Are we “getting” Islam?

May 2nd, 2013 | Posted by:

A little more than two years ago, I invited Sean Faircloth to speak to members of the Yale and New Haven nonreligious communities. At the time, he was the executive director for the Secular Coalition of America, and he struck me as one of the most compelling and persuasive political advocates for issues such as Church-State separation and countering the religious right.[ref]I should note that my opinion hasn’t changed.[/ref] He’s since published a book, Attack of the Theocrats!, and joined the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science as the Director for Strategy and Policy.

Faircloth published a lengthy essay this morning, asking “Are liberals finally going to get it this time about Islam?” The idea being the (at this point somewhat familiar) refrain that liberals ought to condemn Islam; that beliefs are not deserving of respect or protection, but rather believers; that open criticism is necessary for liberalism; and so on. Faircloth pleads, “My fellow liberals: please stop ignoring reality.”

It’s worth noting that I largely agree with Faircloth here, but the small bit where we disagree matters a lot and largely colors our respective attitudes towards Islam. There’s a subtle shift in Faircloth’s language throughout the piece, and I think this is rather emblematic of this difference. Faircloth says:

If liberals can – with great vitriol – condemn the Christian Right (as they do constantly), then liberals can treat Islam like any other ideology — because Islam is just another ideology – like the Tea Party, like the Christian Right. Islam must be subject to the same rough and tumble of ideas as is any other ideology.

And this I think is the main problem. Faircloth doesn’t discuss liberal condemnation of “conservatism” or “Christianity,” as if they were unified and broad ideologies. He references specific and narrow branches—the far right Christian radicals like the Westboro Baptist Church, or the extreme mix of misguided libertarianism and Christian theology that is the Tea Party. Faircloth is right that liberals often, and ought to, condemn these ideologies. But notice how quickly his language broadens, and how easily specific language lapses into generic language. Faricloth references Islam, not as a diverse mix of ideologies that’s often as varied as its billion-and-a-half adherents, but as one, monolithic, unified thing. 

We can very easily and conveniently talk about how the Tea Party’s policies might be anti-women, but Faircloth goes too far by suggesting that, therefore, Islam, writ large, full stop, should be the proper target of our criticism, too. As if Islam, writ large, full stop, is a violent ideology that is anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-liberalism. Or that Islam, writ large, full stop, has been the cause of terrorist activities.

I’ve written before that one of the most blatant and troublesome aspects of Islamophobia[ref]Taken here in I guess the narrower sense—not as racism or general anti-muslim bigotry, but irrational prejudice against Islam and its adherents. I’m obviously not suggesting that all criticism of Islam is islamophobic or racist.[/ref] is that we generalize about Islam in a way we don’t with any other ideology or religion. It seems that any muslim can stand in for a radical (as we’ve seen with the FEMEN protests and Everybody Draw Muhammed Day); any behavior of a radical generalizes to the ideology of the moderates in a way that doesn’t hold in reverse (no one looks at peaceful or charitably acts by Muslims and goes on to say that they’re the result of Islam, even if they fit the same criterion Faircloth wants to apply in terms of “expressed religious motivations” following a “religious path that has become familiar”); and any behavior by radicals has to be swiftly and loudly denounced (whether or not you’re listening) by the moderates, or they’re somehow implicated in the action.

So I largely agree with Faircloth—we ought to, and very loudly, protest human rights violations by Islamic extremists. In fact, I don’t know many liberals who would disagree.[ref]I’m not interested in whether any liberal disagrees. I am sure that they exist. What I’m not convinced about is that they exist in large enough numbers to be seriously representative of what could meaningfully be called a liberal position.[/ref] But a failure to go and criticize Islam, writ large, full stop, is not moral cowardice on the part of liberals. It is not PC gone mad. And that’s I think where Faircloth gets it wrong.

It’s telling that there are only two groups of people who blame 9/11 on Islam—far right Christians and a certain brand of atheist. Few political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, liberals, or anyone else studying religion, really,[ref]I literally know of none. I say “few” to simply have some buffer, but I don’t want to understate how really rare a position this is among any serious scholar who has looked at religion and politics.[/ref] says “Islam caused 9/11.” Yet Faircloth and many other atheists present it as established fact. So why the disparity between modern scholarly thought and the anti-theist position?

