Reponse to a Post on Islam, immigrants and related topics


On September 11th 2010 Ms. Elizabeth Moon made a post in her blog which generated some controversy:

I was in Australia at the time on a tour and with limited internet access thus I missed the initial controversy. Previously the SF convention WisCon had announced two Guests of Honor for Wiscon35 to be held in 2011; Ms. Moon and Ms. Nisi Shawl. SF3 is the organization under whose umbrella Wiscon operates and in October 2010 SF3 withdrew the invitation to Ms. Moon to attend WisCon35 as a GOH: http://sf3.org/2010/10/elizabeth-moon/
This left only Ms. Shawl as a GOH for Wiscon35.

As expected there was much written in the blogosphere about the initial blog post and the subsequent WisCon issues and most of that is available via your favorite search engine. My purpose in writing this is not to discuss the actions of SF3 or WisCon. My purpose is to focus specifically on what Ms. Moon wrote in that one post and not on Ms. Moon as a person.

I do not know Ms. Moon well however I recall that I have spoken with her briefly a few times at various SF cons and we always had pleasant conversations. I write this not out of any ill will or animosity to Ms. Moon or to embarrass or harass. My intent is to focus on ideas and not on persons.

I did feel that what she had written in her blog pulled together in one place a lot of points and I felt an urge to respond. My response will not cover everything point that Ms. Moon makes however I hope to address some of the major issues. And just because I do not criticize a certain point please do not assume I am in agreement with it. Also I wanted to reply to all of the major parts of the post rather than limiting my comments to just a single subsection since it seems to me that Ms. Moon constructed her post so that the points were mutually supporting and that the discussion at the beginning of the post is important context for the later part of the post.

When reading and commenting on texts it is possible to give an overly sympathetic reading just as it is possible to give an overly hostile reading; for example interpreting any ambiguity of language or usage in a way which most make a sentence appear foolish. I will attempt to avoid either extreme and try to indicate where the meaning is not clear to me. I also suspect that Ms. Moon wrote her post in a relatively shorter time that I have spent on my comments. Thus since I have more text and have spent more time on the comments some might claim that I am driving a finishing nail with a sledge hammer. Perhaps but the reason I am devoting time to this is that I think the issues raised are important.

Since the original post by Ms. Moon is a bit over 2500 words and covers a wide range of points I am going to respond to Ms. Moon's post by interleaving my comments within her text in order to clearly indicate the text to which I am responding. The text of Ms. Moon will be italics. Also to indicate where there were paragraph breaks in the original post I will insert four blank lines.

When my comments were almost complete I thought that a stylistic change would assist in making it clear that my comments were directed at ideas and not persons so I have made an edit to that in my comments to change “Ms. Moon wrote” to “Post335480 says” and hopefully I can do the edits in a manner that leaves the text clear and readable.

I was on a "Politics in SF" panel at Dragon*Con which once more convinced me that a lot of people should've been made to read "The Man Without a Country" a few more times.

I have never attended Dragon*Con so obviously I did not see the panel. For those outside the USA "The Man without A country" is a piece of short fiction published during the war from 1861 to 1865. The Confederate States of America (aka the South or the Rebels) unsuccessfully attempted to secede from the United States of America (aka the North or the Yankees). For more info google "civil war USA CSA 1861". The purpose of the story was to generate “sentiment of love to the nation”; in this case the United States of America; not the Confederate States of America. The story is sometimes included in High School courses which is where I first encountered it.

Though, with the sneering generation (Baby Boomers, starting a year after my unnamed contingent, were spectacularly good sneerers)

I think characterizing the Baby Boom generation as “the sneering generation” might be a bit of an over generalization. [See Note 1 below]

that probably would not have had the desired effect...my desired effect, at least, which would be to remind people that the person with no loyalty to anything but his/her own pleasure is not a noble hero of individualism, but a pathetic failure as a human being.

The last sentence has a couple of possible interpretations and rather than wander into a long diversion I will just note that I do not think I have ever encountered a person such as is being describing; at least as far as I understand the description. [See Note 2 below.]

There is, of course, more than one way to be a failure as a human being, but this is a form of failure very popular at the moment and--as it has considerable power to make others miserable--it's one I'm particularly aware of right now. One of the loudest (actually THE loudest) voices on the panel blared at one point "The business of business is profit." Well...yes. But that doesn't mean that the business of business is smart, or useful to the country, when business is granted the rights of a citizen but not the responsibility.

Here I assume that Post335480 is referring to the legal rights and responsibilities of a business. Obviously there some things currently a business can do and some it can not; entering into a contract is an example of the former and entering into a marriage is an example of the latter. Perhaps Post335480 is referring at least in passing to the recent case about a non profit group called Citizens United desiring to broadcast a political film but was blocked by the FEC. If so, that is a very complex case and too complicated to discuss here. Interested persons can find some well reasoned (and not so well reasoned) discussion on all sides on various websites.

Because citizens have another business, besides whatever pays their rent...the business of a citizen is the welfare of the nation.

