Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Disguised bigotry

The recent Swiss vote banning the construction of new minarets on mosques has generated a predictable amount of furious condemnation and applause around the world. For myself, the most disingenuous commentary comes from Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.That is because his unstated but obvious support of those who voted against the construction not only amounts to the same old anti-immigrant xenophobia ("millions of Muslims have accepted European norms. But millions have not."), it has all the surface appearance of rational discussion. One part of his technique is the traditional half-truth: cite a few examples of Islamic fanaticism (a riot against Denmark, a religiously inspired murder in Holland--as if riots and religious murder were never known in yesteryear's Europe), and imply, without quite stating, that the minarets will foster more of the same.

But Douthat goes beyond the usual stereotyping. His concern is that Islamic immigration to Switzerland and other European countries is deeply undemocratic. Why? Because it was accomplished "in the absence of a popular consensus on the issue, or a plan for how to integrate them." In other words, since non-Muslims already living in European countries did not vote, or otherwise reach some "consensus," on whether to accept Muslim immigrants, the very existence of Islamic immigration is undemocratic. "Better," he said "if [European leaders] had let their voters choose."

Imagine Douthat's argument applied to the United States in years past, during the days of massive immigration to these shores from other countries. B
e Douthat: Cite the rise of organized crime here, and conclude that we should never have let the Italians in, or at least have allowed the pre-Italian residents here to reach a "consensus" on whether to accept them. Cite examples of Irish police brutality and corruption, and conclude the same for the Irish during the potato famine. Cite (my tribe) a few Jewish slumlords or corrupt bankers--or Ponzi schemers--and conclude the same for Jewish immigrants from Germany, Russia, Poland and elsewhere. And don't forget examples of cocaine smuggling, which can be used to question allowing natives of Columbia to come here. The list of ethnic stereotypes extends ad nauseum.

Now compare Douthat's disguised bigotry with the call issued by the Conference of European Rabbis. According to, the rabbis--who know all too well the nature and history of xenophobia--issued an immediate
condemnation of the Swiss ban. "During a meeting in Moscow [on December 4th, 2009] the rabbis declared the decision to be undemocratic for violating freedom of religion."


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