On May 5, 2016, London elected Sadiq Khan its new mayor. Khan is a Muslim and the son of Pakistani immigrants. The anthropologist in me sought a thorough understanding of how this seismic shift was being received by England's Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I wanted to know what demographics supported Khan, who opposed him, and who took his victory as a serious blow. I wanted to know what significant statements Khan had made about his own history-making place in society.
I turned to NPR. In lieu of news, I heard a blast from a confetti cannon. NPR journalists are nothing if not expert at using every feature of their voice to instruct the listener in the correct response. Pauses, high pitch, sighs, monosyllables snippily clipped, all conduct the listener's progress as deftly and firmly as your tour guide at a super-max prison. This day the NPR announcer was giddy. Surely Khan's election was as worthy of unalloyed celebration as the rescue of a kitten from a well. It was as if Mayor Khan had saved Britain from a long, dark night in which only – ew, yuck – Christians had held office. Khan's election lifted some medieval curse.
I mentioned my frustration on Facebook: "Cairo, Egypt surprised the world today by electing a Christian Englishman as mayor. Next on NPR, we explore how this will impact the world's most populous Arab nation."
In that imaginary scenario, journalists would do the real work of exploring how millions of Muslim Arabs felt about being governed by a Christian Englishman. These Muslims would not be pressured to smile and announce their multiculturalism. They would not be shamed if they expressed anxiety. Reporters would merely take it down if their Muslim informants invoked the Crusades, colonialism, white supremacy, or Islamic sanctions against Muslims being ruled by Christians.
Demographers would astutely analyze population shifts, culture shifts, and the social anxiety that inevitably follow – as documented by Harvard's Robert Putnam and other social scientists. The information would be treated as a neutral commodity. There would be no badge of virtue in celebrating this English, Christian Cairo mayor, and no stigma or exclusion in questioning what his election means.
I'd like to hear a reporter calmly ask Khan, "How do you, a devout Muslim, understand qisas and diyya? This system attributes a sliding scale of value to human beings, with Muslim males on the top and Pagan females at the bottom. How do you understand the Koran's command that Muslims not take Jews or Christians as friends? How, as mayor, will you navigate Islam's prohibitions surrounding men talking to women?"
I'm Polish, American, and Catholic. I get asked tougher questions regularly. Wake me up in the middle of the night, shine a light in my face, and ask me to give my position on the priest sex abuse crisis, the Inquisition, or Vietnam. I respect people's concerns about these issues and I've done research to respond responsibly – that's what the Bible tells me to do in 1 Peter 3:15; it's what Thomas Jefferson said Americans must do in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. I wasn't asking any more of Khan than others have asked of me.
I posted my frustration that Khan's election was being treated as a litmus test for righteousness. "Marek," a Facebook friend who lives in England, chided me. "Religion plays far less of a role in British political life than in America," Marek tut-tutted. He argued that Khan's religion was not worthy of discussion, and that Khan is a model multiculturalist. Marek posted a photo of Khan standing next to a Christian cleric, and he reported that Khan voted for "marriage equality." Marek closed with, "I will forebear from commenting in depth on the irony of an American pontificating on racial tensions."
Khan-boosting like Marek's can be found all over the web. Again, like Marek, there is the competitive factor: Khan's election is an ornament showing that the English, unlike Americans, are not mired in racial strife. The single most disturbing factoid used to quash any serious discussion of Khan's historic win: Khan attended the UK's Holocaust memorial ceremony; therefore, he must be a really good guy.
Let's get serious. Ken Livingstone is the former mayor of London. He is a leader of the Labour Party. Last month Livingstone said that Hitler was a Zionist. He said this after Naz Shah, another Labour pol, was revealed to have posted on Facebook in 2014 that Jews should be expelled from the Middle East. The Labour Party, Khan's party, faces charges of being anti-Semitic.
What freshly-elected public official, especially under these circumstances, wouldn't attend the UK's official Holocaust memorial ceremony? Khan did something that is as necessary, normal, and tactically beneficial for a politician as kissing babies and eating rubber chicken. In any case, Khan's visit "unleashed an anti-Semitic twitter barrage," according to Haaretz. (The Forward mostly likes Khan.)
