Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Thought Experiment--The Islamic "Narrative" and the American "Narrative"

Op-Ed Columnist Thomas Friedman's editorial in today's New York Times , "America vs. The Narrative", sparked this thought:

If the Islamic world has a fantasy "narrative" about America and our intentions, don't we ourselves --- those within the American religious right --- have a similarly misinformed "narrative"?

Here's my thought experiment: Read Friedman's original, posted below for your convenience, then read my Americanized version which follows. All I've done is change a few names and issues and you'll get the point.

We have our own religious/political myths and they are no less dangerous...

Here's the Friedman original:

What should we make of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?

Here’s my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”

What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.

Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders.

The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.

It’s working. As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: “This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf.”

This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people’s grievances over why their countries are falling behind. And it suits Al Qaeda, which doesn’t need much organization anymore — just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated Muslim males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Major Hasan.

“Liberal Arabs like me are as angry as a terrorist and as determined to change the status quo,” said my Jordanian friend. The only difference “is that while we choose education, knowledge and success to bring about change, a terrorist, having bought into the narrative, has a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which are inculcated in us from childhood, that lead him to believe that there is only one way, and that is violence.”

What should we make of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?What to do? Many Arab Muslims know that what ails their societies is more than the West, and that The Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves. But none of their leaders dare or care to open that discussion. In his Cairo speech last June, President Obama effectively built a connection with the Muslim mainstream. Maybe he could spark the debate by asking that same audience this question:

“Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves.”

Here is my imaginary fictionalized version of Friedman's piece, changed to fit another myth from our very own far right religious fanatic fringe:

What should we make of Richard Poplawski, 23, who met 3 Pittsburgh officers at his doorway and shot two of them in the head? An officer who tried to help the two also was killed. The gunman was wearing a bulletproof vest and "lying in wait" opened fire on officers responding to a fake domestic disturbance call, killing three of them and turning a quiet Pittsburgh street into a battlefield, police said.

Friends said the gunman recently had been upset about the "fact" that he believed that the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.

Here’s my take: Richard Poplawski may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for the Tea Bag movement, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why Health Care reform is a War on American values,” and about his contacts with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin,— the more it seems that Richard Poplawski was just another angry Religious right jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”

What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the evangelical-far right world since 9/11. Propagated by evangelical and far right Web sites, preachers, neoconservative intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some senators, governors and congressmen — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Christian values, as part of a grand “American-Progressive-Democratic conspiracy” to keep Christians down.

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. domestic policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Christians or trying to help free them from want — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Christians down is thriving.

Although most of the Christians with no health care being killed today by lack of insurance are being killed by other Christians working for the insurance lobby, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Evangelicals is the real story, and the Christians are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.

Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Evangelical world after Roe v. Wade, partly to send a message of tolerance, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — patriarchy and the abuse of women — and to work with ordinary Americans to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every late term abortion, our federal government perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Americans and evangelicals a better chance to succeed with modernity .

The Narrative was concocted by right wing fundamentalists in cahoots with ideology-driven neoconservatives to obscure that.

It’s working. As a Congressman, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: “This narrative is now omnipresent in American and Evangelical communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the Democrats, and right now mostly the U.S. government, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Christians. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are far right Rupert Murdoch owned.”

This narrative suits evangelical leaders and Republicans in Congress. It allows them to deflect onto the Democrats all of their people’s grievances over why their communities are falling behind. And it suits Sarah Palin, who doesn’t need much organization anymore — just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated fundamentalist/right wing uneducated white males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Richard Poplawski, Scott Roeder, James von Brunn.

Many American evangelicals know that what ails their societies is more than the Democrats, and that The Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves.

11 comments:

hmallon said...

This is great...I don't agree with Friedman, but you made your point masterfully. My challenge is to discuss these issues with my pro-Palin relatives in a winsome and reasoned way. If I showed any of them this post, they'd simply shut down. Stridency of language gives people a chance to shut down, and in a way you can't blame them because they feel they're being screamed at. What's the point of being a polemicist? (This is a serious question.) Aren't you just preaching to the choir...or, in this case, the ex-choir?

Susan said...

The current Islamic narrative includes a great deal of antisemitism according to every poll I've read about. However, the type of antisemitism that now permeates the Muslim and Arab world did not originate in Islam. It comes from Western Christian Europe. It includes blood libels, conspriracy theories involving Jews and/or Zionist. It has antisemitic fantasies of Jewish and/or Zionist influence. They tend to think that Jews control America. It ties up very neatly with an anti-American narrative. It also includes Holocast denial which is rampant in the Arab and Muslim world. I say Arab and Muslim world because I have heard Arab Christians using the same antisemitic sterotypes.

I don't think this is inevitable. There were periods when Jews and Muslims coexisted together and did not face the persecution they faced in Christian Europe. If it happened in the past, it can happen in the future.

George said...

I mostly agree with all of this but I'm one of those lone, isolated, progressive Christians who still is very uncomfortable with Roe v Wade. I'm not sure what you're trying to say about abortion. Forgive me, but I don't view it as an act of tolerance.

Anonymous said...

Frank - its writing like yours that is part of the American narrative that you say you dispise but in fact you are helping it to thrive.

What would Jesus do? Would He attack a group of people on the wrong track or would He show them the right track byliving a holy life of love and right example?