It could very well be that a conspiracy-like story is true—liberals know Islam is responsible for these atrocities but don’t have the brass to say it, and the liberal academe, poisoned by postmodern multiculturalism, is too afraid to point out what atheists and Christians see so obviously. Or it could be that liberals, like me, might have a better view on Islam than atheists like Faircloth and the religious right do. It’s us who “get it” — Islam is not a broad, unified ideology; politics and social factors seem to be much more relevant in explaining suicide and terror attacks than Islam; proper criticism should be specific and not whitewash an entire ideology; and so on.

Now someone like Faircloth might sensibly object that Islam as an ideology, writ large, full stop, is to blame for these things. That the commonalities in the ideology shared by all 1.5 billion Muslims on Earth is the problem. Now they might have trouble squaring that with contemporary scholarly thought on the topic, but it’s a fair point they could make. But note that this isn’t a conversation about moral courage anymore, or whether criticism of Islam is islamophobic, or whether liberals need to be consistent. This conversation isn’t about when liberals will finally come around to reality (or why they might be hesitant to), but instead about what reality is. Disagreements are about the nature of Islam—if there can even coherently be one—and what the proper attitude we should take towards that is.

And there, I think, Faircloth falls somewhat short. Faircloth mentions some statistics (and there are some good ones coming out of this recent Pew survey), and references a few cases of terrorism, but I’ve gone on long enough for this post. I’m not convinced and I’ll address them shortly in a follow-up.

I’d just like to note[ref]For like, the fifth time. I really don’t want to understate how great Sean is.[/ref] that I think Faircloth and I agree a lot, and I don’t mean to imply that I think he’s racist, or bigoted, or that his motives are insincere. Faircloth is largely right: liberals should condemn anti-liberal practices and policies, and this includes swaths of radical Islam. But whether Islam is an appropriate target for that condemnation is unclear to me, and I haven’t seen a good case for it yet.

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

Casual Islamophobia Roundup 4/25

April 25th, 2013 | Posted by:

It’s not generally that surprising to see a steady current of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry and animus, especially following the discovery that two Chechen brothers were behind the Boston bombing.

So in keeping with the spirit of my roundup of all the awful responses to the Boston bombing, allow me to look at another week in Islamophobia.

A blog at The Telegraph argues that there was no real backlash against Muslims in the wake of the Boston bombing, and that people who were concerned were the real bigots.

Time and again, Left-leaning campaigners and observers respond to terror attacks in the West by panicking about the possibly racist response of Joe Public – and time and again, their fears prove ill-founded and Joe Public proves himself a more decent, tolerant person than they give him credit for. What this reveals is that liberal concern over Islamophobia, liberal fretting about anti-Muslim bigotry, is ironically driven by a bigotry of its own, by an deeply prejudiced view of everyday people as hateful and stupid.

As a nice counterpoint, feel free to read this compelling account of Muslims in Boston following the bombing.

Ann Coulter also recently went on the Sean Hannity show to argue that women who wear the hijab ought to be imprisonedRaw Story reports:

“I don’t care if [the widow of the Boston bomber] knew about [the attack],” Coulter said. “She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab. This immigration policy of us, you know, assimilating immigrants into our culture isn’t really working. They’re assimilating us into their culture. Did she get a clitorectomy too?”

Hannity seemed momentarily puzzled at the sudden citation of female genital mutilation, stammering his reply. “I, uh, I don’t know the answer to that,” he said before confidently adding: “But your point is well taken.”

She went on to use the attacks as a further excuse to criticize U.S. immigration policy. Forget “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

“Our immigration policy has nothing to do with helping America,” Coulter insisted. “It has to do with solving the internal problems of other countries. We’ll take Russia’s radicals. We’ll take the illiterate, unskilled, low-skill workers from all these countries. We’ll take their old people and put them on our supplemental security and Medicare. No, immigration policies are supposed to make your country better, not to make it worse and to create all these problems.”

