From discussion to bigotry February 27, 2002 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Discussion? Bigotry? Over the past few days, several threads seem (to me at least) to have degenerated from discussion to all out Muslim bashing (1,2,3). I'm not here to name names, point fingers or tattle on anyone for specific comments, rather to ask at what point do we say "enough is enough?" People have a right to their opinions (prejudices), but when those opinions are stated without some modicum of respect/even-handedness, we have to wonder why they are tolerated in a public forum.
posted by hipstertrash to Etiquette/Policy at 1:00 PM (33 comments total)

I almost deleted your #3 this morning when I first saw it posted, knowing full well it would be a pointless discussion.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:06 PM on February 27, 2002

So we are all on the same page why don't you point out what you think constitutes Muslim bashing? I see alot of opinions in those threads but not anything (in an admittedly brief scan) that says "kill all the infidels" or some such nonsense.
posted by revbrian at 1:08 PM on February 27, 2002

my personal favorite is when folks post that their religion is Right about how other religions are Wrong and when reproached for saying negative things about other faiths and their believers claim that they are being attacked for their religious beliefs. Ugh. And in a way they are right if their religious dogma is less than PC about other faiths, but just as you shouldn't yell fire in a theater without expecting society to take a swing at you for it, you oughtn't expect to be able to bash another faith on MeFe without people having something to say about that.
posted by n9 at 1:09 PM on February 27, 2002

There are good reasons why religion is generally not considered an appropriate topic for polite conversation.

Religion is, by its nature, outside of the realm of logic. I don't mean so much that it's illogical as that it's independent of logic. I think because of this, people don't feel constrained by the normal rules of logic when they're discussing their own or someone else's religion. Because of that, it really doesn't have much place in a discussion forum.

Also, while I'd guess that most MeFites are mostly areligious, there are clearly more Christians here than there are Muslims, so there frequently isn't anyone here to provide an informed Islamic point of view. As a result, a lot of the threads that involve Islam seem to turn into the virtual equivalent of a bunch of rednecks down at the dump shooting rats.
posted by anapestic at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2002

I guess the purported 'Muslim-bashing' balances out the de riguer Christianity bashing on MeFi, which usually passes with only a couple helpless protests.

I think it is wrong to declare a subject not open for discussion. While I agree that out in out bashing of a belief system is counterproductive and narrow-minded, an open dialog can be very interesting and informative. I don't want to live in a world where a very popular religious belief is immune from scrutiny/criticism, especially when said religious doctrine is inextricably intertwined with political systems and political motivations.

That said, such discussions are usually not possible without some stupidity being flung around. The question is, should the presence of passionate stupidity be allowed to close up all other discussion of a subject?
posted by evanizer at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2002

The question is, should the presence of passionate stupidity be allowed to close up all other discussion of a subject?

Honestly, are these religious threads producing valid information, or are they simply pissing matches? How can you POSSIBLY prove that ANY religion is correct or incorrect? I've yet to see valid evidence being introduced; usually I simply read conjecture and cicumstantial BS being passed off as knowledge.
posted by BlueTrain at 1:30 PM on February 27, 2002

I guess the purported 'Muslim-bashing' balances out the de riguer Christianity bashing on MeFi,

How does bashing one thing "balance out" bashing another thing? It's not a Christianity-vs-Islam world, much as some people would like it to be.
posted by rodii at 1:35 PM on February 27, 2002

revbrian - I've read over the comments in each of those threads several times, and while I see things that strike me as bigoted, I'm reluctant to pidgeonhole myself (or this discussion) into a specific statement of what does and what does not constitute hateful speech. That is one of the reasons I chose to direct people to the threads as a whole instead of specific comments.

Try this on: How many comments in those threads do you think were meant to raise meaningful points for discussion/ engage in constructive debate? How many comments, on the other hand, boil down to an individual using the discussion as a soapbox, a chance to mouth off about a people/culture/religion that they loathe?

