Opening up a racy conversation

Writing about race, religion and culture is a sticky business.

by Ross Anderson

Last weekâÄôs column sparked an uproar, but that was only one desired outcome âÄî the other was debate. In the pages of this newspaper, it wasnâÄôt so much a debate; it was more of an overwhelming consensus that I am a jerk. I try not to be, but apparently last week I failed. My duty is to present an opinion; the use of provocative, inflammatory language is really just a crutch to make up for my lack of education. (You caught me, you pesky critics.) âÄúNo one likes the stick that stirs the melting pot,âÄù an older friend explained to me after I read him the comments readers left. I shrugged it off, but IâÄôd be lying if I said I didnâÄôt lose some sleep over the personal attacks. I was a racist, a chauvinist, a sexist, a radical patriot, anti-American and a potential pedophile. These words say nothing about my argument. TheyâÄôre called arguments ad hominem, and lazy people tend to use them when they really donâÄôt like someoneâÄôs opinion. This column stands by the original assertion that some in our community (again, let me emphasize the âÄúsomeâÄù) use Islam as justification to discriminate against women. Sadly, the dialogue that ensued focused mostly on my presentation of this point rather than on the point itself. The online commentary on my latest column reads as if the misuse of adjectives is a greater offense than gender discrimination. All this is indicative of a long-standing problem in academia and the country as a whole. White people are terrified to talk about culture, religion and race, anticipating that they, like me, will receive a veritable shellacking. How are we to bridge the racial/religious chasm in Minneapolis if we are not willing to honestly discuss the issues that divide us? IâÄôll be the lightening rod for the purpose of this discussion. Distaste for the burqa and the sense that elements of Islam are misogynistic is a sentiment that is widespread and rarely discussed. Even after using such pointed descriptions as âÄúEast African Muslims unwilling to accept the American Ideal that all people, including women, are created equal,âÄù many in the academic community lost their heads and unleashed upon me an arsenal of âÄúracist,âÄù âÄúhate speechâÄù and other thought police citations. The real question here is how can we as a society discuss minority culture? I donâÄôt know, because clearly I didnâÄôt get it right. There was much ado about the word âÄúcrustyâÄù as applied to the target of my criticism. Many read these five letters and âÄî eureka âÄî found my malicious ulterior motive: a two-syllable trial and a verdict of âÄúracist.âÄù Had I referred to a âÄúcrusty old DaneâÄù or âÄúcrusty old Eastern European,âÄù would there have been a problem? Even though I spoke of âÄúsome MuslimsâÄù and aimed my criticism at a âÄúshrinking minority,âÄù I was still chastised for making generalizations. So, mainstream logic seems to be that generalizations of the majority are acceptable. However, the instant a minority group is perceived to be generalized there is a case of modern blasphemy. In this country, how you interact with people of other races does not determine whether you are racist. In this country (and especially on this campus) your euphemisms determine whether or not youâÄôre a bigot. If I were to write a column about Christian misogyny, IâÄôd probably receive praise. In the left-leaning academia, Christian-bashing is a revered cultural pastime akin to playing the dozens in some black circles. But most academics are too scared to be equal opportunity haters, and religious faults of minority groups are sheltered from criticism in the name of multiculturalism âÄî at the behest of constructive dialogue. The question still remains; is it morally justifiable to require a woman to wear head-to-toe covering? (IâÄôm talking eyes only.) If youâÄôre looking for an explanation of Islamic oppression of women, I suggest former Muslim Somali Ayaan Hirsi AliâÄôs book âÄúInfidel,âÄù which explains at length the phenomena that IâÄôd shrink-wrapped into 900 words. I wonder âĦ with Minnesota having perhaps the largest East African Muslim immigrant population in the country, could some of their bad cultural habits have made their way over here? And if present in our city, do such habits not deserve condemnation? I understand this issue is complex. I know that many Muslim women wear their hijab with pride, and this column respects that choice. But for all the commentary the column produced, not one person took the time to entertain the idea that perhaps the woman in the black burqa does not enjoy wearing her gown, or whatâÄôs worse, if she does not, that she likely cannot express this to anyone but her husband. To address my strongest critique, I donâÄôt buy the argument that the eyes-only burqa is an expression of self-respect; the eyes of the women I see wearing a burqa so often smack of subservience and quiet oppression. The critique did contain one point worth reprinting, though; âÄúLetâÄôs all take a look at our actions, words and columns to remove sexism and bigotry from all angles of our rich tapestry of American culture and create a community that we can all be proud to call our own.âÄù To its author, congratulations on a pretty sentence, but the problem is that when two fearful eyeballs surrounded by black cloth pass me on the street, I do not feel pride, I feel pity and shame. As an offering of peace, my next column space (900 words) is reserved for any person of the Islamic faith to explain how wearing the eyes-only burqa is a sign of self-respect and to explain how those in our local East African Muslim population differ significantly from what Hirsi Ali describes in her book. I look forward to an open, expanding dialogue. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]