In other news, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested that we might bar young Muslims from receiving visas. And former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants us to monitor the Muslim community. Fox News host Eric Bolling called Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) “very dangerous” and the “Muslim apologist in Congress.” He went on to advocate the profiling of Muslims.

Bill O’Reily would like to know why Obama didn’t condemn Islam right after the bombing. Both he and Andrew Sullivan were quick to immediately peg radical Islam as the motivation behind the attack, despite a lack of any real information at the time. Glenn Greenwald, in a great column, wryly notes:

The New York Times today reports that “United States officials said they were increasingly certain that the two suspects had acted on their own, but were looking for any hints that someone had trained or inspired them.” It also reports that “The FBI is broadening its global investigation in search of a motive.” There’s no reason for the FBI to search for a motive. They should just go talk to Andrew Sullivan. He already found it.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), the man behind the 2010 “radicalization hearings,” advocated for “increased surveillance” of Islamic communities in the U.S. He said the “new threat is definitely from within.” The New York Times has a great Op-Ed on the topic.

I argued on the BBC’s World Have Your Say, that, rather than Islam, we’re better off looking to the Aurora shootings or the Newton Massacre to understand what caused the bombing. Dispatches from the Underclass agrees, and further explores the double standards we have towards attacks aimed at civilians.

On a positive note, more great blogs from The New York Times. Friend of the blog Hind Makki argues that fighting for or against the hijab is distracting.

A headscarf doesn’t tell me anything about a particular woman’s access to medical care for herself or her children. An uncovered head doesn’t tell me anything about a woman’s access to legal recourse if she is sexually assaulted. A piece of cloth does not tell me how safe a woman feels in her society to protest her political leaders, enjoy a night out with friends or choose her own spouse.

And on the topic, still from the Times, Murtaza Hussain argues that it is arrogant to ignore Muslim women.

Lastly, for everyone complaining that moderate Muslims don’t speak out against the actions of radicals, have you really tried listening?

UPDATE: I think I might try to make this a somewhat regular feature. To any readers who come across particularly awful content online, feel free to tweet it my way (@vladchituc)

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

NonProphet Status has been reflecting on the recent tragedy in Boston. We have a guest post today from reader and friend-of-the-blog, Andreas Rekdal, providing a compelling and unique perspective as a Norwegian reflecting on the 2011 Norway attacks as well as the events in Boston. 

Oslo Cathedral

Oslo Cathedral the day after the attack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his piece titled “A Muslim’s Prayer for the Boston Marathon,” Arsalan Iftikhar puts into writing the silent prayer he likely shares with millions of Muslims across the nation today: “Oh God…Please don’t let it be a Muslim…” Although I do not pray much anymore, I must admit that my first reaction was not all that different from Arsalan’s.

I vividly recall standing at a London airport on July 22nd 2011, reading the first updates about the bombing of a government building in the Norwegian capital. While frantically refreshing my phone’s browser, looking for more updates on the case, I could not help but notice the widespread consensus among commenters that Norwegians now found themselves confronted with the true face of Islam. At that moment, I was ashamed to be a member of a society in which it was considered acceptable to stoop so low as to make generalizations about the faith one fifth of the word subscribe to, based on the actions of only a few—who turned out to be just one and not be a Muslim at all.

The perpetrator more resembled the commenters than the imaginary “jihadists” they first pointed to. Anders Behring Breivik was an Islamophobic Norwegian nationalist acting in protest against the “Islamization” of his beloved home country. In order to make a statement against this islamization, he decided to bomb the Government Quarter before killing 69 young members of the political party he blamed for collaborating with the Muslims in the takeover.

As we learned more about him, he was written off as a disturbed and ill adjusted narcissist. He looked like a typical Norwegian, but we were sure to make it clear that the comparison ended there. We wanted nothing to do with him or his beliefs. He was not one of us.

