Clash of Civilizations

Ta-Nehisi Coates posts the below video, writing:

I don’t even know what to say anymore. It’s officially fine to be bigoted toward Muslims. The panel (rather politely) dissented. I guess that’s a good thing.

It’s crazy. You could just as easily trade in Tanika for Mohammed, and terrorism for welfare babies. Different reasons. Same fear.

I don’t know. I think the whole welfare babies comparison seriously misses the mark. It’s sensible enough to fear the spread of a religion into secular Europe that is, at least in modern times, prone to streaks of radicalism.  I think it’s understandable to worry that a large and rapidly growing population, which often has completely different values and notions about society and the role of religion and the state, is failing to assimilate into the broader culture.

This is not an abstract or theoretical problem in Britain, France, Germany, and Northern Europe, where Islam is on the rise, Christianity provides no counterbalance, and the legal line between church and state is nowhere near as clear as in the US. Here, obviously, we don’t have the same issues. From an American perspective, maybe I can see Maher as being ‘bigoted toward Muslims’. But since he’s talking about Europe, the picture gets more complicated. We need to see through that lens before we level accusations of bigotry.

It’s passing strange that people who are afraid of radical Christianity in the United States – which is 99.99% of the time more talk than action – cringe at any vocalized fears that an Islamic population boom might have anti-democratic repercussions down the road. People who value secular society, women’s rights, and Western democracy should be concerned by the growth of an unassimilated, often disenfranchised, and potentially radicalized Islamic population.

Again, for whatever reason, America doesn’t have this problem. For the most part, Muslims – like any other group – assimilate very well into American society. They are typically not radical, generally very well-educated, successful, and certainly no threat to the West. But the same is not the case in Europe. I don’t think we do anybody any favors to paint anyone who says there’s a problem there a bigot. The problem may stem from a European unwillingness to even allow these cultures to properly assimilate – I’m not sure. But one way or another, regardless of who we can blame, there is a problem.

Furthermore, this is Bill Maher. He made this movie called Religulous which basically mocks people for being religious (okay, I didn’t see the film, but that’s the gist of it so far as I can tell). Personally, I find this pretty tasteless and I find Maher way too self-righteous and arrogant for his own good. I’m not a big fan of the new atheists in general, or of people who view all religion as evil. I tend to think they’re missing the point.

But Maher is at least an equal opportunity anti-theist. If some strain of non-Western Christianity, known to have serious anti-democratic, radicalized elements was the emerging demographic in Europe, was out-birthing the natives so to speak, I think Maher would say the same thing. This isn’t so much a reaction to Islam as it is a reaction to religion. Maher is afraid that the Europe he idealizes – secular, social-democratic, progressive Europe – will be overwhelmed by a culture that is in every sense antithetical to these things. I don’t think that makes him a bigot.

P.S. Commenter James Vonder Haar writes:

Of course radicalism is concerning.  What makes Maher a bigot is that he doesn’t make distinctions between Muslims- that any children are born Mohamed concerns him, whether they’re a threat or not.

That’s not my interpretation of this at all. Maher is responding to news that Mohamed is the most popular name in Britain this year. This points to a demographic changes that Maher finds threatening. Mohamed being the most popular name points to a tectonic demographic shift in the UK. It’s not the name, per se, that frightens Maher but rather what it implies.

P.P.S. Commenter Mike Houser asks:

Since bigotry has come up in your work that last few weeks and you’ve argued that the examples are not bigoted, I’m wondering if you’ve seen any event that made the news that you would put in the bigot category.  I’m interested in where you draw the line.

Let’s see. These guys. And this guy. And I mentioned some others in this post. And innumerable other examples of truly hateful people expressing truly irrational fears.

Also: In response to Jason who writes:

There are 92 million evangelical Christians in the United States.  There are perhaps 2.5 million Muslims.

Though Evangelicals don’t like to admit it, the most fundamentalist among the Muslims generally side with them on all social issues for which there is serious debate.  For the others (hijab, alcohol prohibition, forbidding interest) there’s no serious possibility of a political movement.  Conservative Christians are clearly setting the agenda.

So yeah, for the next fifty or so years at the very, very least, conservative Christians are set to have more political influence than Muslims.

