It's not exactly a lot of fun having to stick up for Jerry Falwell. This is especially the case when he's done something as dumb as calling Muhammad, the founder of Islam, a "terrorist" on a recent "60 Minutes" installment.
And yet, in the undignified back and forth over the meaning and nature of Islam that seems to play out between conservative Christians and Muslim groups roughly once a week in this country, it may be that Muslims -- or at least, the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- behaved worse in this instance.
Writing in late September, the National Review's Byron York took a telling swipe at Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Contrasting their relatively cozy treatment of conservative University of Utah law professor Michael McConnell, whom President Bush has nominated for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with their rejection of Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen, York gleefully noted that McConnell is, if anything, more stridently anti-abortion. "Owen, it seems," York concluded, "just didn't know the right people."
"We're slightly off course. But we wanted to let the trainee run the boat," jokes Chellie Pingree over the din of an outboard motor. It's a chilly, starlit September night off the coast of Rockland, Maine, and Pingree -- a onetime farmer, divorced mother of three, former owner of a wool-knitting business and progressive Democratic Senate candidate -- is providing navigation advice laced with good-natured jabs. Soon she pauses to explain some nautical terminology: A "gong" is a buoy equipped with a bell that rings when waves slap against it; a "spindle" is a tall metal pole with a reflector light that warns boaters about ledges of rock jutting out of the water.
In late January, The New York Times ran an influential story with the headline "Some for Abortion Rights Lean Right in Cloning Fight." Certain members of the "political left," Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg revealed, had united with religious conservatives to support a ban on not only human reproductive cloning -- that is, on cloning used to create new beings -- but also on what is known as "therapeutic cloning," the cloning of human embryos for research purposes.
In his recent book Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, Francis Fukuyama writes, "Cloning is the opening wedge for a series of new technologies that will ultimately lead to designer babies...If we get used to cloning in the near term, it will be much harder to oppose germ-line engineering for enhancement purposes in the future." For this reason, argues Fukuyama, the current cloning debate amounts to "an important strategic opportunity to establish the possibility of political control over biotechnology." The buck -- or, if you prefer, the biotech -- must stop here.