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Interesting, especially the historical notes on the origin of the doctrine of free speech.

This is unfortunate. I received a DVD in the mail (and also found the same one in the newspaper) called "Obsession". Maybe you saw it floating around while you still lived in the states (it was several months before the presidential election). The whole slant of the DVD was basically to "raise awareness" (or instill fear) about the extremist muslim population and their hatred for the US and the western world.
There was of course the obligatory disclaimer: "The extremists do not represent the majority of the muslim world", but it was just an aside.
I had a sneaking suspicion while I was watching it that it was designed just to influence the presidential election (Vote for Mccain! Kill all the terrorists! Huraah!) ... There has been some controversy and investigation regarding just that.

Sad, really... and you never hear anything about average, everyday Muslims here in America. Most people here probably don't even know they exist. We don't know anything about them, their culture.
It's all about "kill those damn terrorists" ....

"It is an unfortunate fact of the present times that prejudice against Muslims remains far more culturally acceptable than skin colour or gender prejudice."

I'd say that all three of these prejudices still exist in the Western world, and that it's not very meaningful to claim that one kind of prejudice is "more culturally acceptable" than another, particularly given that they don't exist as separate entities, but intersect with one another. Do Muslim women suffer from the same injustices as Muslim men? How about Middle Eastern Muslims versus black Muslims or white Muslims? Or combinations of any of the above?

Other than that niggling sentence that jumped at me, I definitely agree with the general sentiment of this post.

Deirdra, I disagree.

If the wrong person drops the "N" word in America, it can be a huge blowup -- Look at the scandal a few years ago about Michael Richards (Kramer) saying it in a nightclub.

High profile comics like Robin Williams, crack jokes all the time about "ragheads" and "alllalalalaha jihad" and there is no major news coverage of that.

Black people are a larger minority than Muslims in the western world, so it is easier for them to complain about discrimination, and more likely for white people to be scared to discriminate. But it's easy to talk trash about Muslims. How many Muslims do you know? I don't know any. Or if I do, I don't know that they're Muslim.
And if they are Muslim and I don't know about it, perhaps they are hiding their religious preferences in fear of discrimination?

(I'm in the minority myself -- agnostic. And I'm definitely too scared to declare that at my job (A hospital) for fear of discrimination. I can certainly see why Muslims would feel the same way)

White people can't discriminate against black people comfortably anymore because they are a visible and well known part of our culture. However, Black people & White people alike can easily discriminate against Muslims (or any other non-american-centric culture, for that matter), because it feels more like an "us versus them" issue.

I think perhaps it is easier to discriminate about religion in the western world because there is such a dominant Christian majority. And religion is arguably a more personal issue than race. And those who believe a certain thing are likely to think that their way is right, and any other way is wrong -- thus a tendency to discriminate against the "wrong way".

Please fire back if you disagree :)

Is it prejudice against Muslims to hate and fear Islamists who threaten "infidels"? Have the violent extremists been prejudged?

Or have they been judged badly for threatening people — with physical violence — for disrespecting radical Islamism?

You're correct that the mainstream media is slow to defend racist language. I suspect you see that as a good thing. I see it as mildly unprincipled but thoroughly predictable.

The Islamist extremists are threatening the mainstream media this time though, so they'll get no mercy from the newspaper editors.

Wow! Last time I read something that much honest about this subject was... well, it was a very looong time ago... ^_^

Even as a muslim -and as a videogame developer-, I admit avoiding taking a stance in a debate where being "moderate" in one way or another only turns you into a victim.

Actually, it feels to me that most of us are "myth" driven. It seems that we are prone to bend reality to fulfill our need for this unreal other that is somehow close and different, dangerous and wrong, and all of these at the same time. The "self defined ennemy" that gives us unity.

Islam may well be that "ennemy" these days, just as the "west" is to some islamic extremist...

Therefore I treat Islamophobia just as I treat any other expression of incomprehension or hate: a dysfonction of reality perception.

And I move along, grateful for having one foot in both worlds and for being allowed to work with so much diverse people.

Still, I wonder what some people may think if they somehow find out that more often than not, some of their most beloved games involves one or many muslims designing, drawing and programming them...

organic io: See, I live in a city in Canada that is highly culturally diverse, and has a Middle Eastern population that, I would say, is much larger than its black population. So, although I myself am not Muslim, I have met several people who are. (I myself am a Baha'i woman of both Middle Eastern and Asian origin, born and raised in Canada. Yes, growing up a visible minority definitely gives one an interesting perspective on things.)

