Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Fitna, Islam and racism

Is criticism of Islam necessarily racist? No. Islam is a religion, which must be adopted. It's not an ineluctable characteristic of any person, much less a biological characteristic used to denote "race". Those who label all criticism of Islam as racist "Islamophobia" go wrong on this point.

Can criticism of Islam be racist? Per se, no; much depends, however, on the intention of the criticism, which can be inferred from the context and framing, and from what's not being criticized. A criticism of Islam can be used with racist intentions. This is where Hallquist and the Christianist neoconservatives go wrong.

If you criticize Islam, but not Christianity, I have to ask, "Why?" The hypothesis that you're engaging in differential criticism on the basis of race is at least live and deserves investigation.

In Fitna, Geert Wilders criticizes Islam as a politician explicitly endorsing restricting immigration, especially non-Western immigration. Again, the criticism per se is not racist, but the framing and context of the criticism can definitely be racist.

(I don't know that Wilders really is a racist, or that Fitna really is in a racist context. I really don't care much about Dutch politics, and I'm already convinced that Islam is as monumentally stupid and hateful as is Christianity. But raising the issue is not, as Hallquist asserts, prima facie an "Orwellian lie" by virtue of Islam being a religion, not a race.)

Consider the analogy: Suppose I were to talk about crime, or tyrannical dictatorships, or ridiculous superstitions. In my talk about the topic, I show only examples of black people: black criminals, black dictators, superstitions held in African countries, ignoring white criminals, white dictators, white superstitions. And suppose, for instance, that I were using the discussion to justify differentially affecting the rights and privileges of black people. Even though all of my facts were 100% accurate, even though I'm not explicitly talking about race, even if I never actually mention the race of the people I'm talking about, I could still be justly accused of the most egregious racism.

There are ways of framing the exact same facts, of putting those facts in context, that are not racist. It would for example be a non-racist framing and context for a black person to discuss black crime, with the intention of trying to help members of her own community live better lives (and to criticize the egregious racism of defining specific crimes and punishments that differentially and intentionally affect black people).

We are in that awkward stage regarding racism where explicit racism is almost universally deplored, at least in public, but racism itself is obviously (a few obtuse neocon fuckwits excepted) still around, still strong. Thus racists have to put a veneer of non-racism around their racist propaganda; they have to resort to implications, context, framing, dog-whistles and other forms of obfuscatory bullshit, while explicitly saying, "Racism? I don't see any racism. Nope, no racism here, by golly! wink wink"

15 comments:

  1. I think the basic difference is that Fitna is not criticising religion in general but rather Islam explicitly.

    Were Geert Wilders were to pretend he was criticizing all religion but turned out to show only muslims, then I would consider this disingenuous.

    Yes, there is probably another purpose behind this film but it does not make what is says less true.

    It is, nonetheless, a woozy issue

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  2. Does Geert mention Chechens or Albanians. That's usually my litmus test for people discussing restrictions or racial profiling with regards to Muslims.

    I mean, if I were an al Qaeda recruiter looking to attack the West, I'd hie me to Chechnya and start recruiting. Nobody suspects the white folks.

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  3. Clearly, there should be a "?" after "Albanians."

    I need my coffee.

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  4. geert is not specifically criticising Islam or religion, but immigration as you rightly said. The video itself is distorted, and uses images out of context (one of which I can definitely vouch for). He seems to have an issue with Islam only so long as it taints his ethnically and religiously pure landscape, and to me, that's racist.

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  5. I currently write about Islamophobia; it's always interesting to review its remit. But there is definitely such a thing, with often fatal consequences, and politicians should really know better than to demonise whole communities.

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  6. Ala Abbas: The video itself is distorted...

    Perhaps, perhaps not. I tend to agree with even the most extreme characterizations: I'm convinced Islam really is extremely stupid, extremely hate-mongering, extremely oppressive and extremely authoritarian. Of course, I'm convinced that Christianity is equally extremely fucked up.

    It's very difficult to make any sort of argument without including some statements that are only marginally or controversially evidentiary, especially to one's opponents. A lie is a lie, of course, but a controversial piece of evidence does not damn the entire work in the same way.

    My point is not about whether the video itself (which I'm far too lazy to actually watch) is accurate or inaccurate. My point that it is possible to use completely accurate information for racist purposes, and the accuracy of the information does not necessarily excuse the purpose.

