Monday, September 6, 2010

Predictable irrationality

I have many friends and family members who have joined the likes of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (both of whom I watch and like) to decry the backlash against the building of mosques around the US, most notably the proposed community center near ground zero.

My new friend Eric Bell is shooting a documentary about the opposition to the mosque that is being built in Murfreesboro Tennessee. I have not seen any of the footage yet, but in my conversation with him, he took issue with the irrational fear, prejudice and hatred that is now arising in America to muslims. The broad brush that many are applying to any and all muslims in this country and abroad was, in his eyes based on fear based perception fueled by propaganda and not based on factual evidence.

To be clear, I am not disputing his argument. The only issue I have is that Eric does not seem to addressing what I believe are the conditions necessary for this irrational fear to arise and for the propaganda to gain credence. Many people take issue with how the actions of a few will then be used to impugn whole segments of a population - and I do as well. The biggest differentiating fact for me is the lack of any tractable or visible evidence that the muslim community is doing anything to address the "rotten apples".

I do not deny that there are pockets of muslims and imams who denounce the actions of those who endorse and participate in violent acts and claim that this is not what islam is about. I do not deny that I can't tell you where the line is for me in terms of "what level of action is enough". These sorts of arguments contain the hidden assumption that we are somewhere close to "enough" right now and if one or two more things were done than that would be sufficient. I believe that in order for rationality to take hold in the American populace - there is an enormous abyss that must be not only crossed but also filled. Crossed with words and filled with deeds.

What sections of the islamic community speak out or act when the Libyan nation state routinely celebrates the Lockerbie Bomber?

What sections of the islamic community speak out or act in relation to the Iranian death sentence given to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani? As far as I have seen, France and the Vatican are leading the way and the Islamic nation-states are silent.

What sections of the islamic community speak out or act when the Palestinian people elect into office a group of people whose life mission circles around violence and death? What sections of the islamic community are now speaking out as women's rights are being curtailed in gaza by the Hamas government?

The voices I have heard and the actions I have seen coming from the islamic community are ones of defensiveness around the prejudicial perceptions and not around taking back their religion or their governments. The voices I have heard blame fear of retribution by the extremist elements if they were to speak out or stand against the violence and rhetoric. This, in my mind, is just as much to blame for the mass prejudice and fear, and I honestly find it to be a completely predictable irrational reaction.

When there is at least one islamic group or nation state who begins to turn the tide of violence in the world that is when it will be most opportune to start working on the prejudice and fear here in this country. Any attempts to do otherwise are equally irrational in that they will not be successful in changing the public opinion. They may indeed bolster the opinion in that they seem like defensive words intended to pacify the rage with no visible attempt to address the source.

Rating:

Irrational fear - garbage
Condemnation of irrational fear with no share responsibility - crap


19 comments:

anomalogue said...

Fish, you're talking crap.

The problem has less to do with irrational fear and everything to do with a lack of good faith effort to understand meaningful difference -- motivated by the desire to have an enemy.

Do you really think the ground zero protesters have looked into who the Park51 group really is, or what they believe?

We can come up with a thousand things Park51 ought to do, but in the end the protesters are using this group as a lightning rod for its generalized rage. If Park51 did all these things you think they are obligated to do, and these things actually worked (which is doubtful) the protesters would find some other scapegoat category to accept the blame for their political and religious irritability.

Anyone who looks like they fit the hated category du jour is obligated to explain to them why he is not personally responsible for their bad feeling -- and probably while being screamed at and accused of all sorts of things.

The perceptions, anxiety and rage of these protesters is their own responsibility. If they wanted to feel better they could do some simple research and learn about this group (http://park51.org/faq.htm). But that is not their goal. They do not want to feel better. They want an enemy. They've got what they want.

The rest of us should not indulge them. YOU, personally, should stop making excuses for them. Otherwise, you are complicit. Not as an American, or as a member of the middle class, or as a white man, or as a conservative -- (that would be bigotry) -- but as an active (albeit indirect) participant in it: an enabler.

Strip them of excuses, and force them to take responsibility for their own understandings and misunderstandings.

