Thursday, August 10, 2006

 

SHAME, AND ETERNAL SHAME, NOTHING BUT SHAME!

I am writing to describe a situation that highlights an important point that my blogging icon, the Anchoress, made – that people focus on websites and information that cater to their own points of view (http://theanchoressonline.com/). Therefore, they can confirm their narrow view of the world and tune-out thoughts that do not correspond to their own. Needless to say, without reasoned discourse, rational assessment of different data and information, and needed reality checks, people can get locked-into fairly toxic ideas.

I have spent several years on a chat site, Ann Coulter Official Chat. I appreciate Ann’s satirical style, and I discounted entirely what the Achoress said about her ability to inspire extremists. However, I always check into the Anchoress (right after I looked at Drudge), because when I found myself disagreeing with Ann Coulter on a subject, I discovered that the Anchoress and I tended to be more in agreement. Furthermore, I am too much of a scientist and analytical thinker to be a good satirist – and the Anchoress' weighty, well-considered writing style was more akin to my own. Also, as that blog states, good people can disagree on a subject and still be good people.

With that in mind, in recent months, I began reviewing the discourse that was occurring on our own Chat Room, Ann Coulter Official Chat. I began to realize that some members (but not all, mind) were creating an atmosphere in which it was OK to hate one group of people – Muslims. One would routinely refer to them as muslimes, and another as ragheads. Another expressed great pride in her giving a purdah-clad woman in a mall the "evil eye", assuming this visitor to our shores as an obvious terrorist. There were chronic instances of the latest outrage committed by Muslims in third-world countries being used to condemn all Muslims. Routine calls for genocide of men, women and children who follow Islam were made, as well as suggestions for carpet bombing Mecca and Medina.

Initially, I thought the focus of these awful remarks was centered on Islamic extremists. I despise terrorists who target innocent civilians, as do most rational people. I hold them in the deepest contempt, and no words are nasty enough for these evil men. However, I know many fine Americans who happen to be Muslims. They despise Islamic extremists as much as I – if not more, because tolerant Muslims are often a target of hatred by these extremists.

During the discourse on ACOC, the members who disagreed with my opinion would often cite Coulter’s famous ….”convert them to Christianity” statement in her post 9/11 column, “This is War”. However, I felt they were taken out of context. The more full quote is as follows:

We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.

Therefore, the above statement could not possibly apply to my Egyptian friend, who called be in deepest grief and anguish after 9/11, condemning the “insane idiots” who plowed the jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. This statement could not apply to the 4000 American soldiers who are also Muslim, acting to defend our constitutional freedoms (including some who have died in service to our country). This statement could not apply to the Muslim in my brother’s unit in Fallujah, who tackled my brother down when an IED went off, saving my brother’s life.

I was called a Muslim apologist. I was deemed a terror-supporter. I was classified as “deluded” for having Muslims as friends. In fact, as I looked around and considered posts, I was astonished that the voices of many reasonable posters had been silenced on this subject because of the screed of anti-Muslim posters.

I attempted to reason with some of the ACOC members who expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, to no avail. However, many members also became more thoughtful of how they discussed Americans who were Muslim – in the true spirit of out First Amendment rights to worship as we please and the constitutional protections we enjoy of innocent until proven guilty.

Several ACOC members, myself included, tired of chat room threads in which the more violent passages of the Koran were extracted to demonstrate that all Muslims wanted to kill Christians and Jews. No one on that Forum was qualified to discuss the Koran in any fair manner, as none of us were true scholars of Islam. Several of us were also very angered at an internet message gleefully posted on the board:

Can a good Muslim be a good American?
Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is toAllah, the moon god of Arabia.
Religiously - no. Because no other religion isaccepted by his Allah except Islam (Koran, 2:256)
Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to thefive pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran)…

etc. etc. etc..


Once it was OK to attack fellow Americans for their religion, I went on a quest to find someone to humanize the face of Islam, discuss the Koran with full understanding, and provide an alternative, and necessary, viewpoint to our discussions involving Islam. Subsequently, I enlisted the help of the Achoress to locate such a man. My hopes were met admirably in Ali Eteraz (http://eteraz.wordpress.com/).

