Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Otherize" and other lessons of alienation requiring amendment

It is our human instinct to reach for and seek overt corrections to social problems and much of our public discourse is focussed on such "policies" and "strategies" and "tactics" that seem to be fitting to the circumstances we are addressing.
Comparing such various approaches to our many problems consumes most of our public discourse.
The cost/benefit analysis of each approach, of course, is the most readily available and least reliable of our many comparative measures. In fact, one of the more significant criticisms of contemporary culture, if not human history, is that it is and has been myopically turned onto the images that would appear if every social and political and cultural issue were submitted to a slide fitting an electron microscope, analysed by the most "credentialed" academic in separate yet "related" academic disciplines and those "views" are then disseminated as if the solutions propounded by those academics were the most appropriate and most desired available.
Not only have we "emptied the public square" (see blog referencing Dr. Mary Jo Leddy, in this space for 25/12/14) but we have also emptied our public discourse of voices that are willing to contribute a more general and more comprehensive and inclusive approach to our various public issues, of which there are many. We have also reduced the voices of our political leaders (once believed to have a pulpit to speak for all of our citizens, and not only to speak for the purpose of achieving their own retention of power) to ideologues coming from an echo-chamber of talking points with which we have a boring familiarity. Stephen Harper, himself, as become a hollow echo-chamber of himself, for example, with his incantation of the phrase, "economic prospects and jobs" as the sine qua non of his government's purpose and agenda. Presumably there are a pile of public opinion surveys on someone's desk in the Conservative Party headquarters that prove indisputably that the 'conservative' base in Canada considers such aphorism to be sacred to the fortunes of the political party headed by Mr. Harper, and therefore essential to the retention of power by the prime minister and his Conservative clones.
Over against the clashing of aphorisms in the public arena, there occasionally appears a public discussion in which not only are academically trained and credentialed professionals are encouraged to leave everything on the table, (without in any way incurring the disrespect of their intellectual opponents who also appear on the program). In such a public forum,(The Melissa Harris-Perry 'seminar' on weekend mornings on MSNBC) such insights as this from a Muslim spokesperson from Brooklyn, are heard: "I reject the phrase Islamic terrorism; it is not that Muslims cannot and do not commit acts of terror, but that the association of the words Islamic terrorism paint all Muslims with the same brush as terrorists and I reject that inference."
Repeatedly, in this space, I have deliberately written the phrase, "Islamic terrorism" and Islamic terrorists," to underline the stench of the claim by Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, AQAP, Boko Haram, Al Shabab and other terrorist cells that they represent the Islamic faith, in the long-held hope and belief that if and when the Islamic faith leaders turn on those who claim to be acting on behalf of Allah, the Muslim name for deity, such terrorists might be brought to heel. Clearly, it is not a scourge from which the world can or will be freed unless and until such Islamic condemnation brings down the terrorists in their own lies, deceptions and delusions, based on the counter-presentation of a different interpretation of the Koran. And the woman from Brooklyn has opened my eyes and my consciousness to my own generalization that damages Islam so subtly as to be virtually free of prejudice. Nevertheless, to her my use of the phrase Islamic terrorists and Islamic terrorism is abhorrent, and for my continued use of it I apologize.
Also included in this morning's MHP show on MSNBC were insightful analyses of some of the roots of terrorism, including the distorted deployment of the judicial system in France, where a majority of prisoners are Muslim, while a minority of citizens are not Muslim (parallel to the disproportionate imprisonment of Blacks and First Nations in the United States and Canada respectively). The lack of access to employment and quality education of Muslims in France, for example, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, both statistically and proportionally, has rendered Muslim youth especially susceptible to recruitment "seduction" from Muslim leaders in Yemen, for example, and from both Syria and Iraq.  In those countries  recruits of marginalized young men and women are trained in military tactics and terror strategies which they then take back to 'western' countries, not necessarily the original homes of those returnees. Such a narrative underlies the events that occurred in France this week.
Naturally, the political narrative in a country like France will demonstrate two principal themes leading up to the national elections in 2017. From Le Pen, the right-wing nationalists, who have already publicly announced their intent to bring back the death penalty if elected, will come the tighten the border arguments, the racist claims that France is unable to absorb such a flood of Muslim immigrants. From the mainstream political parties, including the Socialists under Holland, the current leader, will come arguments for inclusion, tolerance, patience and more efforts toward economic and political equality.
However, back to our Muslim woman from Brooklyn. She uses the word "otherized" to portray something she experiences every day as a Muslim woman living and working in the United States. For her this means a state of being considered "different" and "not fitting in" and thereby "not normal" within the American context. Observers from Europe, ironically, use the United States as an example of a very open and accepting society and culture, considered "immigrant friendly" when compared with the level of acceptance and tolerance of Muslims in France in particular and in other European countries as well. This articulate Muslim woman also instructs her audience in another of the unique features of the Muslim faith: We believe that we are part of something that is global; if a Muslim is suffering in one part of the world, we suffer with that Muslim so we feel deeply the offences being experienced by Muslims everywhere. (That differs markedly from the individual experience of Christians of all denominations who do not necessarily identify with abuses of power inflicted on others who consider themselves Christian, unless and until such abuse is so horrific that almost exclusively on humanitarian grounds, there is a feeling of identification and empathy. However, Christian identification tends to reflect a more generic consideration of human rights and freedoms, and less an identification with a faith community.)
And then, from another former law enforcement professional from Great Britain, also on MHP in MSNBC, comes a summation of the many academic disciplines and political files and their respective lenses through which the problem of terrorism needs to be viewed. These include economic policy, education, economic opportunity, the use of the judicial systems, and the capacity of a culture to fully integrate people of a different faith and culture, language and skin colour into a new community.
So far, it would seem that, for many, the question of terrorism and its roots are less important than the elimination of the scourge. However, elimination is not going to come from drones, missiles, bombs and homeland security intelligence operations. Terror and its many tentacles require the comprehensive and inclusive integration of a multi-discipline approach that reaches far beyond law enforcement and criminal convictions, and also far beyond military assaults and severed funding tributaries.
We share, (every human being on the planet) a responsibility to examine our thoughts, our feelings, our attitudes and our actions, both individually and collectively as cities, provinces, states and nations, in the light of our capacity to exclude, to ostracize, to deny, to self-deceive, and to abuse our power over those who are different from ourselves. Not all of our attitudes, beliefs perceptions and actions can be or will be seen as criminal, and therefore lie outside the purview of the law enforcement. However, in our classrooms, even our kitchens, our coffee shops, our banks, hospitals, colleges and universities, and in our boardrooms, and on our golf courses and skating rinks, on our tennis courts and in our gymnasia....we are collectively and individually growing a garden of soil that will either accept or reject those who are different...and the harvest of our attitudes and actions and words and thoughts will be on the shoulders of our grandchildren as adults.
Let us carefully attend to the time we spend in developing that garden, so as to help ensure that it will be able and willing to offer "others" the same freedoms and rights and equality we have enjoyed for centuries.

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