Ignorance, Bigotry and Media Culpability: From the War on Terror to the Cordoba House
There was a sea of white faces at the Glenn Beck rally in DC this past weekend. While many folks would deny it, race was a big factor. This video shows all kinds of absurdly ignorant things people not only said but sincerely believe. As someone on the radical left it is these kinds of ignorant comments that explain why I rarely critique the Right. For me it is obvious beyond a reasonable doubt that these people are (sadly) bigoted, ignorant, intolerant and whose opinions are so superficial and guided by emotion that taking the time to point this out is a waste of time. Even though I am an atheist I do find plenty of wisdom in how the character known as Lord Jesus defines a hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who tries to pull the speck out of someone’s eye while he has a plank in his own. It is this logic that I generally opt to critique the Left. We have our own plank to deal with.
I think I can afford to deal with the Right for a moment.
In the above video one man says he learned all he needs to know about Islam from 9/11. This comment implies all Muslims—which there are a billion of throughout the world and have diverse cultures of their own—are the same. The Muslims who carried out the attacks and flew planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon are no different than the Muslims who live in Manhattan and want to build a cultural center. The attacks were about a religion, we are led to believe, not resisting imperialism.
It’s often the case that bigots generalize people outside their social group in order to justify their ignorance and oppression. A few years ago the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers and the linguist Noam Chomsky discussed the former’s theory on self-deception:
RT: It's the psychology of deceit and self-deception. When you start talking about groups, there are some very interesting analogies. Psychologists have shown that people make these verbal switches when they're in a we/they situation, in a your-group-versus-another situation.
NC: Groups that are simply set up for the experiment, you mean?
RT: It can be. You can also do it experimentally, or you can be talking about them and their group versus someone that's not a member of their group.
But you have the following kinds of verbal things that people do, apparently quite unconsciously. If you're a member of my group and you do something good, I make a general statement: "Noam Chomsky is an excellent person." Now if you do something bad, I give a particular statement, "Noam Chomsky stepped on my toe."
But it's exactly reversed if you're not a member of my group. If you're not a member of my group and you do something good I say, "Noam Chomsky gave me directions to MIT." But if he steps on my toe I say, "He's a lousy organism," or "He's an inconsiderate person."
So we generalize positively to ourselves, particularize negative and reverse it when we're talking about other people.
NC: Sounds like normal propaganda. Islamic people are all fascists. The Irish are all crooks.
Another study has been done on a similar phenomena brought up in the video; on how so many Americans can believe Obama is a Muslim. One of the researchers, Spee Kosloff, said, “Careless or biased media outlets are largely responsible for the propagation of these falsehoods, which catch on like wildfire. And then social differences can motivate acceptance of these lies […]As his job rating goes down, suggesting that people feel like he's not ideologically on their side, we see an increase in this irrational belief that he's a Muslim. Unfortunately, in America, many people dislike Muslims so they'll label Obama as Muslim when they feel different from him." Or a “Marxist” or “Socialist” for that matter.
Most of the Right relies on FOX News for their information and anyone who pays attention to groups like Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) or Media Matters for America know that FOX doesn’t specialize in journalistic integrity. They specialize in ideological drivel that hooks for the Lords of Capital. This is not to say that “liberal” media outlets like the New York Times don’t as well—because they most certainly do.
It’s worth keeping in mind that when people on the Right decry Obama as a Muslim or label Islam as a violent, intolerant religion what they are really saying is, “I am a bigoted white person.” There are exceptions to the rule but the vast majority of the Right who take these Islamophobic positions are white and more sympathetic to Christianity, if not full-blown evangelists. It’s not as if this intolerance is encoded in our DNA but rather it is a cultural phenomenon. Racism or white supremacy, as well as xenophobia and jingoism, is still a very big problem in this country. Even atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are guilty of falling prey to this. How else can they demonize Islam like they do? Especially Hitchens. He attempts to justify the Global War on Terror on the grounds that Islam is an existential threat (read: We are threatened and we must stop them!). Others repeat this nonsense in pointing to the thousands that have been killed by jihadists. Despite the fact that cars and alcohol and tobacco kill infinitely more people than Muslims do there is the issue of what can be associated to Christianity—the dominant religion for White America. If white American Christians, or drunks like Hitchens, want to play this game then fine.
I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did, and then God would tell me, “George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,” and I did.
