haggholm: (Default)

It is curious how the debate after every Islamist deed of terror, such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings, always results in a flood of Most Muslims aren’t like that!—in a knee-jerk response that reminds me of nothing so much as #NotAllMen. This may strike you as (needlessly) offensive, but before I bring up my caveats, please consider the parallels. (But before you respond angrily, at least do read through to the end.)

  1. It is true that most men aren’t rapists. By analogy, and in fact, it is true that the vast majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists.

  2. It’s true that lots of men are vehemently against sexual assault and harrassment, just as it is true that lots of Muslims are vehemently fighting terrorism.

  3. The truth of the Not All Men reply, however, is secondary to its unhelpful deflectionism—yes it’s true, but the point is that although not all men—indeed, not even a majority of men—are like that, still a minority large enough to matter are, and the fact that it’s a minority does not mean that it isn’t an issue with men—much like, say, breast cancer is an issue for women (even though most women don’t get it and some few men do).

    Or maybe…much as how, although lots of terrorism is committed by non-Muslims, and the majority of Muslims are not involved in or sympathetic to terrorism, still it looks as though the issue is disproportionate, and mere deflection won’t do.

  4. Finally, many people writing today are complaining how unfair it is that Muslims are expected to stand up and proclaim that they’re opposed to extremism and terrorism. But then, strictly speaking it’s hardly fair that I have to speak up against rapists. Yet, I’m told, my silence may be mistaken for tacit approval (and worse yet, daring to treat it with levity—by telling or laughing at rape jokes, for instance—might make the true villains mistake me for a sympathiser). —I said I’m told—but, too, I agree, and extrapolate.

How dare I (you might ask) make this so general, as though Islam worldwide bore responsibility for what a bunch of lunatics in Paris did? You might have a point, were that and similar local incidents all there were to it, or if the appearance of sympathy were a rarity. But we know that’s not really true. The best example I can think of are the riots after the satiric cartoons in the Danish magazine, Jyllands-Posten. In outrage at some Danes’ audacity in portraying their religion (or their pedophile prophet) in an insulting manner, riots were nigh worldwide. It seems that people died in consequence in Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Libya, Nigeria, Iraq, and Egypt. Let’s not pretend that there is no connection.

And there is always a predictable outcry that, although some Islamists may act like this, that has no bearing on Islam, or Muslims. #NotAllMuslims! To this I can only say, poppycock! As Jason Rosenhouse said,

I heard someone on television today lament the fact that when a Muslim does something bad, somehow all Muslims are expected to condemn it. This misses the point. The issue isn’t what anyone is expected to do. It’s what moderate Muslims had better do, loudly and unambiguously and with no “buts” at the end, because right now the crazies are the public face of Islam. No one is concluding that something is wrong with modern Islam because two Muslims did a bad thing. The conclusion is based on the chaos and despotism and illiberal attitudes that seem especially rife in the Muslim world.

More broadly, there is this constant insistence that when somebody does something, and says it is because of their religious faith and beliefs, much of the world credits it only conditionally: If what they did was good, then we’ll believe them. But if they did something bad, they must be mistaken or lying: It must be extremism, maybe a cult, or maybe it’s a response to imperialism, colonialism, racism… All of those are real, important, awful factors, but let’s avoid the No True Theist Fallacy.


With that all said, there are some extra factors to keep in mind. I loathe the term “Islamophobia”, as though a hatred of that vile religion were a bad thing. (Do you think it is pristine and blameless? Go forth and read up. The scripture itself is bad enough, quite apart from all the other stuff.) There is a strong implication, which I reject and resent, that being vehemently critical of Islam implies a hatred of Muslims, and further, that it results in—or perhaps based on—racism, in particular against Arabs (presumably, then, combined with ignorance of the fact that there are many white Muslims, although they’re a minority, and that most Muslims aren’t Arabs, and that the single largest Muslim population is found not in the Middle East, but in Indonesia).

