Today I weighed in on the Ground Zero mosque controversy , making a case that it’s not a big deal.
A major premise of my argument is that Islam is not all that much of a factor in America. It’s something many of us fail to see, because we misread the behavior of the liberal establishment.
As many have pointed out, foundations, college presidents, planning commissions, and so forth seem to go out of their way to accommodate Muslim projects and concerns. Perhaps that’s true. But we need to be careful. What we’re witnessing is not the Munich syndrome, a strategy of appeasement that may in fact be playing a role in some European responses to Islam. Instead, the liberal establishment is trying to achieve two goals.
1. To provide compensatory accommodation to counteract what the liberal establishment believes to be a nativistic bigotry latent in most Americans.
2. To solidify the claim that the liberal establishment and the liberal establishment alone can manage global diversity.
Neither of these goals suggest appeasement. On the contrary, in both cases the liberal establishment is using Islam as a toola tool to fight against the conservative establishment. In other words, its all about America and the question of who among us will dominate.
Consider goal #1. If I’m a Democratic party strategist thinking about gaining a long term advantage, then I’ll be on the lookout for good opportunities to champion the “full inclusion” of Islam into American life. My goal will be to get as many fearful conservatives as possible to start frothing at the mouth about how wicked the Muslims are, and about how we’ve got to protect our culture against them, and so forth. For the crucial middle-ground voters, the uproar will seem mean-spirited, all the more so because they intuitively recognize that there is not threat. This reaction will confirm in their minds the liberal propaganda that the main support for conservative politics does not come from considered moral and political convictions, but instead from fear and prejudice.
Goal #2 is closely related. As temperatures rise and the rhetoric gets shrill, the liberal establishment can say, “See, we’re the only one’s who can be trusted to run the global economy. The social conservatives just want to go to war.” We should not underestimate how important this claim has been for maintaining the dominance of the liberal establishment.
In other words, because Islam is largely irrelevant, it can be used as a propaganda tool by both side in what really matters, which is the now two decades old conflict liberal elites and conservative elites for control of American society.
Given our fixation on Islam after 9/11, my claim that it is irrelevant may seem strange to readers. I’ll illustrate from an area of life with which I have a great deal of experienceacademia. I’ve found that many institutions are positively hostile to the idea of religion (or history or philosophy) professors who are clearly identified with Christianity. This not the case with professors of Jewish studies or Islamic studies. Indeed, it’s often seen as a great plus to have a “real practitioners.”
OK, why the discrimination against Christians? The answer is crushingly obvious. As we all know, Christianity is a very powerful social and political force in American society, often on the conservative side of social questions. Universities don’t want to empower conservative voices that already have a big audience. By contrast, Jews and Muslims pose little threat: Jews because, as a group, they are safely liberal, and Muslims because they have such a small and mostly invisible audience in America.
It’s perfectly OK to have a Muslim professor of Islamic studies who is a social conservative, because the university culture as a whole is confident that his or her views will have little influence over the students or larger community. And still further, the university culture is confident that this socially conservative Muslim will ally him or herself with the liberals, precisely because, in view of harsh conservative rhetoric, he or she will also believe the liberal conceit that the liberal establishment and it alone can be trusted to manage global diversity.
Thus the paradox. The liberal establishment is happy to empower socially conservative Muslims, because in so doing they risk very little and gain a great deal. The risk that the token Muslims will be widely influential is minimal. After all, their audience is very small, both because there are few Muslims and because conservative Christians are so uniformly antagonistic. Meanwhile, the Muslim can be put forward as a diversity trophy in the culture war: “See, we’re inclusive.”