‘I don’t like fatwas.”
The words come from Bill Maher. The HBO comedian was tweeting his disapproval of the campaign to deprive Rush Limbaugh of his sponsors. Especially distressing for Mr. Maher is that the campaign continues even though Mr. Limbaugh has apologized for his rude remarks about the Georgetown Law student who had testified before Congress on behalf of the contraceptive mandate.
Mr. Maher’s “defense,” of course, may have more to do with self-defense. For in the midst of the ritual denunciations of Mr. Limbaugh, it has emerged that liberals—Mr. Maher included—have long called conservative women things far more vulgar. That has led to embarrassing explanations of why Mr. Maher gets a pass, and whether the super PAC backing President Obama should return the million dollars that Mr. Maher has donated.
Even more surprising than Mr. Maher’s defense of Mr. Limbaugh, however, has to be his use of “fatwa.” These days when a liberal invokes Islamic language or imagery, typically it’s directed against someone like Mr. Limbaugh instead of in defense of him. Indeed, a foreigner surveying our mainstream media might be surprised to find out how frequently Islamic terminology such as “fatwa,” “mullah,” “jihad,” “Shariah” and “ayatollah” are used in a completely opprobrious sense—provided they are directed against Republicans or conservatives.
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen gave us a perfect example recently, when he opened a February column about GOP candidate Rick Santorum this way: “Mullah Rick has spoken.” Mr. Cohen described Mr. Santorum’s political platform as a “fatwa” and fretted that the Republican’s “divisive approach” calls to mind history’s warning about how “the public square gets used for beheadings and the like” when religion “takes too prominent a role.”
He is by no means alone. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” New York Times columnist Bill Keller worried that Mr. Santorum might be “creeping up on a kind of Christian version of Shariah law.” Last year a fellow Times columnist, Joe Nocera, suggested that America had been horrified to watch the “jihad” that tea-party Republicans were waging on the country, and he urged them to “put aside their suicide vests.” A month earlier, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews likened Republicans negotiating the debt ceiling with the president to “the Wahhabis of American government,” a reference to the Islamic sect whose strict rule defines life in Saudi Arabia.
What’s interesting about all these usages is that they come without nuance. The liberals who deploy them mean them in their full pejorative sense: with “jihad” shorthand for a brutal war of fanaticism, “mullah” implying a religious fanatic, “Shariah” a synonym for an inhumane system of law, and so on. What’s also interesting is that none of these words was invoked to describe an actual mullah, an actual fatwa, or an actual suicide bomber.
When it comes to these very real areas, liberal America proves far more reluctant to speak forthrightly. In the 2008 presidential campaign, sensitivities were such that even references to the Democrat’s middle name were deemed bad form.