Clash of Civilizations
Ta-Nehisi Coates posts the below video, writing:
I don’t even know what to say anymore. It’s officially fine to be bigoted toward Muslims. The panel (rather politely) dissented. I guess that’s a good thing.
It’s crazy. You could just as easily trade in Tanika for Mohammed, and terrorism for welfare babies. Different reasons. Same fear.
I don’t know. I think the whole welfare babies comparison seriously misses the mark. It’s sensible enough to fear the spread of a religion into secular Europe that is, at least in modern times, prone to streaks of radicalism. I think it’s understandable to worry that a large and rapidly growing population, which often has completely different values and notions about society and the role of religion and the state, is failing to assimilate into the broader culture.
This is not an abstract or theoretical problem in Britain, France, Germany, and Northern Europe, where Islam is on the rise, Christianity provides no counterbalance, and the legal line between church and state is nowhere near as clear as in the US. Here, obviously, we don’t have the same issues. From an American perspective, maybe I can see Maher as being ‘bigoted toward Muslims’. But since he’s talking about Europe, the picture gets more complicated. We need to see through that lens before we level accusations of bigotry.
It’s passing strange that people who are afraid of radical Christianity in the United States – which is 99.99% of the time more talk than action – cringe at any vocalized fears that an Islamic population boom might have anti-democratic repercussions down the road. People who value secular society, women’s rights, and Western democracy should be concerned by the growth of an unassimilated, often disenfranchised, and potentially radicalized Islamic population.
Again, for whatever reason, America doesn’t have this problem. For the most part, Muslims – like any other group – assimilate very well into American society. They are typically not radical, generally very well-educated, successful, and certainly no threat to the West. But the same is not the case in Europe. I don’t think we do anybody any favors to paint anyone who says there’s a problem there a bigot. The problem may stem from a European unwillingness to even allow these cultures to properly assimilate – I’m not sure. But one way or another, regardless of who we can blame, there is a problem.
Furthermore, this is Bill Maher. He made this movie called Religulous which basically mocks people for being religious (okay, I didn’t see the film, but that’s the gist of it so far as I can tell). Personally, I find this pretty tasteless and I find Maher way too self-righteous and arrogant for his own good. I’m not a big fan of the new atheists in general, or of people who view all religion as evil. I tend to think they’re missing the point.
But Maher is at least an equal opportunity anti-theist. If some strain of non-Western Christianity, known to have serious anti-democratic, radicalized elements was the emerging demographic in Europe, was out-birthing the natives so to speak, I think Maher would say the same thing. This isn’t so much a reaction to Islam as it is a reaction to religion. Maher is afraid that the Europe he idealizes – secular, social-democratic, progressive Europe – will be overwhelmed by a culture that is in every sense antithetical to these things. I don’t think that makes him a bigot.
P.S. Commenter James Vonder Haar writes:
Of course radicalism is concerning. What makes Maher a bigot is that he doesn’t make distinctions between Muslims- that any children are born Mohamed concerns him, whether they’re a threat or not.
That’s not my interpretation of this at all. Maher is responding to news that Mohamed is the most popular name in Britain this year. This points to a demographic changes that Maher finds threatening. Mohamed being the most popular name points to a tectonic demographic shift in the UK. It’s not the name, per se, that frightens Maher but rather what it implies.
P.P.S. Commenter Mike Houser asks:
Since bigotry has come up in your work that last few weeks and you’ve argued that the examples are not bigoted, I’m wondering if you’ve seen any event that made the news that you would put in the bigot category. I’m interested in where you draw the line.
Also: In response to Jason who writes:
There are 92 million evangelical Christians in the United States. There are perhaps 2.5 million Muslims.
Though Evangelicals don’t like to admit it, the most fundamentalist among the Muslims generally side with them on all social issues for which there is serious debate. For the others (hijab, alcohol prohibition, forbidding interest) there’s no serious possibility of a political movement. Conservative Christians are clearly setting the agenda.
So yeah, for the next fifty or so years at the very, very least, conservative Christians are set to have more political influence than Muslims.
But isn’t this exactly the point? Maher is expressing his fear that Islam will become demographically similar to evangelical Christianity in the United States. Meanwhile, although we have 92 million evangelical Christians, we have very few problems with violent extremism – out of 92 million people only a tiny, tiny handful have bombed abortion clinics. This is largely because evangelical Christians are pretty much part of the mainstream culture. The fear in Europe is that Muslims will be more radicalized because they will not be assimilated, while at the same time their population rapidly expands. And Maher is worried, probably rightly, that their politics will be much more akin to the Christian evangelicals here in the US. So no matter how he spins it, the rise of Islam in Europe is bad for secular society. So again, when I mention my bafflement over liberals here who cry foul at evangelical Christians not being able to see the same problem in European Islam, that’s all I mean. I’m not saying they should be up in arms over the Muslims here in the US – and I think I took pains to point that out.