[Note: This post is updated below.]
I would have had this post up sooner, but what with the mandatory burka buying, the prayer mat cleaning and having to salat every few hours, the day tends to slip right by. But now that I have a peaceful, quiet moment alone (Allah be praised), I thought I’d take a moment to respond to Rod Dreher’s recent Portland Sharia series.
The series makes me sad, in no small part because I have come to respect Dreher (and not because he once linked to an essay of mine and said nice things about me). I agree with him far less often than I disagree, but I deeply appreciate his ability to think for himself. Most conservative sites I read feature bloggers who all say the exact same thing, using the exact same arguments, verbiage and conservative catch phrases o’ the day. I swear, you could hack into the servers for Breitbert, Daily Caller, PJMedia and NRO, switch all the blog posts around to the byline of different bloggers, and no one would ever notice. On those rare occasions someone does try to cut through the clutter, it’s usually by trying to see if they can dial the crazy to 11 to get attention. To his credit, Dreher seems to sincerely disapprove of and eschew this trend, presumably at the expense of page hits — hence my respect. That being said, his Portland Sharia series is a pretty good example of how the Right’s echo chamber dilutes intellectual rigor — even for those in the chamber who are smart and work to be independent, like Dreher.
First, a bit of background.
As I noted here, Chauncy Childs is an Oregon entrepreneur who is about to open a high-end, all-natural grocery store in Portland’s Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood. As I noted previously, I lived there for almost two decades, from 1994 until we built our house in 2012. The neighborhood is extremely liberal and communal, even by Portland standards.
Thanks to a long, meandering gentrification process, Sellwood-Moreland is one of those rare neighborhoods that appeals to people of all income levels. Seven-figure homes sit next door to $200,000 homes and lower-income apartment buildings, and a non-government enforced craftsman-era aesthetic makes it all seem seamless. Houses closely surround shops, bars and restaurants that cater to all income levels that are all within walking distance, and because everyone walks everywhere everyone knows one another. Most weekends of each summer, one or another street is cordoned off by the police and everyone gathers for huge potluck block-parties. It’s the kind of neighborhood where you don’t just know that names of your immediate neighbors, you know the names of pretty much everyone — including the guy who stocks your produce at New Seasons (Bob), the managers at Starbucks (Gretchen and Laura), and the woman who owns the bookstore (Julie). Everyone shops local, and everyone who works local lives in the neighborhood. Ignore the liberal-leaning part, and it’s exactly the kind of neighborhood folks like Dreher lament no longer exist in modern society.
It also has a substantial gay and lesbian community, which as we shall see becomes relevant to Childs’ shopkeeper aspirations.
And say what you will about Chauncy Childs, she certainly has stones: The location she chose for her market is
directly across the street a few blocks away from a New Seasons Market. New Seasons is a local chain of high-end, all-natural grocery stores that has been phenomenally successful. After Powell’s Books and the McMenamins micro-breweries, New Seasons is easily the most beloved business in Portland — and it is absolutely the corporation that sports the most fierce and near-universal brand loyalty. All new businesses need a little luck to survive. But to so openly declare war on a local favorite before even opening her doors, Childs needed more than a little luck — she needed to play her hand perfectly.
It is head-scratching, therefore, to see that Child’s would risk alienating her future all-liberal client base by being that kind of Facebook person that goes out of there way to publicly declare that same client base as being — among other things — agents of Satan. Dreher notes that where he’s from, believing the liberal state to be a product of Satan is kind of mainstream, and since I’ve never lived in the Louisiana I guess I’ll take him at his word. In Portland, however, he’ll need to take mine that it’s considered crazy-town talk — even by the standards of Portland’s conservatives.
In addition to the Satanism stuff, or course, there is the little matter of Child’s outspoken belief that store owners should be allowed to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that the government should forbid same-sex marriage (because she’s a libertarian, natch), and that same-sex marriage is the first step in that slippery slope to having sex with small children. To his credit, even Dreher concedes that when talking about homosexuals, Childs “was kind of ugly about it.”
Not surprisingly, people in Sellwood-Moreland seem to have made the decision that Childs doesn’t seem to care for people like them (gay or straight), and that because of this they’ll probably be happy to continue shopping at the high-end, all-natural grocery
directly across the street a few blocks away from Childs. After all, New Seasons has contracts with pretty much all the farms and ranches Childs does.
