Friday, April 8, 2011

Of Liberal Racism, Afghan Violence, and the Response to Pastor Terry Jones Burning a Koran

"Jones’s burning of the Koran was daft. But it did not directly cause “the tragic, deadly violence” in Afghanistan, as one Pentagon spokesman claimed. To suggest that it did, to argue that Jones has “blood on his hands”, as the New York Daily News put it, is to overlook the fact that there is an important bridge between words and actions. That bridge is us, people, the audience, the public, who are possessed of free will and thought and who must make a decision about whether, and how, to act on the words we hear. The idea that words lead directly to action, that the image of a burning Koran in the US leads inevitably to violence in Afghanistan, is to cut out these middle men and present speech as an all-powerful force that dictates world events.

Such an outlook is dangerous for two reasons. First because there would be no limits to the curbing and policing of speech if we all bought into the mad notion that it can directly cause other people’s deaths."
Let it not be said that I am unfair to my political rivals. Just like the brother from the ACLU who defended the KKK's right to privacy in Texas, I may find you abhorrent and your words foul, but I will stand up for your Constitutionally protected right to say them.

I am hard on American conservatives. As measured by the foolishness of the Tea Party GOP they have certainly fallen from grace in the Age of Obama. While I was no great champion of his ideas--especially on the Civil Rights Movement--I could at least respect the intellect of the William F. Buckleys of the world. Heck, I could even tolerate Bush the Elder. I am not a "liberal" or "progressive" as those labels are casually thrown about in our contemporary political discourse. Thus, why I scoff when I am labeled as such. Those titles come from an honorable lineage. And there is no shame in them. But, I am an unapologetic Black pragmatist. My ultimate commitment is to the truth, be it moral, philosophical, scientific, or political.

Because as of late I have been focused on beating up the New Right's lemmings, the buckdancing Herman Cains, and the other mouth breathing troglodytes who comprise contemporary Conservatism as a political movement, I have neglected one of my other favorite intellectual curiosities--liberal racism. It has been a long time since I have seen a classic example of liberal racism, one that is inspirational enough to motivate a response.

For the uninitiated, liberal racism is part of the same cosmology as (conservative) racism. However, while the latter thrives on an insincere language of colorblindness, often naked appeals to racial resentment, and is predicated on an unapologetic embrace of white privilege and maintaining a herrenvolk republic at any cost, the latter works differently. Liberal racism embraces the soft bigotry of low expectations, where one tolerates conditions for others they would not for themselves, is afraid of speaking the truth about the ghetto underclasses and their often pathological and self-destructive behavior(s), and is possessed of a sense of racial superiority born of noblesse oblige, as opposed to a relationship prefaced on an equal power relationship between agents.

Both are ugly. Both are pernicious. They are merely different sides of the same coin.

Traditional white supremacy and conservative racism are cognitive maps for ordering the world. Liberal racism does the same work for its practitioners. And neither are limited by the stopping power of water as they frame how individuals think about the nature of political life, both at home and abroad.

The Telegraph's critique of how some on the Left responded to the riots in Afghanistan last week--a murderous rampage which supposedly occurred because of "Pastor" Terry Jones' decision to burn a Koran in his "church"--is a spot on vivisection of the perils of liberal racism. Just as we saw some of the worst examples of multicultural and pluralist excuse making in the aftermath of the Muhammad cartoon debacle, a moment when folks gave in to threats of violence and were tolerant of political thugs (who ironically benefit from free speech, but will not allow others to practice it), there are some who are engaging in an odd form of the White Man's Burden in which liberal racism mandates that we engage in excuse making and cultural relativism as we try to make sense of wanton violence.

In total, liberal racism demands that white folks and the West deal with the Other as "little brown brothers and sisters," as opposed to equal human beings with agency, reason, and who should be held culpable for their deeds.

By implication, I won't let a conservative pat me on my head as though I am a child. Nor will I let a liberal racist do so either.

