Jessicah Lahitou looks at the role of the media and culture as a context for Ben Carson’s anti-Muslim remarks.
On Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson stated he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” In a post for Monday’s Atlantic website, Ta-Nehisi Coates summed up many people’s feelings in the headline: “Ben Carson, Bigot.”
Yet a recent Washington Post article cites polls showing that many Americans agree with Carson. Four in ten said they could “never support” a Muslim president.
And so the media is making a giant noise about American bigotry in general, and Ben Carson’s in particular.
But consider this grab bag of headlines from two of the top liberal news outlets: The New York Times, and yes – The Atlantic. All are from the past month. See if you can spot the trend:
“US Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghans” – New York Times, 9/21/2015
“Car Bomb in Baghdad Neighborhood Kills Eight People” – New York Times, 9/21/2015
“How Syrians Are Dying” – New York Times, 9/2015
“US Will Accept More Refugees as [Syrian] Crisis Grows” – New York Times, 9/21/2015
“Counting the Dead in Syria” – The Atlantic, 9/2015
“Today’s Terrorists Want to Inspire” – The Atlantic, 9/17/2015
“Migrant Crisis: Where Have the Gulf States Been?” – The Atlantic, 9/8/2015
“The Rubble of Palmyra” – The Atlantic, 9/4/2015
“The ISIS Economy: Crushing Taxes, High Unemployment” – The Atlantic, 9/2015
Not too hard to spot the recurring theme. Many countries and organizations run by Muslim or Muslim-majority governments, are committing a breathtakingly steady stream of crimes against culture, minorities, children, history, you name it. News organizations – like The New York Times and The Atlantic – are right to report these stories. They are tragedies in need of immediate response.
But those same news organizations roundly condemn the four of ten Americans who see these headlines and conclude they’d rather not elect a Muslim as POTUS.
How many of those citizens polled know the long list of Muslim organizations that have condemned ISIS? My guess is not many. Stories on the countless Muslims who have spoken out against terrorist groups are not as profitable as some other types of reporting.
But let us imagine, momentarily, that all Americans did know that the vast majority of Muslims condemn the violence of terrorist organizations like ISIS.
I would still expect the number advocating against a Muslim president to be at least four in ten. And many a “good” man would surely agree with Ben Carson.
Why the bigotry, and so blatant, you ask? Consider the quotes below from a Time article entitled “The Women of Islam.” Once more, see if you can spot the trend:
- “Part of the problem dates to Muhammad. Even as he proclaimed new rights for women, he enshrined their inequality in immutable law, passed down as God’s commandments and eventually recorded in scripture.”
- “Wife beating is so prevalent in the Muslim world that social workers who assist battered women in Egypt, for example, spend much of their time trying to convince victims that their husbands’ violent acts are unacceptable.”
- “Each year hundreds of Muslim women die in “honor killings”– murders by husbands or male relatives of women suspected of disobedience, usually a sexual indiscretion or marriage against the family’s wishes.”
- “Limits placed on the movement of Muslim women, the jobs they can hold and their interactions with men are also rooted in fears of unchaste behavior.”
This reads very much like the worst periods of western “Christian” history, when women were blamed for Adam’s sin, and similarly treated as expendable property, clearly unworthy of the same rights as men. Women were so obviously, intrinsically inferior, treating them like so much cattle seemed justified.
The difference is in how western countries moved forward, and many Middle Eastern countries simply did not.
There are those who will point out that this argument conflates culture with religion. To a certain extent, those critics would have a point. Do American Muslim women, Canadian Muslim women, British Muslim women find themselves in the same position as Middle Eastern Muslim women? Certainly not.
And Ben Carson missed an opening to point out the great achievement of western governance: separation of Church and State. Any potential president should be judged on his his/her experience, record, ideas, and known character. Whether he is an Atheist, or she is a Mormon, a private religious belief system is just that: private. Ben Carson should know that, he should know how to articulate it, and he should be open to any qualified American who would step forward to lead.
Yet before we claim America has a rampant Islamophobia epidemic, consider this:
Could it be that many Americans are just attached to the idea of female equality and have been regularly, consistently informed by the media that such a concept does not exist in Islam?
Could it be that before the media casts stones, it should take a good, long look at itself as well?
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill