Terrified of Muslims: A Liberal Rant

My son Dan posted a piece by Andy McClure on Facebook. I think it originally appeared on http://www.dailykos.com, but it got so popular so fast that I’m not really sure. Like a lot of ideological rants, it is really funny if it is based on your own ideology. And it is, actually, based on my ideology, but it didn’t strike me as funny.

For one thing, it was too edgy, too angry, to seem funny to me. For another, the artistry of it was so prominent—it is a small masterpiece of the genre—that I was moved more to admiration…well…envy…than to laughter.

immigrant 7If you’d like to see the whole piece, you can google “Andy McClure, muslim” and find it, but I’d like to start at the top and just turn it over in my mind a little. Before I start, let me include a mostly unfunny joke.  When I write a piece like this, it always makes me feel a little referee-ish.

Question: Why are there so many referees at a football game?
Answer: So each of them will have someone who is willing to talk to him after the game.

Here’s the way it starts.

A: I’m terrified of Muslims. I don’t want sharia law in America.

B: OK, Let’s avoid that by separating church and state.

A: Nope. I believe in Jesus and want this country to be more Christian.

That’s the first unit. There are six more in McClure’s piece: refugees, veterans, homeless
kids, Planned Parenthood, access to healthcare, and freedom of religion. In each of them B proposes a public policy that I support, only to see it rejected by A for reasons I deplore. That said, this is still a rant and my hopes lie in the direction of civil debate. [1] If you want to pop over to http://www.civilpolitics.org, a site run by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, you can browse the approach to politics that I find most attractive. I found this note in the second line of a statement of what his site is about.

to help liberals understand (and be civil to) conservatives: Videos [to come]

So let’s look at this first unit. The conservative caricature, A, is terrified. Language has a tendency to get inflated by use, so maybe he’s only anxious, but let’s say he really is terrified.

mcclure 1He is the expert on whether he is “terrified” but when it gets to what it is that terrifies him, he needs to say things that make sense. Is it possible to be terrified of “Muslims.” Well…in a sense, it is. It is possible to be scared of the boogyman. But I would like to say to A what I would say to a child who is scared of the boogyman: “Don’t be afraid. There isn’t any boogeyman.”

There are Muslims, of course, and they can be described demographically as a group and can be known personally one or so at a time and some of them are scary and some are not. Being afraid of “Muslims,” in the aggregate is silly and A ought to try to get over it.

On the other hand, he isn’t scared of Muslims. He is scared of one or more subsets of Muslims. These prominently include, no doubt, the terrorists he sees on TV and perhaps the fundamentalists who want to see the requirements of their version of Islam fastened on all Muslims and perhaps on all persons. [2] If those are the pictures that the word “Muslim” calls up, then I agree they are scary pictures. Now we need to unhook his fears from the word “Muslim,” then we need to talk about how likely these fantasies are.

So A, our conservative caricature, has seen terrorists who claim the authority of Islam formcclure 4 their acts and fundamentalist vigilantes who claim that Allah [3] is the source of their interpretation of the Quran. It is perfectly sensible for any American to oppose those practices.

His illustration, Sharia law, suggests that he is particularly concerned about the possibility that American non-Muslims might have to obey Sharia or be punished. There are several settings in which that might be a very relevant fear for a Christian. In some countries, Egypt, for instance, the bulk of civil law is strongly influenced by considerations of Sharia. The United Kingdom makes Sharia courts available to English citizens who are Muslim, but there is no such provision in the United States.

I am sympathetic to our conservative caricature. I would not like to live in a country where I could be tried in the civil courts for blasphemy. [4] On the other hand, my sympathy is tethered by his interest in seeing “this country…being more Christian.” Does that just mean “In God we trust” on our coins or does it include courts where people could be tried for violating some fundamentalist interpretations of religious duty? Would anyone be interested, for example, in implementing Deut 21:18—21 which calls for the public stoning of a son who is disobedient, stubborn, and rebellious?

mcclure 2I mention that particular crime and that particular punishment because, although they are “biblical,” they are not practiced. Also because there are similar passages in the Quran which, in A’s fantasy of Sharia law, might be visited on him or his family. The conservative knows that such scriptures are not put into practice in the U. S. He does not know whether similar Muslim scriptures are or are not put into practice in countries where Sharia is “the law” for everyone.

The conservative could be criticized, of course, for saying he wants his religion to be dominant in his country and wants other religious to be banned. But if he believes that “his religion” is what God wants and that “other religions” are an abomination to God, then he is really not free to partake of the genial secularism of the U. S. where expressions like “faith communities” are used so readily.

If this guy really wants a Christian theocracy, he should say so. My guess is that he wouldn’t say that; he would say that he wants the country to be “more like Jesus,” i.e., “more Christian.” Of course, he wants a lot of other things too, including low taxes, so quite a number of Jesus’s sayings about caring for the neighbor would have to be re-examined in the context of a modern consumer capitalist economy.

The other six interactions are all like this one, at least in principle. The liberal interviewer is positive and policy oriented. The conservative is negative about every public policy approach to solving the problems that he agrees we have. I think some careful vocabulary agreements could bring him into a public discussion of what realistic options are open to people with his values, but the process of clarifying the choices and providing an acceptable vocabulary would be exhausting and frustrating work.

And, of course, it doesn’t pay well. At least in the short run.
[1] Not to say that rants aren’t a valid part of democracy. The nation needs them and I think we are all better off is someone is writing and posting them. It just seems to me that ridicule is a tool that will take you only so far, then you need to decide what to do next.
[2] In the novel, Prayers for the Assassin, Muslims have conquered the United States. Here is the beginning of the clip that appears on the Amazon account of the story:
“SEATTLE, 2040. The Space Needle lies crumpled. Veiled women hurry through the streets. Alcohol is outlawed, replaced by Jihad Cola, and mosques dot the skyline.”
[3] “Allah” is not the name of “the Muslim God,” by the way. It is the Arabic word referring to the God of Christians and Jews. Thinking that Muslims worship a deity called Allah is like thinking the French worship a deity called Dieu and the Germans a deity called Gott. A has a point, however, because the common practice of the media is to translate the French and German words into the English “God” and to leave the Arabic word untranslated so that it could reasonably be construed as the name of another deity.
[4] I was once asked to take my membership and leave a Presbyterians church and also once asked to teach the Sunday School class I was teaching across the street at a restaurant that was closed on Sunday mornings (so I wouldn’t actually be teaching IN the church), so I am not as far away from A’s fears as one might think.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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