Reasonable concern about domestic security? Islamophobia?
The comment by a presidential candidate that he would not allow a Muslim to run for president, has raised an interesting controversy. Shall we say that this candidate has reasonable concerns about our domestic security and the maintenance of our Constitution and political system? Or shall we say that his statement was a clear example of Islamophobia? Or, to speak plainly, a clear example of racism?
Those who agree with the presidential candidate point to what they see as the unwillingness of Muslims in the US to assimilate. Many Muslims maintain their native language, many Muslim women cover their heads, among Muslims gender roles are different from what they are in other parts of America.
But none of those differentiates Muslims in America from other groups. Most immigrants hold on to their native languages, sometimes because their English is not so good and sometimes because their language of origin is dear and beloved. Religious Jews will cover their heads but are not, for that reason, accused of unwillingness to assimilate. Women hailing from India often wear saris but no one thinks that politicians, whose families immigrated from India, are therefore not qualified for holding public office. Bobby Jindal, governor of Lousiana, is actually at the moment running for president.
Distrust of Muslims is also often justified by saying that they want to impose sharia law on everyone in the United States. But again, think of all the others groups, that we regard as good Americans, whose religion imposes on them specific rules that are quite different from those of mainstream America. Think, for instance, of the dietary laws followed by orthodox Jews. Think about the rules promulgated by the Catholic Church about families, divorce, reproduction, the role of women in the family.
Here we have two examples of reasons given to justify special treatment of Muslims. But these reasons would also demand that other religious groups such as Jews and Catholics should be excluded from being candidates for political office. But the same reasons are not used to exclude Jews and Catholics.
It is currently customary to call these prejudiced attitudes “Islamophobia.” That has a clean, clinical sound to it like “acrophobia” (fear of heights) or “agoraphobia” (fear of open spaces). Such fears may be irrational but should be treated more like a disease than a moral failure.
But it is clear that excluding Muslims from our democracy is not merely irrational, but is utterly reprehensible like any other example of racism.