Monday, January 25, 2016

The Slime in Politics

"All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia."  -George Orwell

I guess some things never change.   Though one wonders if Orwell's candid point above can vary in intensity throughout the ages.  It could certainly be argued that politics in America today is a gross display of  immense corruption that is being played out on a dumbed-down reality TV show with Donald Trump as its rising star.  Those who have any semblance of a conscience are in the minority and are now trying to weather the endless battering from the mindless hyper-partisans who seem to lack a conscience - the slime in politics.

So what does this endless battering from the mindless hyper-partisans look like?

I give you the action's of America Rising - a hyper-partisan PAC that is supposedly designed "to expose the truth about Democrats" and hold them "accountable for their words and actions."  Their goal is to "influence elections" by getting attention grabbing story lines printed throughout the media.  Seems like a noble cause, huh?  Holding politicians, of whatever stripe, accountable certainly is a good thing.  However, who is going to hold this PAC group accountable when they spread lies?  

In reality, this PAC resembles a B-grade political version of MTV's Jackass.  Who can say the stupidest shit and then hope it sticks so the media will print it.  And, yes, America Rising does lie.  Allow me to show you an example.

Many people working in the Colorado state capitol were fired up about the Denver Broncos upcoming AFC Championship game against the Patriots.  Wearing orange at work on Fridays during the football season is a tradition for many football fans in Colorado.  So it went for the football fans in the state legislature this past Friday.  

Now, here is where America Rising decided to chime in and create a lie about a politician they want to smear... I mean, hold accountable.   America Rising has been on the beat and waiting to pounce on state Senator Morgan Carroll who has announced she will be running against Rep Mike Coffman.  Unfortunately for the staff at America Rising, Senator Carroll hasn't coughed up any damning words for them to print.  So I guess desperation drove them to throw out this little hit piece: 

Is this what holding politicians is supposed to look like?  No, this is a smear tactic that belongs in the National Enquirer.  It's not politics; it's ad hominem.    

Senator Carroll was born and raised in Colorado.  Thus questioning her loyalty to Colorado by trying to falsely suggest she is a "secret Patriots fan" is nothing short of pathetic.  Do we even know if Senator Carroll is a football fan?  If she is not, do we expect politicians to fake their love for a game to soothe people's nativist urges?

Next, the hit piece turns into the blatant lie when America Rising's staff starts re-tweeting the lie that Senator Carroll is a Patriots fan.

And here...

The lie then gets spread by the "grassroots" right-wing sheriffs of #copolitics.


Yes, George, it is going to be a long year of listening to you and your hyper-partisan friends throw out a barrage of logical fallacies and lies.  People will then even get the pleasure of having to listen to them whine and demand that people address their smear campaigns in a serious manner.  

Do these people have a conscience?  Do they think spreading a lie about a person is a respectable thing to do?  Do they even know how to address the issues?  Or is logical fallacy their crutch to electoral victory?

Sadly, many of these same people delude themselves into believing that they are the honest people in politics.  They are far from it.  They are liars.

Do they want to talk issues?  Well, then maybe they should start engaging in honest discussions, rather than attacking the person.  Until then, it is perfectly appropriate to call them what they are: the slime in politics.


And without fail, the toxic right-wing sheriffs of #copolitics jump into the mix a few hours after I posted this to defend the liars. 

George is now claiming it was all a joke, and that I should lighten up.  

No, George... why don't you take some responsibility, learn about integrity, and own up to the fact you are spreading lies.

Richard Turnquist, then comes to George's defense.  Richard apparently has no quarrels defending a liar through the use of (surprise!) ad hominem --- i.e., I'm just a "kid" and a #leftyfail.  Whatever, this kind of dishonesty is all too typical from the toxic right-wingers in #copolitics.   