On the other hand, there are factors of racism and irrational hatreds far beyond rational loathing of Islam. I’m not very familiar with Charlie Hebdo, but they certainly held a lofty moral high ground compared to their Islamic murderers—but now, a few French compatriots of the victims are working hard to give up that moral high ground by shooting and throwing grenades at mosques (and blowing up some poor restaurateur’s kebab shop). In the US, after the 9/11 terror attacks, I gather the FBI reported a 1,700% increase in hate crimes against Muslims. (And, to be sure, people whom racists mistook for Muslims. I may dislike the conflation of Islamophobia with racism, but if you assault people on the basis that they have brown skin and wear turbans, you’re a racist.)

There, then, is a very important difference between #NotAllMen and #NotAllMuslims: Men deflect in order to avoid self-examination, feelings of recrimination, or criticism. Muslims and their defenders deflect because, well, I agree with most of Rosenhouse’s article cited above, but there is one point where I’m afraid he is too optimistic:

Now, this is the point where the self-righteous types will accuse you of Islamophobia. They will lecture you about blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few.

But no one is doing that, and they know it. Almost no one thinks that all, or most, or even a majority of Muslims have any sympathy for yesterday’s attacks. The problem, though, is that the attitudes underlying the attack are not those of a small, fringe minority. It is willful blindness to pretend otherwise.

I agree with the assertion that it is not a small, fringe minority, but unfortunately, I fear it is not true that Almost no one thinks that…even a majority of Muslims have any sympathy for terrorist attacks. Deplorably—indeed, almost as deplorably as the murderous attacks themselves—it seems there are always people ready to take their vicarious vengeance on the nearest Muslim (or Muslim look-alike).

Here, #NotAllMen would only be comparable if the nighttime streets of our cities were haunted by roving gangs of actually-militant feminists, waylaying and beating men, and occasionally firebombing places that men like to frequent.

And, more, that attitude is probably very pernicious in subtler ways in its milder forms. I think that many Muslim-majority countries are—I’ll say it openly—barbaric. If the law sentences someone to being flogged for blogging critically of Islam, then the legal system and society that permits it are both horrid. But that doesn’t mean I’m ipso facto sympathetic to indiscriminate bombing, or drone strikes killing civilians at numbers I don’t care to guess at. But unfortunately, a sufficiently uncritical acceptance of the vilification of precisely the places and societies I am trying to vilify in a more nuanced manner, lays the groundwork for popular acceptance of—or at the very least, lack of resistance to—military campaigns that do just that. I reject the concept of Islamophobia, but I accept the sad truth that people in the Middle East (who may or may not be Muslims—I suppose most of them are; I don’t suppose it morally matters) die, every day, because people are uniquely unbothered by the idea of bombing Muslim-majority areas.

Under Bush, it was getting awfully tempting to think of this as Christian (or should that be Christianist?) terrorism on a large (and well-funded) scale.

#NotAllMuslims support terrorism. Most of them don’t. Yet it is disproportionately an Islamic problem, and toxic Islam should be excused no more than toxic masculinity. Let’s acknowledge this; let’s avoid euphemism and cowardly deflection and circumvention. At the same time, though, we should not loose sight of, nor fail to emphasise, that the goal here is to speak up—loudly, freely, offensively—and deplore violence, not return it.

haggholm: (Default)

I do not feel that “the Conservative Party of Canada” is a very apt name anymore. Since they insist that the very government of Canada be referred to as “the Harper Government”¹, surely the party is very definitively “the Harper Party”. (Unofficially, of course, it’s GOPNorth.)

In the wake of the disastrous election that perversely gave this Harper Party a majority of seats in Parliament, and so a majority government (in spite of ‘only’ 40% of the popular vote), I feel a need to reiterate just why I feel that the Harper Party is such a terrible choice. It’s certainly true that I do not lean Conservative: I feel that gay people are human beings and should be treated as such, I think that even poor people deserve health care, I think that women should be allowed to decide what goes on with their own bodies, &c., all of which are positions that Conservatives traditionally oppose. But all this is incidental: Even if I agreed with their policies, I would still oppose them.

