Monday, November 26, 2007

kumbaya is not enough

Mike Plaisted says that I am in my mode of defending the indefensible. As he well knows, that is what we are trained to do so here's my final word on Bumpergate.

I think that those who are criticizing the parody are weakening their point by making an argument that it somehow offends Jews by placing a swastika where the Star of David was in the original. That's just silly. No one could reasonably interpret the parody to be conflating the two.

Obviously, the parody can be understood as an attack on Islam. I read it as a criticism of the type of naive liberalism that will stand up for nothing if it can be interpreted as an attack on the "other," but reasonable people might have a different interpretation and that's why I would never put the parody on my car either. (Actually, I don't do bumper stickers but that's another story.)

So why talk about the Star of David? Do the critics think that is a more sympathetic argument? Maybe it helps avoid an uncomfortable conversation.

The point of the parody is that there are some preconditions to coexistence. There are people with whom we cannot get along - at least not unless they change. The Interfaith Council knows that. John McAdams links to the program of a conference that they sponsor called Common Ground. My own reaction to the program is that it sounds like the type of divisive racial scapegoating that makes actually finding a common ground so difficult. It seems to me to be aimed at opening wounds rather than healing them.

But I suppose the IC folks involved with the conference would tell me that they believe that reconciliation is possible only after we confront what they see as the truth and bring about change that they believe to be needed. I don't see the conference as accomplishing that, but I see the point that coexistence is not simply a matter of tolerance. There are values that must be shared like not hanging nooses in my front yard or not blowing yourself up on the bus.

Of course not all Muslims are jihadis or believe in Sharia law. From what I can tell, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the United States are not and do not. we have Saudi Arabia and Iran but we also have Turkey and Indonesia. Still, the sad fact is that, around the world, there are enough jihadis and adherents to Sharia that it's become rather a huge problem. It's not clear that this problem can be countered by the expression of even a noble sentiment.

Responding to the threat of Islamic terror is difficult. European countries who must reckon with the presence of large populations within their borders who do not share many of the values of the majority face some very hard questions. The desire to coexist is the right instinct, but it alone won't get us very far.


Anonymous said...

You are trying to reason with people who want to be outraged. High outrage is easier than thinking.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"There are people with whom we cannot get along - at least not unless they change."

Isn't the "COEXIST" bumper sticker asking those people to change? It's a bit naive, but I think it's a nice idea.

"You are trying to reason with people who want to be outraged."

Anon is right to some degree. I've been trying to reason with Charlie Sykes et. al. for some time about this and they just won't fess up to their hypocrisy. Some people just want to be outraged even if they're wrong.

Mike Plaisted said...


I'm busy waiting for Springsteen tickets to go on sale this morning (11 a.m. - snooze you lose) and noticed that you noticed by post.

Just imagine you are Tom McMahon. You get the bright idea to make fun of coexistence -- that fooling concept. You want to put a swastika in there, because, you know, religious coexistence is the same as coddling Nazis. I mean, obviously. So you know the swastika fits in the X spot and you go to paste it in. You find a Star of David there. Do you hesitate before you paste the swastika over the Jewish Star? Shouldn't you? If you do and you do it anyway, have you not made a choice that you are responsible for? Or are we just being big baby about the whole Jew/Nazi thing? Is that just too 60 years ago?

Coexistence with Islam "won't get us very far"? Really? And where will non-coexistence get us? Since Muslims are not going away -- ever -- should we expect the permanent holy war?

And what is wrong with the Common Ground conference? The agenda appears to be a useful review of various important cultural issues. Do you think we fully understand other cultures within our nation? Is it not helpful to understand the legacy of racism or do you think all those problems are solved and we can move on? The key point of the original sticker is that, especially from a religious perspective, it never hurts to try to find common ground and, indeed, to coexist. What's wrong with that again?

Well, as usual, you always give us something to chew on, Rick. Let's see, what was the last post..."The biggest tragedy of the 2006 elections was that Rick Santorum lost." Rick Santorum??? Are you kidding me? The most refreshing thing in politics in the last year has been his thumping and disappearance from the national scene. Santorum???...

