Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Called an Islamophobe, Saving Lives

As a half-Irish Roman Catholic, I have a personal stake in the idea of "tolerance."

Tolerance, Freedom, and Warping a Language

"Tolerance" is a word with quite a few meanings. The way I mean it, in that sentence, is "a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior, ...the act of tolerating something, ...willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others" (Princeton's WordNet)

The English language has taken a beating in recent decades. "Freedom of choice," for example, often means "it's my baby, I can kill it if I want." Which is a topic for another blog.

"Tolerance?" It can be used in its traditional sense: but it also means dividing a population - generally, but not exclusively, along ethnic lines - and then treating select groups with the sort of institutionalized deference once enjoyed by European aristocracy and nobility. (Although Europe's "good old days" there were checks and balances, like wergild.)

Nobody Wants to be Called an Islamophobe

Some American subcultures have made a point of adopting a hostile attitude toward Islam and Muslims. My perception is that it's often the same subcultures whose members take a dim view of blacks, Jews, Catholics, and other "foreigners."

As a melanin-deficient person, I suppose I have to say this: I'm not on the same page as white supremacists. I'm not even in the same book. Considering my ancestry and personal choices, I'd be crazy to buy into that philosophy.

"Islamophobe" is a word that's come into common use since September 11, 2001. Just because the Muslims who killed about 3,000 people that day were part of an outfit that says it's defending Islam - and just because "Allah akbar" - or "Allahu akbar" has entered the English language as something said by devout Muslims just before they blow themselves up - a number of people, in America at least, have gotten the idea that Islam is connected with terrorism.

So far, I agree. Just as I agree that Christianity is connected with activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the fifties and sixties - with all those burning crosses, it was kind of hard to miss.

I also think that it's a mistake to believe that Islam is a monolithic group of culturally and historically homogeneous people, united in hatred of the West, beer, and trousers.

'Religion' is Wrong, but Don't be an Islamophobe

But - and here I differ with the more self-described 'intelligent and sophisticated' minds of America - I don't think that Christianity is an inherently isolationist, xenophobic, violent system of belief. Or, that Tony Alamo is a typical Christian leader.

Interestingly, although it's considered 'sophisticated' in some circles to regard Christians as wallowing in "self-satisfied ignorance," and to believe that religion in general is a pathological condition, the same people seem to think that focusing disapproval on Islam is "intolerant." (I'd say "bad," but the concepts of good and evil are 'well known' to be sociological constructs developed by a group of authoritarian, hierarchical, male-dominated oppressors.)

And that anyone who criticizes or suspects a Muslim is "Islamophobic."

I'll agree that suspecting a person of inappropriate behavior only because that person follows Islam is unreasonable.

But I won't go as far as the more politically correct people do, and assume that suspecting a person who follows Islam of inappropriate behavior is "Islamophobic" - if there is objective reason for that suspicion.

In short, I don't think that anyone should be above suspicion of individual wrongdoing on the basis of the person's ancestry or associations. ("He can't be guilty - he's a member of my club" may feel good, but that doesn't make it right.)

Risking Being Branded as an Islamophobe or Saving Lives - A Tough Choice

As a writer nearing retirement age, I don't have to kowtow to ideologues in order to preserve my job and career. Not everybody is in that happy position.

I have some sympathy for army brass who apparently ignored evidence that Nidal Malik Hasan had - well, odd views which might affect his performance as a soldier.
"...As a senior-year psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan was supposed to make a presentation on a medical topic of his choosing as a culminating exercise of the residency program.

"Instead, in late June 2007, he stood before his supervisors and about 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims conflicted about fighting in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a copy of the presentation obtained by The Washington Post.

" 'It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,' he said in the presentation.

" 'It was really strange,' said one staff member who attended the presentation and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation of Hasan. 'The senior doctors looked really upset' at the end. These medical presentations occurred each Wednesday afternoon, and other students had lectured on new medications and treatment of specific mental illnesses...."
(Washington Post)
Let's say that, instead of Nidal Malik Hasan giving that presentation, it had been some guy named John Smith - whose ancestors had been living in the New England states for the last three hundred years. And, that Smith's presentation wasn't about Muslims and Islam, but Christians and Christianity. Or about white people.

Does anybody really believe that 'John Smith' would have had much of a military career after that? Not, I think, without quite a bit of re-education.

Of course, it's different with Nidal Malik Hasan.

Reasonably, because it really is different, when a person is from a readily-identifiable group which makes up only a few percent of the population.

Not-so-reasonably, when a person is from a group which enjoys a certain degree of privilege by perhaps-well-intentioned laws and customs.

I am extremely concerned about the picture that's emerging, of a confused youth who entered the army against his parent's wishes. (The New York Times) I am sad to learn that someone keyed Nidal Malik Hasan's car, and tore off his "Allah is Love" bumper sticker. (CNN)

But I don't think that's a good reason for killing 13 people who didn't deface a bumper sticker - and I think the army chain of command might have kept those people alive. If officers hadn't been afraid of being branded with as "Islamophobes."

As I said before, I have some sympathy with people whose jobs and careers depend on the whims of ideologically-motivated zealots.

My grievance is not so much with officers who apparently did not identify a dangerously unbalanced individual.

My grievance is with a system which punishes people for acting on evidence, for treating individuals based on merit, without regard to the other's heredity and social standing.

I think it is high time to consider the possibility that decisions about individuals should be based on what the individual does - not on the person's ancestry or social position.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.