This is a much belated response to Peter Saint-Andre and Michael Young on Republican Islamophobia, from my post of January 5. Given its length, I’ve decided to make a new post of my response rather than try to insert it into the combox.
Looking over the whole exchange, I can’t help thinking that the point I made in my original post has gotten lost in a thicket of meta-issues orthogonal to what I said in the original post. I don’t dispute that the issues that Peter and Michael have brought up are worth discussing, but I still think that they bypass what I actually said.
My original post boils down to the following claims:
- There is such a thing as Islamophobia. It may be an unfortunate term, but it’s a legitimate concept.
- Islamophobia is morally wrong—an injustice. It’s the analogue, in the Muslim case, of anti-Semitism in the Jewish case, or anti-Catholic bigotry in the Catholic case.
- The Republican Party (and the part of the political right that supports it) has now internalized Islamophobia and made it part of their essential platform and strategy.
- Claims (1)-(3) imply that injustice is an essential part of the platform and strategy of the contemporary Republican Party.
- A critique of Trump, like Wehner’s, that bypasses the preceding issues is fundamentally defective.
As far as I can see, neither Peter nor Michael has challenged any of those five claims.
In defense of (1) and (3), I originally linked to this article in Vox. For more detail, I’d suggest “Fear 2.0: The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America,” by the Center for American Progress, and Christopher Bail’s Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream. I think those three sources do a good job of giving content to the abstraction “Islamophobia,” and by implication of indicating what’s wrong with it.
As for claim (2), I had intended to write a long post pursuing an analogy between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, but I now think that the point is too obvious to belabor at length. Setting aside some genuine conceptual complexities, we all have a basic understanding of the nature of anti-Semitism, and almost no one disputes at this point that it’s wrong. If so, it shouldn’t be difficult to extend the same logic and verdict to Muslims. If we can recognize anti-Jewish bigotry without endorsing the claims of Judaism, we can recognize anti-Muslim bigotry without endorsing the claims of Islam.
I also think that the following is relatively obvious: if we confronted anti-Semitism that was as widespread as the Islamophobia that now permeates our society, no rational person would regard the side-issues we’ve been discussing here as the main issue in need of discussion. No one would see the need to invoke a Civilizational Derby between Judaic Civilization and Western Civilization, concluding that the Jews lost it, and inferring that anti-Semitism is therefore excusable, justifiable, or unimportant. No one would think it appropriate to minimize the importance of anti-Semitism by asking about the (very real) causal relations that obtain among Jewish theology, Zionism, and terrorism—and then implying that since political Judaism has inspired terrorism, we’re prima facie justified in treating Jews as such as potential terrorists (granting the exceptions among them). And no one would think that if one of our political parties started exploiting anti-Semitism, the thing to do would be to focus on the most repressive features of, say, the Hasidic Jewish community, highlighting the Orthodox rituals that created a public health risk, suggesting that the time had come to put Hasidic Jews (at least) on a Dangerous Jew Registry, criminalizing adherence to Jewish law while we were at it, and making sure that no more Hasidic Jews emigrated here from Israel (or maybe, to adopt an Israeli practice, paying them to go back). When it comes to Islam, however, this is without the slightest exaggeration, the state of discourse in right-wing circles: what is hypothetical in the Jewish case is actual in the Muslim one.
Given claims (1)-(3), I think claims (4) and (5) are relatively obvious.
Contrary to what Michael says, I don’t see how (1)-(5) commits me to a “functional relativism,” or anything like it. Every claim in (1)-(5) is a straightforward instance of moral realism. The basic (realist) presupposition I make throughout is that bigotry is wrong and that religious people can be the objects of bigotry even if the religions they espouse are epistemically unwarranted, and lead in practice to injustice. The same thing can be said of political ideologies, after all. Marxian communism may be epistemically unwarranted and morally unjust, but (contra Ayn Rand) it doesn’t follow that McCarthyism is OK. (Frankly, at this point, I’m apt to say that the same point applies, mutatis mutandis, to libertarianism or Objectivism.) Nothing about my endorsement of (1)-(5) requires me to backpedal criticisms of Islam as a religion. And I haven’t in fact backpedaled criticisms of Islam as a religion; I’ve spent a fair bit of time making them.
As for the criticisms of my view that have been made, I don’t see their relevance to the claims of the original post.
(a) Suppose that we pit Western against Islamic Civilization, and that Western Civilization wins the Civilization Derby. It wouldn’t follow that any of (1)-(5) was false.
(b) Suppose that Islamic theology turned out to be essential to the explanation of Islamic terrorism. It still wouldn’t follow that any of (1)-(5) was false.
(c) Suppose that immigration creates massive dislocation (i.e., a net social loss), and that Muslim immigration would, too. That still wouldn’t provide an excuse for Islamophobia.
It doesn’t help that none of the factual claims stated in (a)-(c) is true or even clear enough to be true. I’ve partly dealt with (c) in a separate comment at the original post, where I discuss Douthat and Putnam, but for now I’ll focus on (a) and (b).
I regard myself as not obliged to discuss (c) in a fuller way because I think it’s a red herring. For one thing, there is simply no way that 10,000 or even 100,000 refugees can create massive dislocation in a country the size of the United States. We settled 400,000 Vietnamese boat people without massive dislocation, and more than 100,000 Cubans after the Mariel boatlift, also without massive dislocation. It defies common sense to think that an influx of even 100,000 Syrian refugees over the course of years would or could cause massive dislocation in this country.
I’m the last person to deny that an influx of Syrian refugees could lead to some dislocation, or that it could it lead to an increase in crime or terrorist attacks. But it flouts the facts to think that this is what Republican Islamophobia is about. The Republicans are not engaged in a subtle, rational, contentious conversation about how to balance the various concerns that arise when it comes to immigration or refugees. They’re engaged in a twenty-first century version of the sort of hysteria that put Japanese-Americans in detention centers, and that gave rise to McCarthyism. My own view is that they’re forced to this expedient because they have nothing left to offer. But whatever the explanation, I dig in my heels at the reality of the explanandum: the Republican Party has gradually become the party of all-out bigotry.
Regarding (a): The Civilizational Derby
The idea of a civilizational contest between Islam and the West is, as far as I’m concerned, incoherent. “Western Civilization” is a confused concept, and “Islam” is a religion, not a civilization. Liberalism is (I’ll admit) a relatively clear concept, but it’s not extensionally equivalent to “Western Civilization” (by a long shot), and is not the clearest foil to Islam.
If the question is whether liberalism is superior to Islam, I guess I’d say that it is. But I’d also point out that if the liberalism/Islam contrast makes any sense, liberalism is superior to Judaism and Christianity, too.
That said, it seems to me that the comparison of liberalism to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam is problematic and puzzling: liberalism is a political theory, and Islam is a religion; to compare them is like asking, “Which is superior, free speech or fasting?” The latter question doesn’t really make sense because the political theory/religion comparison itself makes no sense.
The relevant comparison is one that compares like with like, e.g., liberalism with the political expressions of Islam. On that point, again, I think political liberalism is superior to political Islam, but then, it’s also superior to political Judaism and political Christianity. I don’t see any reason to think that political Islam is worse than Zionism, or that Muslims in power are obviously worse than Orthodox Christian Serbs or Lebanese Maronites in power–to say nothing of Muslim caliphs as against Jewish kings, or Ummayad rulers as against Byzantine ones, or Jewish conquests or Christian crusades as against Muslim jihads. I’m happy to have this argument in greater detail, but I’d still insist that it has nothing to do with the claims of my original post.
In any case, I would insist that a genuine commitment to liberalism requires a principled rejection of anti-Semitism, anti-Christian bigotry, and Islamophobia. It also rules out voting for an anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, or Islamophobic political party. In that sense, the Republican Party is an illiberal party, at least as judged by its current candidates for the presidency. I’m baffled about why Michael thinks that voting for the Republicans is consistent with voting for a form of cosmopolitanism. Whatever the Republicans stand for, cosmopolitanism isn’t it.
One might insist, with Peter, that liberalism arose from Western Civilization, so that Western Civilization should get the credit for liberalism even if Western Civilization has been illiberal. I don’t agree. For one thing, I don’t think that there is any entity called “Western Civilization” that can get ‘credit’ for anything. But if someone wanted to insist that “Western Civilization” must get credit for liberalism, I would just point out that no matter how you construe it, “Western Civilization” has to include Western Christendom, and liberalism arose from the liberals’ confrontation with Western Christendom. In other words, liberalism arose from obstacles internal to Western Civilization. I don’t think it makes sense for an obstacle to liberalism to get the credit for liberalism. That’s like giving Filmer’s defense of the divine right of kings credit for Locke’s rejection of the divine right of kings. The real credit for liberalism has to go to liberals.
It’s true that liberalism was a Western European phenomenon. If someone wants to say that this proves the superiority of the political system of the nations of Western Europe to everyone else, I’d be inclined to agree (I’ve never denied it), but with a proviso. The proviso is that whatever the merits of the nations of Western Europe, one reason for their success lies with the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by their citizens—freedom and prosperity purchased via slavery and imperialism. In other words, liberalism arose by reliance on illiberalism. There is simply no intelligible way of telling the story of the rise of Western Europe by bracketing slavery and imperialism.
Locke is a paradigmatic example of this. Locke was arguably the first liberal. He was also, not coincidentally, one of the earliest defenders of both slavery and imperialism in the New World. It was, incidentally, leftist scholarship that drew attention to liberalism’s de facto dependency on illiberal politics. Right-leaning scholarship has yet to catch up.
Europe’s reliance on slavery and imperialism not only has to temper our admiration for “Western Europe” considered as a single unit of historical analysis, but has to temper our criticisms of the world that the Europeans conquered and enslaved. The world has no doubt profited from Europe’s benefactions, but it’s also still scarred by its depredations. Virtually all of the “Islamic world” is a post-colonial, post-imperial world. If we ourselves haven’t outlived our own experiences with slavery and Jim Crow, we can’t expect that world to have emerged unscathed by hundreds of years of imperialism and slavery.
Regarding (b): Islam and terrorism
Islamic theology plays a role in the explanation of Islamic terrorism, to be sure, and in the explanation of a lot of other social ills endemic to the Islamic world (e.g., the treatment of women). But right-wing discourse on this topic strikes me as grotesquely uninformed, irrational, and exaggerated. It fails to take stock of non-theological factors that explain terrorism, and it fails to take stock of the fact that pious devotion to Islam is neither necessary nor sufficient for Islamic terrorism.
The most obvious factor it fails to deal with is imperialism. As I just said, the Islamic world” is also almost in its entirety the post-colonial world. Its suffering from dysfunction can’t be explained by Islam-as-abstracted-from-post-colonial considerations, or post-colonial-considerations-as-abstracted-from-religious ones. An adequate explanation has to integrate both sets of factors. But that’s not what you get from conservative discourse which, for ideological reasons favors the first sort of explanation, and has a vested interest in accusing its critics of favoring the second.
Now let me deal with the specifics of Michael’s claims:
Though I’ll readily admit that what offends me most politically is a matter or personal history and hence bias (and that this colors my guesses on the empirical questions of what causes which harms and benefits), I remain unmoved by the idea that (too many) conservatives are either egregiously culpably bad people – racists or xenophobes perhaps – or especially likely to cause social harms.
