Let's not talibanize political opponents

Posted: Jan 15, 2002 12:00 AM
Twenty-nine years ago, seven men in black robes issued a fatwa. They disregarded the will of the various tribes, as expressed in public opinion polls and in a referendum in one of the northern provinces just two months earlier. Allies of the black robes controlled the airwaves and the state madrassas and not much else, but that proved to be enough. Television broadcasts said the peasants were jubilant about the fatwa, and even though anyone who spent time in the villages knew that wasn't true, it was said often enough that some viewers believed it. At the madrassas, teachers said that opponents of the fatwa were reactionaries who had to be stopped. Some of the teachers acknowledged that the fatwa was not grounded in the sacred scripture as it pretended to be, but they said it would make life better. Without the fatwa, they insisted, the Southern Alliance would take power ... Well, I won't go any further with this game, because I do realize its limitations. Yes, the Supreme Court in 1973 overrode polls and a Michigan referendum to create, on a 7-2 vote, a 24-7-9 month abortion liberty. The Court received media and academic support, although even pro-abortion professors acknowledged that a Constitutional basis for Justice Harry Blackman's decision did not exist. But the parallel should end there, because the United States is not Afghanistan. We still have a democracy, not a regime. The Supremes in recent decades have often sung off-key and so loudly that they have drowned out elected legislatures, but if the populace became aroused, we could see constitutional amendments and new justices. We should reserve phrases like "American Taliban" for the traitorous John Walker Lindh, and not throw it at those who have merely expressed views we dislike. That's not what we're getting in many newspapers and magazines, though. In phase one of an assault late last year, web pundit Andrew Sullivan and New York Times columnists Anthony Lewis and Thomas Friedman equated Islamic and American fundamentalism, and some neoconservatives echoed such blather. Phase two is now beginning, as Democratic politicians move in for the land war. Here's a heads-up from Newsweek's Howard Fineman: "The GOP is out of the mainstream, some Democrats will argue next year, because it's too dependent upon an intolerant 'religious right.' This is an incendiary battle plan -- essentially comparing the GOP right with the Taliban." Fineman lays out the Democrats' talking points: "Our enemy in Afghanistan is religious extremism and intolerance. It's therefore more important than ever to honor the ideals of tolerance -- religious, sexual, racial, reproductive -- at home." Watch the discussion of abortion (aka, "reproductive tolerance") next week as the 29th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision is celebrated and mourned. There won't be a lot of discussion, because many media folks have declared this a settled issue, but I suspect that what there is will include pro-aborts referring to pro-lifers as American Taliban. If some Democratic senators run with that, broadcast media will pick up on it as evidence that Americans are getting fed up with the "religious right." That view will have moved from print journalists to politicians to broadcasters, and then the loop can start again as writers comment on how Christian conservative groups are trying to dodge the label. But here's a prediction: This is a losing game for liberals. Regular folks who hold a sincere belief in God know they aren't like the Taliban. They make distinctions between politics informed by religious and moral values, and politics in which clerics act like dictators. They know that evangelicals emphasize faith, which cannot be forced. They are not trying to destroy other religions. They know that ethical concerns such as slavery, civil rights and abortion have always been the province of religion. If Dems are dumb, they will push their attack on the "American Taliban" and give up whatever ground they still have with some conservative voters. If the GOP is wise, it will fight back hard against any Democratic attempt to demonize Christians who care about inconvenient unborn children and inconvenient ideas.