Friday, October 22, 2010

It's Been An Interesting Week For People With Any Sort Of Phobia

I'm going to start this off and lay out some of my phobias. I'm not talking arachnophobia type stuff. I'm talking about fears of certain groups. Two that I have are fears of Islam and fears of Prius' drivers. So I guess that gives me Islamophobia and Priusphobia. In my opinion, both could be the death of me (I have been hit by Prius drivers and have had more near misses with drivers of those damned cars than any other type).

While I have  a fear of Prius drivers, and Muslims, that does not mean that I discriminate against them. Both are groups that I find pose a threat to my safety. The Prius drivers because they can't seem to drive while keeping their eyes on the road instead of that infernal readout that shows how fuel efficient their being (making them also, in my opinion, narcissists). The Muslims, well... because they demonstrably want to see me and my children and my relatives dead (yes, if you have not figured out, I'm Jewish, supporter of Israel and have family who live there).

That does beg the question of, is it a phobia if in fact they are out to get you?

But that is no matter.

Why am I confessing to this? Because apparently certain groups want to prevent people from admitting to their fears. Confess publically that seeing a Muslim person in religious garb on a plane makes you nervous, then you CAIR wants to make sure you do not get to keep your job. Think this is my imagination? Then check with NPR to see when Juan Williams will be on the air again.

He was fired last night for stating in an interview that
“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
In case you do not listen to NPR, Juan Williams is a long time reporter for NPR. He has also written for years for The Atlantic Monthly as well as contributing to other magazines. Outside of his journalism work, he is also author of several books on the Civil Rights Movement and African American issues. In short, this guy has a track record of being serious when it comes to what he writes and reports about.

Apparently, this experience and track record of being a respect journalist is not sufficient when it comes to stating the simple fact that in light of his life experiences, he has a fear. He did not say he advocated stripping them of their civil rights. He did not say that we should go out and hurt them for being Muslim. He expressed some fear.

According to CAIR and NPR, that's not acceptable in a journalist. Never one to let someone have an opinion that Islam isn't perfect, CAIR stated
CAIR is calling on American Muslims and other people of conscience to ask National Public Radio (NPR) to address analyst Juan Williams' statement that airline passengers in "Muslim garb" make him "nervous."

"NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. "Such irresponsible and inflammatory comments would not be tolerated if they targeted any other racial, ethnic or religious minority, and they should not pass without action by NPR."...

He noted that media commentators who launch rhetorical attacks on Islam and Muslims normally do not suffer the professional consequences of those who similarly target other racial, ethnic or religious groups.

Ignoring the falsity of the statement that Muslims are a particularly targeted and aggrieved group by the media, lets look at what they are attacking. They are attacking his expression of fear of a group. Is it regrettable. You bet. Is it natural considering what has happen over the past decade, or longer depending on how historically minded you are, between the US and the Muslim world. Of course. Would it be nice if people didn't have to fear other groups for rational reasons? Absolutely.

But apparently, we are supposed to live in a world where even our feelings must be politically correct, otherwise, apparently, we lose the ability to do our jobs in a non-discriminatory manner. At least, thats what NPR believes. NPR fired Mr. Williams last night, stating,
His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR
How? He expressed a fear, a personal fear that he holds. He did not tell a lie. He did not simply accept propaganda, governmental or otherwise,and pass it off as news. He expressed his feeling of fear.

What he did do is apparently verboten among right thinking people. He stated that he has identified the current threat to himself as anAmerican as militant Muslims. However, almost as if this was something the Bush Administration fought against it, it has to be opposed e left while it's in power. From Obama Administration down, we are told that we are not dealing terrorism caused by militant Islam. To suggest that the terrorism we are facing most frequently as a threat to us comes from Islamic worshippers is a heresy it seems.

There's also the suggestion that the conservative views of Mr. Williams were not liked by his bosses at NPR and that this was the real cause of his firing. Previously, because of his criticisms of the First Lady, he had been forbidden from using identifying himself as an NPR analyst when appearing on The O'Reilly Factor.

I wonder what NPR would have done if he had expressed a concern about his children going to a Catholic school?

But that's not the only bit of punishment for expressing one's opinion. As Mr. Williams was getting his pink slip from NPR, author Elizabeth Moon was being de-invited (should I say booted) from appearing at WISCON where she was supposed to be a Guest of Honor. WISCON bills itself as "The World's Leading Feminist Science Fiction Convention."

