Jesurgislac’s Journal

October 31, 2008

Open Letter: why I get angry about this

Dear You,

This is a letter that’s been waiting in my Drafts for some time, but I need to post it before next Tuesday: it’s definitely a pre-Election letter.

It’s not that I think electing Barack Obama will magically change the US for the better. The kind of bigotry we’re discussing is so much easier to start than stop. But if John McCain gets in, the media narrative will be that the racist, Islamophobic bigotry he stirred up in his supporters was electorally successful: things will certainly get worse, and from discussions we have had previously about whether it’s ever justified to harass Muslims for their religion, you will be bearing your part in taking the US towards perdition.

Can I discuss this with you? No, I can’t: partly this is my fault, because it makes me very angry, and I admit it’s not easy to argue with me when I’m angry.

This came to a head in the discussion about the six imams who were kicked off a plane for flying while Muslim. Part of what made me angry was the realisation, as the discussion continued, that you had nothing but your anti-Muslim bigotry to justify your belief that those six imams “deserved” to be kicked off the plane, that the frightened bigots who got them removed were justified in their fear because the imams had prayed together before the flight, and one of them had torn up papers and thrown them away, and they had openly spoken to each other in Arabic, had sat in separate seats on the plane, and at least one of them had asked for a seat-belt expander. All of these incidents were nothing in themselves, and added up to nothing – unless you are an anti-Islamic bigot.

I wanted you to come up with something – anything – that would actually mean you had some reason to be afraid of them – but you had nothing. You just kept repeating, as if to you this meant something sensible, that “it all added up” – and it did: it all added up that you are a bigot. Bigots do not question their own bigotry – in fact, if someone can be got to admit they have no rational reasons to support their bigoted belief, that is often the door that opens on the way out from being a bigot – the self-awareness that they believe this “just because”.

Being afraid of someone and believing that your fear justifies doing bad things to that person though they have themselves never done a thing to you, is not a small issue. It’s not something I can agree to disagree about. And it was the root of that disagreement about whether the airline crew were justified in having the six imams leave the plane instead of the scared passengers making complaints about the imams.

This is not a small thing – not something I can just shrug off and say myself “so, he’s X, it’s not as if he’s all the time going on about it”.

After September 11, thousands of Muslims in the US were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and often deported, because of their religion. (The justification given for rounding up the Muslims specifically was that they were illegal immigrants or had committed some crime against the immigration laws: but other illegal immigrants who were not Muslims were not targeted – the key reason for this action was not that they had offended against the immigration laws, but that their offense against the immigration laws gave an excuse to target Muslims.)

Foreign airline crew who are Muslim have been targeted for interrogation on landfall. A friend who works for British Airways said that by 2004, not one of the Muslims he knew at BA was willing to crew a flight to the US, because they knew that when the plane landed, they would be singled out from the rest of the crew and taken to a police station where they would be “interrogated”, for hours on end, at a time when they were supposed to be resting – when the rest of the crew, not Muslims, were being allowed their mandated rest time.

You spoke eloquently about how you felt when you saw the WTC fall, about your anger and your need to fight back and your willingness to support the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq because you believed that the war in Afghanistan and the new war in Iraq were part of the fight against the people who had attacked the US on September 11. Yet you were furious with the Iraqis who fought back against the US military – you claimed you could not understand how they could do it, why they wouldn’t accept US hegemony peacefully.

I thought this was obvious: you would understand the Iraqis who were fighting back against the US occupation, because you would realise that they felt like you – just as your reaction to the WTC falling was anger and rage and the wish to fight, so their reaction to the US bombing their country was anger, rage, the wish to fight. But you argued that, if you were an Iraqi, you wouldn’t feel this kind of anger – you would feel that the US had changed a bad government, and wouldn’t want to fight against them. Not even (as I recall I asked) if you had seen your neighbours or even your neighbour’s children killed, their homes destroyed. You could not imagine, it appeared, that an Iraqi man – a Muslim – had feelings just like yours.

I want to believe that for you this is just being John De Stogumber – that if you were really faced with the horrors you shrug off as minor, as nothing like what you saw from a distance when the WTC fell, you would feel differently.

