by Conor Friedersdorf
In a characteristically smart post, Ross Douthat responds to my critique of his column. I'm grateful that he's taken the time to do so, and I regret it if I misunderstood part of his position in my earlier post.
I don’t think we need to tolerate crude xenophobia; indeed, my point in using terms like “crude” and “xenophobia” was to suggest that a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the mosque has been ugly and inappropriate. I do think, though, that we need to recognize that 1) the line between positive assimilationism and unpleasant nativism isn’t nearly as clean in practice as it is in theory, and 2) that just because there are xenophobes on one side of a particular debate doesn’t mean that you can discount everything that side has to say.
On these points, we're in agreement, and I've tried to highlight responsible arguments from folks on the other side of the mosque issue, whether Rod Dreher's attempt to tease out the factors that explain why people have reacted to it so differently, or Claire Berlinski's efforts to ask tough questions about Imam Rauf and his approach to bridge-building. In case it isn't clear, I also think that Mr. Douthat's writing on assimilation is an invaluable addition to the debate -- basically everything he writes is -- even if we aren't in agreement.
Agreeing with my thoughts on immigrants to America and the English language, Mr. Douthat points out that some people would denounce them as bigoted, as they did during the California fight against bilingual education. In my work on immigration, including long ago columns on that very issue, I've always had success articulating even some restrictionist viewpoints without being called a bigot. I like to think that's largely because I don't bear any animosity to immigrants, and my tone reflects that (though it probably helps that I also advocate higher levels of legal immigration, and eventual amnesty for folks already here). I've certainly defended others when they were accused unfairly of bigotry, so I join Mr. Douthat in objecting to that kind of thing, and I do think that due to his higher profile and religiosity, he is unfairly called a bigot more often than I am, always undeservedly. Tellingly, his least fair critics haven't exactly succeeded in keeping him down!