Is Ross Douthat an Islamophobe?

I was genuinely shocked to read Ross Douthat’s New York Times Opinion column yesterday that voiced full-throated support and approval for French Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Let’s be clear, Ms Le Pen and her National Front party (FN) are both racist and xenophobic marked by both strident Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Quite tellingly, Mr. Douthat spends most of his column defending Le Pen against the anti-Semitism charges, while blithely dismissing the accusations of Islamophobia with two short paragraphs. First he states,

“Some argue that Le Pen has simply replaced anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. But her attacks on Islamic fundamentalism and her defense of a strict public secularism have been echoed by many mainstream French politicians. An argument for quarantining her perspective would apply to Nicolas Sarkozy or François Fillon, not just her.”

Apparently to Douthat, bigotry is justified if everyone is doing it. Fortunately for France not everyone is doing it. Indeed, Le Pen and FN have successfully differentiated themselves from the mainstream parties by their extremist views on Islamic immigration. There are at least three key areas in which Le Pen has gone far beyond the immigration restrictions proposed by the other political parties:

  1. She wants a total immigrant ban.
  2. She wants to curtail or end benefits such as healthcare and education to immigrants.
  3. She continually repeats her #Racist slogan “France is for the French” and promises to make France “more French.”

All of the mainstream parties have condemned the above positions as Islamophobia, and so while Douthat is correct that certain aspects of her anti-immigrant program have trickled down into the platforms of the other candidates, he is wrong to insinuate that the more extremist measures have been adopted. Indeed, he quite deceptively ignores these more extremist positions, as well as the fact that the political mainstream have united against Le Pen calling her a threat to the Republic.

In a second paragraph Douthat states,

“There is no American equivalent to the epic disaster of the euro, a form of German imperialism with the struggling parts of Europe as its subjects. There is no American equivalent to the challenge of immigrant-assimilation now facing France — no equivalent of the domestic terror threat, the rise of Islamist anti-Semitism, the immigrant enclaves as worlds unto themselves.”

No American equivalent of “mass” immigration in U.S. history? During the third wave of immigration from about 1880 to 1930 about 25 million immigrants from Europe crossed the Atlantic representing almost 25% of the total U.S. population at that time (but hey I guess Europeans don’t count as “immigrants”).

No equivalent of the domestic terror threat? Here are some actual data:

No anti-Semitism in American history? I beg to differ.

Finally, Douthat condemns the immigrant “ghettos” that do not try to assimilate. Have we not heard this line before from the #Racists?

Le Pen: “The third-world demographic push is accelerating,” she warned. “There is a migratory submersion which is sweeping everything before it.”

“Will we be able to live much longer as French people in France, while entire neighborhoods are being transformed?”

Le Pen Supporter: “The Arabs and blacks have just moved in here like they own the place but they don’t want to be French.”

Douthat: “the challenge of immigrant-assimilation now facing France … the immigrant enclaves as worlds unto themselves.”

The non-white ghetto has captured and thrilled the imagination of #White Racists for time immemorial. Why do non-whites congregate in one area? Perhaps because they are being persecuted. Is there something intrinsically wrong with having more than one culture flourish in a nation? Is Mr. Douthat the type of person who patrols East L.A., or Chinatown, or Koreatown, or Little Saigon rebuking recent immigrants to “say it in English?”

What is the problem? Is something about a Brown Muslim that is fundamentally antithetical to the French Republic?

Last night, Josh tweeted the following observation that struck me as quite astute:

Douthat concludes his opinion piece by stating that “some of Le Pen’s controversial positions are straightforwardly correct.

She is right that France as a whole, recent immigrants as well as natives, would benefit from a sustained mass-immigration halt.”

These words are straight from the FN platform. Indeed, the whole piece could have been written by Le Pen or her speech writer. Douthat uses the term “mass immigration” twice which is a favorite expression of Le Pen who constantly talks about the massive immigration of foreigners. It is as if Douthat is a willing and enthusiastic mouthpiece for Le Pen’s anti-Islamic bigotry using wording that could have come from an FN pamphlet.

What about the #FACTS? Is there “actually” a mass immigration occurring in France today? As usual Douthat provides no data or evidence, just his cherished opinions.

Let’s be clear there has been no “mass” or “massive” immigration wave in modern France. This is a whipped up exaggeration by Le Pen that Douthat is only too happy to repeat. In recent years, there have been approximately 200,000 immigrants per year (France’s population is ~ 65 million), and of these 200,000 about 50% are from Europe, and about 30% from Africa (mainly Muslims from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia). Does this sound like a “mass” Islamic immigration wave? We are talking about 60,000 people per year or about 0.1% of the French population.

My concern is that the bigotry of Le Pen should not and cannot be normalized. Across the political spectrum, France is united against Le Pen and FN. Among France’s allies, the only national leader who has voiced support for the xenophobia of Le Pen is Trump, a fact that was noticed by The New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin who sounded the alarm:

Given that our bigoted president has endorsed Le Pen, why should it matter that some New York Times columnist has done the same?

Mr. Martin followed that tweet with a second pointing to the excellent article on Le Pen by Adam Nossiter that I quote above:

I doubt that Mr. Douthat’s advocacy of the xenophobic Le Pen is swayed much by a “blog” post written by a secularist such as myself. However as a “traditional” Catholic, perhaps he should heed the words of the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, who has spoken out forcefully against the anti-immigrant populism in France and other countries including the U.S.

We must take a stand against prejudice and bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head; we must make our stand and oppose the bigots and their enablers.