Muslims Don’t Need Better PR, Americans Need More Tolerance

The last time I checked, most Muslims in the United States were not blowing themselves up in suicide attacks against their fellow Americans. They were not issuing fatwas against Harry Potter or converting your favorite folk singer.

In fact, as far as I can tell, most Muslims across the globe are mostly peaceful. There’s some problems with religious fanaticism in the Middle East, but those problems are largely due to a toxic mix of post-colonialism, post-imperialism, autocracy, massive oil reserves, and globalization. You could throw almost any religion into that soup and see it radicalized overnight.

Either way, it’s simply bizarre to see Americans brought up on notions like ‘innocent until proven guilty’ spilling so much ink on the idea that all those peaceful or “moderate” Muslims should be constantly denouncing and distancing themselves from the “fundamentalist” Muslims. Not only does this imply that all fundamentalist Muslims are inherently violent – an extremely dubious claim – it also implies that Muslims writ large, including the vast majority of peaceful Muslims, are responsible for the sins of the few.

There are millions of American Muslims. How many acts of Muslim violence are on record here in the United States? September 11th was an anomaly, not part of a larger pattern. There are horror-stories of honor killings and other acts of violence here in the States, but these are exceedingly rare. Why do the millions of non-violent Muslims need to do anything more than simply remain non-violent in order to prove to Americans that they are not in fact sneaking into Christian houses at night to drink the blood of their sleeping infants?

No, the whole moderate-Muslims-need-to-speak-out meme is a ruse. It’s a deflection. No matter how much Muslims denounce terror, they will always be told they need to do more. This serves two purposes: first, it casts suspicion on all Muslims regardless of blame and shifts the responsibility for tolerance into their court; second, it distracts from the real issues facing this country, such as rising intolerance for religious pluralism, racism, and a foreign policy based on fear.

We’ve covered this ground before, and nothing has changed. Muslims are still being bombed by Americans at a far greater frequency than Americans are being bombed by Muslims. Yet for all that, American Muslims remain peaceful members of society. I don’t expect this to change. I do, however, expect Americans to uphold their belief in religious freedom – including the freedom to build a mosque wherever zoning permits allow, and to not be brought in front of a government commission investigating you simply because you’re a person of a specific faith.

I don’t doubt that Tim means well, but I’m afraid that all he’s doing is providing cover for those who don’t. I could say it’s time for moderate conservatives like Tim to denounce radicals in his tribe, but I don’t think that’s necessary. We own our own words, our own actions. We speak for ourselves.

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46 thoughts on “Muslims Don’t Need Better PR, Americans Need More Tolerance

  1. Bravo, sir. I would add that it also has an inherent “Blame the victim” mentality, as if to say, “We would tolerate all of you more if some of you weren’t so intolerable”. Last I checked, that is a major failure in understanding the term tolerance.

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  2. “I find your lack of education disturbing.”

    By which paraphrase I mean, you obviously lack any form of education on the Muslim faith and what it means to be a non-Muslim under their barbaric thumbs.

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    • I’ve known many Muslims, all of whom know/knew I was not also Muslim. I managed to survive. Perhaps the atrocities that are true in some segments of the Muslim world are not necessarily universal to all Muslims in all nations?

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    • [Y]ou obviously lack any form of education on the Muslim faith and what it means to be a non-Muslim under their barbaric thumbs.

      Would I want to live in a country under Islamic law? Hell no.

      For starters, I’m a gay atheist who loves to drink. A bit less selfishly (but only a bit), I also happen to like women. A lot. I think they should have the same share of opportunity and social status than men have.

      So yes, I’ve got all kinds of problems with Islamic law as it’s implemented in the world. But the statement “Islamic law is grossly illiberal,” while completely true, simply doesn’t translate to “individual Muslims are all secretly pining away for violence.”

      Indeed, it doesn’t even mean that individual Muslims are all illiberal. They’re clearly not.

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  3. Let’s say that there is a cartoon show that wants to show Mohammed.

    Not show him eating bacon or engaging in some deep offensive thing to the Muslim faith, but just have him show up.

    Does this desire to show Mohammed in the cartoon demonstrate intolerance on the part of the cartoon-makers?

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  4. “The last time I checked, most Muslims in the United States were not blowing themselves up in suicide attacks against their fellow Americans. They were not issuing fatwas against Harry Potter or converting your favorite folk singer. ”

    The last time I checked, most Christians in the United States weren’t suggesting that women were best found in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Most Christians weren’t throwing turds at abortion clinics. Most Christians weren’t handling snakes, or claiming that dead soldiers were queer and died because God hated them. Most Christians weren’t involved with the Crusades or Galileo.