As I am writing this, we have yet to hear reports regarding suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombing (apart from the New York Post’s ill-sourced reports about the suspect being a “Saudi national” which immediately went viral, but was shortly thereafter disconfirmed by the police). This has not stopped speculations of course, and again the general consensus in many circles seems to be that muslims are to blame. As Vlad Chituc notes in his excellent roundup and reflection on islamophobia in the light of this tragedy, these speculations “speak volumes of our biases.” Because let’s be honest: there is literally no reason, save prejudice, to suspect that the person or persons behind are of the Islamic faith.

We do not yet know who the bombers are. But if we do find out, we should keep in mind that it is unlikely that they can rightly be claimed as true representatives of any catch-all category, be it “liberal,” “conservative,” “Saudi,” “American,” “Christian,” or “Muslim.”

We Norwegians reserved the right to distinguish our views from Breivik’s, and Americans reserved the right to disown those of Timothy McVeigh. But when it comes to Islamic terrorists, we assume that their actions say something about Islam as a whole, and all of its adherents. Our prejudice has become so rampant that in lieu of evidence, our default response to acts of terror is to direct our suspicions toward the Muslim community.

Allow me to stress again that we do not yet know who the bombers are. But let me assure you that regardless of the bombers’ nationalities, ethnicities, or religious traditions, most of those who claim similar identities will probably be first in line to say that the bombers do not speak for them.

I think we should take their word for it.

photo (33)Hailing from the mild-wintered Norwegian west coast, Andreas braved the godforsaken tundra known to non-locals as “Minnesota” while obtaining his B.A. in political science and philosophy. After graduating in December 2012, Andreas went on to work for the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, proving once and for all that a liberal arts degree is only almost useless. While in college, Andreas founded an organization called the Secular Student Community (which was recently approved!). On his spare time he enjoys talking theology in bars, and getting way too into Facebook discussions.

Islamophobia is a Racism

January 7th, 2013 | Posted by:

Here’s a disturbing trend: with alarming frequency we are hearing stories of American people of color being murdered or assaulted for looking like Muslims. In a recent case, a Florida resident was shot repeatedly with a pellet gun outside of a Walmart. The victim, Cameron Mohammed, was actually armed with a real gun but chose not to fire. While his actions—or rather, inaction— could motivate an important conversation on forgiveness and ethical gun ownership, this event also characterizes a fundamental characteristic of Islamophobia: it is, largely, a form of racism.

Associate editor at Religion Dispatches Haroon Moghul has written a quite lengthy and thorough account of Islamophobia in the wake of the murder of Sunando Sen, an American Hindu who died a grisly, horrifying death for appearing Muslim. Moghul’s piece is largely a response to critics who see the term ‘Islamophobia’ itself as a tool to silence thoughtful criticism of Islam and it greatly succeeds in this respect. It is absolutely worth your time to work your way through it. However, I don’t believe that Moghul quite goes far enough when discussing the intersection of race and Islamophobia, and his account doesn’t seem consistent with the data provided from these recent violent incidents.

The case of Cameron Mohammed is notable for being perhaps the most explicit example of how race is what moves Islamophobes to hate. Mohammed’s assailant explicitly asked him if he was in fact Muslim or from the Middle East and when he answered negatively (Mohammed was born in the Caribbean and raised in Florida), this did not stop the attack. Nor did it stop the racial slurs which accompanied the violence. The assailant’s remarks to the police after the incident also betray the real motive:

When deputies told him his victim wasn’t Muslim, he told them he didn’t care, that “they’re all the same,” Schoneman told reporters.

“They,” brown people, are all the same.

What is interesting about the prevalence of Islamophobic crime as of late is that, to some extent, it hasn’t even been directed at Muslims. And when the perpetrators of this sort of crime are confronted with the fact that the brown person they murdered or assaulted didn’t represent the ideology they thought they were combating, they rush to justify their attack. Mohammed’s attacker did this by implying that all brown people have some stake in extremist Islam; Sen’s attacker had a similar justification when authorities told her that Sen was actually a Hindu from India:

“I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up.”

