Skip

You Still Can't Write About Muhammad
August 12, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Asra Q. Nomani writes in The Wall Street Journal on Sherry Jones's new historical novel, "The Jewel of Medina" about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Random House has pulled the book for fears of a political and extremist nature. In a statement, Random House said: "We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors and the free discussion of ideas, even those that may be construed as offensive by some. However, a publisher must weigh that responsibility against others that it also bears, and in this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House Inc, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the book." Over at the Guardian, you can read more about the controversy.
posted by Fizz (140 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 

It's a bird! It's a plane! No. Sorry about that. it was just free speech leaving town.

.
posted by notreally at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2008


This is bullshit.

.
posted by availablelight at 4:10 PM on August 12, 2008


"Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception."

Quite right. Islam is the inverse. It was when Islam suppressed its literature that it began to die as a civilization, ultimately becoming the shambling undead horror that stalks the world today, twitching and groaning "raaaage," while it hammers to pieces all the things it stumbles across and doesn't understand.
posted by Naberius at 4:21 PM on August 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


"in this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication until hell freezes over"
posted by blucevalo at 4:22 PM on August 12, 2008


OMG DHIMMITUDE!!!!
posted by delmoi at 4:24 PM on August 12, 2008


Pathetic and craven.
posted by Falconetti at 4:25 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Such a sad and stupid stand by the publishing house here. Not sure which disturbs me more, the publishers who feel the need to censor their own writers out of fear of reprisal, or the fact that they sadly have a point.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 4:29 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Quite right. Islam is the inverse. It was when Islam suppressed its literature that it began to die as a civilization, ultimately becoming the shambling undead horror that stalks the world today, twitching and groaning "raaaage," while it hammers to pieces all the things it stumbles across and doesn't understand."

Y'know, after reading the article, I was going to post some one-liner about how if Islam's dark ages are commiserate in length with Christianity, we should expect some lurching progress in the 2200s. But then I took a moment to remember my Said.

I don't deny that militant Islam is a problem; nor do I deny that the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East are repressive under the cover of Islam. I even will argue forcefully that those two streams of philosophy reinforce each other.

But portraying Islam as a monolith, or as culturally bankrupt, especially when decrying it for its lack of understanding? That's just stupid.
posted by klangklangston at 4:29 PM on August 12, 2008 [17 favorites]


ultimately becoming the shambling undead horror that stalks the world today

So you're calling the entirety of Islam, which has I believe a billion or so practitioners in virtually every country on the planet, a "shambling undead horror that stalks the world"? Sounds like Islamophobic hyperbole and racist caricature to me.
posted by ornate insect at 4:34 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't blame Random House for making its decision. Random House stands for more than free speech. It represents thousands of employees, writers, etc. and given the possibility of extreme consequences, I don't blame them. But I do think that they should allow the author to give them their money back and allow her to find another publisher. I have no doubt that another publisher would have no problems taking on this kind of risk, and should be allowed to do so freely.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:37 PM on August 12, 2008


I have no doubt that another publisher would have no problems taking on this kind of risk, and should be allowed to do so freely.

And I should add, that THAT's the real censorship. The fact that Random House will probably sit on this book, just so it won't lose money, is the real travesty.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:39 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even after the fatwa, did anyone die as a result of the publication of 'The Satanic Verses'? This is lame.
posted by GuyZero at 4:42 PM on August 12, 2008


>>Even after the fatwa, did anyone die as a result of the publication of 'The Satanic Verses'?

From the Guardian article: "When Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, attempts were made on the lives of his Norwegian and Italian publishers, and the Japanese translator of the novel was killed."
posted by SaintCynr at 4:48 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Call me a conspiracy theorist but I can't shake the notion that this would be brilliant viral marketing. If Random House is "persuaded" to release the book in a couple of weeks or months it will be an instant bestseller.
posted by sveskemus at 4:49 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd say more like culturist caricature. Islam as a phenomenon supersedes any racial questions as there are Muslims from pretty much every racial group on the planet. And of course it's caricature, and of course Islam's not a monolith. On the other hand, I didn't have time to take a poll.

Individually there are Muslims I've liked, Muslims I've disliked, Muslims I've just dealt with in a sufficiently abstract manner that it never came up. I get that they're all different people with varying ideas and opinions. But if you're going to use the term Islam at all, you've got to stir them all together and talk about the net effect. And the net effect of Islam today is something the world could do without. (It's far from the only thing. And don't think it doesn't gall me that, as an American, it doesn't so much matter what I think because when you mix us all together and look at the net result, we're pretty toxic too.)
posted by Naberius at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2008


The only way anyone in the West wants to read this book is if it's "controversial". I don't think there would've been much interest without this brou-ha-ha; not to say that I think the publisher is doing this on purpose, but surely they considered all of the options before paying the advance.
posted by cell divide at 4:51 PM on August 12, 2008


Howard Bloom on Islamic Censorship
posted by joe defroster at 4:52 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Coming soon, my new book: "I Poked 1/5th of the Earth's Population With A Stick, Aren't I Special?"
posted by tkolar at 4:52 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Livejournal entry documenting the brouhaha, with links to much more informative discussion. Publication rights have been returned to the author, who shows up to defend her literary choices in this thread.

A lot of the author's arguments seem to be "but she's portrayed positively, so it's OK!" while ignoring the points made by Muslim commenters that they see any portrayal of Aisha as verboten.
posted by casarkos at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2008


Another thing, there haven't been any problems (that I know about) when scholars write about Muhammad, it's when people try to 're-imagine' the life of the prophet that they get into trouble, it seems. You can get dozens of books about Muhammad from Amazon, some of them are pretty good. The Karen Armstrong one, for example, has been selling well for years.
posted by cell divide at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2008


tkolar, do you mean that the author of the book is cynically writing something controversial, in order to feel special?
posted by everichon at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


naberius--yeah but the bulk of Muslims are in places like Indonesia, the Middle East, and Africa, so there's a lot of inherent racism (look, brown people!) potentially piggybacking on caricatures of Islam.

the net effect of Islam today is something the world could do without

I don't even know what this means. A radical environmentalist might replace "Islam" in that sentence with "humanity," or someone who hates cabbage might use the phrase that way. There's nothing sillier than using pseudo-empirical phrases like "net effect" to justify one's prejudices.
posted by ornate insect at 4:56 PM on August 12, 2008


Publication rights have been returned to the author

::Throws arms into air in a sign of disgust::

Where's the outrage now? It's almost as if the right thing was done, and now there's very little to discuss (in terms of how this FPP was constructed, anyway).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:58 PM on August 12, 2008


It's a bird! It's a plane! No. Sorry about that. it was just free speech leaving town.

Um actually no. Free speech means the government won't interfere. The market can do what it likes. Similarly, this isn't censorship, as that's only when a government does it.

I mean hello.. do we forget that Salman Rushdie lived in hiding for years based on a single line in a shity (shitty, shitty) book? It's not difficult to argue that the militant bits of the Islamic world have gotten somewhat more violence-prone since then. While it's deeply regrettable that Random House made this decision, it's also not difficult to understand why, with the culture of fear that we live in.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:00 PM on August 12, 2008


Similarly, this isn't censorship, as that's only when a government does it.

I am tired of this idea.

censor: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable <censor the news>; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable <censor out indecent passages>
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:11 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Um actually yes, dnab. The 1st Amendment may only apply to the government, but "free speech" is "censored" anytime anyone can and does exert their power to prevent publication or dissemination of the words of another. If no other publisher, or only a small press, picks up this book, then the forces of militant Islam have successfully censored it, and free speech is the poorer.
posted by nicwolff at 5:12 PM on August 12, 2008


Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin ... "I don't have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography."

Yes you fucking well can! This woman is a teacher?! Sad.
posted by nicwolff at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


Um actually no. Free speech means the government won't interfere. The market can do what it likes.

B.S.

I mean hello.. do we forget that Salman Rushdie lived in hiding for years based on a single line in a shity (shitty, shitty) book? It's not difficult to argue that the militant bits of the Islamic world have gotten somewhat more violence-prone since then.

The militant bits? I don't really get how you can compare the Shia Iranians who issued the fatwa with the Sunni extremists who have been causing problems lately, and in fact the Iranians actually removed the Fatwa, so clearly they've cooled down. Rushdie in particular is much freer to move around then he was in the past.
posted by delmoi at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2008


metafilter: you can play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography
posted by ornate insect at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


"net effect" is sillier than "pseudo-empirical?"

And, if by prejudices, you mean things I'm no longer willing to just give a pass to in the name of perfect cultural relativism, well, I guess I've got to cop to that. I tried. God knows I tried. If your culture wears funny hats or eats stuff I'm not used to, sure, I can deal with that. But the idea that the way to deal with something you feel offends you - either individually or as a member of any number of groups up to and including one with more than a billion members - is to murder some artist, or some unsuspecting office worker, or your daughter, is just full of shit.

And I don't have any external framework that lets me demonstrate logically why one cultural norm is superior to another. That's just one that I accept a priori and seem unable to change. And I guess, at the end of the day, that's prejudice, isn't it? So okay, you got me.
posted by Naberius at 5:21 PM on August 12, 2008 [14 favorites]


"You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography."

She's right. You can't turn Aisha's consummation into soft core pornography, since it's child pornography.
posted by benzenedream at 5:25 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Um actually no. Free speech means the government won't interfere. The market can do what it likes.

B.S.


Care to explain? That is how your laws are written, no? That government may not pass a law etc etc etc? Can you show me any law that requires the marketplace to publish everything?

I didn't think so. Freedom of speech means the freedom to say as you will without unreasonable government interference. It does not mean that you have the automatic right to be published. If your government were stepping in and saying that Random House couldn't publish the book, then yeah you'd be able to argue that free speech was being curtailed. As that's not the case, well, too bad.

The militant bits? I don't really get how you can compare the Shia Iranians who issued the fatwa with the Sunni extremists who have been causing problems lately, and in fact the Iranians actually removed the Fatwa, so clearly they've cooled down. Rushdie in particular is much freer to move around then he was in the past.

Oh goody, the deliberate obtuseness again. Yes, clearly they are different factions and yes I glided over that because it didn't seem terribly important. My point is that within the overarching world of Islam, those who are militant are more likely to employ more extreme violence than twenty years ago. That's all.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:31 PM on August 12, 2008


Individually there are Muslims I've liked, Muslims I've disliked, Muslims I've just dealt with in a sufficiently abstract manner that it never came up. I get that they're all different people with varying ideas and opinions. But if you're going to use the term Islam at all, you've got to stir them all together and talk about the net effect. And the net effect of Islam today is something the world could do without.

