Writing for Salon.com, Marcus Cederstrom has fired the latest shot in the Tebow Wars:
So I ask, what if Tim Tebow were Muslim? How would our society react if during every interview, Tebow said “Insha’Allah” or “Allāhu Akbar” rather than thank his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Or instead of falling to one knee and praying, Tebow pulled out a prayer rug and faced Mecca? A recent study by the Pew Research Center suggests it would not be well received. While American Muslims in general tend be satisfied with their lives and communities in the United States, 55 percent report that being Muslim in the U.S. has become more difficult since Sept. 11. Twenty-eight percent report that people have viewed them with suspicion and 22 percent report having been called offensive names. The TLC show “All-American Muslim” has lost advertisers who were pressured by groups claiming that the show was Islamic propaganda. Yet Pat Robertson claims that the United States is a breeding ground for anti-Christian bigotry.
I don’t have answers to these questions. We can’t know the answers until we are faced with a prominent Muslim athlete who is willing to be so visible with his faith. In a country that consistently prides itself on freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion – we can hope that Muslim athletes who are visible with their faith would find themselves just as revered as Tebow is for his.
On the one hand, Cederstrom has a point. Can’t you almost hear the chorus of outrage from certain pundits and bloggers if a prominent NFL player dropped to his knees, faced Mecca, and prayed to Allah? They would treat it as something insidious, as smoking gun evidence that teh jeehad has infiltrated the NFL. If you doubt that, let’s recall how they reacted when Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) wanted to swear his oath of office on his own holy text, the Qur’an, instead of taking his oath on the Bible. That shouldn’t have been controversial given the protections guaranteed by Article VI of the constitution and the First Amendment, but it was anyway.
On the other hand, though, Cederstrom uses two really bad examples to illustrate his point. He points to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Muhammad Ali as evidence that Americans wouldn’t respond well to a prominent Muslim NFL player. But the controversies surrounding Abdul-Rauf and Ali were political rather than religious in nature, although Islam did — according to them — play a role in both controversies. Abdul-Rauf, at the time an NBA player, refused to stand for the national anthem in 1996. In 1966, Ali became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam draft and a conscientious objector.
Whatever one may think of these men and the strong stances they took, comparing them with Tebow is an apples and oranges comparison. So far, Tebow hasn’t taken any strong political positions in which his faith has played a central role. He’s just praying during football games. We can’t know how Americans might have responded to seeing Abdul-Rauf or Ali praying before basketball games or boxing matches absent their political controversies. Maybe it still wouldn’t have been received well. Or maybe it would have gone unnoticed. I can’t know that and neither can Cederstrom.
Bottom line: Doug Mataconis was right when he blogged on Friday that this has all gotten out of hand and needs to stop. Tim Tebow has become something of a pawn in the culture wars and both sides now seem to be afflicted with Tebow Derangement Syndrome. They should consider this particular battle in the culture wars a draw on account of both sides looking equally absurd. With the Broncos’ season over now, let’s put the controversy surrounding Tim Tebow’s faith — a controversy that probably shouldn’t even exist in a free society — to rest. Permanently. Don’t we have anything better to do?