Some parts of Elizabeth Moon's Park51 posting
are more difficult to address than others. For example:
"The same with other points of Islam that I find appalling (especially as a free woman) and totally against those basic principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution...I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship, on the grounds of their personal freedom."
Because Ms Moon doesn't specify what these "points of Islam" are, it's pretty much impossible to discuss them, except in the most general terms. It can be said that American Muslims are very typically American
in their views. For example, most believe life is better for women in the US than in many Muslim countries.
Waleed Aly (and many, many others) point out the maddening tendency of politicians and commentators in the West to accuse Muslims of disrespecting, oppressing, and mistreating women - while Islamic politicians and commentators accuse Westerners of exactly the same thing. Caught in the cultural crossfire (often physically
) are Muslim women, whether in the West or the Islamic world: they are spoken about, rather than being given a chance to speak.
Because of that, rather than add the voice of yet another slenderly informed white Western feminist to the noise, I'd like to link to some online commentary from Muslim women. I'll add more links to this list as I come across them. Here goes:Muslim Women Don't See Themselves as Oppressed, Survey FindsOn 9/11, Listening to Muslim Women's VoicesMuslimah Media WatchLoving and Leaving the Head Scarf
ETA: In Ms Moon's home state, the Texas Muslim Women's Foundation
engage in various good works
, including providing a domestic violence shelter
for women of all faiths, and collaborate with other organisations.She Who Disputes: Muslim Women Shape the Debate
. A very readable 2006 report from the Muslim Women's Network
, giving British Muslimah's views on numerous issues, from violence and safety to civic participation.
(btw, I've said that I'm not going to go and look for online responses to Ms Moon's posting, because of the slim chance of finding light rather than heat. However, I'll read anything that's recced to me - and if there are responses from Muslim women, I'm especially interested in seeing them.)
PS From July this year, the findings of a global survey on attitudes to gender equality
With my deadline passed, I've returned to Waleed Aly's stimulatin' book People Like Us
. (Life is busy. If your time is limited, read the chapter "Women as a Battlefield".) These online dust-ups are such a terrific
borrow far too many library books
learn stuff. :)
As you know, my goal in these postings is to disagree respectfully
with Elizabeth Moon's posting about Park51
. Now, it's a long posting, and Ms Moon spends the first part of it setting out her ideas about good citizenship - stuff which many of us will agree with; it's the second part that's problematic. But as I've gobbled data, I've repeatedly come across Muslim commentators agreeing
with some of the things she says in the second bit - or at least expressing similar views.
For example, Ms Moon stated:
"A group must grasp that if its non-immigrant members somewhere else are causing people a lot of grief (hijacking planes and cruise ships, blowing up embassies, etc.) it is going to have a harder row to hoe for awhile, and it would be prudent (another citizenly virtue) to a) speak out against such things without making excuses for them and b) otherwise avoid doing those things likely to cause offence."
Well, there are plenty of things in that sentence that I would argue don't really add up. But Waleed Aly is also criticial of
"...the seemingly incurable tendency, with several notable exceptions, for Muslim condemnations of terrorism to be expressed in conditional language. Certainly terrorism is to be condemned, but not without using the opportunity to make a political point or two about the war in Iraq... Muslim spokespeople who pursue this discourse only hours after a terrorist attack, in the raw aftermath of the killing, are blissfully unaware of how their words sound to their audience." (pp 45-46)
Muslims living in the West are surrounded by hostility. In large part, this is thanks to bullshit (ranging from uninformed nonsense to lies) from politicians, the media, and the pulpit. Aly and others
argue that some Muslim commentators have also added fuel to the fire. But should Muslims be expected to assuage the baseless fears and prejudices of their fellow American or Australian citizens?
I'd argue that no, it's their neighbours' responsibility. But some Muslims would say yes - at least to some degree. For example, in the short documentary White, Welsh and Muslim
, Omer Williams (who wonderfully describes his beard as his 'furry hijab
"I've met some Muslims with beards two, three times longer than mine, and they're awful. Obnoxious and rude. And I'm thinking, no, looking as Muslim as you do, you should be even more careful, because you're ambassadors."
Williams himself, as a white convert with "one foot in each camp", feels "the weight of the world on his shoulders".
I doubt Aly or Williams would find much to agree with in Ms Moon's posting (tbh I'm sure they'd be infuriated by it); but for me, it's encouraging that there is some common ground.
Damn it, I've been trying to come up with a brilliant closing line to sum it all up for about fifteen minutes. You'll have to write one yourself.
ETA: After a good night's sleep, my point is more obvious to me. :) Plenty of people share Ms Moon's views. How might we persuade them to change their minds? One way is by providing facts which counter mistaken beliefs and assumptions; and another is by addressing legitimate grievances. Plus, acknowledging that Ms Moon's posting is a curate's egg is a step in the direction of a nuanced debate that looks for solutions, rather than a slanging match between sides.
