I’ve been wrangling for a couple of days with Brandon at Siris. He took exception to my post on Nussbaum and stereotypes, accusing me of resorting to stereotypes myself, especially in replying to a comment:

It is as if you actively doubted that a black man could be an honest, law-abiding citizen. “Why?” Nussbaum asks. “Isn’t this just the stereotype of the violent black man?” Then says Ophelia’s counterpart (I’m very sure Ophelia herself would never say this): “Why do stereotypes have to be the reason for it? Couldn’t some people think that honest, law-abiding citizenship is just more difficult for blacks for a lot of reasons…?

And more of the same unpleasant implication. I asked him some questions –

So you’re saying that it is simply a stereotype to ask ‘Does the Koran, and the relationship of Islam to the Koran, have nothing to do with it?’? So you’re saying that there is nothing about the relationship of Islam to the Koran that can ever make liberalism difficult for Muslims? That’s not what my liberal Muslim friends tell me. Similarly, you’re saying it is simply a stereotype to ask ‘Couldn’t it be that at least some people wonder if Muslim liberals still have the Koran to contend with, just as Christian liberals have the Bible, and if there is some tension?’? So you’re saying that there is no such tension? None at all? If so can you explain how that works?

And more of the same. He ignored the questions, and pretty much went straight for abuse, starting out by fairly drastically re-writing what I’d said and then flailing away at that. I took strong exception to a couple of his accusations, and he replied (I thought) more reasonably, so I replied in a more temperate way – only to be told that he can’t comment any more because he can’t keep his temper; ‘even reading your arguments above set my lips in a thin straight line more than once.’ So I must have said some really horrible things, right? Well no, I don’t think I did. So I’m puzzled – I’m puzzled by the whole thing. I thought Brandon was a reasonable guy, religiosity aside, but his claims here seem to me quite unreasonable. For one thing, as I said, he simply misreads what I said, and rewrites it and then attacks what he said instead of what I said – and he ignores all my ‘that’s not what I said’s. But more than that – he apparently does think it is simply a stereotype to ask ‘Does the Koran, and the relationship of Islam to the Koran, have nothing to do with it?’. He apparently does think it is both a stereotype and illegitimate (and racist-like) to ask questions of that kind. That’s why I’m puzzled. How can a question like that be simply a stereotype, and illegitimate and racist-like as well? How can it be so illegitimate that he can’t keep his temper while discussing it?

I think the question is simply a question, not an assertion. But I can put it in the affirmative. I think the relationship of Islam to the Koran does make liberalism difficult for many Muslims, just as the relationship of the Catholic church to the Vatican makes liberalism difficult for many Catholics, and the relationship of Southern Baptism to the Southern Baptist Conference makes liberalism extremely difficult for all Southern Baptists unless they leave the SBC, as Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter did. I do not think this is an illiberal thing to think, but Brandon apparently does. He thinks I’m dismissing ‘living, actual people’ out of hand and ‘tar[ring] a lot of pretty decent, and very real and concrete, people with a set of negative stereotypes.’ But he never actually says it’s not true that liberalism is difficult for members of very conservative religious denominations; he just expresses rage at the very idea. I don’t get it. To me that’s a little like expressing rage at someone who says ‘conservatives are conservative.’ To him it’s not. What am I missing?

I don’t even know if he thinks that Islam is not in fact a conservative religion, or if he thinks it is but no one should say so, or if he thinks it’s okay to say Islam is a conservative religion but not okay to say that it’s difficult for Muslims to choose liberalism. But if it’s the last – what I wonder is: how the hell could it not be difficult for Muslims to choose liberalism? Is the world making it easy for them right now? Is liberalism the primrose path for Muslims at this time? I don’t think so!

So, I’m puzzled. Also irritated, of course. I don’t want to pretend to be all high-minded about it – I think Brandon said some really offensive things, to use that over-used word in a precise sense for a change. And I think this whole way of carrying on – expressing barely controllable fury, suggesting the worst kind of thought crime, rewriting – is a way of trying to intimidate out of existence what ought to be a legitimate discussion. I do not take myself to be attempting to incite hatred against people, and I think that’s what Brandon is accusing me of. It’s puzzling and also rather…dubious.

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