In which I continue my planned apology series

So last week, I was appalled by a thread on What’s Wrong with the World and said so.

I quoted both Jeff Culbreath and Lydia McGrew, but my main beef was with what I took to be the implication of by Culbreath that Muslims should be forced off American soil:

We just need our country to be an Islam-free zone. The presence of Mohammedans and the threat of Muslim violence is paralyzing. There is simply no alternative. May I suggest a gentle five point plan?

1. Halt Muslim immigration.
2. Revoke the visas of Muslim students.
3. Offer Muslim families $100K to return to the Muslim country of their choice.
4. Halt the building of mosques.
5. Halt the printing and distribution of the Koran.

Yes, I know, first amendment and all that. But the the first amendment is dead, and Islam killed it. There is no “freedom of speech” or “freedom of religion” with the threat of Muslim violence hanging over your head. Once this “five point plan” does its work you can have your first amendment back.

A reader who knows Culbreath’s thinking better than I do writes to tell me that I misread him and that his language about a “gentle” five point plan is meant in all seriousness. That is, he proposes not violence, but persuasion, changes in legal policy like student visas (and bribery) to get Muslims to go. Therefore, I owe him an apology.

Okey doke. I apologize. I should not have jumped to the conclusion that Culbreath intended unjust (i.e., violent, coercive, extralegal) means to create an Islam free America. Mea culpa.

Still, I highly doubt I’m the only person who, reading the above, could get the impression of a highly mixed message. If one really believes that “We just need our country to be an Islam-free zone and that “there is simply no alternative” to that then it’s not too hard to assume that Culbreath really meant that. Especially, when he follows it up with “Yes, I know, first amendment and all that. But the the first amendment is dead, and Islam killed it. There is no “freedom of speech” or “freedom of religion” with the threat of Muslim violence hanging over your head”. This does sound uncommonly like “Muslims must go and no Bill of Rights is going to stand in the way of that.” So while I accept the protestation that Culbreath is aiming for only just means by which to keep the Muslim population down in the US, I also point out that somebody who is not a close student of his thinking (like me) can be forgiven for not knowing which part of his writing to stress.

If he means that Just Means Only are the way to get the job done, then it follows he’s just ginning up the troops for the struggle when he says “There is simply no alternative.” Sort of like “we will never surrender, no matter what!” or a good pre-game pep talk. But since he’s not giving a pre-game pep talk and the facts are

a) that nobody’s gonna pony up $100,000 per Muslim family to send them all back where they came from;
b) lots and lots of Muslim families came from places like Iran to escape the same radical Islamists we were at war with;
c) lots and lots of other Muslims would need to go “back” to America since this is where they come from…

…well then, it is only natural that somebody like me should wonder, “What happens when this Cloud Cuckoo Land plan for making America a “Islam-free zone” fails to materialize as it *surely* will? Just how seriously are we to take the speaker when he says “there is simply no alternative” to a Muslim free America and that the first amendment is dead? How many other protections of law are dead too if there is “simply no alternative”?

Evidently, according to Culbreath and other correspondents, I should not put too much stress on these ominous remarks. The desire for an Islam free America is an ideal, like the desire for a drug free America, they say. Okay. But still, that wasn’t super clear from what was written. So: sorry for leaping to conclusions. Next time: please try to be clearer.

Some folks who have written me seem to think I take lightly the problem of reconciling Islam with post-Christian western democratic capitalist culture and see no Islamist threat on our soil. On the contrary, I was conscious during 9/11 like everybody else and have not forgotten. Nor does it escape my attention that one of my neighbors here in Seattle has just been forced into the Witness Protection Program because she dared to make fun of the Mohammed. Nor am I blind to the frequent tales of Islamic barbarism abroad and Bronze Age behavior here. I have remarked many times on the stunningly thin-skinned bullying and self-pity to be found in Islam and the stunningly craven and lickspittle cowardice of the media reporting (or rather, failing to report) on this. I wrote a whole piece about this for Inside Catholic. I think that the combination of thin watery secularism vs. inflamed fanatical Islam is volatile.

Indeed, the irony is that a couple of weeks ago, I was busy earning brickbats from some of the girly men over at Vox Nova because I corrected Matt Talbot (whom I esteem highly, just to be sure you distinguish him from the anonymous girly men) when he assumed I agreed with him that “Islam is not the Enemy“.

My reply: “Actually, I’d be more inclined to say Islam is the enemy, but that not all Muslims are.” I started to have a pretty good conversation with Matt about this, but the Vox Nova girly men, being girly men, quickly reminded me why nobody but a fool sticks their head in the noose at Vox Nova by trying to have a serious conversation. They ran off to The Catholic Fascist, distorting what I said, and then behaved like girly men doing their nails and offering catty gossip in place of actual reasoned conversation. Lesson learned, I withdrew from the discussion and let the girls have their fun.

