View from the lunatic fringe

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2007, 12:00am

Most of you will probably never have heard of Tom Tancredo. He is a right-wing US congressman from Colorado, a member of George W. Bush's Republican Party, and he is running for president. If he wins, he says he will consider dropping nuclear bombs on the Muslim world's holiest sites, in Mecca and Medina, to deter Islamic terrorists from attacking America with dirty bombs.

I am not sure if Mr Tancredo has been watching too much television, but it appears he has taken a page right out of the plot in the latest season of the hit TV series 24, now showing in Hong Kong. In it, the vice-president orders a nuclear strike against a fictitious Arab country in response to nuclear-armed Muslim terrorists in the United States.

It would be comforting to think of Mr Tancredo as a far-right fanatic who so alienates voters with his extreme views that his chances of winning the presidency are next to hopeless. But you can never tell with politics.

Just weeks after his threats, he came fourth out of eight Republican candidates in the Iowa straw poll, an early testing ground for presidential candidates. That's not a bad showing for someone who galvanises whites-only hate groups, who wants to stop all immigration to the US and whose campaign promise is to keep his finger close to the nuclear button.

Except for the US State Department, which called his nuclear threat 'absolutely crazy', no one has questioned Mr Tancredo's sanity. Now just imagine the reaction from Mr Bush and the China-bashing US Congress if Beijing threatened nuclear retaliation against Taiwan for getting too far out of line.

Don't even think about the righteous furore that would erupt if Iran threatened a nuclear strike on Israel. The American media has made little of the Tancredo lunacy, unlike the moral outrage it showed over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's empty threat to wipe Israel off the map.

This is what Mr Tancredo told a campaign rally after claiming a nuclear strike by Muslim terrorists against the US was imminent: 'If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from what they otherwise might do.'

In short, as president, he would be willing to destroy the holy sites of a religion with a billion followers, and to annihilate countless innocent men, women and children in the process, as collective punishment against terrorism by a few members of that religion.

This presidential election cycle is shaping up to be the longest and dirtiest ever. Campaigning is already under way, and candidates are snatching every issue to use as a club against opponents.

China is an easy target, and every candidate sees votes in accusing the mainland of endangering American lives with poisonous food and toxic toys. Expect China-bashing and personal attacks to snowball as the campaign gets dirtier.

All this campaign ugliness should be seen as part of the legacy of Mr Bush, who has done more than any other president to polarise the nation.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster. [email protected]