Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Rise of Islamophobia

 During the last decade, the most important cultural phenomenon has been the crucial role religious institutions have played in fostering Islamophobia in the United States, which fueled a political fundamentalism responsible for determining America’s treatment of Muslims in and outside this nation and forming a war strategy in the Middle East. This position contrasts with those who hold that religion directly determines the political situation and with those who hold that religion has a non-essential role in the relations America has with the Middle East. The first view I call "Religion Essentialist", and Samuel P. Huntington’s argument in The Third Wave and “Will More Countries Become Democratic” will represent this position. I call the second "Religion Non-Essentialist," and Najib Ghadbian's argument in Democratization and the Islamist Challenge in the Arab World and Graham Fuller’s argument in A World without Islam will represent this position. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these views and their explanatory power allows for a more robust theory which includes religion as a crucial factor without going as far as linking beliefs directly with actions.
            Huntington argues that certain variables are conducive with democracy and others are not. In The Third Wave, he lists Protestantism as one of these conducive variables (37-38). In “Will More Countries Become Democratic”, Huntington claims that “Islam has not been hospitable towards democracy,” implying that Islam is anti-democratic (208). These broad sweeping generalizations, which Huntington makes about the nature of Islam and Protestantism based on simple correlation, are methodically sloppy at best and chauvinist at worst. 

            Najib Ghadbian argues against Huntington’s cultural explanations and instead claims that rather long lasting geo-political forces are the true determining factor in the development of a region. InDemocratization and the Islamist Challenge in the Arab World, Ghadbian claims that this essentialist position has obvious pitfalls (9). He claims that one problem with the “cultural explanation of democracy or its absence is the assumption that beliefs unilaterally influence actions” (Democratization 9).

In A World without Islam, Fuller makes the radical claim that the “if there had never been an Islam…it might actually be quite similar to what we see today” (4). Now Fuller does not mean to argue that “Islam has had no role whatsoever in coloring elements of this East-West confrontation,” but rather he argues that “[Islam] has primarily served as flag or banner for other, deeper kinds of rivalries and confrontations taking place” (5).

            It is actually because I agree with Fuller that Islam has been used so much in shaping the collective conscience of the United States that I believe religious narratives about religions have had a crucial role in making the conflict what it is. By religion, I mean a kind of institution which creates narratives for the collective conscience of a community. What distinguishes religions from secular ideologies is that religions have a special place in society afforded to it by tradition from where it can influence the emotions and actions of its adherents. This definition of religion contrasts with the view that religion creates diversity by inspiring original cultural works (James P. Care, The Religious Case Against Belief). Evidence for the latter definition would include the fact that one could probably fill an entire college library with books solely on who Jesus was (James P. Care, The Religious Case Against Belief). (I forgot to include this reference in my original essay by accident. I will clean it up later when I have the book on me again.) While the creativity involved in reinterpreting traditional stories will be crucial to my account of how religion has influenced Christian Evangelical Americans in regards to their actions towards Muslims in general, the focus is not the broadening of religious views but the social cohesion of a single narrative about Islam which changes to account for political discourse.

            I divide the process from religions to actions into three stages: motivation, justification, and actualization. It is not a simple linear progression from each stage to the next but rather a dialogue between each. This dialog between each stage helps to account for regional differences in religious institutions. The goal is to show that religious institutions provide the basic narrative structures that frame terrorism and the wars in the Middle East which the political discourse utilizes.

            In the motivation stage, the events in the world act as opportunities for ideologies to express their narratives. This is very relevant to how Americans framed Islam after Bush declared the War on Terror. A Pew Survey conducted each year starting in 2002 reflects the growing concerns about terrorism had on views of Muslims. Between 2002 and 2003 the percentage of Americans who linked Islam with violence increased from 25% to 45%, which is nearly double (“Continuing Divide”). The results when broken down by religious affiliation reveal role religions have on public opinion. For white evangelicals, the percentage in for February through March of 2011 was sixty percent, which was twenty percent over the national average (“Continuing Divide”). The percentage for the unaffiliated was 30% which is 10% below the national average (“Continuing Divide”). It is important to note that there are other factors at work and that mainline Protestants and Catholics had roughly the same as the national average (“Continuing Divide”).

