Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hoisted from comments

Matt Yglesias has a piece on
The Eurabia Analogy I've Been Looking For

10 Dec 2007 05:16 pm

I was thinking about the tenor of the European debate over immigration issues and how it differs from our own, and one thing I came up with is that it's more similar to an older American debate, focused on the first wave of Catholic immigrants, in which people were troubled by the notion that Catholicism (a religion with hierarchy and authority at its very core) might be incompatible with democracy.

He's rather conflating anti-immigration with anti-muslim sentiment - they overlap, but they're not identical; the current italian anti-immigrant panic, for example, is against the Rom (who do seem, compared to Jews, to have got very little positive PR out of being the subject of Nazi genocide). Still, the quotes from Al Smith and his critics are spot on, and it's also true that his commentators don't fuss about the Rom, leaping directly into explaining why muslims now are different from catholics then -

I remember those bombings by Catholic terrorists in the 1920. The killings of Catholic girls who dated out of their faith by their families.

The riots by catholic youth, car burnings, the whole thing is like a carbon copy of what happens these days.

Well, the specific analogy Matt's making is between protestants taking snippets from papal decrees saying what a good thing it would be if all the world was catholic (and refusing to grant any other faith rights inconsistent with that) and the same process of overinterpretation taking place with muslims. The issue, that is, is not with extreme factions blowing up airplanes, it's with moderate factions being tagged with the taint of sharing totalising ideologies - "Well, they may say they're moderates, but they still want the Caliphate, just like Osama!" Yes, in the same sense that Catholics used to want Catholic supremacy.

Until Vatican II, fifty years ago, all good Catholics held beliefs that, if pressed to the limit, would yield Al-Qaida-like outcomes . In 1945, say, the vatican believed (in addition to everything they believe now about gays and abortion) in ghettos for jews, intolerance in catholic states, and headgear for women. In Smith's time and in Smith's mind the conflict was muted because both sides of American politics accepted Christianity as essentially binding, whatever the constitution said, and the distinctions between the moral codes of each were pretty marginal; (civil) divorce, yes, abortion, no.

Why the difference, then, in terms of car bombs? In general, in Smith's time the theories weren't pressed to the limits, because in general people didn't actually believe with any intensity what they thought they believed. In part because there was a Vatican to react against. If there was a Caliphate anywhere that could speak with binding force we'd soon see it being marginalised by the forces of diversity; but there isn't, so that doesn't happen.

And if we're talking car bombs, some proportion of the deaths down to the provisional IRA have to be attached to its catholic exclusivity. If England had been holding down more than one catholic country the same bombs might indeed have been detonated in the name of catholic solidarity rather than Irish nationalism; they weren't, so it didn't.

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