If people want to rant ad infinitum about how backwards/ ignorant/ violent/ morally bankrupt the Islamic world is, they can put it in their own weblog/journal. If they want to get together with a bunch of people who share their biases and take turns mouthing off, they can go start an anti-Arab or anti-Islam discussion board and preach to the converted. But (and correct me if I'm wrong, Matt), this isn't the place for it. Three such threads in two days? For a general interest forum, it seems like overkill.
posted by hipstertrash at 1:39 PM on February 27, 2002

Honestly, are these religious threads producing valid information, or are they simply pissing matches? How can you POSSIBLY prove that ANY religion is correct or incorrect?

There's definitely a lot of noise in these threads, but I think they're worth having from time to time, not to debate the truth of one versus the other (which is, unfortunately, inevitable) but to discuss religion and faith as they relate to self-government, democracy, and relations between cultures and nations. Religion is a huge part of every society, I think it would be counterproductive to banish it from MeFi.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:39 PM on February 27, 2002

Hipstertrash, I think you might be painting with too broad a brush. The WSJ editorial post shows an endorsement of a national scale view, whether the nation actually agrees with it or not. The survey of muslim nations is just a right-back-atcha. The Pat Robertson post was the weakest link, for a variety of reasons that any who read it should be familiar with. Every one of these posts is an equal opportunity double edged sword. They are opportunities to learn, every bit as much as opportunities for bigotry to shine on in.

I would also like to point out often these discussions aren't about religion as much as how the secular world is to cope with the religious one. When they degenerate (yes, that is how I see it) into discussion of a religion's true merits, that's when things get ugly. So rather than limit what can or can't be posted, why not let the individuals who read these threads decide what they want to focus on, the facts we live, or the faith?

On preview: Yeah, uhm, what Ty Webb said.
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2002

The problem (IMHO) is not muslim orientated, but the fact that people intentionally post inflammitory stuff to the front page. I really don't like posts with "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE" type emotional writeups. These never provoke (IMHO) good discussions.

Perhaps the guidelines should replace:
...might warrant discussion from others
...might warrant insightful discussion from others
posted by phatboy at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2002

There are guidelines here? (Doh!)
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:56 PM on February 27, 2002

Wulfgar -I'm not comfortable with the wholesale banning of entire topics/types of threads either. But I don't think that it has to be an either-or proposition. Maybe we need a moratorium on religious-oriented posts to let everyone cool off. When the MetaFilter guidelines were first written, the content here was much different, not so news/politically oriented. Perhaps we need to work with Matt to update the guidelines, make them more rigorous in regards to hot-button issues. Many of the news items that end up here seem superfluous and repetitive, intentional or unintended trolls, because they do little but move the same pissing contests from an old thread into a newer one. How often can we open the same can of worms and expect something worthwhile to result from it? At what point do we start enabling the people with an axe to grind, handing them the keys to the community and letting them run roughshod over the site and everyone here. As much as I'd like to think that everyone is capable of self-restraint, sometimes they have to be nudged toward it.
posted by hipstertrash at 2:51 PM on February 27, 2002

Four words: Too many news links.

posted by Zool at 3:48 PM on February 27, 2002

The basic problem is that there is no one, or too few people, on Mefi to take on the Muslim defense role; to put in perspective the various citations from the Koran. To be totally fair about the issue, I really have no clue regarding the seeming combustible passages because I have never heard them debated informed persons. To some extent, this is, itself, an indictment of the Muslim world
posted by ParisParamus at 4:02 PM on February 27, 2002

Anything I haven't heard of before is "news" to me. The number of Islam related threads (there were a lot in the last 2 days) probably reflects the national sentiment and attention given to the issue.

There are plenty of discussions to choose from, there is no realistic way anyone can participate in all of them, so pick the ones that don't offend you, and ignore the occasional religion thread. I agree with Ty's assesment:
Religion is a huge part of every society, I think it would be counterproductive to banish it from MeFi.
posted by insomnyuk at 4:11 PM on February 27, 2002

hipstertrash - I see your point and I do agree. As alternatives go, I would rather err on the side of freedom to be a jerk, than stifling knowledge. I just don't think the guidelines have a lot of effacacy anymore, and god knows i don't wish rigid policing of them on Matt.