So, in this sense, you are absolutely right; the visibility of a certain culture does have an effect on how outwardly acceptable it is to discriminate against it. I do, however, maintain that prejudice against one's race (note that this doesn't just include black people) and one's gender (note that this doesn't just include women) still exist in the Western word, even though some prejudices are hidden by a veil of political correctness. And that it's meaningless to speak of one prejudice as "worse" than another; prejudice is prejudice, no matter what group it's directed towards, and we should be working to stop it in all its forms.

Thank you all for your interesting comments! I'll pick up on a few points...

organic i/o: I didn't see the "Obsession" DVD - I guess I got out of the country just in time. :) This point - that extremists are a minority - is the hardest thing for people to really get their heads around.

Dierdra: I take your point, that there are many different prejudices and they interweave, but I still feel that when offence is caused to black people or women in the US, there is a serious backlash - consider the Don Imus furore over "nappy headed hos". Can you imagine the same response in the case of prejudice against Muslims?

And I also want to make it clear that I never said that prejudice against Muslims was "worse" than other kinds of discrimination, just more culturally acceptible. It is because of this that I feel more inclined to write a piece like this that exposes what otherwise would go unnoticed.

Isegoria: "Is it prejudice against Muslims to hate and fear Islamists who threaten 'infidels'? Have the violent extremists been prejudged?"

I can't defend the actions of violent extremists, but in so much as their political causes are rarely if ever taken seriously there has been some prejudging here. I deplore the actions of Hamas - but not least of which because they do have a legitimate grievance but obscure it by turning to weapons and violence to express their issues. As I'm sure you appreciate, I am not concerned with sheltering people with murderous intentions, but violent extremism can be condemned irrespective of the culture it comes from. And when the response to violent extremism results in the murder of innocents (as it so often does), the moral high ground crumbles.

Daz: thanks for stopping by! Your story is familiar to me - I find many Muslim moderates don't get involved because it is essentially impossible to do so. (Moderate Christans have a similar issue in the cold war between militant atheists and near-fascist conservative Christians). I love your positive spin on your situation, and also the idea that prejudice can be considered a "reality perception dysfunction"!

---

One last thought from me: I heartily recommend to everyone the magnificent "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour" for a refreshing antidote to the usual portrayal of Muslims in Western media. One of the funniest things I've seen in recent years.

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Don Imus! Perhaps even a better example than Michael Richards

Moderate Christans have a similar issue in the cold war between militant atheists and near-fascist conservative Christians

Moderate atheists ditto :-).

Interesting thought experiment #2: If there were less extreme regulation of how someone could respond to speech and the written word - hate speech included - might the incidence of [faction-of-choice]ophobia increase, decrease or remain the same? If, instead of having laws against both hate speech and punching people, we had laws against neither, what would change?

You said nigger.

I'm offended :D

"Can you imagine the same response in the case of prejudice against Muslims?"

Again, I don't know about the US, because I haven't spent a significant amount of time living there, but there have been similar responses in Canada. An example I can think of off the top of my head -- though arguably not as high-profile -- is outlined here: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/montreal/story/2007/02/25/hijab-soccer.html

I can't defend the actions of violent extremists, but in so much as their political causes are rarely if ever taken seriously there has been some prejudging here.
I don't follow. Are you saying that any political cause that isn't taken seriously has necessarily been prejudged?
And when the response to violent extremism results in the murder of innocents (as it so often does), the moral high ground crumbles.
So any death to "innocents" eliminates all moral distinction between those targeting innocents while hiding amongst their own civilian population and those who cause "collateral damage" in hunting down armed insurgents?

I think people need to stop being such pussies and grow thicker skin.

"Oh noes, that newspaper printed offensive comics about my religionz!"

"Oh noes, that TV station used the word nigger!"

"Onoz, that magazine printed offensive jokes about women!"

Big fucking deal. A newspaper wants to print offensive things? Let it. Don't like it? Don't read it. Easy. I don't see why people have to get up in arms just because some random white guy said nigger on TV or whatever. They're not even insulting you personally.

It'd be like if a magazine were saying stuff like "All gamers are obese socially dysfunctional retards who will never amount to anything"
Would I go out on the streets and protest just because they're slandering my culture? No, I'd just laugh and move on. I have better things to waste my time on. But it seems a lot of people don't have anything better to do, so they love getting offended over every little thing.

If I had been in charge of that French newspaper I would have also reprinted the comics. Not because of the reason they gave (which frankly makes little sense to me), but just to laugh at people who get all riled up because of a few cartoons. It's as laughable as people who get angry over some random guy burning some random flag.

