– Pogo by cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913 – 1973)
As I scan the news as of late (September 11, 2010), I am inundated with reference after reference to a right wing, conservative, religious fundamentalist extremist point of view. There is no middle ground; there is no compromise; I’m right and you’re wrong. In fact, I’m far right and you’re dead wrong, emphasis on dead.
Just what the heck is going on in the world? Have we all gone mad?
Princeton University’s on-line dictionary WordNet defines
- extremism : any political theory favoring immoderate uncompromising policies
- right wing : those who support political or social or economic conservatism; those who believe that things are better left unchanged
- conservative : a person who is reluctant to accept changes and new ideas
- fundamentalism : the interpretation of every word in the sacred texts as literal truth
– Anonymous but repeated by comedian Steven Wright
Over and over again I am hearing a rallying cry for God and country which seems possess an underlying tone exemplifying the idea of "It’s us or them." This isn’t a question of getting to the bottom of a problem; this is more a question of seeing anybody who isn’t part of our immediate group whether that group is white or Christian or American as the cause of the problem and hence, "the enemy". This is a form of xenophobia, a narrow minded myopic view of the world where all problems stem not from a legitimate cause but whatever looks out of the ordinary when we look around the room. However, with our culture becoming more and more diverse, with countries like the United States and Canada becoming more multicultural, our focus on "the enemy" can quite easily turn into our focus being on our very own neighbours, the people living right next door to us.
After 9/11, the president George W. Bush went out of this way to emphasize that America was declaring war on terrorism, not on Islam. On September 20, 2001, Mr. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress. During his speech, he said, "The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics–a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam."
From that point up until 2010, Islam was considered a religion, Osama was considered a terrorist. What took place in 2010 which would explain this growing vilification of the entire Muslim religion? President Barack Obama provided a good explanation.
2010 and the growing hatred of Muslims
An obscure pastor, Terry Jones of a small church of a congregation of 50 in Gainesville, Florida has captured the attention of the entire world by declaring September 11, 2010, the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attack as "Burn the Quran Day". While Mr. Jones’ purpose in such a provocative action is to expound his own dislike of a religion which he sees as responsible for not just 9/11 but many other ills of the world, he has inadvertently exemplified a growing movement within the United States and elsewhere of a general distrust if not outright hatred for Muslims as a whole. Osama is not just a terrorist; he is a Muslim terrorist and people are more and more taking on the idea that terrorism and Muslim are synonyms. Terrorism is not the characteristic of a fringe, right wing extremism; terrorism is now an integral part of the entire Muslim religion. If George Bush emphasized the distinction between terrorism and Islam right from the outset after 9/11; what has taken place in America since then to see a public more and more making this link? After all, the so called Ground Zero Mosque was off everybody’s radar for years when somewhere around May or June 2010, the entire issue hit every headline and was run up every flagpole as an affront to everything decent and moral in the America landscape. Why now? What the heck happened?
During a press conference on September 10, Obama was asked that very question.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And so I think that plays a role in it.
One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was, after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam.
We were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts. And I was so proud of the country rallying around that idea, that notion: that we are not going to be divided by religion; we’re not going to be divided by ethnicity; we are all Americans; we stand together against those who would try to do us harm.
And that’s what we’ve done over the last nine years, and we should take great pride in that. And I think it is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang onto that thing that is best in us: a belief in religious tolerance, clarity about who our enemies are — our enemies are al Qaeda and their allies, who are trying to kill us but have been — have killed more Muslims than just about anybody on Earth.
You know, we have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other. And I will do everything that I can, as long as I am president of the United States, to remind the American people that we are one nation, under God. And we may call that god different names, but we remain one nation. And, you know, as somebody who, you know, relies heavily on my Christian faith in — in my job, I understand, you know, the — the passions that religious faith can — can raise.
But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles. And you know, I — I want to make sure that this country retains that — that sense of purpose, and I think tomorrow is a wonderful day for us to remind ourselves of that.
Q: I wonder if I can get you to weigh in on the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. We know that the organizers have the constitutional right. What would it say about this country if they were somehow talked out of doing that?