Marek's comments praising Khan and pooh-poohing my desire for a deeper discussion of his election felt, to me, like the heavy hand of thought control. The official narrative: there is no tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in England. Anyone who even asks how Khan's religion affects the worldview of various demographic groups in the UK is race-baiting. There is nothing to see here. Move along.
I disagreed with Marek. I stated my disagreement in a series of photos. I posted a photo of Anjem Choudary. I posted a photo of Lee Rigby, in his scarlet uniform, holding his son, Jack. I posted a meme of mug shots of four of the Rotherham rapists. I posted a link to an article about an increase in attacks on Jews in London.
In the Sunday Times, Trevor Philips wrote, "Liberal opinion in Britain has, for more than two decades, maintained that most Muslims are just like everyone else … data collected by the respected research firm ICM shows what the polling experts call 'a chasm' opening between Muslims and non-Muslims on such fundamentals as marriage, relations between men and women, schooling, freedom of expression and even the validity of violence in defense of religion … the gaps between Muslim and non-Muslim youngsters are nearly as large as those between their elders."
Mind, Trevor Philips is former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and he is current Deputy Chairman of the Board of the National Equality Standard. He helped to popularize the term "Islamophobia" and to suppress criticism of Islam. He's not your stereotypical white supremacist xenophobe. He's a black, Guianese career liberal.
I could not, though, post the above-mentioned poll. Facebook had blocked me from posting further. Facebook sent me two posts it deemed offensive. One was the meme of the Rotherham rapists. The other was the image of Lee Rigby holding his son. Someone had reported those posts. My guess is that that someone was Marek, but I have no way of knowing. I checked Facebook again 24 hours later; I still could not post. I checked again 36 hours later; my ability to post had been restored.
During my time of being blocked from Facebook, I received an email from a friend. "I wondered how long it would be before someone reported you to the FB police. You speak too clearly and un-politically correctly for the liberal society at large. When you are able to post again, tone it down a bit."
I thought of the times I received private messages from Facebook friends saying that they agreed with what I had posted, but they could not endorse my post with so much as a "like," never mind a comment, because "My name would be attached. People I know might see. There would be trouble."
A friend's posts about the latest episode of Game of Thrones always had the "public" setting. Anyone can see those posts. If the friend voiced second thoughts about the Black Lives Matter movement, the settings suddenly became "Friends only."
Recently a successful, published university professor wrote to compliment my writing. He told me he had to write me privately because all of his public material addressing jihad is under a pseudonym.
I was lucky enough to be a student in Poland 1988-89. I was one of millions of foot soldiers dismantling the Soviet Empire. We all ran from water cannons and tear gas. Some of us were arrested and beaten up. Some lost jobs, were kicked out of school, or had their passports taken away. I never heard any of my fellow protestors say, "Tone it down a bit."
I am sad that in the free West "tone it down a bit" is considered the best option. I am disheartened that Facebook, and universities – not the Stasi or the Zomo – are able to intimidate free-thinking people into suppression of the exercise of their free speech rights.
Finally, let me confuse those most comfortable thinking in stereotypes. On May 13, 2014, I voted for Andre Sayegh for mayor of my city, Paterson, NJ. When I voted for him, I assumed that he was a Muslim. I am now not sure what his religion is – I just asked him via a Facebook post and he did not respond, and I respect his reticence. I voted for him because I have interacted with him personally and I think he would have done better than current Mayor Jose Torres, who has been accused of corruption.
Sadiq Khan? I know next to nothing about him, or about his reception and impact. That's why I so hoped for a real, probing news account. What I got, instead, was coercion, censorship, and silencing.
The antagonist in this story is not a Muslim. I don't know who reported me, but my best guess is Marek, a Catholic. Mark Zuckerberg is not a Muslim. His employees admit to tinkering with Facebook settings to suppress conservative news.
And, finally, I have a Facebook friend, Sandy McReynolds, who posts overtly anti-Christian and anti-Conservative material. I have never reported him. I don't block him. I haven't sent his name to his boss.
When Sandy posts anti-Christian material, I argue with him. He has called me stupid and crazy. I have called him a hatemonger. We have been friends for thirty years. My life would be less without Sandy in it. Given that he sees the world so differently than I do, contact with him teaches me things I would not otherwise learn. Freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, not demonizing those with whom we disagree, and diverse friendships: the Politically Correct should give them all a whirl.