Ali is one of the most articulate, educated people that it has been my privilege to meet, albeit electronically. After telling him about the corrosion of the discourse pertaining to Americans that are Muslim, he agreed to join our group and address questions and concerns expressed by Forum members. He had everything that ACOC could have desired in a learned, respectful participant:

Ali clearly despises terrorism:

For the first time in my life I feel truly American. Vestiges of rebellious third world sentimentality are not erased but they have become much more rational. I feel an unbridgeable distance from those militants across the globe that I felt some sort of pity for. Once I thought even though their methods were disreputable they were simply misguided people trying to rectify the injustices of the world. No more. Now, having seen their vision of justice, I am appalled that I ever felt some sort of emotional, sentimental connection with them. So what if it was pity and not alliance? So what? It was connection, and I rue that. If I hate them now then I must hate the part of me that did not hate them before. I don’t understand. Do the quintessentially juridical expositions of our sacred (as is life) Shariah not leave a mark in their heart? Does not the generous and manganimous character of our Prophet not ring in these people’s minds? They have lashed out like Nietzsche’s master moralists, but I see no nobility in their actions; no honor in their enunciation. I don’t know who did it; but I know. (http://eteraz.wordpress.com/page/3/)


Ali wants no part of enforcing sharia law:

Politically I believe in democracy, separation of church and state and freedom of expression and association. It is OK for bigots, racists, and fundamentalists to get elected in any and every democracy as long as they do not limit the freedoms of others. The limitation of freedom is unacceptable. Of course, the best thing would be if they ceased being bigots, racists and fundos
(
http://eteraz.wordpress.com/about/)

Ali also read Coulter’s recent book, “Godless”!!! And I would imagine the writings of Coulter aren’t normally on the nightstand of an Islamic extremist.

Therefore, I extended the invitation for Ali to join us on the chat room, while being quite honest about how uncivil and irrational the discussions related to Muslims, as a whole group, had become. However, I had hoped Ali could provide new links and information to Muslim groups who promoted peace, tolerance and democracy. I hoped, too, that inviting a real human on the board would force members to reassess their dialogs. It is easy to be hateful in anonymity. It is harder to spew bigotry in a real person’s face, even in an electronic venue.

Though we had several technical difficulties getting started, Ali and I prevailed. Prior to his arrival, I also entreated members recall the ACOC official guidelines on civility and prohibitions against racism. After all, there is no rule in the ACOC guidelines that a Muslim can’t join our group. And, one points of pride heralded by ACOC is that we accept all applicants, as long as they meet some technical, internet requirements and are willing to engage in civil dialog. In fact, we note that several of our members are liberals (from whom I have, myself, learned new perspectives)

In some ways, Ali worked out better that I imagined. ACOC was shown that clearly, not all Muslims wanted to kill us and our family. We were treated to texts that no other ACOC members could have posted, ever. For example, the following writings that promote equality of the sexes, denounce anti-Semitism, and call for a secular approach to government (Muslim ideas never before seen in the Forum before):

Here is a Manifesto by a French secular Muslim organization: Institute Manifeste Des Libertes The Manifesto

