Diversity's Dinosaurs

Center Field

Scratch a homophobe and you find a religious bigot.

Robert Knight of Coral Ridge Ministries, responding on Townhall.com to the Muslim prayer gathering last Friday on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, apparently could not decide between mockery and fear-mongering, so he tried both. On one hand, he belittled the organizers for attracting fewer than 3,000 of their hoped-for 50,000 worshippers. (News reports suggested that many were afraid to come.) On the other hand, he warned of Islam’s ”desire to master the world under Allah.”

It is interesting that certain passages in the Quran offend Knight so much, considering how untroubled he is by the selective use of biblical passages against gay people. Knight shows his hand when he says, ”Muslims have been emboldened by President Obama’s election and apology tour and his frequent nods to Islam.” Knight views anything from an American president but total contempt for the rest of the world as self-abasement. The right wing’s us-versus-them universe is upset by the notion that we might get further by treating others with respect. One of Knight’s readers gets into the spirit: ”Allowing the followers of Mohammed … to populate our sacred soil of the USA is a terrible foolish mistake.”

The Washington Post quoted one imam at the prayer gathering: ”[W]e are decent Muslims. We work; we pay taxes. We are Muslims who truly love this country.” By contrast, a Christian protester used a megaphone to urge the Muslims to convert to Christianity, and said that Islam ”forces its dogma down your throat.” We hear similar comments about courts and legislatures ”forcing gay marriage down our throats.” These people should get over their oral fixation.

Right-wing Christians portray their faith as being under siege, when it is they who attack the religious freedoms of everyone else — non-fundamentalist Christians included. The culture war extends beyond religious intolerance, of course. When a protester over the summer cried, ”I want my America back,” she was not embracing diversity.

The Christian right really ought to make up its mind as to whether it fears the Islamist right or agrees with it. For example, right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, in his book The Enemy At Home, calls for a traditionalist alliance between Christian and Muslim conservatives. He believes that ”traditional Muslims” hate America for our decadent modern culture, which he blames on the left (never mind the fact that liberal, gay-marrying Massachusetts has a lower divorce rate than the Bible Belt). To show you what counts as decadent, radical Islamist pioneer Sayyid Qutb, on a visit to America in 1949, was offended by a church square dance.

In any case, Knight seems not to grasp that the Muslims in the news photo last Friday were praying in front of the Capitol, not laying siege. Or perhaps that is precisely what upsets Knight and his friends. They don’t want liberty; they want a religious and cultural monopoly. Thus they fix their wrath on our first multiracial president, who infuriates them not because he is radical as they pretend, but because he is centrist and reasonable. Their only response is shouting — the heckler’s veto. Too bad for them that, despite their worst efforts, a CBS/New York Times poll last week showed that the public health care option is supported by 65 percent of Americans and a plurality of Republicans.

The radical right’s worldview must be a vampire, because it can’t survive sunshine. Just as real gay people dispel the gay demons portrayed by the right, real Muslims chase away the stereotypes. My own neighborhood of Dupont Circle is a case study in cultural diversity. A favorite restaurant of mine is owned by Iranian Jews and its staff includes other immigrants from South Asia and Latin America. A straight Pakistani waiter once playfully invited me to travel to Peshawar with him, and I joked that it was a long way to go to have a wall pushed over on me. Humor can be an excellent social lubricant.

The right is upset because their monochromatic vision of America is fading as the nation grows more diverse and fewer Americans see any reason to fear the prospect. Here on 17th Street, where it often feels like a miniature United Nations, we are not on ”the other side” from the likes of Robert Knight — we are in a different game altogether. 

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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