News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: What Makes THEM Different?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What Makes THEM Different?

Today's news include the story of airplane passengers who refused to allow a plane to take off because two "Arab-looking" men were making them feel uncomfortable.

As is true with most over-generalizations and stereotypes, ethnic profiling misses the significant differences between people. This hardens perceptions that "they" are so evil and different, working en masse for despicable ends, that they are inherently irrational and beyond dialog or discussion. ...

According to News reports:

Mrs Schofield, 38, said: "The plane was not yet full and it became apparent that people were refusing to board. In the gate waiting area, people had been talking about these two, who looked really suspicious with their heavy clothing, scruffy, rough, appearance and long hair.

"Some of the older children, who had seen the terror alert on television, were starting to mutter things like, 'Those two look like they're bombers.'

"Then a family stood up and walked off the aircraft. They were joined by others, about eight in all. We learned later that six or seven people had refused to get on the plane.

"There was no fuss or panic. People just calmly and quietly got off the plane. There were no racist taunts or any remarks directed at the men.

"It was an eerie scene, very quiet. The children were starting to ask what was going on. We tried to play it down."
If this "mutiny" were not so insidious in its display of racism becoming normality, it might seem funny. The idea that grown-ups could allow themselves to teach their children to fear their worst fears, not even trying to inculcate the virtue of courage, says much about the hysteria whose unhealthy consequences will undermine any pretension to public virtue that neocons or others extol.

This racial profiling and its associated hysteria work on several levels, the most pernicious of which these days is that the moderates will be lumped with the extremists and the hatred that the latter express and act on will be ascribed to the former.

Eminent Islamic scholar, John Esposito, provides a sobering look at what many extremists and moderates believe. What's interesting in Espositio's view is that the extremists are indeed "rational" actors, and the sooner we understand that and critically engage their views the sooner terrorism will disappear.

Esposito writes:
Focusing on the attitudes of those with radical views and comparing them with the moderate majority results in surprising findings. When asked what they admired most about the West, both extremists and moderates had the identical top three spontaneous responses: (1) technology; (2) the West’s value system, hard work, self-responsibility, rule of law, and cooperation; and (3) its fair political systems, democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of speech, and gender equality. A significantly higher percent of potential extremists than moderates (50 percent versus 35 percent) believe that “moving towards greater governmental democracy” will foster progress in the Arab/Muslim world. Potential extremists believe even more strongly than moderates (58 percent versus 45 percent) that Arab/Muslim nations are eager to have better relations with the West. Finally, no significant difference exists between the percentage of potential extremists and moderates who said “better relations with the West concerns me a lot.”
In defining courage, Aritotle tends to agree with Plato/Socrates when they define courage as knowing what to fear and what not to fear. This knowledge is supposed to result from practical experience, theoretical understanding, as well as behavioral conditioning.

It is somewhat ironic that the neocons, who wish to teach the classical virtues by creating conditions in which a military ethos can arise, resort to such fear-mongering. Of course, having chosen to put their capital behind a president whose renown for the virtue of courage is at best shrouded in ambiguity, says much about the hollowness and deception of their programme.

[Xposted in pieces at Unclaimed Territory's comments section]

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