Posts tagged ‘Islam’


In the wake of terrorism in your own country

20.03.2019


Above: Flowers at the Islamic Centre in Kilbirnie, Wellington on Monday.

On 9-11, I wrote an editorial in Lucire immediately. It was clear to me what I needed to write, and the editorial got quite a few readers at the time.
   Today is March 20, five days after a terrorist attack on our country, and it’s only now I’ve had some idea of how to put my thoughts into a longer-form fashion, rather than a lot of Tweets, some of which have had a lot of support.
   I guess it’s different when the attack happens to your own people in your own country.
   One of the earliest points I made, when the death toll hit 49, was that this was “our 9-11”, at least when you consider the per capita loss of life. When it hit 50, it actually exceeded the number of lives lost per capita in 9-11. This helps put the matter into some context.
   While the terrorist is a foreign national, who was most likely radicalized by foreign ideas, it has generated a great deal of soul-searching among New Zealanders. Even the right-wing talking heads have suddenly changed their tune, although, if a friend and colleague’s experience as a waiter in New York City in September 2001 is anything to go by, they will return to their regularly scheduled programming in two weeks’ time. Certain media bosses, especially among foreign-owned companies, would have it no other way, since they are not here to benefit New Zealanders, only their foreign shareholders and their own pockets. Stoking division is their business and I do not believe leopards change their spots.
   Therefore, the majority of right-thinking New Zealanders are not complicit, but a minority of us harbour bigoted thoughts, and enough of that minority infect the comments’ sections of mainstream media websites and social networks to make it seem as though they are more numerous in number. The outpouring of support for our Muslim community highlights that the good far outnumber the rotten eggs in our society. And I think more of us are now prepared to call out racism and bigotry knowing that, in fact, public opinion is behind us.
   So many Kiwis, myself included, say that hatred toward Muslims is not in our national character. But it is sufficiently in our national character when Muslim groups have pleaded with government agencies to step up, to be met with endless bureaucratic roadblocks; and many political parties have stains on their records in appealing to Islamophobia, something which indeed was foreign to this nation for all of my childhood.
   I grew up with a Muslim boy and we remain friends to this day, but I never thought of him by his creed. If I was forced to “label” him I would have called him a Pakistani New Zealander. I am willing to bet many Kiwis were in the same boat: we probably knew Muslims but never thought once about their religion.
   It takes certain people to make changes in mainstream thinking. I thought I might be labelled a ‘Chinese New Zealander’ till Winston Peters, now our deputy PM, droned on about ‘Asians’ out of some fear about the weakness of New Zealand culture; and we might have only become aware of Islam to any degree after 9-11. But these are, in fact, foreign ideas, adopted here by those who lack imagination or a willingness to do some hard work. They have been imported here through the sharing of culture. While I support the exchange of ideas, in some misguided utopian belief that dialogue is good for us all, I certainly did not anticipate, during the first heady days of the web, that we would have so much of the bad come with the good. I believed in some level of natural selection, that educated people would refrain and filter, and present their country’s or community’s best face. But as each medium boganfied (yes, I am making up words), the infection came. Newspapers changed thanks to Rupert Murdoch cheapening them, eventually morphing into publications that sensationalized division, especially against Muslims after 9-11. Television went downhill as well largely thanks to the same bloke and his lieutenant, Roger Ailes. The web was fine till each medium became infected with negativity, but Google, Facebook and Twitter were all too happy for it to continue because it increased engagement on their properties. Each fuelled it more with algorithms that showed only supporting views, deepening each user’s belief in the rightness of their ideas, to the exclusion of everyone else’s.
   Most Americans I know believe in civility. I’ve spoken often enough in their country to know this. They don’t believe their freedom of speech is absolute, and personally draw the line at hate speech, but their big websites act as though this is absolute, and allow the negative to fester. It seems it is for profit: we see Twitter remove Will Connolly’s (‘Egg Boy’) account but not racist Australian politician Sen. Fraser Anning. It is tempting to believe that Twitter is following the dollars here without regard to their stated policy. We have, after all, seen all Big Tech players lie constantly, and, for the most part, they get away with it. We let them, because we keep using them. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need to say anything about Christchurch, because we’ll keep using his websites (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) and he’ll keep finding ways of monetizing us, dehumanizing us. He won’t show up to the UK when summoned, and Facebook will continue to lie about removing videos and offensive content when we know many reports go unheeded.
   Umair Haque wrote in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks: ‘Facebook and Twitter and YouTube etcetera really just bring the American ideal to life that there should be extreme, absolute freedom of speech, with zero consequences whatsoever, even for expressing hate and violence of the most vile and repellent kinds.’
   As people become dehumanized through words and campaigns, it makes it easier for people to commit violence against them. They no longer see them as deserving of respect or protection. In the foulest version, they no longer see them as having a right to life.
   Now, I don’t believe that this absolute approach can be branded American. And I do believe Big Tech has very different values to Americans. Their newsmedia have, too. When regular people are censored, when big money talks more loudly than their laws, then there is something very wrong with their companies—and this is the common enemy of both Republicans and Democrats, not each other. And this wrongness is being exported here, too. I’ve said it for years: we are a sovereign nation, and we have no need to copy their failed idea of a health system or even their vernacular (on this note: retailers, please cease using Black Friday to describe your end-of-year sales, especially this year). We do not need to import the political playbooks, whether you are a political party, a blogger, or a local newspaper. There are Kiwis who actually talked about their ‘First Amendment rights’ because they may have watched too much US television and are unaware we have our own Bill of Rights Act. Even the raid on Kim Dotcom’s home seemed to be down to some warped idea of apeing their cop shows, about impressing the FBI more than following our own laws on surveillance and our own beliefs on decency.
   I honestly don’t see the attraction of turning us into some vassal state or a mutant clone of other nations, yet foreign-owned media continue to peddle this nonsense by undermining the Kiwi character and everyday Kiwi unity.
   Did the terrorist see any of this? I have no idea. I equally have no idea if the people he came into contact with here cemented his hate. However, I think he would have come across sufficient international influences here to validate his imagined fears of non-whites and women. By all means, we should call out bad behaviour, but when we do, we shouldn’t restrict it to individual cases we see in our daily lives. There are entire institutions that are doing this, strings pulled from faraway lands, and to them we must also say: enough is enough. The way you do business isn’t in line with who we are. We need to be aware of who the non-Kiwi players are, often masquerading under locally grown brand names (such as ‘Newstalk ZB’—a quick peek of shareholders suggest the majority are as Kiwi as Ned Kelly), and, if need be, vote with our time and money to support those who really understand us. Be alert to who’s really trying to influence us.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


