What are we supposed to make of the spoof of the COEXIST bumper stickler by Tom McMahon?
To review the bidding, here's Tom's parody:
of the original bumper sticker:
Local blogger Anne Quimby Mathias has criticized the parody. Marcus White of the Interfaith Conference wrote to WTMJ demanding that the parody be removed from TMJ's website.
That bumper sticker will never adorn my Mini Cooper. It's not that I advocate religious war or don't think that we ought to be able to get along with folks of different world views. But appropriating the symbols of these traditions and assembling them into a command that is probably most often expressed by people who do not follow (or follow loosely) any of them strikes me as patronizing. Since, as the reaction to Tom's parody demonstrates, the bumper sticker is not directed at Islam (the one that actually has a significant contingent that opposes the idea of a coexistence), the implication is that whatever the distinctives of your faith tradition, keep themselves to yourself and buy into the notion that all faiths are equally valid or invalid.
I recognize that reaction takes a bit of social context and some assumptions about who is expressing the "coexist" message. Maybe I am reading too much into it. But the reaction to the parody seems to bolster my point.
One criticism is that, to make the parody work, he had to replace the Star of David with a swastika. Marcus White argues that this is "distasteful", "ignorant" and "always offensive." This would be the case if the message was some equivalence between Nazis and Jews. But Mr. White has to know that this in not what McMahon intended or what any reasonable person would think he intended. He needed an "x," for Siva's sake, The notion that this is "always offensive" is either intentionally obtuse or reflects a medieval belief that symbols have innate powers apart from the message they convey. It's as if the totem has been defiled and the gods will respond in wrath.
The other criticism reflects what I think is a larger problem with the bumper sticker. Marcus White writes that by publishing the parody on his website, Charlie Sykes "seems to be endorsing the notion that terrorism can be blamed on Islam as a faith. I am sure that Mr. Sykes is well-aware that Muslim leaders in Milwaukee and throughout the world have repeatedly condemned the terrorists."
I am aware of that. I am aware that many people do not interpret Islam to command violent jihad against unbelievers and those who are thought to have offended Allah. I am aware that many Muslims do not interpret their faith to require treating women like filth. It is my impression that, within the United States (but perhaps not the world), these Muslims are an overwhelming majority of adherents to Islam. It is because of these faithful and peaceful Muslims that we ought to be careful to limit our criticisms to those factions within Islam who do, with apologies to Mr. White, believe that their faith commands murder and misogyny.
But those factions exist and they are rather large. Islam has a problem and it will still be there whether or not we pretend that it isn't. As the left correctly points out, terrorism is not a cause, it's a tactic. I wish the enemy wasn't an ugly version of Islam adhered to by millions of people. But it is. I don't see how you respond to a problem by deliberately misunderstanding it. By positing an equivalence among faiths on the question of coexistence, the bumper sticker does that.
One final point. Marcus White's belief that coexistence requires that TMJ take down the parody actually reflects what has made coexistence with Islam in Europe so difficult. Coexistence in a diverse society requires understanding that other people who do not share your views will say and do things that offend you and you do not get to make them stop.