Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Friend, The Majority of People Can Still Be Wrong

The thing I always wonder about Nazi Germany is this: how did it happen? Did all the Germans just go insane? How does an entire culture get to the point that they can turn away and ignore the torture and murder of MILLIONS of people: and not far away, hidden from view people, but people they pass by on the street, people they do business with, people that are their neighbors? How do people support a political party that treats people, based on their religion/culture, as a problem that must be solved? Well, I think it helps that Germans were scared of “them.” Really scared.

It’s hard to reason with fear.

From: Saumya Arya Haas
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 6:01 PM
To: xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Cold Chills

Hello Dear xxxxxxx,

It was truly wonderful to see you! and thank you for giving me the chance to respond to Wilders’ speech/ideas.

Regardless of what I say here… if you would like to know what Muslims think, you should get to know some Muslims and ask them, rather than basing your opinions on what someone else (including me) thinks that Muslims think.  However that’s not practical right away, so here is my response, based on my instincts, my experience with actual Muslims, living in India where Hindu-Muslim violence is not uncommon, being familiar with terrorist attacks (from many different groups: religious, political, secular, ethnic, etc.) in various parts of the world from a young age, and being an extremely patriotic American. It’s a long reply so bear with me.

Geert Wilders, the writer of this piece, is considered an extremist by many people. He is up on hate-speech charges in his native country, where no established political party will be associated with him. The UK tried to ban him from entering their country.


There is so much wrong with the reasoning in this article that I do not know where to start. Here is only one, minor, example. He says (about “Muslim ghettos”) :

“The shops have signs you and I cannot read. You will be hard-pressed to find  any economic activity.” Well, which is it? Are there shops, where presumably, people are exchanging money for products… or is there no economic activity?

What would you think of an architect who said “The pipes leak water everywhere. There is no plumbing in the house.” You would think they were mistaken, lying, or insane. How much would you trust their other statements?

Where are the references for his claims on facts and figures? is there reputable, government supported information, or are these figures produced by partisan organizations with an particular agenda? And if they are correct, so what? People can say, think and believe whatever they like. It is actions that count, and even that is does not justify discrimination. I’ve heard it said that the majority of convicted criminals in the USA are young African-American men. Should we treat all young Black guys like potential criminals? Lock them up just to be safe?

When you read Wilders piece, is there any other group that you would be comfortable generalizing about in this way? If you take out the word “Muslim” and insert the word “Black,” “Gay,” “Women,””Jewish,” whatever, how does it make you feel?  People call Wilder’s views racist and extremist because they are. As far as quoting numbers of what percentage of people fear Islam, I wonder, what percentage of Americans supported the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, interracial marriage, Civil Rights, etc, etc.? Do you think that if 60% of Americans are afraid of young African-American men we should do something about it? I’ve read that when it became legal for whites and non-whites to marry, the majority of Americans were against it. (I bring this one up because I’m in an interracial marriage and I know you would find it as distasteful as I do that there was a time that Urban & I, both American citizens, could not legally marry in our own country.)

The majority of people can still be wrong.

Wilder’s arguments and solution (which is not stated, but I am familiar with) do not stand up to common sense, common decently, the American Constitution or international human rights guidelines. People become criminals, and can be treated as criminals, the minute they are found guilty of a crime. Each person deserves to be treated as an individual. What crime have millions of Muslims committed, that we are so comfortable talking about them as though they are guilty of something? If Muslims are 25% or whatever of the population of Europe, so what?  Europe is made up of many nations and cultures; Muslims have been a part of that since Islam has existed.

The questions about Israel is a separate, political issue about governmental policies, not what citizens think. I know a number of (white, Jewish) Americans who are critical of Israel for whatever reasons. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.

Wilder advocates against dialogue with Muslim leaders; I find that disturbing. His writing is full of absolute statements and hysteria.

I feel that Wilders’ speech and writings follow this formula and philosophy:

“It [does] not investigate the truth objectively and.. it present[s] only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (...) [It is] confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans [are] persistently repeated (…) Every change.. must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.”

This is very effective because:

“[People]are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.”

These quotes are from Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Have you ever read the anti-Jewish rhetoric from Germany in the 1930s? It sounds very much the same. It was just as passionate, just as popular, and just as based on “facts.”