ParisParamus - The problem is finding Muslim defenders that are not willing to be intimidated by seemingly racist ignorance. I've read the Koran, but I'm not qualified to defend it. The closest I've ever been to the Middle East is Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I don't believe that any can defend a religious culture moving in the world other than one whose been there. I can defend Christianity with the best of them. I've not only read the Bible, but I've lived the culture, and I know what applies and what doesn't. At times, I want very much to defend Islam, because I think I understand the book. But I can't understand much of what is done in its name, justified with quotes from the Koran, because I don't live in a Muslim culture. This is about secular application. What's needed here isn't just an authority on Islam, its an authority on Middle Eastern anthropology
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:19 PM on February 27, 2002

Many of the news items that end up here... move the same pissing contests from an old thread into a newer one.

I agree, but a lot of informative discussion takes place along with the urinating. I'm guilty of the occasional troll or snarky comment, but for the most part I try to maintain cerain level of discourse in my posts, and hope that others will get hip to what's expected and what's frowned upon. (not to imply that you were making it personal, hipstertrash.)

The basic problem is that there is no one, or too few people, on Mefi to take on the Muslim defense role; to put in perspective the various citations from the Koran.

I think you're right, but this fact has encouraged me to seek out more objective and nuanced views of Islam on the web and in the news.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:28 PM on February 27, 2002

I would rather err on the side of freedom to be a jerk, than stifling knowledge.

In the end, so would I, which is why I wanted to bring this here for public discussion rather than email Matt privately and ask for some kind of top-down administrative action.

Ideally, when problems like this come up and get discussed in MetaTalk, there is potential for a kind of group brainstorm to occur, hopefully resulting in some consensus. So the question seems to be how to encourage responsibility and discourage "the jerks" with minimal negative consequences vis a vis the free exchange of ideas and information. Any ideas?

posted by hipstertrash at 5:03 PM on February 27, 2002

Paris: The basic problem is that there is no one, or too few people, on Mefi to take on the Muslim defense role; to put in perspective the various citations from the Koran.

Excellent point. It's the nature of the forum. There will always be more people who want to bash certain things then there are those to defend them. I think hipstertrash's comments are valid because he just wants to bring what he sees as a problem to the fore. He's made his point just by posting.

To be totally fair about the issue, I really have no clue regarding the seeming combustible passages because I have never heard them debated informed persons. To some extent, this is, itself, an indictment of the Muslim world

Or, conversely, an indictment of yourself and your world, one that seeks to obscure, defame, and blur rather than enlighten and illuminate. My guess is that it's probably a mixture of the two.

posted by cell divide at 5:12 PM on February 27, 2002

Oh and Paris when I say 'you and your world' I don't mean you personally, I mean anyone who doesn't have mainstream access to the 1/5th of the world who follow Islam.
posted by cell divide at 5:13 PM on February 27, 2002

ParisParamus, I'm pleasantly surprised to hear you acknowledge that there are no strong, informed defenders of Islam here. Although Islam is the big empty spot in my cosmology, I do have the research background to post links to what Muslim and Arab people have to say. I added a bunch of background about Arab opinion polls, Islamic fundamentalism, etc. on the third thread. Frankly, I felt a bit intimidated about posting this material, because most Arab opinions are critical of Zionism, and I really don't want people demanding I be banned from MetaFilter as some kind of horrid anti-Semitic jerk.

I was a little shocked when I posted an Islamic teacher's comments about the "axis of evil" on the front page, and nobody came back with any feedback about whether or not the author has any credibility with other Muslims.

I urge the MeFi folks who may be Israelis under siege in a war zone to bear with those of us who are plain vanilla-and-chocolate gringos, because the only way Americans can play a constructive role in finding solutions is to start getting more tuned in to what the world looks like for Arab and Muslim peoples. This does not mean we are attempting to "drive Israel into the sea." It means it's important for Americans to study up and figure out how to discuss things with Israel's neighbors without making them even more pissed off.
posted by sheauga at 5:26 PM on February 27, 2002

Any ideas?

If it's a worthy complaint, the embarassment of being sent to the principals office(I know that's not what MeTa was intended to be, but let's face it that's what it is) will usually be signal enough that they've picked the wrong place to act like a chimp.
If it isn't the MeFaithful will tell the complainer to lighten up. I've seen both of these things happen and generally the resolution was good.
posted by jonmc at 5:52 PM on February 27, 2002

anapestic: "Religion is, by its nature, outside of the realm of logic."