DE STOGUMBER. No. Oh no: not at all. I had seen them in pictures, and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them, as I thought. But it was no use: it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful: oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits sometimes.
CAUCHON. Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination? (Saint Joan)

But I no longer believe that. You don’t see Muslims as people with the same rights, the same feelings, the same faults and needs and blood as you – if you did, you could not argue that it was right that people who are afraid of Muslims ought to have the right to expel the imams from a plane: if you did, you could not argue that a man like you who had lived through the US attack on Baghdad would not feel the same rage as you felt. If you felt the same common humanity, you would not make these arguments: and if you were not a bigot about this anti-Islamic feeling, you would understand why this makes me angry. Even your presumption that I shared your Islamophobic bigotry still enrages me.

I know, Internet time is not like RL time. That discussion about the six imams was nearly a year ago. Oughtn’t I to have just forgotten it, not keep bringing it up? But it’s not as if I think you’ve changed in any way – not as if you’ve indicated that you regret what you said and now think you were wrong.

I was going to write “so I feel quite comfortable saying you are an unrepentent bigot” – but the truth is, I feel no comfort at all. I am deeply uncomfortable about this, because yes – aside from your sporadic outbursts of Islamophobia, you come across as a very nice guy.

When a country begins to target people because of their religion, to harass and bully them, imprison them without trial, torture them, kill them – this is a serious issue: this is not something that can be shrugged off.

While Lieutenant-General William G Boykin was serving as deputy under-secretary of defence for intelligence (2003-2007) he claimed that Muslims worshipped an “idol”, that the enemy in the US’s war against terrorism was “Satan”, and that the reason that terrorists attacked the US was because it was a “Christian nation”. He wasn’t sacked. Rumsfeld shrugged off his deputy under-secretary’s comments as “personal”.
After that approval of anti-Islamic feeling at the highest levels of government, the use of “Obama is a Muslim” as if this was an accusation did not surprise me.

People have to pick their sides when this begins to happen – and while anyone can understand how it happens that a person is too afraid to stand up, to speak out, it is a creeping horror how many people are simply unable to see anything particularly wrong with how these people are being treated – don’t notice and don’t care.

They’re only Muslims. They’re only Jews. They’re only Mormons. They’re only Christians. You come across as a very nice guy: but still I feel that creeping horror when I think of you.

Je Surgis Lac

Can someone explain why…

…someone regurgitating this Republican crap about Barack Obama makes a point of claiming to be a Democrat?

I mean seriously. The guy evidently intends to vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin next Tuesday: he supported George W. Bush consistently and loyally: he opposed John Kerry: he seems to have opposed Al Gore: on what basis does he still think of himself as a “Democrat”?

October 29, 2008

The Next Rove Presidency: “Keep him at least three paces distant”

“Keep him at least three paces distant who hates bread, music, and the laugh of a child.” – Johann Kaspar Lavater, Aphorisms on Man, 1788

Here’s Bill Clinton versus George W. Bush/Karl Rove, from the perspective of one of Bill Clinton’s worst enemies:

“For all the years he was president,” Armey told me, “Bill Clinton and I had a little thing we’d do where every time I went to the White House, I would take the little name tag they give you and pass it to the president, who, without saying a word, would sign and date it. Bill Clinton and I didn’t like each other. He said I was his least-favorite member of Congress. But he knew that when I left his office, the first schoolkid I came across would be given that card, and some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president’s autograph. I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it.” Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition with Clinton and asked the president if he would care to continue it. “Bush refused to sign the card. Rove, who was sitting across the table, said, ‘It would probably wind up on eBay,’” Armey continued. “Do I give a damn? No. But can you imagine refusing a simple request like that with an insult? It’s stupid. From the point of view of your own self-interest, it’s stupid. I was from Texas, and I was the majority leader. If my expectations of civility and collegiality were disappointed, what do you think it was like for the rest of the congressmen they dealt with? The Bush White House was tone-deaf to the normal courtesies of the office.”

That story was published in The Atlantic in September 2007, in an article on The Rove Presidency. I’ve remembered it quite a few times since, because Dick Armey was not someone I liked or respected or would have thought I shared any values with at all. But it turned out that we did share just one value, a tiny one: because I liked him for doing this, and I liked Clinton for giving him the means to do it – and if I could have disrespected Karl Rove and George W. Bush any more than I already did, I would have, for refusing a colleague something that would have meant much to him and cost them nothing at all.

I have no idea how John McCain would behave, with Karl Rove at his elbow, if requested to do something like this. (And if McCain’s in the White House, Karl Rove will be at his elbow.)