            This Islamophobia expressed amongst conservative and Evangelical Christian thinking reflects an underlying narrative about the classic Christian versus non-Christian battle. For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, the hated non-Christian other was the godless communists of the Soviet Union. The new hated Other for this last decade became the Muslims, and by referring to Islam, the ideologues and religious thinkers in America could “reduce things to a polarized struggle between ‘Western values’ and the ‘Muslim world’” (Fuller 3). An example of how easily those representing ideology interchanged atheists and Muslims for this new struggle against the horrible other, the former House speaker, potential GOP Presidential candidate for the 2012 election and Catholic, Newt Gingrich, said the following before a crowd of thousands of Christian Evangelicals:
"I have two grandchildren -- Maggie is 11, Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." (Marr)

This quote reveals the Christian nationalistic narrative in the collective conscious of the social body that Gingrich represents. It is narratives like this one which help create an "Us" versus "Them" mentality.

            Frantz Fanon called this kind of imperialist us-them narrative the Manichaean World. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon describes this Manichaean world where the “colonizer turns the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil” (Fanon 6). The colonizer in Fanon’s thinking makes a distinction between two species, one of utmost virtue Americans, and one of utmost vice. The colonizer disparages the colonized religion. Fanon even describes the Christian presence in the colony as a “white man’s Church, a foreigners Church…[that] does not call the colonized to the ways of God but to the ways of white man, the ways of the master, the ways of the oppressor” (Fanon 7). In other words, Americans, by humiliating their enemy, by criticizing the veil, and by burning the Quran are not calling them to become Christians but to become as violent and disparaging as they are. Fanon reveals how the violent narratives the Western superpower produces about its enemy become a violent reality. This reemphasizes the importance of what kind of narratives America produces about Muslims, especially from the standpoint of Christianity.

            These narratives fueled a political fundamentalism during the Bush Administration. In the “Bush’s political fundamentalism and the war against militant Islam”, Dirk Nabers and Robert P. Patman argue that domestic religious thinking influenced the political behavior of the Bush administration (67). Influential conservative Christian leaders like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell represented Islam in a derogatory way and provided religious metaphor to help their followers believe that terrorism and Islamofacism were real threats to the America's God-ordained prosperity and way of life (Nabers 75-78). In 2001, Franklin Graham, who swore President Bush into office, “denounced Islam as a 'very evil and wicked religion'" (Nabers 76). Around the same time, Reverend Jerry Vines, "a past president of Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative Christian movement with ties to the Bush administration," refereed to the Prophet Mohammed as "a demon obsessed paedophile" (Nabers 76). Because of their connections with the Bush administration, conservative Christian thought greatly impacted political discourse and with it key policy decisions. After 9-11, Nabers and Patman argue, the administration “constructed a distinct form of rhetoric to articulate its policies on the ‘new’ war on terror” (67). They go further claiming that the Bush administration grounded its language in conservative religious thinking of the time, which is characterized by an “absolutism, that imagined divine hand in history and a sense of American manifest destiny” (67). 
            One can find the fruits of this rhetoric all around the United States and in the War effort. Here is a short list of domestic examples of Islamophobia: Terry Jones’s Quran on Trial, the banning of Sharia law in Oklahoma, the Ground Zero Mosque Controversy, and American Muslims being asked to speak on the subject of terrorism before Congress. For examples of the fruits of these religious narratives in the U.S. Military, Jeff Sharlet has a particularly illuminating article called “Jesus Killed Mohammed” which starts off with a story about U.S. Sergeant and his squad of nine men, who are part of the 1/26th infantry of the 1st Infantry division stationed in the compound in Samarra, Iraq.  The article gets its name from the words written in Arabic on a side of a military vehicle this squad special ordered. This harvest of hate is the actualization stage of these violent us-them narratives.

            The prime example of the actualization is the use of torture. In official Pentagon reports “suggest that kidnappings, unlawful interrogations, and sometimes summary executions of prisoners are becoming routine practices by our security forces, in and out of uniform” (Ray vii). Beyond just harsh living conditions like being “chained to the floor for days on end,” these Muslim prisoners “are manipulated, humiliated, sexually taunted and shamed, and their religion defiled” (Ray viii). A Pentagon investigation calls what the security forces subjected their prisoners to as “‘sadistic, blatant, and wanton’ abuses, including attacks by dogs , rape, sodomy, and, sometimes, death” (Ray viii). Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about this kind of cruelty in his preface to Henri Alleg’s The Question:

“It is normal for us to kill each other. Man has always struggled for his collective or individual interests. But in the case of torture, this strange contest of will, the ends seem to me to be radically different: the torturer pits himself against the tortured for his ‘manhood’ and the duel is fought as if it were not possible for both sides to belong to the human race…. Anyway, if he accepts the Moslems as human beings, there is no sense in killing them. The need is rather to humiliate them, to crush their pride and drag them down to animal level.” (Sartre xxxix, xli)