Rating:
Forcing others to disabuse you of your own bad-faith prejudices - garbage.
Sympathizing with bigots - crap.

Stephen Fishman said...

You criticism, while well written and appropriate for other seemingly similar points of view is incorrect in that it does not account for the nuance of the argument I am making. In fact, your argument is emblematic of the surrounding condition I am referring to.

Your first and primary reaction is to attack the critics and the unfair nature of the bigotry. None of which, by the way, I endorsed. I only said it was "rational" which might be better said as "predictable" or "understandable" (but not "acceptable").

My point is that more effort is being placed on speaking out against the bigotry than on speaking out against the violence that spawned and nurtured the bigotry. It is my believe that this orientation will only serve to allow the bigoted to attract more people susceptible to this line of thinking.

People are not afraid to speak out against the bigotry, but are very afraid to speak out against radicalism like death threats and barbarism.

anomalogue said...

And one more thing: I think the most relevant category of the perpetrators of 9/11 is not "Islamic", but "fundamentalist".

I'm pretty sure there's a sizable number of fundamentalists among these protesters, and that offends and disgusts me.

It was fundamentalists who committed the atrocity they're protesting, they have no right to be there.

Plus they are also despicable hypocrites who pretend they are innocent of their own crime.

But worst of all they're exploiting the atrocity in order to justify yet more violence.

Maybe I am mistaken about all this. I've got to say, though, none of them have been vocal about renouncing violence in the name of religion. You'd think they'd feel obligated to explain this to those of us who feel deep offense seeing them profane ground zero. They may see a difference, but I don't -- and by their own argument, they owe me a big, public explanation that cuts through all the noise. To accomplish this they probably need to sink a few hundred thousands in PR, given all the uproar.

anomalogue said...

Go look at Park51's website. It stresses the group's commitment to tolerance and fostering mutual understanding.

Did you bother reading it before deciding they have not adequately (loudly, or vehemently or PR-savvily enough) renounced violence?

Are the protesters renouncing the violence of fundamentalism? Are we being evenhanded here with our assignment of categories and the obligations of the categorized?

anomalogue said...

"My point is that more effort is being placed on speaking out against the bigotry than on speaking out against the violence that spawned and nurtured the bigotry. It is my belief that this orientation will only serve to allow the bigoted to attract more people susceptible to this line of thinking."

If you think Muslims need to speak out more against radicalism, that's fine. Make that case.

But you'll do more good and cause less damage if you separate that issue entirely from the rage of the xenophobes. Suggesting that Muslims bring it on themselves, however much you couch it in subtle qualifications, only promotes an environment where it seems more and more reasonable to succumb to bigotry.

And in the end, that's what this really is: a vehicle for xenophobia.

Really, do you think this situation is essentially different from any other eruption of xenophobia? Or maybe you think most xenophobia amounts to an honest (if a little ignorant) misunderstanding, which could be cleared up with a little more PR from the targeted groups. The minute we allow this sort of nonsense and place any of the responsibility for xenophobia on the victim, we're participating in it.

You know, an approach you could take if you really are concerned about isolating radical fundamentalist Muslims -- demonstrating to them and the world that they are not considered a legitimate form of the religion by true Muslims -- is to become an amplifier for those Muslims who DO speak out against radicalism and violence. Help get the word out and isolate the extremists. This will help achieve the effect you are calling for.

But dammit, Fish, don't play along with this Tea Party narrative.

We are all against terrorist violence, OBVIOUSLY. But we're also against allowing the terrorist violence radicalize our own population. We're responsible for pressuring that out of existence. We cannot allow it the slightest permissibility.

Denounce the living shit out of the bigots.

Denounce the living shit out of the Muslim extremists, too.

Denounce the living shit out of acting like you can only do one or the other, or that one must follow the other. That is total garbage. Further it is crap. If I recall, you are against crap and garbage.

No?

Stephen Fishman said...

I unequivocally denounce those who use violence in the name of God.

I equally denounce those who judge and act against individuals based on beliefs about their version of the truth.

I am saying that moderate muslims stand up and decry the bigots but remain relatively silent about the violent atrocities. And even more rarely act in direct opposition to the extremists in ways that actually effect change.

