Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chill Out

I have continued to receive email from the "Chill Out" post in CounterPunch. Here's one that I thought I would address in public.

You miss the real points of why people are pissed.
1 The hypocrisy of restricting "hate speech" regarding Israel and Jews, while encouraging dehumanizing caricatures of Muslims as mad bombers.

*I think hate speech laws are a bad idea. Why give the state the power to police what anyone thinks? Let people say what they will and confront the ideas if you want or ignore them if you want. If a government or powerful institution advocates racist or discriminatory policies then there is more of a priority for us to protest and confront these ideas or policies.


2 The social apartheid in these EU countries where the Muslims are considered "other"

*No doubt this is an issue but let's protest unemployment, racist laws, lousy housing, favoritism in hiring, police brutality not symbolic "blasphemy." Do you think that there are no allies for minorities in Scandanavia? I'm not an expert here but anecdotally I met lots of them when I was Sweden last year. I also read a lot in the left press about how these ploicies need to change.


3 The continuity of vilifying someoneÂ’s beliefs with vilifying them as a people

*I have not ever, at least consciously, said Muslim world or all Muslims do this... My comments were addressed to an extreme group of mad killers (they want to kill me by the way because of my beer drinking, naked women appreciating, Milwaukee living atheism) whom I flippantly called Jihadis.

As a Jew, I am reminded of the comedian in the movie Cabaret who steadily tells more and more racist jokes about Jews while the audience becomes ever more Nazi. And in our modern society, we watched the rise of Dennis Miller as he moved from being the witty bohemian to being the shitty anti-muslim racist.

*Do you really believe that we are in a pre-Nazi state here or in Denmark? Lots of people have made this point to me. I reject it out of hand. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and other "detention" centers are horrible places where torture is commonplace but they are not Auschwitz or Dachau. Bush and company are not at war with Muslims or for racial reasons and they don't employ racial or religious reasons to defend their policies, they want the resources, or control over them, where Muslims happen to live. Overt racism is roundly condemned in my community and in the US in general whenever it is uttered. Not to say that racism doesn't exist or that code words for race are not widely used but sensitivity to minority groups has NEVER been higher in Western society. Dare I say ever in human history? Have you traveled anywhere in the US and seen how this society actually works?

Your desire to treat equally (and you are not unique in this childlike effort) societies at different stages of economic and social development and power is of identical flavor to those, who during the Vietnam era, said "all nationalism is reactionary," as a basis for not supporting the Vietnamese people.
You and your civil liberty sophists fail to address the driving forces for religious identification within advanced capitalist societies by both Christians, Muslims and Newage-ists: alienation with a system that strips people of a sense of community, a sense of a guiding morality, a sense of trust that one's fellow man is not trying to screw you at every turn.

*A long discussion is due here but I'd say that I think that the elimination of secularists and the left, with US help, has given an opening to fundamentalists in the region which has created a classic blowback. But so what, should we then support reactionaries who oppose corrupt Western backed movements just because they oppose imperialism?


The Scando countries that you are sympathizing with took in ‘those people’ not out of compassion but to leverage their cheap labor in keeping an aging society functioning.

*Agreed. They also have the most progressive societies ever created by humans.

The world as a whole has this dynamic hiding underneath the gated communities of national citizenship. Whether this struggle happens within the gates or is waged across them, the tension will continue to grow and explode.
All efforts toward world democracy will have to address these sensibilities.


*Agreed and we should continue to try to understand why certain retrograde movements have and will develop as a result of the current regime. But should we ally with and pander to the most reactionary elements in this struggle or work with those who are working towards an egalitarian, democratic and secular end?

4 comments:

anton said...

Anonymous said via email:

You miss the real points of why people are pissed.
1 The hypocrisy of restricting ‘hate speech’ regarding Israel and Jews, while encouraging dehumanizing caricatures of Muslims as mad bombers.

Perhaps this is hypocrisy of the Danes and other European countries, but this is not your hypocrisy, so he’s complaining to the wrong guy. I don’t know where he gets “encouraging dehumanizing caricatures” – who’s encouraging them? What major forces in Danish society are encouraging them? More importantly, which forces in Danish society that you ally with are encouraging them? Finally, to those hypocrites who are encouraging these caricatures, surely the response of the left should not be an embrace of the forces of reactionary irrationalism of Islam, or any other religion for that matter, but rather the rational defense of free speech, and the encouraging of a respect for freedom of conscience; there is no obligation to go further and praise Jesus or accept that Mohammad is THE prophet and obey all the arcane rules of blasphemy in these religions, or even the basic rules of good taste when talking about them.

2 The social apartheid in these EU countries where the Muslims are considered ‘other’
There is no argument here.


3 The continuity of vilifying someone’s beliefs with vilifying them as a people

You have not made this argument – the author seems to be the one making the connection; if ridiculing someone’s religious beliefs is taken as an attack upon that person’s genetics (a “people?”), then that’s their problem. We can’t talk about the irrationality of religion? Of Islam in particular?