The reason why the Harper Party is so abominable, you see, is not because of its position on any issues at all, but because it spits on democracy generally. Consider:

  1. Harper faced a vote of confidence that he knew he would lose, which would have spelled an end to his government and forced a re-election that he might lose. So he had the Governor General (representative of the Crown) prorogue Parliament, i.e. temporarily suspend them. That is—as I understand it—when the Harper Party was faced with a majority of the democratically elected representatives of the people of Canada wanting to vote them out of office…then they temporarily suspended voting.
  2. Harper, in fact, then did this again.
  3. The Harper Party did away with the long-form national census used to collect detailed demographic data on the people of Canada. This means that they ensured that the data necessary to formulate policies that benefit people optimally is unavailable. This has no conceivable benefit except perhaps plausible deniability in the event that they treat people poorly and need to claim that they had no idea.
  4. The Harper Party, qua government, was the first government in the history of Canada ever to be found in contempt of Parliament. (They withheld information. This was what forced the recent election. And after this, people still voted for them.)

This is not the full list of evils committed by the Harper Government. Some are arguably worse.² But the above are what incense me as attacks on the Canadian institution of democracy: Silencing Parliament, the representatives of the people, when they threatened Harper’s power; treating them generally as an obstacle to ruling the country rather than a vital part of the system. This should be troubling to anyone: Even if you (unaccountably) agree with the Harper Party’s policies, you should still recognise that a threat to the democratic institution is a threat to your country; that any legal precedent that allows this government to steamroll over Parliament will similarly allow future governments to do the same—governments you may not like.

I find it difficult to express how offensive this is to me. True, comparing this to fascist regimes like Nazis or the actual Italian Fascists is hyperbole—Harper’s steps in that direction are very tiny indeed. Nonetheless the direction of those steps is against democracy, and no one should support that, no matter their policies. It is for exactly the same reason why we should not (on the subject of hyperbole!) advocate assassination of Harper: The country would be better off without him, but it would set a precedent whose cost would far outweigh the good.

I don’t even know if there’s anything to hope for over the next four years. With a majority government, Harper and the Harper Party are finally free to start wrecking Canada properly, in ways that a minority position has previously prevented. Maybe if they proceed so egregiously awfully that they’re found in contempt of Parliament again, once or twice, people will finally get sick of them and vote against them—but my limited knowledge of Canadian politics suggests that the best we can hope for is that the Harper Party only ruins Canada moderately.

What do you reckon we’ll see first? Attacks on gay rights, on women’s rights, on public health care?

I should add that my knowledge of Canadian politics is very limited. I didn’t bother educating myself very closely for the simple reason that there’s nothing I can do about it: I’m not a citizen yet so I can’t vote, and I’m not personable so I can’t change anyone’s mind. Nonetheless I do care, as the preceeding angry screed testifies. If any of the above is based on misconception, feel abundantly free to correct me.

¹ On some level, it may be comforting for future governments composed of saner men and women to know that they will not be blamed: It wasn’t the Canadian government’s fault, it was the Harper government’s.

² Strong candidates: Illegal campaign funding, allowing a Canadian citizen to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay, lying, lying again, lying some more, killing science and climate protection, taking money from women and the poor in order to give to the rich, and so on. See also here and here.

haggholm: (Default)

I’ve long felt, and more than once said in this blog, that Canadian laws against prostitution are stupid: Inherently because it’s weird to legislate against it (adults are free to have sex; adults are free to exchange money; but there are laws governing the one in exchange for the other), and practically because they seemed dangerous. In particular, there’s a law against bawdy houses, and against communications, that basically mean that prostitutes are allowed to have sex for money but not to do it in a safe location nor to screen their clients. And, of course, because they operate in a grey area of the law—now on this side, now on that—they have disincentives to report abuses and assaults to police. All of this struck me as stupid and harmful.

