Saturday, September 11, 2010

Darkness and light

From Joshua Holland’s "Fallout of Hate Is Spreading Across America from "Ground Zero" which appeared in AlterNet on August 21st:

In May, a man walked into the Jacksonville Islamic Center in Northeast Florida during evening prayers and detonated a pipebomb. Fortunately, there were no injuries. (If the man had been Muslim and the House of worship a Christian church, the incident would have garnered wall-to-wall coverage, but while the story got plenty of local press it was ignored by CBS News, Fox, CNN and MSNBC.)

It was the most serious of a series of incidents in which mosques far from the supposedly hallowed earth of Ground Zero have been targeted. A mosque in Miami, Florida, was sprayed with gunfire last year. Mosques have been vandalized or set aflame in Brownstown, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee; Arlington, Texas (where the mosque was first vandalized and then later targeted by arsonists); Taylor, South Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Eugene, Oregon; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Tempe, Arizona; and in both Northern and Southern California. A mosque in a suburb of Chicago has been vandalized four times in recent years.

In May, an Arab man was brutally beaten in broad daylight in New York by four young men. According to the victim’s nephew, "They used the bad word. 'The mother bleeping Muslim, go back to your country.' They started beating him and after that he don't know what happened.” A Muslim woman in Chicago was assaulted by another woman who took offense at her headscarf. A Muslim teacher in Florida was sent a white powdery substance in the mail. In San Diego, a man in his 50s became so incensed by the sight of an American of Afghan descent praying that he assaulted him after screaming, “You idiot, you mother f**ker, go back to where you came from."

The perpetrators of these hate crimes are clearly unhinged, but they’re not operating in a vacuum. They’re being whipped into a frenzy by cynical fearmongers on the Right. Writing for Tablet magazine, Daniel Luban astutely calls the dark spread of Islamophobia, “the new Anti-Semitism.”

Since then I know of the cabbie who had his throat cut in NYC and vandalism of a mosque being constructed in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The latter stood out in my mind because my mother briefly attended Middle Tennessee State College, as it was known then, in the early 1950s. She was born and raised in Iraq, and she remembered her time in Tennessee fondly.

My perspective may be different when it comes to would-be Koran-burner Terry Jones, maybe because I “look like them,” in the eyes of the Terry Joneses of the world. It’s not a question of breadth of vision, or wisdom, or empathy. Your life is different when you know you look like “them” in the eyes of people around you, some concerned about that more than others.

When the towers were attacked in September of 2001, I felt in those moments watching on TV and the second tower was hit that the republicans had received a gift, and our social landscape would immediately change, and there would be no going back. Now, years later and nearly two years through Obama’s term in office it’s pretty clear it was a gift to both parties.

Even today I find it unlikely that we will eventually be rounded up like the Japanese-Americans were during WWII, but I am concerned that things will get worse. Rob suggests the establishment media is working for the government; I'm more inclined to think that the government and the media work for a common group of owners.

Earlier today Jonathan Schwarz wrote:

the sad reality of life on Earth is that horrible things happen all the time. What was unusual about the terrorist attacks wasn't that they happened, but that they happened to us. We have two giant oceans on either side of us; two weak, friendly neighbors; and the most powerful military in the world. As awful as that one day was, what was true before is still true afterward: No one has less reason to be scared than Americans. Wondering whether we're safer is a little unseemly, like Yao Ming wondering whether he's ever going to get taller.

I think that’s largely true. The scope of the 9-11 attacks was also unusual, but the two-edged nature of ever-advancing technology suggests that more large scale 9-11 like attacks may be more likely in the future, especially as the global overclass strives to lock in their huge financial advantage over everybody else and make class increasingly less fluid in the years to come.

In the meantime, the hostility towards Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans not only looks like it will get worse, it looks like the product of a country that knows its in decline and is lashing out at convenient scapegoats. (Of course when my mother attended college it was communists.)