You don’t actually have to “be” a Muslim in any theological or cultural sense in order to be singled out for assault by this logic. Rather, what matters is how you look. This seems like a slam-dunk case for classifying Islamophobia as a type of racism, but Moghul raises an interesting objection:

I’m not arguing that Islamophobia is racist, or that Islamophobes are racists, because that’s not quite what’s happening. For one thing, Islamophobes embrace ex-Muslims … and racists wouldn’t (indeed couldn’t) do the same.

This is actually entirely what racists do. This is called tokenism: the practice of only welcoming select members of a marginalized identity, particularly those who have acclimated to the dominant group. Racists occasionally celebrate people of color who have gravitated away from their identity and towards the white majority, just as Islamophobes occasionally celebrate ex-Muslims who have cast aside their supposedly harmful beliefs.

Few people would willingly label themselves as racist (I think they all have OK Cupid profiles though). We all know the bigot who will start dehumanizing stories with the disclaimer, “I’m not racist, but…” Very often, as a tool to prevent themselves from viewing themselves as bigoted, racists will construct a myth that there is a difference between the subset of people of color they hate and people of color as a whole. This manifests itself most visibly as the trope that “there is a difference between a black person and a n*****.”

More depressing is the widely-held view that, to quote a phrase I’ve retweeted dozens of times since starting @YesYoureRacist, “there’s a difference between black people and ni**ers.” The sentiment was popularized by Chris Rock’s 1996 HBO special Bring the Pain, but is now used primarily by white people who want to justify their use of the N-word.

Tokenism also characterizes other forms of hate similar to racism, like homophobia. Returning to Twitter, we can see how tokenism excuses homophobia thanks to Azealia Banks:

A f****t is not a homosexual male. A f****t is any male who acts like a female. There’s a BIG difference. [censorship mine]

Banks doesn’t hate the gays who have transcended these womanly qualities, so she doesn’t see herself as homophobic. However, employing this offensive language with a diatribe against queer stereotypes is absolutely what it means to be homophobic. Similarly, having a black friend doesn’t excuse one from being racist. Liking some black folks but hating “n*****s” is the definition of tokenism. It is thus strange to point to tokenism within Islamophobia as a characteristic which should exclude it from being classified as a form of racism. So, if anything, the fact that Islamophobes exalt certain ex-Muslims shows their similarities to racists, not their incompatibility with the concept.

There is a caveat that needs explicating in any discussion about Islamophobia (though I’m not confident critics will pay it any mind). There’s nothing wrong with hating evil done in the name of a religion. In fact, this is the binding force of many interfaith organizations such as the Interfaith Youth Core. These coalitions are forged by people whose personal narratives push them to weed out injustice and promote the common good regardless of creed. When we cross the line from hating injustice to generalizing large populations of people as perpetrators or supporters of the violence because of how they look, we betray this noble mission.

Islamophobia manifests itself through the surface characteristics of race. We wrongly think we can judge another’s character by the color of their skin, the style of their clothing, or the Middle Eastern sound of their name. This is not a vigilance worth protecting; this is a racism, a societal evil that needs to be opposed.

Stephen Goeman is an atheist and Humanist. A senior at Tufts University, he is the former president of the Tufts Freethought Society and now serves as their Community Outreach Representative. He is also an Interfaith Youth Core alumnus and a member of Students Promoting Equality, Awareness, and Compassion, a peer education program that coordinates student responses to acts of intolerance at Tufts.

Redefining America's Religious Tradition

December 13th, 2010 | Posted by:

Today’s guest blog, the latest in our ongoing series of guest contributors, comes from Stephen Goeman and Bruce Wang, members of Tufts Freethought Society. It is a reflection on pluralism and its ramifications for several contemporary social issues, written from the perspective of two up-and-coming nonreligious student leaders. Initially produced for the Tufts Roundtable, it is a thorough and compelling call for pluralism — please check it out:

ingodwetrustA fundamental challenge is confronting America’s modern religiosity: a nation once considered primarily Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian, is getting a taste of secular values. The National Day of Prayer, first started in 1952, has been challenged by a federal judge, LGBT teen suicides have many reconsidering their stance on homosexuality, and Muslims are fighting to build Islamic centers wherever they please—regardless of their proximity to Ground Zero. These examples characterize a push against the fundamentalist stances of religious America—the push of pluralism—or the idea that peace in a modern society depends on allowing all lifestances to thrive. While fundamentalism threatens to divide members of various communities, enforcers of pluralism seek to unite these beliefs in order to maintain the progression of civilized debate and inclusive cooperation.