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      • I’m saying that if Tim’s post had been about Christians instead of Muslims, then A: the comments would have been nothing but “good post!” “I agree!” “You’re right!”, and B: Kain’s post (this one) would never have happened, because of course it’s the responsibility of Christians to denounce extremists of their faith, of course it’s the responsibility of Christians to passively accept blasphemy and slander, of course Christians must apologize for the bad behavior of other Christians.

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          • *sigh*

            The things I’ve described aren’t troubling to Christians.

            They are, on the other hand, according to such people as E.D. Kain, a terrible burden for Muslims to bear, an unfair restriction we place upon them. To expect a Muslim to suggest that suicide bombers are crazy idiots–and not say anything at all about Israel–is just too much.

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            • Maybe I’m misreading, but I don’t think that’s close to what ED is saying. Especialy after reading Tim’s post, I think (and he can correct me if I speak out of line) he is saying that the concept that Muslims or any other group should only be allowed basic civil rights and the right to be left alone to do their own thing shouldn’t be dependent on who good of a PR or lobbying firm they hire.

              There’s lots of god points in his essay, but the post title kind of says it all.

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        • That is quite an assumption to make.

          There is no doubt that there are some people (perhaps myself included) who are more critical of Christianity/Christians than Islam/Muslims. For me, it comes down to a few issues: I was raised Christian/Catholic, so I am more informed about the faith and its practioners and am better able to comment without sticking my foot in my mouth. Additionally, I think that, despite the contrived War on Christianity, Muslims are a far more marginalized group who get more than their fair share of criticism, while Christianity and Christians often get a pass; my intent is to offer more nuance to the conversation.

          At the end of the day, I am not a fan of any organized religion. I have my issues with the Islamic faith, Christian faith, Jewish faith, and others. However, none of that justifies restricting their rights or otherwise marginalizing the group, which is often advocated in response to Muslims but rarely in response to Christians. People may make kiddie-touching jokes about Catholics, but is anyone calling for Congressional hearings? Boycotting the construction of a church near a school?

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          • “People may make kiddie-touching jokes about Catholics, but is anyone calling for Congressional hearings? Boycotting the construction of a church near a school?”

            It isn’t newsworthy when they do, because people do things like that all the time. Maybe you missed the endless debates about removing Christian symbols on government-operated property, eliminating Christian references in public activities, etcetera.

            “…despite the contrived War on Christianity, Muslims are a far more marginalized group who get more than their fair share of criticism, while Christianity and Christians often get a pass; my intent is to offer more nuance to the conversation.”

            A: “contrived”? My well, she is poisoned. I like how you insist that there’s no such thing as anti-Christian sentiment, but take it, as it were, on faith that pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment is real.

            B: What Tim’s post was trying to ask is whether the reason that Muslims find themselves “marginalized” and receive “more than their fair share of criticism” is their refusal to act like Christians when confronted with criticism.

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            • When you conflate “removing Christian symbols on government-operated property, eliminating Christian references in public activities, etcetera” with persecution of Christians, you put your privilege on display. The battles over Christian symbols on government property was grounded in the 1st Amendment. It was not an attempt to demonize Christianity but maintain a seperation of church and state. I’m not quite sure what you mean by eliminating Christian references in public activities. Do you mean the trend towards “Happy Holidays”?

              I did not say there was no such thing as anti-Christian sentiment. But the supposed War on Christianity that some would have you believe exists is simply not true. Again, your privilege is exposed. Simply because a group has been knocked from it’s lofty perch upon the power hierarchy does not mean it is now persecuted.

              How do Christians act when they are criticized? You seem fit to argue that any criticism of Christianity is evidence of an organized persecution. If you represent Christians, I think that is a piss poor way to handle criticism. Rather than be reflective, you suggest a conspiracy theory.

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            • “B: What Tim’s post was trying to ask is whether the reason that Muslims find themselves “marginalized” and receive “more than their fair share of criticism” is their refusal to act like Christians when confronted with criticism.”

              Would you be so kind to elaborate on this? What is this magical way that Christians act when confronted with criticism that ensures that they are treated better than Muslims? As a Muslim, I would like to know the secret ingredient, the secret sauce so to speak. Or by “refusal to act like Christians” do you mean the refusal of Muslims to convert to Christianity, or at least renounce their religion? This is a very interesting point, do elaborate, dear sir.