My recommendation: read the reports I cited in the links above. I think the empirical evidence they provide is unimpeachable, and I’d be puzzled by anyone who claims to be unmoved by the evidence they provide. If someone was still unmoved, I guess I would just ask them what if anything would count for them as evidence of the Republican Party’s being soft on bigotry. In fact, if anything, the CAP report understates the problem. It was written a full year ago, in February 2015. At the time, its authors found it hard to imagine that the attitudes they described would play a major role in the presidential race. But they were wrong about that: they have. So anyone unmoved by what I’ve said has to ask themselves how it is that every Republican candidate besides Kasich is guilty of Islamophobia, and that the one candidate who is least guilty of it, Kasich, has until very recently been at the bottom of the pack.
And by “guilty of Islamophobia,” I don’t just mean that they’ve made an unsavory comment here or there. As the CAP Report makes clear, the Republican candidates are part of an Islamophobic movement that has been building since 9/11, and that reached a tipping point around 2010 (in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, and partly as a result of it). I happen to know this movement from the inside—in its earlier and somewhat more benign stages, I was part of it—and have actually dealt with the lunatics described in the report.
But you don’t need to have been an insider to get this: the report makes their nature crystal clear. And if you think that these people are fringe characters, I would just suggest putting the name “David Yerushalmi” into Google, spending fifteen minutes reading what you find, and then trying to suggest that he’s a fringe figure. (Or try “Sheldon Adelson,” the fringe figure who convinced Chris Christie to apologize for saying that the West Bank is “occupied territory.”) Table A1 of the report indicates that the movement in question commands funding of $56.9 million. That’s about half the lobbying budget of the US Chamber of Commerce, and the same size as that of the National Association of Realtors—the top two lobbying groups in the country in 2014.
To be literally unmoved by my argument you either have to reject (1) and (2), or you have to believe that the Republicans’ commitment to Islamophobia is epiphenomenal with respect to their popularity. But once you read the material I’ve cited, that becomes hard—impossible—to believe. You literally would have to believe that a $56.9 million lobbying effort came into existence by the political equivalent of immaculate conception.
Quoting Michael again:
Irfan, I worry that you are simply so offended by the anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, and racism (culpable irrationality and immorality) of the Right that you cannot support conservatives or Republicans. Or perhaps you take there to be a very direct connection between bad character and bad results? If politics is mostly a practical task (not, say, the task of forming and maintaining a moral community), then I think we need to focus on likely results. For example, however much Trump justifiably offends me (at many levels), if he is a practical deal-maker, this is potentially quite an asset in being an effective politician and statesman. Though I don’t like irrational, morally corrupt cultures or social institutions, and though I believe that over time they do cause significant harm, what matters for me in political advocacy is the relatively-short-term horizon of likely effects. And we should all admit that we are pretty ignorant and biased on this extremely-complicated, empirical issue.
I find these claims really puzzling.
First, I should probably make clear that I don’t agree with the political right in the first place. Even if they didn’t have an Islamophobia problem, I simply don’t agree with what they’re saying, and would vote against them anyway. I also don’t think that the Republicans are in any sense more competent to govern the country than the Democrats. The economy has typically done better under Democrats. The Democrats are less militaristic than the Republicans. The Democrats are more sensitive to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other bigotries than the Republicans. They’re less religious and less theocratic. And it’s a plus that they aren’t blinded by rigid libertarian/gun lobby/budget-hawk dogmas: just think of Flint’s water crisis, or the Republican attitude toward gun control or climate change. The Republicans’ wild-eyed commitment to the drug war suggests that they can’t even manage to get their own dogmas straight. And then there’s abortion. That the Democrats tend to be more intelligent than the Republicans, and show it, is just an added bonus on top of all of the straightforward policy issues where the Democrats are in my view superior to the Republicans.
Second, politics is a practical task, but “practice” isn’t reducible to policy wonkery. Politicians aren’t just policy analysts. They’re leaders. A policy wonk without leadership skills can’t successfully lead people through a crisis–or lead them at all. A leader needs moral discernment, moral credibility, empathy, imagination, integrity, and a reservoir of genuine (not faked) personal strength. So I think that politics is a matter of maintaining a moral community—just not by paternalistic means. In my view, Obama has done a better job of that than any president in recent memory.
Third, I’m baffled why anyone would think that Trump would succeed either at leadership or at “practical deal making.” He has zero experience in elected office, and he’s the most opportunistic of all of the presidential candidates, with Cruz coming in a close second. How could anyone use zero political experience and maximal political opportunism as a basis for predicting the “likely results” of his candidacy on any time horizon?
I also don’t understand why the short-term trumps the long-term. I’m 46 and expect to live until my mid 70s. Why shouldn’t my time horizon extend at least three decades? I don’t think it makes sense to admit that moral corruption causes long-term harm, and then to dismiss the harms it does by adopting a time-horizon that renders the harms invisible. How is that any different from a policy of sticking one’s head in the sand?
As I’ve said in my criticisms of Jason Brennan on character-based voting, I don’t think there is a “direct” connection between character and policy. I simply think that issues of moral character are relevant to voting (and politics generally), and that Brennan has done absolutely nothing to show otherwise. (It’s not even clear what he’s trying to say on the topic.)
In general, we shouldn’t reward immorality, especially egregious immorality; since elected office is a reward, there has to be some threshold at which it’s wrong to vote for an immoral candidate, even if we lack evidence that his immorality will affect his policy-making. It’s also politically wise to refrain from voting for people who are egregiously immoral in ways that are (or could be) relevant to their political performance (whether narrowly policy-centered or more broadly leadership-oriented)—and I think both Trump and Cruz fit this description. For instance, since politics requires some degree of truthfulness and a commitment to accuracy, you don’t want to elect a habitual liar. Since politics requires some degree of fidelity to one’s promises, you don’t want to elect someone who will break promises at will. Since American politics requires attention to racial issues, you don’t want someone tone-deaf to them. Since women are roughly 50% of the population, you don’t want an egregious sexist. And as Michael himself admits, since warfare is costly, you don’t want to elect someone who’s visibly cavalier about the resort to military force.
Put it this way: in the New York gubernatorial election of 2010, the Republican Carl Paladino faced Andrew Cuomo. Paladino promised to use eminent domain to stop the construction of the Park 51 Islamic Center (“the Ground Zero Mosque”); Cuomo opposed that. Is that a matter of “policy” or of “character”? It’s a matter of both. Does it prove that character always has a direct impact on policy? No, it proves that when someone is willing to advertise his willingness to engage in an egregious, obvious rights violation, and his opponent opposes that, it’s a serious mistake to vote for the rights violator. If I’d been a New York voter, I’d have voted for Cuomo.
One last example, for anyone who thinks that questions of character and of policy can be neatly disentangled, so that character becomes irrelevant to policy. How do we perform that act of disentanglement on the following Trump-generated mess from this week’s news from New Hampshire?
“Tomorrow is going to be the beginning,” Mr. Trump told the crowd. “I hear we have a lead. It doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter to me. Who the hell knows what the lead is?”
Yet in a new milestone for a campaign not known for its decorum, Mr. Trump echoed a woman in the crowd who referred to Ted Cruz by a vulgar term after a discussion of the Texas senator’s stance on waterboarding. (Mr. Cruz does not oppose it, but has been more restrained than Mr. Trump.)
After reprimanding her in jest, he repeated what she said: “She said, ‘He’s a pussy,’ ” Mr. Trump said with a smile. “That’s terrible, terrible.” He then turned away from his microphone as his fans chanted his name.
There you have it, in one fucked-up vignette: the sexism, the moral cowardice, the mob mentality, the Islamophobia, the contempt for law and rights, the reflexive desire to demonstrate one’s “strength” by torturing people–and the futile attempt to conceal one’s total ignorance of real political issues, and one’s total inability to discuss them in a rational way.
I couldn’t have made this example up if I tried. But I didn’t have to. The Republicans obliged me, as nowadays, they tend to do. A party that stoops this low doesn’t deserve to be voted for. It deserves to be crapped on. To turn William Buckley’s quip on its head: I’d rather be governed by the first 400 names in the Metacrawler White Pages for New Jersey than by the administration of whatever candidate wins the Republican Party. I don’t say that because I have much affection for my fellow New Jerseyans. I say it because you have to reach a certain depth of disillusionment to prefer New Jerseyans to anyone.
Postscript, February 17, 2016: Though it’s not on Republican Islamophobia per se, given that I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from blogging, I couldn’t resist one last criticism of Trump.
I belatedly happened to discover Trump’s views on the Bowe Bergdahl case. Anyone inclined to think that I’ve been exaggerating or overdoing my criticisms of Trump should watch that video. What it explicitly calls for is the extrajudicial murder of a person in government custody, not considered a flight risk, awaiting trial, and therefore presumed innocent unless proven guilty. (Nor is “presumed guilty” a mere pro forma presumption in this case; there is some real likelihood that Bergdahl is, and will be found, innocent of the most serious charges brought against him.)
I have trouble believing that any presidential candidate in the last 100 years has said anything as depraved as Trump’s casual call for Bergdahl’s murder. Disgraceful as he was, not even George Wallace at his worst called for the outright murder of his fellow citizens. Trump’s statement goes beyond Wallace’s advocacy of Jim Crow to the rhetoric of the Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan at their worst. Even if we could somehow be convinced that Trump would never actually do what he claims ought to be done, a statement of this nature disqualifies a candidate from consideration for any elective office, and frankly, from respectable standing in public life.
Do ironies get any more grotesque than the fact that Bergdahl is an Objectivist of sorts?
Lt. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, the lead investigator, said at a preliminary hearing in September that Sergeant Bergdahl had delusional expectations for his deployment. The general also said there was no evidence that Sergeant Bergdahl, who identified with John Galt, the hero in Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” intended to desert or that any soldiers had been killed while searching for him.
Trump, by the way, has repeatedly described Bergdahl as a “traitor,” and asserted that six people “at least” were killed in trying to find him.
But set that aside. Who ever thought that the answer to the question “Who is John Galt?” would turn out to be Bowe Bergdahl?
“As for claim (2), I had intended to write a long post pursuing an analogy between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, but I now think that the point is too obvious to belabor at length. Setting aside some genuine conceptual complexities, we all have a basic understanding of the nature of anti-Semitism, and almost no one disputes at this point that it’s wrong. If so, it shouldn’t be difficult to extend the same logic and verdict to Muslims. If we can recognize anti-Jewish bigotry without endorsing the claims of Judaism, we can recognize anti-Muslim bigotry without endorsing the claims of Islam.”
Jews are, outside Israel, always a small majority. Muslims are a majority in many countries and large minorities in others. If you don’t understand that that makes a major difference to the dynamics of moral exclusion (exclusion from the moral status and protections given to others), you are missing crucial aspects. Then again, trying to make racism your universal model of moral exclusion has a similar dynamics-missing effect.
Islam is a civilisation, like the West, which puts “Westerner” as the equivalent to “Muslim”. Islam is a civilisation, moreover, far more systematically designed for imperialism–in its first 1000 years, Islam aggressed against every civilisation and culture it came up against, and far more than any aggressions the other way. Nor did Islam the civilisation stop because its ideas or inner dynamics changed, it stopped because it came up against better predators.
There are analogies to the Holocaust for Muslims, but they go the other way. That is, Muslims as perpetrators, not victims–the Haimidian massacres, the Armenian, Pontic-Christian and Assyrian genocides. “Who remembers the Armenians?” Hitler is supposed to have rhetorically asked. That remains a live question, especially as those genocides are actually very revealing about the problem Islam the civilisation and mainstream religion has with dealing with outsiders, especially any claim of equality between believers and outsiders.
