August 16, 2002


Save the Bigots : How to decry persecution by practicing it. (William Saletan, August 9, 2002, Slate)
The assignment to UNC students asks them to read parts of Approaching the Quran: The Early Revelations, translated by Michael Sells. In a set of study questions, the students are asked, among other things, what themes are conveyed by various Quran excerpts; whether the virtues and vices emphasized in the excerpts are skewed or incomplete; what "problems or benefits" arise from reading and discussing a text in a foreign religious tradition; and what would happen if more Americans read the book. [...]

[Conservatives] say that by assigning a Muslim text, UNC "promotes" Islam, "discriminates" against other faiths, and violates the constitutional requirement of "neutrality" toward religion. Glover isn't anti-Muslim; he says he's just trying to stop UNC from pushing "a one-sided pro-Islamic reading requirement" in "an obvious attempt to put a positive face on what many people believe to be a very evil religion." And what exactly makes the assigned book unduly pro-Islamic? According to Glover, the book's flaw is that it "leaves out any mention of other passages of the Koran in which Muslim terrorists find justification for killing non-Muslims." [...]

What do these complaints add up to? Let's see: The university is coercing students by requiring them to write about why they don't want to write about any of the open-ended questions the university asked them to write about. The assigned reading (never mind the 19 optional readings) is unconstitutionally pro-Muslim because it's insufficiently anti-Muslim. And it's insensitive not just to require such reading, but to allow it.

This is what "intimidation," "discrimination," and "sensitivity" have come to. Words that once accurately described cross burnings, housing covenants, and slurs are now being used to describe the superficial emotional wounds that come from living and debating in a free society. This dilution is being perpetrated not just by the left but by the right as well.

Conservatives often complain that many leftists practice censorship in the name of defeating it. That's true. But the hypocrisy goes both ways. Religious bigotry isn't gone. It just goes by the name of religious freedom.

This column seems deeply disingenuous, for surely Mr. Saletan knows that the core case against the reading is far simpler and more reasonable than those he spins out. The question is : would there be any objections to a public school requiring students to read Christian texts? If not, then by all means allow what seems like a worthwhile exercise in learning about Islam. If so, then why the double standard, unless it comes from anti-Christian bigotry? Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2002 6:36 PM
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