to be better off than you, that’s the American dream question, we’d get two thirds saying yes. We now get two thirds saying no.He continued: “And I think that, if, we had, I have a lot of gripes with George Bush, but if he were president, he would be doing what he did, which is put his foot down and say stop. I think we would not be seeing the phenomenon growing as we see it growing. But the problem is is that if Barack Obama says stop they say, you’re just the damn problem to begin with, you’re not one of us anyway,” Zogby said, affecting an accent that might be characterized as “redneck” or “country.”
And in the midst of all of that this group of white middle aged, middle class men looked around and saw a young African-American, educated at Harvard with a middle name Hussein, and didn’t like the president of the United States of America. It fueled this phenomenon and it opened the door for the wedge issue to operate and it’s operating simply among that demographic. It’s not a universal phenomenon. It’s not found among African-Americans or Asians or Latinos. It’s not found among young white kids. It’s not found among college educated professional women. It’s found in that one narrow demographic. That’s where the bad numbers come from.
There is “an overlay between the racism and the Islamophobia” that is “being used as a wedge issue” against President Obama, he said. Zogby also described controversial Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a Muslim and an extreme left-winger, as “a gift to America and Congress, an extraordinary person who could not be better than he is.”
It should be noted that Zogby’s views are unremarkable in leftist circles. They are within the mainstream of the Democratic Party. He is a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee. In 1984 Zogby was a senior advisor to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign.
Pickering said he agreed with Zogby’s critique. “Let me just go further,” he said. “Jim, I agree with what you say about both domestic politics and the wedge issue and the effect on the attitude towards the president. I’m deeply concerned.”
The fact that the U.S. has “fought two long, difficult, and fruitless, in my view, wars against countries which are Islamic and in which that particular set of issues contribute to stereotyping, to phobia, to basically loose talk, jokes, and all the things that go to tend to make up bigotry and in a sense authorize it because we were at war, is, in my view, part and parcel of the phenomenon that we see now,” he said.
Pickering also praised his fellow panelists American Association for Muslim Advancement executive director Daisy Khan, and her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, as “wonderful people” whose “hopes and aspirations … we all, I believe, widely share.”
Khan and Rauf are prime movers behind the proposal to build a victory mosque near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Khan becomes apoplectic when discussing those who question the wisdom of building a Muslim holy site so close to the place where nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in an Islamist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Asked in 2010 if America was “Islamophobic,” Khan replied that “It’s not even Islamophobia, it’s beyond Islamophobia — it’s hate of Muslims.”
Critics say Pickering is unfit to head any probe of what happened in Benghazi because he harbors sympathy for Islamism and is suspiciously cozy with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The former envoy has ties to the pro-Iran Islamist front group known as the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). NIAC recently lost an important defamation case in federal court in which it unsuccessfully argued the group was not a tool of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
NIAC is one of several “Jihadist entities hostile to American interests,” according to an influential report by Clare M. Lopez of the Center for Security Policy. NIAC is involved in “a de facto partnership” with its notorious Islamist ally “the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other organizations serving as mouthpieces for the mullahs’ party line.” CAIR is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and was named by the Department of Justice as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2007 and 2008 Holy Land Foundation trials.
Pickering counsels against attacking Iran, arguing war with that country “would be madness, and catastrophic for U.S. interests.” He wants the U.S. to resume diplomatic relations with Iran, which were severed in 1980 after Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. Embassy and 52 Americans.
Pickering opposes proposed legislation that would make it “illegal for any American diplomat to have any contact with an Iranian official.” He supports a plan for a multinational uranium enrichment consortium in Iran, which is thought to be developing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. has had a trade embargo in effect against oil-rich Iran since 1995. Pickering desperately wants trade sanctions relaxed.
Composing an op-ed from a parallel universe in which Iran doesn’t put homosexuals and religious dissenters to death, finance Islamofascist terrorism, or aspire to vaporize Israel, three months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pickering argued that Iran was bursting with “big opportunities” for the United States.
“Iran could become a stabilizing influence in a congenitally unstable region,” he wrote Dec. 28, 2001, in the Washington Post.
Iran “has attributes unique to the region: rudimentary but real politics based on free elections; a legitimate government; a history and culture all its own; and uncontested borders fixed by that experience, rather than imposed by other governments,” Pickering opined. “Iran has had its revolution and never come close to imploding. Support for the hard-line Islamist clerics who came to power in that revolution has dwindled. Iran is a largely moderate and pro-American society.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s cover-up of its catastrophic failures in Benghazi continues to flounder.
On Oct. 31 Catherine Herridge of Fox News reported that Stevens personally begged for adequate security for the consulate in a classified cable sent to Secretary Clinton’s office on Aug. 16. “There can be no doubt that this is really a cry for help from the people on the ground,” Herridge said, referring to the cable as “the smoking gun warning.”
“If you couple this with the fact that we were coming up with the 9/11 anniversary and if you couple this with the statements that a videotape was somehow responsible, what you see is that is completely undercut. This cable says that, ‘The militias and al-Qaeda are here, we essentially think that we are next.’ So to take this attack and to suggest for such a long period of time that it was [an anti-Islam] video when you have a classified cable and the intelligence, it just doesn’t match up,” she said.
“I can’t think of anything that would be more specific than if these [terrorist] groups had emailed the State Department and said, ‘Here’s the time, here’s the place, and here’s the method of the attack,’” she said.
“I think it’s important that the people who lost their lives have themselves honored with the facts and I think we’re starting to get the facts,” Herridge said.
With Ambassador Pickering steering the official State Department investigation, those facts seem likely to be sacrificed to political expediency.