The meaty parts of Brendan O'Neill's "Pastor Terry Jones is no more to blame for the Afghan violence than Martin Scorsese was for the shooting of Ronald Reagan" follow:

And the second problem with the “blame Jones” brigade is that it lets rioting Afghans off the hook. It says they’re not really responsible for the bloodshed they unleashed; Jones is. There’s a great irony here, because many of the commentators who make this argument do so in order to express their apparently enlightened and cosmopolitan sympathy with beleaguered Muslims in Afghanistan, yet in the process they patronisingly depict Afghans as overgrown children, as attack dogs almost, who hear a command or see an offensive image and act on it, robot-like. Modern-day liberal pity for Muslims would seem to be a comfortable bedfellow of the old-world colonial outlook: in both instances Third World people are treated as hapless, helpless creatures who must have their eyes and ears shielded from dodgy ideas.

The consequences of taking this approach to the Koran controversy are potentially dire. Just as in the Muhammad cartoons controversy, Western liberal politicians and thinkers are giving Muslims a licence to feel offended, a licence to go crazy; they are effectively legitimising violent responses to offensive images by saying: “It’s understandable. This is what happens when we fail to respect their culture.”


Oh Crap said...

I'll be dealing with it further in tomorrow's Our Dumb Week, but this was one of the dumber moments in liberal stupidity and lord knows there have been plenty of them in recent days.

The responsibility for the riots and for the killings lays squarely with the people who carried them out, not to mention the filthy Talibanesque mullahs who egg them on.

I am getting tired of this polyanna attitude on the left that we must somehow back filth like Taliban, dirtbag killers like Hamas, Hezbollah, Kaddaffi, and other bigots because they are supposedly part of the "global left", or fighting for "freedom", or whatever.


Plane Ideas said...

I agree with the generic notion that all evil must be condemned regardless of it's orgins etc..

Yet I also agree with the opinion that expecting another to react in the manner you desire is not acceptible.

I argue that those offended and demonized by evil and inhumanity they reserve the right to address evil accordingly and not at the behest or approvals of another..

Anonymous said...

I went to a private law school. The first year course load was designed to sort of work students to death, and teach them to prioritize. Legal research and writing was added at the half way point of the year, just to add to the mix.

I noticed that none of my black classmates were in the research and writing course. When I asked, they replied, "Why didn't you take it last summer when it was offered before regular classes began?"

It turns out our liberal law school offered all the minority students (and ONLY the non-white students) the chance to take this course beforehand. Needless to say that my classmates were not at all happy when they found this out.

I read a great article a few years ago by a Chinese human rights activist who basically said, "Why should China get a pass on what are basic human rights? It's nothing less than racism to say that 'China/Asia is different.'

I believe this is why the Nazis were called for atrocities much moreso than the Japanese after WWII- white Europeans were held to a higher standard of expectations than Asians by the (white) Allies.

Abstentus said...

I get the argument about soft bigotry of low expectations, but I don't get the "free speech" argument. That is to say I am not saying I 100% believe that, "The idea that words lead directly to action," is always right. Do not take me for saying that. But I do believe that THAT is really the object of communication; to persuade people of the worth or validity of some thought, idea, version of right and correctness, and that losing sight of that is really a bad if not incorrect thing.

The "Free Speech," as a social value to be idolized, ideal, beyond the big bad govt actually censoring people, is something I am sorta inclined to scoff at. And as a baseline, I think the phrase "free speech," gotta go.

It gotta go as what we are talking about is the entire range of possible human communication, not just "speech." And it certainly is not free. There is always a cost to expression and communication. No one should pretend otherwise.

The cost could be your reputation, your job, your friends, your relationship, marriage, social standing. Or it could just be money.

And I say that is all good.

It's a matter of Cause and Effect (as The Merovingian would say.)

But there is always cost as measured in the risk that one risks rejection or even worse from a possible audience, for daring to communicate a thought or idea.

I think my two careers really have shaped my thoughts here. I did professional theatre work, before I went into law. Both fields have one major thing in common. Both are, at core, communication careers. If words (communicaton) did not have the power to persuade people, change minds, move others to one's will, there would be no actors or lawyers in the world. (Add in every other direct or indirect communication related career.)

