Enough. We’re Not Islamophobes.

I recently praised Time Magazine for its courageous cover of an 18-year-old Afghan women without a nose – and Muslim courage worldwide – and now Time Magazine retrenches with offensive stupidity about the majority of Americans.  “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” asks Time.  The article, spinning off the controversy over the Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero, answers with shocking banality: “But it is plain that many of Park51’s opponents are motivated by deep-seated Islamophobia.”

To the Americans who find nothing disturbing about cruel ridicule of the faith of George Bush or Sarah Palin, but see Islamophobia everywhere:  Enough. American moderates and conservatives are, honestly, sick to death of being called racists, Islamophobes, and hate-mongers.  It just doesn’t work anymore.

Does America have a Muslim problem?  Yes, to paraphrase Churchill on democracy, and it’s the worst, except for every other country.

America has lost more lives to murderous Muslims, saved more innocent Muslim lives globally, and striven more to accommodate free Muslim practice of Islam than any other non-Muslim country on the planet.  That is who we are and should continue to be.

In November 2007, Americans elected an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama, with a Muslim grandfather and a Muslim, then atheist, father, as their national leader.  This historic election could not have happened in any other country – and it happened a mere seven years after the most devastating foreign attack on American soil in American history.  All of the attackers, and most of the celebrants of the attack, were Muslims.

In any other era in the history of our species, the 9-11 attack would have triggered a war against Islam – barring a rapid determination by Islam itself to crush its murderous faction.  Neither happened.  Led by President Bush’s insistence that America was not and would never be at war with Islam, Americans who knew little to nothing about Islam before 9-11 rallied to the noble distinction between most Muslims and the murderous few.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. six days after the attack. “They need to be treated with respect.”

Education and accommodations surged.

We have been enlarged as a nation by burgeoning appreciation for peaceful Islam, and though the project is incomplete, the sincerity of America warrants respect.

Most Americans, including now Harry Reid, Howard Dean and some Muslims, oppose the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.  Virtually no one questions the legal right of the property owners to build the cultural center.  Overwhelmingly, they question its wisdom, and some question its motivation.  That is fair dialogue.

That dialogue has been contorted by some cultural center proponents into a preposterous “anti-Muslim” versus “pro-Muslim” polarity.  Time Magazine’s piece, and multiple other media takes on the controversy, perpetuate that simplistic and misleading polarity.

Twenty-first-century Americans are rightly weary of fair dialogue – the apotheosis of our First Amendment values – getting trumped by profligate “racism” charges.  It is both reckless, and a recipe for resentment, to demand that Americans explore and respect all that is right about the varieties of Islam, but treat what is wrong about some varieties of Islam with un-American silence.  If Islam is American, its warts are fair game.

You think Newt Gingrich or Pam Geller went too far?  Tackle their words, condemn them – but stop painting “Republicans” and “conservatives” with the ridiculous brush of “Islamophobes.”  And stop insisting upon a “racist” explanation for the 60+% of Americans who are troubled by the Islamic cultural center.

There is assuredly a cultural tension laid bare by the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy.  It is quintessentially American.  It is the principle of reciprocity.  America respects your free exercise of your religion, more profoundly than any other nation, and asks simply that you reciprocate with respect for America.

When Maureen Dowd writes (dubiously) that “by now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for” – she expressly acknowledges the hunger of America for Muslim reciprocity, for Muslim voices that are first American, for a muscular Muslim challenge to its murderous faction.

I hasten to emphasize, nothing in the First Amendment compels adherents of a religion to respect America.  That is precisely why the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy is a cultural tension, not a constitutional one.  The zealous invocation of the First Amendment by proponents entirely misses the point – in fact, ironically guarantees that fair dialogue will not happen.

My liberal friends, and I love them dearly, counsel me to avoid stereotypes.  The “racist” stereotyping of Republicans, conservatives, and moderates – and a few liberals – who see in this controversy an opportunity for Muslim reciprocity and sensitivity has been outrageous.  Indeed, the only reason it has not been more outrageous is because it’s getting more difficult to be shrill when liberal democrats express their own misgivings.

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11 Responses to Enough. We’re Not Islamophobes.

  1. Bruce C says:

    Amid all the hysteria on all sides of this imbroglio, some might wonder: is this what religious fervor of all stripes has created? Maybe if people didn’t feel the need to push their religion on others, we wouldn’t have these problems. How many millions of people have died in the name of someone’s deity?

  2. zorach says:

    I think this issue is a little more subtle than you give credit for. Is the motivation of people who oppose this mosque really so insincere and xenophobic as you claim? Racism and xenophobia in America is necessarily subtle…except for a small (and sometimes vocal) minority, most people who act in ways that are labeled as “xenophobic” are simply acting in ways that seem reasonable to them based on the facts presented to them.

    I try to explore some of these issues on my post: The “Ground Zero Mosque”: What is the true motivation behind this debate?

    Simple things like which facts are presented, or how a poll is worded, can greatly influence the stances that people take.

    Even the Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is hardly clear-cut. He is definitely a moderate, and condemns terrorism and violence (carried out in the name of Islam or any other cause). But he is also highly critical of U.S. policies and has argued that the U.S. policies played a role in the happening of the 9/11 attacks. While I think that, taken in context, his remarks are intelligent, I can see how a number of Americans might have a negative gut reaction to him (and thus to the whole project), especially if presented with isolated bits of information.

    How do we ultimately move forward on this issue? It’s not by painting the opposition to this project as racist, xenophobic, or simple-minded. They aren’t. They’re just people, doing the best they can with what limited (and often inaccurate or misleading) information is presented to them. I think one of the problems here is that, while the U.S. is pretty diverse in some respects, it’s not that culturally diverse when it comes to religion–most Americans simply do not come into contact with many Muslims on a daily basis…if they did, they probably wouldn’t be making these comments.

