Muslims and PR: A response to comments
Because of the large number of comments to my last post, I hope it is acceptable that I respond to them en masse below.
First, perhaps I didn’t clearly set out the nature of my argument and observations. I did not prescribe how any Muslim should think about his faith. I did not purport to impose a moral obligation on Muslims. I did not claim that some or all Muslims bear all or even most of the responsibility for overcoming social and cultural problems. I did not claim that Muslims bear responsibility for the sins of their fellow Muslims.
Instead, the narrower point I am making concerns messaging, not beliefs per se. E.g., I do not doubt the sincerity of moderate Muslims who denounce terrorism. Rather, I think sometimes that message falls short because of the way it is often (I hyperbolically said “always” in my post) presented. The denunciations are often boilerplate, or containing tit-for-tat denunciations. According to the Wikipedia entry on the recent Itamar settlement attacks, for instance, “Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, said he ‘clearly and firmly denounces the terror attack, just as I have denounced crimes against Palestinians.’ During a tour in Bethlehem he said, ‘We are against all types of violence.’ ‘Our position has not changed. As we have said many times before, we categorically oppose violence and terror, regardless of the identity of the victims or the perpetrators.’” Maybe his speechwriter had the day off, but this seems a bland affair for the killing of five family members in their beds, including a three-month-old infant. Other times, the denunciations are coupled with explanations why terrorism occurs, such as how it is not a function of religion only, but of economics, education, culture, and foreign policy, among other things. Truth be told, I find some of these explanations quite helpful—and as I mentioned, presenting these arguments among conservatives in the past has earned me accusations of anti-semitism or sympathizing with terrorism. (Sometimes the right and the left really aren’t so different.)
I just think the sometimes wimpy delivery or the packaging of the explanation with the denunciation makes the denunciation seem qualified and unforceful. And I think that hurts the image of moderate Muslims—even among non-bigots.
Similarly, I did not argue that anti-Muslim bigotry is excused or justified due to the above described messaging failure. I don’t know that I have any suggestions for how to resolve actual bigotry. What I am proposing is simply that there exist non-bigoted individuals who wonder in good faith whether Islam and American ideals are compatible. I recognize that some folks will insist it is the very definition of bigotry to ask such questions, but I’m not prepared to chase the thing down to any more rudimental level than that—if we are not able to agree on certain basic propositions, I think we are not compatible for conversation, you and I. But if we are able to assume such good faith questions exist, and that there are non-bigots in the world asking them, then the question arises whether there might be any way the moderate Muslims community—whether through a political/media spokesgroup like CAIR, or AIFD, or something completely different—can help resolve those questions better than they have been. I think there just might be.
In that light, I’d hoped it was clear that when I referred to “Muslims” or “moderate Muslims,” it was not to suggest all moderate Muslims are of the same mind or have precisely the same interests, beliefs, and concerns. I simply meant to suggest that, with respect to the rhetorical issues, folks with a vested interest in accelerating the resolution of Muslims’ social and cultural problems in America might want to think along these lines. Perhaps it was rash of me to assume the folks with such an interest would be Muslims. At the time, I thought it a fair guess.
Reading back through some of the comments again, it bears repeating: I did not and do not purport to malign the Muslim faith, particularly not over any of the reasons described in my post. I’ve shared many fulfilling discussions with the Muslims I worked with for over six years, during which time I was invited to and attended birthday parties and Ramadan dinners and other religious celebrations (I hung out with the ladies while the men prayed). Many of our clients were Muslim-owned businesses. I set up the computer network at a Muslim school. One of my non-Muslim co-workers and I found amusing the large placard stretching across the six or seven stalls in the school’s bathroom that read “Remember, Urinating While Standing Makes You Unclean.” But I always recognized that I shared many common fundamental values with the Muslims I worked and did business with. As a Christian, obviously I disagree with Islam as a faith, but I don’t regard it as deserving special rebuke from other religions with which I also disagree. In fact, I believe most Muslims are a wonderful component of our American culture. Many people do not agree. But among those, some could be convinced by some corrections to the messaging associated with Islam—corrections that I suggest can be made by its practitioners.
Finally, I understand many readers of this blog are now committed to the idea that I am a bad person. Based on this, I assume they’ve already given up reading this post. To whoever’s left, I wonder if, going forward, we could stipulate to the meaning of the term “bigot” just so I know what’s being accused next time I’m repeatedly called it. Let me humbly suggest Merriam-Webster’s definition: “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” You won’t find any evidence in my arguments of an “obstinate or intolerant devot[ion]” to my own “opinions and prejudices.” Nor will you find any evidence that I “regard or treat the members of a group … with hatred and intolerance.” Now, you certainly are entitled to pose this as a hypothesis along with a representation that you will proceed to find and adduce evidence to prove it, but, for what it’s worth, I submit you will not succeed. Besides, it seems a rather nasty thing to do.