Well this has been the liveliest discussion in quite a while! :)

Chill: *grins*

Isegoria: "Are you saying that any political cause that isn't taken seriously has necessarily been prejudged?"

Yes, isn't this by definition the case? Not that I'm not saying we shouldn't ever do this, per se - I expect the political cause of child molesters or murderers to be prejudged, for example (although not, we hope, the juridical cases - there's a nasty fine line to be drawn here).

"So any death to "innocents" eliminates all moral distinction between those targeting innocents while hiding amongst their own civilian population and those who cause "collateral damage" in hunting down armed insurgents?"

Not all moral distinction, but certainly any sense of moral high ground rapidly dissipates when you don't consider the effects of "collatoral damage" in your strategic plans. Manslaughter may be considered less serious than murder, but they are both terrible things.

Let me give you a concrete example. The attack on New York was a despicable and politically insane act, turning people against the cause it sought to galvanise. It resulted in the death of 2,974 innocent civilians. The US-led invasion of Iraq was also a misguided and politically insane act, intensifying the resistance movement it claimed to be opposing. It's difficult to estimate the civilian casualties of the invasion, but the reported civilian deaths number 67,500, with estimates of the actual death toll running between 150,000 and 650,000.

The only possible ways to defend the invasion's "manslaughter" of innocents while condemning the September 11th terrorist attack's "murder" of innocents is to suggest either that the ends justify the means (which I have argued against previously at length) or to suggest that intention is more important than outcome, which runs dangerously close to the same thing.

Do you really believe that the manslaughter of 100,000 people demonstrates significant moral superiority to the murder of 3,000, simply because manslaughter lacks the direct intention? I'll admit, there's a grey area here, but for me it involves comparing two shades that are both very close to black, hence my claim that "the moral high ground crumbles".

Hope that clarifies my position in this regard.

Sirc: I'll agree there's a lot of overreaction that goes on - I personally found the Don Imus furore to be rather disproportionate to its cause. But your attitude denies people's right to be offended simply because you aren't interested in being offended. People have the right to feel outrage, no matter how silly or trivial the cause of that outrage seems to other people.

I suspect that individuals who do not feel strong affiliation with any group (ethnic, religious or cultural) sometimes struggle to appreciate the concerns of those who do draw upon such groups for their sense of identity.

I'm curious: if you were in any degree famous and a newspaper published a cartoon of you that, say, depicted you as a cat-strangling child molester, would you really feel no offense at all? Are you claiming to be "unslanderable"? :)

Deirdra: fascinating story concerning the "unsporting hijab" - I've never seen a story of this kind, showing solidarity and support for Muslims, in the United States ever. Perhaps another case where Canada is better at implementing the ideals of the US than she herself is able. :)

Peter: yes, I rather expected that moderate atheists end up in a similar pickle to the moderate Christians, but I didn't want to speak on their behalf. :)

"Interesting thought experiment #2: If there were less extreme regulation of how someone could respond to speech and the written word - hate speech included - might the incidence of [faction-of-choice]ophobia increase, decrease or remain the same? If, instead of having laws against both hate speech and punching people, we had laws against neither, what would change?"

Well I often rely on the Discordian adage "imposition of order leads to escalation of chaos", which is to say, the more you try to regulate things the more problems you generate. But the converse isn't necessarily true, of cours: the reduction of order often also leads to the escalation of chaos. No wonder Discordians worship the goddess of discord! :)

Would people be more likely to engage in hate speech or punching people if there were no laws against it? I suspect this is marginally the case - certainly there are many people for whom societal disapproval (which laws codify) is sufficient discouragement. But I think the law serves in precisely this role much of the time - to codify what society collectively abhors.

Presumably you could drop the laws and keep the disapproval - Japanese society certainly seems to regulate itself in a manner similar to this - but could you persuade those traditionally-minded individuals to take this step? The history of libertarianism suggests otherwise. :)

I'm interested in other people's perspective on this issue, though. Any thoughts?

"But your attitude denies people's right to be offended simply because you aren't interested in being offended. People have the right to feel outrage, no matter how silly or trivial the cause of that outrage seems to other people."

You're right. It is true that people have the right to get offended over whatever they want. But if my attitude denies people's right to be offended simply because I'm not interested in being offended, then doesn't the protestors' attitude deny people the right to print tasteless comics simply because they can't take a joke?

"I suspect that individuals who do not feel strong affiliation with any group (ethnic, religious or cultural) sometimes struggle to appreciate the concerns of those who do draw upon such groups for their sense of identity."