This is a section where one of those points of possible ambiguity and disagreement arise. The ambiguity I see is in the usage of the term “citizen” and also in what is meant by “nation”. While it might be true that most nations desire that citizens of that nation have the welfare of the nation as their business this leaves open several questions such who define the “welfare of the nation” and what does “nation” mean. I do not think these are merely quibbles over language.

The term “nation” has historically been used to refer to either a large military and governing entity holding power over a specific area or to a large group of people usually with common history, linage and customs. Often the two usages overlapped but not always. Nations in the first usage I give have sometimes changed dramatically or have ceased to exist altogether. Consider Yugoslavia as an example.

Often the nation (in the first sense above) is also expected to provide (either directly or through subdivisions) various services ranging from trash collection to courts. As a general proposition I think we can agree that we want to live in a social situation with values such as honesty and benevolence just to name a couple. However there is a peril of using the nation as a proxy or container for charity, benevolence, cooperation and competition and other social actions. The peril is that nations just like people do not always behave as we would like. Thus the proxy can fail and that failure might cause harm to the very practices we want to encourage. Thus I suggest that the business of a citizen is ultimately the business of that citizen and want we as individuals should do is encourage good behavior and avoid the perils of unreliable proxies.

And we should not forget that a citizen can have a relationship to a nation (in either sense of the word) but that can change for a variety of reasons. Consider the change in citizenship of someone living in Boston in the 1770s and 1780s. What was the “nation” to which the citizen was supposed to have a relationship? How did it change? Did the loyalists who fled to Canada abandon their nation or support it?

The definition of "success" for a business may be rising stock prices, or increased sales...but the definition of success for a citizen has nothing to do with stock prices or corporate income...a citizen is a success--as a citizen--inasmuch as that individual makes things better. It does not matter how: a parent who conveys to their children the responsibility of citizenship--that the world is not their bowl of cherries, but everyone's bowl of cherries, that they owe something to the society that nurtured them--that parent is a success as a citizen. The honest shopkeeper, the honest craftsperson, the honest teacher, the honest tradesperon, the honest truckdriver; those who obey the laws and make roads safer by their driving or make neighborhoods safer by their cooperation; those who volunteer for tasks like ambulance work or mentoring kids or working in food pantries: these are all doing what successful citizens do...they are supporting the social and cultural infrastructure that supports them.

But do we judge a person as a “citizen” or as a “human being”? In the above passage we see the idea that children owe something to the “society” that nurtured them. The term “nation” is not used. To me this continual flipping between “society” and “nation” actually weakens the point of the text. For me the points in the entire post could be more powerfully made if the references were revised as needed to refer to “society” rather than “nation” and to focus on individuals as simple “humans” rather than as “citizens”. Or perhaps we need to consider using the term "citizen" in a manner that disassociates it from the nation; which is an approach I find interesting.

What distinguishes the unsuccessful citizen? Some old-fashioned vices: greed, dishonesty, laziness, selfishness, cruelty, anger/resentment/, refusal to take responsibility for his/her own acts and their consequences. Anything that degrades the resources of the nation--including the human resources needed for a healthy society--anything that harms the nation--brands those who do it as unsuccessful, bad, citizens. When a construction firm uses substandard materials to build that highway or bridge or apartment building...that's being a bad citizen, and no amount of donations to a political candidate--or even a university--can undo the damage done to the fabric of trust that underlies healthy societies. When a member of the armed forces uses supplies for personal gain--or fails to learn his/her job and carry out his/her duties with dispatch--or does anything that reflects badly on the service--that's damage done to public trust and/or to the reputation of the nation. When a policeman or jail guard rapes a prisoner...when a judge rules in favor of a corporation in which he owns stock...when a company fires the employees in its own nation and hires cheaper labor elsewhere...that's damage done to the fabric of the nation. And that's being a bad citizen.

There is more in the above than I can reasonably address here however I do want to disagree with one point and use that disagreement to introduce another concept and to indicate that sometimes there is more complexity in the situation than is first apparent. I submit that the statement “when a company fires the employees in its own nation and hires cheaper labor elsewhere...that's damage done to the fabric of the nation” at best needs a lot of qualification or at worst is simply false. I am going to deliberately oversimplify a complex subject to make a point. Consider what happens of the XYZ Widget company does not shift production overseas; does it stay in business or go bankrupt when a widget company from one of the BRIC countries suddenly has their widget on the market at a significantly lower price? If the company goes out of business not only is the production staff out of work so are the design staff, accounting, marketing and so forth. Are the people who run companies greedy? Often. Do they pass up opportunities to help the communities in which they do business? Sometimes. On the other hand do they take opportunities to help the communities in which they do business? Sometimes. The point is that the people who run companies are humans just like the rest of us; some so mean you do not want to meet them in the street, some so kind that you would have them as a close friend and most in between. Often there is a conflict of goals; this does not necessarily excuse all kinds of behavior but perhaps it does help understand it.