Sven said...

Of course not all Muslims are jihadis

Well, that sure was generous. How white of you.

Dad29 said...

reconciliation is possible only after we confront what they see as the truth


Perhaps more precision is helpful.

Reconciliation is possible only after ALL PARTIES know the truth (which is, after all, 'yes'/'no' in regards killing innocents) and act on it.

IOW, Shari'a is not grounded in the truth--precisely what B-16 suggested to the Muslims. Following that suggestion, 138 imams acknowledged that there is a problem and said they want to work on a resolution.

In the meantime, "making nice-nice" is good; but being prepared is better (cf Si desideras pacem, pare bellum.)

And, by the way, the original "Co-Exist" condescension was not directed at Muslims, was it?

If so, then why wasn't it pasted on Muslim houses of worship?

Mike Plaisted said...

P.S.: Re: Springsteen -- I'm in! Good luck to you and the Redress. See you in GA!

Rick Esenberg said...


First things first. Congratulations on scoring tickets.

But I think you miss the point. It's not that "coexistence" with Islam is not to be desired. It's essential. But coexistence with its more aggressive and fundamentalist forms may not be possible on the terms that those aggressive fundamentalists would set. So coexistence cannot simply be chosen, the conditions for coexistence must be created and that may include eliminating jihadism as an external threat and, in the case of Europe, requiring that minorities conform themselves to community standards such as not murdering people who make films that you don't like.

As for McMahon, it's not that the "Nazi/Jew thing" was too long ago, it's that he's obviously not claiming an equivalence between them.

As for Santorum, is his advocacy for poor people no good because he's judgmental about sex? Does that trump everything else.

Rick Esenberg said...

Sven's comment sort of sums up the poverty of the debate on this issue. By suggesting that I am being "white" by taking the time to state the obvious point that we are talking about only a particular brand of Islam, he implies that I am somehow being bigoted by mainntaining that there is a segment of Islam with which coexistence is problematic. My qualification to make clear that we are not talking about Islam in general is just not good enough.

But doesn't that require that we ignore the elephant in the room?

sven said...

mainntaining that there is a segment of Islam with which coexistence is problematic.

I don't have a problem with that banal truism; the same holds true with any population.

But that's not what you said. You said "not all Muslims are jihadis," which is just as bigoted and obnoxious as saying "not all Irish are drunkards," "not all black women are whores," or "not all Milwaukee metro area honkeys are cannibals."

Mike Plaisted said...


Who is suggesting we ignore murders in Europe or not try to prevent and punish acts of violence, as part of a jihadist campaign or otherwise? How does the COEXIST bumper sticker advocate acceptance of violence of any kind? The entire parody is based on a phony construct, making no distinction between mainstream Islam and its relatively tiny extremist fringe. It's like judging Christians by abortion clinic bombers and that jerk who disrupts military funerals.

Are you saying Muslims must purge themselves of all jihadist followers before you will deign to grant them coexistence? Good luck with that. Excommunication never stopped people from ordaining women and calling themselves Catholic anyway. If you let the worst few define the mainstream many, well, all religions are fairly screwed, are they not?

I think I get it. Followers of religions like Islam of which we are unfamiliar or ignorant about must conform to our standards of behavior or we will not seek coexistence. Who was it that said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"? Oh, right. Good advice for all religions, all of which have blood and pain on their hands.

Kumbaya is not enough. Nobody ever said it was. But it's a start. And much preferable to the Permanent War.

otto said...

Sven, you need to look up the word "bigot." What Rick said is the polar opposite of bigotry.

If you wanted an example of bigotry (being obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices), here's one...

"Well, that sure was generous. How white of you."

sven said...

I'm so sorry, Otto. I should have qualified my statement to reflect the fact that only a certain segment of white people hate Muslims.

Anonymous said...

This morning it was reported that a woman in Saudi Arabia is receiving 200 lashes and six months in jail for being gang raped.

Which brand of Islam do you think the Civilized world can co-exist with?

