“Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Can't we all just get along?


Writing in USA Today, a spokesman for the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, one Khalid Elmasry, wonders:

Whatever happened to tolerance in America? International media attention has focused on Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport after many, based on their religious beliefs, refused to transport passengers carrying alcohol. It is forbidden in Islam to consume or transport alcohol. [Note, the former is true, the latter is the local sectarian interpretation of the Muslim American Society. Most Muslims do not believe it.]

… intolerance has forced the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport commission to cancel an agreement with the cab drivers and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, which has acted as a mediator. We believe the commission is bowing to public pressure based on bigotry toward Muslims.
Unfortunately, I was drinking some tea at the time I read that the “Muslim American Society was acting as a mediator.” It took me ten minutes to clean my keyboard and monitor. The fatwa in question was issued by the Muslim American Society on June 6, 2006.

Elmasry claims his organization is acting as mediator in a dispute they initiated. (For some history of MAS see also.)

One response to Elmasry’s disingenuity would be to point out that insofar as tolerance goes, non-Muslims are waiting to be able to hail a cab in Mecca, possess a Bible in Saudi Arabia, or draw cartoons of Mohammed without being targeted for execution. To be fair, while these are reasonable points to make to an Islamic fundamentalist complaining about a lack of religious tolerance, this response ignores Elmasry’s point: America is not living up to her ideals.

So, put the institutional bigotry of Islamists aside. Just because they act that way doesn’t mean we have to, right? In fact, maybe we can lead by example and let them have their color coded cabs. We can even pretend this fatwa was issued in good faith, centuries after the first Muslim cabbie hauled an ethanol (no E85 for these cabbies) bearing passenger around and decades after it occurred in Minneapolis. Tolerance demands that we accede to the quirks of every cultural practice. Next - suttee.

If we let the Minnesota cabbies have their little bit of sharia it will help avoid the embarrassment attendant upon refusing to transport a disabled person with a service dog. It will let homosexuals and transgendered individuals avoid uncomfortable situations. For some reason, Khalid Elmasry chooses not to address those elements of the MAS fatwa. Perhaps that acknowledgement would have prevented him from writing “[Some say]...declining to transport alcohol is only the beginning and that Muslims are trying to impose their religious beliefs on others. That’s false.”

Writing in the Pakistan Daily Times, Muqtedar Khan, Assistant Professor at University of Delaware and a Senior Non-resident Fellow with the Saban Centre at Brookings Institution, gives us some insight into the piety being displayed by Elmasry’s organization:

Muslim scholars and most Muslims of Minnesota say the fatwa is without merit. And indeed many Muslim voices, present writer included, have already condemned and ridiculed this position. Even in Saudi Arabia, which is usually the champion when it comes to extremely narrow, irrational and intolerant interpretations of Islam, non-Muslims are allowed to consume alcohol, and even carry them on flights.

The alcohol issue is not really the problem. It is just a tip of the iceberg. It raises a fundamental and critical issue: can Muslims who live in free and democratic societies, simultaneously demand freedom and tolerance for Islam while denying others the same. Can we, and should we, demand freedom to practice Islam and then turn around and use these same freedoms to impose anachronistic understandings of Islam on others.

What next? Will Muslim doctors working in ER refuse to administer to patients brought in from an accident site or with a heart attack because they have alcohol on their breath? Will Muslim doctors refuse to serve an HIV-positive patient because he or she is gay? Will Muslim fire fighters refuse to save people who are caught in a fire in a place that sells alcohol? Will Muslim cops refuse to protect women who do not wear Hijab [head scarf]? Will Muslim teachers refuse to educate children because their mothers do not wear the veil? All of the above would entail supporting sin according to popular Muslim beliefs.
If Islamo-cabbies in Minneapolis are experiencing a backlash, they are experiencing it because of the Muslim American Society’s specious fatwa, not a lack of tolerance on the part of those they are supposed to be serving. And, if there is a backlash, the last thing these drivers want on their cab is a light broadcasting their fundamental lack of tolerance.

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