Anti-Muslim Bigotry & Double Standards

Except that I do not think the Juan Williams Incident qualifies as outright bigotry, I do agree with Greenwald on this point:

The double standard in our political discourse — which tolerates and even encourages anti-Muslim bigotry while stigmatizing other forms — has been as beneficial as it has been glaring.  NPR’s firing of Juan Williams threatened to change that by rendering this bigotry as toxic and stigmatized as other types.  That could not be allowed, which is why the backlash against NPR was so rapid, intense and widespread.  I’m not referring here to those who object to viewpoint-based firings of journalists in general and who have applied that belief consistently: that’s a perfectly reasonable view to hold (and one I share).  I’m referring to those who rail against NPR’s actions by invoking free expression principles they plainly do not support and which they eagerly violate whenever the viewpoint in question is one they dislike.  For most NPR critics, the real danger from Williams’ firing is not to free expression, but to the ongoing fear-mongering campaign of defamation and bigotry against Muslims (both foreign and domestic) that is so indispensable to so many agendas.

Anti-Islamic bigotry and fear-mongering comprise a large portion of the right-wing blogosphere, and indeed there have even been splits and divisions within the right-wing blogosphere over just how far one goes before one should draw the line. So you have respectable mainstream publications such as Weekly Standard and The New Republic which frequently publish pro-Israel content which borders on anti-Islamic propaganda, a bit further down the totem pole you find blogs like Atlas Shrugged and Jawa Report. Dig a bit deeper you get into the really terrible neo-fascist European stuff which is both anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish (though the anti-Semitic elements have been pushed beneath the surface to some degree since Muslims are perceived as the more immediate threat, and anti-Islamic neo-fascists want the neocon’s support). All these layers of hate and fear.

Which is one reason I find the whole hullaballoo over Juan Williams so frustrating. I’m not going to go back into the argument exactly – I’ve said all that needs to be said about the O’Reilly segment. I stand by my initial argument that Williams was using his own fears to make a broader point about how we shouldn’t say or do things which play on those fears and lead to violence or the denial of civil rights to Muslims.

But to further that argument a bit, I think when we react so strongly to anything that could possibly be seen as prejudicial or bigoted regardless of context, we risk creating a discussion of race/religion/bigotry/etc that is far too black and white, that makes true dialogue over these matters nearly impossible.

There is something of a holier-than-thou side to this also, as though these fierce critics of Juan Williams have never once harbored their own fears and prejudices, have waltzed through life with the most open of open-minds. I don’t buy it. I’d be willing to bet that a good number of the vocal critics of Williams have had the exact same fear when on a plane. If we’re realistic with ourselves, we’ll realize that we have more than one way of thinking. We have two brains, so to speak: the thinking brain and the doing brain – the brain which processes intellectually and analytically; and the brain that reacts, the survival brain – the one which triggers fear or passion or grief. These two brains are often in conflict with one another. So on a purely intellectual level, your thinking brain sees an obviously Islamic person on a plane and thinks, "It’s stupid to be afraid of that person, because any terrorist that’s going to dress like that isn’t going to make it past security (where, naturally, they’ll be far more prone to profiling)" whereas your doer brain might be setting off old alarm bells that maybe should have died out a couple years after 9/11 but don’t because quite honestly, we have very little control over the surviver side of our brain, the side that sets off the adrenaline and the nervousness and starts mapping out escape routes when it perceives a threat – even if that threat is totally irrational to our thinking brain.

Incidentally, I think Fox News traffics in setting off that doer brain as much as possible. The entire point of the network is to get people upset and angry and frightened and to cut them off from anything analytical or fact-based or well-reasoned. NPR, on the other hand, panders to the thinking brain. Unfortunately, much of the response to Williams from both the right and the left have followed the Fox model: on the right, the whole incident has been used as a weapon against NPR itself with calls to defund it and silly blathering about free speech; on the left, the incident has been used either to simply stomp on Williams who many liberals loathe for his participation at Fox News, or to complain about double-standards while essentially engaging in one. Look, I understand that there are double-standards and Greenwald is right to point them out – but he’s done so in such a way as to reveal his own double standard.

