Criticism or Mistrust?
Via the New York Review of Books, John T. McGreevy and R. Scott Appleby provide some much needed historical perspective on the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. Muslim, it seems, is the new Catholic: in the 19th-century, many Americans deemed Catholics unassimilable; today, a chorus of voices — including Bill Maher on the left and Charles Krauthammer on the right — continually casts suspicion on Islam.
The other parallel is that the religious leaders of both faiths were and are out of sync with their flock:
Like many American Muslims today, many American Catholics squirmed when their foreign-born religious leaders offered belligerent or tone-deaf pronouncements on the modern world. New York’s own Bishop John Hughes thundered in 1850 that the Church’s mission was to convert “the officers of the navy and the Marines, commander of the Army, the legislatures, the Senate, the Cabinet, the president and all.” The Syllabus of Errors, promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1864 denied that the Church had any duty to reconcile itself with “progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.”
Elsewhere, Douthat has catalogued some equally unsettling pronouncements from Feisal Abdul Rauf, the 21st century Islamic counterpart to Bishop Hughes and Pope Pius IX.
Douthat cites Rauf’s remarks on Iran, terrorism, 9/11, and other issues as “sufficient grounds for criticism and mistrust.” While no one would deny that criticism of Rauf and other Islamic leaders is sometimes appropriate, it is difficult to see what can be gained from mistrust — especially when it is broadened to a general mistrust of Islam. But, then again, I’m not the one who wrote a column insisting on the “real wisdom” of nativism and xenophobia.
Unlike his somewhat more hysterical right-wing colleagues, Douthat recognizes that “Muslim” is not a synonym for “jihadist”. What he fails to realize, however, is that no good can possibly come from such a conflation, or from the nativism that underwrites it. It is not, as Douthat suggests in the column, “nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies” that “inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.” What set the Church on the road to modernity was not nativism, but intelligent criticism. That’s what Islam needs. And that’s what the Church still needs on issues like gay marriage and contraception.