Thursday, September 09, 2010

Reading Saletan

William Saletan is better known to me as the guy who really knows how many reproductive rights women should have so mostly I don't read him.

But his piece on the reactions to Terry Jones' plan to burn Korans and the response from various Muslims deserves some discussion. Saletan writes:

Two days ago, hundreds of Afghans gathered in Kabul to denounce the United States for burning the Quran. They torched American flags, chanted "Death to America," and carried signs calling for the death of President Obama. Some of them hurled rocks at U.S. troops. A student in the crowd said of the planned Quran burning: "We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States."

He's wrong, of course. The Quran burning is the brainchild of a Florida minister and his tiny fundamentalist church. It has been condemned by the White House, the State Department, the commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan, Christian organizations, and countless Americans. But when clerics in Egypt denounce the incendiary plan, we feel the heat. When thousands of Muslims rally against it in Indonesia, they do so outside our embassy. When an imam in Kabul threatens retaliation, he casts a shadow on all of us: "If they decide to burn the holy Quran, I will announce jihad against these Christians and infidels."

This is how it feels to be judged by the sins of others who destroy in the name of your faith. You're no more responsible for 30 Christian extremists in Florida than Muslims are for the 9/11 hijackers. Yet most of us, when polled, say that no Muslim house of worship should be built near the site of the 9/11 attacks. In saying this, we implicitly hold all Muslims accountable for the crime of the 9/11 hijackers.

The points he makes are both excellent and bad ones. The excellent bits are easy to see: What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. That may well be a very good lesson to learn, on both sides of this stupid religious warmongering debate.

What's bad about that post are two things: First, many of us have been neither geese nor ganders but perhaps ducks or gulls, some species of birds which was not inappropriately generalizing in the first place, in either direction. Saletan confuses the issue by ignoring that, preferring a plunge into false dualism.

Second, that false dualism becomes "them" vs. "us" in no time at all, even if his other message is about avoiding false generalizations. Check out Saletan's links. Only two of them can be interpreted as trying to pour oil over the roiling waters. He could have linked to many more dignitaries doing exactly that.