Jonathan Chait

Anti-Islamism And The Culture War Mentality

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The other day Will Wilkinson had a nice, albeit somewhat overwrought, summary of the right-wing culture war mentality:

What Bloomberg has said reveals the utter zaniness of right identity politics. The sanctity of private property and religious liberty are of course essential elements of the traditional American creed. But to actually apply these principles misses the point. For a conservative movement marinating in metaphor, the security of property and the freedom of conscience are just two of many elements that make up who we are, not disembodied rules to be algorithmically honored with no regard to the semiotic context.

I thought of that when I read Dorothy Rabinowitz's Wall Street Journal op-ed assailing the Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan, and especially liberals who defend it as an exhibit of America's pluralism:

Here was an idea we have been hearing more and more of latelythe need to show the world America's devotion to democracy and justice, also cited by the administration as a reason to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City. Who is it, we can only wonder, that requires these proofs? What occasions these regular brayings on the need to show the world the United States is a free nation?

Rabinowitz's objection is a perfect exemplar of the mentality Wilkinson describes. In her mind, devotion to democracy and justice are inherent qualities of the United States. Actually applying those principles misses the point. Indeed, to call for the application of those principles is to demonstrate a lack of appreciation for America itself.

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