My understanding of trust is that it is based on a promise or expectation; if no promise is made or implied about a certain action not being taken then to we really want to imply there is a breach of trust if the action is taken. It seems to me that it is only a breach of trust to fire workers in one country and hire workers in another at a lower rate if you have previously given assurance that this would not happen. Of course none of use want to see ourselves or others become unemployed however we also need to be honest about the situation. It is honest to tell employees if they are in a worldwide competitive situation. Prices convey information about the price of labor I.e. wages for a particular skill at a particular time and place conveys information about that skill and the relative demand for it. This information is important for each individual as they make decisions about what new skills to acquire, where to live and about planning for their future longer term. Does this information change over time? Of course. Is it always perfect? No, of course not. That is the nature of reality. We have imperfect knowledge which is changing over time however it would not make sense to me to want a situation in which this imperfect information is further distorted.

This nation was founded with an overt appeal to universal rights of mankind--those stated (but not stated to be all) being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But the survival of this nation depended then, and has depended since, on citizens taking responsibility, not just liberty, as one of the rights of mankind.

This is a little difficult to parse; referring to “citizens taking responsibility”, not just liberty, as “one of the rights of mankind” is a bit puzzling. Having a right to do something typically infers that a choice is involved. Is not taking responsibility also “one of the rights of mankind”. And leaving or removing the phrase “not just liberty” does not seem to clarify the matter. Perhaps it would make more sense if the phrase “not just liberty, as one of the rights of mankind” was dropped.

Had the signers of the Declaration been as wedded to personal liberty as the right wing today, there would have been no successful Revolution. For these men, who pledged their "lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" to the cause, did not want total freedom for themselves--they did not demand that others bear the burdens so they could ride in the well-sprung coach.

This a bit of a canard since I see no one arguing that the founders ever demanded that others bear their burdens so they could ride in comfort. One thing which disturbs me about the above is the mention of personal liberty in one sentence and then implications of greed in the next. It is difficult to tell if this is a deliberate rhetorical device to try to imply that persons who advocate for personal liberty are also greedy.

I disagree with the characterization of the “right wing” being “wedded to personal liberty”. While I think that the use of “right” and “left” are not well suited to discussing most political and social issues I will attempt to continue with their usage at this point since the terms were already introduced in the passage. I will agree that what is often called “right wing” talks a great deal about “personal liberty” however it seems to me that it has been merely talk which is grossly misleading. Historically calls for an ever more vigorous waging of the War on Drugs, actions against birth control and access to abortion, working against non-heterosexuals including same-sex marriage have all been “right wing” rally points. In rereading the passage I am wondering if her meaning might have been better served by using the phrase “wedded to personal gain”. I am not sure and I do not want to force my words onto the text but I am wondering if that phrase might harmonize better with the rest of the paragraph. Of course this raises even more questions:
To what extent is any political group wedded to personal gain?
What is the nature of the personal gain (money, political power, fame)?

They were familiar with, and based their concept of citizenship on, ancient understanding of citizenship--that courage/fortitude, integrity, temperance, sound judgment were all desirable virtues which, if held by all citizens, would knit together a culture otherwise tolerant of diversity. They knew enough of human nature to know that no nation had yet achieved such a citizenry--that it was unlikely to exist in future even with the best possibilities--but they knew it was worth trying for.

I think we can all agree that we want to live with people who are have what we would consider to be positive human virtues.

And they knew it would take personal sacrifice--first their own, which they were willing to make--and then, in succeeding generations, more of the same. They knew--which too many now do not--that risking one's physical life in combat or a dangerous public service is not the only sacrifice necessary to make and preserve a sound nation. Any society depends on contributors, not just takers...those who grow the crops of food and fiber, those who make the tools and those who use them, those who bear and support and teach and train the young who will carry on the work as adults. Society must benefit them, not just those who skim off a profit from their work. Yes, a large and complex society needs a more complex social and financial structure--but a structure that increases the gap between rich and poor--that ignores or devalues the contributions of the poor and middle-class--is a society that creates bad citizens by its very structure.

Note the transition from nation to society; i take it that this is implying an equivalence but I am not sure. The last sentence in the paragraph above is somewhat puzzling. I am not sure if there is any human who fully understands the issues which relate to wealth disparity and what causes them. One explanation I have heard is that our modern technology has played a big role. Perhaps it is something else. But whatever the cause or causes I think we need to reflect for a moment on the question of what we mean by the structure of a society and how that structure comes into being. These are not simple questions and I think we should be careful of overly simplistic analysis.

When a rich man, like Ken Lay of Enron, can claim that he has suffered more than the low-level employees of the company because he's lost more money (his wealth going down from hundreds of millions to only 20-something millions)--when he can spend his pre-sentencing time at his luxurious home in Aspen with his family, while a poor man will spend his pre-sentencing time in jail--the system is obviously creating bad citizens.

This is an interesting point. Now I am not defending the infamous Ken Lay; my point is that it seems to me any bail system will favor the rich. Getting rid of bail would probably harm both rich and poor. Likely some reform of the bail system can be devised but so far I can not see how to devise a bail system that does not favor the rich.