Even in September of 2001 the wars we waged(and continue to wage) since were by no means inevitable. In our screwed-up political climate it would have been easier for a sitting republican president to show restraint than a democrat. A few targeted strikes here, a few there, and we would have matched "their" body count and claimed one burnt corpse to be Bin Laden's and called it a day. Meanwhile the CIA could easily refute(or even refudiate!) any subsequent tapes or videos as fakes. (I got an auto-email from my congressman today which said that 2,977 Americans died in the 9-11 attacks, and that (thus far) 5,661 US soldiers have died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have to believe the scenario I sketched out would have cost fewer lives, on both sides.)

It's actually pretty amazing to me, how America's elites apparently don't want to solve our long term problems and seem to want them to get worse. Seems there's money to be made investing in the decline of America, but only for a lucky few. Some years ago I saw an article in The American Prospect, I forget who the author was, entitled, "Where are the rational greedy bastards?" As far as I can tell the American overclass is increasingly divorced from the rest of us, so breaking US society down for tax cuts appears rational to them. Which must be why they're happy to gin up social strife, as we're less likely to notice what they're up to.

At any one time it seems that there is a certain portion of the population, maybe 15 to 20 per cent, that are what popular parlance today calls "haters." People who reason based on fear and authoritarian impulses, that have an undue respect for authority schizophrenically mixed with a simultaneous resentment of it. Maybe in bad times, like nowadays, it climbs to 25 or 30 percent. By assigning numbers to it I recognize I'm being a bit glib, but my point is I'd like to believe that even nowadays they're a noisy minority, even though like Joshua Holland I'm concerned at how they've become emboldened of late. (And that's why I do care about the president or secretary Gates urging restraint, even if it's grossly hypocritical on several levels. Because when two-bit Koran burners show restraint this may influence others, who look to them for imagined permission to do other things.)

It's a strange country we live in, where much of the society cares about being insulated in would-be innocence from the world beyond our borders while our government meddles bloodily all over that same world. When I read about New York cabbie Ahmed Sharif's would-be killer Michael Enright and looked at the photo of him looking all innocent and alarmed in court I thought about that dichotomy, and wondered if it's a sort of mental illness shared by millions.(I note, however, that Enright had the presence of mind to select an non-white lawyer to appear with him.) I'd like to believe in the other America, the one described in Wayne Drash's story of two young Muslim Americans who traveled cross country for Ramadan and said they encountered mostly warm, decent people. But as far as I can see, they both exist.

New York Daily News, "Muslim cab driver slashed by boozed-up bigot just back from filming Marines in Afghanistan: cops"
(original title: Muslim cab driver slashed by upstate New York man because of his religion: police)

Wayne Drash, CNN: 2 Muslims travel 13,000 miles across America, find an embracing nation

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At September 12, 2010 4:52 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

Jon, I had never heard of the two Muslims traveling across America. Loved seeing it and it's an interesting story, but I wonder if it does more harm than good. It might give the viewer the idea that "see, we ARE a kind and accepting country and what's wrong with those people who think we're against Muslims?" as we continue to bomb the hell out of the Middle East.
A separate question: I pass a mosque on my frequent trips to the cemetery. I'd like to stop in and find out a bit more about it and its members. What do you think, Jon, would that be the wrong thing to do or not? Please give me your take on this.

At September 12, 2010 10:27 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Regarding whom works for whom I would assume that whatever few readers come here are aware that the government and thus the Pentagon works for Wall Street. I don’t see how that changes what I wrote in any way. That the Pentagon likes to insert its own news articles in the media should be fairly obvious, they are a great source of propaganda.

At September 12, 2010 3:41 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Mimi, I don't see why it wouldn't be OK. You could check to see if they have a web site and a phone number and call first if that makes you more comfortable.

At September 13, 2010 5:42 AM, Blogger micah holmquist said...


You are of course not wrong that differences tend to influence one’s perspective. I am reminded of the split of views that occurred amongst abolitionists in the U.S. over the Civil War. Almost all of those who opposed the Civil War on the grounds that it was not the “right” way to achieve emancipation were white.


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