And hasn’t the Florida minister’s threat to burn a couple hundred copies of the Koran — hasn’t the threat itself put American lives in danger, sir?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, on the second — on your second question, there’s no doubt that when someone goes out of their way to be provocative in ways that we know can inflame the passions of over a billion Muslims around the world, at a time when we’ve got our troops in a lot of Muslim countries, that’s a problem. And it has made life a lot more difficult for our men and women in uniform, who already have a very difficult job.
With respect to the mosque in New York, you know, I think I’ve been pretty clear on my position here. And that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights; one of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.
Now, I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11. You know, I — I’ve met with families of 9/11 victims in the past. You know, I can only imagine the — the continuing pain and anguish and sense of loss that they may go through. And tomorrow, we as Americans are going to be joining them in prayer and remembrance.
But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts. And we’ve got to be clear about that. We’ve got to be clear about that because, if we’re going to deal with the problems that Ed Henry was talking about, if we’re going to successfully reduce the terror threat, then we need all the allies we can get. The — the — the — the folks who are most interested in a war between the United States or the West and Islam are al Qaeda. That’s what they’ve been banking on.
And fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving, are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in: how do I make sure I can get a good job, how can I make sure that my kids get a decent education, how can I make sure I’m safe, how can I improve my lot in life. And so they have rejected this violent ideology for the most part, overwhelmingly.
And so from a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It’s a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts — and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.
The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because we’ve got millions of Muslim-Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And, you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan, in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes: They are Americans. And we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between "them" and "us." It’s just "us." And — and — and that is — is a principle that I think is — is — is going to be very important for us to — to sustain. And I think tomorrow is an excellent time for us to — to reflect on that.
Extremism is everywhere. Extreme times bring out the extreme elements. A caution we all must heed is to not let ourselves be swayed by our emotions, by “ unlevel” heads and cast our vote for the hasty and sometimes easy solutions which may in the end bear no connection to the actual problem. We may think that extremism is what we see elsewhere: in the terrorist movement, in the radical groups, in the fundamentalist ideology bent on winning no matter what. But what we must realise is that extremism lives here, at home, amongst us. We must not forget that the enemy is not just “over there”, the enemy is also here. That enemy is extremism in any form, in any color, in any political slant.
Newt Gingrich and Dearborn, Michigan
Dearborn has hosted for 15 years an Arab festival celebrating food, fun and culture; a family day which is completely non religious. Every year some Christian groups set up booths to proselytise, to send out their message of Christianity. No problem has even been recorded.
This year, an extremist so called “Christian” group was arrested for disturbing the peace. A Christian missionary from another group called in the complaint to the Christian Dearborn police. The Christian police chef supported by the Christian mayor sent the Christian force to investigate and in the end, Christian officers arrested the group.
Upon hearing about this, Newt Gingrich issued a statement, "This is a clear case of freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom being sacrificed in deference to shari’a’s intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam."
Mr. Gingrich’s statement is utterly false, a total misrepresentation of the facts and an exposure of his obvious biased view of Muslims. The only thing Muslim of the whole incident was that it happened outside an Arab festival. What would Mr. Gingrich have said if it was a Catholic festival or a Jewish festival? Such irresponsible statements by leaders only serve to further fan the flames of prejudice and hatred.
The American 1st amendment right about freedom of speech permits one to say anything… supposedly. But along with the right to say anything comes a degree of responsibility in what one says and what one does choose to say reveals a great deal about the individual. What is their view of the world? How has that view been formed by their education, their experiences and their travels both domestic or foreign?
You think this issue is now a non issue? Think again. While the mainstream has moved away from "Jew bashing", there is still an undercurrent in various circles which continue to expound a litany of ills all attributable to the Jews.
Why would I call for a “final solution” of death to all jews and followers of judaism, cabala, and the like?
Anti-Black or anti-non-white
…individuals with a Marxist agenda have waged an attack upon the consciousness’ of white Christians… those who hate white Christian civilization have chosen to desecrate anything which might cause a stirring of loyalty and heritage… in fact all white Christian civilization is in jeopardy.
Jury Duty at a Rape Trial? Acquit!
Should I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true.
Women lie about being raped, judicial politicians make careers off of putting away sexual offenders, and a brainwashed public cheers it all on.
