Washington — Few politicians would be happy to read on an international news outlet that they “hemmed and hawed” in response to a question in a public forum.
But such was the case with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, so described by The Guardian in an article on his speech Monday to a conservative group in Washington.
It did not necessarily get any better for the governor. Fox News followed up by inviting Jindal on air Wednesday, when host Megyn Kelly engaged him in a contentious exchange.
But maybe any news is good news for Jindal, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination struggling to attract support in a crowded field.
The subject at hand was immigration.
“In the West, we have a responsibility to insist that those that come into our societies, those that come into our country, assimilate and integrate,” Jindal said in the Monday speech.
“In America, we don’t discriminate against anybody — and we shouldn’t — by race or by creed for those that want to come into our country,” he said.
“But we do insist that folks should not come into our country and use the freedoms we give them to undermine the freedoms we grant to everybody. So in other words, we shouldn’t tolerate those who want to come and try to impose some variant or some version of sharia law ... Because make no mistake about it, the enemy that we face, radical Islamic terrorism, is an enemy that treats women as second-class citizens, it is an enemy infected with evil, that wants to destroy us.”
None of this was terribly new: Jindal made similar points in a speech in London in January that attracted more attention for his assertion — widely discredited — of the existence of Muslim “no-go” zones in Europe. And he has publicly reaffirmed his views several times since.
During Jindal’s question-and-answer session after the Monday speech, I asked the governor if he meant to impose some kind of a “belief test” on immigrants.
“The line I would draw is, you have the right to believe whatever you want in our country, as long as you’re not harming somebody else,” Jindal said. “But we do think it’s wrong for people to try to impose those beliefs on others.”
As a follow-up, I asked whether imposing beliefs isn’t pretty much central to the political process, as in, for example, legislating on reproductive rights.
Jindal dismissed any notion of equivalence — suggested or not — between Islamic extremism and the pro-life views he fervently espouses. He then “hemmed and hawed,” per The Guardian.
“It’s not culturally arrogant to say that we believe in freedom here,” he said, “and we believe for everybody to have that freedom, and it’s not your right to stop somebody else from having those freedoms of self-expression, religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
Jindal’s speech drew criticism from some American Muslim organizations, referenced in Kelly’s introduction to her segment with him.
Kelly said the view that “‘if you believe in sharia law, then you won’t be allowed into the United States’ is controversial.
“Who decides how far into sharia law you have to be?” she asked. “Who decides who’s a radical Islamist and who’s just an Islamist?”
“In America, we say you have the right to believe what you want as long as you’re not harming others,” Jindal said. “You don’t have the right to come here and say, for example, that you think women should be treated as second class citizens....”
Kelly jumped in before Jindal finished.
“Why don’t you have that right?” she asked. “Why not? This is a country with lots of crazy beliefs. And actually some religions continue to treat women as second-class citizens. And it’s not just some forms of Islam. Are we going to start banning everybody who doesn’t treat women, or children, or criminals for that matter, the way we like?”
“In America, we want people who want to be Americans,” Jindal said.
“We don’t say you have to adopt our creed or any particular creed,” he said. “But we do say if you come here, you need to believe in American exceptionalism.”
“How are we going to enforce that?” Kelly asked. “This is a country where we believe in free speech, freedom of ideas. And people are allowed to believe anything they want — even if it’s nuts.”
In that last comment, it would seem, there’s some consolation for everybody.
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is email@example.com and is on Twitter @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/