As a Jew, I am reminded of the comedian in the movie Cabaret who steadily tells more and more racist jokes about Jews while the audience becomes ever more Nazi. And in our modern society, we watched the rise of Dennis Miller as he moved from being the witty bohemian to being the shitty anti-muslim racist.

Irrelevant to your point – I wonder what the suggestion is here? Making fun of someone’s religious beliefs is inherently racist and should never be done because it’s tantamount to, again, “vilifying” believers “as a people?” I wonder what secular Egyptians would say about that idea. Are they not Egyptian because they’re not Muslim? If so, maybe that’s a problem. I don’t have to fix that problem and I probably shouldn’t try, but can’t I suggest that it is a problem? Why should non-believers be forced to accept a “Muslim” or a “Christian” identity? Here in the US, I bristle at the suggestion, made by millions upon millions of people that this is a “Christian” country. I believe it is a progressive step in world history (not just US or “western” history, but the history of human beings) that many in our nation resist being called a “Christian” country. If religious belief DOES make some group of people “a people,” I am under no obligation to refrain from ridiculing their beliefs if I think them foolish. If they think that is racism, then they are wrong.

Your desire to treat equally (and you are not unique in this childlike effort) societies at different stages of economic and social development and power is of identical flavor to those, who during the Vietnam era, said ‘all nationalism is reactionary,’ as a basis for not supporting the Vietnamese people.

What is childlike here is talk of “stages” of development. The suggestion that you treat different societies equally is silly. I may be convinced otherwise, but right now, I’m at least prepared to ask, what about religious nationalism is NOT reactionary.

You and your civil liberty sophists fail to address the driving forces for religious identification within advanced capitalist societies by both Christians, Muslims and Newage-ists: alienation with a system that strips people of a sense of community, a sense of a guiding morality, a sense of trust that one’s fellow man is not trying to screw you at every turn.

Sophists!? When I see the words “a sense of” more than once in any sentence, I know I’m dealing with a sophist. Just because the modern capitalist world is alienating doesn’t mean we have to abandon civil liberty-speak and retreat into a silly irrational medieval world of revealed truth. Talk about your sophistry – “I’m alienated. I won’t do anything about it, but I’ll bury myself in comforting mythology. It sounds good and it gives me ‘a sense of’ a lot of stuff like community and morality – not the reality of it, but a good ‘sense’ of it.”

The Scando countries that you are sympathizing with took in ‘those people’ not out of compassion but to leverage their cheap labor in keeping an aging society functioning.

No argument.

The world as a whole has this dynamic hiding underneath the gated communities of national citizenship. Whether this struggle happens within the gates or is waged across them, the tension will continue to grow and explode.

No argument.

But should we embrace the reactionary forces of religious nationalism as a liberatory element of the internationalist struggle? A community of believers without borders, but exclusionary just the same?

All efforts toward world democracy will have to address these sensibilities

No argument.

anton said...

Anonymous said via email:

Universals supported:
-democracy, including: genuine decision making in government, workplace, and family

-freedom of _expression

-right to political autonomy

-right to substance, including: health, education, basic material existence

-right to physical safety

-right to one’s own beliefs, up to the limit of their infringement on other’s liberty

Religion:

-Moses did not part the Red Sea

-Jesus was not born from an immaculate conception and was not resurrected after death on the cross

-Any voices, angels, or other external presence felt by Mohammed, were in his head. And even if not, for the sake of argument, were still written and passed down by men.


Holy texts were written by men, co-opted by imperial interests, and then used to subjugate the masses. Successful religions have typically emerged as libratory projects, but given their successes, were guided in conservative directions to mute those origins. People may, or may not, have mystical experiences, but they are not represented by organized religion.

Irredentist movements represent the victory of capital over freedom movements. Secular freedom was global in scope during the 20th century. Elite interests counter-attacked against this “crisis of democracy,” as the Trilateral Commission later termed it. Capital crushed Nasserism in the Middle East, napalmed Vietnam into the stone age, sponsored slaughters of the left in Indonesia, and rolled back democracy in the US. The result was the rise of religious fundamentalist movements in the wake of these secular movements.

Imams, were originally supported by Israel and the US emerged as a “healthy” corrective to Nasserism. Fundamentalist Christianity arose out of the assault on modernity in America (both North and South), and a more virulent fundamentalist Judaism materialized out of the further corruption of the Israeli democratic ideal (never realized given the Zionist counter agenda of expansionism) represented by the occupation of the West Bank.

Empire, Gender, Race, and Religion:

The former has utilized the three latter in its service. Yet, empire has shown its flexibility. It cares not for the melatonin in your skin, your gender, or your religion. It is adaptable and will use these to subjugate you or ally with you depending on its current need. Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell can just as easily serve imperial interests as one whose melatonin levels developed in northern latitudes.