Traditionally, there are few limitations on what or who is considered American: all individuals, regardless of their point of origin, creed, or identity have an equal position as American citizens. This is a tradition worth preserving. However, this basic right is under fire on America’s religious spectrum by exclusivists, who counter America’s growing religious diversity by denying outsiders the right to participate in America’s religious culture. This view has a consecrated history in everyday language through the exclusivist phrase “Christian nation.”  Exclusivism creates a unity at the expense of America’s minority opinions—opinions that need protecting.

The progressive preservation of equality comes from pluralism. Eboo Patel, President and Founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, explains that “pluralism is neither mere coexistence nor forced consensus… Instead, religious pluralism is ‘energetic engagement’ that affirms the unique identity of each particular religious tradition and community, while recognizing that the well-being of each depends on the health of the whole.”

Pluralism is advanced through interfaith cooperation, the goal of which is to make knowledge of individual beliefs readily accessible through positive and productive interaction. Interestingly, nonbelievers are taking a leading role in this movement. Chris Stedman, Managing Director of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, claims that “it is precisely because I am an atheist, and not in spite of it, that I am motivated to do interfaith work.” It is clear that the stereotype of atheists as desirous of conflict with religion is monstrously untrue (even the aggressive Christopher Hitchens is on record as saying that, given the chance, he would not end international religious belief).

As Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain for Harvard University, notes, “Would some atheists reject the concept of pluralism? Of course. But plenty of Christians reject it as well, and you’d hardly think of holding an interfaith meeting without Christians because of it.” Epstein believes that interfaith events which exclude the nonreligious are arbitrarily divisive and not truly pluralistic. Stedman agrees, and further argues that the religious should be willing to come to the defense of nonbelievers when individuals belittle nonreligious values. Progress is already being made in these areas; the Universal Society of Hinduism publicly defended atheists from Pope Benedict XVI’s comparison of atheists and Nazis, and even the conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly has recently admitted that atheists are not immoral. If we desire the end of prejudice in America, pluralism must be advocated.

Recent legislation has called exclusivist values into question. For almost 60 years, Americans have gathered once a year to celebrate faith through the medium of unified prayer with government sponsorship. However, the legality of this event has been questioned by federal judge Barbara Crabb. Does this event actually encourage equal participation between all Americans, or does it lend itself to an unconstitutional favor of religion? Crabb asserts that the event characterizes the latter, stating that, “In this instance, the government has taken sides on an issue that must be left to individual conscience.” It is also clear that the event is not a celebration of all American religions, but instead caters exclusively to Christians. An Indiana celebration in 2003 split into two disjointed events: one for conservative Christians, and one for everyone else. In 2005, invitations to participate in the Day of Prayer in Plano, Texas were restricted to Christians. That same year, the National Day of Prayer Task Force objected to an American Hindu woman leading a prayer.

This string of events characterizes the clash of exclusivism and pluralism; Americans who seek equal representation for all citizens, regardless of their religious stance, have to contend with an exclusivist tradition. Crabb is right to contest the National Day of Prayer’s government sponsorship. America is characterized by a distinct cohesiveness which unifies greatly varying beliefs, and this is absolutely something to celebrate. However, the National Day of Prayer does not foster these pluralistic values. Our nation can do better.

