Eugene Robinson has a column about GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain's Islamophobia. The guy just plain dislikes Muslims, and Robinson asks why we allow him to make the ridiculous statements he makes when we wouldn't tolerate them about any other religion.
And Robinson goes further ... he goes there:
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.
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."
Well, of course.
For Cain, the difference between Islamophobia today in the US and racism in the apartheid South half a century ago is that the former's OK while the latter is wrong (who knows what he'd have said about it if he were similarly positioned a century ago).
Making the argument that discrimination against a certain group of people is wrong because it's just like discrimination against another group of people, discrimination we already pretty much agree was wrong (an argument we debated a lot on this site back when The Advocate said that "Gay is the New Black"), is never more than preaching to the choir. Racists, Islamophobes, transphobes, sexists, etc., aren't going to just say, "Well, I never thought of it that way before! I guess my publicly stated and defended beliefs are just as bad as something we can all agree is terrible."
For Cain, Muslims deserve discrimination because they are inherently bad people, while black people don't deserve to be discriminated against because they aren't. That previous sentence sounds Islamophobic, so it isn't hard to accept that an Islamophobe believes it.
Robinson, who's generally a well-meaning sort of liberal, should know, if he read his own column, that since Islamophobia is completely acceptable in the US, just labeling beliefs Islamophobic isn't enough to convince peope that they're wrong. I would say the same for gay people: Instead of comparing our struggle and our status to other minorities, we should be emphasizing our own history with oppression, which is filled with horror stories.
The moral argument against hatred doesn't have to compare hatreds, unless we just plain don't know how to explain why hatred, discrimination, and prejudice are wrong. That could be the case since prejudice is not something that necessarily costs dollars, but we do end up paying for it.
Also, this, from Robinson, should go further:
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, Shariah law," Cain said. "That's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it's just about religious purposes."
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, an Orthodox Jewish congregation that observes kosher dietary laws must be part of a sinister plot to deprive America of its God-given bacon.
The thing is, if fundamentalist Islam wielded actual political power in the United States, I wouldn't put it past fundamentalist Muslims to try to impose their religious laws on the rest of us. It isn't all that far out of an idea.
But that discussion is entirely academic since fundamentalist Muslims don't have much political power in the United States. You know who does? Fundamentalist Christians. And they are trying to impose their religion's rules on the rest of us, through stopping women from controlling their bodies, from trying to stop sex and sexuality, and through trying to stop the free practice of other religions or nonreligiosity.
(Honestly, I think they just reach for their religion for cover when really they're just trying to impose their prejudices on the rest of us, but the fact that that tactic often works just proves the disparity in the political power between fundamentalist Muslims and Christians.)
It would have been nice for Chris Wallace or Eugene Robinson to have mentioned that when Cain complained that Islam is a "set of laws." Really? And Christianity is just an ancient form of anarchy?
And could you imagine a major presidential candidate supporting the right of a town to prevent Baptists from building a church because they were worried that they'd try to impose their laws on the rest of the town? We have Democrats and Republicans every four years rushing to explain just how Christian they are to the whole world, kissing the rings of the likes of Rick Warren and Pat Robinson, and there isn't a chance that any of them would offer even a reasonable criticism of the power fundamentalist Christians have.
On the other hand, I could imagine a politician making an off-hand comment about the Jews or the Catholics, but being roundly condemned afterwards. If Robinson wanted to compare, he should have gone higher on the totem pole.