Trump a creation of the media, not of ad spends

11.12.2015

This is by no means a blog post in favour of the Republican poll front-runner, although this graphic from Vox (not the old Vox that I used to be on) was very interesting:

   When I ran for office in 2010 and 2013, I tried to mount campaigns that were the most effective per dollar spent. If you can’t practise it in your own campaign, you sure as heck can’t practise it when in office. J. E. Bush’s massive spend is exactly what you don’t want to see for the numbers he’s getting.
   And unlike the “polls” here in those two local body elections, which had no resemblance to the voters’ reality (got to love sextupling your poll numbers), I trust the Vox one is more accurate, being an aggregate of many US polls with large samples.
   The sad thing we can take from the numbers above is that celebrity seems to trump (pun unintended) all else. For those complaining about where all the moderate Muslim voices are when extremists speak out, have a look at this. Where are the moderate Republican voices? Outside the US, we don’t hear any in the mainstream media: the US political coverage has been Trump, Trump and more Trump. Extremism gets sensationalist headlines, and sensationalism sells in a headline culture, whether you’re Stateside or here. Similarly, peaceful Muslims just don’t fit the narrative, as this article in The Independent highlights. American legal experts who say that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country is unconstitutional because it violates their First and Fifth Amendments have parallels with Muslim leaders who say their faith is one of peace, practised peacefully by thousands of millions. They reflect the majority view, but rationality doesn’t sell the nightly news.
   No wonder some have called for the media not to give terrorists coverage, and their argument must similarly apply to all forms of extremism.
   I don’t know in which media the million-dollar club is spending in, but these numbers might also show that conventional above-the-line advertising can’t work without complementary below-the-line activity. Trump engagement—for and against—must be pretty good on Twitter, if my own Tweetstream is anything to go by, and that gets his name out more. The man has five million followers on Twitter and, for all the predictions about doom and gloom for the social network, it seems there’s life in it yet.
   At least it stays up an awful lot more than Facebook.
   At this point in 2007, Clinton had a 20-point lead over Obama, and four years before that, when his campaign was trying to buy advertising on our sites, the likely Democratic candidate was a pre-‘I have a scream’ Howard Dean. We really don’t know how this is all going to pan out, because on the other hand, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were leading at this point in 1979 and 1999 respectively.
   MSNBC has done the only poll I’ve seen where they’ve put the likely Democratic candidate this time—which appears to be Clinton, who has spent large—against potential Republican ones. Interestingly, only Carson comes closest to her if he became the Republican nominee; but the question among moderate conservatives and liberals must be how Trump still manages 41 against her 52 (below). Either these numbers will not be borne out at the polls should these two face off against each other, or the answer is simpler than we think: the US political media will talk up a creation of the US political media. They don’t want to be proven wrong, because otherwise they risk losing their perceived authority.

   What we do know, unless Sanders gets up there through his populist campaign, is that regardless of the outcome, the United States will swear in another right-wing president on January 20, 2017.

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Posted in culture, internet, marketing, media, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


Time for a rewatch: Reza Aslan interviewed on CNN about Muslim violence

14.01.2015

Found on my wall today. While it’s over three months old, the responses from Prof Reza Aslan of the University of California Riverside address a lot of the comments that have surfaced post-Charlie Hebdo head-on—which shows that we continue to go round and round the same arguments and not making an awful lot of progress.