If it was not for this hatred for the Other, how America has treated Muslims in the last ten years, even terrorists who happen to be Muslims, would have been vastly different. This hatred would not have existed without a kind of racism and religious prejudice represented by the Manichaean World. Forms of Christianity played the role of instilling into the collective conscience this world view.
                Most religious institutions are not responsible for torture, but because religions have special place in society, some forms of Christianity with Islamophobic and particular political influence message have created the necessary conditions for the process towards actualization. While Huntington’s general theory of belief into action does not account for diversity of voices in religion, this theory about narrative actualization overcomes that hurdle by looking at the basic stories people tell about themselves and others and how that affects their eventual behavior. The some Religion Non-Essentialists emphasize the political opportunism involved in starting a war for some capitalistic agenda. While Religion Non-Essentialists provide a good critique of the underlying prejudice in the theories of those like Huntington, they go too far in restricting religious institutions’ roles in forming political agendas.

Works Cited:
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove, 2004. Print.
Fuller, Graham E. A World without Islam. New York: Little, Brown and, 2010. Print.
Ghadbian, Najib. Democratization and the Islamist Challenge in the Arab World. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997. Print.
Huntington, Samuel P. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1991. Print.
Huntington, Samuel. "Will More Countries Become Democratic."Political Science Quarterly. Vol. 99. No. 2, 1984. Print.
Marr, Kendra. "Newt Gingrich Talks Faith — Not Affairs — at Cornerstone Church in Texas" Politics, Political News - POLITICO.com. Politico, 27 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. .
Nabers, Dirk and Patman, Robert P. “Bush’s political fundamentalism and the war against militant Islam.” Cesari, Jocelyne. Muslims in the West after 9/11: Religion, Politics, and Law. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Pew Research Center. "Continuing Divide in Views of Islam and Violence." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2011.
Ray, Ellen. “Introduction.” Alleg, Henri. The Question. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2006. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “A Victory.” Alleg, Henri. The Question. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2006. Print.
Sharlet, Jeff. "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military." Harper's Magazine. May 2009. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Language Creationism

I wrote this satire (i.e. not to be taken seriously) because Young Earth Creationists surrounded me for three hours and asserted the strangest things about biology like that mutation is only harmful. For more on Evolution by natural selection and Creationist lies, see http://talkorigins.org/
There is a conspiracy. Atheist linguists have brainwashed our children and barred all criticism of the dogma of the decent of languages. It is almost universally accepted in academia that the European languages descended from a common ancestor called Indo-European. Just by writing this essay, I risk being expelled and labelled a cook, but  despite that, I will bravely stand next to God in this pursuit of spreading his Truth.

What the Academia tells us and why it is false:

  1. Linguists say that Spanish, French, and Italian are romance languages and have evolved from the now extinct language Latin, but where is the evidence, the transitionary languages. 
  2. Linguists claim that words are forgotten, invented, and have their meanings changed, but evidence done by our linguists have been very successful in their goal of proving that all changes in the make up of languages are negative or subtractive. In other words, when languages do change, it is to a more derivative and colloquial and not more sophisticated and exact.
  3. They claim that languages started off simple and became more complex, but modern languages are irreducibly complex. If a language did not have words like I or you, the language would fail to function; therefore, there can be no languages before these words. Some intelligent agent must have intervened in order for these languages to exist.
The Truth:
Since I have proven the linguist theory of the decent of languages false, the Bible's account of the orgin of all languages must be true. All languages were create by God in order to divide humankind after they tried to build a tower into Heaven.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Meaning of Existence at Four in the Morning

Sorry if this is sloppy for I am very tired. I am writing this because an impulse has taken over me and wills me awake in order to write this. First of all, I should make clear this is not about existential stuff but what it means to exist.

For me, to exist always meant to have physical characteristics. Even thoughts for me had a spatio-temporal property. I aware that other people conceive of existence differently than I do, but I saying, it is so fundamental to my understanding of reality this meaning of existence.

I am a very frontal person. This probably has something to do with the damage my brain received from a fever during my birth. When I was seven, brain scans revealed that part of my frontal cortex was as active as an adults. This may have something to do with my view that reality is something you can touch.

Like most children, I can to know about the world by touching and exploring what happens to objects. For instance if you want to lift an block you have to use your arm or some substitute in order for the block to move. My whole world view is shaped by these rather simplistic hands-on interactions. This is probably why as even a young child the whole idea of a deity made no sense to me. How could a deity lift that block without using its hands or any other kind of contact? Deities are incomplete concepts to me for they said to have to ability to do something but are stripped of all the means in order to actually interact with the world. It is like asking a guy without legs to run.

