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Why Can’t We Talk About Islam Honestly?


Islam is not a race. Islam is not an ethnicity. Islam is a religion and a political philosophy. And it is distinct from other religions and political philosophies.

Pointing this fact out does not make a person obsessed with hatred or racism. A Muslim might hold moderate views or he might hold extreme ones. If we act as if the color of people’s skin rather than their beliefs define them, we’re engaging in a curiously narrow-minded discussion about one of the world’s great faiths—one that is comprised of all races and many ethnicities.

Yet this is exactly the formulation many on the Left demand.

I bring this up after reading Charles Blow’s latest overwrought piece, in which he wishfully contends that “Anti Muslim is Anti America.” Conflating a bunch of insane Trumpisms and GOP overreactions with completely legitimate concerns about illiberalism within Islam, Blow asserts we should put “a lid on this corrosive language.” What he means is that we should accept his ahistorical interpretation of what America and Islam means—though he gives no indication that he comprehends either.

It’s hardly un-American to believe that the foundational values of your society are preferable to the ones that make Yemen or Iran or Pakistan possible. We could spend days exploring the crimes committed against liberalism and decency by moderate Islamic nations without ever touching on the topic of ISIS or al-Qaeda. These crimes transcend ethnicity and race, but they all have something in common. Something we’re not supposed to talk about.

It’s hardly un-American to believe that the foundational values of your society are preferable to the ones that make Yemen or Iran or Pakistan possible.

When it comes to terror, the equation is even clearer. Mollie does an excellent job highlighting the dangers of Hillary Clinton-style denialism on this front. Nowadays, even making a distinction between “radical” and moderate elements within Islam is an act of Islamophobia. How am I going to accuse my crazy Republican uncle of being a bigot on Thanksgiving if I acknowledge the problem might have something to do with faith?

Now, you might argue that politicians have no reason to tweak the brittle sensibilities of fundamentalists. We don’t want the president to create more terrorists by saying stuff that’s offensive to terrorists, after all. But do the rest of us have to embrace this dishonesty? Why do we keep doing it?

Take the oft-used analogy about Syrian refugees being just like Jews trying to escape Germany 1930s. Anne Frank was also denied an entry visa, you know? (If anything, the analogy works better when talking about Middle East Christians, who have no place to escape, but that’s another story.) Ian Tuttle at National Review did a fantastic job debunking this argument, though it has only become more popular. An Atlantic piece headlined “The Objectification of Muslims in America,” teeming with the usual synthetic outrage about “bigotry,” we are told that Muslims immigrated to America around the same time as Jews, and yet, “discussions about Muslims in the United States are not the same as most discussions of Catholics or Jews or other religious minorities.”

There is a shockingly obvious reason for this incongruity: Islam is not the same as Catholicism or Judaism.

There is a shockingly obvious reason for this incongruity: Islam is not the same as Catholicism or Judaism—or Lutheranism or Calvinism or Buddhism or atheism, for that matter. Blowing past this troublesome little fact might be helpful when smearing Republicans, but this moral equivalence doesn’t change reality. Whether Americans were anti-Semites or wary of immigration or just suspicious of Nazi infiltrators in the late 1930s, the two groups you’re talking about embrace wholly different sets of values. One of these groups has excelled (and excels) at assimilation, while the other harbors many beliefs at odds with Western ideals—especially in the post-1979 world.

Taking these factor into considerations when debating immigration and foreign policy is not tantamount to arguing that the United States should ban all Muslim immigration forever, or arguing that we should infringe the civil rights of Muslims, or even that we should send ground troops to take down ISIS.

But, as Bill Maher recently said on “Real Time“: “This idea that all religions share the same values is bullshit and we need to call it bullshit. If you are in this religion, you probably do have values that are at odds [with American ones]. This is what liberals don’t want to recognize.” We see this in Pew poll of the Islamic world, which shows vast numbers of Muslims philosophically opposed some our basic liberal notions, but also in polls closer to home. Bringing up 1095 or stringing together random, unconnected incidents perpetrated by some nuts doesn’t change these numbers.

There is no widespread belief system that is accepted by millions of people that rationalizes or funds the violence of white, male mass shooters.

So Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dallas might claim they are more frightened of white men than of Muslim immigrants, but they are willfully ignoring an important point. There is no widespread theology or church or philosophical belief system that is accepted by millions of people that excuses or perpetrates or rationalizes or funds the violence of white, male mass shooters.

The GOP may well be overreacting to the Syrian refugee question, though its concerns are well within the bounds of reasonable discourse. American Muslims should never have their freedoms and protections undermined. But Islam does not deserve special immunity from criticism, any more than Seventh-Day Adventists or Mormons or anyone else. There is no American principle that dictates your theology—and in this case, ideology—should be ignored when it intrudes on public policy. There’s no American ideal that says we have avoid any mention of adaptability when it comes to potential Americans.

What is “un-American,” though, is trying to chill debate with frivolous accusations of racism.