Denmark:

Empire, democracy’s evil twin, co-evolved. Empire both checked democracy and alternately advanced it in the liberation struggles it spawned. North Europe created a “scientific” racism permitting it to reconcile democracy and empire. The failures of empire culminated in World War II. Northern Europe observed a flowering of tolerance and social democracy in the wake of empire and war. Northern Europe’s economic slowdown in the 1990s and acceptance of large numbers of immigrants has created turbulent waters in which racists that always opposed immigration and those formerly tolerant of it, swim in common cause with those opposing immigration different reasons. Both share frustrations born of the economic slowdown and a concern over their culture’s viability given their small populations.. Yet, while racists dislike difference for difference sake, social democrats fear conservative values introduced by some immigrants. The growing opposition to immigration, while sometimes racist, is also nuanced. One need recall that no other nations have given proportions of aid and allowed levels of immigration at the levels they have, and it is likely no other states would.


next mail:

I addressed some of this guy’s concerns in a mail I sent to you the other day. Especially my analysis on the rise of fundamentalisms globally, which, frankly the author below has some superficial sense of the symptoms, but no understanding of the underlying economic, political, and social causes, summed up in the “Crisis of Democracy.”



Also think the author misunderstands the reasons for the violence exercised over the cartoons. Fundamentalists have said it is due to depicting Mohammed at all, and worse in any insulting way, and then cite the Koran suggesting murdering the cartoonist. There is a long tradition of negative depictions of Muslims. But, one should not conflate this with the real danger of Islamic fundamentalism, which has no corollary with anti-Semitism in 1920s Cabaret Germany. To target the entire Muslim world might be, but focusing on the extreme conservative fascist nature of the fundamentalists is to conflate the role of reactionaries and progressives.



About the only valid point made is the demographic issue and cheap labor. While true in part, it only captures part of the complexity of very liberal social democracies that both took large numbers of refugees AND delivered massive foreign aid packages to poor countries….. Though, I would agree more with him on this score if he were referencing Germany.



Also think the author too imbued with a linear sense of societal development. Islamic fundamentalism represents a move backwards from secular modernism that was very much growing in the 20th century Islamic world. History, as we have discovered to our horror, can move backwards….

Bob Sander said...

Yo this is crap man. I think that they just do whatever they want and let them die.

Anonymous said...

Bush and company are not at war with Muslims or for racial reasons and they don't employ racial or religious reasons to defend their policies, they want the resources, or control over them, where Muslims happen to live. Overt racism is roundly condemned in my community and in the US in general whenever it is uttered. Not to say that racism doesn't exist or that code words for race are not widely used but sensitivity to minority groups has NEVER been higher in Western society. Dare I say ever in human history? Have you traveled anywhere in the US and seen how this society actually works?


I came to your blog after reading the piece on Counterpunch's website. I'm conflicted. On one hand, I completely agree that ethical and cultural relativism, however well-intentioned, are misguided. One cannot support human rights and be a cultural or ethical relativist. In fact, this is why we so often see supposed leftists supporting the rights of societies to mutilate the genitals of their daughters or force rape victims to marry their rapists. It's "culture", thus cannot be questioned.

I did have problems with the flippant tone of the piece, however, and the equation of anyone who disagrees with the Danish cartoons as "jihadis". I do think those things are dehumanizing. One cannot get into the minds of all those who feel the cartoons are offensive. These cartoons, after all, don't take aim at the extremes of Islamic thought, they depict the entire religion as being based upon those extremes (i.e., Mohammed equals bomber). To write all of them off as fundamentalists is using a pretty broad stroke.

As for my own position on the cartoons, while I find them extremely offensive, I do not deny the right of those with vile ideas to state those ideas. In fact, outlawing such hatred makes it more dangerous because it's not out in the open where you can fight it. I also dispute the idea that finding the cartoons offensive automatically makes one a proponent of the backward ideas of patriarchal religions--Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. It is possible to find the dehumanization of people offensive without supporting the beliefs of those people. For example, I find anti-Jewish sentiment repulsive, but I am a proponent of neither the religious ideas of Judaism nor the practices of the Jewish state.

Finally to get to the part of your post that I quoted above: I strongly disagree that religion does not play a part (a substantial part, in fact) in the Bush Administration's actions towards the Arab & Muslim worlds. It is no secret that many within the Administration and many more who support them have very specific religious motives in their dealings with both the Arab world and Israel. Especially important in that group are those who believe the Second Coming can't happen until all the Jews return to Israel. This may be secondary to the economic motivations, but I have no doubt that they play an important part in U.S. policy and actions in the Middle East.

My final problem with the quote above is the idea that racism is abhorred throughout the U.S. While I think that there has been significant progress in that area, and I agree that there is discussion after publicly-made racist statements, the fact that such statements are still made with such regularity disputes the idea that racism has waned to such an extentent that we needn't concern ourselves with looking inwards. Furthermore, I would dare say that in private, most white Americans are silent when they hear others make bigoted statements. That has certainly been my experience. Saying that things are better than they've ever been does not change the fact that we must guard against the dehumanization of human beings, even when we may reject their beliefs.