By Nicholas D. Kristof
Sep 13 2010
For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider what Martin Peretz, The New Republic’s editor in chief asserted: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” Peretz added: “I wonder whether I need honour these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”
Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?
This is one of those times that test our values, a bit like the shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. It would have been natural for this test to have come right after 9/11, but it was forestalled because President George W. Bush pushed back at his conservative ranks and repeatedly warned Americans not to confuse Al Qaeda with Islam.
Now that Bush is no longer in the White House, nativists are back on the warpath. Some opponents of President Obama are circulating bald-faced lies. One e-mail bouncing around adds, “His Muslim faith says it’s okay to lie.” Or there’s the e-mail I received the other day, declaring: “President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to remember and honour the Muslim Id season with a new commemorative 44 cent first class holiday postage stamp.” In fact, it was President Bush’s administration that first issued the Id stamp in 2001.
Astonishingly, a Newsweek poll finds that 52 per cent of Republicans believe that it is “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Barack Obama sympathises with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” That kind of extremism undermines our democracy, risks violence and empowers jihadis.
In America, bigoted comments about Islam often seem to come from people who have never visited a mosque and know few if any Muslims. In their ignorance, they mirror the anti-Semitism that I hear in Muslim countries from people who have never met a Jew. One American professor wrote to me that “every Muslim in the world” believes that the proposed Manhattan Islamic centre would symbolise triumph over America. That reminded me of Pakistanis who used to tell me that “every Jew” knew of 9/11 in advance, so that none died in the World Trade Centre.
It is perfectly reasonable for critics to point to the shortcomings of Islam or any other religion. There should be more outrage, for example, about the mistreatment of women in many Islamic countries, or the oppression of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan. Europe is alarmed that Muslim immigrants have not assimilated well, resulting in tolerance of intolerance, and pockets of wife-beating, forced marriage, homophobia and female genital mutilation. Those are legitimate concerns, but sweeping denunciations of any religious group constitute dangerous bigotry.
If this is a testing time, then some have passed with flying colours. Hats off to a rabbinical student in Massachusetts, Rachel Barenblat, who raised money to replace prayer rugs that a drunken intruder had urinated on at a mosque. She told me that she quickly raised more than $1,100 from Jews and Christians alike.
Above all, bravo to those Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who jointly denounced what they called “the anti-Muslim frenzy.” “We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “It cannot happen here in America in 2010.” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put it this way: “This is not America. America was not built on hate.”
“Shame on you,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading evangelical Christian, said to those castigating Islam. “You bring dishonour to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbour.” Amen.
Source: New York Times