It’s an interesting time for Islam in America right now. America had seemed able to avoid much of the Islamophobia that has plagued Europe, but 9/11 got the stove lit, the birther opposition to Barack Obama fired things up and now the Park 51 Islamic community center controversy has the heat cranked all the way up. These developments have been highly unfair to the American Muslim community, which, in addition to the baseline rights and courtesies owed to it as well as all law-observing religious and ethnic groups in America, is among the best integrated and/or assimilated Muslim communities in the world and has many highly successful members. There were two Islam-related articles that I found especially poignant and worthy of comment today.
The first was Pat Buchanan’s op-ed on the Park 51 controversy. Pat Buchanan often tricks me because he is such a valuable voice on war and foreign policy and then fires up emotionalist nastiness like this Park 51 piece. He starts off the article by debunking a pro-Park 51 WaPo op-ed which he claims derides opponents of the project as bigots and panderers. How does he debunk the charge? By stating that 61% of Americans don’t support the construction project. Ah yes, because majority opinion determines the definition of bigotry. By this logic, early American slave owners who believed they had the right to hold other humans as property weren’t bigots, either. I don’t think Pat Buchanan would want to defend that position.
From that point, Buchanan begins to build up his positive as against Park 51. In his mind, the WaPo editorial is textbook liberal–too beholden to rationalism, too skeptical towards emotional responses like patriotism. I guess this is the sort of line that appeals to his readers because I would imagine most Americans in this Enlightenment-derived society would want to stand with rationalism. There’s a lot of nice quotes from Burke and Pascal, appeals to our Christian tradition and the treatment of contemporary Christians in the Islamic world. It’s this last appeal that is most upsetting because it comes from the same rhetorical place from whence Newt Gingrich launched his “you can build your mosque when we can build a church in Saudi Arabia” argument. America is not Saudi Arabia, thank God! Why would we want to lower ourselves to the moral level of a country in which morality police once let girls burn alive inside a school rather than escape unveiled and a judge has recently asked hospitals to intentionally paralyze a man?
So if you’re the kind of person who gets misty-eyed reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, maybe you’ll like Buchanan’s emotionalist, culturalist argument. I put a lot of stake in culture, too, but not before fundamental rights. If there’s an American culture, I would like to think it is closer to my position.
Things are about to get interesting with today’s second story, the story of a Muslim waitress at Disney who is demanding the right to wear her headscarf instead of a Disney-issued alternative. Since Ramadan has begun, this woman has showed up to work in a hijab and been sent home without pay seven times.
I couldn’t have any less sympathy for her.
The bottom line is that nobody is putting a gun to her head and making her work at Disney. If she wants to wear a hijab but Disney says it is not part of the dress code, then I guess it’s time to either follow their dress code or find an employer with a more amenable one. Imagine if I went and got a job at a coat-and-tie restaurant in New York. They tell me that I’ll have to maintain standards of appearance to keep my job, including no visible piercings. That goes ok for a week, then I go out and get both of my eyebrows pierced. Do you think I would still have a job? Do you think I would deserve to still have a job?
What this girl is counting on is Americans unthinking respect for all things religious. If she just wanted to wear a headscarf because she was a hipster and it seemed super ironic, we wouldn’t respect that. But because it’s part of her religion, our first inclination is to shut up and respect it just because it came attached with the religion word.
For me personally, I think most dress codes are ridiculous. If I own a business some day, you’d better believe I’ll have shaggy hair and a pair of jeans. I’d seek out the most qualified employees, headscarved, ear-gauged, facial tattooed and otherwise. But that’s my position. Disney is a business, too, and has the right to establish contracts with its employees that mandate certain conditions for their continued employment. If that means no hijabs or hijabs only with funny hats on top, that’s their right. I’m not angry at this girl because she’s Muslim. I’m angry at this girl because she’s an idiot who wants to use government force to exact her goals on a private employer.
I think these two stories speak to the internal diversity of the American Muslim community. Many Muslims are fiercely trying to avoid controversy with the Park 51 situation and fit in here even as their neighbors get more bigoted, but then there are others who, like members of any other religious group, want to take advantage of our tolerance. Here’s hoping the anti-Muslim bigotry and tolerance-manipulation in America both fizzle out.
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