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              • “What is this magical way that Christians act when confronted with criticism that ensures that they are treated better than Muslims?”

                You don’t exactly see riots and threats of violent retribution in response to a story that someone chucked a Bible into a storm drain.

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                • When is the last time an Imam organized a public burning of a Bible? And, I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Bible does not have the same significance to Christians as the Koran does to Muslims. But let’s assume they are and I bet you still won’t see that level of nonsense perpetrated towards Christians.

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                  • Many Muslim leaders are routinely and repulsively anti-Semitic.

                    Sensitivity to Koran-burning is not found throughout the Muslim community, however. It mostly excites people in Pakistan and Afghanistan; note the relative absence of protests in the Arabian peninsula and North Africa. This is not specifically a Muslim issue, but one of regional culture.

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  5. Good for ED for demolishing this nonsense. Although I would question his judgment in inviting this person to be a front page poster here. This person makes pretty embarassing arguments to boot in his comments on his own post: I can’t be a bigot, I have Muslim friends and they luuuve me. At some point you would think that people would refrain from using that argument just out of sheer embarrassment. Don’t people know that argument that falls into the “I’m not a racist, I have black friends” category is not really all that convincing anymore? Not in this day and age, anyway.

    Sure, there are issues in the Muslim community in the US, just like there are issues in the Jewish community, or Mormon community, or Catholic community, or even mainstream Christian community. What is not helpful is condescending lectures like this from someone who claims to have Muslim friends, as if that fact shield their stupid arguments from criticism.

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    • “This person makes pretty embarassing arguments to boot in his comments on his own post: I can’t be a bigot, I have Muslim friends and they luuuve me. ”

      According to Tim, his co-worker disagreed with just about everything he posted.

      And, besides…you’re going for the low-hanging ad hom fruit, here. If he doesn’t know anyone then “oh, you have no personal experience, I can safely ignore your arguments!” If he does, then “oh, some of your best friends are black, right, I can safely ignore your arguments!”

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      • Not drawing on personal lived experiences is not like drawing on empirical facts. And people only use “some of my best friends are black” as a defense when they have no other arguments. That’s what makes it embarrassing.

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  6. It’s a sad day when I find it necessary to quote George W. Bush,

    “Islam is a vibrant faith. Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn’t follow the great traditions of Islam. They’ve hijacked a great religion.”

    Remarks by President George W. Bush on U.S. Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan Presidential Hall, Dwight David Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C.
    October 11, 2002

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      • Really? The whole “Muslim world” said that? All at once, or in a round? Was it like an online petition, with one person crafting the text and the rest of the “Muslim world” putting their names underneath? Was there nobody in the whole “Muslim world” capable of copy-editing, and thus putting a hyphen in “chimpy-looking”?

        Which organ of the “Muslim world” is empowered to speak for the whole? Where did you find this remarkable quote? I have some guesses you pulled it from a dark digestive orifice, but perhaps I don’t read the same papers you do. Pray, what was a response of the “Christian world” to this statement you quote? I don’t recall being asked to endorse whatever our response was, but surely the whole mass of my fellow believers must have wanted to counter this quote you shared.

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    • I think if things weren’t so hot in Europe, this discussion would be fine in remaining abstract.

      That said, Dubya’s sentiments are held by most “conservatives.” I’m not sure Mr. Kain overcame his inherent contradiction with his closing sentences, which seems tacked-on. The rhetoric of “some” conservatives is still being used to tar them all, and Mr. Kowal’s rather moderate remarks can be “used as cover” by these less “moderate” elements.

      As for Islam in the US, I think we pride ourselves that our history of pluralism has allowed us to avoid Europe’s current situation, and we all hope that’s correct. Also, America’s Muslims largely aren’t quarantined in ethnic ghettoes, where bad things stew and simmer.

      But to touch on BlaiseP’s consideration of

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitna_(word)

      actually, the fear of “fitna,” internal division, that a Muslim has a theological bar to standing against another Muslim even if he disagrees with his tactics, is a real thing, not an abstract one. Not terribly different than Irish Catholics here and abroad not opposing IRA terrorism even when they disagreed with it.

      Mr. Kowal didn’t get into the “inside baseball” on this, but it’s panglossian to ignore the theology of Islam and not attempt to understand it as it understands itself.

      One could ask one of those clever poll questions, and find great disagreement with bin Laden without finding great condemnation, and this lies beneath the troubling questions Kowal’s post raises.