Well, I may have come up with these thoughts for myself, but of course I was neither the first nor the only one to do so by a long shot, nor the one who presented them most vociferously or most eloquently. In particular, three sex workers and their lawyer, Alan Young, must have put it very well before the Ontario Superior Court—

Mr. Young tried to prove that the women's constitutional right to life, liberty and security were jeopardized by repressive laws that exacerbate the perils of a notoriously hazardous profession.

—Because the judge, Susan Himel, said:

By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance.


I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.

See the Globe and Mail article.

I for one hope that this decision stands; that whatever legal convolutions are necessary to apply it federally rather than just in Ontario do come to pass; and that those who do choose to work in sex trades will be able to do so safely, in secure locations, and with the power of the law and the police fully on their side when things go wrong.

haggholm: (Default)

I don’t really understand the furor over these recent events: The resistance to a mosque near Ground Zero, the rage at the Florida priest who wants to burn Qurans.

Of course it’s offensive to burn Qurans. It’s offensive to me because book-burnings are generally violent and anti-intellectual protests and seems to follow in the footsteps of some very nasty movements that we’d do well not to emulate. It’s offensive to Muslims because—well, I don’t think I even need to finish that sentence. Yes, it’s offensive. That’s the point—like it or dislike it.

But in a society with free speech, we never have the right not to be offended. This should be starkly obvious to everyone paying the least bit of attention to the current debate, because both ‘sides’—if we grossly oversimplify this into Christians vs. Muslims for the sole purpose of making this paragraph simpler—are obviously offending each other. The Christians down in Florida are offending the Muslims by threatening to burn Qurans. The Muslims who want to build a mosque next door to Ground Zero¹ are offending an awful lot of people, too. Is it not slightly curious that when these [particular] Muslims are offending people, the promoters of tolerance tell us that we must be tolerant and therefore let them go ahead; whereas when other people are offending the Muslims, the promoters of tolerance tell us that we must be tolerant and therefore shut the hell up? Doesn’t this seem a bit one-sided?

Not only do we have no right not to be offended; it is not possible to get through this, or most any heated discussion, without someone getting offended. Someone will get offended however any of these debates turn out. Accept it. Get over it. Move on.

Now, personally (as if this mattered to anyone else!), I would be happier if nobody burned any books, even blatantly offensive ones like Bibles and Qurans and the writings of Martin Luther. I would also be happier if nobody built a mosque near Ground Zero. Well—I would be happier if nobody built any mosques at all, but to place it there reeks of either a desire to offend or of blatantly poor taste. I’m not suggesting that these people² don’t have a right to build their mosque wherever they own land with the proper zoning; I’m aware of no reason to think that anyone has any right to prevent them from building it. Still, it seems in poor taste at best: In spite of the fact that the overwhelmingly vast majority of Muslims are not in fact terrorists, it remains true that Ground Zero was the site of a horrific tragedy promoted and powered by religious fundamentalism, and a mosque is a place to honour and celebrate that same religion. I would feel the same way about a cathedral at Béziers, a Lutheran church at Auschwitz, a monument to America in My Lai. If you belong to a group that was associated with something horrible somewhere, the proper thing to do is probably to distance yourself from what they did and avoid glorifying your movement on the site of the atrocity.

Let me digress for a moment. I’m not suggesting that all Muslims are aligned with terrorist action. Not only are most Muslims in no way involved in atrocity; there are (unsurprisingly) overtly Muslim organisations that openly, honestly, and vocally campaign against the various atrocities often committed in the name of their religion. A brief search will find, for instance, the Free Muslims Coalition, who [promote] a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs. But the lamentable fact is that even they write that

The Free Muslims Coalition is a nonprofit organization made up of American Muslims and Arabs of all backgrounds who feel that religious violence and terrorism have not been fully rejected by the Muslim community in the post 9-11 era.

The Free Muslims was created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.