As Michael Drew notes in the comments:

Greenwald can’t come after Williams as hard as he does in the beginning of his piece today and then claim that he doesn’t support a standard where opinion talkers lose their jobs due to mistaken, but he does support this firing because if that’s the standard, then it should be applied uniformly across the board. That’s a legit position (I’d argue it’s the right one), but if you want to make it, you need to argue forcefully up top why the standard in now place is wrong otherwise you’re just contributing to the atmosphere of approval for such short leashes. Greenwald leads with colorful approval of this move (“That double standard suffered a very welcome blow last night(!)”), which allows his typical overexuberance to expose what is an unfortunately common duplicitousness in his argumentation, despite his almost uniformly sound fundamental positions.

I’d say that’s exactly right.

Update. I’ve removed some of the more colorful language from the post. Far be it from me to call other sites racist. Let them speak for themselves, and let readers decide with no help from your humble narrator.

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42 thoughts on “Anti-Muslim Bigotry & Double Standards

  1. I compare the anti-Muslim bigotry of Juan Williams’ to the anti-Muslim bigotry of the journalists who are afraid to print the Mohammed cartoons or even talk about what happened to the artist who originally started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”… or the newspapers that recently refused to publish a recent Non Sequitur comic.

    I prefer Juan Williams, myself.

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  2. Good stuff Eric. The meta analysis of Williams has overwhelmed any possible conversation about bigotry. While he may have been trying to offer context about why his feelings were wrong, what he said was pretty straight forward bigoted. Its fair enough to say that everybody has primitive thoughts but we can make an effort to squelch those instead of proudly defending them. But discussing bigotry is to much of a hot topic, it seems. Its easier to point out the ridiculous double standards of who gets fired and who doesn’t or pointing out the crimes of others.

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    • @gregiank,

      All concerns about bigotry aside, the fact is that in this day and age, if a terrorist acted is committed, it is most likely done by those peace loving Muslims. Liberals could care less how Jesus is portrayed but when it comes to Allah they will criticize almost everything that isn’t respectful.

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  3. Erik, that’s the most succinct, comprehensive, and accurate take on the situation I’ve yet to read. The question of whether Williams should have been fired actually comprises several questions having to do with consistency, and, not surprisingly, a great number of parties have reacted not in accordance with the sort of logic you have here laid out, but rather in accordance with their own semi-conscious policies on Muslims. And it is not just the anti-Islamic folks who have been dishonest about this over the last decade. I should also note, as an atheist who is active in opposition to organized political Christianity, that many people who are more than happy to level all sorts of charges at Christians or at least certain Christian populations will meanwhile attack any rhetoric directed towards Muslims as “bigotry” or some such, and they do so not on the merits of the charges and certainly not in reference to anything close to consistency of any sort, but rather in service to a sort of misguided calculus whereby they assume that the target of their enemies must in fact be misunderstood and oppressed by virtue of being such a target. All of this is complicated further by the fact that neither “Muslim” nor “Christian” tells us much about a person or group of people insomuch as that there is such great variance within these groups.

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  4. Actually shia v sunni bigotry is a massive problem and is the direct cause of a lot of violence in Muslim areas. Not mention hatred of Kurds or hindus, etc. So bigotry is a big problem in many cultures.

    It seems pretty clear there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around. If you are unhappy about insults towards Christians then you should certainly be pissed about insults at Muslims. In fact if you want people to be respectful then the best way to bring that about is to be respectful yourself. Going into the tit-for-tat insults just devolves into yet another screaming match. Especially when you, or anybody, just uses the generic “liberals, conservatives, left handed dentists, etc say” to justify your own blather. Lets talk to each other, not generics or strawmen.

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  5. “due to mistaken”? I frequently move on the the next thought while writing, and unfortunately also frequently fail to go back and finish the unfinished ones. I was struggling to characterize Williams’ words there. I didn’t think “impolitic comments” quite captured it, but that was the thrust. Insert whatever you think of as the best general way to characterize it when pundits put their foot in their mouth (hey, that’d have been a good one…) In any case, I agree with Erik that this impulse to simply erase the offending ideas from memory via termination runs contrary to the role we want media organizations to play, which is to facilitate communication, especially when the issue is difficult or fraught.

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  6. Oh spare me your terror of the clucking tongues of liberals. Please. You are free to insult other peoples gods and others are free to call you a jerk for it. Thats free speech. Free speech is not being free of criticism. I’ve heard and read more insults towards muslims and Allah then i could count. Seems pretty damn free to me. That does not mean the Allah cartoon censorship was correct. it wasn’t. but i think you could find plenty of people doing just fine while spouting all sorts of insults. Newspaper censorship..again, oh please, there are plenty of right wing columnists and web sites saying what ever they want. Even Juan Williams seems to have a place to say what he wants.

