Let’s take a moment to praise the intellectual fearlessness of NR’s friend Robby George, who has a delightfully provocative post over at First Things about Islam and American morality. It’s short, and I recommend reading it in its entirety.
At the beginning of the post is a video in which a Muslim woman defends her freedom to wear the hijab. Professor George endorses her stand, and makes a broader point about Islam:
Let us, Muslims and Christians alike, forget past quarrels . . . . Let those of us who are Christians reject the untrue and unjust identification of all Muslims with those evildoers who commit acts of terror and murder in the name of Islam. Let us be mindful that it is not our Muslim fellow citizens who have undermined public morality, assaulted our religious liberty, and attempted to force us to comply with their ideology on pain of being reduced to the status of second-class citizens.
. . .
I have met hundreds of religiously observant Muslims over the past several years and many are now my close friends. They are among the finest people I know. Like faithful Christians and Jews, they seek to honor God and do His will. They work, as we do, to inculcate in their children the virtues of honesty, integrity, self-respect and respect for others, hard work, courage, modesty, chastity, and self-control. They do not want to send their sons off to wars. They do not want their children to be suicide bombers. They do not want to impose Islam on those who do not freely embrace it. They thank God for the freedom they enjoy in the United States and they are well aware of its absence in the homelands of many of those who are immigrants. It is not right for us to make them feel unwelcome or to suggest that their faith disables them from being loyal Americans. It is unjust to stir up fear that they seek to take away our rights or to make them afraid that we seek to take away theirs. And it is foolish to drive them into the arms of the political left when their piety and moral convictions make them natural allies of social conservatives. (A majority of American Muslims voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. A majority of the general voting population did not.)
Professor George praises “Muslim women and all women who practice the virtue of modesty, whether they choose to cover their hair or not”: “Women who refuse to pornify themselves, especially in the face of strong cultural pressures and incentives to do so, honor themselves and others of their sex while also honoring those of us of the opposite sex.”
You see what I mean about fearlessness: Just about everyone will find something to object to in this. Social conservatives who point to the radicalization of American Muslims, and the rampant preaching of hatred in American mosques, will probably dismiss Professor George’s characterization of U.S. Muslims as a naïve and dangerous whitewash. Social liberals, meanwhile, will almost certainly chortle that George is finally admitting what the liberals have been alleging all along, that social conservatives’ moral agenda is fundamentally the same as the ayatollahs’. (Let’s write Bill Maher’s joke for him, shall we — so he doesn’t have to? “Robbie George wants to unite Christianity and Islam in a Global Anti-Sex Movement, or ‘GASM.’”) And the conservatives and the liberals will unite in saying that it was in fact Muslims — even if not our “Muslim fellow citizens” — “who assaulted our religious liberty, and attempted to force us to comply with their ideology” in their unspeakable attacks of September 11, 2001.
Everyone wishing to make those particular points is free to have at it. All I wish to say is that, in my view, Professor George’s underlying point is a true and very important one, and deserves attention and respect. He says we should seek to recover the ability to appreciate beauty, and to restore our sexual aesthetic from its current condition of a celebration of “de-personalized desire.” And he is correct to say that Islam, in its openness to God and to transcendent values, is an ally of all of us who think that the materialistic reduction of sexuality is a wrong path for humanity to take. (I recognize the truth of this even as I fully acknowledge the terrible dysfunctions of violence, misogyny, fanaticism, and hatred that plague global Islam today. My support for vigorous U.S. action against terrorism is itself based, in part, on my desire to make Islam better than it is, and closer to the way Professor George describes his American Muslim friends.)
Professor George says that “we are in the happy position of not having to choose between the ideology of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and that of Hugh Hefner.” As the kids say: True dat. In our country, you are of course free to agree with Khomeini and Hefner on anything you like, provided you don’t use violence or fraud against people; but we as a society should never forget our calling, to suggest to such folks that there is a better way than either of those. I applaud Professor George for appealing to the better angels of our nature.