Making collective guilt palatable to liberals
Michael Tomasky, whom I’ve known over 20 years—sparring with him much of that time but liking him anyway—just wrote an awful piece which apparently aims to legitimate for liberals assertions of collective Muslim responsibility. Following the lead of the president, himself no stranger to rampant paranoia about Muslims, Tomasky basically tells Muslims to shape up or face Donald Trump.
To counter accusations of tendentious paraphrase, let me quote a few choice bits:
[Obama] used the usual liberal language about how most Muslims are great, but he also said that religious fundamentalism is “a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse.”… This is the first time Obama has issued this challenge…. It says to Muslim Americans that the rights you have as Americans have to be earned, fought for…. [I]f other Americans had some sense that Muslim Americans as a group were really working to ferret out the radicalism, then this stalemate might be broken.
If anything Obama should have been more emphatic about this. He should now go around to Muslim communities…and give a speech that tells them: If you want to be treated with less suspicion, then you have to make that happen…. It’s ultimately a humane gesture to make toward a struggling immigrant group, to explain to them in ways they may not have thought about before what American citizenship means…. I do believe…this president can take steps to bring Muslim Americans more fully into our culture and society. That doesn’t mean just reading them their rights. It also means reading them their responsibilities.
This is addressed to all Muslim Americans, and makes two odious assumptions. The first is that Muslims have a collective responsibility for the behavior of other Muslims. Would a liberal say that about, say, Jews? And second, that citizenship rights have to be earned and don’t automatically apply to citizens. And this is coming from the editor of a journal called Democracy, of all things. (It’s impossible to resist pointing out that its publisher, Bernard Schwartz, is a weapons magnate, and its advisory board is laced with national security types.)
Tomasky’s argument—which he has the nerve to call “humane”—looks like an attempt to set a left boundary on acceptable discourse, and to write out any principled critique of the treatment of Muslim Americans—and Muslims, really—as an undifferentiated mass. It makes it far harder to fight the incendiary hatred of people like Trump, and then presumes to offer itself as the only realistic alternative to fulminating evil. I suppose liberalism has often played this role—see Truman and loyalty oaths—but it’s depressing and enraging to see it enacted before your eyes.