A couple of my friends got into an argument a few days ago at lunch over whether or not Islam should be characterized as religion of violence. Personally, I don’t think that such a wholesale characterization can be applied to ancient religion comprising 1.6 billion people extended over such a vast global scale. Muslims are a motley crew, just as Christians, Buddhist and Hindus are. The world abounds with Muslims who hold passionately to their faith but who nonetheless admire the West and are willing to come and assimilate in return for the freedom and prosperity Western societies provide.
Even so, conservative Pat Buchanan raises a valid point in his most recent column. Out of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, tens of millions pray fervently for the worldwide imposition of Shariah, which entails the conversion or subjugation of non-Muslims.
Consequently, many in the West make the case – an entirely legitimate case, as I see it — that Muslims are more susceptible to violent terrorist messages than adherents of other faiths. And this, in turn, has sparked fears among large numbers of people in America that the current levels of immigration from Islamic countries not only threaten U.S. domestic security but also those free and open institutions that have characterized and safeguarded America and the rest of the West for at least the past 70 years.
Throughout the West, immigration has grown into the most divisive issue facing our nation today, one that rivals the debates over slavery that raged more than 70 years ago.
Yet, these concerns typically have been met with the sneering contempt of the elite and plutocratic classes, who have tended to dismiss them as expressions of provincial racism, intolerance, xenophobia and incipient fascism.
Under the circumstances, is it any wonder that tens of millions of Americans have turned to someone who doesn’t mince words, who proclaims loudly and passionately that “the emperor hath no clothes!”
Yes, I heartily agree with columnist Peggy Noonan: Donald Trump is engaging in irresponsible and incendiary talk that is forcing a widening rather than a narrowing of the vast chasm between the elites and rank-and-file Americans. But that’s what happens in democracies when large policy sores are left to fester untreated. To put it another way, Trumpism is the latest expression of the untreated virus that spreads and mutates in the absence of open, constructive dialogue. I, for one, fear that we’re experiencing only the early stages of a raging epidemic.
Yes, I know, I’m holding on to antiquate notions of democracy and constitutionalism. I’m one of those aging Americans who grew up in an era when open discourse was considered an integral component of a free, democratic society. But I don’t apologize for any of these views.
Contentious issues must be gotten out in the open and discussed openly, especially in cases where concerns are expressed consistently, passionately and vociferously by large segments of society. That’s how democracy works – or, at least, is supposed to work. In the absence of open dialogue, democracies no longer function as self-correcting ones. And if they aren’t self-correcting, they no longer qualify as free and democratic in any real sense.