Better a rapist would walk the streets than a system that merely mocks justice enslave another innocent man.
Pamela Geller and the Ground Zero Mosque
From the Huffington Post of August 20, 2010, an article titled “Pamela Geller, ‘Queen Of Muslim Bashers,’ At Center Of N.Y. ‘Mosque’ Debate”:
Postings on "Atlas Shrugs" have included a video suggesting Muslims have sex with goats, a doctored picture showing President Obama urinating on an American flag, and a fake image of new Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in Nazi garb.
I beg your pardon? This is a credible source of information? This is a worthy opinion in the din of many voices?
The supposed Ground Zero Mosque has been a non issue for years. The people involved, the building, the plans have been a part of the New York landscape for quite some time without any fuss until Pamela Geller started a campaign to publicize the view that this was something bad. Her organization has sponsored anti-Muslim ads in several American cities; she has started the idea that Muslims are insulting America by building the mosque; she is whipping up the frenzy about this mosque is a triumph for Islam over America. Pamela Geller has pretty much single handily turned a non issue about religious freedom into one of the biggest conspiracy theories since 9/11 itself. There is a Muslim plan for world domination? The objective in building a mosque is to spit in the eye of Americans everywhere?
The insidious nature of specious argumentation is that after a while nobody can tell fact from fiction and many of us look to our leaders, look to somebody for guidance on various matters. Whoever shouts the loudest; whoever “sounds” convincing; whoever looks good wins the day and the hearts and minds of those who are ready to believe even in the face of absurdity.
Pamela Geller and her associate Robert Spenser put together supposed compelling arguments with documentation to support their views based on an interpretation of the Muslim religion and the Quran. How many of us have read the Quran? How many of us could claim to have any degree of expertise in interpreting the Quran? In light of that, I see both Pamela Geller and Robert Spenser can say just about anything they want and nobody could argue against them. Unfortunately, everybody has completely forgotten how easily it is to interpret the Bible and end up being able to prove just about anything, to support just about any theory. “In the name of God…” ah, how those words glided off the tongue of countless individuals to justify the most hideous of acts.
How do I know this? What proof do I have? Where’s my evidence to contradict Ms. Geller?
Yep, just 42. And here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) explanation:
The Hitchhiker’ s Guide to the Galaxy
This science fiction comedy was created by the English writer Douglas Adams starting as a radio show in 1978. In one of the more humorist “ bits”, somebody asks a super-computer for the “answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything”. After a long time, the computer responds with “42”. Of course, everybody in the story is confused by this answer and from there, we have the humor of the answer: the meaning of life is 42.
Over the years, all sorts of people have analysed the number 42 upsides down and backwards finding hidden meaning in the number’s connection to other things in life including to God and the bible. However, the truly amusing thing about this search for meaning is that Douglas Adams admitted he arrived at the number 42 by chance; he randomly selected the number 42 with no thought at all of some hidden meaning, some connection to something else; he did it thinking the number seemed “funny” .
Does that stop anybody from looking for meaning? No. It is just too difficult or impossible to believe that Adam’s choice could be completely random without more significance. And therein lies the rub. We cannot accept things as is; we look for meaning and sometimes we look so hard, we start making stuff up. What’s truly funny? 42 is a random selection but we refuse to accept that this may be random and we set out to "find meaning" by inventing connections to things when there is none.
You think I’m out to lunch about this idea? Think about Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. Think about David Koresh and Waco, Texas. Think about Charles Manson and the Manson family. People found meaning where they shouldn’t have. Sometimes 42 is just a number.
The Quran and the Bible
Ms. Geller and Mr. Robert Spenser go to great lengths to analyse the Quran and conclude all sorts of nefarious objectives of this religion. The wealth of documentation, the convincing nature of the argumentation would lead one to conclude we are all under assault by one of the world’s major religions and we all need to take up the declaration of war for a fight to the finish.
In reality? The sky is not falling. It is merely a question of interpretation. A good interpretation leads to good things; a bad interpretation leads to bad things. Nothing more complicated than that. If anybody thoroughly looked at Christianity and how its interpretation of the Bible over the years has lead to unbelievably horrendous crimes against nature and mankind (humankind?), they would realize that strength and weakness of any religion lies in those who interpret and act upon the Good Word.
