Another Bad Defense

We’ll get back to the religious discussion (and anyway it’s continuing in a lively manner in the comments), but other things come up in the meantime. This item may seem like just a bit of self-advertising, but it isn’t really. I hadn’t even seen it until today, and didn’t know about it, so I feel I came by it honestly. That is to say, I would have linked to it anyway, even if it had not been by someone who writes a column for B&W; I would have linked to it if I’d never heard of Julian. I would have done a Note and Comment as well, because he mentions some ideas I’ve been scratching away at lately, and others that suggest new areas for further inquiry.

There is this for instance:

Several months ago I was contacted by another Sunday morning show to discuss some religious issue or other, and on that occasion the producer explicitly said that the reason for not using me was that I was “not extreme enough”. This is the kind of thinking that hampers serious, constructive debate over the challenges a multicultural society faces. The media almost invariably confuse balanced coverage with having two sides put equal and opposite cases.

That is a pretty bizarre thing for a producer to say, isn’t it. Arguably, of course, it’s not so much ‘thinking’ as sheer bottom-line calculation. Viewers prefer to watch people with polarized ideas shout at each other rather than people with overlapping ideas tease out their disagreements and discuss the reasons for them. That’s not entertaining, who wants to watch that! It’s useful, it’s helpful, it’s constructive, it teaches everyone something, but it’s not like watching a street fight, so the hell with it. But too right about hampering proper debate. That’s something that gets plaintively pointed out here quite often, too, but fat lot of good it does. James Fallows said it in his book Breaking the News, and Deborah Tannen said it in hers The Argument Culture. But to no one’s surprise the McLaughlin group and Bill O’Reilly didn’t suddenly mend their ways.

And we’ve been running into the same thing here lately, at least it seems so to me. It seems to me there was a strong either-or line on the hijab issue: either you’re completely unequivocally against it, or you’re wrong, and that’s all there is to it. Mention of possible reasons to oppose the hijab was just treated as thought-crime and either ignored or greeted with foam-at-the-mouth personal vituperation. There just wasn’t any room to treat it as a complicated issue with a lot to be said on both sides. That’s odd – but maybe another point Julian makes can help explain it:

The lazy use of derogatory labels is one symptom of this malaise. One of the least helpful of these is “Islamophobia”. The introduction of this term into the lexicon of multiculturalism has, at a stroke, made it much more difficult to draw the kind of careful distinctions a serious discussion needs. It should be obvious that there is a world of difference between disliking a belief system and hating its adherents. “Islamophobia” blurs this distinction, by suggesting that opposition to Islam is just a prejudice, like homophobia or racism.

Exactly so. I’ve squandered a lot of breath (and typing energy) lately arguing that it’s a really terrible idea to conflate religion with race, and that includes conflating any particular religion with race. They are very, very different things, both because one is voluntary and escapable and the other is not, and because one is a system of ideas and the other is not. Make religion the equivalent of race and in an instant you’ve made it much more difficult to disagree with anything a given religion does. Which of course is exactly why the defenders of religion and religions do it. But why the defenders of multiculuralism do it is another matter, and one that needs some looking into.

By eliding “race and culture” and presenting them as though they were two sides of the same coin, Phillips tarred Goodhart with the Powellite brush. But this is nonsense. Race and culture are not inseparable. Culture concerns beliefs and practices and we are responsible for what we believe and do. We have no such responsibility for the colour of our skin or ethnicity.

Exactly. Just what I say! Therefore must be right. So there’s another confusion we all need to oppose, along with the one about religion and ‘separate spheres.’ Religion is not entitled to defense on the basis of being the same sort of thing as poetry or love, and it’s also not entitled to defense on the basis of being the same sort of thing as race. It’s going to have to do better than that.

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