More comically still is Richard just claimed he doesn't see any proof of his friend's lying?   See above screen shots for proof.  Maybe I should go and grab some more screen shots for this obtuse man to get the point. Though I doubt that is possible.  Hey, Richard... is it truthful to call Senator Carroll a Patriots fan based on not wearing orange last Friday?

Your truly,
Mark Olson

P.S. - I have no copy editor, nor do I swim in the donor pools who will give me money to shill for their interests.  Thus my perspective and any grammatical errors above are all mine.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Islamophobic Discourse Thrives in a Distinction-less World

Anti-Muslim rhetoric in America continues to reverberate throughout American discourse long after the 9/11 attacks.  Some of it is in response to things like the violent beheadings of Western journalists by ISIL, or the Muslim extremist attacks on Charlie Hebdo in France.  The anti-Muslim rhetoric in American discourse is tied into a concept known as Islamophobia, which has played a long role in American discourse. 

There are many factors that help Islamophobic discourse maintain “legitimacy” in the minds of the Islamophobes, and one of these factors is that it depends on people failing to make distinctions.  Thus if we begin to make important distinctions regarding the various interpretations that exist within the Islamic faith, the Islamophobic discourse begins to crumble and reveals itself as irrational and nonsensical.  In this essay I will briefly explain what Islamophobia is and its origins.  Next, I will show how Hollywood, the media, churches, think tanks, and politicians help amplify Islamophobia.  And, finally, I will show how Islamophobia will crumble if we begin to make important distinctions.

Islamophobia is quite literally what its name indicates: the irrational fear of the religion of Islam and its adherents.  As Jocelyn Cesari noted, “the term Islamophobia first appeared in a 1922 essay by Orientalist Etienne Dinet."(1)  While the term is contested by some, it can safely be stated that the Islamophobe irrationally believes that Islam, and its adherents, are all somehow a threat to civilization and their way of life.  They believe false stories about Islam as being the “religion of violence,” and the Muslim as wanting to create Sharia law in America, and throughout the entire world.  However, it is important to note that the irrational fears of the Islamophobe did not arise in isolation; rather, Islamophobia has a deep history that can be traced back to the Crusades, and the later development of Orientalism.

The Crusades were the first European endeavor to create images of Muslims as evil and barbaric.  Much of this propaganda would be created by the Church in its quest to rally the “Christian soldiers” to the defense of their fellow Christian brethren who were supposedly being slaughtered and persecuted at the hands of the Seljuk Turks.  Pope Urban, in his call for the Crusades, would be one the first to create the image of “the other” to unite Europe to fight against the supposed evil Muslim Barbarians.  And, later, Peter the Venerable would be one of the first to create works that attacked “Islam as a heresy and Muhammad as a false prophet." (2)  This depiction of Muslims would then eventually find its way into Orientalist discourse.

Orientalism was based in secularism, rather than the religious rhetoric that was used by the crusaders.  However, Orientalism would continue to use the stereotypes of Muslims as being barbarians, savages, and backwards to create a system of knowledge that pretended it was better, more intelligent, and more civilized than “the others.”  This would then be used as justification for European empires to colonize parts of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. 

While Orientalism was a European creation, it would also creep into American life.  This makes sense in light of the fact that much of American thought was derived from their European brothers.  Orientalist images of the Muslim world, and anti-Muslim sentiments, would find their way into America through European books such as, Humphrey Prideaux’s The True Nature of Imposture Fully Display’d in the Life of Mahomet, or Arabian Nights, or a little later through the influential work of Voltaire.  Many of these books contained “themes of the fanatic Muslim man, the oppressed Muslim woman, and an intolerant Islamic religion." (3)  Thus Americans would absorb much of Orientalist and anti-Muslim thought through these European books.  Now that we have a basic understanding of Islamophobia and its roots, we can move to the next part of the essay. 