Quote:
"We are women and men of Muslim culture. Some of us are believers, others are agnostics or atheists. We all condemn firmly the declarations and acts of misogyny, homophobia, and Antisemitism that we have heard and witnessed for a while now here in France and that are carried out in the name of Islam. These three characteristics typify the political Islamism that has been forceful for so long in several of our countries of origin. We fought against them there, and we are committed to fighting against them again - here. "Gender Equality: A Prerequisite for Democracy. We are firmly committed to equal rights for both sexes. We fight the oppression of women who are subjected to Personal Status Laws, like those in Algeria (recent progress in Morocco highlights how far Algeria lags behind), and sometimes even in France via bilateral agreements. [see document footnote] We believe that democracy cannot exist without these equal rights. Accordingly, we unambiguously offer our support for the '20 ans, barakat!' (20 years is enough!) campaign of the Algerian women's associations, demanding the definitive abolition of the two-decades-old family code. "It is also for this reason that we oppose wearing the Islamic head scarf, even if among us there are differing opinions about the law banning it from schools in France. In various countries, we have seen violence or even death inflicted on female friends or family members because they refused to wear the scarf. Even if the current enthusiasm for the head scarf [among some Muslims] in France was stimulated by discrimination suffered by immigrant children, this cannot be considered the real cause of the desire to wear it; nor can memories of a North African lifestyle explain it. Behind this so-called 'choice' demanded by a certain number of girls is the promotion of a political Islamic society based on a militant ideology which aims to promote actively values to which we do not subscribe. "Stopping Homophobia: For Islamic fundamentalists (as for all machos and fundamentalists), 'being a man' means having power over women, including sexual power. In their eyes, any man who favors equality of the sexes is potentially subhuman, or 'queer.' This way of thinking has proliferated since the rise of political Islamism. Its ferocity is equaled only by its hypocrisy. One of the organizers of the demonstration on Saturday, January 17, 2004, in favor of the head scarf declared that 'it is scandalous that those who claim to be shocked by the head scarf are not shocked by homosexuality.' Undoubtedly he thinks that a virtuous society hides women behind head scarves or puts homosexuals behind bars, something we have already seen happen in Egypt. We shudder at what the triumph of these attitudes implies for 'shameless' persons in society-like women who fail to wear the head scarf or homosexuals or non-believers. "In contrast, we believe that recognition of the existence of homosexuality, and the freedom for homosexuals to live their own lives as they wish, represent undeniable progress. As long as an individual-heterosexual or homosexual-does not break the laws protecting minors, each person's sexual choices are his or her own business and do not concern the state in any way. "Fighting Antisemitism: Finally, we condemn firmly the Antisemitic statements made recently in speeches in the name of Islam. Just like 'shameless' women and homosexuals, Jews have become the target: 'They have everything and we have nothing,' was something that we heard in the demonstration on January 17. We see the use of the Israel-Palestine conflict by fundamentalist movements as a means of promoting the most disturbing forms of Antisemitism. Despite our opposition to the current policies of the Israeli government, we refuse to feed primitive images of the 'Jew.' A real, historical conflict between two peoples should not be exploited. We recognize Israel's right to exist, a right recognized by the PLO congress in Algiers in 1988 and the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut in 2002. At the same time, we are committed to the Palestinian people and in support of their right to found a state and to be liberated from occupation. "Living Secularism: Islam has not received sufficient recognition in France. There is a lack of places to pray. There are not enough chaplaincies or enough cemeteries. We are aware that young French people, the sons and daughters of Muslim immigrants, are still held back socially and suffer discrimination. All monitoring bodies recognize this. Consequently, 'French-style' secularism has lost a great deal of value in the eyes of these young people. Two possibilities lie before them. They can rediscover the strength of a real, living secularism; that is, political action on behalf of their rights and to demand the social gains fought for by their fathers and mothers-who belonged to social classes, cultures, peoples, and nations before they belonged to Islam. Or they can see themselves in an imaginary, virtual 'umma' [Islamic community - Eds.] that no longer corresponds to reality, and then masquerade in republican or 'tiers-mondistes' (third-worldist) rags. This only ends up securing unequal, repressive, and intolerant societies. This latter path cannot be ours
.


Ali also provided some insights as to why the view of “moderate” Muslims (or, as I prefer to them, “Humanist Muslims”, may seem silent:

Please don't get me started. I think everyone on the liberal side, Huffington on up, has had NO interest in hearing anti-terror Islam speak. I have sent her numerous emails =) I'm not sure whether this is because much of the MSM wants nothing more than a Muslim it can 'plug' into the 'conflict' it seeks to portray.

Interestingly, it was Fox News which was the only one to give a run to a series of anti-terror Muslims after 9/11. The Editor in Chief of Muslim WakeUp! showed up a few times on Fox.


And Ali was able to provide links to alternative sites, such as Muslim webpages specifically denouncing violence:

http://www.freemuslims.org/

To be fair to the membership of ACOC, many members had thoughtful comments and questions, such as follows:

Imaginethat: I look forward to your responses to the questions presented. I admire your willingness to enter "hostile" territory, basically unarmed. You will find many, many thoughtful, intelligent and warm people here. You also may bring light to certain dark corners, inshallah. Blessings to you and to this endeavor.

However, despite please for civility, some posters opted to be outright rude and hostile:

AvgDude: ALI ETERAZ = EAT IZRAEL

Catellus22: Evil makes muslims tick.