The Free Muslims promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs. The Free Muslims' efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously. Unfortunately most other Muslim leaders believe that in terrorist organizations, the end justifies the means.

This is laudable—and tragic in equal measure. Laudable that they stand up to do this. Lamentable that they feel that they are unique; lamentable that there is broad base support for extremism and terrorism (laudable though their efforts to combat it may be); lamentable that they feel that they are the only mainstream American-Muslim organisation willing to unambiguously oppose it. Hear what else they have to say:

As written recently by Khaled Kishtainy, columnist at Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Newspaper, "I place on the Islamic intellectuals and leaders of Islamic organizations part of the responsibility for [this phenomenon] of Islamic terrorism, as nearly all of them advocate violence, and repress anyone who casts doubts upon this. Naturally, every so often they have written about the love and peace of Islam – but they did so, at best, for purposes of propaganda and defense of Islam. Their basic position is that this religion was established by the sword, acts by the sword, and will triumph by the sword, and that any doubt regarding this constitutes a conspiracy against the Muslims."

The Free Muslims finds this sympathetic support for terrorists by Muslim leaders and intellectuals to be a dangerous trend and the Free Muslims will challenge these beliefs and target the sympathetic support given to terrorists by Muslims.

Would that the Free Muslims were the majority voice of Islam. Alas, this does not seem to be the case. There are imams condoning terrorist actions. There are imams and ayatollahs issuing fatwahs calling for the death of people like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. There are uproars and uprisings at things like the Danish cartoons. Sure, most Muslims do not participate. But where are the voices decrying and condemning it? Why do I always hear Not all Muslims are like that; you can’t judge them all by those atrocities, rather than Not all Muslims are like that; you can’t judge us all by those atrocities—because we condemn them? Where are the counter-fatwahs and apologies to Rushdie and Hirsi Ali; where are the apologies for Theo Van Gogh and others like him; where are the imams standing up and saying Yes, I found those Danish cartoons offensive, but nowhere near as offensive as the reality that people are willing to kill and destroy merely because they are being teased?

Given that the majority voice of Islam is not the Free Muslims—given that the loud and clear speakers are the issuers of murderous fatwahs and not those who oppose them—I hardly find it surprising that people take offence to the erection of a mosque near Ground Zero. They have no right to prevent it, but they have a right to be upset—and they have a right to wonder (I certainly wonder) what is the motivation of the people who chose to erect it there. Who are the builders? Are they Free Muslims who wish to have a holy site to say, Look what happens when you take it too far, when you value holy writ over human life—these are our people, and we are here to apologise on behalf of Islam, to distance ourselves from it, to make penance? If so, good on them and build on, please. If not, then who, and why? —But again, people have a right to be upset but not to stop it. I think this is clear. I think this is an obvious consequence of a free society.

Is it not, then, obvious that the same must apply both ways? The Florida priest who wants to burn Qurans is offensive—in fact, deliberately offensive where I don’t know what the motives at Ground Zero may be. People have a right to be upset. But just as the Muslims behind the Ground Zero mosque have a right to build it, even though it offends people, so the Florida Christians have a right to burn Qurans, even though it offends people. Both actions are offensive to some. Both actions are offensive to me. Both actions should be subject to criticism—but, too, the right to commit both actions should be defended.

What is the nature of the protest against the Quran burning? It will offend people! Why, yes, but so what? It will exacerbate the crisis in Afghanistan. It will incite terrorist action. Indeed, I’m sure it will. But is that any reason not to do it? I thought that it was important to a free, constitutional democracy to stand up for the right of its citizens to be free, to express themselves freely. I thought the United States of America prided itself on doing this. This is why I think that the constitution of the United States is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and though I am not American and have never lived (and will likely never live) in the United States, I admire it greatly and applaud the foundation of a country upon its principles and amendments.