As I noted earlier, the irrational fears of the Islamophobe did not arise in isolation.  The narrative of Islamophobia has gained strength in America through the help of Hollywood, the mainstream media, Christian churches, and politicians.  Pre 9/11, the images of the “fanatic Muslim man” could be seen in Hollywood pictures, like Swartzenegger’s True Lies.  Even the Disney cartoon, Aladdin, would depict the Muslim man through the narrative of Islamophobia.  The images of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings perpetrated by Muslim extremists would help legitimize much of Hollywood’s depiction.  However, these Hollywood representations of Muslim men would play on the American’s lack of understanding of the vast differences throughout the Muslim world. 

The print media also plays of role in spreading the Islamophobia narrative.  Stories are repeatedly printed throughout media sources depicting the “accounts of unbearable oppression” of the Muslim woman.  While there are indeed incidences of Muslim women being oppressed, just like women are oppressed in non-Muslim countries, no mention is made by the print media that these are isolated cases, and that the vast majority of Muslim women are not being oppressed.  As Evelyn Alsultany wrote, these depictions are meant to provoke “outrage and pity” in the American viewer; pity for the oppressed woman, and outrage for the “evil Muslim oppressor."(4)

The Islamophobia narrative can even be seen in simple political cartoons.  In their essay, “From Muhammad to Obama: Caricatures, Cartoons and Stereotypes of Muslims,” Gottschalk and Greenberg show us how political cartoons “demonstrate quite vividly the Islamophobia that has been alternately latent and manifest in the United States for more than two centuries."(5)  

In one example, they show us a cartoon by Mike Keefe in 1979 that depicts women at a fashion show.(6)  The European and U.S. ladies are wearing fancy dresses with big smiles on their faces, while the Iranian woman, is hunched over and fat, wearing a black burqa, and lagging behind because of a ball and chain that is tied around her ankle.  

This Islamophobic depiction reveals that Mike must not have been aware that many Iranian women partook in the revolution, and likely don’t feel oppressed, let alone chubby and hunch-backed.  After all, why would Iranian women risk their lives and partake in a revolution if they were going to be oppressed by the very people they fought side by side with?  At any rate, these kinds of depictions all fail to make any kind of important distinctions, and rely solely on the general stereotypes that can be found in Islamophobic narrative.

Another area where we can see the Islamophobic narrative is in American churches, especially in the Evangelical branch.  Many evangelical pastors have been quite vocal about their disdain for Islam.  This disdain isn’t just about their belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, but also focuses on spreading the narratives found in Islamophobia.  One such evangelical pastor, Ergun Caner, would even set out to write numerous books on why Islam was supposedly the religion of violence and terrorism.

Caner, a former dean of Liberty University’s theological seminary, portrayed “himself as a jihadist-turned-Christian who fled the tactics of terrorism to embrace the salvation of Jesus Christ.”  Caner is known for having a “profound influence on the evangelical community,"(7) and was invited to numerous different churches throughout the United States to promote his books and his “insider” viewpoints about Islam.  However, as Nathan Lean revealed his whole story was a fraud.  Caner had completely lied about being a former Muslim who was born in Turkey, and who followed his Muslim father into the world of jihad.  Thus we can see an example of how even church members help perpetuate Islamophobia.

Finally, the last area we see the Islamophobia narrative being perpetuated is in think tanks, which then is often used by politicians.  I lumped these two together because some politicians mainly get all of their source material from America’s right-wing think tanks.  And in some cases, the people working in these think tanks have been directly connected to America’s foreign policy (i.e., neoconservative Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, etc., and their connection to the Bush Administration).

There are a variety of right-wing think tanks that are helping to spread the Islamophobic narrative.  Some of these think tanks have even been dubbed the “New McCarthyites.”(8)  After 9/11, and especially as President Obama took office, a “tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives” began to reach “a critical mass” throughout America.  These groups consist from the Anti-Defamation League, to AIPAC, to Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, to Campus Watch, to Stop Islamization of America. 