James Rowen said...

Messing with people's religious symbols is stupid and leads to nothing useful. So it shouldn't defended.

Dad29 said...

"not all Milwaukee metro area honkeys are cannibals."

For the whole truth, insert "homosexual" between "area" and "honkeys".

Sven said...

Which brand of Islam do you think the Civilized world can co-exist with?

Wait a minute. There are "brands" of Islam? You mean there might possibly be a difference between an urbane Muslim lawyer and a cave-dwelling terrorist? I must've missed that footnote on the "brilliant" bumper sticker parody.

insert "homosexual"

Or in the case of John Geoghan, insert "Catholic." Literally.

Rick Esenberg said...


I explained in an earlier post why the original bumper sticker annoys (but does not offend or outrage) me. I associate it with a point of view that implies an equivalence among views that the adherents don't regard as equivalent and suggests that the obstacles to coexistence are equally found among all these contending views. In our present crisis, that's just not true. I associate it with a sort of self righteousness that claims that peace (or coexistence) is simply a matter of our own good will. "War is over/if you want it."

I also said - more than once - that others might not see it that way and that maybe I read to much into it.

I don't think that Muslims who are not jihadis or followers of Sharia need do anything before being "granted coexistence." I understand the point about not blaming everyone for the sins of a few which is why I have made clear in every post that I am not talking about Islam in general.

I think where we disagree is in how you characterize the problem. One way is to say we are worried about a tiny minority of folks who engage in awful behavior unrelated to Islam such that their Muslim identity and its relationship to what we find objectionable is best ignored.

Another way is to say that there is a significant strain in global Islam (not really here in the US) that is fundamentally at odds with western values. It believes in spreading the faith (or avenging slights to it) by violence and does not buy into western notions of tolerance.

I think its naive to think we can just choose to coexist with that strain because coexistence doesn't seem to be high on their agenda.

I can't get past the idea that you can't solve a provlem if you refuse to understand it. If there were currently a significant faction within Christianity or Judaism that presented the same problem, I don't think it would be useful to avoid the faith-based provenance there either.

This is why I think Sven is wrong to suggest that this concern about specifically Islamic terrorism is just indulgence in another stereotype. The coincidence between the conduct we are worried about and the particular strain of Islam of those who engage in it is not happenstance, it is causal in a way that the characteristics and bad conduct in the examples he cites are not. Heck, the jihadis proudly claim it to be causal.

Does this mean I intend to preach Crusade? Does it even establish that the war in Iraq was a good choice? No in both cases. But it does suggest that multiculturalism and an overly sanguine view of the value of diversity are not helpful. I think that is what the original bumper sticker points out and what McMahon's parody is intended to say.

Anonymous said...

sven - did you miss that the girl was being tortured and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia? She was the victim of a gang rape and she's the one being tortured. That is what the Koran teaches for all Muslims, not lawyers or cave dwellers.

I think Muslims believe that they will rule the world and that all people will submit or be killed. The difference in Muslims is that some believe that it wouldn't happen in there life time and others do that commit to jihad.

The jihadists believe that they defeated the Soviet Union and that the time is now to conquer the world. The Muslims that don't believe that are afraid to speak up because the Koran teaches that they to must be killed.

If you are hoping for compassion as a non-muslim from muslims, you are looking to the wrong religion. They do not have the golden rule.

karl marx said...

This is more than simple.
The kumbaya crowd does not have a copywrite on the symbols used on a bumper sticker.
The leftists that are faking outrage are merely pissed off at being called on their banality.
Libs are pissed that their cheap slogans are being examined for what they are....TRIPE.
McMahon is simply pointing out how silly the sticker is. It's cheap sloganism to make the common libs conscience feel better.
Libs care. And by putting that sticker on their Prius, the make the world a better place.
But they simply cannot COEXIST with a Conservative dissenting thought.
McMahon points out that coexisting is a nice thought, but in order to coexist you have to allow the evils that liberals would like to pretend don't exist. A red herring or cafilta (sp) fish is inserted to change the dialogue from what it really is. It's merely an attempt to shut up the Conservative thoughts with which liberals cannot and will not COEXIST. This is more of the same, it's the Harry Reid/Rush Limbaugh letter. McMahon is accused of anti-Semitism etc etc etc.
Ad nauseum.

