Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ross Douthat's NTY Column Dissected and Respected

There is a NYT op-ed by Ross Douthat that is thoughtful, partly a wrong understanding of both left and right in America. I agree with the conclusion, and it deserves a thoughtful response.

I must quote large portsion to discuss the article (read the original, please):

There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.
By this America he intends to describe left wing America. It is laughable to suggest that left-wing America has an allegiance to the Constitution. What about the second amendment, free speech for conservatives, or the Tenth Amendment. I acknowledge that is how the left wing fancies itself, however wrongly.

But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.
Yes, we view America as its own distinctive culture and prefer America as a melting pot to an oil and water mixture. Remember, though, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was an American Catholic (brother of Bishop John Carroll) who signed the Declaration of Independence.

After pointing out the different perspectives on the ground zero mosque, Mr. Douthat says [my comments in brackets],

This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches [disagree], and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes [false, disliking people who try to kill you is not xenophobic]. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America [also welcomed them and] demanded that they change their names [false] and drop their native languages [not drop anything, just add English], and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether [illegally only]. The first America celebrated religious liberty [false: it disrespects religion in general and Christianity in particular]; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics [ancient history, and not limited to the right].
Mr. Douthat's views of left and right wing America are horribly skewed, not without some occasional grains of truth, though.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success.
The left wing America would have much more to offer if Mr. Douthat's incorrect view of the left's fidelity to Constitutional principles were grounded in reality.

So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes
Here we agree.

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.
We agree again.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.
Cute and clever. Food for thought

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