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  7. LoOG Article Generator in 5 Easy Steps:

    1. Both Left and Right are wrong about X
    2. Side-step X by focusing on Underlying Issue Y
    3. Underlying Issue Y proves the liberals are right for the wrong reasons… or vice versa
    4. This proves why we should abandon the generalization of left/right thinking… which proves my generalities about both the left and right
    5. Really the Right was correct all along… because liberals are hypocrites! But the Right shouldn’t be so mean!

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  8. It is rather obvious that Islam “was strongly influenced by the Ebionite school of Christianity and by Manicheism,” and consequently represents a violent, gnostic, derailment. Mr. Williams had every reason to be fearful of Muslims.

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  9. RE: the Ebionites:
    http://www.ask.com/wiki/Ebionites?qsrc=3044
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05242c.htm
    http://hardquestions.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/the-ebonites-true-followers-of-jesus-who-converted-to-islam/

    RE: the Manichaeism
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3424300449.html
    http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/hutchison/040105
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/295507/Islam/69162/The-Hellenistic-legacy

    There’s a lot of additional material available on the internet where there are numerous scholarly sources cited as well.
    I should also not that, for example, the Paulicians, ‘a powerful religious/military force,’ linked with the Manichaeians, and allied with Saracen Emir of Melitene raided the Byzantine Empire with a great deal of success.

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    • @Robert Cheeks, Yeah, I get that there are scholars who argue these points (though the Ebionite theory is pretty out there, and it’s the Jewish, not the gnostic Ebionites that are implicated, I believe), but it’s far from “obvious,” and you haven’t said how any of that implies a “represents a violent, gnostic, derailment.”

      Also, when was the last time you read a book by someone other than Veogelin?

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      • @Chris,
        “but it’s far from “obvious,” and you haven’t said how any of that implies a “represents a violent, gnostic, derailment.”
        The above comment is related specifically to the violent and oppressive nature of Islam, re: ‘conversions’ and in its relationship not only between men and women, but with other religions, and not only Judaism and Christianity. Islam seeks ‘disorder’, if we may call war disorder, and sees its adherents, or at least those with a special ‘internal’ knowledge to be the ‘elect,’ or the ‘selected.’
        Chris, the problem I see in this discussion is the failure on the part of some to understand the ‘moral and religious evil’ of Islam and, as Voegelin said, if one is not morally competent to challenge this ‘force’ than we’ll see repeated the phenomenon of the disorder, suffering, and wars of the recent ideological century. And, here I’d note that the vast majority of wars currently being fought is between Islam and some other party.
        I’m reading Edith Stein’s ‘Finite and Eternal Being,’ David Walsh’s ‘The Modern Philosophical Revolution,’ as well as Dean Koontz’s latest, and “Dupes” from ISI for review, and I’m behind on these.
        BTW, it’s ‘Voegelin’! But, I shouldn’t criticize other people’s spelling.

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        • @Robert Cheeks, Bob, I’ve read the Quran a few times now and, to be honest, I certainly had problems with it. And, you know, it has been a good while since I did read it and my memory sucks. But, for the life of me, I don’t know what you’re referring to about Islam having an ‘elect’ via ‘internal’ knowledge. Also, what are you referring to about ‘conversions’ and violence? You use these quotes, but what passages are you quoting and what exactly do they say?

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      • @Chris, Today while I was dealing with Chris’s question I came across a reference to an internal elect who were able to decipher the really, really gnostic stuff in Islamic theology. I can’t find exactly where that was however here’s a really good one that references a certain gnostic direction in Islam:
        http://books.google.com/books?id=focLrox-frUC&pg=PA223&lpg=PA223&dq=Islam+gnosticism+internal+external+knowledge&source=bl&ots=kzjylRuWp0&sig=WPdP3LS2GeeswkVeEIB_Hq9ChR0&hl=en&ei=0QXGTKHpBYKBlAeFv9wE&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

        I’m quoting stuff because Chris caught me missing a Voegelinian attribution and he was correct. Re: violence and conversion, I’m referring to the offer of either joining Islam or being put to death, an offer made to the infidel captive during war. Also, he could have been forced to pay the dhimmini tax, if I spelled that correctly?
        My argument is that Islam is not a ‘religion of peace’ in fact it’s the opposite because of the tenet that calls for the World Caliphate. My argument is that we are at war with Islam and should act accordingly. Does that hep?

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