Individual Muslims are not responsible for the history of Islam. But nor are individual Westerners responsible for the history of the West. One should, however, note that as Muslim populations increase in the West, attacks on Jews go up. And, as far as I am aware, significantly outnumber attacks on Muslims in any of those countries. That is, Muslim Jew-hatred is a much more serious issue than any antipathy to Muslims as such.
Trying to force the complex patterns of Western interactions and concerns about Islam into some analogy to racism and, even worse, some analogy to Jew-hatred is so intellectually obtuse, one wonders how it can be remotely “a policy of truth”.
I hate to have to do this, but despite its physical proximity to anyone reading this, I’m going to remind you of what I actually said, then juxtapose what you’ve said in response–in order to show you that nothing you’ve said makes the least contact with anything I’ve said. When we’re done with this (tedious, but in some ways instructive) exercise, we’ll be in a position to evaluate your lofty remarks about how obtuse I am and whether I live up to the name of my blog.
This is what I said. In other words, this is what a critic would have to dispute to count as disputing what I said.
The fundamental claims here are obviously (1) and (2). Claim (3) is just an application.
You conveniently omit any discussion of claim (1). This gives an air of mystery to everything you say. Set aside the term “Islamophobia.” Do you believe that there is any such thing as bigotry against Muslims? Or not? A person who says nothing on this topic is saying nothing on the topic of my post. And you’ve said nothing.
On (2), my claim is that Islamophobia is analogous to anti-Semitism. Both exist, both are wrong, and both are wrong in the same way, and for the same reasons. This is your response:
Not a single sentence in that excerpt has any relevance to the claim in dispute. Jews outside of Israel are a small minority. How does that prove that Islamophobia is disanalogous to anti-Semitism? There is, after all, anti-Semitism in Israel, e.g., when Arabs (a minority) practice it against Jews (the majority). So anti-Semitism doesn’t only arise in cases where Jews are a minority. Muslims outside of Muslim-majority countries are a minority in those countries in which they are a minority. Correct? So even if bigotry required its victims to be a demographic minority, there are places where Muslims are a demographic minority–e.g., the United States, the very place that was under discussion in the first place.
The population of the United States is 300+ million. The population of Muslims in the US is probably less than 4 million. Divide 4 by 300, and you get a figure of 1.3%. A population of 1.3% is a minority. My point is that you don’t need to be a minority to be on the receiving end of bigotry, but Muslims are a minority in the US, and are on the receiving end of bigotry. Can you explain how anything you’ve said counts as a rebuttal of any of these patently obvious points?
I wasn’t, by the way, regarding racism as the only mechanism of social exclusion (see my comment to Michael Phillip for more on this). I didn’t even precisely come out and say that Islamophobia was a species of racism. I was merely saying that it exists and that it’s wrong. So you’ve managed to ascribe to me a claim I don’t hold, but failed to deal with the claim I actually asserted.
I’ve already said I don’t think that Islam is a civilization. Since all you’ve done is to assert the contrary, my response will be to re-assert the contrary of your contrary of my claim: I don’t think Islam is a civilization. But the larger point is that whether it is or it isn’t has no bearing whatsoever on my actual claim–the one you’re supposed to be rebutting. Suppose that Islam is a civilization, for all that it matters. How does that show that bigotry against Muslims neither exists nor is wrong? My answer to that question: it doesn’t. It has nothing to do with the thesis under discussion. It just happens to be the thing that you’d like to discuss. That’s fine. But you can’t pretend that what you’d like to discuss necessarily rebuts what I did discuss. It doesn’t.
I didn’t make an analogy to the Holocaust. I made an analogy to anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism pre-existed the Holocaust, and post-dates it. It would have existed had the Holocaust never happened. It can be conceptualized independently of the Holocaust as well. So your bringing up the Holocaust is a pointless and gratuitous way of belaboring topics that have nothing to do with the thesis under discussion.
Anyway, let’s imagine that the history of Islam is just one long series of genocides. Would that prove that bigotry against Muslims was perfectly justified, or demonstrate that it didn’t exist? No. If the year was 1946, and one met a German somewhere, it wouldn’t be appropriate or right to consider him a Nazi simply because he was German. You would need more evidence than that. The same thing is true of Muslims.
What you’re saying is not exactly clear, but one entirely fair interpretation is that you’re saddling all Muslims today with the guilt of the Armenian genocide. Or else you’re rationalizing hostility for Muslims today because, after all, they are heir to a series of genocides. But in that sense of “inheritance,” everyone is heir to some past injustice. If inheritance of past injustice were sufficient to rationalize bigotry, we would be led within minutes to hatred for humanity as such. Suffice it to say that I don’t think we need to be led to that pass. But if that’s your chosen destination, don’t let me stop you.
I know I sound like a broken record here, but this passage doesn’t deal with my claims anymore than the other ones do. If individual Muslims are only responsible for their individual acts, what is the relevance of bringing up the supposed aggregate statistic that as Muslims populations increase, attacks on Jews go up? When Muslims attack Jews, they should be apprehended and brought to justice. I might add that sometimes, when Jewish populations increase, attacks on Muslims go up, too–as witness settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank. But it would hardly follow that there is no such thing as anti-Semitism in Jerusalem or the West Bank.
The topic under discussion in the original post was Islamophobia in the United States as reflected by the attitudes of the Republican Party: the titles of the posts should be a clue-in here. What is the evidence that Muslim Jew hatred is a “much more serious issue” than antipathy to Muslims in the Republican Party? Or even in the US as such? Most American civil rights organizations are capable of acknowledging and dealing with both kinds of bigotry at once, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Suppose that I am a victim of Islamophobia. Let’s say that my mosque has been burned down, or I’ve been shot at, or mobs have surrounded my mosque with guns, or the leading Republican candidate for the presidency is spreading lies about Muslims celebrating 9/11. Is your view that I should acquiesce in such things because, after all, Jews have it worse? Even apart from the dubious nature of the factual claim, the claim itself involves a non-sequitur. Why would one group’s having it bad require that we ignore or minimize injustices against another? The more obvious strategy might be that all such groups should join forces against their persecutors–which is exactly what the American left has been doing with success for the last 50 years.
Have I really tried to force anything, or is that you’ve just ignored everything I’ve said and tried to force your own interpretation on it?
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And, on the subject of New World slavery, the Saharan slave trade was every bit as horrible as the Atlantic slave trade, went on far longer and involved more victims and deaths. Especially adding in castration to create eunuchs. Indeed, the Atlantic version partly got started by levering off the West African slave economy and export dynamics already centuries-established. Mass race-sourced slavery also had the same effect in Islam as it did in the West — generating skin-colour racism, partly in justification.
Indeed, there was a nasty process of each civilisation learning and adapting techniques of oppression from the other. So, the Conditions/Pact/Covenant of Umar setting rules for dhimmies are the anti-Jewish laws of the Christian Eastern Roman Empire adopted, adapted, extended and regularised. Some of which were then adopted at the Fourth Lateran Council (1213) for treatment of Jews and Muslims under Catholic rule.
Again, apart from being a platform for the display of your erudition, what does any of this have to do with anything I said?
Just to remind you, this is what I said about Atlantic slavery:
Ordinarily, it would be thought presumptuous to gloss a paragraph from a blog post, but I seem to be dealing with a reader for whom any length is “tl;dr.” All that my claim says is that Western European liberalism arose by reliance on slavery and imperialism. It doesn’t say, and doesn’t require, a comparative claim with Arab or Saharan slavery, and doesn’t require me to deny that the Atlantic slave trade itself relied on the Arab-Saharan one. How does the badness of the Saharan slave trade falsify Western Europe’s reliance on the Atlantic slave trade? The inference you’re making here is frankly incomprehensible.
The same might be said of this:
Pause for a moment. The primary topic under discussion is Islamophobia in the Republican Party. Is any of this relevant to that? No. Is anyone defending the Pact of Umar? No. Is anyone recommending the re-adoption of the Fourth Lateran Council’s recommendations as a policy platform for the next American president? No. So none of this is relevant to the primary topic.
In fairness, I did bring up a secondary topic in response to my interlocutors’ bringing it up–my rejection of the Western Civilization/Islamic Civilization comparison. You’ve ignored the fact that I regard this secondary topic as essentially irrelevant to the topic originally under discussion, but that insistence seems a lost cause. My claim is that “the West” is unclear, and “Islam” is not the right contrast object for “it.” You’ve disputed no part of the reasoning that leads me to say this. You’ve just decided that now is the time to roll out your knowledge of the Pact of Umar and the Fourth Lateran Council.
Suppose that civilizational interaction involves some nastiness. Would that refute my claim? No.
Suppose that the Pact of Umar adopted and extended the anti-Jewish laws of the Eastern Roman Empire. Would that refute my claim? No.
Suppose that the genealogy and content of the Fourth Lateran Council is exactly as you say it is. Should I throw up my hands in surrender? No.
The irony is that what you’re saying here is perfectly consistent with what I said in the first place. On most accounts, the Eastern Roman Empire is part of “Western Civilization.” Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment was an extension or adoption of this Western version of the phenomenon. So it makes no sense to single out Muslim anti-Semitism as something sui generis, while valorizing “the West” as Islam’s civilizational superior. Constantinople may have been East of Rome, but it was considered ideologically West of Jerusalem and Mecca. That’s why its fall to the Ottomans was considered a defeat for “the West,” whether in authors as early as Machiavelli or as late as John Stuart Mill.
The amusing thing here is that you start by mitigating the Atlantic slave trade by noting its reliance on the Saharan slave trade. Then you note the reliance of Muslim anti-Judaism on Christian anti-Judaism, but it doesn’t occur to you that by your rhetorical strategy, this reliance should be a mitigation. The simpler and more obvious truth is that history is full of complexity and injustice, something that the dogmatic valorization of “the West” or demonization of “Islam” simply serves to conceal from us. All you’ve done is add a layer to the concealment. All I’ve done is to remove some of the sediment you’ve added. Whether that was a waste of the morning or a good use of it is something I’ll have the rest of the day to ponder.
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i’m not sure about the term islamophobia though i agree with your analysis but the words are misleading unfortunately.
I agree that “Islamophobia” is a problematic and misleading term, but there are no better alternatives to it. “Anti-Islamic bigotry” gives the false impression that one is a bigot by opposing the tenets of Islam. “Muslim hatred” gives the false impression that all bigotry is motivated by hatred. So I think we’re just stuck with the term.
The same thing is true of “anti-Semitism” and “homophobia,” by the way. “Anti-Semitism” seems to imply that Jews are Semites, and that hostility toward them is hostility toward “Semitism.” But that misses the point. “Homophobia” seems to imply that bigotry against gays or lesbians is always motivated by fear. But it isn’t.
I gave a talk at The Atlas Society’s Graduate Seminar in 2013 whose official title was “Racism,” but was really intended to be a conceptual analysis of the terrain surrounding racism. I don’t particularly like Rand’s essay “Racism,” but I do like her implied definition of it:
The primary point I wanted to make was that so construed, racism is only one species of a genus of bigotries, and that we needed an integrated account of all of them. A secondary point was that the parenthetical in my definition does a lot of work: you have racism in cases where the racist’s ascriptions are believed (by him) to involve claims of genetic inheritance, etc., whether any actual causal relations obtained between the facts of biology and the ascriptions. It’s possible that there are no such facts whatsoever, that the ascriptions are being based on a totally confabulated biology. But confabulation-based racism is still racism.
