A few weeks back a young socialist friend of the gay family was in town, and we got into a rollicking argument about "islamophobia". His position, reduced by his opponent, was that there are nice Muslims and the bad ones are rare and contrary to the spirit of the thing. My position was that in matters of religion no matter how large the pile of nice believers, you must always look to the leaders. It was, as I say, a rollicking argument, and my young friend eventually was exhausted by my intansigence, pronounced me an islamophobe, and terminated the discussion.
Before I go on, lest my young friend read this, I have to add that I enjoyed the discussion, admire his commitment, crave his respect, and desperately want him not to not like me.
But his representations on islamophobia fill me with dread. When socialists, let alone liberals, defend religion, they tread on very thin ice. Even more egregious is the theft of the application of the suffix -phobia to a religious point of view. We can never forget that religion is an implacable enemy of freedom, and that when it pretends to be a friend to anyone who seeks freedom, it is lying in order later to show its true intentions.
So first, the -phobia nonsense. It was an innovation of the gay movement to understand that the loathing of gay people by our enemies had the characteristics of a mental disease. The red-faced, palpitating rage and the visceral revulsion suggested that those who hated us could not see our humanity through the twisted lens of their own disturbed psyches. We called that a phobia in the same sense that an irrational fear can propel a person to irrational acts.
But to label as a phobia the entirely rational opposition to a religion which has a 1300 year history of murder, repression, torment, and, yes, terrorism ... well, that is a retreat from reason. I am not afraid of Islam in some irrational sense like some people are afraid of open spaces or homosexuals. I have studied it, I wrote a dissertation about it, I have travelled in Muslim countries and have counted Muslims among my friends. But no amount of familiarity has blinded me to this indisputable fact: Islam is an enemy of freedom; it demands not merely of its adherents but of everyone that they surrender their individual rights to its demands.
Defense of the freedom of religion does not require the endorsement of religion. I support your right to believe any nonsense you want, to elevate any fairy tale you want to the status of life-determining philosophy. But I demand that the state protect the rest of us from religion's incessant need to force others into that idiocy.
There is presently a lot of liberal angst about the conservative opposition to a mosque proposed for land close by the former Twin Towers. Liberals need to think again. I'll get back to that. In the meanwhile, imagine this: what if Fred Phelps bought the yawning empty pit next door to the San Francisco Gay Community Center on market Street and proposed to build a church there which would house a God Hates Fags Research Center. would we oppose that? What if the Dutch Muslims wanted to build a shrine on the same street where some of their co-religionists bloodthirstily murdered Theo Van Gogh? What if the Catholics wanted to build a cathedral outside Auschwitz called the Cathedral of Pius XII?
The religious always say that certain places are more holy than others. This too is a fantasy, but we are forced to accept it. So I accept that I can never wander into the Kaaba unless I believe their nonsense. I accept that I should adopt an attitude of reverence when I am in Notre Dame de Paris. But they don't accept the corollary that they have to stay out of my places, keep their moralizing demonology to themselves outside of their little perquisites.
So I think the notion that a mosque be built next to Ground Zero is an offense to freedom-loving people. Have these people no shame? Their religion was the proximate cause of a foul murder. That many of their number do not endorse murder is irrelevant. Most Germans probably didn't want Jews exterminated under the Nazis, but that was of no consequence in the event. Most Iranian Muslims are against the bloody executions carried out in their names, but it does not stop their leaders.
Secular society thrives because we have established that religion and the state are separate. Islam has not quite learned the lesson, and certainly Christianity is doing its best to unlearn the lesson. Religion seeks its special privileges, including tax holidays, special spaces, and public respect which it does not merit. But when we cash in the other side of the deal by telling religion to keep away from the sites of its particular horrors, they cry out phobia phobia phobia.
Individuals should be free. But religion must always remain under suspicion. For it is always ready to reclaim its blood right to destroy the society which tolerates it.
The mosque at Ground Zero would become an international Muslim tourist mecca. Secularists are right to demand that it never be built. As a gay man, I know what that religion has in store for me should it assume power. What if some fanatic wanted to build a mosque on Castro Street in San Francisco? No way.
That's what we have to say to religion ... no way. Keep your bigotry to yourselves. Respect the spaces where your religion has created horror, just as you demand that we respect your special spaces. And show some shame for the horrors committed in your name.