Republican congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo of Colorado once again floated the centerpiece of his foreign policy platform, this time before a gathering of Iowa voters:
“If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.”
(He was a bit more specific during a 2005 radio interview when he indicated he would drop a nuclear bomb on Mecca in retaliation).
Assuming any attack on the United States will either be attributed to or claimed by al-Qaeda, what deterrent would knowing that Mecca or Medina would subsequently be hit provide?
Tancredo’s reiteration of his penchant for destroying Islam’s two most holy cities is not only a woefully ignorant strategic decision, it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam, Muslims and al-Qaeda that is as dangerous as the plan itself.
First, Tancredo and those who share his view erroneously believe that al-Qaeda holds these cities in the same high esteem as the rest of Muslims do. They might be surprised to learn, for example, that the ultra-puritanical Wahabi sect to which al-Qaeda belongs actually finds the Prophet Muhammad’s grave in Medina, attracting millions of Muslim pilgrims worldwide, an affront. This because they regard visiting the graves of holy personages akin to idolatry and polytheism. Incredibly, Wahabis attempted to destroy the Prophet’s grave themselves as recently as the early part of the 20th century.
But Tancredo can be excused for not understanding the subtleties of religion. What cannot be excused, however, is not recognizing that one billion Muslims do find the mosques, graves and other holy sites in Mecca and Medina to be of the utmost sanctity.
The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims do not subscribe to and repudiate the ideology which al-Qaeda and the Taliban espouse. To simply equate one billion Muslims with them, then advocate the destruction of Mecca and Medina as some form of perverse collective punishment, is indefensible. Indeed, such wanton ignorance smacks of an underlying, deep-seated prejudice against Islam and Muslims.
But being an Islamophobe is trendy these days and brandishing one’s credentials becomes paramount when running for president. It was Rudy Giuliani after all who chided the Democratic candidates for being “politically correct” in not using the pejorative term “Islamic terrorist” in their debate (what debate was he listening to?).
To the State Department’s credit, deputy spokesperson Tom Casey said it was “absolutely outrageous and reprehensible for anyone to suggest attacks on holy sites, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or those of any other religion.” Reaction among other Republican candidates ranged from Mike Huckabee’s characterization of Tancredo’s plan as “appalling” to Duncan Hunter’s tepid “I wouldn’t follow that.”
Regardless, Tancredo’s remarks are indicative of the level to which political discourse in the United States has sunk. Such discussions have moved from the realm of conservative talk radio to the debate stage, where Islamophobia apparently has no limits.
Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other radical Wahabi/Salafi groups would like nothing more than for the United States to just say an attack on Mecca or Medina is an option. They know this would enrage and mobilize the world’s Muslims who otherwise find their beliefs and actions detestable.
The potential negative consequences of this reckless threat – not coming from the insignificant Congressman Tom Tancredo but rather in his capacity as presidential candidate Tom Tancredo – are unknown, yet of grave concern.
The Republican National Committee should demand he either retract his statement or revoke his membership from the party. Even better would be to request he withdraw his name as a candidate for the United States presidency.
Hate mongering need no longer have a place in American politics.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.