Brux column: The economics of religion and politics
This opinion column will address the economics of current policy issues. Writer Dr. Jackie Brux is an emeritus professor of economics and founder/director of the Center for International Development at UW-River Falls; and author of the college textbook, “Economic Issues and Policy.”
Our neighbor, newly-elected Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar has created quite a stir. She is passionate, out-spoken, young and wears a hijab. She is also controversial. I will state up front that I am excited about her election to Congress.
Nevertheless, she has said things that are controversial, first a so-called criticism of U.S. Jews, and then what was perceived to be trivializing 9-11. The first involved a remark she made about American Jews having allegiance to Israel. It reminded me of the same issue some people made of JFK's Catholicism ("his allegiance is to the Pope"). Both are just silly — if they weren't so offensive.
After Omar's first controversial statement, I wrote to her, advising her that while I agree with her intent, she should not use words as she did. Maybe it was her youth and inexperience on the job. I also asked her to hire Jewish staff who could advise her, and I wrote to Congressional representatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota, asking them to mentor her in her speech.
In today's era of attacks on synagogues, mosques and historically-black and other Christian churches, any perception of hate speech should not be tolerated. Words matter.
Her point was right on, however, and important. The economics of it? Follow the money, and always remember that money talks. American Jews are not necessarily supportive of Israel; and many of them oppose the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (as do many Jews in Israel). Many of both groups march and rally against him and his policies. Some consider him to be a war criminal.
Nevertheless, pro-Israel lobbyists and donors spent more than $22 million on lobbying and campaign contributions during the 2018 election cycle. This money provides inordinate sway over U.S. legislators.
Trump plays a major role. He stood by Netanyahu in his reelection. He moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (a holy site to Muslims as well as Jews). He supports the prime minister's oppression of the Palestinians. Most recently, Trump "recognized" the Golan Heights (a large swath of land in Syria) as belonging to Israel, akin to the West Bank and Gaza. These infuriate me, as they represent land grabs' and horrific treatment of the Palestinians.
Trump proudly talks about his "peace plan" for Israel and Palestine, but now that Trump has given away all the freebees to Israel, it leaves no more quid pro quo enticements for Israel to sign a peace treaty. Likely, the "two-state" solution has become a "one-state" plan, with Israel occupying all of Palestine and Palestinians becoming second class citizens in a Jewish Israeli state. This would correctly be called apartheid.
When Palestinian boys throw stones across the border with Israel, they are shot by Israelis. Our congressional leaders' hands are tied, however, because "they need" the pro-Israel campaign donations. Money does indeed talk. This is the point that Omar tried to make.
Regarding 9-11: Omar's comments made headlines and were seen by some as trivializing an American disaster. I don't think that was her intention. I think she was envisioning a scenario where "something happened" and the response was the overwhelming persecution of Muslims.
She wasn't trivializing 9-11 as much as she was setting the stage for U.S. oppression of Muslims.
Think about it. 9-11 triggered Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003, even though there were no weapons of destruction and most 9-11 killers came from Saudi Arabia. The invasion was responsible for the deaths of 460,000 Iraqi Muslims, with many times more deaths due to disrupted systems for food, health care and clean water. U.S. Muslim-Americans are increasingly victims of hate crimes, some fatal. Then there's Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric and his Muslim-travel ban, causing undue suffering of separated Muslim families and increasing the hatred and distrust of Americans toward them.
Islam is a peaceful religion. The few references to violence in the Korán equate to Christian and Jewish texts of the Bible's old testament. Most of us just fly past these as we don't like to dwell on violence in our own sacred readings. The jihad referred to in the Korán means an "inner war," whereby the devout must fight to overcome their own selfishness and to be generous to others. The term has been hijacked by extremists who, just as extremist Christians, find their own reasons for violence.
This anti-Muslim fervor is what Omar was referring to: she wasn't trivializing 9-11 (with some 3,000 deaths), but she was trying to tell us all how this event led the way to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims. She has a good point.