To Be One Or The Other
March 15, 2010, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Culture, Immigration, Society | Tags: , ,

In many societies and in economically developed ones in particular, minority and immigrant communities often confront a crisis of identity. The crisis is largely manufactured by threatened segments of the majority, but is nevertheless a reality that many are forced to address.  These communities are expected to choose what exactly they want to be.  A combination is not good enough.  To accept the West, goes the logic, is to disavow what you were before.

We see this playing out, for example, in the English-only movement here in the United States, which implies that one cannot be adequately American unless they learn English.  Sometimes, those who refuse to or are unable to learn are seen with suspicion.  Many Muslims in the West also confront this dilemma, which questions their identity and their loyalty.  Either they are Muslim or American.  One must come before the other and no one can be both at the same time.

In his book, What I Believe, Tariq Ramadan addresses this specific issue through analogy.  The credit, of course, goes to the always intuitive Amartya Sen, who is and will always remain one of the intellectual icons of those in the subalternate.  The credit for clarity, however, goes to Mr. Ramadan, who himself frequently has his loyalties questioned because he speaks the language of no one specific group.

He writes:

Obsessed with the idea of defining oneself in opposition to what one is not, one ends up reducing oneself to a single identity what is supposed to tell everything.  Yet there are different orders within which one will have to define oneself differently.  Asking whether one is primarily ‘Muslim’ or ‘American,’ ‘Australian,’ ‘Italian,’ ‘French,’ or ‘Canadian’ opposes two identities and affiliations that do not belong to the same realm.  In the realm of religion and philosophy, that which imparts meaning to life, a human being is first and foremost an atheist, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim: her or his passport or nationality cannot answer the existential question.  When an individual must vote for a candidate at an election, she or he is first an American, Italian, French, or British citizen involved in national affairs.  Depending on the realm or the field of activity, the individual therefore puts forward one identity or another, and that is not contradictory.

At a talk I was giving one day in Greece, at George Papandreou’s invitation, the economist Amartya Sen expressed his total agreement with my thought through a fine illustration.  Suppose, he said, you are a poet and a vegetarian.  If you are a dinner guest, this is no time or place to insist on your identity as a poet, while if you attend a poetry circle, you are certainly not going to introduce yourself as a vegetarian, for you would be seen as eccentric.  In other words, you have more than one identity and you give priority to one of those identities or the other depending on the environment or situation, without this affecting your loyalty to one order of affiliation or the other.  A poet who says he is a vegetarian at a meal is no less a poet.  The example is indeed enlightening, and it proves that the question of what one is foremost (or exclusively) is a bad question, a question that must be questioned and that, ultimately, one should refuse to answer.


The Impact Of Plastic On The Oceans
March 10, 2010, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Environment | Tags: , ,

This powerful ad — put together by the California-based Surfrider Foundation — dramatizes the impact that plastic waste is having on our oceans.

According to Wired:

About 20 percent of the plastic in the oceans comes from ships or offshore platforms; the rest is blown, washed off the land or intentionally dumped, according to a preliminary report issued April 2004 by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. Not only does plastic kill marine animals that eat it or get tangled in it and drown, but it also damages and degrades their habitat.

Geert Wilders And The Making Of A Demagogue
March 9, 2010, 1:36 am
Filed under: Muslim World, Religion, Society | Tags: , , , , ,

Far Right Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders has become somewhat of a celebrity among right-wingers, fascists and nativists who loathe Islam and by extension, Muslims.  In the Netherlands, his popularity has increased tremendously and his party, whose platform is almost exclusively one of attacking Islam, did well in recent local elections and is poised to do even better in national elections this Summer.

Wilders’ trial for inciting religious hatred has become a cause célèbre for some on fringes of the American political discourse.  It should come as no surprise that those who defend Wilders most vociferously are often the same ones associated with questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s citizenship.  In this world, conspiracy theories abound and the truth, more often than not, is disregarded as deceit or dhittude.

Wilders’ defenders see him as a “true champion of freedom,” and as one of the few politicians in Europe willing to confront the Islamization of Europe.  Enough is enough, they argue.  Islam is on the verge of dominating all of Europe and antifascist forces within Europe who oppose Wilders are allowing the continent to destruct from within.  Of course, that narrative is pure fantasy and Muslims constitute a very small minority in much of Europe, but facts seldom get in the way of hate.

Wilders has called for a banning of the Qur’an, has supported ending immigration from countries where Muslims are in the majority and of course, wants to outlaw the hijab.  Outside of the Netherlands, he is best known for his controversial movie, Fitna, which ties passages from the Qur’an to acts of violence and terror.

He contends that he does what he does because freedom of speech gives him that right.  To the casual observer, that seems a bit ironic, given his own intolerance.  As Ian Baruma put it, “for a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich.”

The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders puts a little more context to Wilders’ platform.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten, perhaps he doesn’t realize it himself, but his words and the message of Fitna are exactly – to specific phrases, to the tone of louche brotherliness – what was said about the Jews.

It wasn’t the people but the “the code of Jewish ethics,” the well-documented desire of Jewish believers to take over countries and industries and societies. Judaism wasn’t another religion but an ideology, closely linked to communism (“Judeo-Bolshevism” was your grandfather’s “Islamo-fascism”). And it was the terrorism and violence that Judaic beliefs always seemed to bring to societies. Don’t forget that Kristallnacht, the concerted violence by the Nazis against Jews and their property in 1938, was provoked by an act of Jewish terrorism, the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris. The connection between the Torah and the violence was evident to many decent and otherwise liberal-minded people.

Wilders epitomizes the very definition of a demagogue. And during times of economic uncertainly, demagogues usually perform well.  But while the rise of Wilders is worrisome, history has shown us that society is invariably on the road to progress and progress has never gotten along with intolerance.  In fact, intolerance hates progress just as much as Geert Wilders hates Islam.

Anti-Islam Dutch MP gains momentum