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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 4

Subject:

'Islam in Two Americas' Comment by Michael Meeropol

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Mon, 23 Aug 2010 21:20:46 -0400

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'Islam in Two Americas': 
Times piece reflects pernicious xenophobia 

By Michael Meeropol / The Rag Blog / August 18, 2010
http://theragblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/michael-meeropol-islamaphobia-and-two.html

In The New York Times of Monday, August 16, 2010, op-ed
columnist Ross Douthat has a particularly pernicious
article entitled "Islam in Two Americas."

You can read it here.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/opinion/16douthat.html?_r=1&ref=rossdouthat

To cut to the chase, Mr. Douthat's argument is that
there are "two Americas" -- one that respects the idea
that we are a nation of many religions, cultures,
ethnicities, and beliefs and the Constitution permits
us all to enjoy the blessings of liberty without fear
of persecution.

There is another America as well, one that, in his
words, "...understands itself as a distinctive culture
rather than just a set of political propositions...
[that] speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or
Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious
heritage: Protestantism... It draws its social norms
from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora and it
expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these
norms..."

He then goes on to admit that this second America
persecuted Mormons and Catholics and shut the door on
immigration in the 1920s. It is this second America
that is offended by the so-called "Mosque at Ground
Zero."

Rather than decry this second America, Douthat goes
into all sorts of contortions to suggest that it is
just this second America that creates the unity
symbolized by our motto, "E pluribus unum." He suggests
that Mormon persecution helped force them to give up
polygamy. He argues that suspicion of and persecution
of Catholics forced them to give up their "illiberal
tendencies" and made the church recognize "the virtues
of democracy."

Where can one begin to attack this incredible
know-nothing-ism?

I tried with a sarcastic letter to The New York Times
which I will share with Rag Blog readers if the Times
doesn't publish it.

Here, I want to treat Douthat's "arguments" seriously
-- if only to give readers of this blog some ammunition
if they ever get into a discussion with someone who was
seduced by Douthat's piece.

The implication of Douthat's argument is that when
Americans display anti-Muslim bigotry -- as in the past
they had been anti-semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon,
anti-immigrant -- it makes for a quick and more
complete assimilation of the group being targeted. In
effect, in order to escape discrimination, the various
groups become "more like" the Americans who are
persecuting them - thereby earning "acceptance" as
"real Americans." (Read Douthat's article and see if
that's not the clear implication.)

He then lectures Muslim Americans on how to be good
Americans -- telling them they need leaders "whose
antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the
quest for interreligious dialogue is ill served by
throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the
site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam."

By the way, note that Douthat, after originally
accurately describing the proposed building as an
Islamic cultural center, has returned to the
misstatement that this is a mosque. Though it will have
two floors devoted to prayer, it is only a mosque if a
hotel with a prayer chapel is a church.

Note also that in asserting that America does not speak
Spanish he is denying "Americanism" to Puerto Ricans
and the Chicano descendants of Mexicans who became
citizens when the U.S. conquered the Southwest from
Mexico.

The problem with Douthat's argument, of course, is that
persecution and discrimination often lead to
insularity, the opposite of assimilation, and resentful
blowback. Decades of anti-Irish discrimination coupled
with anti-Catholicism in the U.S. did not produce
democratic assimilated Irish Americans for many
generations. In fact, in the 1960s, some Irish
Americans were raising money and running guns for the
IRA.

Decades of anti-semitism produced strong character and
great American contributions on the part of some
American Jews -- but it also produced a mistrust of the
American government on the part of some others, who
have sought to make American foreign policy conform to
Israeli national security needs.

And of course Douthat studiously ignores racism and
slides over the current wave of anti-immigrant
xenophobia. Are we to assume that black Americans
should be grateful for the second-class citizenship
they endured after the Civil War ended de jure slavery?
How did that make them "better" Americans? How did that
create the "unum" out of many??

In fact, segregation and second-class citizenship
created not only the forward-looking NAACP but the
retrograde nationalism of Elijah Muhammed's Nation of
Islam -- a nationalism from which Malcolm X escaped
only to be killed by members of that organization. The
isolated hyper-ghettos created by the American system
of Apartheid have led to a horrendous gap between poor,
isolated, under-educated African Americans and both
"average" white Americans and the rising achieving
black middle class.

And how will demonizing and marginalizing "illegal
immigrants" (who are all considered Latinos even though
many are from Europe) make them better Americans? The
isolation they experience due to persecution is a
prescription for keeping them from becoming Americans.

And now, of course, some xenophobic nativists want to
repeal the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to every
baby born in the United States. Tell me, Mr. Douthat --
how will that "encourage" them to assimilate?

The whole argument is crazy.

I urge everyone reading this to do everything they can
to push back in favor of the First Amendment to the
Constitution and against anti-Muslim bigotry. The only
way to beat loud, disgusting hate speech is with
louder, forthright GOOD speech.

[Michael Meeropol is Visiting Professor of Economics,
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University
of New York.]

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

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