Ali even tried to be humorous and informative when a member called Fritz accused Muslims of nothing more than “sadomasochistic mayhem”. Ali responded, thusly:

I think the 14 centuries of sadomasochistic mayhem part is where you're wrong. I encourage you to look at some islamic art and architecture http://www.uga.edu/islam/IslArt.html also consider the poetry of hafiz: http://www.poetseers.org/the_poetseers/hafiz/gift or even today's 'islamic' pop music (which even as it is hated by the radicals is loved by the muslim on the street) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouCDB99h780

One Muslim-hating poster simply placed pictures of the WTC at 9/11 – as if Ali were Osama Bin Laden himself. And two members were so extreme in their unwillingness to acknowledge a friendly Muslim voice, who despises terror and embraces American freedoms as much as they do, they quite the site outright.

Though the Moderators of the Forum endeavored to keep the dialog civil, seeing long-time posters on this board behave so irrationally and discreditably was disturbing. The head Moderator moved the thread to a Forum that is rarely viewed and locked for further comment. This Moderator, much to his credit, told several members that they need to “grow up”. Ali closed his account with us.

I now am struggling with a decision. I admire many posters on ACOC, and resent to bullying tactics used to silence members who to not go along with the “Evil makes muslims tick” sentiment. However, I dislike toxicity and being around members that celebrated Ali’s departure. Part of me wishes to leave. Ann’s words have been used out of context to embrace hate, just like the Koran has been abused. I want no part of promoting prejudice.

I am torn. And sad. And shamed. As expressed by a French nobleman in, Henry V, "Shame, and eternal shame, nothing but shame!"

Comments:
Two things occur to me.

One: You are not a contributor to any infamy, nor do you deserve shame.

Two: If a doctor contracts pneumonia, we don't let him work in the ICU.

Your presence does not enable, support, or promote jafi hatred. But if it's making you crazy, you will be tempted to retaliate in kind.

Not a question of shame; might be a question of mental and spiritual health.

Peace be to you as you wrestle with this.
 
I suppose the question you might want to ask yourself is "Is it worth it to you to continue to try saving the site?"

Disengagement means you no longer have any say at all. When it begins to cost too much emotionally to continue, you have to let it go, though.
 
It is good that you have wisely taken time away from the din; daily, we are all subjected to hearing so many voices, contending with each other for their time on a soapbox. It can be wearysome to the spirit.

If and when you are spiritually and emotionally refreshed, venture back, iof only for a cursory examination of the site; your judgment will be clear, and you, alone, wil know what is within you to be done, or not.

Benedicte.
 
Mut... This is Winkey.

I just wanted to let you know that I understand what you were trying to do on the board... and I think that you accomplished more than you think.

The fact that there were people who came away thinking that there might be a group of Muslims that we can trust, is a big step.

The big problem on the board was the fact that people are wary right now of Muslims and unless they have a personal relationship with them for themselves, it is hard for them to find trust.

You had the benefit of a relationship with Ali but none of the other posters even heard of him before.

You also have to realize that you were introducing a religion into a room of people who already have strong beliefs and just like any Religion that is introduced... if the recipient feels like it is being shoved down their throats, they are more likely to put a wall up against it.

The banning of members and words that were exchanged before Ali even said his first word on the board, set the stage for a wall being built even before he got there.

I know that it probably feels like people attacked you personally, but the same result would have happened if a "good Catholic Priest who wanted to talk about the things he has in common with other religions" or "a good Liberal who wants to talk about us all getting along" was brought to the board under the same circumstances.

Anyway... I personally care about you very much and it makes me sad that you are thinking about never coming back to the board over this, but I would like to encourage you to consider this thing in its whole and not just by this part.

Since you have been to the board you have gotten people interested in many things. Those of us who have a relationship with you appreciate all the work you have done and love you for it. Please consider the impact that you have been able to have in the past and come back to continue opening eyes in the future. You are sorely missed.

Smooches,
Winkey
 
Thanks for the insight. It was a shame that the torrent of idiocy drowned out what ever Ali had to say. I have tried to read that thread, sorting the wheat from the chaff, but there was too much chaff to be sure.
I would have liked to challenge Ali on how he described a couple of situations, but the moment has been lost. What a shame!

Oilcop
 
I can only tell you that your friends...your TRUE friends...find this board stale and unrewarding due to your absence; but you must follow your heart and wisdom (and, how great it is).

Benedicte.
 
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