So the people who say You should not do this because it will incite the enemy have it backwards. The purpose of the military arm of the United States of America is surely to protect the safety and the human and constitutional rights of its citizens, to ensure that every American is free to exercise his right to free speech. You should not avoid offending terrorists (Muslim or otherwise) to protect your soldiers; your soldiers are there to protect you from terrorists who seek to prevent you from speaking your mind.

Is the plan of the Florida priest to burn Qurans offensive? Why, yes. It is both literally and figuratively incendiary. But what’s really offensive is that some people might treat this action—the burning of a pile of papers—as sufficient justification to burn buildings and murder people. If you wish to condemn only one of these, then please condemn the latter. If you wish to condemn them both (I encourage it), then please condemn the latter a thousand times harder.

Building a mosque at Ground Zero might make terrorists happy. They might regard it as an ultimate victory, the erection of a monument to their faith at the site of their victory. But they are wrong. Allowing anyone, even if they turned out to be terrorist sympathisers, to build whatever the hell they want at Ground Zero is a victory of the values of liberty. Let everyone who walks by that mosque cast dirty looks; let not one of them cast a stone or grenade or wrecking ball. (If you vandalise it, you aren’t fighting terrorists, you’re becoming terrorists.)

You know what’s really letting the terrorists win? Saying that someone shouldn’t be allowed to offend them. The people who say that the Florida priest should not burn Qurans because it will incense the terrorists are allowing those terrorists’ atrocities to constrain their actions and freedom of speech. That’s what terrorism aims to do. That is letting the terrorists win.

¹ I may refer to these people as these people or these Muslims. Please note that I am doing so in a context-aware fashion. I’m not saying this because I lump all Muslims in with them, or because I think that those people in a voice laden with contempt is an appropriate tone, but because I am talking about a particular group of people. Feel free to be offended by my post, but please try not to misconstrue it.

² See ¹.

Errata: The facility is not at Ground Zero, but near it. I have a few instances of each in the text above, and at was simple error on my part.

See comments: The applicability of the word mosque is debatable. Read the comments and decide for yourself.

haggholm: (Default)

I blogged about the resolution earlier. With that background knowledge, here’s one man’s feelings on the matter:

haggholm: (someone is wrong on the internet)

In the single most stupid and by far most offensive thing I have ever heard the UN do, they have passed a resolution (thankfully non-binding…for now) called Combating Defamation of Religions, widely referred to as an anti-blasphemy measure. The abrogation of human rights inherent in squashing free expression, no matter how offensive, let alone all criticism of religion, should be painfully obvious. (There’s also the problem, as mentioned in the article above, that defamation implies falsehood—since many religions contradict each other, a reductio ad absurdam interpretation would even restrict the expression of religion.)

Naturally, this was pushed by Muslim countries, who feel that it is religious persecution that is at the root of their bad press:

Muslim countries say they are only trying to cut down of what they see as extensive bias against Islam in the West. In the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many referred, for example, to the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons that satirized Muhammad, and which touched off riots through the Muslim world.

I’m hard pressed to tell which notion is the more disturbing: That this is a bald-faced lie and excuse and the UN council bought it; or that these Muslim spokesmen are honestly so stupid that they think that the Danish cartoon incident was more consequence than cause of contempt for the Muslim world. After all, the cartoons on their own were not terribly interesting or exciting, but those world-wide, violent riots wherein countless thousands of Muslims rose up to issue death threats or embark on violence in reaction to a fairly petty and insignificant insult—that made a difference. (Not that Muslims were the only ones who gave a poor showing: It’s been widely noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury chose that time to condemn not the Muslims who issued death threats, but the Danish cartoonist.)

“Everybody is aware that there is a campaign in certain media to fuel the fire of incitement to hatred and to disfigure certain persons or figures through caricature,” said one Sudanese diplomat.

…And yet the hatred that was stirred was that of Muslims, not for them; and the only caricatures that stuck were the people who stood up for the rioters, the senders of death threats, the violent suppressors of free expression, and pretended that their brand of tolerance had respect for human dignity.


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