December 26, 2006

The Tolerance of Virgil Goode, Congressman for Virginia

Virgil Goode, Republican Congressman from Virginia sent this letter to a constituent in December (comments have been made on other blogs):

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-4605

December 7, 2006

Mr. John Cruickshank
7—— S—————————— Dr.
Earlysville, VA 22936

Dear Mr. Cruickshank:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Virgil H. Goode, Jr.
70 East Court Street
Suite 215
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151

I'm not sure quite how this letter can be interpreted except as racist- this isn't an argument against immigration based on space, based on the welfare state, but an argument based on the need to avoid contamination from non-WASP or non-European elements- this is a quite flagrantly racist letter and what makes it worse is that when questioned by journalists about the letter, Congressman Goode said that

I wrote the letter. I think it speaks for itself

so at least we know that there is no misconstruction, no extenuating reason, according to the Congressman himself its fair to understand his views from the letter- so we know that the Congressman is terrified by the arrival of Muslims because they might want to swear oaths on the Koran and also might elect other Muslims. He doesn't like non-European immigration and he feels threatened by Muslims exercising their democratic rights.

Now those would be views that you would expect to find in a fringe Republican intellectual- some nobody from nowhere'sville, but this isn't a nobody but a US Congressman- I'm looking forward to seeing whether he gets a primary challenge in 2008 or is forced to issue a better explanation- if he isn't or doesn't then just like the unchallenged Trent Lott, it says something about how racially inclusive the Republican Party is.

NOTE Tom Paine in the comments has said that I've been too quick to jump to an accusation of bigotry. He also corrects me that it isn't racism- we do need a word to describe this because attacks on a person because of their religious faith instead of their race are becoming more common. There are in my view legitimate attacks on particular ideas- or versions- but you can't attack legitimately the essence of a religion because as I've argued here there are problems especially with the biggest religions of the world in defining an essence for that religion. In truth the definition of what a religion is is a real problem- my own position for what its worth, analysed with respect to Islam in that earlier post, is that a religious person- so a Muslim say- is a person who takes up a position in a particular language game where one of the rules of the game is the use of the Koran or Hadith as a font of legitimacy.


Tom Paine said...

Islam is not a race, so the "racism" thing is not applicable. If you feel he's unfair to Muslims, then maybe that's right but he's entitled to a view that a religion that, for example, treats women badly has no place in the USA.

I would not personally be so quick to accuse people of bigotry. It dampens debate. Is that what you want?

Gracchi said...

Tom thanks for your comment. I think there are three substantial points that I want to deal with in your post so I'm going to number them and go through it.

1. You are entirely right to say that I shouldn't have used the word racism, this is prejudice against a religion not a race if its prejudice. I've corrected the post above in a later note but thanks for correcting my vocabulary there- we do need a new word for prejudice against religion.

2. I do think that he is being unfair to Muslims because he is equating all Muslims together as a group and not providing an argument for their exclusion. Presumably he would if pressed provide one about women or extremism but I think it would be unfair to say that x is a Muslim and therefore shares the views of the average Muslim. Muslims vary incredibly just like Christians, why should they all be defined in the same way by their faith. I have Muslim friends who condemn entirely the attitudes of the Iranians- more so than some Christians but who is to be identified with the Ayatollahs my friends because they share the name Muslim or the Christian right who are closer to them in ideas.

3. On the women point. Its interesting I wonder whether that's got more to do with economic development than religion. Christianity didn't treat women particularly well until this century- and it and Judaism share their scriptures with Islam so I would have thought that's more to do with the sociology and economics of societies in which contemporary Muslims find themselves in rather than anything intrinsic to Islam.

Thanks for commenting.

Ian said...

Yes, Gracchi, yes and thrice yes. I think that this is one of the key issues around the whole shaky edifice of the alleged clash of civilisations. Islam is not monolithic, but it suits certain commentators to treat it as though all its adherents shared the views of the extremists. Tom, please be assured I am not seeking to include you in the ranks of these commentators.

Gracchi, your point about the treatment of women also merits a wider airing. My view is similar: it suits men in a patriarchal society to keep women subordinate, and so they reach for a reading of their religion to justify this, rather than religion forcing men to do something that opposes their interests (as they see them).

Tom, do you think Congressman Goode would be so harsh about Mormons, some of whom practice polygamy, whilst others see this practice as demeaning women? I believe there might be one or two Mormons in Utah, for example...