In the case of something like anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or anti-Catholic bigotry, one obviously can’t say that ascriptions can be based on real facts about inherited traits. But one also can’t say that anti-Semites (etc.) even believe that their claims are based on facts about inherited traits. Sometimes they do, as when Jews are hated as an ethnicity, or people draw attention to the common racial features of Muslims (as Arabs) or Catholics (as, say, Irish).
But sometimes, they don’t. There is such a thing as a purely ideological bigotry, involving snap judgments about everyone within a class whose members are tied (even nominally tied) by some doctrine. Actually, I think homophobia against gay males belongs to this mixed category as well. Sometimes the claim is that what’s wrong with male homosexuality is its defiance of nature, but sometimes the claim is purely directed at “the gay lifestyle.” We use “homophobia” for both phenomena despite the differences between them. It just goes to show that our terminology is pretty crude. But after a bit of terminological explanation, the issues themselves become relatively clear. Only an idiot would say, “I can’t be a homophobe because I’m not in the least afraid of those faggots!” But you’d be amazed at what people say.
The issues became particularly clear for me when I was the Executive Director of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Societies (ISIS!) and I would monitor our unmoderated comment boards. We’d regularly get comments like “The Serbs were right!” “Slobodan Milosevic should have finished the job!” or “Long live Narendra for dealing with the Muslims of Gujarat!” This was the only time in my life when I’ve ever employed an online pseudonym. When I would go on the comment boards pretending to be a Pakistani from Pakistan, I would get death threats. The issues became relatively clear after that. (I quit the position after 6 months, in 2004.)
why not say muslimophobia instead?
Ideally, we would. It’s a more sensible term. But anyone who did use it would start a trend of 1 or 2, and would look eccentric. There’s probably a case to be made to start sprinkling it into one’s conversation. I doubt it will catch on, but there’s no harm in using it.
“Islam is a civilisation, like the West.” Really? What do Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Russia, the Ukraine, Germany, the Netherlands, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Mali, Malaysia, and Italy have in common that Christians in those countries do not have in common with one another? (Look it up; you’ll notice that there are loads of Muslims in all those countries). What set of ideals or practices constitutes their “civilization”? And just how it that supposed to be equivalent to “the West”? I am a Westerner. So is my neighbor, who mostly sits around and smokes weed while listening to hip-hop. So are my neighbors down the block at the Jewish synagogue. So are the legions of bible-thumping Christians who live around me here in Houston. Why should I, a secular, philosophical liberal who leans toward the center of the Democratic party in the United States, think that I have more in common with the bible-thumpers or the hip-hop weed smoker than I do with “the Muslims,” or that “the Muslims” have more in common with each other than I have with the hip-hop weed smoker or the bible thumpers, or the Jews down the block, or the Hindus who run the convenient store where I buy beer, who only ever want to talk about football (which I hate)?
If you want us to take the claim that Islam and “the West” are civilizations seriously, you owe us a fairly clear account of (a) Islam, (b) the West and (c) civilization. Go for it.
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And I thought my neighbors were bad. I now feel bad about kvetching about them here as much as I do.
My trick for getting through conversations about football is just to figure out who won and say things like, “Wow, Denver really came to play last night, didn’t they?” Then figure out who the quarterback was, and say, “Manning really gave 110% last night, didn’t he?” I got this trick from Christopher Morris. It backfires sometimes, when people say things like, “Actually, I think Manning is overrated,” and then look at you, waiting for a response. Then the gig is up, and you have to come clean: “Uh, I don’t really follow football. But that Beyonce! She really gave 110%!”
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Better yet, can you give a basically coherent account of the differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims? Do you know which countries are predominately Sunni and which predominately Shia? Can you identify the five pillars of Islam? Don’t go looking it up on Wikipedia. Do you know? If so, can you explain why we should regard Islam as a civilization despite such a deep split among its adherents? If not, why do you presume to be able to determine whether Islam is a “civilization”?
Do you actually understand how Islamophobia, and the term originated? Every time you use it you are serving the Islamo supremacist agenda
Do you know what the genetic fallacy is? Every time you commit it, you serve the agenda of irrationality.
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I just skimmed through the CAP report. It’s depressing, and certainly substantiates Irfan’s (1) and, to anyone who is not woefully confused, provides plenty of support for his (2). I suppose one might still want to resist Irfan’s (3). The CAP report itself gives plenty of evidence of high-ranking and influential members of the Republican party resisting this kind of nonsense. So too, I think the CAP report can actually be taken to support one of Michael’s judgments. He wrote:
The CAP report documents a number of conservative politicians, intellectuals, and groups that oppose Islamophobia (whether they use the word or not), and the authors of the report themselves write:
It’s an empirical question, and so not one that we should be content to answer with mere anecdotal evidence, but for what it’s worth, that assessment seems right to me. I do not think that most conservatives in the U.S. embrace the kind of Islamophobia that the report documents, and it would be a mistake to claim that conservatives or Republicans are anti-Muslim bigots, let alone that their antipathy to Muslims leads them to endorse violations of the basic principles of liberalism or the Constitution.
Has the Republican party as such internalized Islamophobia and made it an essential part of their platform and strategy in the time since the CAP report was published? I don’t know, though I can certainly see why one might think so. But I don’t think we really need to settle any disputes about that question, because it seems abundantly clear that the party and its various presidential candidates are not doing enough to distance themselves from anti-Muslim bigotry, let alone to resist it. It also seems clear that at least a few of the leading candidates are deliberately appealing to the sentiment among voters. That seems to give us sufficient reason to withhold support from the Republican party even if Islamophobia isn’t an essential and central part of its platform in the way Irfan thinks.
Now, I suppose that if you think that on every other issue the Republicans are better than any other alternative, it might be sensible for you to stick with the party and do what you can to support the good parts and resist the Islamophobic parts. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to think that the Republicans are better than any alternative on every other issue, but I can conceive of someone who might think so (imagination and conceptualization really are different faculties!). But even in that case, I’m not so sure. The problem with the Republican party’s endorsement or failure to resist the sort of thing documented in the CAP report is not just that it’s an injustice toward Muslims, not just that it can be sustained only at the cost of lobotomizing one’s intellect. It has very worrisome policy implications, including the erosion of civil liberties for all citizens — because if you think that it’ll stop with Muslims you’re a simple soul — likely futile if not disastrous military engagement, and a likely increase in the number of Muslims who really do think the U.S. is out to destroy them and that they should therefore work to beat them to it. So even if you somehow believe that this is the only problem with the Republican party, you may be best served by resisting it anyway.
Or at least voting for John Kasich. As a native of Ohio, the idea that Kasich is now the moderate, sensible candidate is just absolutely ludicrous.
I could say more, but I’ll stop. To reiterate my basic point: we don’t need to agree with all of Irfan’s strongest claims in order to reach substantively the same practical conclusion.
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Though I might quibble with ‘fundamental’ (and the various sorts of anti-Islamic attitudes covered by ‘Islamophobia’), I agree with your (1)-(5). A good account of what is not going well in the Republican party would include tolerance of some degree of bigotry in its ranks and insufficient sensitivity to institutional injustice. And Trump does amplify these tendencies. Not sure if this is the *main* problem with the Republican party (or a *fatal* problem with it in the sense that a reasonable or well-informed person could not vote Republican), but maybe it is.
What I meant to be taking issue with was your apparent endorsement of a stock view of the U.S. left: the view that the right (and much of the country) is not only objectionably soft on bigotry and insufficiently cognizant of institutional injustice, but fundamentally, irredeemably bigoted. Apologies, then, for picking up more on the general issue and not squarely addressing your specific point.
Regarding the general issue… I suspect that the left is wrong in its assessment of the right because, by and large, and especially in high-status contexts, Republicans (conservatives, etc.) condemn overtly bigoted words and deeds. This reflects a kind of anti-bigotry (or at least anti-racism) that is something of a (good) national religion of sorts in the United States. What Republicans tend to do that is morally questionable is “channel” the tendency of primates like ourselves to be distrustful of outsiders (and enforcers of hierarchies of social status) – especially said primates are frustrated about life in general – in order to get votes. And this does sometimes shade into tolerating bigotry. And it deserves moral condemnation. Moreover, Republicans are dumb (and perhaps morally culpable) for failing to recognize that injustice can take institutional forms.
But neither of these things makes Republican politicians (or any particular partisans) bigots or racists. You have bigotry when your natural monkey-brain tribal and social-hierarchy tendencies (to distrust outsiders, to have attitudes that create and enforce hierarchies of social status) lead you to despise, have contempt for, condescend to, or hate others (outsiders, those putatively “lower” than oneself in one’s society) *in order to rationalize feeling better about oneself in the face of life’s frustrations* (not for any even vaguely good reasons).
(We differ at least in our definitions. I think that doctrines or beliefs, such as racism as a doctrine or belief, are symptoms, not causes. We imagine that the attitudes and speech-acts of our fevered taking-down of readily-identifiable others is justified. And we invent some strange theories in biology, psychology, culture, or ethics to support the normative valances that we attach. It is the attitudes – the hatred and the reasons for it – that make for the most morally salient thing here, not the doctrines or beliefs.)
Though there is a slippery slope from our tribalist monkey brains doing what they do to bigotry, neither the danger of this slippery slope nor its starting point should be confused with the odious character flaw of bigotry. Especially when, in situations of low information and high stakes, things like stereotyping can make good rational sense.
The line between our tribal brains doing what they tend to do and our being bigots may not be bright and clear. Undoubtedly, appropriate culpability comes in degrees, even if paradigm cases of hateful bigotry deserve the strongest moral condemnation. And I’m all for extending the bounds of what we are culpable for tribal-monkey-brain-wise insofar as this is a sensible way to have and maintain a morally tolerable society. After all, the slope is slippery and we do or should know it. But, at least at the popular level, the left lumps together understandable tribal monkey-brain tendencies (e.g., stereotyping), insensitivity to institutional injustice, and the odious character flaw of bigotry. They all get painted with the brush of severe blame or condemnation. This is not simply overplaying the race card and it is not simply something that leads to the unfair or exaggerated characterization of Republicans as bigoted and racist. It is getting wrong what warrants moral condemnation, how much and why.
I suspect that these distortions are mainly due to left-wing tribalism: best for left social solidarity to keep bigotry and racism simple (stereotyping, institutional injustice, actually being a bigot – all fundamentally the same), best to always treat it as something worthy of the strongest condemnation possible, and best to paint those on the political right as outright bigots and racists. Fly the flag and make sure you have a nicely nefarious enemy to blame when things go wrong.
However, a more theoretical consideration might be doing some work here, too. You might take the practice of blaming or condemning to be an appropriate tool not only for making society morally tolerable, but for achieving more all-encompassing moral ideals (like having institutions and norms that mitigate the bigotry-promoting and other bad effects of our outsider-distrusting, social-hierarchy-enforcing monkey brains). I think the falsity of this idea is visible not only with our intuitions about cases, but also in the correct account of the functionality, proper procedures, and general aims of the practice of relating to each other in the moral way. Moral ideals are best achieved, once the work of blaming is done, via more gentle, persuasive, rational means.