Rick Esenberg said...

If you are hoping for compassion as a non-muslim from muslims, you are looking to the wrong religion. They do not have the golden rule.

I don't think that you can make that claim. I am not even close to being an expert (or even mildly knowledgable) about Islam. But it seems to me that some Muslims _ certainly a staggering majority in the United States - seem to interpret their faith as a religion of peace and I know that there are passages in the Koran and hadiths that people interpret to support something like the Golden Rule.

Then there seem to be an awful lot of people with a less felicitous interpretation of Islam. I don't know that it makes any sense for non-Muslims to argue about who is right but, rather, to set our sights modestly to pray, Insha' Allah, for the evangelization of the latter by the former.

Anonymous said...

Mohammed wrote in the Qur'an:

O Prophet! Struggle against the unbelievers and hypocrites and be harsh with them. (Sura 9:73)

I know nothing that resembles the Golden Rule in Islam...Jesus never once instructed his followers to massacre unbelievers, and He did not instruct us to be one with them".

Rick Esenberg said...

I think you have to be extremely careful about proof-texting because people like to take stuff in the Bible out of context to argue that Christianity is something other than what it is to the great majority of believers.

I don't know about the Koran, butNo. 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths, a medieval text, attributes the following commonly referenced statement to Mohammeed: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."

I guess that this is a Sunni text and I don't know how authoritative it is, but my point is that an awful lot of Muslims seem to cite it and believe it so it seems to me to go too far to say that Islam does not have something like the Golden Rule.

Anonymous said...

Rick -

The Golden Rule is that we should do unto others as we would want them to do unto ourselves...key word "others".

The text you quote is strictly talking about male muslim to male muslim and there are plenty of quailifing text that goes along with that. In addition, its further restricted to only Sunni because the two major Islam sects would rather kill one another for dominance because they both believe they are the rightful heirs.

Give me one verse of Biblical teaching from Christ that instructs believers to do harm to anyone else. I'll save you time, there are none.

Rick Esenberg said...


I agree that there is no such quote from Jesus. But I am not going to interpret the texts of a religion that I don't follow. Maybe a close reading of the relevant Islamic texts does support a rejection of an unconditional radical regard for others. But my point is that there seem to be quite a few Muslims who don't believe that. They cite this text (and maybe others) in ways that support such regard. I am far more interested in making common cause with them and encouraging them to persuade their more belligerent brothers than I am in trying to argue that they have got their own religion wrong. If they are in error, please God, let them happily continue in that error. I am concerned enough about people who actually are jihadis than in arguing that people who are not would be if they "really understood" their own religion.

Anonymous said...

Rick -

Perhaps you need to read much more about Islam and try to find any good deeds that they do or have done for non-muslims.

Try to find out why they think everyone is inferior to them and why others are treated as second class citizens in Muslim countries. Or, how they feel about Christians evangelizing Muslim communities.

I had a boss once that after a heart attack thought everyone should live happily together forever after. I don't know you but you remind me of him.

The only religion of peace is the one that everyone likes to attack and/or change...which started with Christ Himself.

Anonymous said...

Rick -

This I think would be right up your ally.

Do you think that Islam can coexist with the US Constitution?

Rick Esenberg said...

I had a boss once that after a heart attack thought everyone should live happily together forever after. I don't know you but you remind me of him.

Gee, when I can get that and have it suggested that I support the Permanent War in a single comments thread then I am either being incoherent (always a distinct possibility) or just right.

As to the last question, if one believes that being a faithful Muslim requires the establishment of an Islamic state, then the answer is no. But I haven't noticed too many American Muslims advocating for that.

Anonymous said...

"Gee, when I can get that and have it suggested that I support the Permanent War in a single comments thread then I am either being incoherent (always a distinct possibility) or just right."

