Apologies, Muslims, Reagan & Communists

I don’t know if you read Nicholas Kristoff’s op-ed piece in the NY Times Saturday, Message To Muslims: I’m Sorry.

Mr. Kristoff is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, known for bringing to light human rights abuses in Asia and Africa and has been referred to by Jeffrey Toobin as “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists.”

In the piece, Mr. Kristoff correctly states many Muslims are compassionate, peaceful and altruistic people. He expresses regret for Americans equating Muslims with terrorists, suggests Americans should not malign Islam because of the acts of Islamic terrorists and apologizes to Muslims for those who have done so.

Mr. Kristoff is undoubtedly correct that there are many Muslims who are compassionate, peaceful and altruistic, and that they should be treated like human beings, not terrorist monsters. I’ll go further: Christians should not only love peaceful Muslims but Muslim terrorists also.

But Mr. Kristoff is undoubtedly wrong in suggesting–as it seems he does–that the relative goodness of the Muslims he identifies as compassionate, peaceful and altruistic should exempt Islam from public scrutiny.

First, Mr. Kristoff’s premise is fuzzy. Does he mean by “equating Muslims with terrorists” that he believes Americans are accusing all Muslims of being terrorists or supporting it? I’ve not heard anyone suggest that. What I have heard is people saying Islam is not a “religion of peace” and questioning the earnestness of Muslims who say it is. There is nothing persecutory or bigoted about doing so. It’s a fair question.

Second, Americans believe the public square is the marketplace of ideas. Islam is an idea, just as Christianity is an idea. Ideas can be true, false, good or bad. But the American experiment is rooted in the supposition that discussion is the means by which we arrive at the proper conclusion about any idea. Mr. Kristoff seems to suggest that Islam should be exempt from that discussion. (By the way, in a typical Islamic state there is no such discussion).

There should be no surprise that Islam’s stock is currently down in America. It could have something to do with Muslims flying planes into buildings, threatening, in the name of Allah, to kill cartoonists and would-be book burners. Even if that is the impetus for the discussion, it doesn’t delegitimize it.

I get the impression Mr. Kristoff wants to make sure people are treated fairly and humanely and he believes by exempting Islam from the public discussion it is more likely we will all be able to get along. He seems like a good and thoughtful man, and his motive and intent should be lauded. We need men and women like Mr. Kristoff who can talk people off the ledge of bigotry and xenophobia. But at some point Truth matters, and refusing to talk about the underlying idea that is at issue doesn’t bring resolution or peace; it just postpones them.

I remember the excoriation Ronald Reagan received in the media for calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” I’m sure there were Soviet communist party members who were compassionate, peaceful and altruistic people at the time, and there were plenty of journalists–probably some who worked for the New York Times–who suggested the answer to the Cold War standoff was that we seek a better understanding of the Soviet people and their needs and fears.

Instead Reagan thrust the question into the public square.Does the tens of millions murdered by Stalin, the tens of million imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs or the hundreds of millions robbed of their freedom by an imperialistic Soviet empire qualify it for the label, “evil”? It was a legitimate question, and we are all the better for having asked it. GS