ETA: Found comments
from a chap railing against his fellow American Muslims for not
isolating themselves - and yet who also says: "If people view us as foreigners, it's not because everybody is an evil racist. It's because sometimes we're presenting ourselves that way. We have to look at ourselves with a critical eye!"
The SMH columnist who fretted
about young women arriving for dinner in their burqas now argues
that Australian boys are being physically, psychologically, and chemically feminised in preparation for an invasion by butch men from developing countries. I think she's serious.
Have continued my tiny contribution to better Muslim-Everybody Else relations with a one-liner in the Herald letters page
, where there's been some worthwhile discussion
in recent days. (Non-Australian readers may be surprised at the amount of comedy involved in the discussion. This is normal. It's partly our way of saying, "Actually, we're not really that worried.")
I am captivated by Waleed Aly's People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West
. Based on the fifty or so pages I devoured today, I would recommend it unreservedly. Not only is it clear and readable, but Aly's ire is directed both at Western and Islamic pundits who talk rubbish. More from this book once my deadline's passed.
Speaking of rubbish, a Herald columnist
presents us with this poser: "Say your daughter converts to Islam... She comes to dinner in a burqa... How do you respond?" This summons the image of a rebellious teenager glaring out from her covering at the dinner table. "Erm, dear? You're not supposed to wear it inside
the house. Pass the peas."
Hell's bells, I have three doctors' appointments in a row, and now I have a tight deadline as well. I'll have to put these Park51 epics on hold until late next week. Oh well, it'll give me a chance to do a bit of research (while sitting in waiting rooms, lol).
omg, someone proofread this, my eyeballs are hanging around my knees. ETA: Bless you, megthelegend. :)
Yesterday, I posted:
"The 'bad citizens' Ms Moon correctly identifies at the start of the essay are criminals: the corrupt judge, the rapist prison guard, and so on. But wearing a funny hat is not a crime. Nor is it an example of the vices of the failed citizen: "greed, dishonesty, laziness, selfishness, cruelty, anger/resentment, refusal to take responsibility for his/her own acts and their consequences". Which of these sins causes immigrants and their descendants to live near other people with similar backgrounds, or to speak their first languages? How are those behaviours provocative or offensive?
Were Ms Moon to respond, I think she'd probably explain that it wasn't her intention to equate "Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress" with the corrupt, selfish, or lazy citizens who do real and obvious damage. But in that case, why mention funny hats at all? Possibly, Ms Moon sees "self-isolation" as a minor form of "failed citizenship" - one end of a spectrum, perhaps with corrupt judges et al at the far end, and deliberately provoking inter-ethnic conflict somewhere in the middle.
Now there's a danger that I've just created a strawman, because what I'd like to do is take that idea of "self-isolation" as a minor failure of citizenship and interrogate it. Even if I've misinterpreted Ms Moon on this point, that perception, that immigrants keep to themselves rather than integrating as they ought, is a very common one, so it's worth asking two questions: Firstly, do Muslim immigrants actually isolate themselves in this way? Secondly, are there more meaningful measures of immigrants' success as citizens?
Before I can even get started I ran smack into a major hurdle - the diversity of American Muslims, which I think is summed up nicely in a 2002 Centre for Immigration Studies report
with the observation that Los Angeles boasts both a Chinese Islamic Restaurant and a Thai Islamic Restaurant! According to that report, a quarter to a third of American Muslims are not immigrants. I'd like to address this diversity later in a posting of its own - for now, check out the report, which is brief but rich in detail.
report immediately allows us to address one of Ms Moon's three examples of "self-isolation": on the whole, Islamic immigrants to the United States don't "determinedly distinguish themselves by location". The report states: "Unlike the Muslim immigrants in Europe who live in ghetto-like areas, Muslim immigrants to the United States are highly dispersed." It identifies only one American town with a substantial Muslim immigrant population (30%).
What about language and dress? Here I'd like to speak to the Australian experience of Muslim immigrants. Back in 2006, our erstwhile Prime Minister complained of the failure of migrants to assimilate, and in particular to learn English. Experts pointed out that immigrants were keen to acquire English, but the government was failing to provide classes
, denying thousands of people the chance to learn the language. What was more, a glance at the statistics
showed that the proportion of Muslim immigrants who couldn't speak English well would have to be small.
As for dress, the most conspicuous item of Muslim clothing is not my hypothetical funny hat but hijab
, the various coverings worn by women, which range from the headscarf to the full burqa. To my surprise and delight, a 2009 survey
of Australians found that 81% of us didn't have a problem with the headscarf at all, largely seeing it as a matter of religious freedom and personal choice. If Australian Muslims are trying isolate themselves in this way, it's not working! (These tolerant attitudes, plus resistance from Muslimahs, bode ill for Fred Nile's proposed bill
to ban the burqa. Now there's a bad citizen - trying to stir up fear for his own political gain.)
