We've done a fair bit of reporting now on the push, in Tennessee and other states, to essentially criminalize certain aspects of the Islamic faith. Two dozen states have now considered proposals to block judges from forcing Islamic Sharia law on God-fearing citizens, but no proposal is more extreme than Tennessee's. As originally written, the bill classified Islamic law as treasonous, and made material support for Islam (a loosely defined phrasing that could have potentially applied to charitable donations to mosques) a felony.
It's since been modified, and its supporters say it doesn't specifically target Islam. Well, except for the parts that do target Islam. Last week, the Tennessean published a few excerpts from a fascinating exchange between Aaron Nuell, a teacher in Murfreesboro, and GOP State Rep. Rick Womick, an avid supporter of the legislation. In an email to Nuell, Womick consistently refers to Muslims as "them," and openly wonders whether Muslims who opposed the legislation are genuinely opposed to terrorism. I contacted Nuell to see if he could send the full correspondence and he obliged. (Read it below the fold.)
This morning, in an attempt to end, once-and-for-all, the right-wing conspiracy that he is not eligible for office, President Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii. "The President believed the distraction over his birth certificate wasn't good for the country," the White House said in a statement.
But those distractions won't be going away anytime soon. I just got off the phone with Texas GOP State Rep. Leo Berman, sponsor of his state's birther bill, and a vocal proponent of the idea that the President was not born in this country. Berman, who has explained previously that he gets much of his news via "YouTubes," was not aware of the White House's release when I called him up, but his initial reaction more or less set the tone: "I wonder why it took them almost two years to release that? That seems kind of strange."
I sent Berman the White House's statement and a copy of the certificate, and after a few minutes he called back ready to talk. "If this is the true birth certificate, I'm very happy to finally see it," he said. But today's news didn't answer his lingering doubts; if anything, it raised even more questions. Berman was comparing the White House release with another birth certificate he said was from Mombasa, Kenya. "There are two hospitals [in Honolulu] at the time and neither hospital will claim him," Berman said. "Today, if you have a hospital where the president was born they'd probably take the room where he was born and make a shrine out of it." Plus, the Kenyan certificate just seemed more compelling: "When I look at the one from Kenya, there is a British lord who is the clerk for registering all births in Kenya at that time." He added, "The one from Mombasa even has a footprint on it. Like a human footprint."
The White House released President Obama's long-form birth certificate this morning:
The President believed the distraction over his birth certificate wasn’t good for the country. It may have been good politics and good TV, but it was bad for the American people and distracting from the many challenges we face as a country. Therefore, the President directed his counsel to review the legal authority for seeking access to the long form certificate and to request on that basis that the Hawaii State Department of Health make an exception to release a copy of his long form birth certificate. They granted that exception in part because of the tremendous volume of requests they had been getting.
Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has been known to say some pretty outlandish things from time to time. He's told constituents that "Islam is not a religion," called the President of the United States a "low-level socialist agitator," and asked supporters to "grab your muskets!" Now, he's outdone himself. Late last week, West spoke to the conservative group Women Impacting the Nation, and after West alleged that 33 percent of the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood, the discussion wandered—as discussions usually do!—to the subject of the increasing sissification of America's men. No, really, that's what West talked about. Via Tanya Somander:
We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side—these Planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness—to let them know what we are not going to have our men become subservient. That's what we need you to do. Because if you don't, then the debt will continue to grow.
That line about the debt sort of comes out of nowhere, right? Anyway, West, who has been floated as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012, went on to compare the nation's current set of crises to those faced by the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, as well as those faced by the samurai in the Tom Cruise movie, The Last Samurai. I would just note that the Spartans all died at Thermopylae. Here's the full(ish) video:
Today in Nashville lawmakers will hold hearings on SB 1028, a bill that makes it a felony in Tennessee to provide material support for terrorism. That's already a federal crime, of course, but that's hardly the point: The bill, introduced by State Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Judd Matheny, both Republicans, is the most radical of the more than two-dozen proposals nationwide to block the implementation of Islamic Shariah law on the unsuspecting citizenry. Now Ketron and Matheny are facing opposition from an unlikely source: the tea party.
According to William Coley, a member of the Knoxville Tea Party and a Muslim-American, his group will formally condemn the legislation at a press conference this morning, warning that the bill expands the powers of the police state while doing nothing to make Tennesseans any safer.
(Update: I've got a copy of the statement; it's not a condemnation, but it's hardly an endorsement either. Here's the crux of it: "While the Knoxville Tea Party truly appreciates the sincere intentions behind SB1028, we do not feel that peaceful gatherings by ourselves, our friends, or neighbors is the problem, nor do we feel that increased surveillance by the State of Tennessee and intrusion into its citizens' lives is the answer. The federal government already does far too much of that.")
Last week, Coley says, he was thrown out of Rep. Matheny's office, along with a coalition of Tennessee Muslim leaders, after a contentious exchange over the legislation. In his version of events, Coley told Matheny he and the Knoxville Tea Party would work to defeat the legislation. Matheny told him that if that happened, he'd simply introduce the bill again next year. That was too much for Coley: "I was just like, 'Look, Bro, if you're going to propose this bill again next year, this is just a waste of our time.' This guy has forgotten he's an elected official.' I got up to leave and I said, 'You don't have job security and you will not be back again next year.'" (Coley does not live in Matheny's district.)
According to Coley, Matheny was supported in the meeting by a representative of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, the local chapter of Phyllis Schlafly's right-wing organization. It was the Eagle Forum that pushed for the Tennessee legislation originally, enlisting Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi's help in drafting the bill. But Matheny's argument that he has strong grassroots backing is misleading, Coley says, because the tea party is not fully on board. "Not the way Matheny is trying to make it look. Basically, when I told Matheny that, he told me he didn't believe me. I told him 'You can believe what you want; I've got the Knoxville Tea Party on speed dial—you can call them. I didn't threaten him with bodily harm, I threatened him with removal from office."