Religion Re: Dan’s Internal Monologue and His Islamophobia Series
posted by August 14 at 15:40 PMon
Dan and I have disagreed before on Slog about how, as Westerners, we should process some of the outrageous things that some Muslims do.
I’m a bit nervous about getting back into that debate, but Dan tells me to go for it, so here goes.
Maybe I'm misunderstanding his new "I Would Have an Easier Time Avoiding Feelings of Islamophobia" series here on Slog, but I think his point is this: If Muslims want people like Dan to stop feeling phobic about Islam, then they should put a halt to attacks on feminist writers in India, stonings of gay men in Nigeria, and the like.
The onus, in other words, is on the Muslims of the world (about one billion people and counting) to police their most barbaric members, and if non-Muslim people in the West find it hard not to hold all Muslims guilty by association for attacks on feminist writers in India and threatened stonings of gay men in Nigeria, then that's the problem of the world's Mulsims, not the problem of non-Muslim people in the West.
It's an argument that's been made often since 9/11, when the West started taking a somewhat more serious look at its troubled relationship with the Muslim world. It's also an argument that carries with it the perils of collective blame—blindness to the diversity of the other being the biggest peril, followed by its attandant consequences. (We see an example of these consequences in, for example, the ease with which Americans were confused about which of the bad Muslims attacked us on 9/11.)
I bring all of this up to point out that Dan seems to be opposed to this type of collective blaming when it comes to gay people. When reading today about a teacher in Tacoma who had an inappropriate relationship with a student, his first reaction was:
Oh. My. God. Please, please, please don’t let this teacher be a gay guy.
Why? Fear of collective guilt and its consequences for gay people. It turns out the teacher wasn't a gay guy, but if it had been...
But if it had been a gay guy that raped that ten year-old, all the usual anti-gay suspects—Pat Robertson, Rev. Hutcherson, the Concerned Women for America, et all—would be screaming about how this incident proves that gay people are a danger to children. The responsibility for a crime is collective and the incident is instructive when a gay person commits it; responsibility is individual and there’s nothing instructive about it when a straight person commits the same crime.
It's not hard to imagine a news article that would prompt a "Please don't let this person be a Muslim" reaction from a moderate Muslim reader, and it's not hard to imagine a moderate Muslim lodging the same complaint about Westerners who find Islamophobia hard to avoid:
The responsibility for a crime is collective and the incident is instructive when a Muslim person commits it; responsibility is individual and there’s nothing instructive about it when a non-Mulsim person commits the same crime.
I'm not excusing the stoning of gay men in Nigeria, and I'm not excusing attacks on feminist writers in India. Both are outrageous violations of human rights. I'm also not saying that it's easy to find as many incidences of, say, stoning attacks on gays perpetrated by non-Muslims as it is to find instances of stoning attacks on gays perpetrated by Muslims. There is currently an imbalance of violent affronts to human dignity in the world, and it tilts against those parts of the world run by Muslim governments.
Which is not to say that there aren't Christians in America who would like to see gays stoned to death (there are), or Jews in Israel that gather each year to throw stones at the Israeli gay pride parade (they do), or fundamentalists of different stripes in locations all over the planet doing unjustifiable violence to minority groups (there are).
The point is that in those cases, we tend to see the violence as aberrant—in need of correction and condemnation, yes, especially from members of the larger group in whose name the violence is done, but still aberrant and not deserving of a phobia of all members of the larger group. And, to return to the news story from today, when there's even a possibility that a gay person might have committed a crime against a child, the immediate wish among gays is that it be seen as aberrant (paired with a fear that it won't be seen that way, and will instead be used to stoke homophobia—fear of all gays).
In those other instances, then, the onus is placed on the person feeling the fear or revulsion (Pat Robertson looking at a report of a sex crime by a gay person, say, or American gays looking at the stone-throwing at Israel's gay pride parade). The onus is on the person feeling the phobia to make the proper distinction between individuals and the larger group, and to cast appropriate (meaning different) measures of blame on each.
If we like that sort of distinction-making when it comes to gays vs. gay criminals, and Pat Robertson vs. all of Christianity, and fundamentalist Jews vs. all Jews, then I think it's inconsistent to say that when some Muslims do bad things, the onus is on all Muslims to prevent Westerners from finding all Mulsims guilty by association (and thus becoming scared of them).
If we're being consistent, then the onus for making the distinction between some Muslims and other Muslims, and for avoiding sweeping phobias, should be on us.