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More Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Andrew McCarthy at National Review has seconded Newt Gingrich’s absurd speech warning about the dangers of sharia law worming its way into American culture.

McCarthy’s article is a congeries of bombastic claims, all of them tinged with the kind of exorbitant xenophobia that brings to mind the works of Paul Blanshard in the 1950s or the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s or the Know Nothings and Maria Monk in the 1840s. With Zola, I say to McCarthy, “J’Accuse!”

My accusations against McCormack are several. First, he elides the differences between the Islamicist thugs who attacked America on 9/11 and Islam per se. He denies there is any possibility for moderate Islam because, without evidence and as far as one can tell having no expertise on the subject of Islamic history or culture, he asserts that sharia is the heart of Islam and “[t]here is no ‘moderate’ sharia devotee, for sharia is not moderate.” Of course, I know some 11th century Muslims who might have said the same thing about the Crusading Christians but McCarthy appears as ignorant of Christianity as he does of Islam.

Which leads to accusation #2. McCarthy contradicts his indictment of Islam by then offering an unwitting contradiction of Catholic theology. He writes, “Our allies are the Muslims who embrace our freedom culture — those for whom sharia is a matter of private belief, not public mission.” If there is one constant in Catholic social teaching over the past 50 years it is that religion is not simply a private matter, that there are public consequences to religious faith, that civil recognition of freedom of conscience is a good thing but not a sufficient thing. Indeed, it is Catholic conservatives who have been doing most of the heavy lifting in making this case. McCarthy adopts a facile, and distinctively Protestant, view of religion.

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McCarthy’s ignorance of Catholic theology is matched by his ignorance of Islamic history specifically and human nature more generally. The largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia and the reason that its brand of Islam is so mild is precisely because the Sultan had to dirty his hands with politics for so long. I am sure there were a few Savonarolas in Indonesian Islamic history, but the fact this that men who must were about trade relationships and urban plumbing and the such may have less, not more, time to worry about jihad. When clerics hold political power, two things happen: Some abuse it and viciously use the coercive power of civil law to violate the religious consciences of subjects. And, two, the more general pattern is that the people, for the most pedestrian of reasons, develop a healthy anti-clericalism that is an antidote to the sharia-inspired fantasies that keeps McCarthy awake at night.

This monolithic view of Islam being promoted by McCarthy and Gingrich is absurd to even the most casual observer of the news. Remember the protests in the streets of Tehran after last year’s elections? The protesters and the protestees were all Muslims. Yes, there are Muslims whose devotion to sharia takes frightening forms, but there are also Muslims devoted to an Islamic humanism that is the true hope for the future and which merits no mention from either McCarthy or Gingrich, both of whom are too busy scaring people about “stealth saboteurs.”

Just as Catholics have a special obligation to be mindful of anti-Semitism in our culture, we must also be mindful of anti-Islamic bigotry. And, to be clear, bigotry is what is on display, and worse, bigotry in the service of politics. McCarthy and Gingrich both use their fear-mongering against Islam to take pot shots at liberals or, as Gingrich nicely said, “secular socialists,” whom they both think are busy manufacturing apologies for Islamicist fanatics by, for example, citing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an excuse for Islamicist terror. McCarthy writes, “It makes no sense to dismiss our enemies as lunatics just because ‘secular socialist’ elites, as Gingrich called them, cannot imagine a fervor that stems from religious devotion.” I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble imagining a fervor that stems from religious devotion, but that fervor does not lead me to hate Muslims. That hatred does nothing to help us win the minds and hearts of Muslims around the world who do not seek war with anyone, only the same right to practice their faith that we enjoy here in America.

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