But if Barack Obama’s in the Oval Office next year, and his least-favourite member of Congress asks him to autograph and date a name badge so he can give it to the next kid he sees… I’m absolutely certain that President Obama would grin, sign, and hand the badge over.

from Yes We Can (Hold Babies)

from Yes We Can (Hold Babies)

I was reminded of this story again by Elle’s post on What the Election Means to her son. Check out the photos there… and even more on Yes We Can (Hold Babies).

October 28, 2008

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: A hill of beans

Filed under: Food,Tuesday Recipe Blogging — jesurgislac @ 11:36 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

As I noted yesterday in The Awful Self-Pity of a Self-Righteous Bigot, the only difference between the pile of reasons why same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry and a hill of beans is that the beans make a nutritious and tasty meal.

Beans are high in protein, a good source of unsaturated fat, and carbohydrates: also potassium, calcium, iron, and several B-vitamins. If you eat beans with bread (or any kind of grain food) or cheese (any kind of dairy food) to provide the amino acid methionine, you are eating a high quality, complete protein meal. Beans are also an excellent source of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber – good for your cholesterol levels and good for your colon. And if you soak them right, they won’t even make you fart. Not that I think you should care. (So long as you’re not in a lift with me.)

I call my basic vegetarian slow-cooker recipe Beany Thing.
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October 27, 2008

The awful self-pity of the self-righteous bigot

On 1st July 2005, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain, told the Cortes Generales:

We are not legislating, honorable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and, our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members. In the poem ‘The Family,’ our poet Luis Cernuda was sorry because, ‘How does man live in denial in vain/by giving rules that prohibit and condemn?’ Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have, been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty.

On Tuesday 4th November 2008, voters in the state of California will be asked to decide if their state shall remove the right to marry from same-sex couples: Proposition 8.
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October 25, 2008

The basics: why I am an atheist

Because there is no god.

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October 21, 2008

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Diet merchants lie

Suppose you are a woman aged 40, 5 foot 8 inches tall, and you weigh 165 pounds. Your BMI is 25.9 (which NHS direct will make a point of telling you is overweight for your height, but which most people would say is a perfectly normal size.)

Your basal metabolic rate – the absolute minimum you need to stay alive if you do nothing all day but lie on the couch and watch TV – is 1500 calories a day. If you eat less than your basal metabolic rate requires, you starve. If you starve, you lose weight. When you quit starving, you gain weight.

A BBC news story which reports that women who were put on starvation diets of 1200-1500 calories a day also reports that most of them failed to stick to the diet and failed to keep losing weight. In a sane universe, this ought to be as much news as “dog bites man”.

Yet over and over again, you will see diet merchants recommending diet “calorie allowances” which are far too little to stay alive on. Over and over again, you hear the message from the media: fat is bad. Overweight is bad. Control your calories. Go on a diet. Lose 10lbs in 2 weeks!

Friends go on the Atkins diet on a spectacularly regular basis – suddenly they won’t eat a slice of bread or a baked potato, while tucking into bacon and eggs. They lose weight. They go off the Atkins diet. (No one should stay on that diet long-term: it can have serious health risks.) And they gain weight: reliably as clockwork. That’s how diets work: that’s what keeps people coming back for more.

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October 18, 2008

“I should have a choice about this”

Transcript below the fold.
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October 14, 2008

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Pi, Phi, Pie, and Apple Pie

Pi Equals

Pi Equals

Although I no longer comment at Slacktivist, I still like reading Fred Clark (and am hoping for Tribulation Force Fridays…). I noticed he had a recent post up asking for pie recipes, tips, and other fruity topics.
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October 13, 2008

They’re trying to “protect marriage” with this dreck?

You cannot protect marriage by denying marriage to same-sex couples. That should be clear from the basics.

I was linked to this site (“iprotectmarriage.com”, geddit?) via Ben Wolfson at Unfogged, whom I blame for everything. Here are their facts:

For centuries, marriage as a legal, civil and religious institution between a man and a woman has protected children and society in every country and culture.

Granted for the sake of argument, but why is that being put forward as a reason why marriage as a legal, civil and religious institution between two men or two women can’t be allowed to protect children and society in the US? Are these people so busy “protecting marriage” they’ve lost track of what marriage is all about? Evidently. How sad.
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