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


  1. Perhaps this will help give you perspective on your place in my America.

    Comment by ngoldfarb — October 31, 2008 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you for the link. I don’t know whether to be cheered that the person I wrote the letter to is at least not as bad as you are, or to be depressed that this kind of mindless anti-Muslim feeling is being spread without embarassment.

    “your place in my America” – Dude, I’m British, and have refrained from visiting the US because of its anti-Muslim policies since 2004.

    Comment by jesurgislac — October 31, 2008 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  3. Jes, I think Goldfarb assumes you’re a Muslim. And OMG, Sirhan Sirhan was a Muslim? That’d be news to him.

    God bless you for the Shaw quote. What a great play. And thanks for putting it all together in this Letter.

    Comment by Josh — November 1, 2008 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  4. Josh, I rather thought so. Which is kind of weird, but I guess Goldfarb just dropped by and missed all the posts about my Christian upbringing and that I’m an atheist. (“But are you a Christian atheist or a Muslim atheist??”)

    Thanks for your comment.

    Comment by jesurgislac — November 1, 2008 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

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