Monday, January 12, 2015

'White' American Terrorism and Charlie Hebdo Christian Hypocrisy

On Friday of last week, I spoke with Ring of Fire TV and Radio about the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper by Islamic terrorists in Paris.

During that interview I stressed several points: first, terrorism is an international problem and not just one of "those people" in the Middle East and elsewhere; second, America has a problem with terrorism by white, Right-wing, Christian conservatives; third; a perverse type of white identity politics endangers public safety because a mature discussion about terrorism by white people (especially white conservatives) will be shouted down by Fox News and its enablers across the media.

The scars of 9-11, and the American derangement that occurred in its aftermath, have combined with Orientalism, a cartoon bogeyman version of the Arab and Muslim "Other", and white supremacy to make all Muslims--however cosmopolitan and "Western" they may be--responsible for the vicious crimes of a few.

In that imaginary, all Muslims are made accountable for violence by Islamic terrorists.

This is part of the same logic which deems that all black Americans are somehow responsible for the crimes of a few people who by virtue of melanin count and the 1 drop rule in the United States are also arbitrarily deemed "black". By contrast, whiteness and white privilege are individualism in extremis. Thus, white killers, terrorists, and other monsters are "lone wolves" who reveal nothing about white people en masse.

When religion and political violence are intertwined, these questions of identity and group responsibility become even more complicated. Faith is a belief in that which cannot be proven by ordinary empirical means. By implication, religion is a type of magical thinking. However, it is made no less powerful a social force--both for "believers" and "non-believers--because of said fact.

Religion also creates a type of kinship network, tribe, and sense of community. Generally, members of a given religious clan are given more latitude and benefit of the doubt in their behavior than those who are outside of it. The religious Other is to be judged differently than those who of the religious in-group. Of course, this is hypocritical.

This hypocrisy is not conjecture; it is a measurable social phenomenon. Public opinion polling data from 2011 details how:
Such is typically not the case for acts of violence perpetrated by other religious groups, and a 2011 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey may offer a hint as to why the double-standard exists. 
The PRRI survey showed evidence of contradictions in Americans' attitudes toward religious violence. Most notably, 83 percent of Americans said that self-proclaimed Christians who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christians, while 48 percent of Americans said that self-proclaimed Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are not really Muslims. 
Republican respondents (55 percent) were more likely than Democrat respondents (40 percent) to say a self-identified Muslim who commits acts of violence in the name of Islam is really Muslim... 
A September 2014 Pew report found that 50 percent of American adults say Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers -- up from 40 percent in 2011, Jones said.
This is validation of the individual level experiences that I (and many of you) have had, where when asked about the ill-deeds committed by someone of their faith, the religiously minded often hee and haw as they say "x person isn't a 'real' Christian or Muslim so their behavior does not reflect the faith". Such deflections are cognitive shortcuts that defy critical engagement, as faith for the faithful is by definition a suspension of critical thinking via an embrace of the mysteries that come with a revelatory experience with their personal God.

The American Taliban--the Christian Dominionists, Sovereign Citizens, Christian Reconstructionists--have much in common with Islamic terrorists. They are both anti-Enlightenment, against free speech, do not believe in the separation of church and state, are hostile to the rights of gays and lesbians, and view women as not being full and equal citizens in the polity.

However, there is one key difference. Islamic terrorists own and embrace the use of violence against the public as a tool of intimidation in the service of advancing a political goal. By contrast, the American Taliban are enabled and protected by the Right-wing media and a broad swath of the white conservative public even as both run away from the twin labels of "Christian" and "terrorist".

"Christian terrorism" is terrorism. "Muslim terrorism" is terrorism. "Jewish terrorism" is terrorism.

Why is that reality so difficult for so many people to accept?


joe manning said...

An informed public is missing from the equation. Getting past particularistic tribalism and advancing to universal inclusion is a project lost on the public. Humanity evolved from clan to community to state to nation and should thereby be capable of taking the next step to international unity. However, humanity is mired in the legacy of warring dynastic nation states ruled by "divide and conquer" oriented oligarchies. Amid the euphoria of fake activist "free speech" an informed public must acknowledge the genocidic terrorism that is being waged at its behest, which has created islands of "freedom" alongside vast wastelands of terror.

chauncey devega said...

Great points. I tried to channel some of the smart folks who have shared their thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo terrorism events during my recent appearance on Ring of Fire and the RT. You folks do some great teaching and I just want to thank you all.

Lewis Orne said...

Recall how Department of Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson's report on right wing domestic terrorism was shut down by conservatives ?

Its these white conservatives, cousins, nephews and uncles killing folks, you best believe they don't want that white sheet laundry aired in public...

chauncey devega said...

They stroked out. White supremacy and white privilege once again hurt white people and the American people. The psychological wages of whiteness are damn intoxicating.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

This entire article from Stratfor reminds me of the Joe Sacco cartoon you shared:

"If no one but the gunmen and their immediate supporters are responsible for the action, and all others who share their faith are guiltless, you have made a defensible moral judgment. But as a practical matter, you have paralyzed your ability to defend yourselves. It is impossible to defend against random violence and impermissible to impose collective responsibility. As Europe has been for so long, its moral complexity has posed for it a problem it cannot easily solve. Not all Muslims — not even most Muslims — are responsible for this. But all who committed these acts were Muslims claiming to speak for Muslims. One might say this is a Muslim problem and then hold the Muslims responsible for solving it. But what happens if they don't? And so the moral debate spins endlessly."

Read more: A War Between Two Worlds | Stratfor
Follow us: @stratfor on Twitter | Stratfor on Facebook

joe manning said...

All the "free" speech fake activism masks white supremacy and its attendant antimomies but you're illustrative critique brings it front and center.

Axiom Ethicist said...

I feel like I have to disagree with this assessment.

It seem to me that free speech has historically been in conflict with white supremacy. Racist governments of the past always seemed to treat speech against them as thought it was an existential threat.

joe manning said...

I agree. I'm referring to "free" speech fake activism where fascists demonstrate together in solidartiy with socialists, like in France, the one saying I hate them because they're brown, the other saying I hate they're culture.