Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Monday accused the Republican presidential field of incendiary rhetoric that did not match the level-headed tone in combating terrorism laid out by President George W. Bush and continued under President Obama. Appearing on CNN, Durbin was responding to the GOP candidates’ criticism that Obama’s apology to Afghans for the inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books was “unacceptable,” as former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) put it.
Durbin said the Bush “got it right” when “(h)e said our war is not with the religion of Islam.” Instead, he said, “Our war is with those who would distort [Islam] and turn it into terrorism.” Durbin went on to say that this was a “guiding principle” that “was adopted by President Obama.” He then drew a distinction with the GOP presidential field, and CNN commentator Will Cain asked him to clarify:
DURBIN: Now, listen to these Republican candidates for president. They’re at war with Islam. What the president is trying to do is to calm down –
WILL CAIN: Senator Durbin, I haven’t heard one thing that backs up what you suggest. Just give me an example, how are they at war with Islam?
DURBIN: Newt Gingrich saying that the president is guilty of appeasement. [...] What you listen to is incendiary rhetoric coming out in a very delicate situation. Lives are at stake here. The president is showing leadership. The president is stepping up, trying to calm a situation. These three candidates are coming on television doing the opposite.
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Indeed, Durbin is right. Much of the GOP presidential campaign has been steeped in Islamophobic rhetoric. Gingrich has said he would single out Muslims by advocating for an unconstitutional federal law that would criminalize some practices of being Muslim in America. Santorum has endorsed Muslim profiling at airports, and has said Muslims don’t believe in equality. In 2007, Mitt Romney reportedly said he wouldn’t consider Muslim candidates for a cabinet position.
Regarding Obama’s apology for the mistaken Quran burnings in Afghanistan, Media Matters noted that many conservative pundits said Obama was right to apologize, and added that Bush had also apologized for cultural transgressions in the course of the two wars his administration started. As for Obama, he’s had his own rather strikingly effective response to the charge of “appeasement.”