The conflict between Christianity and homosexuality could also desperately use an injection of pluralist values. The issues of gay marriage and LGBT teen suicides in the last few years have been a painfully divisive wedge between fundamentalist Christian values and those advocating for progressive equality. At every gay rights rally, there are those who vehemently oppose legal equality for all LGBT-identified people on religious or moral grounds, and there are the Christian progressives reminding us that everyone falls under God’s love. If the focus is adjusted to today’s main-stream Evangelicals, the new progressives are those who fully accept homosexuality and the fundamentalists that now advocate a stance similar to the “love the sinner, not the sin” approach. While secular culture overwhelmingly continues to favor gay rights, outspoken fundamentalists have ramped up their rhetoric in order to balance against what they perceive to be antagonism towards their religious values, resulting in their radicalization.

Consider the recent controversy over censorship of high school senior Sean Simonson’s article asking students to reach out in support of LGBT youth. Administrators of Benilde- St. Margaret’s School banned the publication of Simonson’s article, offering this explanation; “this particular discussion is not appropriate because the level of intensity has created an unsafe environment for students.” While the general response to LGBT youth suicide by the majority of Christians is that of compassion, this is merely one example of many of the widening gap  of opinion on the issue of homosexuality. Both sides want to prevent mistreatment and suicides of LGBT youth, yet one accepts their identity as morally valid while the other continues to condemn their nature as intrinsically immoral.

The questions Christians must ask themselves, regarding this issue, are: do we really want to help stop teen suicide, and does this condemnation of homosexuality further that commitment? To answer these questions definitively is vital to the reconciliation between traditional fundamentalists and a growing liberal movement, but first a plurality of opinions and stances must be accepted in order to foster civilized debate between the traditionalist and progressive communities. If the issue of homosexuality is to cease existing as a wedge, they must abandon their combative and hostile attitude regarding fundamentalist tradition and embrace a movement to bridge their differences.

Islamphobia is another form of exclusivity which has gained widespread media attention through controversy stirred by the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. Ironically, when news of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York (actual name) was first publicized, few took notice, much less opposed the project. When Daisy Khan, wife of Feisal Abdul Rauf, project leader of the Islamic Cultural Center, was interviewed by Laura Ingraham on The O’Reily Factor, no indication of controversy was found. Ingraham, who has spoken out against radicalized Islam frequently on her radio show said, “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it” and “I like what you’re trying to do”.

However, when anti-Muslim blogger and Executive Director of Stop Islamization of America Pamela Geller framed the issue as an offense to the victims of 9/11 and a ploy to spread extremism in America, exclusivists began to take notice. She pushed her position to the mainstream media through the New York Post almost half a year later, drawing the fear and prejudice of an impassioned constituent. By later distorting Feisal Abdul Rauf’s intentions, Geller was able to promulgate this needlessly divisive issue in order to advance the self-explanatory goals of Stop Islamization of America.

The damage of religious exclusivity and marginalization has been dealt: hostility, insensitivity, and mischaracterization of the Muslim minority in America has only fed the flames of extremism abroad. Feisal Abdul Rauf began the Islamic Cultural Center as an effort to promote moderate Islam and to combat violent extremism from creeping into American society, but the effort by mostly right-wing Evangelicals to suppress a religious minority in order to preserve and extol one’s own religious identity over another has undermined a genuine effort towards advancing international peace. It is an affront to our principles of equality when Muslims so willingly meet America halfway, only to be cut off by exclusivist thinking.

As religion grows in America, exclusivist doctrine must be repudiated in favor of impartial pluralism. Members of all faiths—and no faith—should work together through the interfaith movement on an equal playing field, and we should not be surprised that nonbelievers are being included.

Americans should rush to fight prejudice, even when they are not members of the group being marginalized. Through pluralism we can defend universal equality which is simply not attainable through exclusivism. The pluralist movement, secular in principle, should be encouraged to continue as the catalyst of individual and communal growth in America. By these means, we can live up to our most progressive motto, E Pluribus Unum (from many, one), and leave the exclusionist motto, One Nation Under God, behind.

editededited2Bruce Wang is a sophomore majoring in International Relations with a minor in Film Studies. Currently he is also the Public Relations Chair of the Tufts Freethought Society. Stephen Goeman is a sophomore majoring in cognitive and brain science and philosophy. He is the community outreach representative of the Tufts Freethought Society.