Neoconservative, Daniel Pipes, created “Campus Watch” based on his irrational belief that “Middle East scholars are un-American,” and that these professors are bullying Jewish students.(9)  Frank Gaffney, another neoconservative, created Center For Security Policy, which “has been instrumental in promoting anti-Muslim propaganda."(10)  And anti-Muslim activist, David Gaubatz, “built his career after 9/11 by arguing that Muslim civil rights groups such as CAIR are actually front groups for terrorist organizations.”(11)  Pamela Geller, of the Stop Islamization of America, and currently President of American Freedom Defense Initiative, have also become a new “Islamophobic warrior” and has taken up the charge that CAIR is front group for Islamists.(12)  This network of right-wing groups and think tanks all depend on not making important distinctions when launching their anti-Muslim attacks.

The Islamophobic rhetoric that is deriving within these right-wing groups then manages to trickle into the right-wing politicians rhetoric, which is generally used as justification for an aggressive interventionist foreign policy.  While attempting to justify the Iraq invasion, President Bush and his staff would attempt to “redefin[e] the enemy as ‘Islamic Fascism.’”  As Juan Cole pointed out this attempt to coin a new term was met with much denunciation by scholars all throughout the world.  However, “the phrase nevertheless entered the Republican political lexicon” despite its completely inaccurate usage.(13)  

Now that I have given some examples of the places where we the Islamophobic narrative being fostered and used to justify U.S. foreign policies, we can move to the final part about the lack of distinctions within Islamophobic discourse.

The world is a very complex place.  We are all born into a world that has “an already existing web of human relationships.”(14)  This web consists of the various social, economic, familial, cultural, legal, linguistic and political institutions into which we are born, and an individual will always have to confront an “innumerable [number of] conflicting wills and intentions” that exist within the web of human relationships.(15)

However, the enormity and complexity of the things of this world, and the innumerable number of conflicting wills and intentions is one of “the reason[s] why all our definitions are distinctions [and] why we are unable to say what anything is without distinguishing it from something else.” (16)  Thus when we engage in discussions about the Muslim world we would need to distinguish the varying political systems, the varying interpretations that exist within Islam, and other historical factors that lead to vast differences in the Muslim world.  However, these important distinctions are nearly non-existent in Islamophobic discourse.

For example, the Bush and the neoconservatives completely failed to make very important distinctions when they made the claim that the enemy was “Islamic Fascism.”  As Juan Cole noted, “putting ‘Islamic’ in front of another word implies that it is intrinsic to or characteristic of the Islamic religion or civilization.”(17)  The proper way to speak of the terrorism that Bush is referring to would be to say “Muslim terrorists” because Muslim extremist organizations are a tiny minority of the nearly 1.3 billion Muslims that exist in the world.  Thus the term Islamic Fascism implies that these 1.3 billion are susceptible to fascism because it is intrinsic to Islam. 

Cole also pointed out the inaccuracy of attempting to apply the term fascism to Muslim extremist organizations.  He wrote, “fascism is notoriously difficult to define.  Nonetheless, surely it has to do with virulent nationalism and the establishment of racial hierarchies… and with the idolization of a dominating elite and contempt for the weak.”  However, if one observes the rhetoric of organizations, like Al-Qaeda, one would notice that they “reject nationalism, establish multiethnic alliances, and think of themselves as defending the oppressed Muslim masses."(18)  In other words, applying fascism to what they are doing is complete nonsense if we make the distinctions that Cole is making here.

Furthermore, if we take a look at the “Muslim women are being oppressed” narrative found in Islamophobia we can see how there are few distinctions being made here.  These charges are usually made while pointing a finger at places like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran.  However, no distinction is ever made about the differences and viewpoints regarding the veil and the hijab within the Muslim world, let alone that so few of these people pointing fingers ever bother to actually ask the Muslim woman if she feels oppressed.  For example, if Muslim women living in Qatar, and who wear a hijab or veil, are so oppressed, then why are they paid more than men?  Or why do American Muslim women continue to wear the hijab while living in America?  At any rate, these are the kind of important distinctions that are never made in Islamophobic discourse.