    I think that ultimately, to build a positive consensus here, we need to reach out to people with differing views with compassion and understanding. That’s ultimately what is going to bring us together.

  3. Re Comment from zorach — Alex, it appears you missed my point, for which a writer must generally blame himself. (Your post on the subject, by the way, is quite good.) My point was that debate about the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero has been poisoned by the rush to condemn opponents as racists and Islamophobes. That is a patently ridiculous charge, and guarantees that the kind of dialogue and sensible inquiry you propose in your post will never happen, because proponents of the center are themselves engaging in grotesque stereotype of conservatives and moderates who are genuinely disturbed by the cultural center. I wanted to make the point forcefully because the left in America — during an era that was promised to us as post-racial — has maxed out the race card. Conservatives and moderates are sick of being called racists — and whatever shame factor that accusation could once produce has been trivialized by its profligate application to virtually every critical conservative/moderate inquiry into Islam, Islamism, and Obama policies. In short, as I note in the post, it just doesn’t work anymore. Americans know better, and the left has compromised its credibility enormously by such profligate use of “racism” and “Islamophobism.”

    So, yes, the matter as you say is subtle — vastly more subtle than the left’s simplistic demonization of conservatives and moderates as “Islamophobes.” I was perhaps being meta-subtle in counseling the left to engage on the merits rather than rely on the easy toxicity of “racism” and “Islamophobism.”

  4. zorach says:

    Ahh, so I am the one missing the subtlety!

    Do you think there is a degree to which these accusations of racism and bigotry become to a degree a self-fulfilling prophesy, when the left throws them around without addressing the deeper concerns people have with Islam?

  5. Hmmm… interesting question Alex. On one hand, I don’t believe these accusations become self-fulfilling because I believe they’re figments of leftist imagination, part of a crass stereotyping without grounding in the real world. (Which is, of course, different than saying there is no racism anywhere. There is. It has just become too toxically simple to hurl the epithet of “racist,” and therefore, ironically, probably easier to hide the actual and pernicious racism that does still exist.) On the other hand, I suppose the accusations become self-fulfilling in the minds of most leftists who hurl the accusations. In other words, I think only a few very cynical leftists are actually aware that they’re playing the race card falsely; most actually believe opponents are racist, which permits a comfortable and categorical dismissal. Who cares what motivates a “racist”? They’re “racist.” End of inquiry. And on the other hand (I’m a mutant with three hands), I suppose maybe there are some exasperated conservatives who throw up their hands, conclude that no effort at sensitivity or nuance will ever satisfy their critics, and therefore try less to be sensitive. In that final sense, yes, some of the reckless accusations of racism and Islamophobism may become self-fulfilling.

    • zorach says:

      I think it’s hard because I think there are a number of people in the mix who really are racist. These people often drive the mass forward (or, in my value system, backwards). And I also agree with what you are saying here, that casually hurling around accusations of racism ultimately harms the cause of identifying true racism.

      • Thanks for this dialogue Alex. I respect your effort at factually grounding the mosque issue. You ably describe a process that does yield dialogue. We may or may not ultimately agree as to the propriety of the mosque, but mutual respect persists. That is our best constitutional tradition. My larger concern is with the peril to our constitutional tradition from using “racism” without any rational real-world mooring. I try to explore that issue in my next post. I grant that some people in the mix are racist — we could hardly be a diverse nation of 300,000,000+ without some racists — but I do not believe racism is the driving force behind concern with the mosque. To be sure, both racism and anti-racism hatred poison the discussion — but on the margins, not where it counts, and where the vast majority of Americans of good will are, or wish to be, discussing this issue. Again, thanks my friend.

        • zorach says:

          Do you think one explanation could be that racism motivates the selective presentation of information, with the goals of rallying opposition, and then, large numbers of average citizens respond negatively?

          I often wonder if this is the case. Often, I think most people are passive…and all it takes is a tiny minority of people being very vocal about something to get a large number of people to follow…

          • Wow, Alex, maybe… but that is a disturbing thought. It presupposes that people are basically stupid and manipulable. I’m not willing to go there. I think the American electorate has been essentially wise. I was a John McCain supporter in 2008 (have been since 2000) and was upset to see him lose. But I get why Americans elected Barack Obama, and though I am a Republican, I get why Americans punished Republicans in 2008. Just like I get why Americans punished Democrats in 1994. It’s certainly true that there are professional ideologues on both sides whose reason for being is generating shrieking polarities, and it would do us all a lot of good to filter out the shrillness of both extremes. But to answer your question directly, I think there is an overwhelmingly large number of independently-minded people who may or may not have college degrees but who think clearly about what’s good for America and respond accordingly, and intelligently, to cues, themes, and policies from their elected representatives. A negligible number of racists on the far right may be ginned up by right-wing race-baiters (who have virtually no political capital or credibility) and a number of haters on the far left may be ginned up by left-wing race-baiters (who unfortunately enjoy a more substantial platform in current political dialogue). But the vast in-between are people of good will — and critically, only this assumption will yield constructive dialogue. To assume that most people behave stupidly on cue from race-baiters of either stripe is to despair of a viable civic democracy. We’re not there. Yet. In my opinion.

  6. Pingback: While we’re on this popular subject of hate… « The Prince and The Little Prince

  7. tlb says:

    How utterly creative of you not to take advantage of such a charged issue by generalizing what a few think in a few moments of the day into what everybody thinks all day long – makes for a refreshing read!! Not only because I don’t feel self-righteous or ugly at the end of it, but also because it lends the issue to a productive dialog.

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