So this is my stab at the right conceptual and normative framework for evaluating how bigoted or racist the Republican party (or U.S. society) is and in what sense. Adding in some good empirical work on what Republicans are (or U.S. society is) like – there has to be some relevant social science research with good conceptual grounding – would be helpful for developing my thoughts (and perhaps changing my mind). I will follow some more of the links you provided, Irfan. But anecdotes don’t move me much and I tend to discount, at least somewhat if not quite a bit, any data presented from the standpoint of partisanship or advocacy. What I’d like to see is a prima facie unbiased quantitative study done on a good conceptual foundation. Done like you have no dog in the fight and are just looking for the facts. If you like your race politics, put a number on it!
(For the record, I’m no fan of Trump nor do I think it particularly likely that he would do a good job as president despite his evident character flaws, including at least culpable tolerance for bigotry. I just wouldn’t be shocked if his skill set had some advantages that ended up being decisive. He might be a lousy person but a great president. I agree that part of being president is being a moral leader, so Trump would do a bad job in this respect and you’d have to factor this into any estimate or prediction of what kind of job he would do.)
I know I let standards slip by mentioning Beyonce at all, but I’m thinking there needs to be a ban on allusions to that particular song at PoT, surely the most hateful piece of work in her oeuvre, if not in the annals of music as such. #Beyoncephobia.
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Maybe it’s unfair, but I’m having a hard time seeing why this response doesn’t boil down to a complaint that Irfan said some things that slightly resembled some extreme, oversimplified, partisan left-wing sound bites, followed by a denunciation of the extreme, oversimplified, partisan left-wing sound bites. Imagine you give a nuanced critique of certain forms of market regulation, and I then show up and start complaining about people who claim that free markets can solve all our problems and cause none, who think that people who can’t afford health-care should be left to die on the street, and who deny the fact of climate change. If you then pointed out that you didn’t say any of that stuff, and I then went on to complain about people who do, what exactly would I be contributing toward productive rational discussion? Would it matter that there are in fact too many people on the right who say things of that sort? If I were to behave that way, I think you’d be quite sensible to accuse me of derailing the discussion from important things toward fairly trivial observations about the boneheaded character of much political discourse. Perhaps most conservatives and Republicans aren’t guilty of the grave character flaw of bigotry as you describe it. But given what Irfan has said — and given your agreement with his 1-5 — why shouldn’t we regard your making that point as deflecting attention from what deserves serious critical attention? Irfan makes a serious criticism of a prominent strand of Republican rhetoric and strategy, and you go on to complain about left-wing excess. I wouldn’t accuse you of intentionally diminishing the severity of the problem that Irfan has been trying to discuss, but it sure seems to me like that’s the effect.
Like I said, perhaps that’s unfair. But either way, given your acceptance of 1-5, shouldn’t you be more concerned about 1-5 than about the rhetorical excesses of the left?
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No, that’s fair enough. In my defense, in his original posts Irfan was also indicating a larger agreement with the consensus left-wing view of bigotry and racism. So it is at least fair to ask him what he takes this consensus to be and how much of it he agrees with.
I’m curious about institutions, and in particular political parties, failing to condemn (or more actively tolerating) various degrees of bigotry (starting with the not-quite-bigotry of monkey-brain suspicions against outsiders and such) and benefiting from such. This is bad, but why – or under what conditions – is it too bad to support them (or just vote for them)? And under what sorts of conditions would it be acceptable to support (or just vote for) them? What sort of such tolerating and benefiting from bigotry constitutes something so bad that one should not support such an institution unless the circumstances are exceptional? What is the standard here and does the Republican party meet it? (If not, maybe it is just a reasonable personal choice, based on optional elements of one’s set of personal values, for such tolerance and benefit to carry such weight.) I understand putting such weight on people being bigoted and I understand that people have strong intuitions in favor of “zero tolerance” for “sanctioning” other people being vicious. It is not obvious to me, however, why such “zero tolerance” policies toward viciousness are justified or important except for purposes of expressing one’s deeply-held values (and taking offense at one’s standards being violated). This is a very intuitive part of morality (moral reaction) and I can see how it would be functional in maintaining moral consensus, but folks’ actual reasons for such policies and reactions seem to be expressive. I’m genuinely curious about the general standards that govern this sort of thing.
Personally, I have a high tolerance for immorality as long as it is not threatening to take over institutions, cultures, etc. And – at least in moments of calm reflection and according to values that I endorse – I don’t place a very high value on simply expressing my values, being offended when they are violated, etc. So odious factions or tendencies in political parties do not bug me very much. However, though what I just said indicates lines of justification that have general application, I would not pretend that it is unreasonable to have any stance but this one.
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That makes good sense to me. For what it’s worth, I think you and I are at least broadly similar when it comes to how we feel about expressing our values or being offended when they’re violated. I used to be more hotheaded, but I find it difficult to get easily worked up by other people’s expression of things I find objectionable, and I more or less think that offense is an anti-intellectual emotion. This is one reason why I can and do have perfectly amicable relationships with people who believe and support things that I think are no good, like Ted Cruz or communism. But it’s a different story when we’re talking not about the expression of a view that I find mistaken, maybe even odious, but actually unjust treatment of people. I put the folks yelling about how evil Muslims are in the first video Irfan linked to in that category; I also put political lobbying for policies that would be egregiously unjust, like much of what the CAP report describes, into that category. I see no point simply in expressing my opposition to it, and I wouldn’t describe my reaction as one of offense. But even though I’m relatively quietist politically, I don’t think anyone can be justified in being indifferent to proposals to ban Muslims from the U.S., for example, especially when the person making that proposal is the front-runner in the Republican primary. I don’t think we all have a duty to go out and oppose such things publicly, but we certainly ought not to contribute to them and take whatever easy opportunities we find to oppose them. To my mind, that means voting against the Republicans (and voting against them in a way that is likely to defeat them, i.e. voting for the Democratic candidate). But I also oppose the Republican platform on a long list of other points. Someone who generally supports it has a harder question to answer: what are you going to do, if not to oppose this dangerous tendency, at least to avoid contributing to it? Part of the answer to that question should surely be not to deny or downplay the problem.
In other words, I don’t think the question here has to do with sanctioning or expressive value or anything like that; it’s about opposing and not contributing to material injustices, which are what we would get if the Islamophobic wing gets its way.
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Last comment for now. I believe we’ve probably crossed the Kumbaya Rubicon in this conversation, and are now well inside Group Hug territory.
I agree with Michael that my signaled agreement with the left on race made me fair game for his comments on the left. Without making a literal moral equation of left and right, I also agree that the left’s record on race is not unblemished. One example of this is the insistence on treating Michael Brown as a folk hero while ignoring his crime (I mean his battery of the storekeeper, less so the theft), and ignoring Darren Wilson’s non-indictment by the grand jury and his exoneration by the Justice Department. To defend the Ferguson rioting on top of that is insanity. So when I say that I agree with the left on race, I mean that I agree with certain theses that are left-wing in origin, not that I’ve declared an open-ended allegiance to the left.
The questions you (Michael) ask in your second question are all legitimate and fair. My rejection of Brennan on character-based voting doesn’t dispose of or answer them (since it’s a critique, not an explication). But you say that you have a high tolerance for immorality “as long as it is not threatening to take over institutions…” My point is that Islamophobia has taken over the Republican Party, and is threatening to take over the presidency.
The Pew map I linked to, of anti-Shariah legislation affecting about 30 states, only adds to this. At first the legislation sounds superficially reasonable, since no liberal wants to live under Shariah. But once you peel away the fig leaf covering the legislation, it turns out to be part of a campaign to outlaw Islam as such on the grounds that Islam is not a religion deserving of First Amendment protection. Few people seem to know that Jewish religious law (halakha) [big PDF], Catholic canon law, and Native American religious law have a protected status for their (consenting) adherents, subordinate to the Constitution and law of the land. The anti-Shariah campaign is just a blatant attempt to make Islamic law an exception to this rule. In other words, I regard this campaign as a semi-successful attempt to establish a state-level exception to the First Amendment in the case of Islam. Now consider the fact that back in 2007, one of the heroines of this movement, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, had made it her explicit aim to amend the Constitution to allow for the violation of specifically Muslim rights. It sounded like talk. But now it’s law. My inference: the Islamophobes are long past threatening to take over institutions. They’re taking them over.
I think I have a different, more activist conception of politics than either of you, and from most philosophers. I regard political activism, including activism of a purely expressive variety, as morally imperative. (I owe David a more elaborate articulation of this, I know.) I reject the essentially Platonic conception of philosophy as one that involves armchair inquirers engaged in neutral inquiries aimed at piling up truths, where the activity of piling them up is assiduously divorced from practice (as in the Gaus paper I just linked to). (I don’t mean that every political quietist holds, or has to hold, the Platonic view I’m describing; I’m saying that the Platonic version is the clearest and most objectionable form of political quietism.) There’s no conflict between a commitment to truth and a commitment to justice. Normative theorizing is (ideally) motivated by both, and there are some (valuable) truths that can’t be accessed except from the first-person perspective of someone wholeheartedly bringing about justice or the common good.
American democracy is like a dangerous but sluggish animal that has to be stung over and over to keep it awake. Unless you do, it’ll just walk into an abyss, and take you with it. So I’m unapologetically in favor of both political activism and high volume political expression (which is what it takes to be heard)–kept in check by reason, of course. That combination, armed with the best scholarship, is the only hope we have for change. The alternative, as I see it, is apathy, stasis, and an eventual descent into tyranny.
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Just a few quick thoughts on quantitative data of phenomena like Islamophobia:
I think the distinction between “anecdotal” and “quantitative” data is a false dichotomy, especially where “anecdotal” information is supposed to downgraded to “not worth taking seriously” and “quantitative” data is the real deal. Quantitative polling data is anecdotal data. It’s just anecdotal data that’s been collected under controlled circumstances. But when data is collected and aggregated in that way, there’s inevitably an informational loss: what you gain in quantity you lose in quality. Staring at quantitative data without recourse to anecdotal data is like trying to learn Chinese by the method of the man in Searle’s Chinese Room example. It’s not feasible. To understand anything, you need both. Anecdotes can’t suffice, but polling data can’t replace them, either.
That said, when an anecdote involves an elected leader, and by all accounts, the leader suffers no PR damage for saying whatever he says–and generally, elected officials tend to have a sense of what their constituencies want to hear–the anecdote serves to generalize to at least a majority of the constituency. When you get multiple anecdotes, you get a multiplier effect. But when all of the front runners in a presidential campaign echo the same line, and they’re backed by a $56.9 million lobbying effort, and the $56.9 million figure rivals the National Association of Realtors, it’s really not accurate to describe the data in question as “merely anecdotal.” It may not be clear exactly what it represents in the way of, say, Islamophobia’s depth of ingression in the Republican Party, but just as no one would describe the political power of realtors as “merely anecdotal,” no one can describe the political power of Republican Islamophobes that way. The CAP report presents a wealth of data of this kind.
Granted that there are multiple variables that explain why the Republican front runners are the front runners, the fact remains that all of them are Islamophobic, and their Islamophobic tendencies have not affected how they poll, whether in caucuses or in straw polls. Further, the most Islamophobic candidates (Trump and Cruz) have consistently polled highest, and the least (Kasich) has polled lowest. You’d need a political scientist who specializes in polling data to draw the right inference here about depth of ingression, but no one could say, “Oh, well, that’s just anecdotal.”
The Bail book has some very intelligent qualitative-quantitative discussion (some visible on Amazon’s preview feature), but for whatever it’s worth, here are some polls. Here is Pew Charitable Trust, 2014. Here is Gallup. This is a famous Cornell University poll from 2004. It’s dated now, but the data it presents is perhaps the scariest. Here is a Pew map of anti-Shariah legislation. I regard support for the legislation as a proxy variable for bigotry.