So said the former US President, George W Bush. Of course we got to ask who are the “terrorists” in Afghanistan. None of the planning, training or funding for the 9-11 attacks came from Afghanistan. When God told Bush to attack we didn’t know who was behind the attacks. Shit, we didn’t know in June 2002 when FBI Director Robert Mueller publicly admitted so. We did eventually learn that Afghanistan had nothing to do with the attacks. So what that says about God’s wisdom is open for discussion but the fact remains that the US—who is 5% of the World’s population but accounts for 50% of the World’s military expenditures—attacked one of the poorest ant most defenseless countries in the world: Afghanistan. From September 11, 2001 through October 7, 2001 when the US began its assault on the country there was not another incident, showing that despite the terrorist attacks being horrific, it was an isolated criminal act that didn’t warrant an invasion. In other words: we are not defending ourselves in Afghanistan.
As for Iraq, it is strange that a god would create a country to support a “tyranny” for so long through the tyrants worst crimes and then urge the leader—the decider—of that country to "end the tyranny” by not only replacing it with another but doing so in a way that worsens the situation of those God wants “liberated.” Yesterday President Obama gave a pathetic speech on ending the "combat mission" in Iraq where he praised his predecessor. While the speech likely won't impress the people of Iraq or the rest of the World it does play to the self-serving, We Are Heroes bullshit that the Right eats up. Pure jingoism. Obama said,
From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.
These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst these shifting tides. At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As Commander-in-Chief, I am incredibly proud of their service. And like all Americans, I’m awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.
The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians -- and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people -- Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.
So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended . . .
President Obama knows damn well that our war on Iraq was not "a war to disarm a state." Disarmament was a bogus pretext and everyone but those who wanted to believe it knew it before the war. Even former Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted it: "He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours." Furthermore, it is sheer hypocrisy to play the disarmament card when the US has routinely obstructed disarmament efforts and as in the case of Iraq we used chemical weapons (and if there be any apologists who want to say our use of white phosphorus was not a chemical weapon then read this document of the US government that points to Saddam's use of the same substance in the same way as . . . wait for it . . . a chemical weapon)! And while "terrorism and sectarian warfare" did threaten "to tear Iraq apart" we have to remember that that was the plan. From the moment we stepped foot into the country we began arming, training and supporting sectarian groups and pitting them against one another. The Pentagon called it "the Salvador option," which was based on similar policies in El Salvador in the 1980's when President Reagan (another president Obama has praised) was arming and training death squads to attack civilians or anyone who stood in the corrupt, but US-friendly, governments way. In Iraq the result was thousands of dead bodies (see young Sunni men) filling up baghdad morgues each month. At one time we had over 50,000 people detained for suspicion of being a part of the resistance. In the middle of the night we would ram down people's doors, wave our guns around—and sometimes shoot up the place—put a bag over the heads of "men of fighting age" and sneak them away to torture centers where their families wouldn't know where they were, what was happening to them or what they were suspected of, for months and even years at at time. To put things in context: we illegally waged a war of aggression based on a bogus pretext that involved killing more than 1.5 million people, displacing millions more, imprisoned without charges tens of thousands more, increased malnutrition and birth defects in children and resulted in widespread torture. This is what Obama is praising as heroic. The violence only reduced—though it never stopped and is increasing as more of our GI Joe's leave for Afghanistan and our proxy army becomes more vulnerable—when much of mixed neighborhoods were ethnically cleansed or when Al Sadr honored a cease fire or when the US paid off the Sunni resistance.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 have claimed the lives of over 1.5 million people and counting (if we count all the decades we supported the Ba'ath Party, Saddam, the Persian Gulf War, the twelve years of boming and the Sanctions Regime then we are looking at over 3 million). Is the media reporting any of this? No.
Clearly the Right isn’t pointing to this to show that when compared to Christianity, Islam really does look like the “religion of peace.” And don’t get me wrong, it would be nonsense to generalize Christianity as such and as an atheist I find all religions to be absurd and nurturing intolerance and certainly fundamentalism of any sort is abominable but again, if the Right wants to play these ideological games they should be prepared for the volleys.
I still haven’t heard anyone ask these folks protesting the “Ground Zero Mosque” to explain why it is that Muslims in Manhattan can’t build a cultural center that includes a mosque because some other Muslims flew planes into the WTC buildings. And why aren’t these same angry people demanding the church across the street from the memorial for the OKC bombing be torn down too? Why aren’t they saying, “There are plenty of churches in Oklahoma City. Why do they need this one so close to where a Christian carried out a terrorist attack?” And why aren’t these rightwing loonies pointing out that of all the targets, the 9-11 attackers chose targets that are the pinnacle of American economic and military might? It’s hard to believe they were motivated purely by jihad when they target our economic and military system. Maybe it’s just me and Bill Blum but I think it’s obvious that their issue is political . . . well maybe the Pentagon thinks this too when considering they had this to say (and I think I will close with this):
American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.
• Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination
• Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support.
• What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
• Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic — namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is — for Americans — really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game.
This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.
Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of "dissemination of information," or even one of crafting and delivering the "right" message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none. . .