In “The Diversity of Islam” Mr. Kristof says we should beware generalizations of Islam or any faith, which sometimes are the religious equivalent of racial profiling. Ms. Collins has some “Rules to Vote By” and says it’s time for some major-league soul-searching as we look at the candidates running in the midterm elections. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
A few days ago, I was on a panel on Bill Maher’s television show on HBO that became a religious war.
Whether or not Islam itself inspires conflict, debates about it certainly do. Our conversation degenerated into something close to a shouting match and went viral on the web. Maher and a guest, Sam Harris, argued that Islam is dangerous yet gets a pass from politically correct liberals, while the actor Ben Affleck denounced their comments as “gross” and “racist.” I sided with Affleck.
After the show ended, we panelists continued to wrangle on the topic for another hour with the cameras off. Maher ignited a debate that is rippling onward, so let me offer three points of nuance.
First, historically, Islam was not particularly intolerant, and it initially elevated the status of women. Anybody looking at the history even of the 20th century would not single out Islam as the bloodthirsty religion; it was Christian/Nazi/Communist Europe and Buddhist/Taoist/Hindu/atheist Asia that set records for mass slaughter.
Likewise, it is true that the Quran has passages hailing violence, but so does the Bible, which recounts God ordering genocides, such as the one against the Amalekites.
Second, today the Islamic world includes a strain that truly is disproportionately intolerant and oppressive. Barbarians in the Islamic State cite their faith as the reason for their monstrous behavior — most recently beheading a British aid worker devoted to saving Muslim lives — and give all Islam a bad name. Moreover, of the 10 bottom-ranking countries in the World Economic Forum’s report on women’s rights, nine are majority Muslim. In Afghanistan, Jordan and Egypt, more than three-quarters of Muslims favor the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their faith, according to a Pew survey.
The persecution of Christians, Ahmadis, Yazidis, Bahai — and Shiites — is far too common in the Islamic world. We should speak up about it.
Third, the Islamic world contains multitudes: It is vast and varied. Yes, almost four out of five Afghans favor the death penalty for apostasy, but most Muslims say that that is nuts. In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, only 16 percent of Muslims favor such a penalty. In Albania, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, only 2 percent or fewer Muslims favor it, according to the Pew survey.
Beware of generalizations about any faith because they sometimes amount to the religious equivalent of racial profiling. Hinduism contained both Gandhi and the fanatic who assassinated him. The Dalai Lama today is an extraordinary humanitarian, but the fifth Dalai Lama in 1660 ordered children massacred “like eggs smashed against rocks.”
Christianity encompassed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: Kill them all; God will know his own.
One of my scariest encounters was with mobs of Javanese Muslims who were beheading people they accused of sorcery and carrying their heads on pikes. But equally repugnant was the Congo warlord who styled himself a Pentecostal pastor; while facing charges of war crimes, he invited me to dinner and said a most pious grace.
The caricature of Islam as a violent and intolerant religion is horrendously incomplete. Remember that those standing up to Muslim fanatics are mostly Muslims. In Pakistan, a gang of Muslim men raped a young Muslim woman named Mukhtar Mai as punishment for a case involving her brother; after testifying against her attackers and winning in the courts, she selflessly used the compensation money she received from the government to start a school for girls in her village. The Taliban gunmen who shot Malala Yousafzai for advocating for education were Muslims; so was Malala.
Iran has persecuted Christians and Bahais, but a Muslim lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, showed enormous courage by challenging the repression and winning release of a pastor. Dadkhah is now serving a nine-year prison sentence.
A lawyer friend of mine in Pakistan, Rashid Rehman, was a great champion of human rights and religious tolerance — and was assassinated this year by fundamentalists who stormed his office.
Sure, denounce the brutality, sexism and intolerance that animate the Islamic State and constitute a significant strain within Islam. But don’t confuse that with all Islam: Heroes like Mukhtar, Malala, Dadkhah and Rehman also represent an important element.
Let’s not feed Islamophobic bigotry by highlighting only the horrors while neglecting the diversity of a religion with 1.6 billion adherents — including many who are champions of tolerance, modernity and human rights. The great divide is not between faiths, but one between intolerant zealots of any tradition and the large numbers of decent, peaceful believers likewise found in each tradition.