Unless of course you're Joseph Campbell. Religion is a vital part of human culture. It is an attempt to explain that which one's logic is unable. Unfortunately, tradition occurs which makes it difficult for religion to change along with the growth of wisdom. I personally find people who only worship logic and science equally as annoying as devout religious zealots. The real answers lie in between. Humanity's oldest religions are also mankind's earliest attempts to explain the unknown. Ignoring our past does not help us learn from it.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:36 PM on February 27, 2002

ZachsMind - I agree 100%, but it gets complicated when religion gets discussed in a political context. The threads in question (and most threads dealing with Islam AND Christianity) are not theological/metaphysical debates. Most religion-related FPPs that we've seen lately are blatant or thinly veiled political items, ad hominem statements about a group of people dressed up as a critique/discussion of religious beliefs. Too often "Muslim" means "middle-eastern/arab" and "Christian" means "social conservative." The debates follow suit, adressing issues of faith in the language of politics, or indicting believers and their faith based on actions or statements made in the secular world by people who identify themselves with said faith. If people want to have a serious, informed and respectful debate about various interpretations of passages in the Koran, go for it, knock yourself out. If, however, they want to play the pundit game, taking isolated passages and bending them around to fit their view of Islam as a violent religion by nature, they are simply manipulating the past, which is just as bad as ignoring it.
posted by hipstertrash at 9:06 PM on February 27, 2002

I think what you're referring to HipsterTrash, is that much of the time people speak in absolutes and broad terms when they post to MeFi. They don't put corrolaries and describe exceptions to the rule every time they say "Muslim" or "Christian." Of course not all Muslims think and believe identically, but in order to get his point across, the poster uses the word with the understanding that in general many such and such and so and so's do this or do that. We're required to speak in generalities here in MeFi, because though I've proven with my longwindedness one can type quite a lot and fill up Mathowie's server with text to try and get their point across, but honestly if you want people to listen to you, you have to get your points across in as few words as possible.

I imagine very few people bother to read my little novella posts. Most are more successful in getting their thoughts across than I am, because they're more succinct. However, we lose a lot in that brevity. I often speak in generalities and absolutes by necessity, and still I'm unable to often get my points across in less than five hundred thousand words.

But for Early Mankind, religion was politics. The tribe would look up at their environment and see a dangerous, heartless land; surroundings teeming with predators and chaotic natural pitfalls, and they sought understanding. They would turn to their elders and leaders, who didn't know much more than they did, but they had more experience and they tried to share that experience with younger generations. Some answers the leaders simply didn't have. In some cases they made stuff up. That was only part of it though. Much of it was by experience, but this was before the days of empirical evidence or observation without affecting the results. There's been a lot of trial and error and a lot of dead ends in mankind's search for truth. Bleeding with leeches. Superstitions. Less than a couple centuries ago in many villages the barber of the village doubled as the surgeon. We've come a long way but we still have far to go.

Religion led Man to believe there were four elements that made up everything, earth, air, water and fire. We have since learned that there are a few more elements than that. However the earlier attempts to answer the question what comprises the world were like rough notes: guideposts to remind us how far we've come. Studying the history of mankind's efforts to achieve flight or speed have similar comparisons between what we thought was true and what we learned later. However, if we dismissed everything we've learned in the past it would be like starting completely over.

From thousands of years ago until now, theology, philosophy and religion have grown, but are restricted by their own rules. They need to grow with the knowledge aquired in other ways and incorporate the new knowledge into a better mindset of the unknown, filling the gaps not with blatant lies, but with speculation that takes what we do know and connects it with what we don't know.

Years ago when we started quantum physics and they found that atoms were not the smallest possible particle of matter, so we had to theorize about subatomic particles, and now with super conductor super colliders, we've detected them, and we now know that electrons, neutrons and protons are subatomic particles which are made up of even smaller particles. It's seemingly infinite. Potentially there is no such thing as the smallest particle of matter.