But isn’t this exactly the point? Maher is expressing his fear that Islam will become demographically similar to evangelical Christianity in the United States. Meanwhile, although we have 92 million evangelical Christians, we have very few problems with violent extremism – out of 92 million people only a tiny, tiny handful have bombed abortion clinics. This is largely because evangelical Christians are pretty much part of the mainstream culture. The fear in Europe is that Muslims will be more radicalized because they will not be assimilated, while at the same time their population rapidly expands. And Maher is worried, probably rightly, that their politics will be much more akin to the Christian evangelicals here in the US. So no matter how he spins it, the rise of Islam in Europe is bad for secular society. So again, when I mention my bafflement over liberals here who cry foul at evangelical Christians not being able to see the same problem in European Islam, that’s all I mean. I’m not saying they should be up in arms over the Muslims here in the US – and I think I took pains to point that out.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

41 thoughts on “Clash of Civilizations

  1. Of course radicalism is concerning. What makes Maher a bigot is that he doesn’t make distinctions between Muslims- that any children are born Mohamed concerns him, whether they’re a threat or not.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. Hi E.D. I very much enjoy your writing. Since bigotry has come up in your work that last few weeks and you’ve argued that the examples are not bigoted, I’m wondering if you’ve seen any event that made the news that you would put in the bigot category. I’m interested in where you draw the line.

    Thanks.

    -mh

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. This post is mostly spot on, with a giaint what the hell when you act confused by the people who value secular society and how they should not be concerned by the christians. All I can say about that paragraph is, you can’t be serious. Have you really listened to some of the creationist that are running for office? Have you listened to the anti-abortion rhetoric coming from those people? Many of these voices will be elected. The radical christians have fewer suicide bombers, but they are a greater danger to freedoms in America because there are more of them.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • @dexter45, only a small percentage of Christians are like that.

      Christianity is a religion of tolerance and outright bigotry against it isn’t helpful and will alienate Christians and make more of them want to fight us even though they are inclined to like the things we stand for.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • @Jaybird, Christianity may be a religion of tolerance, but Christians (at least those who are vocal about it) are not. Tolerance of a woman’s right to choose abortion and a homosexual’s right to marry the person of her choice are way low on what vocal Christians tolerate. (These days, they’re none too tolerant of that whole science thing either, as in the debates over the age of the earth and the theory of evolution.)

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • @Francis, if we define “tolerance” as “celebration”, then they don’t particularly tolerate abortion.

          If, however, we define “tolerate” as “vote against it within the system as the system allows” or “petition the government for changes of the laws” or “get state constitutional amendments on the ballot to be voted upon by the citizenry”, how are they *NOT* tolerant?

          They’re working within the system to change it which is something that even Christians are allowed to do. That is tolerance of abortion.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • @Jaybird,
            Don’t forget gluing the locks of clinic doors, harassing womenas they seek medical care, fraudulently posing as reproductive health centers and lying to the people that go in, posting what amount to target lists on the internet, leaving bombs at Olympic games, and shooting doctors.

            They do that too.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • @Mike,

              One can just as easily say that “Violent acts of terrorism are also statistically insignificant. You’re orders of magnitude more likely to be killed in a car crash. Any attempt to conflate them to a serious issue is alarmism.”

              So, if the impact on the populace is measured only by statistical significance (as opposed to presumed significance), the whole discussion is baloney.

              But if we get to talk about presumed significance (the terror factor), then terrorism is exactly the sort of problem that bombing abortion clinics is, or firebombing medical researcher’s houses because you think they do animal research.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • @Pat Cahalan,

              Pat makes a good point here and I would like to add that the fbis numbers show that the largest attacks from terrorists have been from leftist environmentalists who hate things like animal testing.

              Still we have plenty to worry about from anti-abortion extremists. Most people against abortion simply vote in a way I don’t like. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a scary network of anti-abortion terrorist who use harassment, bombs, and murder because they are still out there still doing what they do.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • @ThatPirateGuy, I posted a very rough couple of graphs on my blog.

              http://progressconservative.com/2007/01/01/abortion-statistics/

              The first graph shows all acts of abortion-related harassment, violence, etc. The second graphs is controlled for anthrax threats (popular only right after 9/11) and non-violent crimes like harassment or tresspassing. When you look at hose numbers you can see that abortion violence has declined DRAMATICALLY in the last decade.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • @ThatPirateGuy, yeah, yeah. And Muslims blew up the World Trade Center and threatened Salman Rushdie and rioted over political cartoons and sent suicide bombers into university libraries.

              And yet to focus on such things rather than on the hundreds of millions of moderate muslims who are just getting through the day while being loving to their wives, children, neighbors is to miss the point entirely, ain’t it?

              Is this one of those things where you want to argue that the moderate religious types have the extremist religious types do their wacky bidding under a cover of plausible deniability which allows them to say “hey, we deplore violence!” while, at the same time, cultivating the benefits of imposing their will on others which is their *REAL* (but secret) agenda?

                Quote  Link

              Report

          • @Jaybird,

            They definately are not rare enough that they don’t impact the number of abortions.

