Bjørn Stærk has a post about the problem with calls to ban Islam. The Volokh Conspiracy has a follow on about the problem with saying something like “Muslims believe X” for any X, especially in the case where X is a specific moral or political topic as opposed to a core tenet of the religion. Volokh says that we in the West would be unlikely to make the same type of ascription to Christians. I think he’s wrong or at least off base in two ways.
It is in fact a common occurence for political factions in the USA to ascribe consistent beliefs about particular issues to Christians, frequently rather over the top ones. Listen to any militant atheist. There’s also no shortage of the same type of thing with regard to Jews here or more commonly in Europe or Arabia. I agree with Volokh that sweeping statements of belief about specific topics are unsound but hardly uncommon.
The bigger problem is that, at least in the West, there’s not much public discussion among Muslims on political or social topics. One reason that it’s hard to justify sweeping statements about Christians is that there is much public argument so it’s easy to find Christians on both sides of an issue. However, in the USA the public discources involving Muslims is limited to a few organizations such as CAIR. There are, as far as I can tell, quite uniform in their political beliefs and correspond well with the stereotypes that Stærk complains of. I would suggest that this, as much as any nativism or parochialism, drives much of the Islamophobia. As a parallel, consider how much damage the capture of the public face of Black America by race baiters such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson has done. This isn’t to say that there is no discussion inside the ummah, but that if such discussion does exist it is largely invisible to the general public, unlike policy disputes among Christians. While one can argue how much of the blame lies with the Ummah and how much with Old Media, the fact remains that combating anti-Islamic views will face an uphill battle as long as there is a single public face of Islam.