[Edit: pardon this short tangent, for I will return to the argument of this paper by the end of this explanation of my naturalism.] This physicalism even extends to such complex things as emotions. For me, emotions are a kind of information that thinking beings can synthesize. This emotional information can be coded into music and the like for thinking beings to receive through the senses. When a organism expresses something with sound, the information quickly disintegrates due to the dangers of the sound medium. For crickets, the hope is that the chirps will conveys its message to a mate before being destroyed.

All biology reflects this conflict between information and chaos. DNA needs to be protected and capable of replicating itself. Natural selection forces evolution upon the DNA in order for information to survive and compete in an increasingly diverse biosphere.

Humans have taken information two steps further by collective learning. Instead of the knowledge being stuck within the organism. Complex thoughts and lessons can be passed from generation to generation, not simply by word of mouth but by a much more resistant medium, writing.

The only reality I understand deities as having is that of ideas. Like all ideas, they spread from central nervous system to central nervous system. Religions particularly go through natural selection and evolve through time better ways of replicating. Because the nature of human thought, religions have to adapt to the human brain. The human brain has intuitions like those of logic and it has reliance on direct experience.

Since supernaturalism is incompatible with my intuitions, I am an atheist.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meeting with a Christian Apologist sponsored by TF

Tomorrow, I am going to see a Christian Apologist do what she or he does best. Tuesday Fellowship has aimed this event to the nonbelievers on campus. Because I good friends with many of the members of TF, they have personally invited me and repeatedly followed up that invite in order to make sure that I will come.

Seeing how much they have put into this effort and not to mention the bond we have as intellectual rivals, I will attend this event despite my loathing of sermons. In order to prepare for this event in advance, I have decided on my questions and determining the most appropriate way of presenting myself.

Seeing how diverse RUF is about Christianity, I plan to ask questions on points which Christians disagree, like the following:

  1. What is your understanding of evolution? Do you believe it? Why? Do you believe that Christians who disagree with you about evolution are harming Christianity?
  2. Do you believe that reason and faith can coexist, but if ever they conflict, it is not faith which must submit to reason but reason to faith?
  3. What is your understanding of marriage, sexuality, gender, and gender roles? Are people allowed to form committed sexual relationships with those of the same gender despite the fact that in the past this might have ended in their deaths if discovered? Do you believe transgender people when they say they were born in the wrong body? What gender role would you assign an intersexed child who has ambiguous genitalia? 
  4. To you think American Christianity is too liberal or conservative as a whole? For instance, do you think that society should go down the narrower path or should plurality and liberty be upheld despite religious reservations?
  5. What is your understanding of separation of church and state? Should teachers be allowed lead children in Christian prayer in public schools?
  6. Do you believe that Hitler and majority of Nazis believed themselves Christians and that Christian antisemitism still exists?
  7. Do you believe Islam tends to make its believers more violent?
  8. How does a Christian know that they preacher is actually preaching the word of your deity? Is there a particular creed that a preacher must have in order to truly have a connection with your deity?
  9. Do you think Christians are justified in withholding food and shelter to those who will not pray to Yahweh before them and end their 'sinful' lifestyle?
During the talk that the apologist gives, I plan on taking notes not on where I disagree but in trying to figure out what this person believes, for as I see it, Christians believe the most incredible things, literally.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Koran Burning is Morally Wrong

I do not mean Koran Burning is wrong in-and-of-itself but rather because it incites violence. This is a response to this article.

As despicable as he may be, Jones didn’t do anything wrong — he certainly didn’t do anything illegal. He burned a book, but he has a right to do that. He may hate the Koran, Islam, and Muslims as a whole, but I have yet to hear him advocating violence against that community. He didn’t cause the recent violence in Afghanistan that transpired after his burning — instead, the blame rests on three mullahs and President Hamid Karzai for fueling that fight by bringing unnecessary attention to Jones’ event.
It would be nice if everyone was as secular as you and me, but in a world torn apart by religion, we must not ignore religion and its ideologues.

I condemn Terry Jones for inciting violence when he knew that deaths of innocent people were the only consequence of his unnecessary actions. It is by knowing the effects of our actions that we become responsible, and if I give a person a motivation to kill, I am morally responsible and people ought to condemn me for that action.

Koran is way more than just a book for more than a billion people. It is way more than the greatest piece of art. This is worse than taking a hammer to the Pieta. Vandalism of it is like attacking their god. It is a holy relic and a connection to the will of their god, and we ought not impose our crude secular interpretation of its value by simply calling it a book.