Also I suspect that rich and poor are accused of different types of crimes. My impression is that the poor are more likely to be charged with drug possession than with securities fraud. [See Note 3 below]

When a President's wife (Laura Bush) publicly announces that she and her husband have suffered more from the war than anyone else--a statement I'm sure most brain-injured and amputee vets and their families would take issue with--and then retire to a cushy Dallas home and a cushy central Texas ranch--with a big estate in Patagonia waiting should they wish--we have an excellent example of citizenship failure right at the top. With greater power and wealth should come greater responsibility and accountability.

I listened to the comments of Laura Bush to which I think Post335480 refers. It is not clear to me what Ms. Bush is trying to say. My possible reactions to what Ms. Bush said range from thinking that Ms. Bush totally garbled her thoughts to thinking that Ms. Bush was being callous and intemperate. I just do not know based on what I have heard. [See Note 4 below]

Which brings me, on this particular day, to the aftermaths of 9/11. And, in line with that, the vexed question of the Islamic memorial site and the responsibilities of immigrant citizens in general.

The text appears to be referring to the Park51 project proposed for New York City. My understanding is that the design of the project is not final however I have not been able to find any evidence of any part of the project being for an “Islamic memorial site”. What I did find was that the project currently has listed a memorial for victims of Sept 11 2001 which is to be open to all. Also another part of the project is slated to be a Muslim prayer space which is different from a mosque. The project has at times been called Cordoba House but the name in use at the time I write this is Park51.

We have always had trouble with immigrants (the native peoples had the most troubles with immigrants!) Every new group that landed on the shore was greeted with distrust (and often responded badly) until it showed that it was willing and able to contribute something those already here wanted. The most successful, in terms of acceptance, endured decades of distrust and discrimination and then turned on newer immigrants the same attitudes that had so angered them. (Last fall I talked with a man on the train whose parents had been Italian immigrants...he was vehemently denouncing Hispanic immigrants using exactly the same complaints that were used against Italians earlier: dirty, lazy, violent, etc.)

It is correct that immigrants have often been discriminated against. However I am a bit concerned about the phrase “We have always had trouble with immigrants”; exactly to whom does this “We” refer. The word “We” in that phrase seems to possibly be a bit overly broad. Instead if the phrase was “Historically many in the USA” then it would be a way to acknowledge that there have always been at least a few who were more welcoming.

Public schooling was viewed as a way to educate immigrant children into the existing American culture--to break down their "native" culture and avoid the kind of culture clashes (between religions and national origins) people brought with them from the old country.

This does raise the question of why a parent would want to send their child to a school where the child’s “native” culture would be broken down. It should be noted that one of the sparks for the Catholic Parochial school movement was that anti-Catholic material was often taught in the public schools. Rather than being a way to reduce religious conflict in some early cases the public schools were the source of religious conflict by attempting to push Protestantism either implicitly or explicitly. So before putting blame on immigrants I suggest a detailed scholarly historical analysis to more fully understand what happened.

Refusal to send children to public schools was once considered a refusal of the duties of citizenship

There have historically been many things that were considered a “duty of citizenship” and some of these were simply immoral. For example at one part in the history of the USA it was not only a “duty of citizenship” but a Federal law requiring private persons to assist in the capture of slave who had escaped to free states in an attempt to reach Canada. Yes this is an extreme example but I think it appropriate in order to remind us of the need to parse these “duties of citizenship” very finely. Fortunately the idea that sending a child to a public school rather than a private school is a duty of citizenship does not have much following today and thus we can have Montessori and other alternatives. Not all alternatives are ones which I would recommend but at least there is some choice.

(this changed in the '60s/'70s, with the white flight from public schools as an attempt was made to create racial balance.)

Another aftermath of slavery, bigotry and segregation. A lot of history is still to be written about the “involuntary immigrants” from Africa.

English-language-only instruction was one method used--there was to be one language all citizens understood, so that anyone from any background could communicate with anyone else...to avoid the tight little enclaves that people naturally retreat to because it's more comfortable. Was this ideal? No, but in a couple of generations, nearly all immigrants' grandchildren were able to speak English, even if their kids dropped out of school.

It should be be pointed out that English only was not a universal method. There were grammar schools which incorporated German instruction for the immigrants who came to the wheat growing regions of the north central part USA. For many years I possessed an grammar school arithmetic book printed in the USA entirely in German for these German language schools. So we need to remember that a variety of methods were used to educate children and in some situations is was more important to first learn the language of the people around you and that language might not have always been English. This does not mean that this is necessary the case now in every situation; what it does point out that “one size fits all” does not always apply particularly in education. Although English is not the official language of the USA (there is no official language for the USA) from the sources I have seen English now spoken at least well by 90% to 95% of the persons in the USA.

The point here is that in order to accept large numbers of immigrants, and maintain any social cohesion, acceptance by the receiving population is not the only requirement: immigrants must be willing and able to change, to merge with the receiving population. The new place isn't the old place; the new customs aren't the old customs.

