Monday, September 6, 2010

Thinking About Islamophobia

One of the things about the debate over the Ground Zero mosque that disturbs me is the ease with which opponents of the mosque are being labeled "Islamophobes." Time magazine asks on a recent cover whether Americans are Islamophobic, but I'm not sure I understand what this term even means. If Islamophobia is defined as hatred for Muslims as people then it is indeed a reprehensible thing to be an Islamophobe, and we should reject it root and branch, but if the word is defined to mean a dislike or suspicion of the Islamic religion then I don't know why being an Islamophobe is so bad.

Surely there are many people who strongly dislike Christianity without hating individual Christians, and no one, except maybe Christians, seems to think that's such a terrible thing. Indeed, the authors of antiChristian books, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, are feted on television and elsewhere and we rarely hear anyone say that their claims to despise Christianity are contemptible. No one in the media sputters the word "Christophobe" at these people as though they were pedophiles or something. They just see it as part of the intellectual/cultural give and take in our society.

Moreover, Jews and Muslims are understandably leery of the Catholic church due to atrocities perpetrated against Jews and Muslims almost a thousand years ago, and we're repeatedly admonished to be sensitive to these suspicions given that history. So why is it somehow despicable - Islamophobic - to be suspicious of Islam given the history of the crimes that have been committed in the name of Allah? Why is disdain for Christianity quite fashionable in our enlightened secular society, but disdain for Islam is seen as some sort of hate crime?

Chris Matthews on his Hardball show a couple of weeks ago badgered former New York governor George Pataki to explain why 54% of Republicans, according to a recent poll, apparently dislike Islam. Here's the video of the segment:

Matthews made it sound as if it were almost unAmerican to be less than enthusiastic about Islam, and Pataki seemed unable, or unwilling, to give him a straightforward answer to his question, a question which was really more of an accusation.

As I watched the show I wished Pataki would have asked Matthews what it is, precisely, that's unAmerican about disliking a religion or a set of religious beliefs. Where does the Constitution demand that we "like" the beliefs of others, and why is it that liberals only apply this demand to non-Muslims? The books that attack Christianity have soared to the top of the best-seller lists, but Time magazine seems blithely indifferent to the possibility that we're becoming a Christophobic nation. Matthews, who claims to be a Catholic, has never, as far as I know, reproached any of the authors of these books for their hatred of his religion. Yet let someone oppose building a mosque at a particular site, and Matthews acts as if the Spanish Inquisition was about to start all over again.

I suspect that much of the liberals' "concern" for the Ground Zero mosque is motivated not so much by a fondness for the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment, on whose behalf they've never before been particularly zealous unless it's employed in the cause of secularism, but rather by a hostility to Christianity, especially conservative Christianity. Christian conservatives comprise a hefty segment of the people who are reluctant to see the mosque constructed so close to the site of the WTC infamy, therefore an attack on opponents of the mosque is a subtle way to tacitly smear Christian conservatives as "intolerant, insensitive and bigoted."

Be that as it may, we might ask what it is about Islam that makes many Americans squeamish? Perhaps the following doctrines and practices are not typical of Islam, but they're certainly believed and practiced by many Muslims in much of the world. If they aren't intrinsic or fundamental to Islam then Muslims might consider being more emphatic and outspoken in explaining to non-Muslims why so many of their co-religionists are just plain wrong to practice them and explicate more effectively what the Koran really teaches about these things.

Many non-Muslim Americans believe, for example, that Islam, at least the version of it that is practiced by millions of Muslims around the world, is a religion that:

  • celebrates, or at least tolerates, violent conquest. Killing non-Muslims in order to spread Islam is not a violation of Koranic teaching insofar as many Muslims are concerned.
  • considers women to be the property of men and that it often condones honor killing, wife beatings, genital mutilation, and polygamy. Women are not only required to wear clothing such as the burqa, which many non-Muslims consider dehumanizing, but in much of the Islamic world they're not allowed to be seen in public with a non-relative male, nor are they allowed to drive a car, testify in court, or get an education.
  • condones the execution of gays as well as those Muslims who leave the faith or who even merely criticize it.
  • condones the oppression of non-Muslims, relegating them to second class status called dhimmi.
  • has no sympathy for freedom of speech, religion, or church-state separation, and that if Muslims had the power they would abrogate much of the Bill of Rights and impose Sharia law.
  • teaches in madrassas all over the world that Jews are despicable and deserve to be killed.
  • places severe ritualistic burdens on its adherents.
Now some, or all, of these beliefs may be mistaken, but until American Muslims do a better job of explaining their religion those beliefs will continue to thrive among people who read books such as those by Khaled Hosseini (Kite Runner, Thousand Splendid Suns) or who watch movies like The Stoning of Soraya M., or read the accounts of the experiences of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Salman Rushdi, or who listen to the sermons of the imams in the Middle East on MEMRI or who simply read the daily reports in the newspapers of Muslim violence and terrorism all around the globe.

Until these beliefs are dispelled and a compelling Islamic apologetic makes its way into the national mainstream it's going to be very hard to convince many Americans that they should like and admire, much less embrace, the religion, as distinct from the people, of Islam.