I know Muslims. I work with Muslims. I just see people who are basically like me trying to find their way in the world; struggling to make sense of it all in the hopes of arriving at a point of peace, love and understanding. I do not see an insidious plot to take over the world. I do not see an attempt to enact Sharia law all over the place.
But I do see the struggles between the old world and the new world. I do see the struggles between traditions and modern life. I do see the same problems in Islam that I see in Christianity where the interpretation of the religion is not necessarily in sync with mainstream thought or practices.
I also see the right wing fundamentalist groups in Islam like the ring wing fundamentalist groups in Christianity as being extremist in their views with an attitude of “It’s us or them”. There is no willingness to compromise; we’re right; everybody else is wrong. Islam wants to take over the world? I have to laugh as Christianity has been and still is one of the most imperialistic religions of all time. Christians are scared of Muslims? Heck, has anybody thought about why Muslims might just be a tad suspicious of Christians?
Terry, your 15 minutes are up. But your legacy will live on.
To celebrate the 9th anniversary of 9/11, Mr. Jones, the pastor of the small, non-denominational Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida declared September 11, 2010 as “International Burn a Koran Day”. The outcry, the protest against his actions temporarily raised him onto the international stage bringing down upon him a deluge of condemnation from all directions: religious leaders, politicians, media, etc.
Was Mr. Jones angry about 9/11? Yes, he was. However, Mr. Jones like many others including all those who protest the Ground Zero Mosque has confused the issue. The perpetrators of 9/11 were Al Qaeda not the Muslim faith. The guilty are from an extremist group who happen to be Muslim. Islam did not crash those planes into the Twin Towers, Osama Bin Laden did.
George W. Bush said this from the beginning. Unfortunately, many have not heeded the call and continue to blame Islam and Muslims everywhere for the evil of a small group. Do we collectively paint everyone with the same color? Is every German a Nazi? Are all Japanese guilty of Pearl Harbor? Do all pastors from Gainesville burn books they have never read?
Baruch was an American-born orthodox Jewish Israeli physician who in 1994 perpetrated the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, killing 29 Muslims and wounding more than 125. He was a member of the Jewish Defence League, a militant organization founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-nationalist. The FBI has stated that "The Jewish Defence League has been deemed a right-wing terrorist group".
Camp David Accords
The Camp David Accords, signed in 1978 by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin seemed like an unbelievable breakthrough in the Middle East. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by right-wing elements in Egypt.
These accords were signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993 in the presence of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I thought these would be another breakthrough. Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli radical.
Extremism is everywhere
Call me naïve. Call me dumb. I still like to think that in general, people are good but there are admittedly bad elements we must all worry about. We can’t tar and feather an entire group because of a couple of bad apples. As I’ve said elsewhere:
Stop. Think. Reflect. If you are about to rise up against your neighbor, something is very, very wrong.
Click HERE to read more columns by William Belle.
Wikipedia: Pogo (comics)
John Cleese explains extremism and its advantages
Wikipedia: Antisemitism in the United States
Encyclopædia Britannica: George W. Bush: Declaration of War on Terrorism
CNN: part 8 of Obama’s press conference
He answers a question about the Ground Zero Mosque.
text of Obama’s press conference
My blog: Dearborn, Michigan: Watch out for extremists!
My blog: Freedom of Speech: Freedom to say "anything"?
Wikipedia: Pamela Geller
The Huffington Post – August 20, 2010
Pamela Geller, ‘Queen Of Muslim Bashers,’ At Center Of N.Y. ‘Mosque’ Debate
Postings on "Atlas Shrugs" have included a video suggesting Muslims have sex with goats, a doctored picture showing President Obama urinating on an American flag, and a fake image of new Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in Nazi garb.
Wikipedia: Robert Spenser
Wikipedia: The Hitchhiker’ s Guide to the Galaxy
Wikipedia: Phrases from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams: Why 42?
Wikipedia: 2010 Qur’an-burning controversy
Wikipeda: Baruch Goldstein
My blog: Hate! Hate! Hate! Kill! Kill! Kill!