But my point remains the same: while I believe that there are certain things that are essential to Islam, I am not persuaded that violence has to be one of them. Does that mean I kid myself that violence is not common in Islam? Of course not. but neither is it essential. That’s the point: Islam has no Magisterium. To a large degree, it is what your sect of Islam says it is. Sunni and Shi’ite can’t even agree on what the Five Pillars of Islam are. In Sunni Islam, three of the Pillars map to three great moral obligations in the Catholic Tradition that we hear about every Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And that’s just the beginning of the enormous variety of belief and practice in Islam.

So here’s the thing: if violence was *constitutive and essential* to Islam, then we wouldn’t be hearing about some acts of jihadist violence on our soil. We would be hearing about millions of acts of jihadist violence on our soil from the 2.5 to 5 million estimated Muslims living here. There would *be* no Adnan Mokrani writing in heartbreaking words about the death of his Iraqi priest friend at the hands of Muslim murderers. There would be no such thing as Sufi. There would be no Imams taking up the offer of dialogue with Benedict XVI. There would be no Muslims fighting honorably in the war against Islamic crazies. The fact that there are, and that there are not millions (indeed, a over a billion) acts of violence happening in the name of Islam suggests that the “get rid of all Muslims” approach to dealing with Islam is ill-advised as a way of dealing with Islamic violence. Indeed, it suggests that it could well be a way of encouraging Islamic violence, much as Know Nothing hostility toward law-abiding Catholics was a good way of encouraging Catholic hostility.

As a Catholic, my primary interest is in the conversion of Muslims. As an American, my primary interest is in civil peace and the common good. As a political animal, my interest is in the art of the possible. Mad schemes to create an Islam-free America are, like mad schemes to usher in the golden age of a classless society or mad schemes to transform America into a confessional Catholic monarchy, not engaged with reality. Islam is here to stay. We can minimize the impact of Islam on our culture (a development with mixed results). On the one hand, the Islamic inability to really adapt to western democratic ideas is highly problematic since Islamic cultures tend to vote in sharia. On the other hand, in God-hating Britain, the only thing that stopped the Beeb from airing casual blasphemies of Jesus Christ was Muslim complaint.

My main concern as a citizen is that Muslims not, you know, murder or threaten people in the name of Islam. I’m also not keen to see free speech suppressed by Islamic crybabies. I think it outrageous that a young woman who made fun of Mohammed is now forced to live in terror for her life on American soil. However, I think the notion of speaking as though an entire population of several million people needs to be exiled from America is equally dodgy, particularly when the just means to achieve this are wildly unrealistic and the proposal is backed up with proclamations that the Bill of Rights is dead and a call to ban the publishing of the Koran as some would ban the publishing of the Bible. And most especially since, when I look at the ratio of violence to the number of Muslim citizens, I see nothing whatsoever that persuades me that the vast bulk of my fellow Muslim-Americans are not law-abiding people to whom it would be gross injustice to say, “You have to leave.”

So what do I propose instead? As a Catholic, I think the place to start is with the boring basic: love and truth. So, for instance, it is just for Americans and Catholics to expect Muslims to respond to some latest Muslim outrage with denunciations of the outrage rather than with self-pity and demands for everybody else to not notice the connection between Islamic butchers and the faith in whose name they butcher. As I noted elsewhere:

Meanwhile, the Religion That Can’t Grow Up beholds the carnage wrought by another Son of the Prophet and naturally blames . . . somebody else, while feeling sorry for itself:

“When a white guy shoots up a post office, they call that going postal,” said Victor Benjamin II, 30, a former member of the Army. “But when a Muslim does it, they call it jihad.”

Um, no. When the Muslim calls it jihad, we call it jihad, just as when a Christian used to call it a crusade, we call it a crusade. (And, by the way, when the rare Christian does something heinous in the name of Jesus, Christians condemn the evil act and the one who committed it, not the world for being upset by the evil act.) But in the world of our crazy media, the first response to mass murder by an Islamic killer is moaning that somebody made fun of the shooter. Poor widdle butcher. Boy, I’m sure lucky that nobody in our culture ever mocks us mackerel snappers or says we are the greatest force for evil in the whole wide world. If they did, I guess we’d be perfectly justified in opening fire on innocent human beings.

