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Friday, June 08, 2007

Zarelli conference speaker calls for "monitoring" professors and mosques

A Columbian story about the hardliner conference organized by state senator Joseph Zarelli, R-18th LD, reveals something of a Mel Gibson-meets-David Horowitz wingnutfest:
The three-day Convergence Northwest conference in Vancouver wrapped up Thursday with passionate speeches, a graphic video of the aftermath of a Jerusalem suicide bombing, and advice from Israelis to Americans on how to fight Islamic terrorism.


Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese-American woman who founded the American Congress for Truth to educate Americans about the threat of radical Islam, suggested that citizens monitor the lectures of university professors and report the names of mosque owners to the FBI.
There's your David Horowitz influence right there. This is nothing but a transparent attempt to encourage tactics of intimidation. Zarelli organized this conference, so he bears some responsibility for this irresponsible call for harassment of professors and Muslims. I mean, come on. If someone has any inkling that someone is calling for or planning violent attacks, then they should by all means contact the authorities. How would someone "report" the existence of a Mosque to the FBI in any event? Last time I checked the Constitution protects freedom of religion. Obviously Gabriel is a few quarts short of full in the crankcase.

The Columbian article, which seems very balanced, after quoting some differing views on the conference from community members and peace activists, had this response from Zarelli:
Zarelli told The Columbian on Wednesday that the conference was open to the public, including Muslims, but that he did not consider inviting Muslims to make presentations.

"It's not my purpose or goal to understand why somebody wants to kill Americans," he said. "I'm not aware of a whole lot of folks who stand up in the Muslim community and are willing to participate."
Imagine that. Muslims may not have felt welcome!

"Hey, come on down to this conference where we are calling all people of your religion the worst sorts of names, and let's hear your side of it!" Crikey, as they say down under.

Zarelli said he doesn't believe all Muslims are terrorists but he does see the Middle East conflict as a "battle of theology."

"Politically, people don't want to talk about it, to equate a whole religion to violence," he said. "But the fact of the matter is, some who practice in an extreme nature are believers in that particular faith."

Thursday afternoon, Gil Kleiman, a veteran Israeli police investigator who has investigated 48 Palestinian suicide bombings, presented what he called "a course in terrorism 101." He showed a gruesome police video of the aftermath of the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus in January 2004 and another of a 14-year-old would-be suicide bomber who was apprehended by police with explosives strapped to his belly.
And there's your Mel Gibson-type fascination with physical destruction and gore.

Notice how Zarelli felt compelled to temper his language, making his statement confusing, to say the least. Either the whole religion is violent and worthy of being attacked, in the view of the Likud-GOP convergence, or only "some" are truly violent.

But it's not that difficult to understand what they really mean. They're the good guys, all Muslims are the bad guys and you should "monitor" and report people who don't agree to the FBI. Gabriel's comments are especially inflammatory.

It would be most unfortunate if Zarelli or his supporters start trying to mess with professors at WSU-Vancouver or Clark College, or to start harassing peaceful worshipers of any faith. I think Zarelli would quickly find that Clark County is more diverse and willing to defend the Constitution than he realizes, and we would do so peacefully and lawfully.

In a strange way, Zarelli did progressives a favor by holding such a bizarre, extremist event. He confirmed publicly what many of us already knew to be true -- that for the fundamentalist fringe of the GOP, their theology is the only framework that can be used to view foreign policy. Unfortunately, that framework couldn't make a woman with a liquified brain get up and walk, and it holds little hope of creating progress towards peace in the Middle East. It's an extremist ideology that is rejected by most Americans, who tend to be more reality-based and practical.

It will be interesting to see if this little foray into international affairs causes Zarelli any problems in the state Senate. He's ranking member of ways and means, so it's not a truly idle question. Conservatives were quick to pounce when Sen. Eric Oemig, D-45th LD, proposed an impeachment resolution. Obviously Zarelli's conference was after the session was over, and he is free to pursue his passions using private if unrevealed dollars, but it's pretty embarrassing to have this guy as one's state senator, as I do.

Democrats face an uphill battle in the 18th LD, but it, too, is changing, as people move here and the country as a whole becomes more and more disillusioned with Republican fantasies. If there were ever going to be a year where a Democrat could challenge Zarelli, 2008 could be it.

It's an obvious question to ask whether Zarelli is contemplating another run against Democratic Congressman Brian Baird (WA-03,) to which I must answer that I have no idea. Zarelli ran against Baird in 2002 and lost, so it's hard to see what has changed in Zarelli's favor. After the 2006 election in which Baird handily trounced Republican Michael Messmore, most folks figured Messmore would try again in 2008. But that's a GOP problem.

I'll be sure to "monitor" Zarelli's actions, although I won't be calling the FBI about it.

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