Yes the old and new are different. And usually “receiving population” and the “immigrants” both change. Which is why I can get sushi, Bollywood movies, Pho and much more all within a few minutes of my home. I can see people wearing turbans shopping at the My Pueblo grocery market. A Sikh wearing a turban is now part of the cultural mosaic of the USA just as much as an Amish family in a horse drawn buggy. One of the useful tests I like to make with statements about groups is to put a different group in the statement and see how it changes. Sometimes it is illuminating; sometimes not. For example what if we change “immigrants must be willing and able to change, to merge with the receiving population” to read “Hasidic Jews must be willing and able to change, to merge with the receiving population”. Does this change the tone of the statement? I find it interesting to consider.

"Acceptance" is a multi-directional communications grid. 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. 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.

Yes we often see this behavior of people grouping together who have similar cultural patterns. I have not done an extensive study of the Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, New York or of the Amish in the farming country however I suspect any concept of a multicultural society would need to consider them just as that concept would need to consider the Irish and Italians. And we need to remember that the phrase “citizens need to go beyond nature” is not a legal requirement; it is at best a suggestion.

And now is a good time to delve again into the usage of the term “citizen”. From the usage of the term I suspect that the text is attributing a meaning to the term that is different from just using “citizen” as a synonym for person. Which is reasonable since the two are not synonymous. In the context of the USA “citizen” has a legal meaning. And thus it is often puzzling when it used it a place where I would expect a more inclusive term such as person to be used. There might be a reason why Post335480 uses “citizen” and I suspect it to make a particular point but since I can not see where Post335480 gives an explicit description of the nature of “citizen” in the post it is difficult for me to determine what I expect of some of the implications of the post. I may or may not agree with these implications but it is difficult to know when they are not explicit.

Whether a group changes its core behaviors and values after immigration or not, it must--to be assimilated later--come to understand the culture into which it has moved. To get along, it must try not to do those things which will, sure as eggs is eggs, create friction, distrust, and dislike. Is this a limitation on its freedom? Yes. It is also a limitation on the freedom of the existing culture into which it moves...it's a compromise. A compromise isn't entirely comfortable to either side, and either side may misjudge how uncomfortable a compromise is to the other side--it is wise to grant that what you're asking the other guy to do may be quite uncomfortable to him/her.

At this point I want to note that the culture of the USA is not monolithic. And even consider that within Protestant Christianity in the USA there is the cultural range from Quakers to Dominionists. So I suggest that we avoid making the over-generalization that having one characteristic in common means that there is cultural uniformity. And thus I would not call it a compromise. I think a more appropriate term is “change” or perhaps adjustment; but for now I will use change. The change might be as simple as a new restaurant opening up or it might be hearing another language being spoken. And change can be uncomfortable for some. So yes it is a good idea to understand the impact of change on others but the discomfort of others due to change is not necessarily a reason to avoid the actions that will lead to the change.

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,

If there is a “harder row to hoe” then perhaps the problem is not with the immigrant group but with those persons who have over-generalized about the situation.

and it would be prudent (another citizenly virtue)

Here is this use of “citizen” again. Why not just say being prudent is a human virtue?

to a) speak out against such things without making excuses for them

From what I read following the events of September 11 there were statements against the attack and I do not recall anyone making excuses for them although I suppose if one looks are enough one might find an example. However I urge that we remember that giving an explanation for why you thing someone did something is not the same as giving an excuse. Let us not make the conceptual error of mis-characterizing explanations as excuses.

and b) otherwise avoid doing those things likely to cause offence.

Of course this raises the question of which group will be offended and by what action?

When an Islamic group decided to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack, they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people.

First as we have discussed above calling the Park51 project a “memorial center” is not accurate. Second the use the term “at/near” is really not appropriate. The Park51 project is not “at” the site of September 11 attack. it is “near” it. Perhaps the people getting upset need to do some serious reflection on why they are upset and just perhaps they should consider that no one has yet shown any rational reason that Park51 project should not continue.

Not only were the attackers Islamic--and not only did the Islamic world in general show indecent glee about the attack, but this was only the last of many attacks on citizens and installations of this country which Islamic groups proudly claimed credit for.

So what if the attackers were Muslim? Yes some Muslims cheered with glee but remember that some wept with sorrow and empathy. But what does this have to do with the people planning the Park51 project? If anyone has evidence of a crime by anyone associated Park51 then bring that evidence forward. Are any persons involved with the September 11 involved with the Park51 project? If not then why bring up the September 11 attack? I think we need to be very rigorously honest on this. Either there is specific evidence of someone committing a crime in which case the evidence should be presented or there is no evidence. If there is no evidence then to continually bring up the attack is extremely inappropriate. [See Note 5 below]

That some Muslims died in the attacks is immaterial--does not wipe out the long, long chain of Islamic hostility.