God is infinite. I've yet to hear of any major religion that refers to the creator of the universe as a finite being. I find that coincidence incredibly intriguing.

Yes it's complicated because try as we might, we can't completely dismiss religion from politics. We shouldn't allow the Pope to rule America of course, but religion is so much a part of humanity, to deny it is to deny who and what we are. One of the most profound statements made by the movie Contact based on Carl Sagan's book is that when a scientist dismisses religion out of hand in an attempt to seek truth, that scientist is saying that the opinion of over 90% of the planet's human population is irrelevant.

I agree that individuals are smart but people on the whole are stupid. Still, we can't deny our humanity. It is a part of the answer. It's not an obstacle in the way of the answer.

One area that theology is best at, which no sciences have been able to properly match or excel at, is in the areas of morality. I do agree to some degree that part of what is increasing the violence in worldwide society is either a misunderstanding or a complete dismissal of the tenets of past and present theologies. How we should treat one another is defined in the laws of a society, which are forged from our religious beliefs throughout history: from the Hammurabi Code to The Ark of the Covenant to the Constitution; Religion and Politics have been and to one degree or another should be forever linked in regards to both the written and unwritten laws regarding how we human beings should interact.

If we dismiss religion because we believe it's wrong in some areas, we dismiss the areas in which religion does make sense. We lose everything. We start all over, and that way leads to chaos. We should forever challenge those tenets in order to check and doublecheck our own findings as we go along, but to dismiss it all because we learn parts of it are incorrect, we can't afford to do that.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:47 PM on February 27, 2002

I imagine very few people bother to read my little novella posts.

ZachsMind: I imagine you're wrong. They may look long but they don't feel long. A bit like reading, actually. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:45 AM on February 28, 2002

A lot of the posts that might be described as "Islam-bashing" aren't really about religion per se at all, are more likely to be part of a construction of an Other, a Natural Enemy, much as the USSR was the Natural Enemy for the fifty or so years following the Second World War. The attempts to represent Islam and Muslims as brutal, backward or fascistic can be seen as part of a process of dehumanization. It has nothing to do with the Koran or, indeed, the broader scope of Islam in history. Identifying examples of brutality, backwardness or fascistic behaviour is not the same as demonstrating that those qualities arise naturally from Islam.

But as the Falklands War (mentioned here in the last few days) demonstrates, acts of war actually make people feel pretty good about themselves as long as our side wins and as long as the other side aren't the same kind of human being as us, and that's a guilty truth.

The Sun newspaper (classic Murdoch journalism) famously ran a headline "Gotcha!" when an Argentine battleship was sunk, at least on one edition (I think it was quickly replaced). But it did sum up the mood of the country. A highly trained, well-armed NATO army, which thanks to the Northern Ireland problem and local difficulties in the dwindling Empire had seen active service every year since 1945, up against a bunch of bewildered conscripts. I'm not sure that they stood much of a chance. Nevertheless, if one didn't feel joy at the deaths of thousands of those conscripts then one was to be considered a traitor, and because we'd done all that, suddenly it was OK to feel good about ourselves. An ugly, ugly time. And not dissimilar to what I've seen crop up here sporadically since September.

Similarly, when someone mentioned that only sick people would take pleasure at the deaths of other human beings (a reference to cheering at the WTC atrocity), I was reminded of those press conferences during the Gulf War, the oohs and aahs at the cleverness of our weapons at seeking out nooks and crannies with which to penetrate their defenses. That was joy at the deaths of other human beings, too. That's how it works. The charred corpses that littered the Basra Highway were once human beings, caught in the act of running away. I'm sure their annihilation made military sense, would not question that for a minute. Bombs are expensive things and the military are not going to waste them on fripperies. I accept that those dead people may well have caused a lot of unpleasantness. But their destruction was a Bad Thing, however necessary.

The dehumanisation process is taking place everywhere, of course, is there in the representation of the U.S. as The Great Satan, and for similar reasons - the myth of The Great Satan unifies a people (the other upside of war is that it tends to bring people together) and focuses them on an almost mythological external evil rather than allowing them to question why their own day-to-day lives are less than ecstatic.