Replace "Muslims" and "Islam" with "Jews" and "Judaism" and you've got a classic diatribe from, say, 70 years ago. The more things change the more they stay the same, and by "things" I mean bigoted bullshit.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2008


God knows I tried. If your culture wears funny hats or eats stuff I'm not used to, sure, I can deal with that. But the idea that the way to deal with something you feel offends you - either individually or as a member of any number of groups up to and including one with more than a billion members - is to murder some artist, or some unsuspecting office worker, or your daughter, is just full of shit.

The immoral act of one person or even a group of people does not give you the moral freedom to generalize you're way out into racism (and it is racism, you just won't admit it) through a straw man argument. No one here is denying that militant Islam exists. But to lump all Muslims together the way you are doing is dishonest and, to use your phrase, full of shit.

And I don't have any external framework that lets me demonstrate logically why one cultural norm is superior to another. That's just one that I accept a priori and seem unable to change. And I guess, at the end of the day, that's prejudice, isn't it? So okay, you got me.

See how slippery you are: your implication is always that extremist violence is a "cultural norm" of Islam. Never mind the millions upon millions of Muslims who are not violent and who do not condone violence. You have conveniently ignored them in order to perpetrate a stereotype.
posted by ornate insect at 5:37 PM on August 12, 2008


But if you're going to use the term Islam at all, you've got to stir them all together and talk about the net effect. And the net effect of Islam today is something the world could do without.

Judged only by its noisiest proponents, I would say exactly the same thing of Christianity.
posted by adamrice at 5:43 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


CNN avoids the words Islam and Muslim in report about honor killings.
The closest the segment came to revealing the truth of the matter was during an interview with a woman living in hiding for fear of her life for having converted to Christianity and refused an arranged marriage. She mentions that her family has justified killing her for her failure to obey Koran and Allah. And at another point in the segment, brief images of women in black burquas appear.
posted by Brian B. at 5:48 PM on August 12, 2008


"But if you're going to use the term Islam at all, you've got to stir them all together and talk about the net effect."

Well, yes, if you're going to concede that you're a moron and that people should ignore you.

But what I don't understand is why Barack Obama wears zippers and doesn't bomb abortion clinics. I mean, he is Christian.

(And even further: Islam's cultural structure encourages a lack of centralized authority outside of the Koran, and that includes interpreting the Koran. Mix into that an incredibly heterogeneous set of ethnicities and local cultures, and making one statement about all of Islam is even dumber than making one about all white people or all Christians.)

"But the idea that the way to deal with something you feel offends you - either individually or as a member of any number of groups up to and including one with more than a billion members - is to murder some artist, or some unsuspecting office worker, or your daughter, is just full of shit."

Man, you must hate being part of the West—when our economies falter, we kill six million Jews.
posted by klangklangston at 5:51 PM on August 12, 2008


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that the corporations do nothing.
posted by seanyboy at 5:52 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Replace "Muslims" and "Islam" with "Jews" and "Judaism" and you've got a classic diatribe from, say, 70 years ago. The more things change the more they stay the same, and by "things" I mean bigoted bullshit.

All except for the "militant fringe stabbing infidels and heretics in the street" part. The big difference between contemporary Islamophobia (which I, of course, abhor) and the last century's anti-Semitism is that there exists a significant and vocal faction within Islam who are proud to commit the most extreme and horrific acts of violence in the name of their faith. The difference is, in fact, that all those secret conspiracies and libels against the Jews are, in the case of Islam, correct. There are shadowy cabals and covert cells who seek the overthrow of our civilization.

I'm not being alarmist when I say that. Indeed, I think the best way to handle these things is to drag those scumbags out into the light. Give them a place at the table and let the marketplace of ideas discard their dreams of conquest and triumph. At the same time, let's not traffic in easy (and inflammatory) equivalencies. To do so demeans both contemporary Muslim moderates and the many millions of Jews who were murdered on false pretexts.
posted by felix betachat at 5:56 PM on August 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


There are shadowy cabals and covert cells who seek the overthrow of our civilization.

Yeah, the Rothschilds, the Bolsheviks... I've read the Protocols, I hear you.
posted by languagehat at 5:58 PM on August 12, 2008


C'mon languagehat, don't be a dick. What's the early 20th century equivalent of Theo van Gogh? Or Naguib Mahfouz?
posted by felix betachat at 6:02 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


(And even further: Islam's cultural structure encourages a lack of centralized authority outside of the Koran, and that includes interpreting the Koran. Mix into that an incredibly heterogeneous set of ethnicities and local cultures, and making one statement about all of Islam is even dumber than making one about all white people or all Christians.)

And yet, people do it all the time. (Note me trying not to rise to your bait here.) We say Russia invaded Georgia, when in fact Russia is just a concept and can't take any physical action at all. We do this because it's a lot more convenient than listing the names of the X number of Russian soldiers who actually invaded Georgia, with a footnote as to the identities of people we think probably told them to do it. It's less than perfect, but we accept that imperfection so we can talk about things. It's not a complicated concept.

Or, from a different angle, Barack Obama didn't kill Dr. Bernard Slepian, nor did any of who knows how many other Christians. I doubt that's much consolation to his family, though. It only takes one. Millions of Christians just get up in the morning and go to work and love their kids and pray on Sundays and keep their disapproval of others' choices to themselves. A few go out and kill gays. The basic decency of all those millions might outnumber those few, but it doesn't stop them.
posted by Naberius at 6:03 PM on August 12, 2008


There are shadowy cabals and covert cells who seek the overthrow of our civilization.

Are you talking about the neocons? (That is only half-snark).

I'm not an apologist for extremism, but I know of no explicit statement on the part of Islamic extremists that seeks the "overthrow" of "our" civilization. Indeed, most of the grievances are political and territorial, and not primarily cultural. They are statements about getting rid of U.S. military bases in the land of Mecca, getting rid of the pro-Western monarchies in the middle east, or they are against Israel. They are not, to my knowledge, advocating conversion of infidels to Islam, or cultural overthrow of the West. If America had no oil interest in the middle east, and if the situation with regards to Israel-Palestine had somehow never gotten to the fevered pitch that it has, it's likely militant Islam would be of little concern to anyone in the west.
posted by ornate insect at 6:11 PM on August 12, 2008


I agree there's a lot of muddying the water that comes from developed nations mucking about in the middle east. But it's hard to see the brouhahas over Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons, Theo Van Gogh, and in fact this, as anything but cultural.
posted by Naberius at 6:15 PM on August 12, 2008


There you have it, the apotheosis of Muhammad. Strangely, Islam, empirically speaking, was supposed to be a religion that correct where Christianity (and to a lesser extent, Judaism) went awry, bestowing divinity to anything other than a purely, wholly, strictly monotheistic God, incomparable to wee humans. This actually made a lot of sense to me growing up. But this fear though - has I think - had the unintended consequence of doing just the opposite, and bestowing upon Muhammad, an unapproachable discussion on when he's the example, and when he's the exception. Such that creating such a taboo on critical discussion of him, or depicting him in imagery, or trying to piece together any aspect of humanity other than information that has been traditionally passed down through men in an elite chain of transmission, was thought to bestow more attention to him than necessary for a mere messenger and prophet. Instead, it's made him untouchable. God-like.

There were a lot of reasons I became dissatisfied with Islam growing up with the theology, and questioning my Sunday school teachers in a deluge of BUT WHYs?? This kind of characterization of Muhammad as out of the reach with the rest of us regular human folk was my commencement.
posted by raztaj at 6:16 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


and not primarily cultural

Patently and dangerously untrue. Especially if you're a native of a majority Muslim country yourself. Liberals and cosmopolitans are seen as a mortal threat to the Islamic body politic. Adoption of outward displays of Islamic dress and, in the case of women, modesty, are enforced with varying degrees of aggression. Literature, art and culture are subjected to rigorous standards of piety and a veto is often enforced by the mob. Americans tend to focus on the things they understand, like land and power. But the real game for these folks is the enforcement of piety and the eradication of all forms of accommodation to modernity.
posted by felix betachat at 6:17 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Coming soon, my new book: "I Poked 1/5th of the Earth's Population With A Stick, Aren't I Special?"
tkolar, do you mean that the author of the book is cynically writing something controversial, in order to feel special?


No, I mean that *I'm* going to do it to feel special. The author and Random House did it for the publicity.

Oh, and while defaming the Prophet is always good for a few death threats, I've gotta imagine there's a whole lot of milk coming out of people's noses in the Middle East about this.

(special West Virginian bonus points: Phil Hudok is a high school science teacher)
posted by tkolar at 6:23 PM on August 12, 2008


Indeed, I think the best way to handle these things is to drag those scumbags out into the light. Give them a place at the table and let the marketplace of ideas discard their dreams of conquest and triumph.

From the original post of this thread:

Random House has pulled the book for fears of a political and extremist nature.


posted by Brian B. at 6:23 PM on August 12, 2008


and oh god, some big bearded men in a kaffiya and heavy white robe in saudi is reading this right now and condemning me to hell, and i will probably be banned for life in traveling throughout any muslim country. aw fuck.
posted by raztaj at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2008


felix betachat--how is any of that an attempt to "overthrow" "our" civilization? I am hopeful that certain Enlightenment and "western" ideals are universal, but speaking theoretically, if an Islamic theocracy is established in a country such as Pakistan or Iran, and it makes peace with its neighbors and the world, where exactly is the inherent threat it poses to Europe or America? Unless it's actually engaged in making war or violence, it would seem not to be in necessary conflict with "us." We may not like its practices, but it would not be an outward threat by definition.

naberius--what exactly is your argument now? I confess I've lost it. Is it that Christians are just as "guilty" for the extremists in their ranks as Muslims are? That humanity is "guilty" for the crimes of any given individual? The moment you imply Muslims are somehow more "guilty" for their extremists than any other group, the moment you give in to a pernicious and racist prejudice--one not unlike that which was faked in the anthrax letters.
posted by ornate insect at 6:25 PM on August 12, 2008


while ignoring the points made by Muslim commenters that they see any portrayal of Aisha as verboten.

So fucking what? Hint: moving out of the middle ages, one learns that you may just have to put up with people not giving a shit about what you think as special, and that killing them is not the right way to resolve the problem.
posted by rodgerd at 6:26 PM on August 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


how is any of that an attempt to "overthrow" "our" civilization?

I guess it depends on how broadly you define "our" civilization. For me, it includes my nameless friend, a European educated woman of Palestinian descent who teaches at a major university in the Middle East. She's secular, savvy and stands for no bullshit. Over the course of the last five years, her work has been made progressively more difficult by students who object to her presence in the university, would like to force her to wear the hijab, and reject the philosophical premises of her area of study. Her classes are routinely interrupted at prayer time by groups of students who co-opt her teaching space for their devotionals. Her appeals to the university administration are addressed on a case-by-case basis, but no blanket statement of support or punitive action against her harassers is made. Her pedagogy is subject to an ongoing death by a thousand small cuts.

This woman is a part of my civilization. We have broken bread and sung songs. Shared our fears and whispered our hopes. Her life story is a part of my life story and we have enriched each others lives in a thousand ways, large and small. We have argued politics, angered each other and occasionally broadened our perspectives. All the things upon which a "civilization" is founded are present in our friendship. She is a child of the enlightenment, as am I.

Ironically, ornate insect, your assumption that there is an "over there" and a "here" and that if we retreat to the latter and abandon the former, all will be okay, this assumption validates the very calculus of the extremists. Modernity and the enlightenment self reject these sorts of arbitrary boundaries. The same human heart and yearning for freedom throbs inside each one of us. Whether or not American or British troops belong in the Middle East is one thing. But the fragile institutions and bonds which link us to our fellows in Middle Eastern countries are another. If our soldiers and our governments withdraw (and, in most cases, I agree that they should), it's fundamentally irrelevant. The Islamists' war is taking place at a far more basic level. In the classrooms. In restaurants. At the marketplace and in hotels. In the art gallery and the music hall. In the mosque, synagogue and church. We cannot abandon space sufficient to pacify these radicals, for their dreams of conquest are total.
posted by felix betachat at 6:38 PM on August 12, 2008 [14 favorites]


2007 - 632 = 1,375 years... Disney would be jealous.
posted by acro at 6:44 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


felix betachat--I sincerely hope the ideals of your teacher friend, and the openness she represents, are those that win out in the world at large, but I was and am partly trying a thought-experiment to show that an Islamic theocracy (similar to Saudi Arabia culturally) is not, by definition, an enemy of the West. It may not be a place we would want to live, but that's a different story. Lastly, it's ironic to me that we're having this discussion at all if one considers how little these issues matter to everything we, as a country (America), do through our "foreign policy" in the middle east. We did not invade Iraq to liberate the world from Islamic extremism, as they were a secular country with Christians in their government--where women could drive and were not required to be veiled. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, our close ally, is a brutal regime with human rights violations and little cultural openness or tolerance to "western ideals." And yet they have oil, and long ago got into bed with the West. The real ire on the part of many of the jihadis is and was far more political in this regard: militant Islam was a way of asserting revolutionary political force in oppressed places that did not have the same traditions we take for granted. That is not to valorize it or apologize for it, but rather to show that the cultural politics of its extremism cannot be neatly separated. Furthermore, I would say that it is, from Istanbul to Morocco, on the wane: the occasional bombing one sees is as much a sign of desperation as anything. I think we are in danger of constantly over-hyping this threat, and I have no doubt that our current leaders have over-hyped it, and the fear it engenders, for political reasons.
posted by ornate insect at 6:54 PM on August 12, 2008


feliz betachat wrote: The difference is, in fact, that all those secret conspiracies and libels against the Jews are, in the case of Islam, correct. There are shadowy cabals and covert cells who seek the overthrow of our civilization.

languagehat wrote: Yeah, the Rothschilds, the Bolsheviks... I've read the Protocols, I hear you.

For my money, whether there were "shadowy cabals" (et al) is a red herring. It detracts from honest discussion of the issues and reasonable generalizations about entire peoples. Plenty of people believed (and believe) that there were shadowy Jewish cabals in the first half of the last century. They point to Zionist radicals, anarchist groups comprised largely of Jews, the hugely disproportionate number of Jews in Communist leaderships in a variety of nations, and so on. Hell, they even toss in the old "blood libel" and "Christ-killing" as historical evidence. Many people - to this day - consider all these historical realities as examples of vicious anti-freedom treachery and the inherent evil of all Jews. Don't believe me? Check out Jew Watch, and prepare to laugh and be disgusted.

As persistent as anti-Semitism is, most people today view that as the racist nonsense it is. It took a while, though, and I'm still astonished when I meet someone from Poland (to cite one personal example) who blame's his countries ills on those damned Jews without actually knowing any Jews or even knowing of any Polish Jews (who mostly don't exist today.)

C'mon languagehat, don't be a dick. What's the early 20th century equivalent of Theo van Gogh? Or Naguib Mahfouz?

Felix, I'm sure your heart is in the right place, but this is very racist. It implies that anti-Muslim attitudes are somehow almost worthy of consideration, because (to frame the implicit message of your statement another way) there is no early 20th century equivalent of Theo van Gogh or Naguib Mahfouz. Of course, that's utter nonsense. You don't even have to go into less cosmopolitan times to come up with examples; there are plenty today. But they clearly don't speak to more than a tiny percentage of Jewish people.

Naberius wrote: We say Russia invaded Georgia, when in fact Russia is just a concept and can't take any physical action at all.

True, but there is a difference. When we say "Russia" did this or that, we mean the leaders of Russia or the Russian government - those who control Russia. Used the same way with "Islam" or "Muslims," one can understand how it might convey the impression that such actions come from "those who control Islam," which is entirely misleading and generally false.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:02 PM on August 12, 2008


Felix, I'm sure your heart is in the right place, but this is very racist. It implies that anti-Muslim attitudes are somehow almost worthy of consideration, because (to frame the implicit message of your statement another way) there is no early 20th century equivalent of Theo van Gogh or Naguib Mahfouz.

Sorry, it's not racist. Or even anti-Muslim. You are no more than a 12 hour plane ride away from a place where, were you to spend a few days there, an act of violence on your person would be a near inevitability. And the perpetrator of that act would see himself as performing a religious obligation. And the worldview that would sustain that act of violence and its commensurate religious rationalization would say that the act is performed in the service of realizing the authority of Islam on earth. It is not prejudicial to say so.

I do not conscience anti-Islamic attitudes. I stood with Muslim friends after 9/11 and would do so again today. I abhor extremism and triumphalism of any stripe. But I also didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. It's not racist or prejudicial to point out that there are bad people doing bad things in the name of Islam. In fact, a great many secular or moderate Muslims know this all to well. The impact these people have is, indeed, far disproportionate to their numbers. And yet, we have reached a moment in history at which news media, publishers, authors and artists routinely censor themselves for fear of violent repercussions. Not just in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Egypt. But in the Netherlands, in Great Britain, and in the US.

This is a goddamn tragedy and no amount of earnest toleration and self-censorship will hide that fact. Let's be clear: I am no advocate of violence and I think that the Bush-style fig leaf of democracy has hurt the West far more than we can yet know. I believe that the proper response to threats of violence and fantasies of domination is resistance. As always, dialogue, education, mutual respect and a healthy dose of satire are our culture's best defenses. People will either wake up and take upon themselves the mantle of of the enlightenment, heavy though that may be, or they will lose this beautiful legacy with which they have been entrusted. It really is as simple as that.
posted by felix betachat at 7:21 PM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


"naberius--what exactly is your argument now? I confess I've lost it."

Fair enough. I've had some trouble keeping up with things myself. I started out by criticizing Islamic civilization for harboring values that I find damaging and despicable. But then I had to backtrack to simply defending the concept that it's valid to refer to a civilization in abstract terms, even though it's obviously composed of a huge number of very different individuals.

That turned out to take longer than I would have expected, forcing me to use parallels like "Russia" and then to talk about Christianity because whenever I said anything involving the word Muslim, somebody called me a bigot or a moron.

So, in short, my argument is this: despite the remarkable diversity of individuals in the world, it is meaningful to talk about collective entities, or what the author of the WSJ piece I originally quoted called "civilizations," and in particular, one we can call Islamic culture. Once you accept that it's meaningful to speak of an Islamic culture - and I'm not sure we're all there yet - you can evaluate its qualities. And finally, that brings us back to my original statement that, when I look at this posited Islamic culture, I find many qualities that I can't help considering damaging and despicable.

(As a sidenote, that's largely because those values are irreconcilable with values that I accept on their face, which I suppose can be called prejudice given the lack of any external framework in which to assess one set of cultural norms against another.)
posted by Naberius at 7:29 PM on August 12, 2008




Of course it's meaningful to speak of an Islamic culture, but without oversimplifying.

Every form of civilization harbor(s) values that most people, including those within it, would and do find damaging and despicable. What you've failed to do here, as far as I can see, is explain why Islamic culture needs to be singled out among all others as harboring these views. I just don't see a good argument there.
posted by ornate insect at 7:36 PM on August 12, 2008


It's the one we're talking about here?
posted by Naberius at 7:41 PM on August 12, 2008


It's the one we're talking about here?

So Islam for you is no more and no less corrupted by its extremist elements than is any other religion or cultural group? I thought you were implying it was somehow more tainted by, or rooted in, its extremism than other religions? Your earlier comments certainly seemed to imply this; I believe you referred to Islam as a shambling undead horror that stalks the world today?
posted by ornate insect at 7:57 PM on August 12, 2008


Well, any time I use zombies to refer to something, I'm clearly being a little, hmm, not less than serious, but skewed a couple degrees clockwise from serious perhaps. Still, I'd have to put Islam pretty high on the list in terms of social corrosiveness. A lot higher than curling fans, for example.

But okay, it's not cricket to compare a major world religion with sports fandom. The most obvious analogue would be western Christianity. And, if it makes you feel any better, I am indeed just about as disgusted with that. The difference is that, at least until recently, we kept our shambling horror locked up in the basement where it could moan and rattle its chains, but could cause only limited harm. That was clearly a better arrangement than Islam's where the extremists are largely the ones running the show. To the extent that we've moved away from that in recent years and let our extremists run the show, we too have suffered for it, and we too are engaged in a few behaviors similar to those I find repugnant in Islam. The tying of health care aid to developing nations to the abolition of birth control for example.

I'd argue that our greatest transgressions remain political and economic, though. For those, it's a little easier to place blame closer to home - on governments and corporations - than we could for values that are transmitted as part of the basic cultural heritage. (Unless you want to argue that it's ultimately capitalist greed, which is one of those basic cultural values. I suppose I could be swayed by that argument. Maybe. I think greed's probably more of a human universal though.)
posted by Naberius at 8:12 PM on August 12, 2008


Yeah, tkolar, exactly. The problem is, most of the people complaining about Islam take their examples hugely out of context, and because so few Americans know anything about how the average Muslim might live, the importance of these examples is hugely distorted.

Every form of civilization harbor(s) values that most people, including those within it, would and do find damaging and despicable. What you've failed to do here, as far as I can see, is explain why Islamic culture needs to be singled out among all others as harboring these views. I just don't see a good argument there.

That's my argument with Felix's assertions too, as in his comment implying that two assassinations carried out in the name of Islam had no parallel amongst Jews, which leads to the implicit message that there's something "different" in Islam, which makes it more disturbing or more dangerous than other ideologies in their extreme forms.

I suspect Felix and I are simply miscommunicating; he's elaborated on his beliefs on Muslims and extremism to my satisfaction. But I sigh when I read all-encompassing statements like:

Liberals and cosmopolitans are seen as a mortal threat to the Islamic body politic. Adoption of outward displays of Islamic dress and, in the case of women, modesty, are enforced with varying degrees of aggression. Literature, art and culture are subjected to rigorous standards of piety and a veto is often enforced by the mob.

In my Muslim country, absolutely none of this was (or is) true. Not long ago, a predominately Muslim people fought for liberalism, multiculturalism, freedom of expression in literature, the arts and culture and the upholding of international law - and many of them lost their lives in pursuit of such ideals. I won't deny that what Felix wrote is true in places - it certainly is. But I still argue that this is not a "religious" problem as it is a "cultural" problem which simply finds its voice through quasi-religious rhetoric. If you think about it, I could easily characterize the war I lived through as one in which a mostly Muslim nation was attacked by a Christian nation - against all international law, and that this war was explicitly stated (by the "Christian" side) to be religious in nature. About 100,000 people were killed and nearly two million people (including me) displaced; there were occasions when as many people were killed in a single day as died in the World Trade Center bombings. And of course, the danger lasted for years, with other miseries like rape and starvation and sickness from bad water and lack of food.

That Serbia, the aggressor in this war, was a recognized state should have made them more controllable or more punishable than (for instance) the 9/11 hijackers who acted on their own, more or less (I mean, not as representatives of a recognized nation.) The world sat around for quite a long time, which is another story, but my point is: it would have been at least as fair to characterize this war as "Christian aggression" as people characterize much less cohesive acts of terrorism as "Islamic aggression" (or any number of other terms), but no one does. And when I go back home and see my Muslim friends and aunts and cousins, no one thinks anything negative about that Serb or Croat down the road. People see the war as being caused by hateful idiots, not hateful Christian idiots, though on the face of it, it wouldn't be a mistruth to opine the latter.

And another thing: while the war was raging, some people (outside Bosnia) spoke out against it. Often these were journalists or minor politicians of a strikingly secular belief system. Very few "Christian" leader spoke against the war at all, despite what was being done in the name of their faith. I wish more had (a few did), but it wasn't their war and they apparently felt that their faith could withstand these negative actions without their getting in the middle. Whatever. What slays me though, is that otherwise non-racist Americans always seem to think that what didn't apply to them has to apply to Muslims (like me) who are against Islamic fundamentalism. There's a certain societal hypocrisy there.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:27 PM on August 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


Islam's where the extremists are largely the ones running the show

This just is not true. In fact, a lot of countries--like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia--have been for many, many years at war with the extremists: imprisoning them, keeping tabs on them, etc. Which gets back to my point of Islamic extremism as being political as much as cultural. In countries that lack political opposition, this nefarious and toxic blend of extremism often became a political force of its own. One that moderate Muslims running secular non-democratic governments long ago recognized as something other than the "net effect" of Islam itself. Our understanding of, and perspective on, this phenomena (jihadism or Islamic extremism) is hindered by laying the generalizations on too thick.
posted by ornate insect at 8:28 PM on August 12, 2008


Dee Xtrovert, just a small point of clarification. It's precisely those secular journalists and politicians that I'm speaking for. I would be the last to put Christianity on a pedestal over Islam. Indeed, I think that "Christians" are often worse enemies of modernity, simply because they've been at it longer and their methods are more subtle.

Also, I realize you think my brush is too broad. I hope it's clear that I don't mean for it to be painting over the Bosnian Muslim community. I'm speaking more about post-colonialist phenomena like contemporary Salafism, or the Taliban in Afghanistan.
posted by felix betachat at 8:58 PM on August 12, 2008


ornate insect: What you've failed to do here, as far as I can see, is explain why Islamic culture needs to be singled out among all others as harboring these views. I just don't see a good argument there.

Well, in the context of this thread, because it's able to project a de facto censorship power into a post-enlightenment marketplace.

As far as I know, it's the only one of the "old" religions that can still do this. The Catholic church hasn't been up to it for a while; but newer cults like Scientology and Disney make their living by it.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:18 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dee Xtrovert wrote: While some people may have felt my comments to be, at times, less than necessary, I have never made them without actual thought and effort. It takes me longer than most people to do this, because I think and write in a language that I didn't know until recently. It's still foreign to me in many ways, and I struggle with idioms and maintaining clarity without diminishing my point.

When did you begin to learn English? "Recently" is quite impressive as you have a command of the language that many native speakers lack.
posted by sluglicker at 10:58 PM on August 12, 2008


Honor killings. Britain has seen more than 25 women killed by their Muslim relatives in the past decade for offenses they believe have brought shame on to a family. More than 100 other homicides are under investigation for potential honor killings.

Some Muslim communities in Britain practice Sharia law, or strict Islamic law.

"We're seeing an increase around the world, due in part to the rise in Islamic fundamentalism," said Diana Nammi with the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organization.

posted by Brian B. at 11:08 PM on August 12, 2008


An honor killing in America last month. When a blonde girl goes missing, cable networks stop in their tracks - but when a Muslim woman is murdered by her father, there's not a ripple of sustained interest. Where's the outrage?

Maybe it's muted because we've grown reluctant to pass judgment on other culture's customs - but multiculturalism hits a crossroads when honor killings come to America.

The United Nations estimates that the world sees 5,000 honor killings a year - overwhelmingly in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, but increasingly among Muslim immigrant communities in Europe.


Honor killing apologists? In the wake of Parvez's murder, one would hope for moral clarity from the Canadian Muslim community. But with a few exceptions, the usual suspects issued the usual apologetics.

Following Parvez's funeral, an anti-violence vigil was held at the Mississauga Civic Centre and organized by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. Unfortunately, CAIR-CAN, like its American counterpart, is part of the problem, not the solution. Working to further acceptance of Sharia (or Islamic) law in the United States and Canada and trying to silence — either through accusations of "Islamophobia," libel lawsuits or boycotts — voices of criticism and reform, CAIR's agenda would seem to be working against the advancement of Muslim women's rights.

Accordingly, representatives of other allegedly mainstream Muslim groups, instead of taking the opportunity to address the scourge of honor killings, downplayed the religious and cultural angle. Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, claimed that "The strangulation death of Ms. Parvez was the result of domestic violence, a problem that cuts across Canadian society and is blind to color or creed," while Sheikh Alaa El-Sayyed, imam of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, came to the following conclusion: "The bottom line is, it's a domestic violence issue."

posted by Brian B. at 11:51 PM on August 12, 2008


How is this relevant, Brian B?
posted by atrazine at 12:11 AM on August 13, 2008


How is this relevant, Brian B?

How is what relevant to what?
posted by Brian B. at 12:12 AM on August 13, 2008


Your honour killing textdump, I presume it has something to do with this thread, no?
posted by atrazine at 12:18 AM on August 13, 2008


Your honour killing textdump, I presume it has something to do with this thread, no?

Yes. According to the FPP, the book was pulled "for the safety of the author, employees of Random House Inc, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the book." I don't recall the threat being seriously disputed, which is odd, considering that the lengthy denial and apologetics for this violence was grounded in negative conclusions regarding the host culture.
posted by Brian B. at 12:35 AM on August 13, 2008


a lot of countries--like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia--have been for many, many years at war with the extremists

There is no safe space in any of those countries for freedom of expression. There is no freedom of religion in any of those countries either. You cannot convert away from Islam without risk of prison or worse. In Saudi Arabia, no non-Muslim houses of worship may be built. Want to talk about extremists again?
posted by 1adam12 at 12:36 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Liberals and cosmopolitans are seen as a mortal threat to the Islamic body politic. Adoption of outward displays of Islamic dress and, in the case of women, modesty, are enforced with varying degrees of aggression. Literature, art and culture are subjected to rigorous standards of piety and a veto is often enforced by the mob.

Hey, look, it's totalitarianism! I'd like you to meet my ol' friends Stalin, Hitler, oh, heck, you know the rest of the list, cause it goes all the way down to Khomeini.

Islam (Iran's pretext) =/= totalitarianism.
Christianity (imperfectly, Nazi Germany) =/= totalitarianism.
Atheism (USSR) =/= totalitarianism.

Etc. Religion, just like anything else, is a good pretext.

There's a pan-Arab movement growing that emphasized Arabic and Muslim identity as a way to foster support for certain actions. This ain't new, and Islam certainly did not pioneer or perfect it. See: pan-Slavic movements, pan-Aryan movements, pan-African movements, oh heck, every race and ethnicity has one or two. This does not mean, however, that Islam is a monolith.

Islam's the bogeyman that hides the totalitarianism. While this is a FAR from perfect comparison: Don't fight communism, fight totalitarianism. Don't fight Islam, fight totalitarianism. I say this as an atheist: ALL RELIGIONS, including Islam, have remarkably beautiful, loving, peaceful statements, commands, and sayings. They also all (even some forms of Buddhism) have remarkably violent ones. Whether one aspect or another gets emphasized is dependent on more than some amorphous 'Islamic culture' (which doesn't even exist) or 'Islamic dark age'. It's about power politics and socio-economic conditions and geopolitics and all this and more. Which is why Ataturk was reforming Turkey when he was, and not now. Talk about Turkey's economy; talk about immigration and Turkey; talk about Turkey's fears; talk about the aspirations of the average resident, about how much they make, about how they can find solace or comfort, how politicians can get and keep power, what politicians and pastors and street preachers and sisters and fathers can say to inspire the people and if the people believe it, and why. Talk about all this and more in Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, the United States, Britain, wherever. Don't talk about fictional cultural monoliths.

My favourite religious studies prof said it best: "Do not talk about Christianity, talk about Christianities; about Buddhisms; about Islams." I wish it would happen.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:51 AM on August 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


am i an idiot if i spent 3 mins tracking down Denise Spellberg at university of texas, and plan on calling said institution and complaining, repeatedly, that they employ morons?

does that make me a bad person?
posted by Addiction at 1:37 AM on August 13, 2008


Christianity (imperfectly, Nazi Germany) =/= totalitarianism.

Not to detract from the rest of your post, but I don't think Christianity was ever instrumental to Nazi antisemitism or to the philosophy itself. I'm not sure if the same could be said for authoritarian movements in nominally Muslim countries, as I'm no real student of those cultures, but the theocratic bent to those movements would certainly be informed by Islamic doctrine.

You could argue that a vein of antisemitism actually ran through the entire pan-Germanic movement which preceded and set the stage for Nazism. But pan-Germanism didn't invoke Christianity to so much as it called for the revival of a pure, proto-Germanic culture. In fact, the ancient Norwegian religions were often extolled against the foreign (and partly Judaic) influence of Christianity. Remember too that this took place in the context of the Romantic movement, which was quite influential in both German and English literature, and often preferred the "authenticity" of Classical pantheism to modern Catholicism or Protestantism.

In addition the völkisch movement, as it evolved, sometimes combined the arcane and esoteric aspects of folkloric occultism alongside "racial adoration" and, in some circles, a type of anti-Semitism linked to ethnic nationalism. The ideas of völkisch movements also included anti-communist, anti-immigration, anti-capitalist and anti-Parliamentarian principles. the völkisch ideas of "national community" (Volksgemeinschaft) came more and more to exclude Jews. [wiki]

This is why certain lines of neo-paganism still tend to get linked with the Nazi movement.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:11 AM on August 13, 2008


Ironically, Christianity has more to do with a budding American fascism. I mean, which culture erects monuments to the ten commandments in its courthouses?
posted by kid ichorous at 5:20 AM on August 13, 2008


I'm kind of in favour of Random House refusing to publish this. If there's a real chance that it will cause some harm to their own people, then they have to be serious about their responsibility to their staff and to those who might well get hurt in the fallout - after all, it's not like they don't know there's likely to be a direct and visceral reaction by now. It always makes me wonder, the people sitting around saying, "oh but free speech should prevail", comfortable in the knowledge that they'll be just fine - would they step up if they were the editor?
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:57 AM on August 13, 2008


Millions of Christians just get up in the morning and go to work and love their kids and pray on Sundays and keep their disapproval of others' choices to themselves. A few go out and kill gays. The basic decency of all those millions might outnumber those few, but it doesn't stop them.

Right, but you're not sitting here ranting about how Christianity is dying as a civilization, "ultimately becoming the shambling undead horror that stalks the world today, twitching and groaning 'raaaage,' while it hammers to pieces all the things it stumbles across and doesn't understand." Somehow you and your fellow travelers in this discussion are able to separate Christianity as a religion and culture from its extremist elements, but not to do the same for Islam. Too bad Dee Xtrovert is here to provide an inside view as to how wrong that is. Of course, many people refuse to take in facts that contradict their simplistic view of the world. It's so much easier, and more fun, to have an Enemy!
posted by languagehat at 6:09 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course, many people refuse to take in facts that contradict their simplistic view of the world. It's so much easier, and more fun, to have an Enemy!

The way I see it here is that coarse individuals in Islam who have nothing to balance their indoctrination can have their daughters killed, often raped and tortured, in order to redeem themselves to their culture/religion. They commonly made the mistake in moving into the west and then watched as the west was adopted by their family. So they found a reason to murder them, to spite the west it seems. Who knows what kind of inspiration they were given by others, but it is an attack on the liberal "west" and secularists usually know it when they see it. Then apologists show up and try to confuse the issue with Christianity with more strange verbal attacks on the west, rather than show any ability to denounce a single aspect of Islam. Their lame defense is just another insult to injury, a two-pronged assault on secularism hidden as a defense of tolerance, cowardly blaming the victim in a roundabout way--with Christianity thrown in as a surrogate for secularism, because it doesn't sound convincing otherwise.
posted by Brian B. at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2008


Brian B--If a soldier comes back from Iraq with PTSD and murders his family, can I blame the US military? If a Christian zealot murders his family, can I blame Christianity? If a kid walks into a school in America and opens fire, killing his classmates, can I blame parenting in America or violent TV? If a man in Brazil rapes someone, is Brazilian culture to blame? You link to one story and attempt to paste together a causal link based on that one anecdote, but you may have noticed that violence is a human trait--and that there are a lot of violent places in the world that are not Islamic. Here's a list of international homicide rates, ranked by country. I don't see anything there that suggests Islamic countries are more violent than non-Islamic ones: there's a whole lot of rape and violence going on in America and South America, for instance. If you find out soldiers, either Russian or Georgian, have raped women in the conflict over there, are you going to put together a theory about how the particular kind of Christianity worshipped in Eurasia is a stimulant to rape and murder? I believe there was a Meta FPP about Russian rape recently: what's your take on that? Your "argument" seems to be little more than a justification for your own anti-Islamic prejudice.
posted by ornate insect at 7:50 AM on August 13, 2008


Kid ich: Yeah, but there were definite attempts by Hitler to use Christianity as a pretext, and mentioned 'imperfectly'. I should have specified 'the example, not the effort on Hitler's part, was imperfect', because that's what I meant. Sorry.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:03 AM on August 13, 2008


an Islamic theocracy (similar to Saudi Arabia culturally) is not, by definition, an enemy of the West

Except when a group that is mostly Saudi hijacks four passenger airlines and slams them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thank you, Islamic theocracy!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:38 AM on August 13, 2008


"And yet, people do it all the time. (Note me trying not to rise to your bait here.) We say Russia invaded Georgia, when in fact Russia is just a concept and can't take any physical action at all. We do this because it's a lot more convenient than listing the names of the X number of Russian soldiers who actually invaded Georgia, with a footnote as to the identities of people we think probably told them to do it. It's less than perfect, but we accept that imperfection so we can talk about things. It's not a complicated concept."

False equivalence. Russia, the state actor, invaded Georgia. Islam has no state, no single body politic, no one army, no one Navy…

I realize that it's not a complicated concept, synecdoche. That's exactly the point I'm making—you're over-simplifying. And there's a reason why the AP attempts to reject it, replacing "Russia" with "Russian forces."

"Or, from a different angle, Barack Obama didn't kill Dr. Bernard Slepian, nor did any of who knows how many other Christians. I doubt that's much consolation to his family, though. It only takes one. Millions of Christians just get up in the morning and go to work and love their kids and pray on Sundays and keep their disapproval of others' choices to themselves. A few go out and kill gays. The basic decency of all those millions might outnumber those few, but it doesn't stop them."

So, you know, from a logical point of view, the most salient point about those Christians that kill gays or abortion doctors isn't their Christianity, right? Since the vast majority of Christians aren't violent? Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy for a reason.

"The difference is, in fact, that all those secret conspiracies and libels against the Jews are, in the case of Islam, correct. There are shadowy cabals and covert cells who seek the overthrow of our civilization. "

Bullshit. That there are covert cells who seek, as you so ham-handedly stated, to overthrow our civilization does not mean that this is a particularly Muslim character, or that all conspiracies regarding Muslims are accurate, or even that there's a good analogy to be made there. Just like how there were Jews who worked to undermine the US (Rosenbergs) does not make Jews in general culpable.

"Especially if you're a native of a majority Muslim country yourself. Liberals and cosmopolitans are seen as a mortal threat to the Islamic body politic. Adoption of outward displays of Islamic dress and, in the case of women, modesty, are enforced with varying degrees of aggression. Literature, art and culture are subjected to rigorous standards of piety and a veto is often enforced by the mob. Americans tend to focus on the things they understand, like land and power. But the real game for these folks is the enforcement of piety and the eradication of all forms of accommodation to modernity."

Here you're vacillating between the over-broad and the over-narrow. There was an article that I read not too long ago about some of the trouble that Indonesia is having with its Muslim identity (but unfortunately, the newspaper that it came from hasn't archived the page). Basically, Indonesian Muslims have long been cosmopolitan and modern, but the expansion of the War on Terror has led to an influx in Saudi funding for Wahabi-ist madrasas that are Arabizing the Muslim experience there in an anti-modern fashion. And one of the problems in Iraq (similar to that of post-'79 Iran) is that there was, under Saddam, a vast cosmopolitan middle class that has been effectively wiped out as extremists have filled the vacuum of power. Similarly, prior to the Taliban, Afghan women had fairly equal rights. Now, given that some non-Muslim countries, like Singapore (or, as non-Muslim as you can get, the Vatican) also have restrictions on "modest dress," and that the US has had plenty of anti-modernist movements, it's hard to argue that it's a peculiarity to Islamic culture (especially noting, again, the heterogeneous nature of Islam). It's far easier to look at the causes as stemming from a lack of development of liberal institutions (classical liberalism, not just lefties) which leaves traditional and tribal forces as working to ensure their ongoing power structures.

Yes, the Al-Qaida-ism of Bin Laden et al. is an anti-Modernist movement, and easy parallels can be drawn between Bin Laden's speeches and Hitler or Mussolini's anti-Modernist Fascism, but that doesn't mean that all Muslims are anti-Modern or even that Islam as a whole has an anti-Modern character.

"You are no more than a 12 hour plane ride away from a place where, were you to spend a few days there, an act of violence on your person would be a near inevitability.

God, that's dumb. I'm less than an hour's drive away from projects in LA where an act of violence upon my person would be a near inevitability. I could fly to Somalia or Zimbabwe or Haiti and be violently assaulted for a variety of reasons. That my attacker would lack some fig leaf of philosophic justification for his violence would be cold comfort.

"It's not racist or prejudicial to point out that there are bad people doing bad things in the name of Islam."

No, the bigoted statement comes from believing those people are doing bad things BECAUSE of Islam, a position you've repeatedly advanced. Bad people do bad things—the tautology holds without any mention of Islam. Bad people are doing bad things in the name of Christianity, Zionism, capitalism and racism.

"Once you accept that it's meaningful to speak of an Islamic culture - and I'm not sure we're all there yet - you can evaluate its qualities."

Yeah, see, that's still the problem. It isn't meaningful to speak of Islamic culture outside of some pretty narrow points, because Sunni culture is different from Shia culture, just as Indonesian culture is different from Persian culture.

"The most obvious analogue would be western Christianity."

And this is where you'd be well-served to read Orientalism by Edward Said. Almost all analogies thus come from a Western point of view that does not at all reflect how most Muslims actually regard their religion, and to the extent that there are commonalities within Islam. The framework of comparing it to Christianity falls apart once you realize that Islam has a different historical grammar—it's like trying to pun in another language without really knowing that language.

"Also, I realize you think my brush is too broad. I hope it's clear that I don't mean for it to be painting over the Bosnian Muslim community. I'm speaking more about post-colonialist phenomena like contemporary Salafism, or the Taliban in Afghanistan."

Well, duh—But they're Muslims too, and part of "Muslim culture" so far as it exists. That's the primary objection that I have too, that instead of making a learned argument about strains of Islamic thought, there's the tendency to see Islam as the most significant cause of these abhorrable actions.

Yes. According to the FPP, the book was pulled "for the safety of the author, employees of Random House Inc, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the book." I don't recall the threat being seriously disputed, which is odd, considering that the lengthy denial and apologetics for this violence was grounded in negative conclusions regarding the host culture."

Honor killings have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tribal cultures. Hence the trouble in rural Pakistan, where there's a tension regarding enforcement of edicts prohibiting honor killing from imams. In fact, this is one of the points where the lack of central authority in Islam is most visible, as the relative reputation of imams is pitted against the long-standing stability of tribal rule as an institution.
posted by klangklangston at 9:58 AM on August 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


Care to explain? That is how your laws are written, no? That government may not pass a law etc etc etc? Can you show me any law that requires the marketplace to publish everything?

What does the law have to do with it? Are you saying that if something isn't legally encoded it can't be a freedom, not even a freedom you don't have at the moment. When gay people talk about wanting "the freedom to marry" are they spouting nonsense, since they're not currently allowed to be married? Or are they talking about a freedom they would like to have?

Allowing "the market" to dictate what's said and what isn't is no better then allowing a government censor to do it -- since 99% of the time it's not actually market forces, but simply individuals in a position of power due to the market who happen to use that power to censor people.
posted by delmoi at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2008


Delmoi - I don't get it. Sheryl Jones is free to say it. She just can't publish it in Random House, and Random House can't be forced to put it out (OK, so they have a contract, and its breach might mean damages, but no more than that). In much the same way that someone can irritate me in a conversation, but that doesn't mean I have to go on a long road-trip with them in order to let them irritate me the more. There's a huge difference between being allowed to say something, and forcing some poor editor to publish it in a book - for which there might be many reasons to refuse. OK, so their cowardice might be disappointing, but it's nothing like the same as saying the government is repressing her freedom to voice her opinion. If she wants to put the word out, she can use the internets.

I also think that the threat of physical harm to your staff or yourself is a legitimate counter-argument, and only those who have actually stood up for their principles in these circumstances have the right to criticise others for backing down.
posted by YouRebelScum at 11:10 AM on August 13, 2008


Except when a group that is mostly Saudi hijacks four passenger airlines and slams them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thank you, Islamic theocracy!

I'm not exactly sure how you can blame the Saudi Arabian government for the actions of people they imprison an execute every chance they get (Al Qaeda)
posted by delmoi at 11:15 AM on August 13, 2008


Delmoi - I don't get it. Sheryl Jones is free to say it. She just can't publish it in Random House, and Random House can't be forced to put it out (OK, so they have a contract, and its breach might mean damages, but no more than that).

Sure, but if every corporate entity, including internet service providers were pressured into not allowing her work, then she would be silenced just as surely as if the government had done it itself. DNAB was implying that no corporate censorship was possible, not just this instance.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 AM on August 13, 2008


I'd agree with DNAB - she would not be silenced. She simply would be forced to rely on more meagre media in persuading others to listen, which is the case for everyone without the wealth to buy a computer and internet connection, say. There's always Hyde Park Corner, I suppose.
posted by YouRebelScum at 11:23 AM on August 13, 2008


Let's see:

needless opprobrium? check.
bad faith misrepresentation of position? check.
failure to consider opponent's points on their merits? check.

I'll return you to your regularly scheduled echo chamber...I need a break from this place.
posted by felix betachat at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to get into arguments all the time with my American Journalism prof over whether censorship could be understood to exist outside of a coercive force (which is what the state stands in for in most constructions requiring government action)—I believe that censorship can be construed to exist from non-state actors, though I'm not sure where the line should be drawn between editorial decision and censorship. I think, for example, that network TV does have censors working to remove "objectionable" material; I'd also say that a publisher axing a news story due to advertiser pressure is censorship. However, I don't think that the annual feature on the Top Ten Censored Stories is accurate, when they've been merely repressed or editorially declined.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2008


"needless opprobrium? check.
bad faith misrepresentation of position? check.
failure to consider opponent's points on their merits? check.

I'll return you to your regularly scheduled echo chamber...I need a break from this place.
"

With a point-by-point rebuttal such as that, how can I help but concede all your points?

I objected to your over-broad characterization of Islam as a monolith and said why, which also corresponded to similar complaints about two other posters. I, obviously, disagree that the opprobrium was needless, or that I made any bad faith representations of your position, but I understand that being told your views are simplistic is uncomfortable.

Likewise, that many folks told you that you were wrong is not necessarily evidence of an echo chamber: you might also conclude that you were wrong.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2008


YouRebelScum: I'd agree with DNAB - she would not be silenced. She simply would be forced to rely on more meagre media in persuading others to listen

I'm just curious - do those who agree with the statement above also think that private corporations should be allowed to refuse to sell to people blacklisted by, or who are members of, a certain religion? After all, they could always buy their wares elsewhere.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2008



I objected to your over-broad characterization of Islam as a monolith and said why, which also corresponded to similar complaints about two other posters.


Yeah. Except for the parts where I routinely specified that I was not speaking against, and was, in fact, trying to defend moderate and cosmopolitan elements within the Muslim world. Or where I backtracked and further specified to Dee Xtrovert that I had in mind fundamentalisms such as modern day Salafism. These things are not "over-broad characterizations of Islam as a monolith." Indeed, they are the opposite.

My views are not simplistic. I have tried to represent them with as much sophistication as I am capable. Since you cannot recognize them as nuanced, it's obviously a problem with my communication, or your reading. That there are a plurality of knuckleheads here who share your penchant for straw-men scarcely makes you "correct". It just makes you well-liked. Good luck with that.

The topic of this thread is self-censorship within the American publishing world in the face of anticipated threats from radical Islamist actors. The American scholar of Islam who ginned up this controversy herself spoke to this possibility. There are a great many examples of similar acts of violence which have been cited here. And more which could be. My friend, the evident fact of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam is the very topic of this discussion. If you choose not to acknowledge that, or to discuss in good faith what you see as a failure to frame this discussion properly, then perhaps this isn't the thread for you.
posted by felix betachat at 12:22 PM on August 13, 2008


can i join in on this discussion on censorship?

given that we can get around most any set government decree and get work and opinions out there one way or the other (barring that whole assassination thing).

and given that it's not always possible to determine where the government stops and private and virtual entities begin (think of kings and queens, corporations and theocratic bodies, lobbyists and vested interests) how do we define censorship?

is it even possible that it still exists? that's the wrestle i find my head in as i contemplate all the informed and intelligent back and forth in this dialogue.

whether i agree with your points on islam or not, it's kind of exciting to see this forum on censorship open up. hope you don't mind my throwing in my ideas. thanks.
posted by artof.mulata at 12:45 PM on August 13, 2008


the evident fact of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam is the very topic of this discussion.

Yes, and we could have a thread about this in which the evident fact of violence perpetrated in the name of Judaism would be the very topic of the discussion, and yet if some knucklehead started talking about how Judaism was a shambling undead horror that stalks the world, something tells me there would be an uproar, and rightly so.
posted by languagehat at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2008


and yet if some knucklehead started talking about how Judaism was a shambling undead horror that stalks the world, something tells me there would be an uproar, and rightly so.

languagehat, those are not my words and it is beneath you to imply that they are. I have neither endorsed nor repeated them.

Did someone declare straw-man day in MetaFilter? I'm trying to have a serious conversation here and this is literally infuriating.
posted by felix betachat at 1:16 PM on August 13, 2008


felix, you need to take a deep breath and calm down. I neither said nor implied that you said or endorsed those words. I am trying (once again) to explain to those who Just Don't Get It why it is a bad, awful, terrible idea to extrapolate from violent persons who claim to act in the name of a religion to The Shambling Horror That Is That Religion. If you are not casting aspersions at Muslims as a group or Islam as a culture/religion/whatever, then it is not aimed at you.
posted by languagehat at 1:31 PM on August 13, 2008


sluglicker wrote: When did you begin to learn English? "Recently" is quite impressive as you have a command of the language that many native speakers lack.

Thank you! I began learning English not quite thirteen years ago. Before then, I didn't know any. I suppose it's not all that recently really, but it still feels like it. My dictionary and thesaurus are always beside my keyboard.

languagehat wrote: Somehow you and your fellow travelers in this discussion are able to separate Christianity as a religion and culture from its extremist elements, but not to do the same for Islam. [. . .] Of course, many people refuse to take in facts that contradict their simplistic view of the world. It's so much easier, and more fun, to have an Enemy!

That's the gist of it. I've found that having enemies is no fun at all. So I see people who willingly look for them as sad . . . and lonely. If one needs an ideological foil so badly that one is willing to lie, cast irrelevancies into arguments and shutter their eyes when their point of view begins to lose its strict black-and-white division . . . well that tells me said person is pretty insecure, and has built his persona on such a weak foundation of elements that to admit poor-thinking or shaky rationalizations or obvious bias means that his whole being may collapse.

Viewing things through multi-hued and varied perspectives tends to diminish the infallibility of one's original beliefs or suspicions. Perhaps one loses some fraction of the force of one's personality in learning that there is more behind something than than simple slogans may convey . . . but ultimately, it's a better way to live.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2008


"Yeah. Except for the parts where I routinely specified that I was not speaking against, and was, in fact, trying to defend moderate and cosmopolitan elements within the Muslim world. Or where I backtracked and further specified to Dee Xtrovert that I had in mind fundamentalisms such as modern day Salafism. These things are not "over-broad characterizations of Islam as a monolith." Indeed, they are the opposite."

You mean here?

I mean, on the one hand, rereading some of what you wrote with your backtracking in mind, I can understand the failure of communication there. On the other hand, you took it upon yourself to defend Naborious's moronic assertions, and seemed to imply that it was correct to speak of a broad Islamic character, and that it was correct to link that broad character to violence. The phrasing of your "majority Muslim" countries did not make it clear that you were attempting to distinguish moderate and liberal Muslims from fundamentalists, but rather opposing moderates and liberals as a group from Muslims as a group, and saying that those Muslims sought to repress everyone.

This was reinforced by your assertion of places where violence was nigh inevitable because of Muslims, which seems pretty clearly to assert that it's the identity of Islam that's salient in predicting violence, and it's a fair reading to say that's biased and blinkered. That you backtracked later is nice, but you didn't seem to grasp that it wasn't a lack of specificity that made that comment worrying, but rather the context in which it was presented. While this thread is obviously about the violence possible from Islamic extremists, saying simply that there are places dominated by those extremists that are dangerous for Westerners to visit doesn't add anything, especially in the context of you defending yourself against charges of bigotry.

To further clarify what I'm trying to get at: If you have a ball made of lead and a ball made of rubber, it's silly to assert that the ball-ness is what causes bouncing. There are plenty of places in the world that you could go and be nigh assured of violence—Islam is not as good a predictor as, say, poverty, even though the violence may be ostensibly done in the name of Islam.

And beyond that, you're not adding anything to the conversation by asserting that there is violence done in the name of Islam. Yes, that's apparent. Duh. No matter how many rhetorical rosepetals you strew, that you have a friend who has had her educational remit circumscribed by religious students isn't inherently interesting, nor is the fact that they're Muslims, unless you can connect that with both specific differences in her restrictions that differ from the general complaints of, say, anyone teaching evolution, geology or the Catcher in the Rye, and with a context where Islam is the primary cause. Because, again, I'm going to argue that Islam is not a broad enough cultural marker for it to be more important than their specific strain of Islam or their national or ethnic (or tribal) backgrounds.

As for the bits about knuckleheads and leaving the thread? Blow me. For someone who's complaining about not being read seriously, you're not doing a lot to help yourself.
posted by klangklangston at 1:57 PM on August 13, 2008


And besides, Languagehat only agrees with me because I've been italicizing the folks I quote from.
posted by klangklangston at 1:59 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not exactly sure how you can blame the Saudi Arabian government for the actions of people they imprison an execute every chance they get (Al Qaeda)
posted by delmoi at 11:15 AM on August 13


Because they foster a fucking insane environment where you get your hand cut off for stealing and women are chattel. If the Saudi royals ever run out of oil/money, they'll go from buying solid gold Rolls-Royces and importing sex slaves to cutting off infidel heads lickety-split.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:05 PM on August 13, 2008


Yes, and we could have a thread about this in which the evident fact of violence perpetrated in the name of Judaism would be the very topic of the discussion, and yet if some knucklehead started talking about how Judaism was a shambling undead horror that stalks the world, something tells me there would be an uproar, and rightly so.
posted by languagehat at 1:10 PM on August 13

How about this: magical thinking is a shambling undead horror that stalks the world. Magical thinking includes but is not limited to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Welp, I guess I'm racist against everybody!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:09 PM on August 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


optimus chyme--your grievances with the Saudi royal family have been duly noted. Doubtless the atmosphere of S.A. is in many ways oppressive: there are human rights violations, there is systematic antagonism towards women akin to apartheid, there is corruption, there is the Wahabbi puritanism and fanaticism of the most ideological mullahs, etc. But sociology is not just simple connect-the-dots. Anti-Western jihadism and Islamic terrorism are actually complex phenomena, and they demand complex analysis. In your urgent sense to cast blame upon the whole of Islam, you may have blinded yourself to some salient features of its extremist elements and how they evolved. You are working too hard to establish a clear causal simplicity that is not there: kind of like the way racists work to show how all criminal malignancy can be directly blamed on the blacks and the jews.
posted by ornate insect at 2:21 PM on August 13, 2008


How about this: magical thinking is a shambling undead horror that stalks the world.

Dr Breen!
posted by kid ichorous at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2008


Kid Ichorous: do those who agree with the statement above also think that private corporations should be allowed to refuse to sell to people blacklisted by, or who are members of, a certain religion?

In the case of a book, any book, and in the case that you were refusing to sell the book on the basis of membership of a religion, almost certainly not. I don't think the cases are analogous, and a lot depends on the reason given for refusing either to publish or sell a book: I think a realistic danger to your staff or yourself is a legitimate argument for refusing to publish. People may be disappointed, but it's perfectly rational and - depending on how you value your staff's, and your own, safety - may be the right thing to do. Refusal to publish a book or sell one on the basis of membership of a religion is simply discrimination.
posted by YouRebelScum at 3:54 PM on August 13, 2008


do those who agree with the statement above also think that private corporations should be allowed to refuse to sell to people blacklisted by, or who are members of, a certain religion? After all, they could always buy their wares elsewhere.

Of course not; that would be discrimination. But refusing to publish for fear of imminent danger from doing so? Is not discrimination.

Allowing "the market" to dictate what's said and what isn't is no better then allowing a government censor to do it -- since 99% of the time it's not actually market forces, but simply individuals in a position of power due to the market who happen to use that power to censor people.

Okay, so you're saying that publishers must be required to publish everything that comes through their doors?

No?

Ah.

How about this: magical thinking is a shambling undead horror that stalks the world.

Except not. It's only when fundamentalist magical thinking attempts to impose itself on other people--either through law or direct action--that it is a problem. Nice try, though.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:56 PM on August 13, 2008


Brian B--If a soldier comes back from Iraq with PTSD and murders his family, can I blame the US military?

If hundreds of soldiers deliberately murder innocent civilians while on duty, the military would be under review and condemned by citizens who support it. Obviously.

If a Christian zealot murders his family, can I blame Christianity?

If he's citing Christianity, yes, blame whatever source he's got for leading people like him into deeper insanity. The cult doesn't deserve a tax free status, and it shouldn't be entertained as a positive value to society.

If a kid walks into a school in America and opens fire, killing his classmates, can I blame parenting in America or violent TV?

If they were killed because they weren't religious enough, yes, blame the parents, and their source of religion. Remember, the religion is their highest good and if they did it for God according to some charlatan, then that bears blame, responsibility, and damages.

If a man in Brazil rapes someone, is Brazilian culture to blame?

Because the father told the brother and uncle to murder and rape her in order to save their religious honor under the Koran? Don't blame Brazil, blame Islam. That's just creepy, horrific, unnatural, and double weird if done cold sober without any guilt--because the religion assigns guilt, and that was what we were expecting from religion. Not you of course.
posted by Brian B. at 4:29 PM on August 13, 2008


If hundreds of soldiers deliberately murder innocent civilians while on duty, the military would be under review and condemned by citizens who support it. Obviously.

And again..

In the army, there is a central command.

In Islam, there is not.

Bigotry is kinda, y'know, icky.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:57 PM on August 13, 2008


And again..

In the army, there is a central command.

In Islam, there is not.


In my example they were out of control by way of indoctrination towards their victims.


Bigotry is kinda, y'know, icky.


It's only bigotry to women haters.

posted by Brian B. at 6:30 PM on August 13, 2008


Readers of this thread may also enjoy: A statement from Shahed Amanullah, founder of AltMuslim, who is mentioned in the WSJ piece. There is also discussion worth noting going on at Talk Islam. Meanwhile, Sherry Jones chooses to write about her tribulations, in, of all places, Newsweek's "Islam's Advance" column.

Oh and also! This novel fits nicely into an exciting genre of literature that has already been discussed right here on Metafilter.
posted by BinGregory at 6:39 PM on August 13, 2008


DNAB—

Don't bother with Brian on this one. He's already decided that Islam is the problem, and will simply invent hypotheticals to bolster that view. I've yet to see him convinced by anyone on anything, and arguing with him is to descend into spiral of funhouse mirrors and abandon any sense of logic.

Just sayin'. Feel free to search out his bizarro-world take on Maimonides for some fun.
posted by klangklangston at 7:31 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've yet to see him convinced by anyone on anything, and arguing with him is to descend into spiral of funhouse mirrors and abandon any sense of logic.

klangklangston freely admits to trying to convince me of something. That's just another way of saying that he doesn't know what he's doing.
posted by Brian B. at 8:13 PM on August 13, 2008


Okay now I'm lost. If there's no central command in Islam, and it's bigotry to assume that Muslims are given to flat-out crazy, violent behavior, can someone please explain why this company is afraid to publish historical fiction for fear of violent reprisals, and why we're okay with that? To believe their fears are even founded, I'd have to subscribe to a bigot's definition of Islam, right?
posted by kid ichorous at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2008


That is, isn't there a logical contradiction here? How can we simultaneously believe that (1) Muslims are not, as a category, uncivil and violent and also believe that (2) Random House is acting reasonably by suppressing this book for fear of provoking 1? You have to pick one, and I'm perfectly fine with admitting that 2 is wrong, and that Random House is acting improperly. But you can't have it both ways.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:05 PM on August 13, 2008


Anyone who believes that Muslims are...as a category, uncivil and violent is a fucking racist tool and they ought to be banned from this website. Period.
posted by ornate insect at 9:51 PM on August 13, 2008


No, it's pretty easy, actually.

All poodles are dogs. Not all dogs are poodles.

Or: No one denies that there are radical, violent extremists who have Islamic ideologies. Whether there are enough of them to represent a credible threat is kind of for Random House to decide.

But that illustrates the sloppiness of the language here—When Larry Flynt got shot, it was because of an inter-racial spread that he ran. He had (intentionally) provoked people: White people, white Southerners, racists, White Southern racists, White Southern racist folks prone to violence, White Southern racist serial killers… etc. But the guy who (claims he) shot Flynt doesn't represent all white people or all Southerners or even all Southern racists. Likewise, Al Qaida represents an extremely small sliver of violent Wahabist Sunni Islam.

And, obviously, I don't think Islam is equivalent with racism—it was just a handy Venn diagram.
posted by klangklangston at 9:54 PM on August 13, 2008


If there's no central command in Islam,

The absurdity of someone arguing for no central command as a guarantee against fatwas and jihads and theocracy is rather blatant.

But you can't have it both ways.

I would agree. If a dogma demands a true belief, or faith or credit, in a set of claims and promises (contracts), then if the actor is morally liable under those beliefs, then so is the belief system itself. Faith can always be misplaced, and it is never wrong to say so. If someone's life is threatened for changing their mind, then that's just force. And that's where superstitious people get very upset. Look at how random people stomp their feet here at the defense of other people's superstition, because it's really just like their own (but they are more comfortable arguing by surrogate in order to protect their beliefs). The final analysis is that they gave a free pass to a set of beliefs that purport to cause good actions, and yet, simultaneously insist that those beliefs can't be judged by their claims. That is denial, if not outright dissociation. To put it simply, their world view blames the believer for not having enough goodness and faith when it embarrasses itself, no matter which set of beliefs, because that is the structure of their own belief system.
posted by Brian B. at 10:08 PM on August 13, 2008


There's nothing sillier than using pseudo-empirical phrases like "net effect" to justify one's prejudices.

Nothing sillier, that is, except for equating Islam with environmentalism. I mean, can you imagine the "green movement" issuing a fatwa every time someone made an insulting caricature of Al Gore?
posted by farmdoggie at 10:25 PM on August 13, 2008


I've never seen so many cowardly rhetorical contortions to justify what amounts to bigoted anti-Islamic hysteria as I have on this thread.
posted by ornate insect at 11:21 PM on August 13, 2008


Spellberg responds in the WSJ. via talk islam
posted by BinGregory at 2:57 AM on August 14, 2008


Kid Ichorous: I should say where I'm coming from on this - I had an extremely unpleasant experience working for a Danish NGO in Herat after the Danish cartoon thing happened. Our car got the shit kicked out of it, and we were lucky to get to the airport. The participants were undoubtedly Muslims. Islamic slogans were undoubtedly being shouted. They are not representative of all Afghan muslims, nor yet all Muslims. Most were late teens expressing frustration, I guess, and 'Islam' was just a rallying call. But that doesn't matter - whether it was genuine religious fervour or a Islam was simply a pretext, the response is now, on a purely descriptive level, predictable, and I think Random House do well to consider the consequences. You pull a trigger, a bullet comes out: it's not quite as direct as that, but there's a fairly predictable causal link, even if it's filtered through the agency of another.
posted by YouRebelScum at 4:51 AM on August 14, 2008


ornate insect: Anyone who believes that Muslims are...as a category, uncivil and violent is a fucking racist tool and they ought to be banned from this website. Period.

Ornate, it sounded to me like Random House was making exactly this (religionist, culturalist) generalization, by presuming that Muslims cannot handle dimestore historical fiction like just about everyone else. There seemed to be some contradiction in supporting their ban while attacking the very logic behind it. I take it you disagree?

And their sweeping generalizations about Islam are no more racist than generalizations about Scientology.

klangklangston: When Larry Flynt got shot, it was because of an inter-racial spread that he ran. He had (intentionally) provoked people: White people, white Southerners, racists, White Southern racists, White Southern racist folks prone to violence, White Southern racist serial killers… etc. But the guy who (claims he) shot Flynt doesn't represent all white people or all Southerners or even all Southern racists.

This is a an interesting example, because he's sort of the anti-Random House. The fact that Flynt made his name as both publisher and provocateur shows that he had at least some guiding assumptions about the reactionary instincts in his culture, but that his motivation was to steer into them rather than around. And "America is racist," while an overbroad and subjective (racist compared to where? India?) categorization, would still have worked as a guiding star.

If we assume that a DaVinci Code or Siddhartha or can be published without provoking violence, but that books about Scientology and Islam will invite legal and physical intimidation, we are working from assumptions about all of the religions and constituencies involved, even if our assumptions only concern the size, volatility, and methodology of their lunatic fringe. If we're not comfortable publishing the same books about Muslims as we are about Buddhists, we're not really speaking from a religion-neutral perspective no matter how much we insist we are.

YouRebelScum: Kid Ichorous: I should say where I'm coming from on this - I had an extremely unpleasant experience working for a Danish NGO in Herat after the Danish cartoon thing happened. [...] whether it was genuine religious fervour or a Islam was simply a pretext, the response is now, on a purely descriptive level, predictable, and I think Random House do well to consider the consequences. You pull a trigger, a bullet comes out: it's not quite as direct as that, but there's a fairly predictable causal link, even if it's filtered through the agency of another.

I can't really argue with this, except to say that I sympathize and that my statements aren't personal. I have a pretty strong position on this issue (that free speech is paramount), but at the same time I'm speaking as someone who's never been the target of an organized, angry mob.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:46 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


it sounded to me like Random House was making exactly this (religionist, culturalist) generalization, by presuming that Muslims cannot handle dimestore historical fiction like just about everyone else.

You know what's missing in this sentence, the word "some." As in, "some Muslims."

I know you're not an idiot, but I'm not sure you're not a total fucking racist.

Even a third grader can figure out the difference between "some" and "all."
posted by ornate insect at 8:08 AM on August 14, 2008


Brian B: Look at how random people stomp their feet here at the defense of other people's superstition, because it's really just like their own

I think a lot of it is just reactionary. It's no secret that Islam has become the right-wing's favorite bogeyman, and that the subject has been polluted by their mythmaking and the left's polarized responses to it.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2008


Kid Ichorous: Sure, but I don't think the debate here is about censorship any more, rather whether you can ever legitimately claim that an action by a section of the world's population, defined according to membership of a particular group, is ever predictable - particularly if the action predicted is viewed negatively.

I accept the point that you have to be very careful in making generalisations, but I think such a prediction could be legitimate, and indeed, in some circumstance you'd be a fool not to make it. You drive down a road in Logar Province in a big white car with an NGO sticker on the side, and you get shot. Predictable (and, given yesterday, very sad). You walk into certain bars in Glasgow wearing a certain colour, and you get a kicking. Predictable. You need to take these possible reactions into account, and I don't believe it's necessarily racist to do so. You're not saying the whole population is like that, but you're saying that given past experience some of them are sufficiently likely to be.
posted by YouRebelScum at 8:24 AM on August 14, 2008


Ornate, I'm sorry you feel that way. My racism is apparently so all-encompassing that it doesn't even limit itself to the subject of race anymore. It drives me to omit restrictive disclaimers in statements that have nothing to do with race at all, statements in which I'm trying to lay out an implicit position in order to suggest a contradiction. But if you really think I've crossed some line, by all means alert the mods and have my comments in this thread expunged, or my account deleted, or whatever you think is appropriate. I can't seem to convince you otherwise.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:49 AM on August 14, 2008


The answer is in the math.

Look. All religions have problems endemic to "scripture." Pretty much all of them. So it is partially a problem with magical thinking. However you have to be pretty naive to think that Islam (and it NOT a frigg'n race, people) is not currently highly, and somewhat uniquely, susceptible to extremism and why that is, and is going to continue to be, a very serious problem. And the reason is numbers and structure.

Every religion has it's kook factories. And each of these kook factories has more or less impact depending on the cultural, historic, economic, and social elements around it. But the kook factories unfortunately can reach critical mass and can easily dominate cultures periodically.

And this is what is happening. Religions historically trend to kook factories. It because most people are not that bright and are easily led. Over time enough unscrupulous power-hungry extremist people rise through ranks in religions and dominate them for a while. Just like other institutions that congregate power. But with religion you got a guy telling you GOD says so and eternal life is on the line. That is one hell of a motivator.

Right now a great deal of the Islamic world is going through one of these periods. And we ain't helping by bombing the shit out of them.

You have supposedly 2.1 billion Christians world wide. But those are broken down into several dozen other denominations. Most of the larger denominations have gone through their period of violent schism and are more or less stable and have a large portion of population existing wealthy and stable countries (NOT going to go into a chicken and egg discussion on this one, sorry). This stability could easily change if the world economy tanks... but shit will roll down hill first. Anyway. Many of these denominations run the gamut from very socially conservative to very socially liberal. Most have a hierarchical structure, top to bottom, that can "dictate" how scripture is interpreted. But the actual force of the numbers is distilled down by the number of denominations. There are, for instance, around 30 million Baptists (just for example) in the US. If only .5 percent of Baptists tend toward extremism, and only half of those are outliers and disenfranchised enough to be motivated into violent action, then your not really talking about relatively small force to deal with. But you still have a central hierarchy to at least manage them to a degree and you also have the force of the US economy and a secular democratic state in which to deal with the problems of disenfranchisement. Plus our populations in the west are not growing.

You got over 1.8 BILLION Muslims world wide and growing rapidly. And there are really only two main branches and both exist and are growing rapidly largely in the poorest portions of the world. Both, despite individual interpretations, are fairly socially conservative over all. AS was mentioned there is no central hierarchy. The religion it self is very diffused and decentralized. Individual Imams can wield a great deal of influence and can vary greatly in interpretation of scripture. In many places they nothing more than Mob Bosses. So. If only .5% tend towards extremism, and only half of those are willing to engage in violence then you still have a formidable army to contend with, though spread out, and no central authority in which to govern them. You have them placed inside volatile poor and repressive regimes, disenfranchised, and without access to the agents of positive change. All of this is happening in areas of the world with the fastest growing populations. So, you see you have problems. Big problems. And it is NOT waning. Its' growing. Poverty is growing. Populations are growing. Islam is growing. That .5% of 1% is growing. And at a faster rate than any other extremist group.

The fact that a publisher in a non Muslim state has to worry about the safety of it's authors because a "tiny" (and by tiny we COULD be talking about millions of people) fraction of a religion are violent and dangerous says it all.

This is not to say the fundamentalist Christian movements are not also potential problems. They certainly are. In fact much more so in terms of the access these groups have to REAL power. We're talking access to the halls of power, the dudes with strategic nuclear weapons in the US. We have Air Force Generals who are apocalyptic Christians. That shit should scare the crap out of you. However, as long the wheels of commerce keep getting greased and the pay off keeps coming even a nut-bag Rapture Believer would rather be sipping margaritas poolside getting his dick sucked by a porn star than nuking the world. I hope.
posted by tkchrist at 12:31 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


TK pretty much nails it, yeah.
posted by klangklangston at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2008


*whistles*
posted by felix betachat at 3:12 PM on August 14, 2008


Yes, and?
posted by klangklangston at 5:01 PM on August 14, 2008


and it NOT a frigg'n race, people

People tend to confuse race and religion when they implicitly assume, unconsciously perhaps, that leaving the religion is nearly impossible. Nobody has disputed the point that leaving Islam is probably a violent proposition involving threats from one's immediate family members, not from random extremists at all, and it obviously doesn't matter where one lives. I note that the strawman of "extremism" has always involved talking points on the low threat of terrorism, in order to avoid admitting to the likelihood of internal violence connected to disavowed belief, as if people are really just trying to deal with their own fears, rather than stand against a common injustice in the world. We already know that every Muslim is morally justified in threatening their family with violence upon leaving Islam because the founder said so. And since there is no hierarchy to condemn it then they tend to follow the founder's words more closely. Forget about anyone approving it, it's already approved. The flawed "no hierarchy" argument just further points to the lack of anyone telling them not to. I would guess that most Muslims might even be insulted that so many here take them for do-nothing pacifists when it comes to defending their faith from infidel influence.
posted by Brian B. at 5:22 PM on August 14, 2008


But that story doesn't say whether he possessed enough cyanide to do anything other than buy himself a painless exit in an anonymous hotel room.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:40 PM on August 14, 2008


"Nobody has disputed the point that leaving Islam is probably a violent proposition involving threats from one's immediate family members, not from random extremists at all, and it obviously doesn't matter where one lives."

NO ONE HAS DISPUTED THAT THE SKY IS MADE OF JELLYBEANS THEREFORE IT IS PROVE-ED!

I note that the strawman of "extremism" has always involved talking points on the low threat of terrorism, in order to avoid admitting to the likelihood of internal violence connected to disavowed belief, as if people are really just trying to deal with their own fears, rather than stand against a common injustice in the world.

I note that you're adopting a straw man while simultaneously decrying them.
posted by klangklangston at 5:45 PM on August 14, 2008




Nobody has disputed the point that leaving Islam is probably a violent proposition involving threats from one's immediate family members, not from random extremists at all, and it obviously doesn't matter where one lives.

Uhhh... nobody asserted that point anywhere in this thread, which is why it wasn't disputed.

Leaving the family religion can be a violent proposition in fundamentalist, extremist sects. Whether that's Islam, Judaism, or Christianity is kind of immaterial.

Oh why do I bother.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:28 PM on August 14, 2008


Oh why do I bother.

Because you are trying to convince yourself. The only way to do this is to convince others. You need to find out why this is important to you. If most of them cared what we thought of Islam generally, they wouldn't murder their daughters under our noses, nor casually dismiss it to our faces. Think of it as an intelligence test spanning twelve centuries. Or think of it as a cry for help. You get to decide this one.
posted by Brian B. at 7:04 AM on August 15, 2008


"If most of them cared what we thought of Islam generally, they wouldn't murder their daughters under our noses, nor casually dismiss it to our faces."

If I might play to the imagined audience for a moment here, it should be clear to everyone that Brian just asserted that most Muslims kill their daughters. This should give you both a window into his mindset and his credibility.

So, DNAB, what's cool in Toronto right now? Anybody coming up in the music or arts scene that other folks should hear about?
posted by klangklangston at 8:26 AM on August 15, 2008




« Older The Assassination of John Glenn   |   ...and that little boy's smile... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post