It’s unrealistic to expect one single study to provide the knockdown answer to the kinds of questions we’re pursuing here. The preceding studies are suggestive, but only within the context of everything else we know. Some of the questions asked in them strike me as pointless or loopy. There are methodological question to be asked at every step. But the Pew mean thermometer rating for Muslims put them at the bottom of all groups in the US. The Gallup study confirms that Islamophobia is a disproportionately Republican phenomenon, and that the most prejudiced are Republicans, constituting a full 50% of self-reported people with a “great deal” of prejudice. The Cornell study indicates that 44% of those polled (not necessarily Republicans in this case) are willing to violate specifically Muslim rights in a discriminatory way. The Pew map indicates that the states that have passed anti-Shariah legislation are heavily Republican. Weaker inferences have to be drawn from states that have merely introduced legislation, but there are 24 of them. I haven’t checked every single case, but I think it’s safe to say that the sponsors have tended to be Republicans (and the legislation derives in every case from model legislation devised by David Yerushalmi’s group).
Incidentally, contra Lorenzo from Oz, the Pew thermometer rating for Jews put them at the top of all groups. The discrepancy between Jews and Muslims (top and bottom) is weirdly suggestive of the old adage that anti-Semitism runs in parallel to philo-Semitism. Just a hypothesis: I think there’s a connection between the mean score for Jews and that for Muslims.
By the way, I’m running out of tabs on my computer, but there’s a well known Pew study that indicates that there is very little sympathy for terrorism or extremism among American Muslims. (Here it is.)
I also don’t think it’s realistic to dismiss data compiled by advocates. Advocates tend to be the people who have the motivation to collect the most salient data. In many ways, the CAP report is more informative than any amount of polling data. And it’s a tough call whether Bail qualifies as an objective scholar as opposed to an advocate. That distinction strikes me as a false dichotomy, too.
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I don’t dispute your point about quantitative and anecdotal evidence, but your case and the one that led me to appeal to the distinction are crucially different. My anecdotal evidence supporting the claim that most conservatives are not Islamophobes of the sort detailed in the CAP report is just that I know lots of conservatives and my conversations with them don’t lead me to believe that they are Islamophobes, at least not of the sort detailed in the CAP report. But quantitative data could in fact contradict me; it might be that 51% or more of self-identified conservatives or folks who vote Republican would express support for the Islamophobic tripe that the CAP report highlights. I’m not even sure that I’d characterize the kind of evidence you’re appealing to as anecdotal; I don’t think it’s immune to possible empirical falsification, but it’s not at all the sort of thing I was appealing to — the “well, I have lots of friends and acquaintances who are conservative, and they say…”
I’m not just admitting the obvious weakness of my sample, though. I recently made the mistake of trying to argue with a Bernie Sanders supporter on Facebook, and at one point I was informed that conservatives would be more likely to come out to vote against Clinton than Sanders because they don’t really care about “socialism,” they just use that term as a way to conceal their opposition to Obama, which is in fact based on nothing more than the color of his skin. I am quite confident in my reliance on anecdotal evidence in rejecting that claim. I know full well that plenty of people out there dislike Obama for the color of his skin, but I have met literally hundreds of conservatives who oppose the Obama administration for its alleged socialism and who, no matter how much subtle racism there might be in their attitudes towards Obama, really are generally opposed to what they regard as socialism. The fact that I think their conception of socialism is ridiculous is neither here nor there; the point is that, even if they also dislike Obama because he’s not white, they’d still oppose him if he were whiter than Casper. Here, too, I’m happy to admit that it’s possible that I’ve just happened to run into a minority of conservatives and in fact the majority are just a bunch of racists who couldn’t care less if there were a “socialist” in the White House. It’s just that, unless I’m given some really strong empirical evidence to the contrary, the notion that opposition to Obama is almost entirely based on racist sentiment is a non-starter (that it didn’t occur to my interlocutor that people so irrationally racist might also be irrationally anti-Semitic is no doubt a product of his own irrationality).
One reason I think the Islamophobia case is different is that not all the conservatives I know are in fact sympathetic to the anti-Muslim crap that the CAP report describes, not by a long shot. By contrast, virtually all the conservatives I know are opposed to the Obama administration. I do know a few folks who usually vote Republican but who voted for Obama, at least in 2008. But it’s something close to a conceptual truth that conservatives oppose the Obama administration on the grounds that it is committed to big government, redistribution of wealth, regulation of the free market, etc. So the two cases are importantly different.
Still, I stand by my claim that in my experience many conservatives are not guilty of Islamophobia. What I think they’re guilty of — though I suppose I might be able to be persuaded that it isn’t always guilt in the strict sense — is downplaying the extent and danger of Islamophobia and the danger of the Republican party’s entanglements with it. That’s basically my worry about Michael’s response. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to insult him by labeling him as a Republican.
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Just a question: do your conservative friends tend to be well-educated, e.g., have some college education under their belt or a college degree? That would skew the sample. As a rule, the more educated they are, the less Islamophobic they’ll tend to be; the less educated, the more so.
The Republican Islamophobia phenomenon is really a case of a very well educated, ideologically zealous, politically saavy elite playing Pied Piper to a relatively uneducated Republican base, bypassing the well-educated moderates in the process (and polarizing a few of them so that they become part of the elite). That’s consistent with your experience, and also consistent with Michael’s sense that I’m being unfair in making generalizations about the Party.
But the fact is, over-educated people like us tend not to spend much time talking politics with the uneducated parts of the Republican base. (Our students may be part of the base, but we probably don’t spend a great deal of time talking electoral politics with them.). Otherwise, such people are the paradigm of people who seem not worth talking to (from our perspective). I could hunt down the story, but there was a good analysis of the data in The New York Times (and have been elsewhere) that the Islamophobic element in the Republican Party marks the return of the “Reagan Democrats.” These peoples’ concerns are hard to take seriously in conversation. Some of what they say is so ignorant and so uninformed–and so distant from what’s really bothering them about the world–that after five minutes, one is tempted to walk away. Conversations like that tend not to happen, rather than functioning as data points in one’s experience of the political world.
I think well-educated, moderate Republicans have really not come to grips with the fact that they have lost their party over time to the people supporting Trump and Cruz. The rise of the Tea Parties gave them the illusion that the Republican Party had populist roots. Liberals wasted a lot of time pretending that the Tea Parties were a mere confabulation of the Koch Brothers et al. In fact, the Tea Party phenomenon energized a segment of the population that was analogous to the Reagan Democrats of the late 1970s–a predominantly white middle-to-working class population that feels marginalized and excluded, that is not particularly well-educated, and that wants to seize on a convenient scapegoat or two. There may be Islamophobia among well-educated elites, but putting aside the elite (Adelson, Yerushalmi, Gaffney, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, etc.), that’s not its real source.
I think the resistance to my stronger claims comes from a kind of incredulity that uneducated, angry middle-to-working class people have wrested the Republican Party from its more moderate “owners” (owners like Wehner, the original object of my critique). Going by our personal experience, that will seem incredible. But we’re a bunch of deracinated egghead outliers, estranged from the real America. Real America is where the voters are. And where the Islamophobia is, too.
PS. Here is The New York Times article I mentioned above.
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P.S. I especially agree with your point against dismissing data compiled by advocates. I think we should be suspicious of data compiled by advocates, but that’s not at all the same thing as dismissing it. It also depends a great deal on what they are advocates of; when they advocate prima facie ridiculous things like the claim that there is a systematic conspiracy of the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the U.S. by convincing us that Muslims have first-amendment rights under the Constitution, suspicion quite rightly shades into dismissal. When they advocate prima facie sensible things like the claim that many Muslims are not terrorists and that Muslims have first-amendment rights, suspicion should not lead to dismissal.
To my mind, one of the most damning features of the CAP report is how many of the people behind the virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric are either extremist evangelical Christians or extreme Zionists. I’d be suspicious of anything people like that told me; even if they’re really telling the truth, it is a wildly esoteric truth, and I guess God will have to answer for why he allowed Satan to make it so difficult for intellectually honest people to discover it.
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I agree with you. In fairness, I agree in part with Michael’s point as well. Advocates of all kinds do tend to play fast and loose with the data. I don’t think CAP’s first report (2011) was, methodologically speaking, nearly as good as the second one. Even I found it tendentious. Evidently, they learned from their own mistakes in the 2014 version.
The anti-Islamophobia side tends to underplay threats from terrorism, tends to overlook what is unsavory in the populations it defends, and too easily wants to dismiss the idea that Islamic terrorism really does have a bona fide basis in Islam. It may not be the only reading of Islam, or the logical consequence of The Norms of Islam, but it certainly is a reading of Islam with popular support and a long history.
In the Israeli case, the advocacy group that I rely most heavily on is B’Tselem. B’Tselem is an unapologetic advocacy organization. If it weren’t for their work, we would know almost nothing about what goes on in the occupied territory. But they’ve sometimes been carried away by their advocacy and made mistakes.
In cases like this, one has to bear in mind that the groups that would be most zealous and scrupulous about scrutinizing a B’Tselem would end up being extreme Zionist organizations. I agree that you’d have to be suspicious of what they say, but I also think that you have to pay special attention to what they say. That really is Mill’s point in On Liberty: even the most repugnant speech (or organization) has something of epistemic value to tell you. You just have to develop the skill of extracting what’s valuable from the sheer propaganda.
I don’t know about evangelical Christians, but that’s certainly true of extreme Zionists. Unless you understand their perspective, you can’t understand the liberal alternative to them. Same with Islamophobes of the Jihad Watch/Daniel Pipes/Frank Gaffney variety.
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Most of the conservatives that I know well are at least somewhat educated, yes. But I think there are enough of those that we can agree with Michael that it would be a mistake to claim that all or almost all conservatives are Islamophobes. There is, I think, even among the educated, a tendency to overstate the connection between Islam and terrorism, but even though I think that’s a serious mistake, it’s not on the order of the stuff you linked to. I think the fellow in the video in your first link says it all: “Muslims is evil.”
You are, of course, also right that the other side tends to downplay the threat of terrorism and its genuinely Islamic sources. Obama’s “ISIS is not Islamic” claim is a case in point. I appreciate the rhetorical strategy, but unless we’re taking sides in theological disputes, ISIS is Islamic and denying it mainly serves to fuel right-wing suspicions that Obama and his ilk don’t get it. I doubt that the content of Islamic doctrine has a very deep or wide explanatory role here, since almost any religion’s teachings can be used to justify violence and what needs to be explained is why some groups embrace interpretations that justify violence and others reject those interpretations (I suspect it is no accident that many of the most fervent Islamophobes are themselves religious and tend to believe that there is One True Interpretation of their religion, that all it takes to arrive at that interpretation is to pick up the book and read the words in it, that disagreements of interpretation are mainly due to the moral vices of the folks who disagree, etc.). It ultimately just doesn’t matter whether ISIS or Al Qaeda or anybody else’s interpretation is the right one. What matters is that it’s what a bunch of belligerent and dangerous people are saying to incite other people to join them, that it is not in fact what most Muslims believe, that there is an important moral difference between people who want to blow up innocent people and people who don’t, and that we shouldn’t confuse the two.
