Thursday, March 01, 2007

Acid Tests

[posted by Callimachus]

Dean Esmay lays down a fatwa on anti-Islamic commentary:

Simply put, you must agree to all of the following assumptions:

1) Islam does not represent the forces of Satan or the Anti-Christ bent on destruction of the Christian world.

2) There is no 1,400 year old "war with the West/Christianity" being waged by Muslims or anyone else.

3) Islam as a religion is no more inherently incompatible with modernity, minority rights, women's rights, or democratic pluralism than most religions.

4) Medieval, anachronistic, obscure terms like "dhimmitude" or "taqiyya" are suitable for polite intellectual discussion. They are not and never will be appropriate to slap in the face of everyday Muslims or their friends.

5) Muslims have no more need to prove that they can be good Americans, loyal citizens, decent people, or enemies of terrorism than anyone else does.

I don't suspect this was meant to be heckled in a courtroom, but I do think #3 is open to discussion. A big religion is a mansion with many rooms; people who inhabit it will make it over to suit themselves, and you can find the full range of passions and perversions under the cloak of any religion on earth.

But to note the human consistency is not to say all religions are equally susceptible to certain trends, or that some do not devote more coherent effort to turning their adherents aside from -- or toward -- one or another of the dark qualities in our nartures.

Number 5? No, nobody "needs" to prove anything. On the other hand, I always feel myself somehow representing one thing or another that I am. If I were to put a bumper sticker on my car that says "Vote for X," I'd feel obligated to drive well, lest people think, "People who support X are road hogs who don't use turn signals." When I go abroad, or meet a foreign visitor here, I feel I represent America in some small way.

Again, it's not mandatory, but it's the kind of quality that keeps people behaving better than they otherwise might. It helps lubricate the wheels of social intercourse.

And you expect people to test you. When I go to Europe, I'm aware of the stereotypes people likely have of Americans. I used to drink with a crowd where I was the only one who had been to college. If I didn't know someone well, they often seemed to be reserved around me, as if expecting I would judge something they said as stupid or uneducated. I made sure never to even seem to be doing that, and part of their ribbing me about reading too many books, etc., was to put everyone at ease in some minor way.

So, no, nobody needs to be or prove anything. But it's not a banning crime to, say, read the large and consistent body of theological writing in Islam that agrees it is the obligatory personal duty of Muslims to fight any non-Muslim invader of traditional Muslim-ruled lands, and then wonder how this affects your fellow citizens who happen to be Muslims in the current state of the world. If you don't get all in everyone's face about it.

It seems to me his #4 gets to the problem: The same ingredients can be used to have a polite debate, or to form a rhetorical stink bomb. It's all in the attitude and the intention. And sometimes those things aren't so clear. Banning certain views is like banning "aluminum" on airline flights, because knives and guns are made of aluminum.

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