But here’s the thing: when Muslims *do* express condemnation of the use of terror, what you often run into is the invocation of taqiyya by the “damned if they do/damned if they don’t” crowd. Taqiyya is the theological rationale cooked up in some Islamic circles to justify lying. Does the rationale indeed exist in some Islamic circles? Sure. But that’s due to the fact that Muslims, being homo sapiens, have a genius for squaring the circle and rationalization of their own evils. If it comes to that, so do we Catholics, with our ingenuities about “mental reservations” and so forth. What I note briefly is this: that the people who are tend so show up in comboxes as bellicose “experts” on how Muslims are all trained to lie in defense of their faith sound very much like the sort of stuff said by atheist and Protestant polemicists who were likewise convinced in the 19th Century that Catholics were a monolithic army of foreign subversives led by Jesuit masters who had skilled them in the art of lying to defend the Faith and subvert the civil order of a free Protestant nation. That gives me pause when I am urged to assume that silence by ordinary Muslims working down at the garage or Kwik E Mart implies consent to terror while open protest of terror is merely a subterfuge to mask support for terror. The problem with this approach is that it seems to me both uncharitable and untruthful.

The problem with uncharity, like the problem of PC disengagement from reality is (practically speaking) the same: it cuts us off from tapping into those resources in the Muslim community which could be of real assistance in defeating nutjobs. Here’s what happened when the Army refused to look and see what Muslims themselves could plainly see about Nidal Hasan:

Indeed, one of the few sensible people in this entire exasperating farce of idiots in need of Insensitivity Training was Osman Danquah, co-founder of the Islamic Community of Greater Killeen, who, after listening to Hasan’s Radical Islamic nuttery, told him, “There’s something wrong with you,” and assumed the Army would, you know, take care of an obvious threat to its own troops in its midst. But the Current Thinking among the leadership is that the slaughter of a few troops is to be preferred to upsetting the sensitivities of butchers and those who love them:

Danquah assumed the military’s chain of command knew about Hasan’s doubts, which had been known for more than a year to classmates in a graduate military medical program. His fellow students complained to the faculty about Hasan’s “anti-American propaganda,” but said a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a formal written complaint.

Here’s the thing: If you are too PC, you don’t listen to the warning signals of the Muslim nutjob because you are afraid of seeing a Muslim nutjob. But if you are uncharitable, you won’t listen to Osman Danquah because you are sure he’s just another jihadi liar practicing taqiyyah. They’re all the same, and they all need to leave. Result: complete vulnerability to nutjobs *and* a loud and clear message to normal Muslims who don’t want to kill us that they are all the same and all the Enemy of America–which is, conveniently, exactly what Bin Laden tells them too. Sending Al Quaida recruitment messages to people who bear us no ill will is also imprudent and inadvisable.

Another thing I said which I now regret was to charge Culbreath with “cowardice”. I think now that this was too harsh. Somebody who feels his family threatened is not a coward for wishing to protect that family. So, again, mea culpa.

At the same time, I cannot escape the belief that there is a huge opportunity being tossed away by approaching the question of Muslim/Catholic relations in the US as being merely one of Catholics saying to every last Muslim, “We have nothing to say to each other. You need to leave.” It is, I believe, of a piece with a failure of nerve to which Traditionalist Catholicism is particularly prone: the conception of the Church not as the Church Militant, terrible as an army with banners, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, but of the Church as Fortress Catholicus, buttoned up behind the ramparts and trying desperately to stave off the rising tide of secularism, hedonism, Islam, and sundry other foes who have been beseiging her in ever growing numbers since Vatican II dealt a mortal blow to Truly True Catholicism.

I will be blunt: I don’t believe in this vision of the Church as being fundamentally on the defensive. I believe that the Church retains at this hour the power of the Spirit to pull down strongholds and claim the world for Christ. The gates of hell and all that. I think Islam is extraordinarily brittle, that Jesus Christ is profoundly attractive, and that America’s tradition of being able to allow religious traditions (which in the Old World) have killed each other) to rub along and get to know each other is an opportunity which Catholics should embrace particularly with the mission to Islam.

Which means that, in addition to normal police work aimed at rooting out nutjobs in the Islamic community (work dependent on forming relationships in that community) we Christians also have a deeper work to do: coming to know and evangelize our Muslim neighbor. If that sounds pollyanna, I can only note that it’s precisely the approach Benedict and the Church are taking, which is why Adnan Mokrani has a faculty position at the Gregorian and why Benedict is talking to Muslim scholars.

Well, this has gone on too long, but I wanted to get it posted both in order to offer my apologies for where I leapt to conclusions and too harshly characterized Mr. Culbreath’s ideas and to articulate a little of why I think we need to be more prudent than to simply lump millions of people in with terrorists and advocate unreal schemes for telling them all to leave. I think American Christianity has a big opportunity sitting on the doorstep when it comes to Muslims in America–if we will recognize it and not fear it.

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