What is “the long, long chain of Islamic hostility” and how does it differ from the long, long chain of hostility associated with many other religions? How does one determine that a long long chain has ended? Is it based on number of years since some threshold number of attacks was done? Around the world there are attacks committed in the name of some religion which are opposed their co-religionists in another part of the world. Does one attack anywhere continue this long long chain? Frankly I think this talk of a “long, long chain” does not get us very far and likely is an impediment to understanding the situation.

It would have been one thing to have the Muslim victims' names placed with the others, and identified there as Muslims--but to use that site to proselytize for the religion that lies behind so many attacks on the innocent

At this point we might as well address a topic which has been lurking in the background. The question is if it is appropriate to say that Islam is inherently responsible for the attacks? This gets to a deeper question about who gets to define a religion or any movement for that matter. In the case of religion there is often one or more “Religious Texts”. Historically what we have seen is that it is usually easy to select out passages which support one point of view or another. This is usually due to the “Religious Texts” being an amalgamation of various texts over the years. This certainly appears to be the case in the three largest monotheistic religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Even within a religion there is no consensus. Thus there are some Protestants who do not recognize Catholics are truly Christian. And to answer the question about whether a religion is a religion of peace or a religion of violence needs more space and nuanced analysis that we have space for here. I suggest what is needed is detailed open scholarly research not glib hyperbole.

(I cannot forget the Jewish man in a wheelchair pushed over the side of the ship to drown, or Maj. Nadal's attack on soldiers at Fort Hood) was bound to raise a stink.

Leon Klinghoffer was not pushed over the side of a ship to drown. He was murdered on October 8 1985 by gun shoots and then the body and wheelchair where thrown over the side of the ship. The Fort Hood attack occurred on November 5, 2009. I could not find an exact date for the initial plans for Park51 but the date appears to have been later part of 2009 or first half of 2010 as best as I can determine.

It is hard to believe that those making the application did not know that--did not anticipate it--and were not, in a way, probing to see if they could start a controversy.

I have friends and family in New York City and none of them are opposed. From the reports I have read the initial response was positive. So exactly how where the planners of Park51 supposed to know there would be a controversy? As for the comment about “probing” unless there is some real evidence then it is just speculation and not really appropriate to make the implication.

If they did not know, then they did not know enough about the culture into which they had moved.

This phrase “the culture into which they had moved” does not make any sense in the context of the Park51 project. Prior to September 11, 2001 there were already Muslim facilities in the neighborhood and there were designated prayer rooms for Muslims in the Twin Towers. This is not a case of Muslims moving in after September 11, 2001; the Muslims were already in the neighborhood and part of the community.

Though I am not angry about it, and have not spoken out in opposition, I do think it was a rude and tactless thing to propose (and, if carried out, to do.)

But consider a little thought experiment. What if the people proposing Park51 had started to make up some plans and before anything was in the press about it had said “No, these New Yorkers are too narrow minded and bigoted. They will get all upset. Lets just drop the plans for the community center.” Then would New Yorkers been upset because they were perceived as narrow minded and juvenile. Maybe the best thing is for the Park51 community center to be built.

I know--I do not dispute--that many Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks, did not approve of them, would have stopped them if they could. I do not dispute that there are moderate, even liberal, Muslims, that many Muslims have all the virtues of civilized persons and are admirable in all those ways.

The phase “many Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks” is really not appropriate. Consider there are close to 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and that likely only a few hundred persons at the most had anything to do with the attacks and more likely it numbers not in the hundreds but in the dozens. But use a few hundred just for sake of comparison. Thus virtually all Muslims were not involved. Therefore I strong suggest a revision; perhaps something like:
Most Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks
Almost all Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks.
Along with these two there are other possible formulations which give a more accurate impression than the original text.

I am totally, 100%, appalled at those who want to burn the Koran (which, by the way, I have read in English translation, with the same attention I've given to other holy books) or throw paint on mosques or beat up Muslims. But Muslims fail to recognize how much forbearance they've had. Schools in my area held consciousness-raising sessions for kids about not teasing children in Muslim-defined clothing...but not about not teasing Jewish children or racial minorities.

I am not familiar the schools in your area however what you describe sounds like a case of a missed pedagogical opportunity. From what you describe I see no reason to cast aspersion on Muslims due to the incomplete and/or inadequate lesson plans and pedagogical practices of the schools. It seems to me that this is something to take up with the school board.

More law enforcement was dedicated to protecting mosques than synagogues--and synagogues are still targeted for vandalism. What I heard, in my area, after 9/11, was not condemnation by local mosques of the attack--but an immediate cry for protection even before anything happened.

I do not live in the same area referenced above but it is at least conceivable to me that immediately asking for protection before something happens is the prudent and reasonable thing to do. And concerning issuing condemnations I have not researched the condemnations issued in that area in the days in following the September 11 attacks. Is it really an absolute necessity to be issuing a condemnation about something in which one is not involved? I suggest we reflect on this for a moment. One thing I think we want to avoid is the checklist behaviour where every group must send out a press release condemning the current atrocity or risk being criticized almost a decade later.