To make matters worse, the Islamophobic warriors, like Pam Geller, will attack anybody who pushes back against their discourse when making these important distinctions and points.  The recent Garland, Texas shooting at the cartoon event that Geller organized highlights this point.  When people began to push back against Geller and suggest that she is a provocateur, she goes on the attack.  Even Bill O’Reilly joined the crowd who criticized Geller.  The network of right-wing groups and think tanks associated with propagating the Islamophobic narrative quickly came to her defense.  Right-wing critic Mark Levin, and Fox’s Megyn Kelly, have joined Geller in denouncing O’Reilly - even going so as to call him an ISIL sympathizer.  Nonsense knows no bounds when defending distinction-less notions. 

People like Geller need to come to its defense because, likely, it is part of their identity.  Because if they actually listened to the critical points that people are making in regard to Islamophobic discourse they would have to admit their failings, which would be a blow to their identity.  Instead, we see them doubling down and making fools of themselves.  Is calling Bill O’Reilly an ISIL sympathizer not exactly this?  Thus this example shows us how making important distinctions begins to turn the Islamophobic narrative into the irrational nonsense that it is.

Also, any new terrorist attack that is perpetrated by Muslim extremists continues to fuel the Islamophobes.  They say, “See! This is why Islam is the religion of violence!”  Unfortunately, the denouncement of this violence by the Muslim community throughout the world is drowned out by the overwhelming noise of the media megaphone.  What’s even more ironic is that when the recent shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood happened, by a Christian named Robert Dear, people were quick to defend Christianity from the violent acts of the “insane minority” who would do such a thing.  Apparently this very same logic cannot be applied to the entire spectrum of Islam.  In other words, they don’t want to honestly see that Muslim extremists are the insane minority, just like a Robert Dear.

As Professor Kurzman recently wrote, “The answer [to violent extremism], I propose, is to treat fringes as fringes, across the board: violent extremism is not going to disappear, unfortunately, but let’s keep it in perspective.”

 In conclusion, Islamophobia has a long history that is rooted in Orientalist thought.  The Islamophobe is holding onto irrational fears that are perpetuated by an assortment of institutions: from Hollywood misinterpreting the Muslim world in their films, to the media spreading Islamophobic stories lacking important distinctions, to evangelical pastors straight up lying to their adherents, and to the right-wing think tanks and politicians that have an ideological agenda.  And these groups of Islamophobes will likely continue to attack anybody who challenges their distinction-less narratives.  However, this kind of reaction should be good news because making distinctions just might be the Achilles heel to Islamophobic discourse in America. 

(1) Cesari, Jocelyn. “Islamophobia in the West: A Comparison between Europe and the United States.” Essay found in Islamophobia: the Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century. Page 21.

(2) Ibid
(3) Gottschalk and Greenberg. “Common Heritage, Uncommon Fear: Islamophobia in the United States and British India 1687-1947.” Page 21.

(4) Alsultany, Evelyn. “Arabs and Muslims in the Media.” Page 72.
(5) Gottschalk and Greenberg. “From Muhammad to Obama: Caricatures, Cartoons and Stereotypes of Muslims.” Page 195.
(6) Ibid. Page 204.
(7) Lean, Nathan. The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. Page 84.
(8) Kumar, Deepa. Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. Page 169.
(9) Ibid., Page 170.
(10) Ibid., Page 179.
(11) Ibid., Page 180.
(12) Ibid., Page 171.
(13) Cole. Juan. “Islamophobia and American Foreign Policy Rhetoric: The Bush Years and After.” Page 127.
(14) Ibid., page 184.
(15) Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Page 184.
(16) Ibid., page 176.
(17) Cole, Juan. Page 131.
(18) Ibid., Page 131.