Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rep. Allen West, "Nuts" Indeed

Congressman Allen West (R-FL) is no stranger to controversy, but a recent letter from the first-term representative to the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization indicates that he might be a stranger to his right mind, or at least his right manners, as well. 

Here's the back story: Earlier this month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent Rep. West a brief letter urging him to sever his connections with a number of known "anti-Islamic extremists" with whom West has made public appearances. The letter singled out a regular rogues gallery of prominent Islamophobes, including Bridgette Gabriel, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and Rev. Neil Dozier. 

The inclusion of Geller on the list is particularly poignant, given her proximity to the recent tragedy in Norway, which highlighted connections between currents of conservative American and European Islamophobia. Geller, who operates the conservative blog Atlas Shrugs, rose to prominence last summer as one of the most vocal opponents of the Park51 Islamic community center and mosque, and garnered fresh headlines (and condemnation) last month for her apparent influence on alleged Norway gunman Anders Behrin Breivik. 

Well, CAIR has now received Rep. West's response, and it must be seen to be believed: 
In case any of our readers can't make out Rep. West's response, let me spell it out for you: "NUTS!" 



Calling the response "the dumbest thing ever written on congressional stationery," the Miami New Times offers the following account of the response's (understandably) bewildered reception at CAIR: 
Executive director Nezar Hamze tells Riptide he's befuddled: "Obviously, I was expecting a little more from an elected official. I don't know if he was calling me nuts or calling my request nuts or what."

(West's spokesperson has yet to explain to New Times what the congressman meant.)

Hamze doesn't think he'll write West back. "How can I respond to this?"
The good folks at ThinkProgress and elsewhere have indicated the possible connection between West's response and that of storied General Anthony "Nuts" McAuliffe during the siege of Bastogne in 1944. After receiving the demand for the surrender of his encircled, out-numbered troops, Gen. McAuliffe immediately replied (and ultimately responded to the German General Heinrich Freiherr von L├╝ttwitz) with the now-legendary retort, "Nuts."

Although the story clearly cements Gen. McAuliffe's status in the annals of military history, it offers next to nothing in terms of illuminating West's bizarre response, evening assuming this was the connotation West intended. If Rep. West was indeed trying to conjure up an identification between himself and the Siege of Bastogne, the implications of his association become fairly problematic. Not unlike the company Rep. West has been keeping, come to think of it.  

While imagery of Bastogne no doubt plays very nicely into some sort of jingoistic conservative siege mentality, Rep. West's apparent identification with the besieged Allied troops at Bastogne also draws an unsubtle comparison between CAIR and, you know, about 120,000 heavily-armed Nazis.

If Rep. West was indeed reaching for some bizarre parallel between WWII and his own poor choice of company, it would not mark the first time this summer that a prominent Republican has made a public comparison between the world's second-largest religion and the Nazi regime. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich drew a similar comparison during a game of Islamophobic one-upmanship with Herman Cain during a June debate between 2012 GOP hopefuls.

Regardless of the intended connotations of Rep. West's letter, his cryptic response to CAIR demonstrates a patent disinterest in dissociating himself from known hate-mongers like Pamela Geller. Whatever his intentions with this bizarre stunt, posterity will hopefully remember that Rep. West was given the chance to denounce intolerance, and his response was, in both form and content, simply nuts.

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