I’m not so sure about your final claim. I suppose there might be something to be learned from what these radical groups have to say, but I’m not sure it’s really anything we didn’t know already. I’m already not going to be able to read and think about everything that I know is worth my time; if I’m going to spend some of my increasingly finite time on ultra-Zionists or fundamentalist Christians, it’ll be because it’s never a bad idea to know how crazy your neighbors are, but not because I have very much to learn from them. But I may be missing your point.
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Quick thoughts, and then I start thinking about Sidgwick, Badhwar, rationality, and morality.
“All or most conservatives are Islamophobes” definitely overstates things. I’d be content with any claim that gives Islamophobia an important role in explaining the otherwise inexplicable support for Trump, Cruz, and Carson.
I definitely agree that Obama is in error in denying that ISIS is Islamic. This would be like saying that the Kharijis (or Khawrjis) were not Islamic. (Not to be confused with the Khawajas, by the way.)
The explanatory role of Islamic norms in rationalizing or justifying violence is a very difficult (and interesting) issue, not just because it’s difficult in the Islamic case but because it’s just difficult to come up with a good account of how a theology or jurisprudence tracks actual historical events.
But it’s certainly confused as hell in the Islamic case. Open almost any book of Islamic history or Islamic art or Islamic ___, and ask yourself how exactly the adjective “Islamic” modifies the noun that follows it. Characteristically, the author (typically a specialist in “Islamic ___”) will say:
Recall that I began life as an undergraduate major in Near East Studies (or maybe this is news). If you multiply the preceding attitude across the field of NES, you multiply the mysteries about how “Islam” explains anything in the real world.
What I’m describing above is the Old School Traditional View. This view basically holds that Islam has an essence, that this essence somehow explains Islamic phenomena in the real world, that everyone knows how it does so, and that if you have the right academic degree from the right institution, you jolly well know how–and therefore have the grace not to ask questions about it. (This view, by the way, is a perversion of Aristotle’s methodological advice at Nicomachean Ethics I.3: the educated person seeks the exactness appropriate to the field; only a bumpkin demands more.)
The Postmodern Postcolonialist Edward Said Inflected View is that “Islam” explains nothing in the real world. There is no such thing as “Islam.” We can’t give an account of what it is for a norm to count as Islamic. Hence nothing is Islamic–or anything is Islamic if we say it is. Said was himself an extreme nominalist of an almost caricatural sort. His view entails that if it is politically convenient to say that ISIS is not Islamic, then ISIS is not Islamic.
I think it’s fair to say that the real issues have been lost in the fog of battle between the Old School Traditionalists and the Postmodernist Postcolonialists. The Old Schoolers want to defend the honor of their guild, and the Postmodernists want to tear it down. The battle between them hides the fact that the field of Islamic Studies has never been able to formulate an account of its own arche. It can’t explain what it is for a phenomenon in the real world to be Islamic, i.e., how “Islamic” modifies any noun, be it “history,” “art,” “terrorism,” or “studies.”
One major exception to this is the scholar Marshall Hodgson, whose work addresses these issues head on, but is mostly forgotten today. He was my age when he died (46), which basically makes me want to kill myself out of shame at the comparison.
On the last issue: there is something to be learned from radical right-wingers that you wouldn’t already have known. This is a long story, but when any topic becomes the contested territory of two intellectual tribes, each tribe has a vested interest in concealing or minimizing the weaknesses in its own case. Even if you sympathize with one side over the other, impartiality requires that you appreciate the weaknesses in the case of the side with which you sympathize (which is what I take Mill to have been getting at). And often the only way to grasp those weaknesses is to give a sympathetic hearing to the most radical people on the side you dislike.
I sympathize with the Palestinian side in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, but I know from experience that there are issues which people on “my” side habitually gloss over. To get the fullest dose of those issues, you have to travel all the way to the Israeli right.
Both Palestinians and Israeli liberals routinely take for granted that the settlement movement is unjust. They often have trouble explaining why it’s unjust in a fully coherent way, except to resort to some form of legal positivism: “settlements are illegal“–a hopeless gambit. Meanwhile, if you visit with real-live settlers in a real-live settlement, you not only come to understand their motivations from their perspective (which discourages easy condemnations of weirdos you’ve never dealt with) but you come to see why they believe in the justice of their actions. (Since their opponents are legal positivists, the most intelligent settlers tend to have natural-law type arguments.)
To make a long story short, it’s much harder to refute an intelligent settler than it is to condemn the wrongness of settlements at a BDS meeting or at a Reconstructionist synagogue. The settler is there to pounce on every misstep in your argument, to query every factual claim, to raise issues you’d never considered before–and also, of course, to engage in huge amounts of plain old obfuscation. In my view, you don’t have political knowledge unless you can handle such an interlocutor. And one underestimates such people in thinking they’re summarily to be dismissed. They’re not. It’s also worth remembering that Zionist radicalism has now been mainstreamed, and made academically respectable. Radical but slick, glossy, and respectable: not easy to dismiss.
Sorry, that wasn’t so quick.
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I find it difficult to think squarely about what a “religion” even is. When we’re doing philosophy or the history of ideas, it’s easy enough; it’s a set of ideas, many of which are supposed to be tightly integrated into practices, and that’s that. But when we’re trying to think about it sociologically and psychologically, that’s pretty inadequate. One of my good friends’ husband, Brent Nongbri, wrote a book (Before Religion) in which he argues that the concept of religion is a modern invention that simply has no application to the pre-modern world that does not seriously distort the phenomena; I’m not sure I entirely agree, but I certainly think he shows how problematic the concept is even as applied to the modern world. I’m pretty confident that neither the essentialist nor the nominalist approach is adequate, but I haven’t much more than a vague sense of what would be adequate if our aim is to explain the role of what we ordinarily call ‘religion’ in people’s individual and collective behavior.
I take your point now about learning from radical points of view. In my experience, I am much more willing and able than many people to give a sympathetic hearing to views that I can’t see myself ever finding acceptable. In part because of the four years I spent with extreme fundamentalist Pentecostals in high school, I find it relatively easy to take up a wildly different perspective and see how things make sense from within it. But your examples strike me as rather different from what I initially had in mind, which was the “Satan is using the Muslims to bring about the end-times” style crap. I think I really have already learned everything I need to learn about that kind of thing. I’d agree that people in general ought to try to wrap their minds around how that sort of thing makes sense for just the reasons you give. It’s just that I’ve already done enough of that.
You might at some point find it worth watching Louis Theroux’s documentary on the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s instructive. Throughout, Theroux keeps asking questions designed to challenge their views. He’s being sympathetic and friendly and is genuinely confused about how these people can believe what they believe or why the considerations he’s urging on them don’t move them. At virtually every stage they have ready answers for him, answers that show just how question-begging his arguments are and how unexamined his assumptions are. Their view is generally consistent and they’re never stumped by his questions, nor is there any obvious reason why they should be. Given my background, when I watched it I was almost as amazed at how feeble his efforts to unsettle their beliefs are as I was at how horrifying their beliefs are. It’s not that they have good, reasoned grounds for their views; they don’t. But from within their system of beliefs Louis’ objections are hopeless. I’d agree that anyone who can’t appreciate the internal consistency even of views so crazy as the WBC’s could learn a lot from watching that documentary (it’s just a quirk of my past experience that I learned more about naive liberalism than about radical Christian fundamentalism). But we’re not going to learn anything from the documentary about whether “God hates fags.” Neither will anyone learn anything from the folks the CAP report documents about whether Muslims are out to get us.
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It turns out that we had to wait for some of the primaries to be over to get exit polling data on the racial (and related) attitudes of Trump voters. The numbers don’t look good.
So: one in five Trump voters opposes the Emancipation Proclamation, and 38% wish the South had won the Civil War. More than 20% seem to think that whites are a superior race, and a third are in favor of mass internment of suspected minorities without criminal charges or trial (specifically of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but easily translated into something similar for Muslims).
Is it really an exaggeration to read these numbers and think “fascism”?
PS. Some of the preceding figures come from national polls, and some from exit polls in South Carolina, so you have to read the linked-to post to get the low-down.
Good, helpful discussion. David: I don’t call myself a Republican or a conservative, but I have to resist being drawn into those tribal/social/ideological orbits (for reasons of personal history, I’m more sensitive to the outrages of the left than those of the right; and I do believe that reforming the modern welfare state in ways that are more sensitive to the benefits of liberty, competition, and personal responsibility is among the most important political values to fight for – even as this appears to be more and more the quixotic fight). If I am sometimes partisan in the Republican direction, though it does in part reflect some important political values of mine, I do so against my better judgment.
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Final comment on Republicans: it seems to me that, to the extent that they are targeting radical Islam specifically (and most are), they are flirting with (partially justified) monkey-brain anger at and mistrust of outsiders or others-not-like-them with respect to terrorism (jobs and the Chinese, middle-American values as against those of the Harvard-educated elite, etc.). They are also insufficiently sensitive to when such understandable (if sometimes or often misguided) attitudes shade into scapegoating and bigotry. But this is not the same as being taken over by anti-Muslim bigotry. At the same time, if Trump gets the nomination, the party certainly gets a lot closer to this point.
My apologies for missing this post – life is busy.
However, during the time when I haven’t been visiting this blog I’ve still been thinking about these issues in a few stray moments.
I found your original post confusing because you started talking about the leftist view of race and such. (Looking back, I see that I probably read your post and the comments out of order.) Clearly, a fear of Islam or Islamists or Muslims is not a racial matter, any more than anti-Papism in the 1800s was a racial matter (since it was directed at Catholics, whether they were Irish or Italian or whatever; that’s not to say racism wasn’t involved, because as I pointed out Irish and Italian people are considered “white” today for whatever that’s worth, but once upon a time they weren’t).
Historically speaking, there were some reasons to be opposed to Catholicism – the nations and cultures that were predominantly Catholic were less free than Protestant countries and those differences can still be traced today in, say, the differences between North America and South America (do read Claudio Veliz’s book “The New World of the Gothic Fox” for an instructive historical and cultural comparison). That’s not to legitimize ignorant or irrational fear of all Catholics at the time (or going back to the days of Spanish Armada etc.), but based on my historical studies I think there were some rational reasons for those in the Anglo-American tradition to be leery of Catholicism.
Based again on my reading of Islamic history and current events, I would also argue that there are rational reasons to think that Islam (in some of its forms, which forms are not exactly inconsistent with the teachings of the Koran as far as I can see) is illiberal – in practice it has led and is still leading to cultures and economies and nations that do not recognize human rights, that do not encourage scientific endeavor, that discourage or punish free thought, that treat women horribly, etc.
That is not to legitimize ignorant or irrational fear of all Muslims or all people who submit to the will of Allah or his representatives on earth, etc. I think that there are people in America who have succumbed to such fears, and perhaps many such people. Whether the people who predominate in the various factions and constituencies that are active in the Republican Party have overwhelmingly succumbed to such fears is an empirical question that I haven’t made the time to validate, if I even have the ability to do so. I have not seen polling on this question, either.
Where you and I seem to disagree is in (a) whether there is indeed such a thing as Islam or an essential intellectual or ideological identity underlying the religion or culture of Islam; and (b) whether Islam (if such a thing exists, according to you) is indeed illiberal compared to other religions and cultures (in particular Anglo-American culture) or actively illiberal to such an extent that there can be rational reasons to see it as a threat to human civilization (or civilizations other than Islamic civilization, which you dispute exists, see above).
Having done a great deal of reading over the years on civilizational history, I think it is possible to delineate fundamental differences among civilizations, and to understand those differences based on ideology, culture, religion, family systems, and (dare I say) philosophy.
