The twisted logic of Marco Rubio’s attack on Obama’s mosque visit

Marco, what?
Marco, what?
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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Marco Rubio is enjoying a bit of a surge following his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, and is looking to score points among conservative voters ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Yesterday, Rubio accused Barack Obama of inciting religious and ethnic conflict by making a high-profile visit to a mosque, deploying some particularly convoluted logic about racism in America.

So what did the US president actually say? During his visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque, Obama called anti-Muslim rhetoric “inexcusable.” ”You’re right where you belong,” he said. “You’re part of America too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.”

That may not sound very incendiary, but Rubio was incensed.

The Florida senator said he was “tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” adding that Obama was ”always pitting people against each other.”

“Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque,” Rubio added. “Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.”

It may stretch credulity to detect a divisive message in Obama’s message of tolerance. But Rubio’s words play to a particular trope of Republican politicians and pundits, who argue that racism and discrimination are a phony phenomena invented by politically correct liberals as a plot to divide America.

“One of the tenets of conservative social analysis holds that conservatives are tolerant and color-blind, and the troubles between groups arise from liberals appealing to minorities on the basis of their identity,” notes Jonathan Chait at New York. “Defending social tolerance in a mosque therefore equals making an appeal to Muslims as Muslims, which in turn equals pitting people against each other.”