Gracchi said...

Thanks Ian- I agree with you on all of that- especially the disclaimer about Tom and the way he thinks about Islam. I should have made that clear.

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree with your view. But it is not one hundred percent racism since Islam does not limit itself to one race. I think the representative is purely a bigot without a clear understanding of the religion or any religion for that matter. If he is right then we must equate the KKK with Christianity

james higham said...

...Tom Paine in the comments has said that I've been too quick to jump to an accusation of bigotry. He also corrects me that it isn't racism- we do need a word to describe this because attacks on a person because of their religious faith instead of their race are becoming more common...

Fraid I'm with Tom on this one. This might be so or not, the anti-Muslim thing but it seems to me it's more a pro-America thing and the traditions and basis of the country which are under attack.

Ian said...

James, is it as straightforward as all that? It is possible to construct a version of America that emphasises the right to profess the religion of one's choosing. As I understand it, the Pilgrim Fathers left England to pursue that right, after all, and it would be an interesting version of America that did not account somehow for the pilgrims in its canon of traditions.

pjgoober said...

A cost-benefit analysis, with lives being weighted the most, is the best way to approach Virgil Goode's sole policy proposal, which is a halt to muslim immigration.

Whatever the outcome of a cost benefit analysis, it will only be valid if it is actually acknowledged that muslim immigration, student studying, and tourist visits has a cost in treasure and lives, which September 11th, the Los Angeles El Al ticket counter shooting, the first WTC bombing, the London bombing, the Madrid train bombing, and numerous averted terrorist attacks show. Nearly every ledger has two sides to be acknowledged, and this is no exception. The outcome doesn't have to be all or nothing either. I believe that the optimal policy is reduced muslim immigration from the current ~40,000 per year to something like ~10,000 per year. We'd keep most of our international prestige and the psychic gain which a non-discriminatory immigration policy gives us, and US muslims wouldn't feel *quite* so hated as a complete ban would make them feel, but we'd have a far slower rate of growth in the sea in which terrorists swim and recruit. If we made sure that the reduced flow was more proportionately the cream of the crop than the current flow is, then we'd have less economic losses (they are highly educated) than pure reduced numbers of muslim immigrants alone would indicate.

Gracchi said...

James I disagree with you- in that I don't think that America or the West indeed have a Christian identity- America seems to me to have a constitutional identity rather than a religious one.

As to Pigoober I disagree with you again the problem with what you say lies in the idea that all the Muslims can be assessed as a group and have a cost to them. We could do it in another way and cost religious people or cost extremists. Muslim is an arbitrary way of organising these people unless its your belief that Islam promotes terrorism- which I disagree with. Some schools of Islam do- but Islam as a whole doesn't. I does seem to me that you ahve to be clear about the connection between Islam and terrorism before you state that a risk of Islamic immigration is terrorism- afterall there have been according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre 60 white neo nazi terrorist attempts over the last ten years in America.

Not Saussure said...

Tom Paine says: he's entitled to a view that a religion that, for example, treats women badly has no place in the USA.

Well, he's entitled to hold any view he wishes, of course, but it would be a rather more sensible view that certain forms of behaviour have no place in the USA, no matter what their purported religious sanction.

It would be absurd, not to mention electoral suicide, for the Congressman to conclude that some forms of Orthodox Judaism apparently put women at a disadvantage -- e.g. in obtaining a divorce without their husband's consent -- that 'Judaism has no place in the USA', just as it would be absurd for him to conclude from the sad fact that some nut-cases think their faith requires them to bomb clinics where abortions are performed, and to assassinate surgeons who perform abortions, that 'Christianity has no place in the USA'.

As to what to call the Congressman's attitude, I agree 'racism' is an inappropriate term; what's wrong with calling it 'sectarianism' or 'religious bigotry'? That's the term I'd use for Congressman Goode's ideological predecessors in the Know-Nothing Party of the 1860s, who vehemently objected to too many Irish and German immigrants coming over and bringing their dangerous and un-American Roman Catholicism with them. This prejudice, of course, was still a very real element in living memory, in some of the the opposition to John F Kennedy's presidential election campaign. It seems improbable that the habit of religious bigotry has vanished in such a religious country as the USA in so short a time.

Gracchi said...

Not Saussure I should have thought of religious bigotry you are right. Excluding people based on views not behaviour is an interesting one- and one I agree with I find it much harder to prove someone has a view than has done something.