March 09, 2008
Obama, Islam and the bigots
Posted by: Chris
There's plenty I agree with in Nicholas Kristof's column in today's New York Times about the use of Muslim rumors as a "slur" against Barack Obama.
Kristof is surely right, for example, that "the most monstrous bigotry in this election isn’t about either race or sex. It’s about religion. The whispering campaigns allege that Mr. Obama is a secret Muslim planning to impose Islamic law on the country." Apparently there are even rumors that the Illinois senator is the Antichrist. How repugnant.
But Kristof commits the usual "multiculturist" error when he conflates intolerance toward intolerance as simply another form of bigotry; in this case, arguing that only a prejudiced voter would reject a candidate because he or she is Muslim:
Even if a prejudice is directed to a matter of choice, like religion or long hair, it’s still prejudice. It’s possible to believe that Catholics have every right to be president while opposing a particular Catholic candidate who would ban contraception; likewise, it’s possible to believe that Muslims have every right to hold office without necessarily embracing the candidacy of particular Muslims who advocate enveloping all women in burkas.
That's simplistic, at least as applied to Islam, when you remember that advocating burkhas is hardly the only example of Muslim bigotry. What if Islam were universally prejudiced toward particular groups? Is a voter bigoted or prejudiced for refusing to a vote for a candidate who is bigoted, simply because that prejudice is rooted in religion?
Prejudice is prejudice, even if it is dressed up as religion. In fact, when it comes to racism and sexism -- not to mention prejudice toward other religions and toward the non-religious -- bigotry is almost always dressed up as religion. And that's certainly the case with anti-gay bigotry.
After 9/11, I assigned reporters at the Washington Blade the task of finding out whether there existed a "moderate" branch of Islam that accepts gay people, gay relationships, and embraces individual sexual freedom. After research into Islam as practiced in the West and elsewhere, they located a very, very small number of individual Muslim thinkers willing to speak publicly in favor of fair and equal treatment of gays and respect sexual freedom. But there was nothing approaching a "reformed" or "moderate" or "progressive" branch of Islam that does so.
While there are Muslim politicians who believe in "the separation of mosque and state," I'm not aware of any whose secular views are separated far enough from their anti-gay faith that they support the fair and equal treatment of gay people and same-sex relationships.
If that analysis isn't accurate, or such a school of Muslim thought has since found favor with significant numbers, then I'd be pleased for someone direct me to it. Otherwise, it is fair to say that a Muslim candidate for public office has a much greater burden of proving that (a) he or she isn't prejudiced toward gays, and that (b) his or her (universally anti-gay) faith won't influence decisions of public policy.
If the test for Muslim bigotry were limited to support for burkhas, a belief by no means widespread among the world's Muslims, then Kristoff would be right that generalizations about faith would be grossly unfair and in and of themselves prejudiced. But he's wrong to insist that gays and those committed to fight against anti-gay prejudice are somehow bigots ourselves if we take note of the long and widespread history of anti-gay intolerance among Muslims -- not to mention the unwillingness of Muslim politicians to speak out against anti-gay bias, the way Obama has repeatedly done so among Christians. (Actually, how very un-Muslim of him!)
Western Europe is already paying the price for following a path of multiculturalism that goes so far as to tolerate everything, including intolerance, and for calling any sort of intolerance bigotry, even if it's intolerance of bigotry itself. Let's not repeat their error here.
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