This, according to Dreher, is Portland’s dreaded Sharia at work.
Oy. Where to even begin?
First, it’s probably worth noting out loud that Dreher’s Portland Sharia series has nothing — nothing — to do with Muslims. Indeed, the things Childs says that the folks in Sellwood-Moreland are objecting to — calling the liberal, multi-cultural state Satanic, opposing SSM because it’s a sin in the eyes of God — are pretty much as close to what Dreher associates Sharia with as you can get to without being actually Muslim. Rather, “Sharia” is simply being used as a catchall for things that conservatives don’t like. And although I guess I kind of see what he’s getting at (I think?), it smacks of the kind of limp, sloppy, insert-buzz-word-here thinking that so plagues the Dean Chambers and Jonah Goldbergs of the world.
But past that, it’s dizzying to consider the kind of mental blinders Dreher must don to so condemn the denizens of Sellwood-Moreland. After all, no one in the neighborhood is asking the government to shut down Chauncy Childs. No one in the neighborhood is advocating vandalism or violence. No one in the neighborhood, as far as I have heard, is hoping to shut her farm down. All anyone in the neighborhood is doing is saying that in light of her opinion of them, given the choice between shopping at her store or not shopping at her store, they will probably opt for the latter.
Isn’t that what conservative are always claiming to covet — to let the free market and not the government decide who will and won’t attract customers? Like Dreher, Childs herself argues that store owners should be allowed to publically hold any belief they choose — should be able to refuse to serve anyone they wish — and that the government should hold its tongue, and let consumers themselves be the judge and jury with their wallets. Is this not exactly what the people of Sellwood-Moreland are doing?
If Dreher is so flummoxed by his conflation of Gays, Nazis and Muslims, here is a thought experiment he can try on his own: Imagine a Portlander opening a store front in his neighborhood, directly across the street from a popular business that provided the exact same service. Imagine too that this same Portlander had a Facebook page and a blog where she often referred to Christians as dumb redneck hicks who were to stupid to see that Christianity was a lie. Imagine that the local paper and TV news caught wind and interviewed this Portlander, and when they did she not only doubled down, she said things that locals found even more offensive.
Would Dreher’s neighbors line up to give that Portlander their money? If they didn’t, would Dreher accuse them of being advocates of Louisiana Sharia?
Dreher also objects to people (not necessarily Sellwood-Moreland folks, by the way) threatening to boycott vendors who work with Childs. And while I will admit that this is a little further than I would personally be willing to go, it should be noted that it isn’t further than Dreher would.
Now, to be fair, Dreher does point to a few knuckleheads on Facebook making knucklehead comments. So there’s that, I guess. Myself, I just add those onto the pile of those ex-high-school classmates of mine who post comments on Facebook that Obama had his grandmother killed to hide his Kenyan birth, or about how Obama and Pelosi are working with the United Nations to prepare for a UN Forces invasion to destroy America. Seriously, if your biggest guns in any culture war argument are some form of “but this guy on Facebook who disagrees with me said something really stupid!,” you really need to reevaluate your position.
I sincerely hope Dreher gets off this Portland Sharia hobbyhorse soon. The conservative movement needs the Rod Dreher that’s independent and intellectually honest, not whoever’s writing this stuff.
UPDATE: Reader James noted in the comments section that Childs’ shop is not across from the street, which is a statement that is not in agreement with FB posts I got saying that it was in the old Blockbuster building. (For those who care about such things, that building is at the corner of SE 13th and Tacoma, as is New Seasons.) And the building in the news footage does indeed look like the old blockbuster building. (We don’t have a lot of brick in PDX.) Thinking to show James he was wrong, I went to the Oregon Business Registry and discovered… James is 100% correct. Childs’ shop is on Milwaukie, a few blocks away. So apologies for that inaccuracy. (Though I don’t think it changes much of my argument, which I will let stand.)
As a minor and unrelated note, the business registry also curiously says that Childs operation was established in January of 2104. The signage in the picture says “Established 2009.” I find this weird, and since it seems like something so petty to fib about I can’t imagine it’s a clever ruse, but it does whet my curiosity. Does anyone in the hive mind know when one considers a business “established?”