This is actually an interesting point you make because it describes me pretty well. I see myself as an individual, and there is no group, religion, nation, or ethnicity that I feel a part of. I mean, I may be white, but it's not really something I feel strongly about. I don't go around raising my fist and screaming "White Pride!". It's just not a big deal. And if someone insults white people I don't feel like the insult was directed at me.

And the degree of identity I feel towards my nation/culture is possibly even less. If anything I feel like an outcast. That's why I used the gamer culture example earlier. If there's one thing I can say for sure it's that I'm a gamer.

"I'm curious: if you were in any degree famous and a newspaper published a cartoon of you that, say, depicted you as a cat-strangling child molester, would you really feel no offense at all? Are you claiming to be "unslanderable"? :)"

Would I be offended? Somewhat. But it's not the same. Hence why earlier I said "They're not even insulting you personally."

But let's say I was the iron-fisted dictator of my own country and a newspaper printed those slanderous comics about me. I wouldn't throw a hissy fit and protest about it, and I certainly wouldn't use my awesome fascist powers to silence them. That would go against the right of freedom of speech which I hold in high regard. Besides, celebrities and political figures become fair game for the media.

Then when reporters ask me what I think about the comics, I'd be all like "Cat-strangler?! I would never use such inefficient methods!" and possibly come across as a cool guy :)

I see myself as an individual, and there is no group, religion, nation, or ethnicity that I feel a part of.

Family?

As a second datum (still far from statistically significant), that description applies to me. I can see that "those who do draw upon such groups for their sense of identity" have such concerns, but despite my apparently fairly good empathy I can't for the life of me see why.

I must disagree that any political cause that isn't taken seriously has necessarily been prejudged. Judged? Certainly. Prejudged? Not necessarily.

Not all moral distinction, but certainly any sense of moral high ground rapidly dissipates when you don't consider the effects of "collatoral damage" in your strategic plans. Manslaughter may be considered less serious than murder, but they are both terrible things.
We consider manslaughter and murder terrible crimes, because, in our peaceful civilian lives, killing someone causes an obvious bad (someone dies) with no good.

But we accept a right to self-defense, where killing an obvious aggressor prevents another, innocent death.

And we accept the state's right to "kidnap" (imprison) people — even if we don't all agree on the state's right to "murder" (execute) people — who have harmed others.

Between sovereign states, there is no super-state to punish wrong-doers, so individual states imperfectly fend off one another's attacks.

Anyway, your complaint seems to have downgraded itself to one of public relations strategy in the court of world opinion. Hamas can bombard Israeli civilians without censure, because newspaper editors will decry Israel's "abuse of power" if it kills any Palestinians in counter-attacking — despite the obvious Hamas tactic of hiding in schools, mosques, and dense urban neighborhoods.

And I suppose you're right; Israel does keep losing the battle on the opinion pages of the big newspapers.

I responded to the "individualism" topic here: http://www.deirdrakiai.com/2009/02/06/on-group-membership-and-taking-offence-at-dumb-jokes/

"Family?"

I don't think I'm defined by my family much more than I'm defined by my race. The only ones I feel kinship towards are my parents. I'm not sure if two people would count as feeling part of a group, considering I couldn't care less about any other member of my family.

"After a while, there’s just no escaping the “wow, she’s a GIRL!”"

How can people say this when women are basically half of the population? The race thing I can understand, though, if you live in a place that is predominantly white.

"And when people who are privileged enough to be seen as “default” accuse those who are not of being overly sensitive… well, I can’t help but be sceptical of their claims."

Ok, so what you're saying is "You're not black, so you can't understand what it's like to hear someone say nigger!"

Considering I can't become black, I can't really argue with that. All I can say is I believe that if I were, I wouldn't care if a random person said nigger.

However, like I said, I don't believe men are seen as default and women as non-default. And because of that, you can't really say "You can't understand what it's like to hear a sexist joke because you're not a woman!"

Regarding the original post, which dealt with jokes at the expense of Islam, you also can't say "You can't understand what it's like because you're not Muslim!" because I do have a metaphysical belief, and one that isn't seen as "default". If only Muslims can get offended, then wouldn't Flemming Rose's comment that they demand a special position and consideration of their religious feelings be true?

"Hell yes I do, although I think it has less to do with being offended personally than it does with being saddened by the thought that people even feel the need to put others down for their own amusement."

Maybe it's time to come to terms with the fact that the world isn't all peace and love :)

All kidding aside though, I can feel sorry for the little girl at school who is constantly bullied, harassed and made fun of. On the other hand, the girl who makes a scene just because she was in the same room as her classmate who just told a sexist joke? All I can think is that she really needs to lighten up.

