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article imageOp-Ed: The Hate-Mongers Among Us

By G. Robert M. Miller     Aug 27, 2010 in Politics
Pamela Geller, Anwar al-Awlaki, Joshua Blakeney – the three have nearly nothing in common. There beliefs, lifestyles, pursuits and pleasures are all completely unique from one another. They do, however, share at least two common bonds.
The connections that link together these three are two that link together all Islamophobes, anti-Semites, pseudo-skeptics, pseudo-scientists and bigots alike in an improbable and dubious fraternity - they all 1) consciously embrace narrow-minded beliefs, and 2) promote their worldviews via selective reasoning and hyperbole.
Perhaps more worrisome than the ideas they promote is the coverage they receive. The shock value is high and so it's difficult for heads not to turn, but both the audience and the authors of media works need to make sure that the jingles of radicals are not used to frame critical debates.
You may not know of Pamela Geller, but you certainly know her words - Geller is recognized as coining the phrase ‘the ground zero mosque’. This misleading, religiously and politically charged, and incredibly divisive falsity has indisputably been the dominant catch phrase throughout a debate that has often lost its composure. Unsurprisingly, the equanimity that could be enjoyed during this conversation has been lost due in large to the divisive language that we’ve been using as a starting ground.
Reading on Ms. Geller’s website about a “monster mosque” that is “insulting and humiliating” and, in essence “a stab in the eye of America” is where this conversation gained its virulent catchphrase. Tantalizing as her words may be, this type of talk does nothing but prevent real conversation; venomous hostility does not win the hearts and minds of those who disagree with you – it just causes needless friction and slows the progress of progress itself.
Of course, there are strong and reasonable arguments both for and against Park51. Members of both the Center for Islamic Pluralism and the Muslim Canadian Congress have voiced their concern that the community centres location is distasteful to many Americans and that it should therefore be established elsewhere. On the other hand, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has insisted that Park51 is to represent the best qualities of Islam - by both helping to restore an area that has been scarred by Islamic radicals in the present and by becoming a beacon for community support moving forward. As well, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made sturdy and compelling arguments for Park51’s construction.
My goal is not to demonize Ms. Geller but to reject malevolence in the media in general, and while on the subject of ill-founded vitriol which impedes necessary dialogue, Anwar al-Awlaki deserves mention.
Penman behind the essay “44 Ways to Support Jihad”, al-Awlaki selectively manipulates the Koran for the purpose of (mis)leading marginalized Muslims toward a radical, romanticized interpretation of Islam. In every instance al-Awlaki denies breathing room for any legitimate criticisms and questions he may have, instead suffocating them are in a vacuum of irrationality and paroxysm.
Take for example when al-Awlaki argues that all virtuous Muslims must undergo fire arms training (rule 23). By plucking a brief and open-ended quote from the Koran, al-Awlaki concludes that any decent Muslim should sooner forgo their livelihood than forgo the knowledge of how to shoot a gun.
This deliberate manipulation of Islam serves only to divide Muslims, incite Islamophobes (and those on the fence), and worst of all, on rare occasion encourage the disaffected to commit terrible crimes (or at least attempt them (al-Awlaki is responsible for plots such as the failed ‘Christmas Day Bombing’ - in which he convinced a young man to try and blow up his underwear in-flight - and for motivating Faisal Shahzad - the man behind the failed Times Square bomb, who forgot to activate his weapon before locking himself out of the explosive laden car)).
In a perfect world we would simply ignore al-Awlaki, but as is he regularly receives mainstream coverage and in fact frames much of our debate about domestic terrorism; arguably it is because of our attention to his pathos that there are so many misconceptions about the reach of homeland Muslim extremism.
Though this last point is purely conjecture, there can be no doubt that media coverage of al-Awlaki does little (and most likely nothing) to improve our safety. Just as obvious is that coverage of al-Awlaki acts to disunite followers, provoke prejudice, and encourage violence. In essence - no matter your point of view - paying attention to al-Awlaki robs one of reason and instead replaces critical thinking with fear.
It is admittedly hard to not react when another implores absurdity, yet the best way to counter such senselessness is to ensure that the debate it sparks is moderated by reason, and not by the false logic of the aggressor.
False logic goes hand in hand with pseudo-skepticism and pseudo-science, and an excellent example of this form of bigotry is an article recently published by Joshua Blakeney titled "Christopher Hitchens, a warmonger gets cancer as babies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and soon Iran". In his op-ed Blakeney argues that Hitchens' death should be considered "a boon for humanity", which - although insensitive - is hardly worth noting in itself. The reasoning behind Blakeney's assertion though, is quite faulty. Hitchens, you see, supported the war in Iraq, and because the US army has employed depleted uranium weapons throughout the conflict - resulting in a precipitous spike in cancer rates among children in Iraq - Hitchens deserves his cancer.
To be fair, Blakeney has further points in favour of Hitchens death other than for his support of the war. Blakeney also beleives that Hitchens deserves esophageal cancer because Hitchens dismisses 9/11 conspiracy theories as lunacy. Blakeney - a conspiracy theorist himself - takes aim at Hitchens - a defined polemic - because Hitchens regularly voices his dislike of 9/11 truthers, no matter their status in the public sphere. Now while it is easy to agree that such finger pointing is far from constructive, to wish suffering upon someone who is merely defending conventional wisdom alongside countless millions seems similarly ill-advised.
Most frustratingly, Blakeney employs logical fallacies to argue his case. A prime example of an irrelevant conclusion, Blakeney asks his readers " if everyone who opposes the 9/11 wars is anti-Semitic, doesn’t that make the protagonists of these illegal wars Jewish" ... Well no, by that logic the champions of the war are not necessarily Jewish, but rather, not anti-Semitic (yes, it is possible to be something other than a Jew or a Jew-hater).
By selectively parsing data Blakeney encourages his readers to similarly damn Hitchens, or at least tries to justify it such condemnation - but there is an obvious contradiction here. In one instance Blakeney suggests that Hitchens deserves cancer for being selective in his reasoning and vociferous in his argumentation, yet in the next, he uses lecture notes from another conspiracy theorist (whom he works alongside), the ravings of several other patently anti-Hitchens critics, and of course hyperbole to move his audience closer to a point of view rooted in his own misguided rage .
It is very much a world of Ivory Towers and Crystal Balls for those who mislead and exaggerate. Wouldn't it be scintillating if the "ground-zero mosque" was on ground-zero (or a mosque)? And wouldn't it be a romantic world if one's aim should be to travel cross country, if not continent, in the name of above-average marksmanship? And it surely must feed the appetite of the pseudo-skeptic to be paid to ramble on about government conspiracies to the impressionable while at the same time wishing others a happy suffering.
In short, there are common bonds among the narrow-minded which fuses them all together in a union they would all surely de- and pro- test. However, this common bond between all Islamophobes, anti-Semites, pseudo-skeptics, pseudo-scientists (and the many others in between) is one that those who aim to be without prejudice must be keenly aware of. In the company of bigotry, rationality is absent - so for those who want to consider the issues of our day in a balanced, reasoned, and progressive way, it is paramount that our debates not be framed by those least capable of helping us reach sensible conclusions.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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