By WILLIAM MCGURN | The Wall Street Journal
‘I don’t like fatwas.”
The words come from Bill Maher. The HBO comedian was tweeting his disapproval of the campaign to deprive Rush Limbaugh of his sponsors. Especially distressing for Mr. Maher is that the campaign continues even though Mr. Limbaugh has apologized for his rude remarks about the Georgetown Law student who had testified before Congress on behalf of the contraceptive mandate.
Mr. Maher’s “defense,” of course, may have more to do with self-defense. For in the midst of the ritual denunciations of Mr. Limbaugh, it has emerged that liberals—Mr. Maher included—have long called conservative women things far more vulgar. That has led to embarrassing explanations of why Mr. Maher gets a pass, and whether the super PAC backing President Obama should return the million dollars that Mr. Maher has donated.
Even more surprising than Mr. Maher’s defense of Mr. Limbaugh, however, has to be his use of “fatwa.” These days when a liberal invokes Islamic language or imagery, typically it’s directed against someone like Mr. Limbaugh instead of in defense of him. Indeed, a foreigner surveying our mainstream media might be surprised to find out how frequently Islamic terminology such as “fatwa,” “mullah,” “jihad,” “Shariah” and “ayatollah” are used in a completely opprobrious sense—provided they are directed against Republicans or conservatives.
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen gave us a perfect example recently, when he opened a February column about GOP candidate Rick Santorum this way: “Mullah Rick has spoken.” Mr. Cohen described Mr. Santorum’s political platform as a “fatwa” and fretted that the Republican’s “divisive approach” calls to mind history’s warning about how “the public square gets used for beheadings and the like” when religion “takes too prominent a role.”
He is by no means alone. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” New York Times columnist Bill Keller worried that Mr. Santorum might be “creeping up on a kind of Christian version of Shariah law.” Last year a fellow Times columnist, Joe Nocera, suggested that America had been horrified to watch the “jihad” that tea-party Republicans were waging on the country, and he urged them to “put aside their suicide vests.” A month earlier, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews likened Republicans negotiating the debt ceiling with the president to “the Wahhabis of American government,” a reference to the Islamic sect whose strict rule defines life in Saudi Arabia.
What’s interesting about all these usages is that they come without nuance. The liberals who deploy them mean them in their full pejorative sense: with “jihad” shorthand for a brutal war of fanaticism, “mullah” implying a religious fanatic, “Shariah” a synonym for an inhumane system of law, and so on. What’s also interesting is that none of these words was invoked to describe an actual mullah, an actual fatwa, or an actual suicide bomber.
When it comes to these very real areas, liberal America proves far more reluctant to speak forthrightly. In the 2008 presidential campaign, sensitivities were such that even references to the Democrat’s middle name were deemed bad form.
That was when some conservatives insisted on referring to “Barack Hussein Obama,” sometimes with a stress on “Hussein.” When a radio host three times used Mr. Obama’s middle name at a McCain for President rally in Ohio, the GOP candidate quickly held a press conference to address the issue. “I absolutely repudiate such comments,” Mr. McCain declared, and the press corps tut-tutted its approval.
Mr. McCain’s repudiation notwithstanding, we are far from making derogatory allusions to Islam out of bounds in our discourse. To the contrary, polite society tolerates even the most harsh and stereotypical, so long as it involves Republicans. Anyone remember any calls for civility when former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost took to Politico to liken the tea partiers in Congress to the Taliban who blew up two ancient Buddha carvings on an Afghanistan hillside?
Perhaps it is because the liberal view of religion and Republicans is so reflexively negative that they see no practical difference between those who oppose higher taxes and those who would chop off a woman’s fingertips for wearing nail polish. Whatever the reason, liberals continue to do so freely because they know the civility police will never be coming for them.
Let’s be clear. If Tina Brown really wants to call Republicans suicide bombers or someone else wants to talk about Mr. Santorum’s fatwa, that’s their right. As the increasingly diminishing effect of analogies to Hitler suggests, over time overstatement usually undermines rather than advances argument. In any event, Americans are perfectly capable of making their own evaluations.
So we don’t need the word police. But spare us the sermons on civility.
Since the attack on 9/11, Americans have rightly been reminded how unfair it is to equate the hundreds of millions of decent Muslims with radicals who behead, car bomb and assassinate in the name of Islam. Would that our liberal commentariat could make a similar distinction between a conservative and a terrorist.
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