Early Reflections on the Orlando Shootings

The horrible shootings that just took place in Orlando, Florida this morning will generate a lot of reactions from those far better known than I, some of which may be consequential but most will be no more than as expected and will be filed only to be forgotten.  Fortunately or unfortunately, however, it will have a major impact on how politics evolves this year and beyond in this country.

The first problem that the shootings expose is, I think, the inherent logical underpinnings of the multiculturalist faith.  Religious fundamentalism of various Abrahamic faiths, rightly or wrongly, deems sinful many activities that have increasingly been accepted as part of normalcy by the nonreligious in todays’ world:  homosexuality is chief among them.  “Devout” believers, those who wear their faith on their sleeves, are inherently incompatible with tolerance towards diversity in many cases.  This is potentially a more serious problem with regards Islam than with Christianity or Judaism.  Like it or not, Islam  as practiced today is a more traditionalist:  the proportion of those given to more fundamentalist thinking are far more numerous.  There are, furthermore, many organizations, particularly in the Persian Gulf and funded and/or supported by governments that are nominally friends of United States, like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, that promote such brand of Islam.  As many Muslims are relatively recent immigrants without long roots in this country, or, in some cases (as may have been the case with the San Bernardino shooter), those who have come to reject the aspects of modern American life that they may have considered sinful,the unwillingness of at at least many among the Muslim community to embrace multiculturalism as practiced in United States has to be recognized as an important part of reality that cannot be airbrushed away.

While the politicians and other public figures may not be willing to say such things openly, their LGBT constituents will not be so reticent, if not in public statements, certainly in action.  The threat to their physical well-being is quite real, even if, most likely, the extent of its magnitude will be much exaggerated in the way it will be perceived.  If it isn’t already, one has to imagine that quite considerable blanket fear and dislike towards Muslims exist among the LGBT.

There will be protestations by many “liberal” Muslims that the fundamentalists are distorting the message of Islam and by non-Muslims how such perspectives need to be reinforced.  I wonder if these people even think about what they are saying from a neutral perspective.  Attempts at creating a tolerated “puppet church” that acts as a tool of the state to control a restive population is an old trick in human history.  When Ottomans conquered the Balkans, they tried to keep the Christian populations in check by forcibly taking control of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.  The government of the People’s Republic of China created their own “Catholic” church under the control of the communist party.  The governments of Shah’s Iran and Kemalist Turkey sought to defang the mosque by placing the religion under the heavy thumb of the secularist government.  None of these attempts worked especially well:  the religious leaders who were too compliant with the demands of the government who was, after all, the known enemy of the faith, were shunned.  There were constant attempts to covertly but defiantly sidestep the attempts at control because that was the only way that the would-be-leaders could rise in influence.  In some cases, such as in Greece and Iran (and perhaps in Turkey too, one might say, even if not through openly violent means), the religious leaders became the center of the resistance to the secularist authorities in spite of their best efforts to contain them and eventually overthrew the latter.

This should be hardly a news to those familiar with the history of religion and politics in United States:  this is how Utah became Mormon, how the Catholics became politicized in late 19th century United States (and how parochial schools became so common), and how Christian fundamentalism became force to be reckoned with in late 20th century.  All were attempts at homogenizing and “multiculturalizing” religion to the point that the end result demanded was no longer recognizable as what the adherents considered as “true” faith.  The hopeful lesson from the American experience is that, with the exception of some events in the early days of the Mormon Church, both towards the Mormons and by the Mormons, acts of serious violence have been a relative rarity.  Most disputes arose in form of heightened political activism and much uncivil lingo, but not much more than that, thankfully.

Whether the mostly peaceful coexistence between the modern American society and these religious movements (at least so far) can be replicated vis-a-vis Islam remains to be seen though.  In case of the Catholics, the society made huge concessions.  As recently as early 20th century, overt insertion of Protestant Christianity into public schools was considered not only acceptable but normal As recently as early 20th century, overt insertion of Protestant Christianity into public schools was considered not only acceptable but normal, as long as the contents were “universally acceptable.”  Of course, attempts at making contents universally acceptable made them unacceptable to some–most commonly, Catholics.  Not only were most Protestant denominations defined, regardless of the differences among them, against Catholicism, as the religion largely of recent immigrants, Catholicism did not enjoy much influence in American politics in mid- to late-19th century.  As the Catholic immigrants assimilated and the proportion of Catholics in the population grew, many practices distasteful to Catholics disappeared.  The wall of separation between the Church and the schoolyard, for example, was designed in 19th century to keep Catholics from influencing the “universalist” version of Christianity that formed the basis of public school religious instruction.  By mid-20th century, overt insertion of any religion into public schools began to be viewed as undesirable and most have been thrown out in the Supreme Court cases of late 20th century–even if some holdouts remain.  In the case of the Protestant Evangelicals and Mormons, they remain preponderant enough and their institutions so influential that there is no repression–beyond some things that may annoy their adherents–befalling them.  In the case of the Mormons, in particular, the highly hierarchical nature of their organization makes it possible for the church to cut a deal with the government–e.g. over polygamy–to make the religion more compliant with the demands of the rest of the society.

None of these forces are present with respect to Islam.  It is and will almost certainly remain for a very long time at least a religion of a small minority.  It is not a hierarchical religion–there is no central body of leaders who can cut a deal with the government with the expectation of being able to enforce it among the faithful.  I see no chance of any “concessions” being made to Islam by the American society at large–all concessions are for the Muslims to make, and many will not be so willing.  (And to be fair, what concessions are to be made?  Who would negotiate them, if indeed any are to be made?)

The sobering implication seems that things are likely to get far worse than better.  America may be able to assimilate many Muslims, but only on the basis of the terms that it dictates, that is, in other words, only if Muslims are willing to abandon enough of Islam to make themselves compatible with the norms of American society, including, paradoxically, the kind of “multiculturalism” defined by the elites, where various cultures are reduced to “petting zoo” levels–cute enough to amuse the elites and not threatening enough to offend their sensibilities.  It seems only reasonable to expect that many will reject it, even if a majority does.  This spells trouble for a few can wreak a lot of havoc disproportionate to their numbers.

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