Sarah Posner has an article in today's Religion Dispatches about the debate taking place at The National Review between David Yerushalmi, an advocate of "anti-Shariah" laws, and conservatives who believe that this is bad policy for any number of reasons. The article is worth reading for a sense of the nature of this particular, very strange debate.
But I was struck by this passage in particular:
As Matt Duss notes, Yerushalmi has lamented the absence of "'a discussion of Islam as an evil religion, or of blacks as the most murderous of peoples (at least in New York City), or of illegal immigrants as deserving of no rights.' He also wrote that the American founders were on to something when they limited the vote to white men. 'There is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote.'" (emphasis added) Yet Yerushalmi brought his fear-mongering about shari'ah to Capitol Hill staffers in 2010,claiming it threatened the Constitution.
Once upon a time, I thought that there was intellectual integrity to being willing to debate all comers, to take on in rational discourse anyone who was interested in the discussion. The amount of time wasted in my mid-20s to the kind of internet flame wars that used to set AOL ablaze once upon a time causes me to blush to this day (and truth be told, I am still horribly susceptible to being drawn into those kinds of fights).
But over time, I've begun to realize that not everyone or every idea is worthy of such engagement. Trying to "debate" the Westborough Baptist Church on homosexuality is pointless. Trying to debate the Ku Klux Klan on race is fruitless. At the end of the day, some opponents just aren't worthy of debate.
Which raises the question to me: Why does someone who subscribes to views as vile as Yerushalmi's deserve a forum in a widely respected conservative journal to peddle garbage? It's not that I have any particular brief on behalf of The National Review, but the fact that a bigot of Yerushalmi's stature isn't driven from the realm of rational discourse and given a soap box to occupy in Central Park is evidence of the moral bankruptcy of much of what passes for conservative discourse today.
There were many things to dislike intensely about William F. Buckley, but one thing he did right was to drive the John Birch conspiracists out of the conservative movement in the 1950s. They weren't worthy of engagement. In similar vein, bigotry of the kind endorsed by Yerushalmi, and often celebrated today on the right, even by elected officials and prominant commentators, should be driven from the discourse, so that some kind of real engagement about the issues confronting the world can take place, both within conservative circles, and between conservatives and liberals.