I am not making the political or ideological argument here. I think I am even going deeper than sociological. I think I am making the anthropological argument. Or linguistic. It's core stuff, the nature and purpose and intent of communication, that I am talking about here.

Anyway, does any of that mean Pastor Terry is a particularly effective communicator? Maybe. Does that mean he deliberately wanted people to riot and kill? Again, maybe (and I got to say I would not be surprised if he did, in his little grinchy black heart.) But here is the part I am sure about. I am sure he totally meant to communicate a deep level of hate to a wide swath of inhabitants of this planet. And some of them heard his message loud and clear.

Those who committed murder based on their level of upset over Pastor Terry's hateful communication? I do not excuse them one bit. They own their shit. But so does Pastor Terry. But he did not committ a crime, under American law at least. But he deserves some blame.

That's the cost he should incur for his hateful communication. If blame is all we can throw at him then let's throw it. But (going into lawyer mode here) blame is not the same as liability.

ish said...

I think while you make some important points here you are missing something crucial, which is context and perspective.

There is no excusing the murder of innocent UN workers. But is it a greater outrage, a larger page one headline, than the daily drone killings, collateral, "mistaken" or just plain new-fashioned high tech lynchings of innocent -- or even not so innocent -- people in the highlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan committed on the orders of the suits in Washington using money from you and me?

To Oh Crap above, while Hamas and Hezbollah have some unsavory aspects and some politics that I do not share, their defensive actions are splashed across the media as "barbarity" while the bodycount accrued by the State of Israel's policies of collective punishment is given a wink and a nod. I often wish the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements looked different than they do. I can state my opinion, but really, who cares.

Crucial to all of this, we as Americans have a very dirty house. I think it's eminently appropriate that we concern ourselves with hateful inciters like Pastor Jones, or our barbarically hypocritical foreign policy before we fix our gaze elsewhere. Motes/eyes and all that. Our failure to do that is what leads us to look the other way while the government tosses missiles randomly around the world while leaving this country chock full of injustice.

And what Jones did may have been legal but it doesn't make it right.

Plane Ideas said...

Anonymous did your liberal law school prevent privledged white students from attending the law school knowing thier educational credentials were enhanced by just being white and students of color educational opportunities were discounted because of thier hue...

Sorry but your example does nothing for me nor does it add any value to this discourse being a privledged white person does not mean that privledge operated into perpetuity..

Deflecting and demonizing the victim serves what end??

Years ago I wrote a couple of commentaries reacting to white journalists who were designating for the Black community how we should response and react to racism and police terrorism..I argued that those who are attacked by the evil alone reserved the right to define the scope of thier response not the very people who created the evil..

That is why in part I will always used the word nigger and never delete it from my tool box just becuase whites are offended...Muslims and all others should never be calibrated on how to react to evil perhaps the reaction will be love must we always assume the worst..The Mandela rule negated that myth....

fred c said...

Things like this Koran burning serve well to differentiate the Muslims of the world (Peace be upon them, just to be clear). For most Muslims, as for most reasonable people of any religious stripe, the antics of this misguided man are certainly stupid and counterproductive, but fall well short of a call to arms.

As for our "little brown brothers and sisters," I have lived among them for many years now, and I am most favorably impressed with their humanity, compassion and good sense.

Regarding liberal racism and paternalism, my own views line up with yours, but I defer to your greater talent in expressing them.

Oh Crap said...

Anonymous lied, It turns out our liberal law school offered all the minority students (and ONLY the non-white students) the chance to take this course beforehand. Needless to say that my classmates were not at all happy when they found this out.

And you know this, how?

You found out about this supposed offering, how, exactly?

You know, Anonymous, I nearly lost a friend I'm now proud to say I've known for 20+ years, due to bullshit stories like yours. Happily, and mostly for her sake and not just that of our friendship, she took my advice and started to interrogate how full-of-shit unprovable, non-sourced tales like this are employed to make tools out of people like you, people who are all too ready and willing to believe them so you can think yourself a fashionable victim of "minorities" and "nonwhites".

And yet, people like you believe yourself capable of interpreting the law. Please.

This is why we laugh at you, both when you're around and behind your back.