Apparently they only want feminists who do not utter words outside of the pages of science fiction books that could be deemed controversial. In this case, Ms. Moon voiced her opposition to the planned mosque near the World Trade Center site. In her blog, where the objectionable comment seems to come from, Ms. Moon writes,

The point here is that in order to accept large numbers of immigrants, and maintain any social cohesion, acceptance by the receiving population is not the only requirement: immigrants must be willing and able to change, to merge with the receiving population.   The new place isn't the old place; the new customs aren't the old customs.   "Acceptance" is a multi-directional communications grid.  Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress, will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream.  This is not just an American problem--this is human nature, the tribalism that underlies all societies and must be constantly curtailed if larger groups are to co-exist.  It is natural to want to be around those who talk like you, eat the familiar foods, wear the familiar clothes, have the familiar cultural references.   But in a multicultural society like ours--and it has been multi-cultural from its inception--citizens need to go beyond nature.  That includes those who by their history find it least comfortable.

Whether a group changes its core behaviors and values after immigration or not, it must--to be assimilated later--come to understand the culture into which it has moved.   To get along, it must try not to do those things which will, sure as eggs is eggs, create friction, distrust, and dislike.    Is this a limitation on its freedom?  Yes.  It is also a limitation on the freedom of the existing culture into which it's a compromise.   A compromise isn't entirely comfortable to either side, and either side may misjudge how uncomfortable a compromise is to the other side--it is wise to grant that what you're asking the other guy to do may be quite uncomfortable to him/her.   A group must grasp that if its non-immigrant members somewhere else are causing people a lot of grief (hijacking planes and cruise ships,  blowing up embassies, etc.) it is going to have a harder row to hoe for awhile, and it would be prudent (another citizenly virtue) to a) speak out against such things without making excuses for them and b) otherwise avoid doing those things likely to cause offence.

When an Islamic group decided to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack, they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people.  Not only were the attackers Islamic--and not only did the Islamic world in general show indecent glee about the attack, but this was only the last of many attacks on citizens and installations of this country which Islamic groups proudly claimed credit for.  That some Muslims died in the attacks is immaterial--does not wipe out the long, long chain of Islamic hostility.   It would have been one thing to have the Muslim victims' names placed with the others, and identified there as Muslims--but to use that site to proselytize for the religion that lies behind so many attacks on the innocent (I cannot forget the Jewish man in a wheelchair pushed over the side of the ship to drown, or Maj. Nadal's attack on soldiers at Fort Hood) was bound to raise a stink.   It is hard to believe that those making the application did not know that--did not anticipate it--and were not, in a way, probing to see if they could start a controversy.  If they did not know, then they did not know enough about the culture into which they had moved.  Though I am not angry about it, and have not spoken out in opposition, I do think it was a rude and tactless thing to propose (and, if carried out, to do.)

I know--I do not dispute--that many Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks, did not approve of them, would have stopped them if they could.  I do not dispute that there are moderate, even liberal, Muslims, that many Muslims have all the virtues of civilized persons and are admirable in all those ways.  I am totally, 100%, appalled at those who want to burn the Koran (which, by the way, I have read in English translation, with the same attention I've given to other holy books) or throw paint on mosques or beat up Muslims.  But Muslims fail to recognize how much forbearance they've had.  Schools in my area held consciousness-raising sessions for kids about not teasing children in Muslim-defined clothing...but not about not teasing Jewish children or racial minorities.  More law enforcement was dedicated to protecting mosques than synagogues--and synagogues are still targeted for vandalism.  What I heard, in my area, after 9/11, was not condemnation by local mosques of the attack--but an immediate cry for protection even before anything happened.   Our church, and many others (not, obviously all) already had in place a "peace and reconciliation" program that urged us to understand, forgive, pray for, not just innocent Muslims but the attackers themselves.   It sponsored a talk by a Muslim from a local mosque--but the talk was all about how wonderful Islam was--totally ignoring the historical roots of Islamic violence.

Now apparently for having the audacity of suggesting that 1) immigrants have to do somethings to adapt to their new home and 2) that it was unreasonable for Muslims to believe that building a mosque at the site of the most destructive act of Islamic terrorism on American soil and not expect controversy.

Now some have argued that what is happening to these people is no different than the punishmnent meted out to Rick Sanchez for calling Jon Stewart a bigot andconplaining tha the "Jews" have too much control over CNN. But it's not. First, what Sanchez said is untrue, and could have been deemed slander by Stewart. Second, regarding his comment that Jews control the media industry, that is a repetition of the old anti-semitic Elder of Zion conspiracy charge that originated with the Tsarist secret police. Here, we have two people who are not trying to smear an ethnic or religious group. One is saying a personal fear he holds. Another is urging immigrants be incorporated into the American system like every other group who has come over.

If we are going to penalize people from stating their opinions, how are we gping to have a free exchange of ideas? How are we going to know when there are people who are living in fear? If the Muslim community is upset by this, maybe it's because the truth stated by these two hurts. Instead of trying to penalize these two for their opinions maybe they need to look at what they are doing, whom they are supporting and ask whether these are people and groups that they should be supporting.

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