Monthly Archives: November 2009

Islamophobia is bad but it is a good step

A national ban on an architectural element seems silly but the vote to stop the construction of minarets in Switzerland is a real accomplishment. The people of a mature country have peacefully expressed a strong collective feeling against what they perceive as a grave threat. The tragedy is that they identified the threat as the Islamic religion.

The real threat is more general, more widespread, and more dangerous than Islam. It took something as extreme as Islamic extremism to trigger a cultural awareness of it. Unfortunately, like the ringing of an alarm clock, the first thing to awaken consciousness is for a time the only piece of reality about which we are aware. Islamic extremism is the alarm clock.

The supporters of the minaret ban see the growth of the Muslim population as an aggressive cultural invasion. They don’t see an immigrant minority that deserves state protection. They see settlers from a destructive culture claiming their country. They feel vilified within their homeland by outsiders and they are afraid that their politicians will continue to insist on irrational “religious tolerance” despite the intolerant attitudes spread through Islam.

National Islamophobia is a phase whose time has come. It is extreme, prejudiced, and wrong, but it is the natural reaction against the wrong actions of extremists trying to universalize Islam. Two wrongs do make a right when everyone learns a lesson. The lesson here is that no protection for status, be it religion, race, sex, or what have you, is deserved when it is used for harm.

Religions have been invoked to excuse atrocious behavior since ages before the life of Muhammad. So have other statuses such as race, color, nationality, and sex. The world tends to absolve these harmful trends after a reform and some generations. And the human race eventually learns a lesson.

I see the minaret ban as a sign that the world is just beginning to reject religion as an excuse for bad behavior. Peaceful Muslims will work with non-Muslims to prevail over the radical perversion of Islam. This time will pass into history and be replaced by a time of rational discrimination and careful tolerance. I hope I’m right, the sooner the better.

Whiskey Halloween

Zoe and I had a nice trip to New Orleans for Halloween. Her friend there is the publisher of a food magazine so we ate at some excellent places and enjoyed a private Halloween party. We spent a total of 30 seconds on Bourbon Street during the crush of the night’s festivities, which was long enough for a reveler to bump into me, apologize, and plead for his life. (I wasn’t in costume. Am I really scary?)

We stayed around the corner from the Canal end of Bourbon Street. I’m a bourbon enthusiast. My current obsession is the Antique Collection, five small-batch whiskeys released once a year from the Buffalo Trace distillery. I already had bottles of all but the most difficult to find, the George T. Stagg bourbon. When Zoe and I toured that distillery this summer we found none for sale within 100 miles. When I tried to pre-order Stagg from my local store I learned that the distributor’s entire allotment was already allocated.

Bourbon hunting is a serious game. It’s like Pokemon. So when we sat down for a late dinner Friday night at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House I had to ask for Stagg. The waiter asked the bartender and was told they were out. I shrugged and had a Sazerac cocktail instead.

On the way to lunch the next day we stopped again at the Bourbon House for a drink. This time I sat at the bar and scanned the bottles myself. I saw antlers. I was going to get my drink!

The bartender picked up on my enthusiasm and we talked about this and other bourbons. She put the bottle on the bar for my inspection and handed me the distillery’s letter of pedigree. Then she gave us the name of a liquor store in the French Quarter that might carry it.

After lunch we found the store. They had three bottles of Stagg on the shelf. I asked whether they limited the sale of rare whiskeys. Nope, just buy what you want. So I got a case (three bottles) and walked straight back to the Bourbon House to thank the bartender. She made my day and then some.

I later found out via Google and Wikipedia that George T. Stagg is nicknamed “Hazmat” when it is more than 70% alcohol (140 proof) which is the maximum concentration allowed by the FAA on commercial flights. The 2009 proof is 141.4. Stop by for a taste but let’s not talk about how I got these bottles back home.