Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cathy Young on "Fear of a Muslim America"

Given my own current empirical research project on religious liberty cases in the lower federal courts and the distinct Muslim disadvantage in claiming rights of free exercise of religion (a paper that is undergoing multiple rounds of reader reviews before it will be made public in the next few weeks), I found much to praise in this piece by Cathy Young on the Reason web site.

As a self-described conservative (which will come as no surprise to regular readers of Mirror of Justice), I could only sadly nod my head in reading this passage in Young's piece:

Once confined mainly to a few right-wing blogs, anti-Islamic bigotry has become a visible presence in Republican politics and the respectable conservative media. All around the country, right-of-center activists and politicians are trying to use government force to limit the property rights of Muslims and repel the alleged menace of Shariah law. Islamophobia has crossed the line from fringe rhetorical hysteria to active discrimination against U.S. citizens of the Islamic faith.

As Young points out, when Orthodox Jews or traditionalist Christians are asserting free speech and property rights or asking for accommodations from secular government, conservatives generally laud those efforts and bewail liberal secularism when requests for such accommodation fail.  Unfortunately, when Muslim Americans seek the same, some conservatives suddenly fail to see the charisma of religious liberty.  Even aside from the principles at stake, Christian conservatives who indulge in Muslim-baiting rhetoric are shooting themselves in the feet, as most Muslims tend to be traditionalist on social issues and ought to be natural social and political allies.  The foolish anti-Muslim rhetoric issuing from some conservatives and Republican candidates are doing much to ensure that American Muslim voters will vote with the Democratic Party.

One of the strangest elements of this anti-Islamic quasi-movement is the fear that Shariah law will be imposed on hapless non-Muslim Americans.  This odd worry manifested most recently in the controversial pledge that Republican presidential candidates were asked to sign by a conservative family group in Iowa (a group that I have thought well of in the past and with which I had positive relationships with during my years in Iowa).  Although less noticed than the pledge's seeming suggestion that black families were better off under slavery than under present cultural conditions, the pledge also asked candidates to "vow" that they would "[r]eject[] Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control."  Setting aside the pledge's obvious misunderstandings of Sharia law and ignoring the diverse interpretations of Muslim law, one also must wonder why this particular issue was thought so pressing as to be listed alonside family breakdown, same-sex marriage, and pornography.

As Cathy Young rightly says:

The push for Shariah bans is puzzling, to say the least. Since Muslims make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, and government establishment of religion is prohibited by the Constitution, a Shariah takeover in America is about as likely as a zombie apocalypse.

In sum, Cathy Young well explains why, without denying the need to address actual Islamic extremism, the current political antipathy toward Muslims is a real problem and is a danger to American ideals.  I'm proud to say that, on the Mirror of Justice, Catholics from diverse political perspectives have been united in upholding the dignity of our Muslim neighbors and standing for religious liberty for all.


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Anti-Christian bigotry among the establishment, and especially on campus, has inadvertently created a much bigger danger for the social elite: Islam. One might ask, along with them, "What doth it profit a secular humanist to suppress Christianity in our midst if, having denied the people the consolation of their faith peaceful faith, we turn them to one less peaceful?"

I have long believed that the West is extremely fertile ground for the spread of militant Islam, and perhapds it is only right. The Muslims point out with some justicifcation that Islam spread like wildfire across North Africa and Spain because the people were disgusted with their corrupt, nominally Christian but actually a fusion with paganism, established religion. The fact that once established, Islam became the most intolerant persecuter and that since that time the martyrs in North Africa alone number in the tens of thousands is of small concern to the pagans.

Jesus historically has never been too proud to use his enemies to do his deavy lifting. Perhaps the shrewd logic of that truth is becoming evident to the Neo-Cons. This does not in any way release us for our duty, which is the way pointed by Jonah: to work for the people by calling them to reform and repentance. We are not the avenging angels they fear. But avenging angels are real too. They are out there.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Jul 26, 2011 11:43:57 AM

If I were pushing for Canon Law to become the law of the land how would I be portrayed? The problem is that we soft pedal the Muslim issue. Ask Christians in Saudi Arabia about sharia and what it is like to be a minority.

Posted by: Fr. J | Jul 26, 2011 8:00:01 PM

"Christian conservatives who indulge in Muslim-baiting rhetoric are shooting themselves in the feet, as most Muslims tend to be traditionalist on social issues and ought to be natural social and political allies." That's a very big "ought". I have made this same point in discussion with others, including Muslims. But I have found the effort at solidarity stymied by Muslims' consistent support for the oppression of Christians in theory (where it is legally prevented) and in practice (where sharia holds sway). Talk about shooting oneself in the foot. This suggests to me that both dialog and solidarity with Muslims, however desirable, is problematic, especially when Muslim traditionalism and Christian conservatism have very different consequences.

Posted by: Mike Walsh, MM | Aug 3, 2011 9:02:05 AM