Comparing my argument to saying that women deserve rape for being dressed provocatively is moronic and ironic.

Moronic - I am not condemning the women. I am calling on men everywhere to speak and act out against men who act violently. And chide those men who speak first to defend men everywhere when someone speaks out against wife-beaters and rapists. If there were a segment of men in positions of power around the globe tacitly or explicitly condoned rape or violence against women and a further expansion of population segments and other men in power said little and did nothing to stand against the atrocities against women that is whom I would be speaking out against....OOOHHH SNAP! Is my veiled reference to islamic regimes around the world what I meant by ironic? I guess so.

PS - HA! Veiled! That's a joke son!

Ken Cummings said...

Fish said "I unequivocally denounce those who use violence in the name of God."

"I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did." -- George W. Bush, 2003

I'm glad to know that I will finally be hearing you "unequivocally denounce" Dubya.

Ken Cummings said...

More seriously, I found the following page on FactCheck to be really interesting:
http://www.factcheck.org/2010/08/questions-about-the-ground-zero-mosque/

Fact Check (can we all agree that it is an unbiased organization that does not editorialize?) thoroughly covers the accusations being leveled at Imam Rauf (of Ground Zero Mosque fame). To summarize, Rauf appears to be a legitimately moderate figure:

"...Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has a long history of cooperation with the U.S. government, beginning during the Bush administration. In February and March 2003, he led cultural awareness training for FBI employees in the bureau’s New York field office, New York division officials told us. In 2007 and twice in 2010, he traveled to the Middle East to talk about religious tolerance and Islam in America as part of a speaker program organized by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.

Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said of the imam: "His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States." Rauf’s most recent trip, which is in progress as we publish, garnered objections from people who feared he would try to raise money for the Park51 project during his trip, but the State Department said those concerns were unfounded."

To support Fish's observations, I thought it was interesting that Fact Check found that Rauf had refused to condemn Hamas. I also spent an hour on Google looking for Muslim commentary on violence and jihad. I was able to find plenty of public statements from local and foreign Imam's that condemned violence, but very little from leaders of nation states (interestingly I did find one where Iran condemned the bombing of the Twin Towers).

This lends credence to Fish's view that the Muslim’s could be more vocal in their condemnation of violence, and this is especially clear as it relates to foreign governments. I think that I can agree with him on this: if more Muslim nations strongly condemned religious violence periodically, it could help turn the tide of Islamophobia sweeping the U.S.

Fish attempted to make clear that he was not condoning the bigotry but reading his whole thread, in a few places his generalized hostility towards Muslims shone through. I think that is why Staylo responded to strongly and Taylor makes some great points that need to be emphasized.

Rauf is clearly a moderate who regularly preaches against extremism and violence locally and abroad, and the Tea Party attempts to paint him as a closet radical are despicable. As a Sufi, he has been on the nasty end of religious extremism, and it's fairly clear by his words and actions that he wants to bridge the gap between his religion and western culture. Here’s the rub: it’s guys like Rauf who are the standard bearers of moderation and common sense to the Muslim world; the Western World's emissaries to Islam. It's through empowering people like him that you reduce the influence of the jackass radicals.

Fish, answer me this question: do you actually believe that majority of mosque protesters are doing so in good faith? If they got to spend the afternoon watching video footage of all Rauf's past sermons, do you really think they would go "Oh, my mistake, everything's cool now. Mosque On, brotha!"

Taylor is right. The protestors have no interest in whether this Mosque will preach tolerance and diversity. The protesters aren't interested in the truth, they are determined to have an enemy, and as such, their fundamentalism on the subject represents indiscriminate xenophobia. Furthermore, the Tea Party, for sordid purposes, is ruthlessly using this narrative to whip the populace into frenzy.

In spite of Fish’s valid observations, rationalizing bigotry, even with disclaimers, just lays a brick in the road to radicalizing America.

Stephen Fishman said...

I deny that I have hostility towards Muslims. I admit I have hostility towards Mulsim nation-states and organizations that can be reasonably labeled as fundamentalist (regardless of religion or ism).

