Tag Archives: hypothetical tu quoque

The mosque of pain

I've had nothing good to say about former Bush 43 speechwriter Michael Gerson's work in the Washington Post.  Every day is a new day, however, so today a little kudos for an argument well argued.  Not, of course, just because I agree with the conclusion (which I do, but that does not a good argument always make, trust me), rather because I think he's lined up the right sort of reasons for it (truth be told, I don't like some of them).

In this debate, grace is in short supply but irony abounds. The Christian fundamentalist view of Islam bears a striking resemblance to the New York Times' view of Christian fundamentalism — a simplistic emphasis on the worst elements of a complex religious tradition. Both create a caricature, then assert that the Constitution is under assault by an army of straw men. The debates within Islam on the nature and application of sharia law, for example, are at least as complex as the debates among Christian theologians on the nature of social justice. And the political application of Islam differs so greatly — from Saudi Arabia to Mali to Morocco to Bosnia to Tanzania to Detroit — that it defies easy summary.

Many Christian fundamentalists seem oblivious to the similarity of their own legal and cultural peril. In portions of America — say San Francisco or Vermont — conservative Christians are sometimes also viewed as suspicious, illiberal outsiders. Their opinions on gender roles, homosexuality and public morality are viewed as an attack on constitutional values — much as fundamentalists view the threat from Islam. Some secular critics of Islam — Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens come to mind — explicitly argue that the real threat to freedom comes from the oppressive moralism of the entire Abrahamic tradition — Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

Christian fundamentalists who undermine religious liberty in order to target Muslims are playing a game of intolerance roulette. That First Amendment might come in handy someday.  

Ok, I think he's wrong about the New York Times, and I think his appeal to Christian fundamentalists here is a bit disturbing (you're both oppressive moralists!), though perhaps not incorrect.  Many Muslims are cultural if not fiscal and political conservatives.  Alientating them is bad politics.

The more interesting reason comes at the end: "That First Amendment might come in handy someday."  Or put in another way: "you'd be singing a different tune if the shoe were on the other foot."  And here we have, I think, another interesting of the subjunctive (or hypthetical) tu quoque.  Discussed also here.

The argument is clearly of the ad hominem variety.  Not the fallacious kind.  It points out a pragmatic inconsistency in this particular Mosque-opposer's hypothetical argument.  The practical inconsistency is driven, I think, by the analogy with similar circumstances.  So question: is the subjunctive tu quoque burden met by an argument from analogy?  I ask this because many posts ago Scott wondered what the burden was for such arguments (when they're non fallacious).  Perhaps this is one possibility.