A prominent New Zealand politician was accused of racism on Saturday after a speech in which he said immigrants who did not accept the country's "bedrock values" should not be allowed to stay.
Don Brash, leader of the conservative opposition National Party, defined the values as "an acceptance of democracy and the rule of law, religious and personal freedom and legal equality of the sexes"....
Javed Khan, president of the [New Zealand] Federation of Islamic Associations, told Radio New Zealand the speech made it clear that Brash wanted immigrants to fit his view of a mainstream New Zealander, and therefore excluded people like Muslims.
Pancha Narayanan, president of the Federation of Ethnic Councils, said a comment by Brash that immigrants should have a good command of English, or quickly learn the language, was a sign that he would prefer them to come from English-speaking countries.
He said the speech had an element of racism and an anti-Muslim tone.
Brash's critics' remarks are far more anti-Muslim than anything he said. The critics imply that Muslims inherently reject "democracy and the rule of law, religious and personal freedom and legal equality of the sexes." That is a far more severe indictment of Islam than anything in Brash's speech. Sadly, versions of Islam that do indeed reject these values are all too common in many parts of the world. Hinting at this fact, as Brash did, is not "anti-Muslim" unless one accepts the premise that such views are embedded in the very nature of that religion. Instead of attacking Brash, the leaders of New Zealand's Muslim community would do better to devote their efforts to promoting versions of Islam that embrace the values he listed. By claiming that his statement is anti-Muslim, they merely strengthen the perception that Islam and liberal democratic values are mutually exclusive.
It's also worth noting that Muslims are not a "race," anymore than Christians are. Both religions include adherents of many different races. Even if Brash's remarks really were anti-Muslim, that would not also make them "racist."
Finally, I can personally testify (as can millions of other immigrants in the US and, I presume, in New Zealand) that immigrants from non-English speaking countries can indeed "quickly learn the language." Learning the local language is an important prerequisite for immigrants' economic and social success in any society.
None of these points are particularly profound or original. However, they need to be made because claims that liberal democratic values are "anti-Muslim" and that criticism of radical Islamist ideologies is somehow "racist" are all too common. Those who make such arguments do a disservice to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.