Our church, and many others (not, obviously all) already had in place a "peace and reconciliation" program that urged us to understand, forgive, pray for, not just innocent Muslims but the attackers themselves.

This probably needs to be rephrased since as it now stands it reads as if these churches are urging their members to forgive “innocent Muslims”. From the context I assume that the phrase “innocent Muslims” is referring to Muslims who were not the attackers. So exactly of what actions are these “innocent Muslims” supposed to be forgiven?

It sponsored a talk by a Muslim from a local mosque--but the talk was all about how wonderful Islam was--totally ignoring the historical roots of Islamic violence.

Was the Muslim invited speak about the “historical roots of Islamic violence” or about Islam in general? If the invitation was to speak about Islam in general then I would expect the talk to be about the wonderfulness of Islam. Consider if a Muslim group had invited a Catholic to give a talk on Catholicism; would we be surprised if the Catholic skipped over discussing the Inquisition or the sexual molestation of children by Catholic clergy and cover up by the Catholic hierarchy. Or if it was a Lutheran who was invited would we be surprised of the speaker decided not to discuss the antisemitism of Martin Luther. My point is that if the desire is to have a speaker spend a significant amount of time on the violence and the history of the speaker’s religion then that needs to be stated very explicitly in the invitation. Now that explicit request may reduce the number of speakers accepting the invitation to speak about their religion regardless if the invitation is to a Muslim, a Catholic or a follower of most any other religion.

I can easily imagine how Muslims would react to my excusing the Crusades on the basis of Islamic aggression from 600 to 1000 C.E....(for instance, excusing the building of a church on the site of a mosque in Cordoba after the Reconquista by reminding them of the mosque built on the site of an important early Christian church in Antioch.) So I don't give that lecture to the innocent Muslims I come in contact with.

Here is that phrase “innocent Muslims” yet again. See my previous comments.

I would appreciate the same courtesy in return (and don't get it.) 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.

Just as there are divisions and disagreements in most of the world religions there are divisions and disagreements amongst Muslims so let us avoid treating the beliefs of some Muslims as if these beliefs are held by all Muslims. The post does not state what points of Islam are considered to be against “those basic principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution” so it difficult to analyze the complaint. Similarly the comment about the feelings as a “free woman” are not explicit. The comment I will make at this point is that various religion communities have relegated women to a lower status sometimes due to scriptural readings and sometimes through incorporating cultural traditions. What is needed is careful scholarly and nuanced analysis.

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.

First let us remember that generally speaking anyone born in the USA is citizen of the USA and can believe anything he or she desires. The other path to being a citizen of the USA is through naturalization which involves amongst other things affirming allegiance to the USA. I am not a lawyer but my understanding is if it is proven that the affirmation was made falsely then that is grounds for revocation of USA citizenship but that does not appear to me to be what is being implied. The text seems to be either hinting at something or is using the term citizenship in an odd manner. If the term “citizenship” is being used in a non-legal manner then it is not clear what meaning is implied.

It would be helpful to have them understand what they're demanding of me and others--how much more they're asking than giving.

Understanding and dialogue are generally good and useful tools. Now whether one person or group is asking or giving more or less than another person or group is a difficult proposition to decide. Perhaps an open and very explicit exposition of all views on a subject is the best way to deal with these feelings.

It would be helpful for them to show more understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country.

The USA is a non-Muslim country. The USA is also non-Christian, non-Jewish, non-Hindu, non-Zoroastrian, non-Buddhist, non-Taoist, and so on all the way to non-FSM (Flying Spaghetti Monster) . I fail to see the point about “responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country” unless it is referring less to citizenship and more to accepting some cultural norms. But if it is about accepting a particular set of cultural norms (out of the many sets of cultural norms in the USA) then why not discuss culture instead of citizenship?

(And the same is true for many others, of course. Libertarians, survivalists, Tea-Partyers, fundamentalist Christians, anyone else whose goals benefit only their own group. There's been a huge decline in the understanding of good citizenship overall.)

At this point I vacillated back and forth. I was initially thinking just doing a general comment but since the groups are quite different I decided to do specific comments for each group. And for each group my comment was starting to grow into multiple paragraphs so I decide to remove my comments on each of the groups; that is except one which I will cover later. [See Note 6 below]

So first some general considerations. It appears that Post335480 considers the groups listed as “having goals benefit only their own group” and as needing more “understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship” although as we have seen this is not very explicit. In this phrase about goals there is an ambiguity since one can have goals which are intended to benefit only some but actually benefit all in actuality. And on the other hand there can be goals which are designed (at least it is claimed) to benefit everyone but actually benefit only a specific group. Given this vagueness it is difficult to make sense of the point. Casting some groups in a negative light with a lack of specifics and an smoke of vagueness is just not proper discourse.