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  7. Let me repeat myself, Ala Abbas: I am a fierce and uncompromising critic of Islam. You will not ever, I think, find me saying anything good about the religion.

    The difference between me and Wilders is that I don't have anything against Arabs, South Asians (I'm married to a Pakistani apostate), Indonesians, Albanians, Chechens, or anyone else on the basis of their race, and I don't use my criticism of Islam to justify any difference in human or civil rights for any of its adherents.

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  8. To be more precise, "...the difference between me and Wilders alleged racism..."

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  9. My point that it is possible to use completely accurate information for racist purposes, and the accuracy of the information does not necessarily excuse the purpose.

    Right, then I don't have anything to argue anymore :)

    @Ala abbas
    geert is not specifically criticising Islam or religion, but immigration as you rightly said.

    I beg to disagree. I saw the film and did not see anything related to immigration.

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  10. Db0:

    Read the Wikipedia entry on Wilders. Wikipedia is not particularly authoritative for politics or current events, but it establishes that the racism is a at least a valid consideration.

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  11. I did a post on Fitna here:

    http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com/2008/04/fit-over-fitna.html

    Db0, the immigration angle comes in because Wilders is trying to tell Europeans that Muslim immigration is a threat to liberal secular values.

    But as The Economist article I link to in my post points out, one of the problems is that in Europe, it is easier to go on welfare than it is to get a job, whereas in America it is the opposite, which is why Muslims in America are better integrated into our society.

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  12. Read the Wikipedia entry on Wilders. Wikipedia is not particularly authoritative for politics or current events, but it establishes that the racism is a at least a valid consideration.

    I do not dispute that.

    It might very well be true that Geert is a racist crypto-fascist for all I know.

    To use that however to critique the accuracy of Fitna is to make an Ad hominem fallacy.

    As I said already, I agree with your point and it is most probable that the film serves a deeper purpose for Geert.

    There is only one thing left to ask. Can the use of truth ever be considered wrong?

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  13. Can the use of truth ever be considered wrong?

    I would say that selectively mentioning some facts while hiding or obfuscating others to suggest a conclusion falsified by the unmentioned facts is not inherently truthful. Truth is about more than just not misrepresenting actual facts, especially given that we always have finite limited information to operate with.

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  14. I would say that selectively mentioning some facts while hiding or obfuscating others to suggest a conclusion falsified by the unmentioned facts is not inherently truthful

    Note that I agree with this proposition which is why in my definition (over at my blog) I mentioned that no propaganda tactics should be employed. I was hoping that explained that this kind of "truth" was excluded.

    By your definition then, should any movie that criticizes religion mention both the good and the bad sides always?
    The only way I can see that Fitna can avoid fitting in the description you provided above is if it included as much positive aspects of Islam as it included negative.

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  15. By your definition then, should any movie that criticizes religion mention both the good and the bad sides always?

    It is, I think, definitely the case that the discourse as a whole should include all the facts. But no one person can have all the facts, and we do need to examine the facts from multiple points of view, from multiple advocates, to correct innate bias.

    Much, as always, depends on context and framing.

    The only way I can see that Fitna can avoid fitting in the description you provided above is if it included as much positive aspects of Islam as it included negative.

    You presume that there are actually as many positive facts about Islam as there are negative facts, a presumption I definitely would disagree with.

    In one sense Fitna introduces some facts into the discourse as a whole, in a space where advocates of Islam are free to introduce other facts that might paint Islam in a better light.

    In this sense, there is nothing at all dishonest either about Fitna or Islam's advocates.

    It's dishonest on two counts, though, to argue that:

    1. Brown people have objectionable religious beliefs
    2. We don't want these objectionable beliefs in our country
    3. Therefore we should keep brown people out of our country.

    (The assertion that Wilders is using Fitna in a racist manner is, I think, a reference to this sort of argument. Whether this argument is or is not actually true is a different issue than whether it can be legitimately raised.)

    This argument is, of course, trivially fallacious: religious beliefs are substantively different from race.

    It's also dishonest in a deeper sense: Yes, Islam contains a lot of objectionable content. But it completely ignores the fact that Christianity and Judaism, which are uncontroversially tolerated, also contain objectionable content. Even if we excise the fallacious racial connection, we still have a cherry-picking fallacy.

    While one cannot (and should not) argue the opposing case, intellectual honest demands a clear-eyed look at the evidence which might support a contrary conclusion, and actively present it and explain why it does not undermine one's own case.

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