First of all and because I think you may think so, I'm not the Anon that got you and your wife upset in another post you did. Secondly, I don't know what permanent war you're talking about. I thought we were talking about if Muslims can peacefully coexist with others and your position is that you hope so and my position is that if they follow what there taught they cannot.

I think that you're wrong about Muslims not advocating for an Islamic state. Minnesota's 5th district elected Keith Ellison to Congress who said little about being a Muslim until after he was elected.

He than insisted on swearing in on the Qur'an rather than on the Bible. The Bible does not have any constitutional issues but the Qur'an does with the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,8, 13,14, 15, 16,19 and 21st amendments.

He told a crowd of Muslims among other things: You can't back down. You can't chicken out. You can't be afraid. You have to have faith in Allah, and you've got to stand up and be a real Muslim.

I've never heard a Muslim denounce any violent prononcements of the Qur'an.

Rick Esenberg said...


I didn't think that. That post is by some guy who doesn't like the fact that I supported the marriage amendment and who occasionally shows up here and reminds people that I got divorced under circumstances that he speculates on but knows nothing about.

I have heard Muslims argue that jihad is a spirtitual struggle with one's self rather than a physical struggle against others. I certainly have read - and it is my impression - that the life of the Prophet differs radically from the life of Jesus in ways that can and have been interpreted to promote violence but I have also read - and it is my impression - that many Muslims don't go down that path. They see it differently.

Maybe they have discovered true Islam. Maybe they misunderstand true Islam. But I want to make common cause with them as against the jihadis and, not being Muslim myself, I really don't care if they are misreading the Koran. If they are, more power to them. If they are not, more power to them. I care more about whether they are good people (they seem to be) than whether they are good Muslims. In fact, I think that they ought to get to define what is a good Muslim.

Where I get off the "coexist" train is when it insists that we ought not to acknowledge the fact that this virulent strain of Islam is followed by a significant number of people and that is something that we ought to resist. Western cultures need not accommodate shari'a or the aggressive sensitivities of fundamentalist Muslims. If you don't like the Danish cartoons or criticism of the treatment of women, either learn to lump it or go back to Saudi Arabia where you needn't be confronted with what you cannot tolerate. If you don't like American saber rattling or aggressive Israeli security measures, then acknowledge and act upon your responsibility to oppose terrorism.

We need not pretend that the terrorism with which we are concerned is rooted in this version of Islam and that part of the struggle against terrorism is necesssarily going to be a struggle against it.

Where I disagree with you is in the notion that winning that battle requires blanket condemnation of Islam. To the contrary, I think is means recognizing and doing whatever we can to foster those forms of Islam - even if they are "erroneous" Islams - that are consistent with western values.

Anonymous said...

Rick -

Good, I'm relieved that you didn't think I was that other guy.

I'm aware that moderate Muslims are trying to re-interpret Jihad and other things in the eyes of non-muslims to promote tolerance. However, Jihad from its beginning meant warfare and Mohammed was a military leader.

I do not know why they chose the new interpretation to be a personal inner struggle when that coincidently means the same as Hitlers "Mein Kampf", (My Struggle).

Islam also teaches that lying and decieving your enemy when your weak is acceptable. I don't believe that you can separate Muslims from the Qur'an. They are heavily indoctrinated from young on and will do what they are told. Look at the Saudi supported school in Washington that was closed down because of what it taught. Will the moderates help neutralize these things? I'm not sure but it would be nice to see them start.

I concede that moderate Muslims are not looking to conquer the world now whereas they estimate about 10% of Muslims (100,000,000 or so)do think this is the time that they can conquer the world. Dangerous times. However, will the90% be pulled in to think this is the time or will they resist. The Qur'an says they willfight or be killed.

This is not a matter of condemning Islam in its entirity, but a matter of being very cautious. Lets hear them condemn these teachings and make efforts to assimilate into our society and not threaten other Muslims if they convert to another religion.

A religion of peace should purge itself of those things that lead to violence against others. That may be good common grounds, but we haven't seen that...could there be a reason why?