Frank, you are no peacemaker. You are a war-monger. Also, to compare any American political pursuasion to the Islamic jihadist movement is just plain wrong since there isn't a shred of evidence to support your posit.

You Frank, are more paranoid than most, and you are working on your own "American Narrative". What laws are you going to try to pass in order to lock out those whom you disagree with? Hmmm?

Anonymous said...

Yo, Friedman,

How about this narrative? Does America know about it?

The Anglo-American-Wahabi Alliance

http://www.aliraqi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=88774

Or this one here?

Sanctions, Genocide, and War Crimes

http://www.aliraqi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=59548

Hmm?

What sez u?

Want more?

cstroop said...

I couldn't disagree more with the anonymous poster above who attacks you as a war monger, Frank. You are absolutely right to speak out against the religious right and its dangerous authoritarian ethos. I went to a highly politicized, ideologically driven (mostly) Protestant parochial school. Ultimately, the inculcation didn't take, but rejecting the religious right ideological position that I was supposed to occupy has been a very long, painful process. Discovering your books and your political commentary has been really beneficial for me. I cannot fathom how the positions of the religious right on issues such as health care and economic policy can be in any sense construed as 'Christian.' I'm no evangelical these days, but I would love to believe that American evangelicalism could eventually transcend its ugly far-right politicized 'Christianity' and its obscurantism. Every once in a while I come across something that gives me hope--for example, this positive book review of Jeff Sharlet's _The Family_ by a Baptist pastor (something I never would have expected): http://amicusdei.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/book-review-the-family-by-jeff-sharlet/

This post was brilliant--keep fighting the good fight!

Anonymous said...

CSTROOP - Apparently you missed out on the highly politicized political correctness shoved down the throat of every public school child from preschool through university. No, you won't have to heal from that, but most people who didn't have the benefit of a private school education like you will have to deal with their childhood scars inflicted by the left. Just a few weeks ago a 6 year old was EXPELLED by the ultra heavy-handed authoritarian gate-keepers of "tolerance" because he made the mistake of bringing his swiss army knife to school.

The left has ALWAYS been more dangerous - and factually so. They conveniently forget about all the REAL bomb throwing by the leftists of the 60's (some of Obama's best friends). The Left has demonstrably proved is volitility over and over again in real acts of violence leading to real deaths. The lastest when the college
students a couple of weeks ago violently clashed with police over tuition hikes. While Frankie was ranting about the tea parties potential to, in his opinion, become violent, he ignored the actual violence occuring at Berzerkly, (because liberals are never violent)

The religious right doesn't take a postion on health care. It takes a postion on abortion as part of the health care package. It is a moral dilemma for Christians who don't want to pay for what they regard as murdering innocent children through their taxes and that is also economic policy.

I'm no liberal but I would love to believe that American liberalism could eventually transcend its ugly far-left politicized anti-Christianity and elitism. So far I haven't seen even a glimmer of hope of that!

cstroop said...

Well, if no one should ever have to pay taxes for things they find morally objectionable, then I want my tax money that funded the Iraq War--sold through phony, trumped up intelligence--back. After the Stupak amendement especially, can you honestly claim you're against health care reform because it might involve funding abortions? It's actually about to make abortion more restrictive, not less. I am an abortion gray who considers every abortion a tragedy, but it's one that has nothing to do with our tragic health care system, because of which tens of thousands of Americans die each year because they can't get insurance. Our system is morally pernicious through and through. About the rest of it--well, you're clearly caught up in "the narrative," and there's really no sense in trying to argue with an ideologue still recycling the "palling around with terrorists" line if in slightly modified form. As if there were no right-wing violence in America. Why don't you consider the many recent examples of that, some of which have been discussed in this blog? You can bash me and Frank Schaeffer all you want, but I'm not going to reply to you again in this thread. There's no point. But at least I'm brave enough to oppose you without anonymity.

Anonymous said...

You could lobby congress to get your money back regarding the war if that is the way you feel. The pro-life lobby has patiently petitioned congress and the courts for years. I wouldn't call you an idealogue if that was really a moral dilemma for you. IMHO it isn't the equivalent at all since on the one hand we are talking about children who have no choice compared to soldiers who do have a choice.

What recent examples? Remember, we are talking about organized Christian right wing violence, that is what Frankie is warning everybody about. There are always going to be loose canons on both sides. So please be specific.

As far as the the insurance problem, why do liberals make it such an issue that abortion HAS to be included. Women aren't dying for lack of abortions.

As far as your non-anonymity, if you posted your full name, which you haven't, you'd still be anonymous to me and so your point is?

An idealogue is not somebody who has a different opinion. Maybe you need a dictionary.

I'm not bashing anybody, this isn't my blog, it's Frankie's and he is the one doing the bashing, your agreeing and I'm defending. Frank is free to stop bashing at any time and when he does there will be no need to defend or refute, now will there?

Anonymous said...

BTW, I do consider it "palling around with terrorists" when somebody writes a book and it is endorsed by a terrorist. The fact is that particular terrorist got away with real, (not made up by Frank) organized American terror and only wished, his own words, that they had done more bombing. That he happens to be a close colleague, if not personal friend, of President Obama should matter to people. That it doesn't matter to people like you and Frank shows that you are both, well, ideologues.

David said...

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