And when the response to reports of celebration around the world at the sight of WTC is Why Do They Hate Us?, I wonder whether perhaps a point is being missed. The true question ought to be Why Do They Consider Us Their Enemy? which is actually quite different. What puts us in that box which means that they can legitimately (in their own minds) celebrate our deaths.

After all, if "We" are to be good, then "They" have to be evil. The same process is an important factor in the Drugs War - it's very useful to relatively conservative governments such as that in the US or the UK to be able to scare their population with the notion of the Drugs Menace, an Enemy Within.

I really ought to stick to snarky one-liners, otherwise I tend to Capitalise Every Significant Word. *sigh*


If the process is "natural" that doesn't mean that it isn't one to be avoided, if only for practical reasons. An Irish friend of mine was recently talking about flying into New York in October last year.

"God," she said, "they really have a lot to learn about heavy security, compared to Heathrown in the early 90s it was a doddle."

After all, she'd travelled a lot between the Republic and the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, when the presumption was that an Irish traveller was a possible, nay probable terrorist. And it was heavy, and contemptuous and very much relied on "racial profiling". And my friend and the numerous other Irish friends that I have and had were and are roundly condemnatory of the terrorist atrocities that were occurring then. But no matter how much they might be opposed to the actions of the IRA and its ilk, their treatment under the "racial profiling" of the Prevention of Terrorism Act only served to prove the Republicans' central contention: that the British State was their enemy. I accept that as well, however much I loathe the organisations involved.

So the British Government were going out of their way to demonstrate that a central plank of the Irish republican argument was correct. How can that be other than counterproductive?

Every time the peoples of the Middle East and the 'stans are objectified, stereotyped, belittled, dehumanised, it makes the job of people like Bin Laden or Gadaffi or Saddam or whoever it will be next year easier. It's not really any skin off my nose either way, but I find more and more commentary about this subject less and less easy to take seriously, simply because it's just playing out that game.

(that's me all writed out for the next six months, a blessed relief for us all)
posted by Grangousier at 3:57 AM on February 28, 2002

This thread is becoming readers' heaven. Grangousier's distinction between hate an enmity is a good one, as it illustrates how easy it is for us to define people simplistically so that we can lump them together, the better to oppose them. The problem is - as well brought out in his post - that you end up hating or opposing(even if you're able to make that distinction)an abstraction.

Sure, it's convenient - but it's also stupid. Thanks for that. I certainly felt touché when I automatically identified with the stereotyping shortcuts you so ably decried.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2002

Thanks for the excellent description of the process of "dehumanization of the other." It's difficult to explain concepts like this in a three-short-paragraphs format. Now, when a thread starts to degenerate into bashing some group of people, we have the option of linking to your comment instead of attempting to explain the entire thing from scratch.
posted by sheauga at 8:46 AM on February 28, 2002

Now this thread is far more interesting than any of those front page posts :) Theological discussions are nice, but none of those was - it was more like 'look, your way of thinking is crap', 'no, yours is'..

The basic problem is that there is no one, or too few people, on Mefi to take on the Muslim defense role; to put in perspective the various citations from the Koran.

I've not had a chance to drop in here over the last few months due to work, but I will be now things have cleared up.. I've been all around the Middle East, and have a good knowledge of the Qu'ran (being a muslim n all) - if anyone has any questions about Islam, just mail me and I'll do my best to answer them - a MetaFilter only service :)

Novellas are cool btw..
posted by Mossy at 10:22 AM on February 28, 2002

Word to this thread being better than any of the three that prompted it. My roommate is Muslim, and it rather sickens me to hear MeFites talk about Muslims in terms of "them," condemning "their" ideas and culture as dangerous. This thread makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing. I'm engaged. Thanks especially to hipstertrash, Grangousier and ZachsMind. Is MeTa the new MeFi?? :) (I'm just kidding; I'm not letting that cat out of the bag).
posted by grrarrgh00 at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2002

The comments from Zach and Grangousier and others are why MetaTalk is my #1 bookmark and MetaFilter is #2. This is the river from which reasoned discussion flows these days, and I agree with sheauga that when threads start degenerating into group bashing, a link to Grangousiers' post couldn't hurt.
posted by Mack Twain at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2002

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