Obviously I can't simplistically assume that the US situation is identical to the Australian situation; I'll have to dig up some relevant American figures. If the US experience is similar to ours, though, there's no reason to be concerned that Muslim immigrants are isolating themselves.
Putting that aside for now, I'd like to suggest that there are more important measures of integration than these superficial ones - and you can find them in the biography
on Ms Moon's Web site. IMHO, she's more qualified to comment on citizens' contributions to their nation and neighbourhood than many of us: she served in the Marines, was a volunteer paramedic, served on her town's council and library board, and is currently restoring a patch of prairie (what Australians would call "bush regeneration"). That's an extraordinary record, and frankly, I'm rather shamed by it. IMHO, Ms Moon is right when she says "the business of a citizen is the welfare of the nation" - and those are clearly not empty words.
I think this is how an immigrant community's integration into the "mainstream" should be judged: by their involvement, their participation, their service. And in my view, Park51 is an example of this good citizenship. It will invest a hundred million dollars in the neighbourhood, replacing a derelict building with facilities for the whole community - pool, gym, classrooms, prayer room, exhibition spaces, shops, restaurant, etc - comparable to the YMCA and the Jewish Community Center. The organisation and people behind it, progressive Muslims who consistently denounce terrorism, intend the centre to help foster better relations between Muslims and everybody else. In my view, this is not isolation or insult. If anything qualifies as successful citizenship, this is it!( A couple of linksCollapse )
Prodded by judiang
:), I'd like to air some more thoughts about Elizabeth Moon's posting about Park51
, continuing in the same spirit of respectful disagreement as before. (This may take a few postings - there's a lot of think about - so bear with me. And thank you hugely for making it possible for me to do this, by commenting assertively but not aggressively!)
When I first began to look more seriously at race and racism, I came across Ricky Sherover-Marcuse's writings, including Towards A Perspective On Eliminating Racism: 12 Working Assumptions
. In this posting I'd like to speak to a couple of points from that list:
• "Racist attitudes and beliefs are a mixture of misinformation and ignorance which is imposed upon young people through a painful process of social conditioning."
• "Misinformation is harmful to all human beings. Misinformation about peoples of color is harmful to all people. Having racist attitudes and beliefs is like having a clamp on one's mind. It distorts one's perceptions of reality."
In my view, a number of Ms Moon's statements are incorrect because they're based on wrong or inadequate information. By "information" I mean more than just "facts", such as Park51 being a community centre and not a memorial: I mean ways of thinking
- how we get meaning out of facts.
One of these ways of thinking is our brain's ability to pick out new and different details from a familiar background. You can immediately see how useful this would've been for our ancestors, who needed to spot the arrival of a sabre-toothed tiger without delay. But this useful ability can also mislead us: because what's unusual stands out to us, we're more likely to notice it, and we're more likely to remember it. It's the reason "dog bites man" isn't a headline and "man bites dog" is. This thing our brain does is one of the reasons white people often overestimate the proportion of non-white people in their nations or neighbourhoods. For instance, a 1993 survey
showed many Australians overestimated the Indigenous proportion of our population by as much as eighteen times or more the true figure.
At this point, I want to quote part of Ms Moon's posting:
"Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress, will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream. This is not just an American problem--this is human nature, the tribalism that underlies all societies and must be constantly curtailed if larger groups are to co-exist.
The "bad citizens" Ms Moon correctly identifies at the start of the essay are criminals: the corrupt judge, the rapist prison guard, and so on. But wearing a funny hat is not a crime. Nor is it an example of the vices of the failed citizen: "greed, dishonesty, laziness, selfishness, cruelty, anger/resentment, refusal to take responsibility for his/her own acts and their consequences". Which of these sins causes immigrants and their descendants to live near other people with similar backgrounds, or to speak their first languages? How are those behaviours provocative or offensive?
I think what's happening here is more than just an overestimation of how many Muslims are around: I think it's an overestimation of how different they are
, and crucially, how much that matters
. The problem is not the funny hat, but the meaning assigned to it: "I refuse to fit in, I am like those who are corrupt and fraudulent, irresponsible and selfish. I am not really an American at all. I am a danger.
" That's a lot to tell from a hat!
Ms Moon goes on to say:
"It is natural to want to be around those who talk like you, eat the familiar foods, wear the familiar clothes, have the familiar cultural references. But in a multicultural society like ours--and it has been multi-cultural from its inception--citizens need to go beyond nature. That includes those who by their history find it least comfortable."
I think that's right. But if Australia's history since Federation is any guide, those who are the least comfy with the unfamiliar are not the new arrivals, but the white people nervously watching them arrive - or passing laws to keep them out
Dear gods, my eyes are melting. More later. In the meantime, some related links:( This way to the linksCollapse )