Posted on September 12, 2014 in Countdown

In Defense of Christians and Indefensible Ted Cruz

We hate to say we told you so, but we told you so. In advance of this week’s seminal “In Defense of Christians” summit, AAI’s Jim Zogby – who serves on the IDC advisory board – warned in his column that we should be concerned with “those [attending] who either want to defend only some Christians… or those whose advocacy is limited exclusively to Christians.” You can see then why we weren’t too surprised when Texas Senator Ted Cruz got booed off stage after unnecessarily inserting Israel into his keynote speech. Ted Cruz claimed that “Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state,” and didn’t stop there. He almost seemed to delight in the negative attention, saying “those who hate Israel hate America” before being booed off stage. We can spend all day talking about Cruz’s ridiculous claims – including his conflation between Israel and Jews – and the fallout from the trinity of right-wing “news outlets” (Breitbart, the Free Beacon, and Townhall) which went so far as to question the Christian faith of those in attendance, including patriarchs and religious leaders from the region. Give us a break! If these sources are going to use accusatory quotation marks, we will too. The issue of protecting persecuted religious groups in the Middle East is critical and goes beyond minority rights: it’s also about maintaining the character of the region and allowing Arab countries to flourish as pluralistic societies. That was the substance of this important conference – not headlines for 2016.

As Primaries Come to an End, Gearing up to #YallaVote

This week marked the final primaries of 2014, termed the “no-wave” election season. Voters went to the polls in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Delaware. After all, despite Congress’ dismal approval ratings, only four House members were booted in the primaries and no senators were axed. In Massachusetts, nine-term Democratic congressman John Tierney suffered a defeat against challenger Seth Moulton, raising questions of whether or not Democrats are gearing up for an identity crisis of their own. Going into November, our eyes will be on the senatorial race between Scott Brown and Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. We’re also watching a “dark horse” race in Kansas (of all places), where the Washington Post notes that “the most important person in the battle for the Senate may be a candidate who didn't have to go through a primary.” Greg Orman is an independent who isn’t pledging his allegiance to any party, potentially creating a scenario where Republicans and Democrats in Congress would have to woo him if he is elected. So yes, this has been a bumpy primary season, but at AAI, we’re gearing up for November. Check out our #YallaVote portal, where you can access state voter guides, read about issues impacting our community, and find materials and a toolkit to run a drive on National Voter Registration Day, September 23. Turnout in the 2014 primaries was down from 2010, so let’s make sure to Yalla Vote!

Who Do You Want At The Table?

President Obama gave a major address this week on his administration’s plans to combat ISIS. The mixed reactions to the speech are only the tip of the iceberg in showing how complex the situation is. Take this article that sheds light on the “tepid support” Arab countries are giving to the United States as part of a coalition against ISIS. Well, everyone except Syria, which is apparently “the government perhaps most eager to join a coalition against ISIS.” Arab countries aren’t the only “tepid” ones – Congress seems to be hiding from any accountability on Obama’s military action. According to the LA Times, “with the midterm election just weeks away, lawmakers have little to gain from putting themselves on the record with a vote.” Some lawmakers are asking the right questions about the administration’s strategy, which is necessary to make sure we approach this complex threat in the right way, and Congress will have to authorize Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, other commentators are using Obama’s speech to continue bashing the president – Islamophobe Daniel Pipes took the opportunity to claim that “Obama was born and raised a Muslim” on his website, an assertion deleted when his piece was republished in the National Review. Funny, isn’t it? What isn’t funny: President Obama is the fourth president to announce military action in Iraq. The deja-vu shows us that what we need is real debate and a fully-formed strategy for the region.

Confronting ISIS on the World Wide Web

President Obama may have made his big speech about what the United States will do to confront ISIS on-the-ground, but there’s another front we have to be aware of. ISIS is currently using modern technology like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube at an unprecedented level of sophistication. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, “they’re as sophisticated as anybody out there in how they frame and how they use modern technology.” Michael G. Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, stated recently that “ISIL disseminates timely, high-quality media content on multiple platforms, including social media, designed to secure a widespread following for the group.” In response to ISIS’ “social media strategy”, the State Department launched a media campaign with the slogan “Think Again, Turn Away” and released a series of videos that aimed to “target potential recruits, potential sympathizers, to show the brutality” of ISIS. While we are not sure this is the best way to approach this situation and have to wonder how much money is being allocated to this campaign, it is undoubtedly true that people are more interconnected than ever before and the Internet provides a new front where state and non-state actors battle for influence.

A Setback for Immigration Reform

Since the start of summer, AAI has been excited and hopeful for comprehensive immigration reform. We saw positive signs from business, religious, and political leaders that immigration reform would strengthen our country and put it on the right path going forward into 2014 and beyond. Unfortunately, election-year politicking has gutted any immediate hope for change. This past week, President Obama put on hold any executive action on immigration after Congress was unable to move forward on reform. But even though there is plenty of blame to go around - as Chuck Todd noted to the president on Sunday’s Meet The Press - the Senate is controlled by Democrats, making it difficult for many to understand why no action was taken. President Obama noted that the “politics changed” and led him to defer action, but we are hard pressed to find any way this could be seen positively. As we noted above, turnout this primary season was low, and trying to draw voters in through a political stunt that stalls on meaningful reform doesn’t make sense to us. If the “pen and phone” won’t work on immigration, what will? Maybe putting the political strategizing aside, and going back to the drawing board on bipartisan legislation that can move immigration reform forward. Okay, not likely, so please don’t let us down on executive action again.