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  7. ED: “I don’t doubt that Tim means well, but I’m afraid that all he’s doing is providing cover for those who don’t. ”

    Why do you not doubt that? I’m taking him at his word.

    And Tim – have you denounced the Federalist Society yet?
    Please link. I’ll judge the quality and quantity of those links.

    Oh – have you resigned from the FS? Did you go to a meeting
    and tell them what scum they are?

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  8. As a liberal, I think Obama’s election has been for the most part good for the country (or at least good for the things I care about as a liberal). But as a Muslim, I think his election has not been very good for the Muslim community in the US. The rumors and whisper campaign about Obama being a Muslim has made him more reluctant than Bush to do anything that could be construed as favorable for the Muslim community. Say what you want about Bush, but at least he managed to put a lid on the Islamophobia (for the most part) during his administration. Since Obama’s election, it’s like a free-for-all, and the lack of strong leadership on this issue by the President is not helping.

    I don’t really blame Obama, he is a politician after all, and politicians are by nature cowards. It’s not really surprising, but it is disheartening. My aunt has a simple solution, since most of the Muslim-hatred is coming from the right, Muslims should vote for Republicans en masse to form an important voting bloc for the party so that the party leader would tell the extremists to stop with the Islamophobia. I have to remind my aunt that despite various assertions that Muslims are breeding like rabbits and will overtake the US population soon, the number of Muslims in the US is too low to form an important voting bloc for any party. Not to mention the divisions among different groups of Muslims, based on ethnicity, country of origin, economic class etc etc (yes, we are not all the same).

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  9. Very convincing post, ED. But you couldn’t have written that 5 hours ago, before I penned my own two Federalist Society talks about similar issues? Now there almost seems no point in doing either “We Wouldn’t Even Have Domestic Violence If Women Would Just Shut Their Pie-hole” or “How We’d Let the Blacks Join the Club If Only They Didn’t Act So Black And Shit.”.

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  10. … it’s simply bizarre to see Americans brought up on notions like ‘innocent until proven guilty’…

    I don’t think most Americans actually believe that. Not the average voter anyway, and even more unfortunately, not the average juror.

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  11. First: American Muslims are not exposed to the expectations of a broader culture which demands they engage in honor killings or veil their wives or whatever else. It’s that expectation, the scorn of your neighbors if you don’t, which generates the routine hateful activity.

    Second: problems associated with Muslims overseas are all associated with third world Muslims. Note the relative paucity of complaints about Turks, the only polity with a real economy that isn’t third world. (Oil-funded illusions don’t count here.) But these are also problems associated with the third world more generally. So why would we expect first world Muslims to behave like third world Muslims? We don’t expect first world Catholics to behave like favela-dwellers.

    Third: why would we ever expect that people who left the old country would start recreating it in toto? They did, after all, leave that country and, considering that many of them had higher social standing there, it couldn’t all be because of a rude pecuniary interest. There’s a hefty selection effect which works against “the old country” and its ways.

    So it seems like the only thing American Muslims need to point out is that they’re American Muslims; just by living here they’re different than the rest of the Muslim world just as surely as the Ericsons of St. Paul are different from their Norwegian kin.

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  12. Someone who announces he’s a Republican might reasonably be asked if he can reconcile his politics with the Iraq war, waterboarding, the bank bailouts, Medicare Part D and the profligate spending of the GWB years, etc.. Someone who announces he’s a Christian might likewise be expected to account for the plight of some of his more high-profile brethren for trying to keep evolution theory out of schools or for bombing abortion clinics; a Democrat to account for public union abuses and our historic national debt; a conservative for minority oppression; a socialist for every other kind of oppression; and so on. A non-bigoted acknowledgment is possible that, while not every follower of an ideology or group must be a perfectly consistent adherent, we can typically anticipate either general adherence or, alternatively, a refinement of or splintering off from the ideology or group. A non-bigoted acknowledgment is also possible that Islam appears to have doctrinal connections with political power, as powerfully evidenced by its actual connections with political power in numerous Muslim nations. Americans’ aversion to the connection between religion and politics is simply too entrenched and predictable for anyone to be shocked that many Americans wonder about Islam—in a manner not fundamentally unlike the way they wondered if the Pope might have any influence over the U.S. presidency through JFK’s Catholicism. It is not intolerant or bigoted to assume that ideas have consequences, and it is not intolerant or bigoted, therefore, to inquire about the nature and import of those ideas.

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