Beware the anti-anti-Muslim backlash
“Here’s a thought,” Jonah Goldberg announces at the beginning of his latest opinion column for the Los Angeles Times:
The 70% of Americans who oppose what amounts to an Islamic Niketown two blocks from ground zero are the real victims of a climate of hate, and anti-Muslim backlash is mostly a myth.
“Thought” may be an overstatement there, as Alex Pareene has already pointed out over at Salon’s War Room blog (beginning with the obvious question: what in heaven’s name is an “Islamic Niketown”? And is it bad?). But because I’m pretty certain I’ve seen some recent expressions of irrational fear directed at Muslims in terms that would ordinarily be outside the realm of acceptable discourse, I’d like to look more closely at how Goldberg makes his case that Islamophobia is “a myth.”
For the most part Goldberg relies on hate-crime statistics. But there’s more to a “climate of hate” than officially tallied hate crimes (although, as Goldberg notes, “even one hate crime” — and there have been far more than one — “is too many”). Anti-Muslim prejudice manifests itself in lots of ways that aren’t strictly criminal, and the impact of that “climate of hate” is difficult to measure but no less worthy of concern. What sort of rhetoric is acceptable when it comes to Muslims and Islam? What is the impact of that rhetoric here and abroad? Does it radicalize Muslims? Does it alienate allies? Does it endanger our terror-fighting prospects?
But Goldberg insists that “there isn’t an anti-Muslim climate”:
Yes, there’s a lot of heated rhetoric on the Internet. Absolutely, some Americans don’t like Muslims. But if you watch TV or movies or read, say, the op-ed page of the New York Times — never mind left-wing blogs — you’ll hear much more open bigotry toward evangelical Christians (in blogspeak, the “Taliban wing of the Republican Party”) than you will toward Muslims.
“Heated rhetoric on the Internet” is a nice way of setting aside everything said by, for example, Newt Gingrich, who is hardly an anonymous blogger (but some of his remarks do end up online)! But OK, let’s talk about open bigotry. Opponents of the Park51 project keep noting that those who join their opposition (the 70% Goldberg appeals to) are not necessarily motivated by bigotry. Agreed — although the polling numbers alone don’t constitute proof of the absence of bigotry; it’s not defined that way. Still, there’s a difference between accusing a large group of bigotry and pointing out particular examples of bigoted speech and reasoning worthy of condemnation. It’s not impugning the motives of Americans in general to observe that an awful lot of bigotry has been unleashed and indulged by the anti-mosque campaign.
You may have heard about the jocular proposal by blogger Greg Gutfield to open a gay bar across the street from Park51 — the idea being, since Islam frowns on homosexuality, we’ll show those intolerant Muslims a thing or two about insensitivity! I’m not sure how it is that Muslim intolerance toward gays should be worthy of disdain while evangelical Christian opposition to homosexuality should be regarded with respect. But do you know who thinks Gutfield’s proposal is “brilliant”? Jonah Goldberg! He endorsed, and elaborated on, the idea at the National Review blog (“A strip club/gay bar with many pork dishes on the menu (and elsewhere) might work just fine”), and then in the magazine’s August 30 issue (“First, it’s funny…. Second, it turns things back on the supposed Islamic champions of tolerance who are building the mosque”).
If it’s meant to expose some sort of hypocrisy, the thought experiment fails completely — is there any reason to believe these particular Muslims would be moved to outrage by such an establishment? They live in Manhattan, after all. And is there any reason to believe those who support the rights of the Park51 planners to build what they want would oppose Gutfield’s enterprise? It’s motivated only by a juvenile impulse to jeer at Muslims, but if it were sincere, would anybody care? (Besides those who would protest any and all gay bars, that is?) It’s a setup that leaves its targets nonplussed, not embarrassed. But hey, at least we all had a few laughs at the expense of Muslims and their hateful ways.
While we’re looking at the National Review, let’s turn to page 40 of the same issue. There you’ll find Rob Long’s satirical column, devoted this time around to a parody “Congregation Newsletter from the Ground Zero Mosque.” If you actually wanted to know what sort of activities are foreseen for Park51, you might look at their Web site. But that would spoil the fun. What does Long envision? A “Newlyweds Social Group” in which “we talk in an open and supportive environment about learning your wife’s name, understanding her limitations, and beating her with a bag full of oranges.” Muslim men, am I right? How about a “Youth Group Picnic & Stoning”? Hilarious. Or a blood drive — “Please collect as much Jewish blood as you can!!!!” Honor killings, suicide bombings — Long’s piece collects all your favorite reasons to hate and fear Muslims without distinction in one convenient place. (He has to repeat a few, but who could ever get enough of jokes about stonings?)
That’s why my favorite line in Goldberg’s piece is this bit of handwaving: “It’s fine to avoid negative stereotypes of Muslims, but why the rush to embrace them when it comes to Americans?” I think what he means with that second part is, “why the rush to embrace the ‘stereotype’ that Americans are intolerant of Muslims?” Yes, where ever did that get started? But the first half is what I like best: It’s fine to avoid negative stereotypes of Muslims…but let’s not go overboard. It certainly isn’t mandatory. In fact, at the National Review, it’s fine to go out of your way to indulge negative stereotypes of Muslims, for laughs. And if the intolerant Park51 supporters have their way, pretty soon we’ll have to feel bad about that too. Call it an anti-anti-Muslim backlash.