Beliefs are subject to dispute

A piece of a Fresh Air interview yesterday that struck me as odd. The interview is with David Kirkpatrick,  the New York Times Cairo bureau chief from 2011 to 2015.

GROSS: So you’re living in London now, still working for The New York Times. And I’m wondering, like, if you think the lens through which you’re seeing London has been affected from your years in Cairo.

KIRKPATRICK: My time in Cairo and covering the Arab Spring has made me much more sensitive than I was previously to what I guess I should just call anti-Muslim bigotry. I find that when I move in sophisticated liberal circles in the U.S. or the U.K., the only group that you can make sort of pejorative generalizations about today in respectable circles is Arabs and Muslims.

You know, I was at dinner just the other night with a bunch of journalists in London, and we were talking about the Arab Spring. And one of them said to me, yeah, so what really went wrong there? Was it Islam? And I was really struck because I can’t – you know, you can’t substitute any other religion in that sentence and get away with saying it in polite company. And I wasn’t nearly as sensitive to that as I was when I – once I got back from having covered Egypt.

The first odd thing is – yes you can. Of course you can. Mormonism? Catholicism? The reactionary brand of Haredi Judaism that prompts men to refuse to sit next to women on airplanes? The reactionary Christianity of a Mike Pence? Of course you can plug any of those into those two questions in polite company. Not all polite company, to be sure, because a great many polite people do think it’s absolutely taboo to breathe a critical word about religion no matter what – but a great many polite people don’t think that, too. Atheism: it’s a thing; secularism: it’s a thing.

The second odd thing is – seriously? He’s indignant that someone mentioned Islam in the context of the Arab Spring?

The third odd thing is, Islam is not Muslims, and being critical of Islam is not the same thing as despising all Muslims as a group. On the other hand we are allowed to take people’s belief systems into account. I’m wary of Republicans, and a lot more than wary if they’re fans of Trump.

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