This is my theory: Germans believed that they had to protect themselves against an enemy, and that their survival depended on destroying this enemy before the enemy destroyed them. Germans began to believe that people who had lived peacefully alongside them, contributed to their economy and enriched their culture,  were dangerous outsiders who did not belong in Germany. I’m sure there were some Jews that were unprincipled, dangerous criminals—people are human after all. So, one Jew committing a crime became “proof” of the evil nature of all Jews. Jewish “ghettos” were portrayed as cancerous, dangerous cells that would spread and wipe out European values. Does any of this sound familiar?

What is Wilders solution? The mass rounding up and “deportation” of millions of people? Does that sound familiar?

The other thing I wonder about Nazi Germany is this: When was the moment? When did the German people tip from the talk to the walk? How did it go from free speech to state-sponsored genocide? Why didn’t anyone say: enough is enough. We are terrified of Jews, but we don’t have the right to eradicate them. Did any one say: We must stop before we do something insane.  If we look back with the luxury of hindsight, I think it’s apparent that there was not one moment, but many. Many.

The only cold chills I get are imaging what will happen to millions of innocent people if politicians like Wilder come into power.

I would like to be open and be able to talk about these issues, and I would like you to be comfortable talking to me. You are my friend and I love and respect you. But emails like the one you forwarded are hate speech, nothing more. I support the right of free speech for all, but it is a challenge to know how to reasonably respond to such virulent hatred masquerading as fact.

It’s ok to be ignorant and it’s understandable to be scared of things and cultures that we don’t understand. But it is not okay when our ignorance and fear is justification to limit the rights of other people…actually, there is nothing that justifies limiting the rights of other people. I cannot stand by in silence while my fellow (Muslim/Gay/Jewish/Whatever) Americans and fellow humans are demonized and have their dignity & rights stripped from them. These people are innocent. Where is this thinking going to end up?

I hope that you understand, and that your intrinsic compassion, intelligence and sense of justice will advise your thoughts and feelings.

With best intentions and much love,

Friday, August 13, 2010

I’ll help you pack, even.

Dear People-Who-Are-Afraid-of-Islam-And-Think-Your-Fear-Should-Affect-Other-People's-Freedoms,

You have a right to your feelings. But you do not have to right to expect your feelings to limit the rights of other Americans.

The 9/11 terrorists were angry, violent, screwed-up people, ok? Muslim, male, young, Middle-Eastern, dark-skinned, angry, violent, screwed-up. It's the angry, violent, screwed-up action that makes a terrorist. Nothing else.

Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, or, it has as much to do with terrorism as does ethnicity, national origin, age and gender...which is to say, nothing. We may as well associate maleness with terrorism...all the 9/11 terrorists were men. That's just as (ir)relevant as the fact that they were Muslim.

Most terrorists are men. Many cultures of "manhood" advocate violence, but I haven't noticed a backlash against male culture as terrorism. Imagine people making statements, writing tweets and articles or holding signs that say:

We will be overtaken by MEN, and their goal is to get people in Congress.

It’s provocative for these MEN to want a community center near Ground Zero.

Don’t Dishonor my Son’s Grave. No MEN Near Ground Zero.

It’s ridiculous, right? It’s ridiculous no matter what word is substituted for “MEN.”

There is a word for generalizing about people who practice a particular religion, look a particular way, or are a particular gender: it is called BIGOTRY and it is not protected by the Constitution of the United States, or any rational, moral or ethical argument.

So, get over the Islam thing. Or shut the hell up, let people worship as they choose and get some professional help for your anger, insecurity and paranoia. Or move out of the USA to a nation that does not give people the right of religious freedom. (Did Saudi Arabia come to mind? One of those nations run by…MEN?) If you can’t respect the basic beliefs of this country: Liberty and Justice for All—then it’s you who doesn’t belong here.

Best Wishes,

P.S. If you’re wondering what triggered this rant, it was this article:
Festive Muslim Holiday falls around Sept. 11 this year; US Muslims leaders fear backlash

It pisses me off that people in our country have to be afraid of celebrating their holidays. If terrorism is using fear to intimidate and control people, or words to that effect, and the Muslim community is afraid of us, who is it that is advocating terrorism??