   In October, he contrasted the coverage between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the Canadian Muslim who murdered Cpl Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa, and the Norwegian Christian mass murderer Anders Breivik who killed 77 people, in an op–ed for CNN:

In the case of Bibeau, his violent behavior could have been influenced as much by his religious beliefs as by his documented mental problems, his extensive criminal past or his history of drug addiction. Yet, because Bibeau was a Muslim, it is simply assumed that the sole motivating factor for his abhorrent behavior was his religious beliefs …
   Nevertheless, a great deal of the media coverage surrounding [Breivik’s] actions seemed to take for granted that his crime had nothing to do with his Christian identity—that it was based instead on his right-wing ideology, or his anti-immigrant views, or his neglectful upbringing, or even, as Ayan Hirshi Ali famously argued, because his view that “Europe will be overrun by Islam” was being censored by a politically correct media, leaving him “no other choice but to use violence.”

   Aslan does accept that ‘religious beliefs can often lead to actions that violate basic human rights. It is also true that a great many of those actions are taking place right now among Muslims,’ which will require more than a blog post to analyse, but adds, ‘When we condemn an entire community of faith for sharing certain beliefs with extremists in their community, we end up alienating the very people who are best positioned to counter such extremism in the first place.’
   Aslan probably came to most people’s awareness after his interview on Fox News about his new book Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, where he was questioned why, as a Muslim, he would write a book about Jesus Christ.
   As a religion expert who has to defend his position academically—and in the mainstream media—Aslan makes a far more compelling case, backed by research, than some of the anti-Islamic rhetoric that has made a reappearance in social media lately.

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Posted in culture, general, media, USA | No Comments »


Modern terrorism and where we are in history

10.01.2015

Thoughts today on social networks, chatting to friends about issues stemming from the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the hostage saga in Paris’s 11th arrondissement.
   In response to an Australian friend of Chinese heritage:

[Muslims] have been [speaking out against violence] since 9-11 and probably before but no one cared or no one could be bothered translating it into English.
   As to why [certain members of this religion engage in violence], it’s an accident of history.
   Had air travel and the internet been around 100 years ago, I’m sure we would be the ones doing some of this because of the way colonial powers were carving China up.
   Extremists will use whatever they have as a means to unite others behind their cause. If plain old sympathy does not work, then they will make it religious, or at least, about ideology. It’s why there are even Buddhist terrorists in history. Yes, this is being done in the name of Islam, just like the Troubles were in the name of Christ. There’s plenty of killing going on in the Old Testament of the Bible.
   Without social media it certainly seemed that mainstream Protestant and Catholic voices were silent in that conflict, and by this logic, endorsing the violence.
   And not everyone has the privilege to make these statements. We can in a free society but some of these people live in fear.
   But we in the west have played directly into their hands anyway with the changes in our laws and clamping down on free speech, when we should have held firm with our own traditions and beliefs, and told these folks to get with the programme in a globalized society.
   The more confused the occident becomes and the greater the economic chasms in our own society, the more the disaffected youths might think: you do not have the answer and maybe these nut jobs do. Hence you see them come from poor areas where religion is one of the things they feel some fellowship with.
   And with the negative sides of western civilization, as there are some, no doubt they will seize on that to get recruits. For politicians who do not believe that inequality (real or actual) is a problem, then they had better wake up fast, as no amount of legislation about stripping foreign fighters of citizenship is going to stem the tide.
   Like I said in an earlier thread, no Muslim I know would engage in or endorse this stuff, but I’m in a privileged position as are the Muslims I have met. Not so these guys, and they have a wonderful target—us, living in comfort—to sell others on.
   Muslims are the stereotyped bogeymen for now, and then in another age the mainstream will have chosen another minority to pick on, telling us how their beliefs are evil.

   And to an American friend and colleague, who points out MEMRI has been translating, in some ways a postscript:

I’m definitely not denying that there are plenty of nut jobs in that part of the world who push their crazy on to others. You only need to get a sense of what gets broadcast on al-Jazeera (as opposed to al-Jazeera English) where they get a ready platform.
   But, once again, it is where we are technologically as a people, with many disunited and hypocritical.

   When you’re a minority, you can see how majority thought can work against you. I’ve heard, depending on where I am, that Muslims (or even all Arabs) are terrorists, whites are undisciplined, or Jews are stingey, and at some point you just have to say no to stereotypes when you realize that you could be the next group to be singled out and targeted. Remember when Chinese were Triads, a popular one that was within the lifetimes of most New Zealanders reading this blog? That was the mid-1990s, when a few years before I was denied service at Woolworths because of the logic that trade was not supplied and all Chinese must be greengrocers.
   It beats being called a Triad or a terrorist.

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Posted in culture, interests, politics, technology | No Comments »