Maybe that is too complicated to convey in a TV brawl. But it’s the reality.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
Right now you are probably asking yourself: What should I be looking for in a candidate this election year? Excellent attendance at committee hearings? The ability to write an economic plan from scratch? An affinity for poultry?
It’s time for some major-league soul-searching.
Good news! Many candidates have been serious enough to release their own plans for critical issues like economic development or health care.
Bad news! Some of them seem to have been plagiarized. Monica Wehby, the physician running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in Oregon, issued a health care plan that BuzzFeed News reported had been taken from work done by Karl Rove’s “super PAC,” and, in another incident, copied from a former primary opponent.
Mary Burke, a candidate for governor of Wisconsin, got caught lifting pieces of her jobs plan from various sources. She came back with an ad saying: “As governor, I’m going to take the best ideas wherever I can find them.” In Georgia, it turns out that the Republican Senate candidate David Perdue’s “five precepts of economic development” were borrowed from Lee Kuan Yew, the ex-prime minister of Singapore.
Generally, this sort of thing is less about ethics than failure to supervise staffers who were supposed to steal ideas and then rewrite them with different words. However, in Perdue’s case, it’s sort of weird when you adopt precepts from a guy who used to have citizens beaten with canes for vandalism.
If a candidate gets caught with his pants down, metaphorically or literally, voters should ask:
A) Is this likely to happen again?
B) Will his colleagues think he’s ridiculous?
C) What choice do I have?
We recently learned that Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor in Kansas, was once at a strip club when it was raided by police. Alone with a topless dancer wearing only a G-string. This is kind of embarrassing, but the incident happened 16 years ago. And it’s unlikely voters need to worry a whole lot about waking up to a repetition.
On the other hand, there’s Representative Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina “Love Guv” who recently announced his breakup with his fiancée in a wildly egotistical and embarrassing 2,346-word Facebook posting. In Sanford’s case, the answer to the three questions are: A) Absolutely; B) Yes; and C) None whatsoever, since he is running unopposed.
Animal-Related Bad Behavior
In Iowa, Democrat Bruce Braley’s Senate campaign ran into trouble when Republicans discovered he had once complained to a neighborhood association about the woman next door keeping chickens in her backyard. Birds that were, it turned out, “therapy chickens” used in work with troubled children.
Braley is running against Republican Joni Ernst, who became famous for bragging about her youthful experience castrating pigs. But Chickengate provided Republicans with another opportunity to recall that during the federal government shutdown, Representative Braley was quoted complaining about tough times in the Capitol gym. (“There’s no towel service.”)
What if your senator misses committee meetings? This has come up in North Carolina, Kentucky and New Hampshire, where Republicans denounced Senator Jeanne Shaheen for failing to show up for public hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee.
You can pick up useful information at some public hearings. At others, there’s Kevin Costner explaining how to clean up oil spills. Or Elmo from “Sesame Street” urging support for musical education and trying to eat the microphone. Or a member of a boy band expressing his concerns about mountaintop mining.
If your lawmaker seems to be doing something constructive with his or her time, I wouldn’t worry about the committees. “I was on four committees, two subcommittees, a bunch of caucuses,” said a former senator recently. “And plus I was doing my National Guard duty, so I don’t think there’s ever an expectation to have 100 percent attendance.”
That would be the Republican Scott Brown, Senator Shaheen’s opponent, who Democrats claim attended only 44 percent of the meetings of the Homeland Security Committee while he was in the Senate from 2010-12.
Ignore anybody who claims his or her opponent is a threat to national security.
For instance, there’s the Arizona Republican congressional candidate Wendy Rogers, who ran an ad showing the prelude to the beheading of an American journalist as a narrator warned: “Terrorist threats are growing. Are we secure? Are we protected? [...] Kyrsten Sinema allowed her liberal agenda to get in the way of our safety.”
Representative Sinema’s sins were matters like supporting efforts to give Guantánamo Bay detainees trials in U.S. courts.
Also, the ad misspelled “safety.” Really, when you’re warning people that we have to be very, very careful, you ought to check the details.