Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Herman Cain an anti-Muslim bigot?

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson on Republican presidential nomination candidate Herman Cain's assertion that communities have the right to prohibit Muslims from building Mosques:

Stand up to Herman Cain’s bigotry

By Eugene Robinson, Published: July 18

It is time to stop giving Herman Cain’s unapologetic bigotry a free pass. The man and his poison need to be seen clearly and taken seriously.

Imagine the reaction if a major-party presidential candidate — one who, like Cain, shows actual support in the polls — said he “wouldn’t be comfortable” appointing a Jew to a Cabinet position. Imagine the outrage if this same candidate loudly supported a community’s efforts to block Mormons from building a house of worship.

But Cain’s prejudice isn’t against Mormons or Jews, it’s against Muslims. Open religious prejudice is usually enough to disqualify a candidate for national office — but not, apparently, when the religion in question is Islam.
Would Robinson appoint a congregant of the Westboro Baptist Church to a cabinet position?  How about a devout member of a Christian Identity church? How about a member of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam?

The difficulty here is that, while we rightfully protect the free exercise of religion, the fact is that some religions advocate things that reasonable Americans abhor.

This is certainly true of wacko churches like Westboro Baptist and churches associated with white supremacists (and black supremacists). Is criticism of these religions and of the people who profess them "bigotry"?

On Sunday, Cain took the position that any community in the nation has the right to prohibit Muslims from building a mosque. The sound you hear is the collective hum of the Founding Fathers whirring like turbines in their graves.
Many of the Founding Fathers took a very harsh view of Islam. The Establishment of Religion inherent to Islamic theology was anathema to the founding principles of our secular democratic form of government.
Freedom of religion is, of course, guaranteed by the Constitution. There’s no asterisk or footnote exempting Muslims from this protection. Cain says he knows this. Obviously, he doesn’t care.
I don't recall any essays by Mr. Robinson (liberal Democrat) defending the right of Christians to pray publicly at graduations, etc. Leftist Democrats are friends of religious expression, selectively.
Cain’s remarks came as “Fox News Sunday”host Chris Wallace was grilling him about his obsession with the attempt by some citizens of Murfreesboro, Tenn., to halt construction of a mosque. Wallace noted that the mosque has operated at a nearby site for more than 20 years, and asked, sensibly, what the big deal is.

Cain launched into an elaborate conspiratorial fantasy about how the proposed place of worship is “not just a mosque for religious purposes” and how there are “other things going on.”
Cain has a point. The activities going on at a house of worship may involve things other than worship. How would Robinson feel about cross-burnings at a local skinhead church?

This is not to say that nefarious activities necessarily go on in Mosques. But it's not crazy to raise the issue. In this country, and in much of Europe, there has been radicalization at quite a few mosques that raises real questions about public safety.
This imagined nefarious activity, it turns out, is a campaign to subject the nation and the world to Islamic religious law. Anti-mosque activists in Murfreesboro are “objecting to the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, sharia law,” Cain said. “That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”
Cain is right.  Religious practice entails worship as well as political activities. Worship is Constitutionally protected. Politics, especially potentially violent politics, is subject to statutory law.  You can praise Allah, which is obviously protected by the Free Exercise clause . You can advocate sharia law, but advocacy of sharia law is not protected by the Free Exercise clause. It is of course protected by the guarantee of Freedom of Speech. But opposition to sharia law is not religious bigotry. It is a political difference of opinion.

Let’s return to the real world for a moment and see how bogus this argument is. Presumably, Cain would include Roman Catholicism among the “traditional religions” that deserve constitutional protection. It happens that our legal system recognizes divorce, but the Catholic Church does not. This, by Cain’s logic, must constitute an attempt to impose “Vatican law” on an unsuspecting nation.
Similarly, Jewish congregations that observe kosher dietary laws must be part of a sinister plot to deprive America of its God-given bacon.
Neither Catholicism nor Judaism advocate any unconstitutional principle. The Vatican does not advocate imposition of "Vatican Law". It advocates moral opinions that some (too few) Catholics use to guide their own voting. Jewish Kosher Laws are not statutes. They are voluntary decisions by Jews to adhere to dietary rules.

Sharia law per se is an Establishment of Religion, and is inherently unconstitutional. Muslims may of course vote for and advocate for individual aspects of sharia law that pass Constitutional muster, but sharia law understood as a body of law is religious law, and it's imposition in the United States would be unconstitutional.

Wallace was admirably persistent in pressing Cain to either own up to his prejudice or take it back. “But couldn’t any community then say we don’t want a mosque in our community?” Wallace asked.

“They could say that,” Cain replied.

“So you’re saying any community, if they want to ban a mosque. . .,” Wallace began.

“Yes, they have the right to do that,” Cain said.
The Westboro Baptist and Christian Identity white supremacist examples can be invoked again. Would residents of a gay neighborhood (Westboro Baptist) or a black neighborhood (Christian Identity) have a right to oppose the construction of those churches? Something tells me that liberal democrats who preen about religious freedom would take a different tack about a Christian Identity church in Harlem.
For the record, they don’t. For the record, there is no attempt to impose sharia law; Cain is taking arms against a threat that exists only in his own imagination. It makes as much sense to worry that the Amish will force us all to commute by horse and buggy.
For the record, there have been many efforts to impose sharia law in European democracies, and the issue has been raised in the U.S. as well.
This demonization of Muslims is not without precedent. In the early years of the 20th century, throughout the South, white racists used a similar “threat” — the notion of black men as sexual predators who threatened white women — to justify an elaborate legal framework of segregation and repression that endured for decades.
This is not demonization of Muslims. This is raising genuine questions about Islam. Robinson's comparison between honest discussion of the political and social implications of religious ideology and discrimination based on race are disgusting.
As Wallace pointed out, Cain is an African American who is old enough to remember Jim Crow segregation. “As someone who, I’m sure, faced prejudice growing up in the ’50s and the ’60s, how do you respond to those who say you are doing the same thing?”

Cain’s response was predictable: “I tell them that’s absolutely not true, because it is absolutely, totally different. . . . We had some laws that were restricting people because of their color and because of their color only.”

Wallace asked, “But aren’t you willing to restrict people because of their religion?”

Said Cain: “I’m willing to take a harder look at people that might be terrorists.”

Generations of bigots made the same argument about black people. They’re irredeemably different. Many of them may be all right, but some are a threat. Therefore, it’s necessary to keep all of them under scrutiny and control.

Bull Connor and Lester Maddox would be proud.
I've got no problem with Robinson's excoriation of his fellow Democrats (Connor and Maddox), but there is no parallel with honest questions raised about the spread of Islamic ideology in America.

The vast majority of Muslims are decent law-abiding people. But serious questions can and should be raised about the political ideology inherent to Islamic theology. Many Islamic precepts are abhorrent: the establishment of religion, the subjugation of women, the invocation of violence to spread Islam, the vicious anti-semitism, the division of the world into the realm of Islam and the realm of war. Only a fool would look without concern at the European experience. Large Muslim sections of several cities, including Malmo and Paris, are ungovernable regions where police do not enter.

The problem of Islam in the democratic West is very real. We are a people informed by centuries of Christian culture, and our legal system and Constitutional protections reflect that origin. Islam is in many ways opposed to our system, and explicitly asserts the prerogative to overthrow it by violence.

What to do with abhorrent political beliefs associated with a particular religion in a nation founded on the free exercise of religion? To what extent is rejection of these beliefs and refusal to associate with people who hold them "bigotry" and "prejudice", as opposed to, well, good judgement?

We're going to have to find men with more insight than Eugene Robinson to answer that question.

Men like Herman Cain, for example.

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