I decided to comment on the inclusion of “Fundamentalist Christianity” because it serves so well as an example of what is wrong with the list of groups. And also why we need to be very clear and precise when making lists of groups to criticize. There are many branches of Christianity such as evangelical, pentecostal, fundamentalist and so forth. And some of these branches overlap. For simplicity we will consider fundamentalist Christianity as that branch of Christianity which holds absolutely to doctrines about Biblical inerrancy, salvation and more which we do not have room to discuss here. The goal of the Fundamentalist Christians appears to be to convert as many people as possible to their branch of Christianity. And as far as I can tell from their beliefs fundamentalists Christians think this would be good for everyone not just their group. This the opposite of what Post335480 seems to be implying about them. Fundamentalist Christianity is a theological position, not a political position. It is true that many Fundamentalists have gotten involved with politics, particularly the Republican Party and it is very to characterize them as a political movement sometimes even they do it but I strongly urge not doing it. And it is vitally important to remember that not all Fundamentalists are involved with the Republican or any other political party. So I do not condemn all Fundamentalists on political grounds because many of them are Republicans and I do not like the Republican party. I do however have differences with Fundamentalists on philosophical grounds but that is not the topic under discussion here.

There is one area where this gets more complicated and that is the how a Fundamentalist Christian would answer the question are you first a citizen of the USA or a Christian? Most I suspect would say there is no conflict but when pushed I suspect that most would say they are first a Christian and that citizen of the USA is second on the list. Of course the obvious parallel occurs with a Muslim. If a Muslim says that they are first a Muslim and then secondarily a citizen of the USA then to be logically consistent anyone who wants to criticize the Muslim must also criticize the Fundamentalist Christian who takes an analogous position.

And perhaps before we stipulate a huge decline in the understanding of good citizenship overall we first need to be very clear about what is being measured and what are the proper metrics and methods. We might or not find a huge decline. But I am fairly certain that using clear definitions, good reasoning, proper metrics and methods is a good start in avoiding a huge decline in the quality of discourse.

But I don't expect this to happen. And on this anniversary of 9/11, all I can do is hope that no bombs are thrown, no Korans burned, no innocents killed... by anyone.

As each September 11 comes around I hope we can all agree that we need to work for a more peaceful future.

NOTE. Time to move the crowd outside and shut the door. All comments will be deleted, the slag recycled for another time, and no further comments made on this post. Whatever's been said has been said, and answered, and resaid, and reanswered.

With the above the post was closed to new comments and existing comments were deleted. [See Note 7 Below]

Note 1. As part of full disclosure it should be pointed out that I am member of the Baby Boom generation so some may think my objection is motivated out of self interest.

Note 2. There are those who discuss abolishing of suffering as in The Hedonistic Imperative
http://www.hedweb.com/. I do not think the post is referring to this but I am mentioning it because I am slightly aware of it.

Note 3. I am opposed to the War on Drugs for many reasons. It should obvious that the War on Drugs has caused much harm in the USA and particularly in poor and minority neighborhoods. Thus the “get tough” on drugs rhetoric combined with relative poverty has a negative impact on poor and minority neighborhoods. We also see the War on Drugs as a catalyst for violence and other problems in Mexico and around the border of the Mexico and the USA.

Note 4. I think the statement that Post335480 is referencing is:
In full disclosure I should state explicitly that I think Bush’s decision to invade Iraq will go down in history as one of the worst decisions of a POTUS in decades. And it is possible that my feelings about Mr. Bush have influenced by my perceptions of the statements of Ms. Bush.

Note 5. There are some who make the claim that presenting certain ideas opens the door for harmful variations. Such as merely posting astrology charts in the newspaper providing cover for con artists who prey on the gullible. I am aware of these arguments as they relate to the teaching of Islam however since these arguments are not stated in Post335480 I am not going to discuss them.

Note 6. In the interest of full disclosure I should point out how I fit into the the Post335480 list. First on the list is libertarian and I am a libertarian at least to those people who know and understand the history and philosophy of the libertarian movement. Of course there are those who claim to be libertarian or claim to know what the libertarian philosophy encompasses who are clueless. Many people lack a real understanding of libertarianism so please do not make assumptions. I include this mention about being libertarian for the same reason I include mention of being in the baby boom generation; full disclosure. The survivalist designation can range form anyone like me who lives in Earthquake country and keeps extra food and water to someone who is preparing to live in a cave when the apocalypse hits. I am not currently planning on moving to a cave. I am not involved with the tea-party and I have not done an extensive study since the Tea-Party is not a specifically libertarian organization. From what I gather it is an ever shifting group partially independent grass roots and partially Republican astroturf and with positions ranging being anti-Patriot Act to being anti-bailout for wall Street to opposing the recent health care legislation and being in favor of budget reform to reduce both debt and deficit.

Note 7. At this point some may be recalling that during the original controversy there was much discussion of racism yet it is not something I focus on here. While I think racism is a serious topic I realized my limitations. I simply lacked the time and energy to properly cover racism and related topics in this context. Just writing this document took much more time and effort that I had originally planned.

Note 8. The bulk of this post was composed in January and February of 2011 with a few minor corrections on May 3 2011.