This week, Time magazine published this question on its cover, "Is America Islamophobic?," inspired by the debate over the building of the Ground Zero Mosque. There is, of course, no actual ailment called "Islamophobia," as there is with claustrophobia and arachnophobia. The latter two are diagnosable irrational fears that people acquire for a variety of reasons. The first is a rhetorical invention intended to marginalize factions of the American public so that the rest of us will feel shamed into believing we should not take our fellow citizens seriously. It is, in short, an argument stopper, and thus is meant to undermine and not advance rational discourse on a matter of public controversy. This is not say, of course, that there are not people who in fact hold false and bigoted beliefs about Islam, just as there are people who hold false and bigoted beliefs about Catholicism, Protestantism and Mormonism. But it should go without saying that offering critical comments about a religion or its beliefs and practices is not automatically the result of inaccurate observations and/or bigotry. For if that were the case, then the worst bigots in the world would be the New Atheists who maintain that all religious beliefs and practices are not only false but harmful. Because the New Atheists seem to be the darlings of the Time magazine set, one can only conclude that the difference between a bigot and a respected intellectual is that the former rejects one less belief than the latter. This results in the amusing judgment that it is intolerant and bigoted to believe one religious belief is true and all others false, but the pinnacle of tolerance to believe that none are true and all are false. This is, of course, perfectly stupid, though considered the height of sophistication by the most cerebral custodians of our public culture. This is why they prefer power over reason; they can only win with the former but not the latter.
If there's one thing you can always count on in contemporary America, it is this: some enterprising political spin doctor will invent a short-hand insult (disguised as an assessment of your sub-rational motives, as if they can actually be known) in order to insulate his own opinion from legitimate criticism. In fact, I have a name for it: "Rhetorical McCarthyism." Now, if anyone calls you "Islamophobic," you can then accuse them of "Rhetorical McCarthyism." That evens the playing field so that perhaps a rational discussion may break out. It can happen.
I've not published anything about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, simply because I'm still trying to think about it in a detached and objective manner. As a strong proponent of religious liberty, I can see the reasonableness of the pro-Mosque position. But as someone who will never forget what happened on September 11, 2001--the consequence of Islamic terrorists putting their beliefs into practice--I fully understand the objections raised against the Mosque. However, when a magazine like Time attempts to paint one side of the debate as consisting of nothing more than bigots moved by an irrational fear, I see Rhetorical McCarthyism. It is a shameful and undemocractic way to conduct a discussion in a Constitutional republic, since its purpose is to end the discussion rather than to advance it, to shut people up rather than to treat them with equal respect and dignity. It is the plagiarized cultural cliff notes of the intellectually lazy.