            After Dr. Tiller was murdered his clinic shut down. The violence plays a part in keeping people from practicing this part of medicine. The harassment is widespread and works well to reduce the number of clinics and their ability to operate. Every clinic receives regular death threats.

            And at the end of the day even without the violence this group of people is calling for the removal of a woman’s right to control her own body. That is still pretty bad to me.

              Quote  Link

            Report

      • @Jaybird,

        Yeah, Jay, but only a small percentage of Muslims are “like that”, too. In fact, the chunk of “people with belief systems” who become “radicalized” is pretty likely IMO to be non-causally linked to the actual belief system (this is where I seriously diverge from people like PZ Myers and Dawkins). People who are predisposed to become radicals are predisposed to become radicals because of socioeconomic factors and personal proclivities, not religious leanings or lack thereof. In other words, Muslims are probably more likely to assimilate here in the U.S. because the general population of Muslims here in the U.S. looks different, socioeconomically, from the general population of Muslims in Europe.

        If you’re talking about the threat of radicalized belief systems to a generally stable society, you should be talking about the threat of radicalized belief systems, as a threat vector, and ways to alleviate those threat vectors… because those sorts of strategies will at least have the possibility of effectiveness regardless of whether the radical belief system is evangelical Christianity, pre-Vatican II Catholicism, Islamic Jihadis, Scientologists, or wiccans for that matter.

        To say, “Muslims scare me” is bigotry, iff’n you ask me. Just like if you say, “Evangelical Christians scare me”, or “Black urban youths scare me.” Bigoted statements are *overgeneralizing* statements that attach a negative connotation to a superset of a population; making a bigoted statement doesn’t make you a bigot or a bad person, it just makes you a lazy thinker or an imprecise talker.

        Maher may or may not actually be bigoted towards Muslims (I suspect he qualifies as bigoted towards religious people, generally, but that’s a different charge); but this is a bigoted statement, yeah, Bill. Because you don’t say, “The most popular name in the U.K. is Mohammad… given that this shows a major demographic shift in that country, and given that the U.K. has a record of problems with their underserved Muslim minority… I’m a little alarmed by this.” You’re taking a lot of verbal shortcuts by editing for brevity in this case, and that changes the context of what you’re saying.

        E.D. would probably argue that the context is implicit, and therefore that’s okay, but I don’t buy that in this sort of public discourse. Bill’s not my uncle, he’s not my buddy, and I have no way of grokking his implicit context unless I watch his show every night. I don’t do that. He can’t expect everyone to do that. So if he’s going to say stuff on the air that requires a bunch of implicit context to be clear, he’s failing at his job. He’s communicating imprecisely.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • @Pat Cahalan,

          To clarify this, “People who are predisposed to become radicals are predisposed to become radicals because of socioeconomic factors and personal proclivities, not religious leanings or lack thereof.”

          I do think that there is a correlative factor between religious leanings and radicalism (as opposed to humanist leanings and radicalism), but that’s only because the sort of person who is predisposed towards radicalism is also going to be predisposed towards constructed belief systems, rather than derived ones.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • @Pat Cahalan, I think we’ve already said that the most terrorist attacks in the US come from far-left animal rights groups.

            What are the “socioeconomic factors and personal proclivities” there? Off the top of my head, I’d have to say “middle-to-upper class” for the former and, well, something about hipsters for the latter.

            Indeed, Johnny Lindh fits that sort of thing too as well as the guy who recently got busted for threatening Matt and Trey.

            I don’t know what Europe has going on, but the US seems to have a middle class problem with terrorism rather than one with terrorism from the economically disadvantaged.

              Quote  Link

            Report

      • @Jaybird, I don’t think I am bigoted against christians, I just don’t want people who are against some of things I am for to run the government. It doesn’t matter what church you go to if you say some of the things the teabaggers have said this election cycle, then I am against you. It just happens that most of the right wingers claim to be christians. If most of them were athiest, then I would be against them.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • @dexter45, dude, you and me both!

          You wouldn’t believe the belief systems held by some of the folks running things. Some of them think that I ought to be responsible for (insert government program here).

          Moreover, when I complain about this, I get told that, hey, if I don’t like it then I can always move to Somalia. (That always drives me crazy.)

          The problem comes when “the people” vote for spectacularly distasteful policies that infringe on your rights, no?

          For what it’s worth, I agree 100%. I wish we had a government that wouldn’t infringe on our rights just because the majority of “the people” feel like they want to infringe on me this election cycle.

