Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creeping McCarthyism

From time to time in American history, a seemingly dedicated and patriotic group of Americans decides that our liberties are in danger from some specific threat. They then decide that the only way to preserve our liberties is to limit them (destroying the village to save it). In the 1950s the grand threat was Communism. Today, it's Islam.

Two recent articles have brought this to the forefront of my consciousness. First, the New York Times ran a piece regarding the controversy surrounding the Arabic language school that opened in Brooklyn this year. Then, City Journal ran an article on creeping Sharia (Muslim law) and how multiculturalism is leading to a cultural surrender by the west to Islam.

The articles use phrases like creeping Sharia and "soft jihad" to describe what's happening. The litany of woe includes "Muslim cabdrivers in Minneapolis who have refused to take passengers carrying liquor; municipal pools and a gym at Harvard that have adopted female-only hours to accommodate Muslim women; candidates for office who are suspected of supporting political Islam; and banks that are offering financial products compliant with sharia, the Islamic code of law" plus the furor over the Danish cartoons published last summer depicting Mohammed. Some of these are outright ridiculous, while others bear more serious concern.

I'll outright dismiss the concerns listed above in quotes that comes from the New York Times article. The fact is that we already offer all sorts of reasonable accomodations to various groups for various reasons. However, offering kosher meals on airplanes is not a sign of creeping Zionism. The existence of Chinatown is not deemed indication of creeping Communism or creeping Buddhism. I just don't see where these items cross the line from reasonable accomodation into the realm of cultural surrender.

The instance of the Danish cartoon bears more careful consideration because there was real violence involved. Now, I haven't seen the cartoon myself. However, I have read accounts that it depicts Mohammed as a dog. Understandably, Muslims were upset by this. Then violence broke out. Seemingly unwilling to write letters to the editor, flags (and an embassy) were burned. In his City Journal piece, Bruce Bawer writes that the failure of other publications to print the cartoon as a gesture of free speech solidarity shows that Islam has coopted liberty.

Whoa there. Let's back up a little bit and look at it one step at a time. First, given the strictures of the religion, the cartoon was offensive to Muslims who don't want there to be any images of their prophet. That makes sense to me. Consider what would happen if the New York Times ran a cartoon of Jesus as a dog. They'd be roundly lambasted across the country. Look at what happened when an artist made a model of Jesus on the cross out of chocolate and made the figure anatomically correct. It was news around the world and assailed as being an "assault on Christian sensibilities." Is the lack of newspaper pictures showing the sculpture of Jesus' penis a sign that Christianity has stormed our culture and violated our liberties? Hardly. What sets this apart is that (to the best of my knowledge) there was no Catholic rioting.

That then raises the question. Was the violence an act of Islam or an act of extremists covering themselves in the cloak of Islam? Given the number of Muslims worldwide and the relative lack of violence in relation to that number, I find myself inclined to believe the extremist theory.

So then why am I reading about cultural surrender to Islam and the impending end of Western liberties? Well, in a word, terrorism. We've had groups that don't fit into our general societal norms before - be they Amish or Star Trek fans - and we've gotten along just fine. But those groups have yet to fly airplanes into our skylines. The fact is that extremists acting in the name of Islam have.

But that doesn't mean we have to stop loving the sinner as we hate the sin. We should draw the line with Islam at the same place we draw the line for every other religion. You can believe what you want, but your actions must still follow the law. If your religion calls for human sacrifice or allows men to beat their wives that's a problem if you follow through. Just saying it - repugnant though it may be - is fine. That's what liberty means. And we have to be steadfast in supporting it. There can be none of this limiting the forms of liberty to preserve liberty itself. We must see the line between reasonable accomodation and unreasonable appeasement. If we allow religious McCarthyism to creep into our society then we truly will have surrendered our culture.

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