Civilized and Savage

“In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Ad in the New York Subway, from Pam Geller’s Group

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to check some newspapers from around the country, in order to find out how widely a story is being covered. Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer is full of reports on the presidential candidates’ recent campaigning in Ohio, for example– but has nothing on Pam Geller’s ads in the New York subways. The New York Post has a little item in the “Metro” section on the release of Mona Eltahawy, who spent the night in jail for spray-painting over one of the ads.

In case you missed it, Pam Geller’s group, the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative, has placed ads in the New York subway system after having won a challenge in court for the right to do so. The text reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

First, Israel is not currently in anything recognizable as a war. Israel has enemies, has been in wars in the past, and is prepared to go to war if necessary, but is not currently at war. That’s not to say that Israel is at peace– surely that is not the present state of affairs, either. But to characterize the situation today as “war,” is to misunderstand the situation, or to misuse the word “war.”

Second, to characterize any group as “savages” is an old rhetorical device to dehumanize that group, thereby making the killing of them permissible. It is at least understandable how this happens in combat situations, when people are under severe stress. In this instance (an ad on a subway wall), the rhetoric serves no discernible purpose– except to inflame for the sake of inflaming.

Third, while in the history of this conflict it is true that sad and terrible violence has been inflicted on innocent Jewish Israelis, it is also true that sad and terrible violence has been inflicted on innocent Arab Palestinian Muslims. A conceptual framework that places who is right and “civilized” on this side, and who is wrong and “savage” on that side, is not a helpful conceptual framework. It distorts the picture.

To support civilization is to encourage thoughtful moderates on both sides of the conflict (yes, those people do exist!) to do the work of making peace. Inflamed rhetoric– even from an American who lives on Long Island– only makes a civilized resolution more difficult.

via Pam Geller Anti Muslim Subway Ads: Muslims Welcome Debates On Islam, But Not Demonization.

Frat Boys Are No Angels, Either

Every now and then we like to throw in some lighter fare. For amusement, I re-post this heading from Howard Friedman’s Religion Clause:

“Fraternity House Is Not A Monastery For

Zoning Purposes”

It seems that a federal court in Illinois has rejected an argument that a proposed fraternity house in Chicago be considered a monastery. Since the local zoning laws prohibit a fraternity house at that location, the owner of the house petitioned the court for the house to be considered a monastery (which would be permitted in the zoning laws). The basis of the claim was that Sigma Pi’s mission statement is “In the Service of God and Man.”

Perhaps the claim would have been stronger, had some of the “brothers” presented themselves to the court wearing cowls and drinking mead?

The full text of Friedman’s summation follows:

In Myers v. City of Chicago, ND IL, Sept. 12, 2012, an Illinois federal district court rejected an equal protection claim by plaintiff who purchased a house on Chicago’s North Shore Avenue intending to rent it for use as a fraternity house to Sigma Pi Fraternity. However, fraternities and sororities in this area require a special use permit– except for those located in the area before 1970 zoning changes established this requirement. Plaintiff argued that the city should treat his proposed use of the house as a “monastery”– a permitted use in the area– because of the Sigma Pi’s mission statement: “In the Service of God and Man.” The court concluded: No matter how closely Sigma Pi hews to the letter of its motto, Myers has fallen far short of proving that the Sigma Pi fraternity brothers are actual Religious Brothers, that is, in the words of the ordinance, “persons such as nuns or monks under religious vows.” The defendants’ interpretation of this language to exclude fraternity houses therefore passes the rational-basis test.

via Religion Clause.

Violent Protests in the Muslim World: An Interpretive Lens

Thomas Scheff and Suzanne Retzinger’s work on shame and rage offers us an insightful interpretive lens for the violence of the last few days (including the murder of the American Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and 3 others). This violence came in reaction to the anti-Muhammad video that had been posted on YouTube since July, but which had only recently been dubbed into Arabic.

Scheff and Retzinger’s basic theory is that, in all social relations, an interaction that awakens shame in a person or group, can lead to a response of rage. This rage response can be expressed in a variety of behaviors, ranging from disrespectful communication to violence. Such a response awakens shame in the originator of the interaction, leading to a vicious cycle of shame-rage-aggression-shame-rage-aggression, that escalates between the two parties.

This interpretive lens helps us understand chronic conflict in families; it also helps us understand chronic conflict in international relations.