'Is it prejudice against Muslims to hate and fear Islamists who threaten "infidels"? Have the violent extremists been prejudged?'

Maybe not.

But if anyone considers a person to be part of this group, simply because they share one attribute (being muslim) then the non-violent non-extremist muslims have certainly been prejudged.

"How can people say this when women are basically half of the population?"

My question exactly! And yet, as a game developer (a programmer, to boot), I get comments to that effect ALL THE TIME. *rolls eyes*

Sirc: well you sound much more chilled out about it than your first comment made you seem. :p However, as someone who doesn't feel any aspect of identity politics, I feel you may be "immune" to the significance of this issue. It's easy for you as a white male to not care about prejudice and bigotry, but that doesn't mean they don't constitute social problems, if you see what I mean.

"Regarding the original post, which dealt with jokes at the expense of Islam..."

It was more than this - you need to remember that all this happened against a background of threat of oppression against Muslims in Denmark as a result of a far-right coalition in the political sphere. This context is not something that can be ignored in interpreting this situation. Remember, in the original protests in Denmark it was not only Muslims who had been offended by decision to publish the cartoons - many non-Muslims also protested.

Peter: almost everyone who expresses Rational strongly and Guardian weakly experiences a disconnect with identity politics. That's 10% of the population versus 50%+ though. And since people who express Idealist are also affiliative, it's more like an 8:1 ratio. Incidentally, since you might appreciate this, I now have a hypothetical model for Temperament Theory in terms of brain function - I'll get around to posting it at some point. I think you might be the only player here who will appreciate it! :)

Isegoria: "I must disagree that any political cause that isn't taken seriously has necessarily been prejudged. Judged? Certainly. Prejudged? Not necessarily."

I accept your distinction here. To me, "not taken seriously" implies "dismissed", hence "prejudged". But you could read it to mean "assessed, then dismissed" to get the other reading.

As for Hamas versus the IDF - they both get their share of criticism in the press here in the UK. I find the whole situation highly frustrating.

Deirdra: I added a comment at your blog - thanks for linking to this piece!

Bezman: well said.

---

I think we're deep into the margins now, but please keep it going as long as you wish! Glad this piece sparked such lively discussion - thanks to everyone for taking part!

"almost everyone who expresses Rational strongly and Guardian weakly experiences a disconnect with identity politics."

Interesting. I myself tend to score as Rational in temperament... which may explain why I tend to feel that identity politics have been forced upon me rather than adopted voluntarily. I mean, gee, I'd love to live in a world where my gender or the colour of my skin didn't matter, but sadly, I don't, and such is life.

"I now have a hypothetical model for Temperament Theory in terms of brain function - I'll get around to posting it at some point. I think you might be the only player here who will appreciate it! :)"

I'd be interested too, actually. :)

I guess I'm here to almost exactly shadow Deirdra's comment, the only difference being that I seem to completely live up to the statistic of being rational and feeling a disconnect with identity politics.

And of course, you were wrong again... I'd also be highly interested in reading your hypothetical model. Pretty much anything you've got related to Psychology, I eat it up. :)

"well you sound much more chilled out about it than your first comment made you seem. :p"

Ahaha, I apologize if I seemed agitated about it :)

"It was more than this - you need to remember that all this happened against a background of threat of oppression against Muslims in Denmark as a result of a far-right coalition in the political sphere."

Yeah, and that's definitely not right. But I don't believe censoring the press should be the way to combat it. I know they didn't actually censor them, but they protested so that the newspaper itself would feel the need to censor itself, thus achieving the same end.

I think oppression should be dealt with directly. If a political group is oppressing Muslims, why not protest against them instead of against a paper that is only guilty of making a few jokes?

I don't know exactly how the group was oppressing Muslims, but you lead me to believe that it was serious. In which case protesting against them is fine. However, I don't think a few jokes constitute serious oppression.

"And of course, you were wrong again... I'd also be highly interested in reading your hypothetical model."

I second this. Er, or third it. Well. Whatever.

Sirc: thanks for your clarifying remarks here!

"I think oppression should be dealt with directly. If a political group is oppressing Muslims, why not protest against them instead of against a paper that is only guilty of making a few jokes?"

I agree - but since the media has a significant effect in altering the beliefs (the "hearts and minds") of the people, I believe that the media is just as legitimate a target as the political groups. In fact, I might suggest it is a more effective target for protest.

Deirdra & organic i/o: well, if that's how you feel about it I'll write it up! Expect to see it on Tuesday next week. :D

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