My feeling is that throwing up one’s hands in despair is an abdication of philosophical responsibility, and that it’s a cop-out to say “this civilizational stuff is too hard and philosophy has nothing to contribute to understanding the messy realities involved, so we can’t say whether certain civilizations or cultures are predominantly Islamic or Buddhist or whether there really is an identity to the Anglosphere, and we certainly can’t form any value-judgements about such civilizations and cultures”.
Yes, this stuff is difficult and it’s messy. But that means we, as philosophers, need to do the hard work. By which I mean reading deeply in history and culture and family systems and anthropology and related fields (I provided a bunch of pointers previously). And to me that also means resisting the temptation to remain at the surface of current political disputes. For the purpose of philosophical understanding, it’s far, far from enough to talk about Democrats and Republicans, Hillary and Donald, and other topics that provide more heat than light. As our old mentor Ayn Rand once said, “A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war.”
In particular, I think it is possible to recognize rational reasons for thinking that Islam is illiberal (and in significant current incarnations violently and aggressively so), while still opposing irrational fears of all Muslims. Indeed, I think that such an approach recognizes all of the facts of the case as things stand now. As far as I can see, many of those who accuse all and sundry of “Islamophobia” refuse to recognize that Islam is illiberal (because that would be mean and judgmental, since all cultures are equally great and beautiful), whereas many of those who chafe at the charge of Islamophobia are quite possibly irrational with regard to the objective threat (or lack thereof) posed Muslims in general.
Conflating matters here is unphilosophical, and such a conflation might have significantly unfortunate consequences.
With all due respect, I don’t think that comment really does justice to what I’ve said on this topic. It omits some of the most important things I said, mischaracterizes others, and then ends up conceding some claims but treating the concessions as trivialities.
I agreed with leftist views on race because Michael brought the issue up in the comments. I didn’t say anything about them in the original post, and I can hardly be held responsible for the order in which you’ve read the comments and the post. So it really makes no sense to castigate me for treating Islam as a race, when I did no such thing. What I did was to draw an analogy between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The analogy doesn’t imply that Judaism is a race, either. It implies that there are non-race-based bigotries aimed at the adherents of various religions. So far, in about six weeks of discussion, no one here has managed to dispute (much less refute) the validity of the analogy I made–not because anyone has granted its validity, but because everyone has chosen to ignore the analogy altogether. But that can’t be because anyone thinks it plays a minor role in my argument. The more obvious inference is that they would prefer to ignore it than deal with it.
Historically speaking, there are reasons to oppose every religion on Earth, including Protestantism. In its Anglican form, Protestantism is practically indistinguishable from Catholicism, and low church Protestantism has been as oppressive as the most oppressive forms of Catholicism. But our judgment on Protestantism is not the same as the policy we adopt–especially with respect to respect for rights–when it comes to Protestants. A Protestant is not a bipedal conduit for Protestant doctrine. Neither is a Jew, a Catholic, or a Muslim. The inference from ‘Religion X is oppressive qua doctrine’ to ‘You are a threat qua adherent of religion X’ (independently of any evidence of threat from the person) is not just a non-sequitur, but the essence of religious bigotry. If we allowed the inference, then every adherent of every religion would be a threat. When we dealt with Protestants, we’d think of all of them reflexively in terms of “the divine right of kings”; when we dealt with Catholics, we’d think “pedophiles or pedophile apologists”; when we dealt with Jews, we’d think “ethno-nationalist thieves”; and when we dealt with Muslims, we’d think “terrorist misogynists.” You admit that we shouldn’t espouse ignorant or irrational fears about Catholics or Muslims, but I would insist that the inference I’ve just made explicit is the root of every such prejudice. People are not walking instantiations of doctrines (or the worst parts of a given doctrine), and can’t be treated as though they were.
I haven’t denied that Islam is illiberal. I explicitly said it was above. As for the degree of Islamophobia in the Republican Party, I can only refer you to the discussion above with Michael and David Riesbeck. This, however, is just a mischaracterization of my views:
On (a): I have not denied or even questioned that Islam exists, or that it has an essential identity. What I have denied is that it is a culture. A religion is not a culture, and the references in the historiographical literature to “the civilization of Islam” are for this reason highly equivocal.
There is such a thing as Islam–it consists of a set of norms in various scriptures–but its causal relation to a further thing called “Islamic civilization” is highly disputable. With all due respect for the reading you may have done, this fact is a commonplace of Islamic studies: there is no accepted account of how the adjective “Islamic” modifies nouns like “history,” “art,” “philosophy,” or “civilization.” Textbook discussions mention this fact, admit the existence of a puzzle, and then move on. But the puzzle remains. Is Islamic civilization the civilization where Islamic norms prevailed? Or where Muslims were the majority population? Or where the rulers were Muslim? I’m not aware of any worked-out account of the nature of “Islamic civilization” with satisfying answers to questions like these. But without such answers, the quoted concept lacks a clear referent. If you can cite a relevant work, I’ll read it.
On (b): I have explicitly asserted that Islam is illiberal. I’ve also explicitly asserted that whereas Islam is illiberal, liberalism is liberal (which wasn’t hard to do). As for Islam and other religions (Judaism and Christianity), I see no reason to think Islam is more or less liberal than them, and you haven’t produced any argument to the contrary. What you’ve done is to start the discussion by comparing Islam to “Western Civilization”; dispute all of my arguments against the legitimacy of the concept of “Western Civilization”; then without conceding or really dealing with my arguments against it, to withdraw your use of the phrase “Western Civilization,” and shift to talking about liberalism. But that shift was my suggestion in the first place.
This passage is a strawman and a case of poisoning the well:
I haven’t expressed despair or said that any inquiry was too hard to undertake. Nor have I said anything in the ballpark of the quoted view you attribute to me. What I’ve said is that the term “Islamic civilization” is equivocal. What you seem to be saying is that we should insist on using it anyway, and having done so, we should level accusations of irresponsibility at those who lack the nerve to engage in systematically equivocal speech. As for philosophy’s contribution to giving an account of the nature of “Islamic civilization,” I guess I’ll applaud that contribution once it’s been made, but I can’t applaud or acknowledge a contribution that doesn’t yet exist.
As for this,
I haven’t just spoken about everyday politics. I’ve used everyday politics as a springboard for a discussion of larger issues. That said, I don’t think that political discussion is merely superficial, or provides “more heat than light.” Ultimately, moral and political decisions are about particulars. It’s a philosophically substantive and challenging task to get the application of the principles right. So I don’t share in the common denigration of discourse about the nitty-gritty of politics. Abstract principles have to be embodied by flesh-and-blood people at specific places and times, and it’s a legitimate task of philosophy to figure what reason demands of us in the concrete and particular. Even if it isn’t a legitimate task of philosophy, it’s a legitimate task. Someone has to do it, whether they’re philosophers or not.
Well, I’m not one of the “many” in question. I haven’t accused all and sundry; I’ve made targeted accusations. I haven’t refused to recognize that Islam is illiberal; I’ve said that it is illiberal. I haven’t failed to be judgmental, or described all cultures as equally good; I’ve explicitly repudiated relativism. And though I chafe at Islamophobia, I don’t think I’m irrational with respect to the existence of objective threats. That said, I don’t think that “Muslims in general” constitute a threat. I also make no apologies for using the term “Islamophobia” without scare quotes, and for treating its apologists and exponents as adversaries. They’ve done the damage they’ve done because they’ve stood unopposed for as long as they have. An opposition has to materialize somehow and somewhere, unless we’re all content passively to descend into fascism.
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Boom. So much for blogcation?
I just want to add my emphatic agreement with your point about Protestantism. There are at least as many reasons to reject Protestant Christianity as there are Catholic (and perhaps more insofar as Protestant ecclesiology and insistence on sola scriptura tend to break down into sheer internal incoherence, whereas Catholic ecclesiology simply requires us to believe in wildly implausible things). But even if every individual Protestant or Catholic accepted every bit of doctrine in its “pure” form and acted consistently on it, absolutely nothing would follow about how we should regard individual Catholics and Protestants. And of course no individual Catholic or Protestant is just a placeholder for a bunch of abstract doctrines. I’m tempted to say that anyone who feels comfortable regarding individuals solely in terms of their religious affiliation can hardly claim to be any sort of individualist at all; it may not be racism, but it’s basically the same sort of cognitive — dare I say it? — sin. The historical point is right on, as well. Anyone who thinks Protestant thinkers in the early modern period deserve a better “grade” than Catholics should read Hobbes next to Suarez.
But of course, I might just be a secular Catholic, so perhaps I’m missing something important here.
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Or for that matter, Filmer on Suarez (Patriarcha, 2.1, 2.4-5, etc.)
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Irfan, I apologize if I have been ungracious in your house here. I feel that my conception of philosophy is now so different from yours (see https://stpeter.im/journal/1547.html for related thoughts) that communication between us is difficult, and wastes your energy and mine. For the sake of the friendship we once had, I shall refrain from posting further on your website. Fare thee well.
I don’t see the need for apologies on either end. I don’t think of my blog as a home, and in any case, I’ve never thought of my home as a contention-free zone. If you don’t feel comfortable posting here, that’s one thing, but you shouldn’t stop posting here for my sake. It’s just an unavoidable fact that contention generates heat and light simultaneously.
I read the post you linked to. You’re right that I don’t agree with it. The view you defend there seems to me an Americanized version of the old Stoic idea of fleeing politics and tending one’s garden. It’s not as apolitical as the Stoic idea (or the version expressed in Voltaire’s Candide), and also not as categorical. You don’t rule out a concern for national politics in principle, but still, your view is, within the American context, a relatively anti-political one: “…I see no good reason to give much attention to state or national or international affairs…”
I think a view of that kind is ultimately untenable. The governance of local communities is not something that can be cordoned off from larger political trends or forces; local governance is inextricably linked to state- and national-level politics. Take any seemingly locally-consumed good–food, housing, transportation, health care, education, etc.–and you’ll find that some significant aspect of how it’s governed at the local level depends, causally, on policies set at the state and national level. One can’t simply focus on the local level while ignoring its connection to the larger political context.
Speaking of empire: since the United States cannot seem to stop waging war in our name–and making us targets in its name–the price of ignoring our foreign policy is to ignore the question of why any of this should be so, and whether it should remain so. Should we just keep fighting foreign wars indefinitely? Are we really obliged to arm and pay for allies that flout our values in the name of those values? Is some of the world’s animosity for us a function of our being the 21st century equivalent of Imperial Rome? My answers are no, no, and yes. If that’s true, the fear that Americans have of Islam is (in part) a fear that they themselves have created and that they themselves can bring under control by ratcheting back the most egregious aspects of American foreign policy. If they refuse even to think about that foreign policy, they are in part to blame for their own fears.
Anyway, this disagreement is not simply one that you have with me. It’s one that everyone at PoT has with me (and a lot of people beyond PoT as well). I have little patience for anarchism or anti-politics: in fact, I think that politics is more important than most people (philosophers and non-philosophers) realize. I’m sure my interlocutors here think that I over-emphasize politics and under-emphasize philosophy. My interlocutors elsewhere just think I’m OCD. So you’re in good company, whether you continue to post or not.
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A belated footnote to this discussion:
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Good read. Thanks for posting. At the very least, Republicans do not do a very good job at punishing clear anti-Muslim bigotry. That is consistent with it not being the case that Republicans generally are or that the Republican party is bigoted against Muslims. But the folks of standing and responsibility are culpable, here.