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • @dexter45,

          And this is more or less the proper attitude to cop to with Muslims as well. I think it’s important that we not let fear of being seen as intolerant prevent us from standing up for the Western values of pluralism, equality of the sexes or what have you. That so many Muslims seem to not be on the same page on those fronts is unfortunate, but Islam isn’t the problem- sexism, homophobia, or whatever else is the real problem. We’re better off attacking those things rather than the religion that they are very loosely affiliated with.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • @James Vonder Haar, I am an agnostic that leans toward atheism. One day at work I was having a conversation with a christian about beliefs. I said, and I feel the same way today, “I do not care what god you follow as long as your god does not tell you to kill me.” If a christian says the bible is the word of god and says you must stone gays, then I have a problem with that god. If he had been a muslim and said the koran says you must kill all jews, then I have a problem with that god. I do not care where you go to church. I care about the policies of those churches promote. Some religions do promote intolerance . On one side there is the Focus on the Family. On the other side there are the kill the infidal mullahs. Either one is bad. What I want is more tolerance.

              Quote  Link

            Report

  4. It’s passing strange that people who are afraid of radical Christianity in the United States – which is 99.99% of the time more talk than action – cringe at any vocalized fears that an Islamic population boom might have anti-democratic repercussions down the road.

    This isn’t strange at all. There are 92 million evangelical Christians in the United States. There are perhaps 2.5 million Muslims.

    Though evangelicals don’t like to admit it, the most fundamentalist among the Muslims generally side with them on all social issues for which there is serious debate. For the others (hijab, alcohol prohibition, forbidding interest) there’s no serious possibility of a political movement. Conservative Christians are clearly setting the agenda.

    So yeah, for the next fifty or so years at the very, very least, conservative Christians are set to have more political influence than Muslims.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. So no matter how he spins it, the rise of Islam in Europe is bad for secular society.

    This seems to rest on an unstated premise, namely that we need a religion to maintain secular society, just as long as it’s not Islam.

    I’m unconvinced. I think secular folks can also stand up for secular society.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. Give me a break. This doesn’t make Maher a bigot. He’s literally says that “its not because of the race, its because of the religion”. Unwesternized Muslims clashing with the much more liberal societies in Western Europe… if the rise of that population continues, and they don’t begin to assimilate into those cultures faster… the problems they’re going to have are going to make the culture wars between the 15-20% on the far left and 15-20% on the far right look like thumb wars.

    I did see Religulous, and he went overboard with the “religion is stupid” meme, but there were some interesting conversations and he generally treated the religious folks he talked to with respect, even if he thought their views were stupid.

    Solomon Kleinsmith
    Rise of the Center
    Vanguard of the Rising Moderate and Centrist Independent Opposition

      Quote  Link

    Report

      • @Pat Cahalan,

        There is a big difference between being bigoted and not liking something. Its not bigoted to be freaked out by people who are genuinely scary. Its not muslims that integrate into society that are a problem… as much as Maher is anti-religion, he doesn’t think people who believe in it are necessarily crazy, just wrong. Its ones that believe in a system of morality from the dark ages, think women are essentially property, etc etc etc and live in a culture they reject, and expect the country to just accept them, even though many of their beliefs are antithetical to the western world… what exactly do you disagree with there? If some sect suddenly converted ten million people to their religion, that made the Tea Party look like moderates… would that not freak you out?

        Like I said before… these folks’ culture make the GOP look liberal. Put that together in a mixing pot with countries where the moderates are in some cases more liberal than democrats are here, and you’ve got a dangerous situation brewing… the problem isn’t with Islam in general, the problem is with extremists that don’t become westernized and assimilate… mix in with the melting pot so to speak, as is needed for a society to work.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  7. “Meanwhile, although we have 92 million evangelical Christians, we have very few problems with violent extremism – out of 92 million people only a tiny, tiny handful have bombed abortion clinics. ”

    But a lot more have bombed other people. Given that 75% of white self-described evangelicals voted for Bush in 2004, it’s pretty clear that they are a danger, and a problem in this country.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • @Barry,

      Who exactly have “a lot more” evangelical Christians bombed than abortion clinics? Is there a rash of bombings of adult bookstores that I’m not aware of?

      (Perhaps you’re making a sly reference to evangelicals serving in the military, but of course that’s not relevant to this discussion.)

        Quote  Link

      Report

  8. Just a thought: It seems likely to me (though I haven’t the time to look it up) that “Mohammed” is probably a much more dominant name in Islamic culture than something like “John” is in Western Christian culture today. American (and, I’m assuming, British) parents today tend to value having a unique name for their child.

    My point? Let’s say a popular Western name is given to 3% of baby boys, while “Mohammed” is given to 15% of Muslim boys. Then Muslim boys would only need to be a little less than 20% of male births for Mohammed to be the most popular baby name. Still a sizeable percentage, but perhaps not as large as people might assume at first.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *