Wednesday, March 16, 2011

O'Donnell: "Many of the things [Bachmann] says are truly breathtaking demonstrations of ignorance levels previously unimaginable in a member of congress or a graduate of an American elementary school."

Watch Lawrence O'Donnell attempt to explain the stupidity of Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, and try to account explain her pattern of ignorant statements. He looks to the people of her staff, who ought to protect her, and the voters who elected her for some kind of answer but finds none.

Despite O'Donnell's tendency to indulge a condescending tone, he is right to point a finger at the voters of Minnesota. This woman is an embarrassment to the state and her supporters confirm the most damning criticisms of democracy: that it is an organized version of mob rule and that it rewards mediocrity.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mr. Ellison Goes to Washington

There is a lot going on in the world (as there always is) and lately I've been struggling to keep up with all of it. Over the next week or so I plan to publish some comments about the various stories that have been occupying my thoughts.

But for now I wanted to draw attention to the Homeland Security Committee's hearings on radicalization in the American Muslim community. Minnesota representative (and the first Muslim to be elected to congress) Keith Ellison made a statement to the committee, which can be read in full here.

Here is Ellison's thesis, and probably the most important point of his testimony:
Today’s hearing is entitled, “The extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s response.”

It is true that specific individuals, including some who are Muslims, are violent extremists. However, these are individuals – but not entire communities. Individuals like Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Faisel Shazad, and Nidal Hasan do not represent the Muslim American community. When their violent actions are associated with an entire community, then blame is assigned to a whole group. This is the very heart of stereotyping and scapegoating, which is counter-productive.

This point is at the heart of my testimony today. Ascribing the evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community is wrong; it is ineffective; and it risks making our country less secure.

Solutions to the scourge of domestic terrorism often emerge from individuals within the Muslim community—a point I address later in my testimony. However, demanding a “community response” (as the title of this hearing suggests) asserts that the entire community bears responsibility for the violent acts of individuals. Targeting the Muslim American community for the actions of a few is unjust. Actually all of us—all communities—are responsible for combating violent extremism. Singling out one community focuses our analysis in the wrong direction.
There are many reasons to criticize Islam. For that matter, there are many reasons to criticize Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and all other religions. Religion--as an ideology--is a poisonous influence on contemporary society as it retards culture, encourages anti-intellectualism, and promotes violence against those who do not share identical beliefs.

However, there is a distinction to be made between between Christianity and Christians, just is there is a difference between Islam and Muslims. One identifies a belief system and the other identifies a group of people. We should--and we must--be critical of the former. But we must also take care not to turn that criticism of dogma and ideology into an excuse for the persecution of an entire community, especially when that community is made of individuals with a wide range of opinions about their shared ideology.

These congressional hearings are being held as a result of institutionalized fears of Muslims in particular and of foreigners more broadly. This fear is understandable. As Ellison readily admits, there have been acts of violence committed by members of the Muslim community. And the impact of these events has been amplified by sensational news coverage that characterizes Muslims as a homogeneous group of barbarians intending to overrun western civilization.

But there has also been a great deal of violence committed against members of the Muslim community and yet congress has not conducted hearings about the religious and ethnic identities of those offenders. And that may be the biggest misstep of the committee's hearings. There was actually a golden opportunity here to make inroads of support for law enforcement and encourage interfaith and interracial cooperation by highlighting the differences between various Muslim groups and the ways members of the community have stepped forward to foil terrorist plots. There was also an opportunity to show how the actions of terrorists have caused difficulty for the Muslim community at large by staining their image.

But that was not the goal of today's hearings. Instead, congress went the route of lumping the many peaceful Muslims in with the few violent individuals. And this just makes things worse. Among the causes of radicalization is the perception of marginalization and persecution. These hearings, by their very design, alienate the community, isolate them as a villainous other, and accuse all members of sharing responsibility for the acts of a few. And as an ultimate result, these hearings may actually encourage those few who are on the fringes of radicalization to abandon hope for being a part of American society and attack it as though it were an enemy.