I further deny any implication that I am hiding my true feelings or that I mean anything else than exactly what I have posted. I am an ardent and vociferous believer in the freedom of religion and generic equality of humanity. Both of you know this, and to have the two of you imply that I in some way want to curtail the rights of muslims in the US shows how much of an axe to grind that the two of you have against the right and are projecting qualities on me that do not exist in me.

I have not in this thread, nor any other, espoused a point of view that the government (state, federal or local) should deny the rights of anyone to build a mosque or any other religious structure.

I do not believe that the bigots in question are "well meaning", nor do I believe that they all crave an all-out race war.

I did refine my message earlier in this thread to state that the bigotry and irrational fear would be more appropriately labeled as predictable.

Taylor - the point is not for you to define. It is my posting and my point. Those concerned about the bigotry would be served well to actively move against fundamentalism in all forms and to call it out again and again in each and every forum. I never said it was obligated. I implied that it would be a more efficient action if the end goal is to gain credence for the moderates.

I have not done research on Rauf and make no claims either way about his intentions. Even if I did the research I would still not make claims as you both know I believe that organizational icons (religious, political or otherwise) put on an affected persona that they believe is required to meet their goals - this belief is not limited to or present in all Imams. However, it is my belief that Hamas is an organization more oriented towards violence than peace.

Stephen Fishman said...

I deny that I have hostility towards Muslims. I admit I have hostility towards Mulsim nation-states and organizations that can be reasonably labeled as fundamentalist (regardless of religion or ism).

I further deny any implication that I am hiding my true feelings or that I mean anything else than exactly what I have posted. I am an ardent and vociferous believer in the freedom of religion and generic equality of humanity. Both of you know this, and to have the two of you imply that I in some way want to curtail the rights of muslims in the US shows how much of an axe to grind that the two of you have against the right and are projecting qualities on me that do not exist in me.

I have not in this thread, nor any other, espoused a point of view that the government (state, federal or local) should deny the rights of anyone to build a mosque or any other religious structure.

I do not believe that the bigots in question are "well meaning", nor do I believe that they all crave an all-out race war.

I did refine my message earlier in this thread to state that the bigotry and irrational fear would be more appropriately labeled as predictable.

Stephen Fishman said...

Taylor - the point is not for you to define. It is my posting and my point. Those concerned about the bigotry would be served well to actively move against fundamentalism in all forms and to call it out again and again in each and every forum. I never said it was obligated. I implied that it would be a more efficient action if the end goal is to gain credence for the moderates.

Ken - I have not done research on Rauf and make no claims either way about his intentions. Even if I did the research I would still not make claims as you both know I believe that organizational icons (religious, political or otherwise) put on an affected persona that they believe is required to meet their goals - this belief is not limited to or present in all Imams. However, it is my belief that Hamas is an organization more oriented towards violence than peace.

Stephen Fishman said...

Staylo/Ken - Will the both of you please stop implying that I endorse xenophobia. I have said it is predictable and understandable (but not "acceptable"). And despite Ken's trying to twist my words - Understandable = able to understand. In this context I mean that I can follow the thought path through which this end state arises. It does not mean I agree with it. It only means I understand how they got there. Just like I understand why older Americans of all creeds have hatred towards other creeds (e.g., civil rights and slavery era black Americans may have hatred for white Americans, holocaust survivors may have hatred for Germans) or that I understand why Palestinian youths may hate Isrealis. I understand the thought process, nothing else. To deny that these ways of being are a predictable outcome given human nature and the context the masses are placed in is unsophisticated and naive.

Staylo - I do not believe that the right wing ideologues have any other goal than to win the next election and to keep the American people fighting with each other. Given that this is what I believe their objective to be, I think their narrative is one of if not the best suited to achieve that cause. I have and will continue to speak out both in person and here on this blog about the generic falseness that comes out of the mouths of most politicians.

Additionally, please stop saying that I am demanding moderates do anything. I am only suggesting that if they want the xenophobic diatribes to lessen, then finding ways to speak out more AND ACT (you both keep somehow missing that part) against the organizations and nation states that support and enable violence in the name of the islamic religion. I'm not sure who you are referring to as "our extremists" and why you would say that I do not speak out. I actively denounce racism in all forms with very few if any exceptions. Personally, I do not like anti-semitic thoughts and behaviors, and if I ever believe that the Palestinian government legitimately wants peace (the jury is still out on Abbas as far as I am concerned) I will speak out against Isreali injustices that I know of because they give a ground on which anti-semites can stand on to make their bigoted arguments.