Understanding the shame-rage cycle gives us the power to break it. One helpful response– and thankfully, it is a response being modeled by many leaders in the past few days– is to separate the abhorrent behavior of a few people, from the whole class of people they are representative of– in just the same way that it is helpful to separate a child’s episode of bad behavior from his/her essence as a person. A good parent rejects the bad behavior of the child, without rejecting the child.

So the more helpful response by those who are offended (shamed-raged) by the anti-Muhammad video is to condemn the makers of it, but not to condemn (shame) America, and America’s value of freedom of speech. Concurrently, the more helpful response by those who are offended (shamed-raged) by the violence against American persons and property is to condemn the perpetrators of it, but not to condemn (shame) Islam or Muslims.

Americans have a lot to be proud of, in their values and practices. Muslims have a lot to be proud of, in their values and practices. Scheff and Retzinger’s analysis of shame, rage, and violence suggests that the vicious cycle gets interrupted when people can affirm the justifiable genuine pride of the other.

Below, I include some of the reader commentary from Al-Jazeera English. There is nothing edifying in it; I include it as an example of the shaming, disrespectful language that can lead to aggression.

Yeah and your lack of freedom should also not be shoved down other peoples throats..

radioflyer 11 hours ago in reply to view tech

And you should keep your exceptionalism and arrogance to yourself. The West is in no position to lecture ME about your brand of democracy.

Trevor Day 11 hours ago in reply to radioflyer

Yes, we are. Seriously, we are. You have no democracy because its very nature is contrary to Islam. Island is the source of your problems, not the West.

Lucian 7 hours ago in reply to radioflyer

Nobody is lecturing you. It was a bunch of muslims that invaded the embassy, it was them who started the fire and killed people. What lecture on democracy are you talking about? It’s precisely because you people behave like you’re in the middle ages that the world looks down on you.

via Is the reaction to anti-Islam film justified? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

What Is of Concern

The Capitol, Washington DC

Two years ago, I ran into a highly-respected former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, whom I knew through church. We got to talking. “The partisanship and shenanigans are getting out of hand,” I remember him saying. “Really?” I said, “Is it really getting worse?” Oh yes, he said– much worse.

I’m not too concerned about attack ads anymore, or about negative campaigning in general. Truth (frankness, openness) is almost always a casualty in political speech, whether it’s campaign season or, after the campaign, when it’s spin season and those who have been elected are trying to look good in front of the camera. This has been the case since at least the time of Cicero.

Of concern is not what you and I are presented by candidates for consumption, but the inability of politicians– once elected– seriously to consider policy options and to act in the best interest of the country. It’s as though they actually believe the fatuous pablum of the campaign, and can’t adjust to the reality of governing– a reality that requires reasonableness, and the skill of compromise. Both of the major parties are guilty.

If politics is always a zero-sum game, we will lose (if we haven’t already) the domestic tranquility that is the result of good governance. The exercise of politics does not determine the meaning and worth of an individual life, or even the meaning and worth of a society: politics is too clumsy to be that fine. As the preserver of a public order in which individuals and communities can thrive, however, politics is important; and more wisdom in our political life– even (perhaps especially) if it’s behind the scenes– would be helpful.

Years Out of Date

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

As if to amplify the point of our previous post, regarding Roman Catholics and condom use in the context of a committed marriage, we get this news of the recent death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. The Cardinal, in an interview not long before he died, said that the Catholic Church was “200 years out of date.” At least part of what he had in mind, is the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics.

It is heartening for those of us who believe that Christian churches can still be relevant, to hear a voice high in the hierarchy calling for revision and renewal. And, as I tell my Roman Catholic priest friends: it’s not just the Catholics who have problems. Too many American Protestant churches are a significant number of years out of date, too. We must listen with humility for God’s promptings into a new future, and act with conviction.

Here is the HuffPost Religion article on Cardinal Martini:

ROME, Sept 1 (Reuters) – The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the Catholic Church was “200 years out of date” in his final interview before his death, published on Saturday.

Martini, once favoured by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II and a prominent voice in the church until his death at the age of 85 on Friday, gave a scathing portrayal of a pompous and bureaucratic church failing to move with the times.

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” Martini said in the interview published in [sic] Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

“The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation,” he said in the interview.