Skip to main content

Author's Note: This article originally appeared in the June edition of Berkshire Jewish Voice

Visit us at: www.pacmen.org, Facebook, Twitter, and Wordpress.

On May 5th, 2011, Fox News hosted the first 2012 Republican Presidential debate. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who has made insensitive remarks regarding Islam in the past, was asked if he was anti-Islam. Santorum responded with the following statement:

"I am not anti-Islam, first. What I’m doing is just recognizing the reality, and the reality is that the version of Islam that is practiced in the Middle East, that is growing and spreading, [is not] one that we are going to be able to deal with very easily. It's one that requires... reformation. It requires some sort of retrospection within the Islamic world…”

What Mr. Santorum did with this statement was defend himself against charges of being anti-Islam by making more anti-Islamic remarks. I wonder what he meant by “the version of Islam that is practiced in the Middle East”. This seems to be a sweeping generalization that reflects a lack of understanding about the cultures, religions, diversities, and complexities of about 1 billion people.

Author's Note: This article originally appeared in the June edition of Berkshire Jewish Voice

Visit us at: www.pacmen.org, Facebook, Twitter, and Wordpress.

On May 5th, 2011, Fox News hosted the first 2012 Republican Presidential debate. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who has made insensitive remarks regarding Islam in the past, was asked if he was anti-Islam. Santorum responded with the following statement:

"I am not anti-Islam, first. What I’m doing is just recognizing the reality, and the reality is that the version of Islam that is practiced in the Middle East, that is growing and spreading, [is not] one that we are going to be able to deal with very easily. It's one that requires... reformation. It requires some sort of retrospection within the Islamic world…”

What Mr. Santorum did with this statement was defend himself against charges of being anti-Islam by making more anti-Islamic remarks. I wonder what he meant by “the version of Islam that is practiced in the Middle East”. This seems to be a sweeping generalization that reflects a lack of understanding about the cultures, religions, diversities, and complexities of about 1 billion people.

In general, it’s fundamentally wrong to make sweeping generalizations about the religious beliefs of a billion people. Yet, without a doubt, some aspects and some interpretations of Islam that are practiced by some people in some countries in the Middle East do need reformation. Had Santorum framed his answer in that manner, most people (Muslims included) would have been in full agreement. In fact, that statement could be made about any religion or culture, and most people would find themselves in agreement.

On May 9th, 2011, Der Tzitung, a Hasidic Newspaper in Brooklyn, published the now infamous picture of members of the Obama Administration watching the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. The picture that they published, however, was a doctored version of the original. They “cut out” the two women in the picture; Hillary Clinton and another woman in the background of the picture. After the ensuing media backlash, the paper released a statement defending the Hasidic Jewish communities’ treatment of women in general, and history of support for Hillary Clinton in particular. Part of that statement read:

"In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status... Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”

I see this as offensive not only because it is disparaging to women, but because it is disparaging to Jewish men. Do Jewish men we need “laws of modesty” forbidding us to publish pictures of women? Are Jewish men so hyper-sexualized that we can not see a picture of a woman without immediately thinking immodest thoughts or taking immodest actions? In day to day life, can we not look at, speak to, or touch a woman without immediately lusting for her?

To be clear, I’m being rhetorical to make a point. To an uninformed outsider with little contact with Jewish people, little knowledge of Judaism, and little knowledge of Jewish culture, the “laws of modesty” observed by the most religious of Jews could be easily misinterpreted as a reflect upon Jewish men as a whole. In fact, if a person largely unexposed to Judaism learned of those particular customs, they may say something like this:

“I am not anti-Judaism, first. What I’m doing is just recognizing the reality, and the reality is that the version of Judaism that is practiced in Brooklyn, that is growing and spreading, [is not] one that we are going to be able to deal with very easily. It's one that requires... reformation. It requires some sort of retrospection within the Jewish world…”

Where as someone more familiar with Judaism would more likely say something like this:

“Some aspects and some interpretations of Judaism that are practiced by some people in some parts of the world do need reformation.”

These statements could apply to every religion and culture on Earth. In every case, the first statement is wrong, and the second statement is right. Whether the topic is radicalized Islam, laws of modesty, or the clergy sex abuse scandal, the actions of the few should never be used as a generalization about the many. Most people realize this, especially people that have friends or acquaintances that practice the religion in question. Yet, let’s not forget that there are large parts of this country where people do not know the first thing about Judaism or Islam. Without exposure to a culture or a religion, history has shown that even its most obscure traditions can be taken out of context and used to manufacture intolerance.

This is, to an extent, what Rick Santorum has done over his political career. Unfortunately, he has a history of making ill-informed, intolerant statements about groups of people. For example, he has equated homosexuality with polygamy, bestiality, child molestation, and incest, he has attributed the clergy sexual abuse scandal to Boston area academics and liberals, and he has said some truly ignorant things about Islam.  

There is a good chance that Rick Santorum will never realize that his beliefs on these matters are ignorant and hurtful. But, as a part of the Jewish community that has been so badly affected by stereotypes, generalizations, and intolerance, I hope that you do. After all, just because some traditional Hasidic laws are out of touch with society, it doesn’t mean Judaism needs reformation. And, just because Rick Santorum has intolerant viewpoints, it doesn’t mean that his religion needs reformation. It just means that he does.      

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site