Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Whiff of Bigotry

Towards the end of last week, one of Andrew Sullivan's little two-line posts caught my eye. Money quote:
Meanwhile, the insurgents are using children as decoys for car-bombs. What a lovely moral code they live by over there.
While Sullivan's stand against child murder is admittedly brave, there's a certain casual bigotry to his parting shot. His breezy, condescending take on how things are "over there" implicates both the victims and the perpetrators in the same moral failure.

A moment's thought would reveal that this couldn't possibly be true. If the poor bastards "over there" all lived by the same moral code (and that's the code of the Islamic monolith, don't ya know), then the terrorists would have no targets. In fact, terrorism by its very nature violates the generally accepted moral code and in so doing terrorizes the public into accepting the terrorists' demands. Not because they now believe in the terrorists' goals, but because it means they can return to "life as normal"—to the moral code.

Iraqis embrace the moral code

The vast majority of Iraqis don't live by the moral code of the insurgents. If they did, there wouldn't be so damn many of them getting blown up. The terrorists in Iraq (or anywhere, for that matter) require two things: first, a cabal of murderous bastards; second, a general public whose misery they can exploit. Sadly, in Iraq, they've got plenty of both.

I'd like to say I'm surprised that a guy as thoughtful as Andrew Sullivan wrote something so dumb, but I'm not. When it comes to his own faith, Sullivan is thoughtful, patient and eloquent (witness the long and erudite back and forth he's having now with Sam Harris about atheism). When the subject is Islam, however, Sullivan's critical faculties abandon him, and he slips into a kind of intellectual laziness that he would never tolerate in his own thinking on virtually any other subject.

I've pointed this tendency out so many times that it would be pointless to list, but you can browse some examples here. I have a great deal of respect for Sullivan's probity, and I fear that he's too smart not to be doing this on purpose.

That sentiment was bolstered by a post Sullivan wrote on Monday called 'This Is a Religious War'. In it, Sullivan details an interview with a former Qaeda operative in which the latter argues that the impulse to terrorism is intrinsic to Islam in general—not just to "extremist" Islam.

There's no question that there are problems in the Muslim world. But, as outside observers, we in the West risk seeing these problems as monolithic and the attitudes that cause them as universal. Andrew Sullivan's writings on Islam are a case in point.

When it comes to Islam, Sullivan's preferred experts are people like Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They certainly know a lot about Islam, but they all have one thing in common: they are not practicing Muslims. Would Sullivan similarly get his information about Methodism from a triumvirate of apostates? Wouldn't he be concerned that they might be biased observers? Certainly he would balance their view with those of believers. Such journalistic standards are not necessary for Islam, apparently.

Sullivan gives no indication that he's aware of Sufism or the Ismailis—or, for that matter, any form of Islam that is not reactionary Wahhabism or the Iranian Shiite theocracy. One gets the impression that he feels in-depth knowledge is unnecessary for commenting upon Islam because it is, after all, just Islam. It's not worthy of serious study.

Why else would he take his ex-Qaeda operative at his word when he says that terrorism is mainstream Islam? It would occur to even the most incompetent of journalists that Mr. Hassan Butt has a vested interest in portraying his behavior as normal since it absolves him of the responsibility of being associated with a bunch of abhorrent and aberrant murderers. If his story is true, then he's not a betrayer of his people and his religion; he's just doing what's natural. A freshman Psych major could see through this.

As always, there is a whiff of bigotry hanging over Sullivan's writing on Islam. His is a fascinating mixture of ignorance and condescension and it's a strange and jarring stance coming from such a defender of the Enlightenment.
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