Commentary Religion

Stop Calling U.S. Christian Lawmakers the ‘Taliban’

Andrea Grimes

The answer to countering right-wing attacks on Americans with uteri isn't to create a turban-wearing bogeyman looming half a world away, but to look at what's happening right here in our own country, in our own statehouses, at our own national capitol.

I saw it on posters last summer at the Texas capitol, during protests against the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law: “TEXAS TALIBAN.” I’ve heard pundits and preachers on cable news, decrying the “American Taliban” that wants to take away birth control and abortion access.

These phrases aren’t clever, and they aren’t insightful. They’re racist, and they’re Islamophobic, and people—especially white people—who work in social justice movements and who do advocacy for women’s rights need to stop using them yesterday.

Because there is indeed a powerful, well-funded and rigidly patriarchal religious movement behind America’s most misogynist laws, and it isn’t any iteration of Islam.

It’s Christianity.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

There’s no need to try and incite fear that right-wing lawmakers are going to turn America into an extremist Islamic theocracy when they’re doing just fine turning it into an extremist Christian theocracy. The answer to countering right-wing attacks on Americans with uteri isn’t to create a turban-wearing bogeyman looming half a world away, but to look at what’s happening right here in our own country, in our own statehouses, at our own national capitol.

I seem to remember someone once saying something about removing the plank from your own eye before trying to pluck a splinter out of someone else’s.

I’ve followed the “Holly Hobby Lobby” meme with eyes rolling hard, as lefty Americans work themselves into a froth about a young white American woman holding a rifle and a bible. But what’s scary about that photo isn’t that the woman pictured is echoing the posture of an Islamic extremist, it’s that she’s using a rifle and a bible to advocate for government-sanctioned misogyny. American government-sanctioned misogyny.

The five judges who joined the majority opinion on Hobby Lobby aren’t Muslim. They’re Catholic. So are Rick Santorum and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Rep. Louie “Terror Babies” Gohmert (R-TX) is a Southern Baptist, and so is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) attends an evangelical megachurch, and Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R) is also an evangelical Christian. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is a member of the Church of God. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a Presbyterian.

The call is coming from inside the house, y’all.

We need to ask ourselves: What’s wrong with our own American Christianity that we are unable to face the very real fact that we are perfectly capable of using our own Christian traditions to oppress the most vulnerable among us?

There have been a grand total of two Muslim Americans elected to the United States Congress—the first in 2007. Islam, and its many variants, are not a threat to the U.S. legislative system. American lawmakers didn’t learn misogyny from Muslim extremists in Afghanistan—we grew it ourselves, right here on American soil. We’ve baked it into every slice of the American pie.

To fixate on an “American Taliban” is to derail an important and necessary conversation about the ways Christianity has been used, and continues to be used, as an excuse and a means to oppress and marginalize American citizens, right here on our own turf.

A Texas protester holds "Stop Texas Taliban" sign at a Planned Parenthood rally in Austin, Texas, in March 2012. [via Jessica Luther]

A Texas protester holds “Stop Texas Taliban” sign at a Planned Parenthood rally in Austin, Texas, in March 2012. [via Jessica Luther]

The reality is that words mean things—if that sounds pedantic and obvious, consider the fact that people who don’t agree with me are going to claim I’m getting all riled up about something that’s no big deal, while they fight tooth and nail to say these things without being criticized.

Words express shared cultural ideas, and to pretend that “American Taliban” or “Texas Taliban” are just cute accidents of speech, or innocent verbal shorthand, is to ignore the very real history of organized, politically endorsed, and perpetuated systemic racism expressly meant to oppress and silence a particular group of non-white folks, both inside and outside the United States.

It’s no accident that, in the vast and varied religio-cultural landscape of planet Earth, which offers no shortage of examples of misogynist ideologies, Americans choose “Taliban” when they want to try and insult right-wing lawmakers, and try to incite their fellow citizens to action against those lawmakers. Because 9/11. Because the war in Iraq. Because racism. Because brown people from the Middle East are, more than any other people, the “baddies” right now in American culture.

The result? Widespread American Islamophobia, a fear of the millions of Muslims who call this country home. Anti-Muslim violence in America is a very real problem, as the Los Angeles Times reported way back in 2010:

Law enforcement authorities in California classified the vandalism at the Madera Islamic Center in the Central Valley that nearly smashed a window as a hate crime when they discovered signs that read “Wake up America the enemy is here” and “No temple for the god of terrorism.” In New York, an intoxicated man forced his way into a mosque in Queens and urinated on several prayer rugs. Michael Enright, a 21-year-old New York film student, is being charged with attempted murder in connection with the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver. The act has been classified as a hate crime.

Maybe you’re not the kind of American who’s going to plant a pipe bomb at a mosque, but when you try and foment fear by hollering “AMERICAN TALIBAN!” at the top of your lungs, you give those who might an awful lot of culturally sanctioned leeway to try.

Muslim Americans, and people who are perceived to be Muslim Americans, are singled out at airport checkpoints and targeted in domestic spying operations. Women who wear hijab in public are ridiculed and harassed. And every cry of “Texas Taliban!” or “American Taliban!” makes it worse, because we do not have, and have never had, a nuanced, thoughtful national conversation about Islam—in part because we usually stop with “Taliban!” and a pat on the back.