Lastly - Stop using my rating system. Adam Foster is the only one allowed to use it besides me. Your continued use of it is a disservice to your reputation for clever banter.

Stephen Fishman said...

Staylo/Ken - Will the both of you please stop implying that I endorse xenophobia. I have said it is predictable and understandable (but not "acceptable"). And despite Ken's trying to twist my words - Understandable = able to understand. In this context I mean that I can follow the thought path through which this end state arises. It does not mean I agree with it. It only means I understand how they got there. Just like I understand why older Americans of all creeds have hatred towards other creeds (e.g., civil rights and slavery era black Americans may have hatred for white Americans, holocaust survivors may have hatred for Germans) or that I understand why Palestinian youths may hate Isrealis. I understand the thought process, nothing else. To deny that these ways of being are a predictable outcome given human nature and the context the masses are placed in is unsophisticated and naive.

Stephen Fishman said...

Staylo - I do not believe that the right wing ideologues have any other goal than to win the next election and to keep the American people fighting with each other. Given that this is what I believe their objective to be, I think their narrative is one of if not the best suited to achieve that cause. I have and will continue to speak out both in person and here on this blog about the generic falseness that comes out of the mouths of most politicians.

Additionally, please stop saying that I am demanding moderates do anything. I am only suggesting that if they want the xenophobic diatribes to lessen, then finding ways to speak out more AND ACT (you both keep somehow missing that part) against the organizations and nation states that support and enable violence in the name of the islamic religion. I'm not sure who you are referring to as "our extremists" and why you would say that I do not speak out. I actively denounce racism in all forms with very few if any exceptions. Personally, I do not like anti-semitic thoughts and behaviors, and if I ever believe that the Palestinian government legitimately wants peace (the jury is still out on Abbas as far as I am concerned) I will speak out against Isreali injustices that I know of because they give a ground on which anti-semites can stand on to make their bigoted arguments.

Lastly - Stop using my rating system. Adam Foster is the only one allowed to use it besides me. Your continued use of it is a disservice to your reputation for clever banter.

Stephen Fishman said...

PS - you have both proven my point in that each of you have spent many hours writing and talking about the xenophobes, but spent next to no time (if any at all) writing or talking about the heinous barbarism that is going on around the world in the name of the islamic religion.

PPS - In case you both missed it, the original post said I disagree with the rhetoric and actions of the xenophobes.

Ken Cummings said...

Fish, in the interest of letting you save face, in addition to "idiotic", I will also permit "predictably idiotic".

anomalogue said...

I see and acknowledge that you disagree with the rhetoric and actions of the xenophobes.

What we are trying to get you to see, though, is that this point you keep dittoing -- that Muslims haven't done enough in word or action to stop the violence of their radical element -- does more to encourage this xenophobia than anything any American Muslim can do to discourage it.

Can you give some indication you understand this point? Even better, can you respond to it directly?

And regarding counter-protester's relative silence regarding the atrocities of Islamic radicals, it is beyond obvious that radical Islamic Fundamentalism is vile. But they do not care what we think. They do not care what moderate Muslims think. They very definitely care nothing at all what Sufis think. Denouncing them again isn't going to accomplish anything. Or maybe I'm missing something. What do you think it will accomplish?

And especially in the context of this post, where we've identified that what's at issue here is whether linking of these atrocities (or the need to denounce them) with the xenophobes' hysterics, it should be obvious to someone as logical as you that the absence of condemnation (of what we all already agree is condemnable) is no indication of anything, but simply a side-effect of its being both non-controversial and irrelevant to this argument as it has developed.

Incidentally, that move is garbage.

And telling me that I cannot use a rhetorical device I invented and taught you is crap, grasshopper.

Ken Cummings said...

WTF? My brilliant post telling Steve to get some balls is gone!! Why do our posts keep disappearing!?

k_ehrhard said...

I like doughnuts.