Kaffeeklatsch: The Woman or the Black?

San Francisco

What in the world are those women doing, sitting with the good china in anguish over the way the choice between Clinton and Obama is impinging on their relationships [“Morning in America,” March 17]? It’s ridiculous for enlightened people to be caught up in the surface qualities of blackness and femaleness in this campaign. Only think of Margaret Thatcher or Clarence Thomas, or cap it off with the worst of both worlds, Condoleezza Rice. “It’s a class struggle, goddammit!” (Fred Hampton). Both breakthrough candidates have shown themselves to be committed to the warmongering, mass-murdering, tax-avoiding, corporate-control-enhancing Mammonite elite that has ruled this country since Shays’s Rebellion was neutralized.

DENNIS CUNNINGHAM


Simpsonville, S.C.

I am an African-American woman. I have lived with discrimination of both race and gender. I have been called a black bitch. Has Gloria Steinem ever been called a white bitch? That women collectively are the most oppressed group may be true. However, white women of a certain class continue to benefit from white privilege.

To tell me I have to support Hillary Clinton because she is a woman is the most sordid type of identity politics. I support Obama but not because he is black. (I consider him biracial like my daughters, 12 and 10, who are excited by his candidacy. He is not African-American in a classic sense because he has no slave ancestry.) If I supported Obama because of his race, I would also have voted for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, which I did not.

CARMEN HARRIS



As Ohio Turns…

Montross, Va.

I commend The Nation on JoAnn Wypijewski’s “Postcards From Ohio” [March 17]. It is by far, by very far, the most informative, moving, thought-provoking and well-written piece I’ve encountered related to this election. Thank you.

JOHN BODDIE



‘Muslim’ Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Boise, Idaho

Naomi Klein is right, of course [“Obama, Being Called a Muslim Is Not a Smear,” March 17]. Implicitly denouncing a candidate for association, albeit untrue, with a particular religion amounts to smearing the religion. When I joined a crowd of 14,000 to hear Obama speak here in Boise (in a state where Democrats are regarded as subversive), I paid very close attention when he brought up the Muslim “slur.” If he did not speak to the underlying bigotry, I would not support him. I was relieved to hear him say the innuendo was insulting to all Muslims.

SUSAN NICHOLS


Jackson Heights, N.Y.

I agree that one’s religion should not become a political albatross, whether you are Muslim, Mormon, Catholic or what have you. As a Korean-American, I’m well aware of why it’s so difficult for minorities. Senator Obama is in the extremely difficult position of having to create the perception of being a political everyman, devoid of ethnocentric interest while maintaining pride (but not too much) in his ethnic identity. If he pulls too far one way, he might be seen as a sellout to whites; if he pulls too far the other way (i.e., rallying to the plight of misrepresented Muslims), he could be perceived as a fringe candidate for blacks or minority issues in general.

A white candidate has the luxury of appearing “impartial” when dispensing political action among minority groups he needs to get elected and can’t be accused of being “too white” or “not white enough.” It’s regrettable that we live in a country where even a hint at Muslim ties would have to be an object of condemnation by a politician.

EDWARD PONTEE



The Religion Wars

London

Daniel Lazare’s review of my book Divided by Faith [“Good Faith,” March 17] does it the compliment of recounting many of the fascinating phenomena my book describes: ways in which people of different faiths managed sometimes to live alongside one another peacefully in an era notorious for religious conflict.

In the end, though, he concludes that my book must be “bad history.” Why? Lazare is fundamentally hostile to religion, and in his review he takes sides with Richard Dawkins and others who see all religion as, at best, false and dangerous. Elsewhere he has claimed that inevitably “even the gentlest religion winds up being violent and tyrannical.” So it is no wonder that he dismisses all the concrete examples I offer of toleration being practiced by people who had not been touched by secularization. It is the latter that Lazare credits for the rise of real toleration. In short, Lazare doesn’t like my politics, or what he thinks are my politics, and he concludes that my history must therefore be bad. I don’t care if he dislikes my politics; I just hope readers see his own crude, error-filled version of the history of toleration for what it is, an ideological construct.

There is just one point on which I’d like to set the record straight. I do not suggest in my book that some religions are better than others, I do not celebrate pietism and I do not suggest a policy of promoting peacefully inclined religions and repressing others. I do believe that religion is never going to disappear and that if ways cannot be found for people of faith to live together peacefully, toleration may be in short supply. If that belief makes me a “hard-core softie,” as Lazare calls me, I accept the label proudly.

BENJAMIN J. KAPLAN



Lazare Replies

New York City

It is Benjamin Kaplan who uses the unfortunate phrase “bona fide religion” in distinguishing between “good faith” sects, which are tolerant of others, and those that are not. This is illogical on any number of grounds, the most important of which is that all faiths are fundamentally intolerant because all believe they represent the one true path. The more fervently they believe this, the more aghast they inevitably wind up being at others’ erroneous ways. And the more aghast they are, the more likely they are to respond with violence when someone says something particularly hateful, e.g., that Jesus never rose from the dead, that Muhammad was just another warlord or that Yahweh never promised Abraham control of all territory from the Nile to the Euphrates. If these were minor details, it wouldn’t matter. But for the truly faithful, they are of world-shaking importance, which is why disagreement is not something they can pass over lightly.

But, hey, it’s not only religion that is intolerant. Science is intolerant of superstition, democracy is intolerant of dictatorship and socialism is intolerant of capitalism. Even tolerance is intolerant, as the Dutch are discovering.

What matters, rather, is not tolerance but truth, a matter that, when it comes to religion, Kaplan wisely avoids.

DANIEL LAZARE