Last year, right here in supposedly hyper-liberal Austin, Texas, a Muslim woman named Beeta Baghoolizadeh joined the thousands of Texans who descended upon our state capitol to show support for abortion rights. On her first trip, she accidentally wore blue:

Lest anyone assumed that I was another anti-choice activist—and a Muslim one no less—I quickly created a sign reading “PRETEND I’M WEARING ORANGE.” I wanted to make sure people didn’t conflate my blue outfit with Christian-centric religious arguments. I didn’t need any #creepingsharia tweets with my picture on them.

Later, Baghoolizadeh wrote of another trip to the capitol, wearing an orange scarf, and seeing protesters holding signs “about the Sharia and Taliban taking over Texas.” Afterward, she saw a disturbing image:

It was a picture of woman dressed in a black burqa with a “Miss Texas” sash around her inside the Capitol. It felt like a slap across the face. I had gone to the Capitol wearing an orange scarf–not a black burqa–and was forced to deal with a more intense fast than usual because of my decision to stand for women’s rights, health and engage in the democratic process. In return, I was met with a caricature of a “Muslim woman” to protest the GOP’s [non-Muslim] oppression.

No matter how orange my scarf was that night, people had managed to conflate the politics of the swaying, praying Christian right with “oppressed” Muslim women swathed in black. Suffice to say, this shallow, knee-jerk polemic both disappointed and infuriated me. Indeed, this atrocious bill has given birth to (no pun intended) a number of facile and unfortunate proclamations about the Muslim world.

A pro-choice protester at the Texas state capitol dresses in a burka on July 12, 2013, the day lawmakers voted to pass HB 2. [via Students4LifeHQ on Twitter]

A pro-choice protester at the Texas state capitol dresses in a burka on July 12, 2013, the day lawmakers voted to pass HB 2. [via Students4LifeHQ on Twitter]

We—liberals, progressives, Democrats, social justice activists—cannot believe in systemic oppression only when it suits us, and only when it is perpetuated against the “right” kind of people. We cannot say we are invested in a “big tent,” and then put up a velvet rope, woven of ignorance and fear, at the door.

I mean, we can technically do those things—but only if we’re unwilling to confront the fact that in doing so we are charging admission for our allyship, telling people that they need to be the right color, the right religion, the right sex, the right gender in order to receive our support.

I also see another side to the “American Taliban” rhetoric, one that’s not just racist and Islamophobic but misogynist, one that is about a certain kind of fetishization of the oppression of women of color, about the kind of subconscious work a phrase like “American Taliban” or “Texas Taliban” does for white people: it titillates us, allowing us to imagine ourselves as beneficent saviors of brown-skinned damsels in distress. In the popular American cultural conscience, women of color are particularly situated as sexual objects according to particular racist stereotypes about what it means to be not-white and also a woman—seductive or submissive, aggressive or unrapeable. On the surface, “American Taliban!” centers an imagined male figure, but the reason why the “Taliban!” as a linguistic trope is supposed to incite such fear in the first place is because that imagined male figure is abusing, oppressing, silencing a woman—not just any woman, but a woman of color. A woman who, by virtue of the way she is embodied in the world, we expect to be oppressed, abused, silenced.

We can imagine that woman being oppressed in the way we expect her to be oppressed, and imagine ourselves—Americans wielding lipstick and high heels—as liberators. As if beauty products and fashionable shoes were unknown to Muslim women, and as if wearing lipstick got us government-mandated parental leave, and high heels have earned American women equal pay for equal work.

When a white person cries “Texas Taliban!” or “American Taliban!” what they’re saying is “I thought only brown people deserved to be oppressed.” They’re saying, “My whiteness was supposed to insulate me from things like this.” They’re saying, “I’m afraid—for my privilege.”

But patriarchy and misogyny pay no heed to national borders, and are not uniquely suited to certain geographical climes. They thrive everywhere—including in America, and including in our churches.

And yes, I know, not all Christians. Are there compassionate, loving Christians out there who are deeply invested in committing radical acts of social justice? Absolutely—for reference, see North Carolina’s Moral Monday protests. Are there reasonable Christians out there who believe in science and medicine? Definitely. Are there Christians out there who just like to go to church and do the Jesus thing and have a nice time in fellowship? Indeed; I just described about 99 percent of my relatives.

You might be one or all of these kinds of Christians. If you are, I’m not talking about you. Keep doing that good work you’re doing.

People know what they’re doing when they say “Texas Taliban” or “American Taliban.” Everybody else does, too. That’s why they say it in the first place: They want to make clear that when American lawmakers are bad, they’re imitating brown men on the other side of the world, where the “real” oppression happens. The word “Taliban” conjures up images of brown men wearing turbans, and brown women wearing burkas. Nevermind the fact that white, male Americans are doing just fine at oppressing women with bibles at their right hand. Using “Taliban” rhetoric to describe American politics is a salve that serves only to soothe Americans into dangerous complacency.

If you get to the end of this piece and you’re raring for a fight so that you can continue to holler “Taliban!” every time a white Christian man rails against birth control, I want you to ask yourself: Why am I so invested in being able to continue using this word? Like, really sit with that. If you could never say “American Taliban” or “Texas Taliban” ever again, how would you be unable to do good social justice activism? How would never saying those phrases again impede your ability to help Americans access legal abortion care? Will equal pay, or mandated family leave, become a reality only on the condition that you get to keep saying “Taliban”?

Or will you be able to drop an ignorant, racist dogwhistle that helps no one, hurts many, and does nothing to stop or silence the American Christians behind our country’s worst laws?

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”