Grab a beverage; this is gonna be long.
Ben Carson snagged a goodly proportion of the recent news cycle with his comments on Muslims and the Presidency of the United States. As such statements go, I don’t think it’s nearly as heinous as his critics make it out to be, but that’s how these things go; after all, political critics have a vested interest in making every statement they disagree with into TEH WORST THING EVAR!!1! (At least if they don’t support the speaker; if they do support the speaker, then they just reinterpret and water-down the meaning of the statement so that they can claim it’s innocuous and anyway, why are you ignoring what Ben Carson said, you racist??)
However. My daughter-in-law was raised Muslim here in Utah, and has a very sobering perspective on all of this:
When I was young, students in my school pushed me down and trampled me after recess (age 7). I was pushed into a corner and had multiple students threaten to beat me (age 8). I would go to the store with my father, and people would come up and tell me that my headscarf was a sign of oppression (age 10). I was attacked in a Wal-Mart parking lot (age 12), where a man attempted to kidnap me for being “terrorist scum”. I was so traumatized that I removed my headscarf for the last time. I have not worn it since.
Tangential to the point of this post (but certainly not an unimportant point overall) is that I am sickened and appalled at the behavior of my co-nationalists and, very likely, my co-religionists — especially the latter, in that Mormon children memorize and recite the eleventh of our Articles of Faith, which states:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
These should not be — they cannot be — empty words, and there is sore repentance needed among those who mouth them but then ignore them.
Now, further necessary background to my point, because I find that half of the disagreements in the world stem from people arguing using words one whose meaning they have not agreed. So, some necessarily definitional ground rules:
Race is not the same as ethnicity, and ethnicity is not the same as personal credo.
Race is… frankly, a stupid idea that everyone needs to get over. It’s genetic heritage thanks to the variations in superficial human physical norms (height, skin color, hair consistency and dispersion, the ability to dance well, etc.) due to the isolation of particular populations in centuries past. In our current western culture, where some degree of genealogical admixture is the rule rather than the exception, the idea of distinct identifiable races is tenuous at best; and the idea of racial essentialism — that Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Al Sharpton and Barack Obama share an ineffable but undeniable blackness that no one who doesn’t share it can never comprehend (unless, of course, they “identify” as black without sharing any of that genetic heritage) — is so ludicrous that I cannot believe that its propounder and promoters are taken half as seriously as the Westboro Church of Hatred.
Ethnicity is simply culture, usually of a variety that was incubated in a certain geographic locale, and because of that geographic component, racial labels and ethnic signifiers often overlap to the point that people looking for a quick way to categorize human beings will lump them together. Ethnicity has a better claim to individual essentialism than race, mainly because a person’s ethnic identity is often cemented in their formative years: The food they considered “normal,” the dress that is beautiful to them, the music that comes naturally to them, the religion that was the language in which they first encountered the divine. People can consciously turn away from some of all aspects of their ethnicity, but they cannot erase it without a complete mindwipe — it’s the environment in which they were wormed.
A personal credo (a philosophy, an outlook, a consciously-chosen identity — there is no one term which encompasses this concept) is the combination of unconsciously, culturally inherited ideals and preferences with consciously determined stances, goals, and codes of ethics. The proportion of inherited vs. determined planks to a credo varies, with some individuals practically being an unconscious one-person representative of their native culture and others seeming almost entirely self-made, having elevated the conscious examination of themselves to the highest priority in their lives. The rest of us fall somewhere in between, consciously deciding some issues while falling back on cultural defaults for others.
And now, all of the above being preamble, I can start finally to get to my point, which is this:
It is entirely legitimate to ask how the parameters and norms of a particular ethnic identity mesh or clash with the duties and mores of a particular position, be it public office or private employment or the area which encompasses both.
It is entirely legitimate to ask a seeker of public office whether they see a conflict between the duties of that office and the seeker’s otherwise expressed or implied credo.
Further, it is entirely legitimate to explore said seeker’s answer in greater detail if the questioner does not understand how those duties and that credo are compatible. For instance, if a member of the Westboro Church of Hateful Jackasses seeks public office, I find it entirely justifiable to raise a skeptical eyebrow to any protestations that said member’s religion will not affect his ability to execute that office. Similarly, if a candidate for public office describes himself as an observant Jehovah’s Witness or Mennonite, I feel entirely within my rights to ask more probing questions so that I can understand how this person professes to resolve two loyalties which, to my understanding, are incompatible. Nor do I feel it unfair or prejudicial of me to ask deeper questions of that candidate than of a Catholic, Jew, or Mormon, as I have seen how other members of those faiths comport themselves in public office, and on the basis of those examples I have no anxiety that the demands of their faith traditions necessarily conflict with the demands of their public duties.
Thus, I feel that it’s entirely legitimate to ask a Muslim candidate for office the following questions specific to his faith:
- “Some other Muslims have declared that sharia law trumps all man-made government. To what degree to you agree or disagree with that statement?”
- “Do you feel that you could faithfully execute the office to which you are elected or appointed, without a conflict between the duties of that office and the duties imposed by your understanding of your religious obligations?”
- “If in the future you find that there is an insurmountable conflict between the duties of your office and the duties of your religion, will you resign your office because of your inability to execute the duties for which you were elected?”
That last question is the kicker, because I expect anyone in public office, if they find themselves unable to execute the duties to which and for which they were inducted into that office, to declare publicly that the conflict is insurmountable, and to therefore resign. I consider that a non-negotiable part of being a person of integrity, whatever your religious or ethnic label.
I expect that of a Muslim.
I also expect that of a Mormon.
I also expect that of a Catholic.
I also expect that of an atheist.
I also expect that of a born-again county clerk.
I also expect that of a “citizen of the world” social justice warrior.
I expect that of every damned person, as a condition for being treated as an honorable member of a free society. If the oath of your office is one you can’t fulfill, don’t make it.