Saturday, January 10, 2015

The subtlety of monolithic Islam bigotry

By Frank Moraes

On Wednesday, I published "Je Suis Charlie." And I stand by most of what I wrote. But there was one thing that I wrote that was based upon hearsay rather than actual research: "In the case of Charlie Hebdo, any outrage is totally unjustified because the magazine took on everyone." It was also based upon the cover illustration to the left that mocked both a Muslim and a Hasidic Jew. But I think there might be a problem with this contention.

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald wrote "In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons." It is a reaction to a push by many all over the political spectrum who claim that we should celebrate the offending cartoons that supposedly caused the recent massacre of innocents in Paris. It is an interesting and thoughtful analysis of the issue. (Contrast it with Jonathan Chait's incredibly uninteresting response, "Charlie Hebdo Point-Missers Miss Point.") I'm not quite sure where I stand on it. But this part struck me:

With all due respect to the great cartoonist Ann Telnaes, it is simply not the case that Charlie Hebdo "were equal opportunity offenders." Like Bill Maher, Sam Harris and other anti-Islam obsessives, mocking Judaism, Jews and/or Israel is something they will rarely (if ever) do. If forced, they can point to rare and isolated cases where they uttered some criticism of Judaism or Jews, but the vast bulk of their attacks are reserved for Islam and Muslims, not Judaism and Jews.

I don't speak French, so I'm not in a position to say. But it made me realize that the cover illustration above may actually indicate the fundamental problem with my own thinking. The problem, as I now see it, is that the Muslim is generic and the Jew is not. The implication is simply, "all Muslims and particular Jews." But I don't think that this is intentional. It is more along the lines of, "All Japanese look alike!" What such claims actually mean is that the speaker has little experience with Japanese people. (I've had this problem myself -- cured by years of Japanese cinema watching.)

It is pathetic, of course, that I now feel I must mention that I'm free speech absolutist. It is not just that it is obviously wrong to kill people for the "offense" of saying things you disagree with. The idea that people should not have the right to encourage draft resistance during a war ("shouting fire in a crowed theater") is simply ridiculous. Just the same, it is curious, isn't it, that we do not have such clearly political -- First Amendment -- rights, but we do have the right to snipe at minority groups in any way that we choose -- including "the right of neo-Nazis to march through a community filled with Holocaust survivors..."

According to Juan Cole, two-thirds of Muslim heritage French people don't even consider themselves religious -- much less "radical." The problem here is that even among the very small world population of Jews (less than 20 million), we distinguish. But the 1.6 billion Muslims are monolithic for us. And that's why that Charlie Hebdo cover struck me as fairly even-handed (I would have preferred a Christian in there -- but intolerance is not limited to any religion or non-religion).

Bigotry is, at base, about classification -- treating individuals as members of a group. It is a very big issue that I fight with in myself constantly regarding racism. I fear that many people who, like me, worry about racism, don't worry about such grouping problems when it comes to religion. After all, people supposedly choose their religions. There are a couple of problems with that. First, people don't choose their religions. Almost every religious person is a member of the faith they grew up in. Second, as we know only too well, there is very little that can be generalized about a hippy Unitarian and a right-wing evangelical Protestant. The same is true of all people. I'm sure there are even cruel Jains.

I would hate for the tragedy in Paris to leave us with nothing but what we should have always known: people shouldn't be killed because others find them offensive. Worse still is the idea that this is all about Islam, because if these actions really spoke of the religion, those 1.6 billion Muslims would have forced us to live under a worldwide caliphate by now. I suppose that it is asking too much for everyone to take this as an opportunity to examine themselves. But it really is on all of us non-Muslims, because it isn't like the terrorists are going to start wearing "gang colors." And it is wrong to ask Muslims to abandon their heritage so we can better spot those we ought to fear. (Not that it would work, of course.)

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Cowardice of Extremism

By Carl

The radical Islam movement shares some things in common with the radical Reactionaries in America. Among them is the promotion of fear as a way to both unify and discipline those who would nominally identify superficially with their cause.

To-wit, let me bring in Juan Cole:
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Monday, January 05, 2015

The Cowardice of Mortality

By Carl

A couple of studies floated to the surface last year in the debate about ammosexuality that I found interesting, not so much for what they concluded -- we all sort of knew this stuff instinctually -- but for the implicit underlying meaning when you put two and two together.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A year gone to pot

By Carl

This past year has been one of so many developments in American culture that it would be hard to pick any one thing as a signal event in the course of our nation.

From the full implementation of the surprisingly effective Obamacare to the grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, MO, with stopovers at the broad expansion of marriage equality and Ebola outbreaks both in Africa and here, there's a lot to mull over, a lot that will move forward with us into the new year and beyond.

For all the world, it looked like it would be a horrible year for President Obama, despite the success of the ACA. The 2014 mid-term elections were a disaster (sort of. More in a few.) and it looked like an earnest effort to impeach him might gain traction in the House next year, backed by a newly-minted Republican Senate. Democrats and Progressives seemed as tho their work was cut out for them.

And then Obama -- finally -- flexed a little muscle. From immigration reform to the renewal of relations with Cuba, Obama single-handedly salvaged a terrible year and turned it into one of the most successful years of any President in history. Abe Lincoln might have had a more successful year in 1865 if he hadn't been assassinated in April.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Mangione Brothers Sextet - "Something Different" (1960)

By Richard K. Barry

Though Chuck Mangione would become an international superstar in the 1970s with smooth jazz mega-hits like "Feels So Good," and "Chase the Clouds Away," he started out as a bebop trumpeter in the Dizzy Gillespie tradition. 

While Chuck was studying at the Eastman School, he and his brother Gap (keyboards) co-led a bop group called The Jazz Brothers, which recorded several albums for the Jazzland label. 

About this 1960 album called The Jazz Brothers, and on which this tune below appears,  Scott Yanow at AllMusic writes this was "not only the debut recording of trumpeter Chuck Mangione but is the first appearance on record by tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico and pianist Gap Mangione. Drummer Roy McCurdy; altoist Larry Combs and bassist Bill Saunders complete the group." 

Good players earlier in the process. 

I can't blame Mr. Mangione for wanting to make a good living from his music, and I'm not necessarily down on smooth jazz, it's just nice to know he can really cook when he wants to.

The group recorded two more albums, and then moved on. 

(Cross-posted at Listening to Now.)

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Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) to resign from Congress

By Richard K. Barry

Initially Rep. Grimm said he would continue to serve in the House after entering a guilty plea on felony tax evasion charges. That was until he got called into principal Skinner's office, I mean House Speaker John Boehner's office.

Truth is, this seems a strange thing to land a Republican in the dog house, given how much the GOP hate taxes. Perhaps Boehner explained to Grimm that the GOP prefers to do things the old fashioned way: use the power of the state to lower taxes for the wealthy rather than flout laws that have yet to be changed in their favour.

Grimm's impatience made him forget an essential rule of politics: it's easier to get away with theft on a grand scale than to muck about with petty larceny. Boehner must have been very disappointed.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Thought Experiment

By Carl

You work for the only business of any substance in town. You make a nice income.

Your boss decides he needs to build a spite fence around a store all the way across town because it threatens his supply of some widget he needs to keep the company going, and he's afraid, terrified, if the price of that widget rises, he'll have to work harder to keep prices in check. Also, employees of another store have been seen shopping in his store, and those guys play rough. He tells you that you have to take a pay cut, because he and his friends will need to spend a lot of money building this defense and putting up a new security system around the shop, and his friends don't work cheap.

Do you agree quietly, or do you argue and protest that you need the money to put your kid through college?

Now, let's say that same boss comes to you and tells you that the janitor, George, is in deep trouble: his family can't afford food or medical care, his wife works two jobs, as does George, but they still can't make ends meet. He tells you that he needs to slice a tiny fraction of everyone's salary to help him stay at this job, because he works hard.

Do you agree quietly, or do you argue and protest that you need the money to put your kid through college?

This is 21st Century America, in a nutshell.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

On Christians, atheists, and torture

By Frank Moraes 

I have this tendency to be most critical of the groups that I'm part of. You see this a lot in terms of my thinking about the Democratic Party. But I dare say you see it most of all with my thinking about atheists. And there is a lot to dislike about the modern atheist movement. I am an atheist in the Arthur Schopenhauer tradition. Much of modern atheism is intellectually vacuous. But as popular movements go, it is still pretty good. There isn't likely to be a mass movement that I have any less criticism of.

Probably the best aspect of modern atheism is that there is a strong current of humanism in it. I think it is the case that people like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are admired despite being torture proponents, not because of it. What's more, I don't so much see myself as part of the atheist community in the sense that I read atheist blogs and go to atheist conventions. I see myself as a member of the growing numbers of people who just aren't religious. And by and large, this is a mighty fine group.

I found the recent release of the torture report as upsetting as it was unsurprising. So I was somewhat pleased to read Steve Benen's "This Week in God" today. Its focus was on a new Washington Post/ABC News poll on attitudes about torture. It confirms the results of a 2009 poll by Pew. As you've probably heard, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of torture. Of those polled, 59% were just peachy with what the CIA did; only 31% had a problem with it. Obviously, that was not what pleased me.

This poll subdivided people by their religious affiliations. So Benen put together the following graph that sums up the main categories:

Benen pointed out that people with "no religion" were pretty much the only group in the report that were against torture. I wish the numbers were better than they are, but they are far better than average. And the major Christian groups are all worse than average. It's disgusting, but again, unsurprising. It goes along with my primary complaint against modern American Christians: their religion is all culture and no theology. The one thing they absolutely believe is that people like them are "good" and people not like them (e.g., Muslims) are "bad." Thus they don't really care. After all, it's not like anyone is suggesting burning the evildoers alive. (Not that they would be against that either.)

As much as I'm pleased that we non-believers demonstrate more humanity than average, this information is profoundly disturbing. We are, after all, an almost 80% Christian country. And the only takeaway from that is that Christianity is "right" and that Christians are oppressed whenever someone says "Happy holidays!" to them. We live in a sad world.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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