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By Robert Babstock, English Teacher
I guess when I wrote “religious hatred is wicked” my critics could see right through to the seething “Islamophobia” that must have been there somewhere. . How talented one must be to push away a universal olive branch in what seemed to be a very one-sided portrayal of the abiding fact of “Islamophobia”. Maybe purveyors of this neologism refuse to concede how godless indeed are the masses everywhere. Maybe people are tired of hearing about religion in conjunction with violence. Racist massacre in church. Genocidal newlyweds stormtrooping a Xmas party at a Rehab Center in San Bernadoo! Don’t we all have legitimate concerns at an immigration system that lets some through with every conceivable theocratic red flag? Properly vetted, Tashfin Malik would had to enjoy connubial bliss elsewhere. Sucks for elsewhere, but many would be happy if our immigration process was much more vigilant in her case.
What if you think reilgion crowds out too many other civic considerations? What if you’re one of those live and let live boors from Queens who doesn’t care much at all about or for religion? What happens if you’re idea of a civic/religious controversy is a non-starter even for close friends and neighbors? Even co-religionists? Unlike my doctrinaire critics, I don’t have the comfort of belief. I don’t have the luxury of a lexicon that tells me how to think: “assured of certain certainties” as the poet says. My favorite philosopher, a Spaniard, professed an outlook called “holy uncertainty”. In these days of dead certainties, that philosopher might as well be Don Quixote.
If you can fog a mirror while reading this you’re probably aware that brave Muslims defend our nation and streets, that brave Muslim women and men are helping us enjoy what leverage we have in our civilizational conflict with medieval theocracy. You’re aware brave Muslims take the fight to our fanatical enemies in The Middle East, that good Samaritan Muslims protect lives of religious minorities from those who espouse a hate filled genocidal version of their religion. I come from a NY Fireman’s family and know more than I want to know about religious fanaticism. But I can also say, without a doubt, that the late Ahmed Mehrabet, the Parisian police officer who died defending the offices of Charlie Hebdo, is a great martyr to Western Culture and a hero. He’s done more to defend Western Culture than any and all of the “activists” protesting and teaching at our hotbeds of activism schools of higher ed. Our country is full of war heroes from Muslim backgrounds. Why do you think they aren’t well known?
I know I work in a good school full of great kids or else I wouldn’t have received such forceful and thoughtful rejoinders to what seemed to me to be the most harmless of observations about two poetry readings I attended in less than a month. I have to assume these replies were composed in the same spirit of communal good will with which I slapped and dashed together my own glorified memo. But even the best good will in the world would probably scratch its head in wonder at the intemperate and extreme replies my mild observations elicited. I must have really lost my head when I used the rabid, loaded term “legitimate concerns” in conjunction with recent attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. You would think I showed indifference or scorn to the victims of these vile attacks and tried to exploit their memories with narcissistic sidebars about my inflated sense of my own group, cultural identity. But no, all I tried to do was a float a slight demurral in the face of an overwhelming consensus that “Islamophobia” not only exists, but that it’s a pernicious, unyielding scientific fact – this in a school culture that always self congratulates on the topic of diversity. In an issue ostensibly dedicated to one of the great public questions of our time there is only uniformity of opinion on the existence of “Islamophobia” and that the sufferers of this cruel, scientifically diagnosed disorder are of much greater newsworthiness than fundamentalists and the innocent blood they shed. No diversity of opinion at all on the topic at hand, “Islamophobia”, but plenty of ad-hominem attack on my character and my motives for attempting to speak from individual reason and not from a script foisted on the adherents of grievance group think or religious orthodoxy. As opposed to the way my words were treated, I hope this response indicates that I actually tried to pay heed to the writer’s words rather than creating an easy-to-dismiss strawman. One wonders at diversity of opinion among Classic staffers. It’s kind of hard to believe that on a school newspaper (of all public institutions!) there are no first amendment absolutists! One would expect tributes to the gracious and intrepid James Foley from aspiring journalists or effusive tributes by self described“activists” to the saintly Kayla Muller. But no: all I hear is the noisy self regard of false victimhood.
First, I will address the words of Rafa Sattar. Her headline reads “My Voice has been distorted.” This is news to me since I didn’t address her work. I didn’t see her work in The Classic issue portentously entitled “The Faces of Fear” until long after I sent in my piece to the editor. Rafa thinks that the great writer and educator I suggested these aspiring journalists read is somehow advocating for her treatment as one of our country’s “second-rate citizens (sorry, Rafa, the cliché is “second-class” citizen)”. But I’m sure Rafa went to the bother of reading Mr. Hanson’s fact based think piece, and many others by the same author to arrive at her dismissive conclusion. The phrase that most draws the ire of Rafa is “legitimate concerns”, a phrase she misconstrued to put the most false of constructs on this most measured and tolerant of word choices. Mr. Hanson was almost certainly referring to a lax immigration system and the vicious infiltrators who exploit it. This writer did not respond to my words, but felt empowered to cherrypick out of context a mere phrase from a writer I recommended. I truly believe that if this fine young person, who clearly thirsts for justice, spent a bit more time with Hanson’s fact based polemical finesse, she will become a cogent writer. Rather than meditate at length on what she perceives to be her multifarious cultural identity, perhaps she can gather facts about what most of us can agree is reality with three dimensions and perhaps serve the readers thusly. Aren’t there hate crime laws on the books and lots of people from lots of groups who feel more sinned against than sinning in America? I have said things that can be construed as disparaging in the last few months about The German Empire, The Nazi Empire and The Japanese Empire in classrooms. I haven’t heard word one about Teutonophobia, National Socialistphobia or Greater East Asian Co-ProsperitySpherephobia. If I revealed my long held Muslim beliefs tomorrow or converted today, what response would I get? A chorus of yawns and a chorus line of shrugs. This is Queens 2016, not Birmingham 1955.
Sarah A’idah Defillipo is the first of two respondents who use the word “crusade” just to let me know how they think of outlooks unscanctioned by at least one revealed religion. If Sara confuses me with a “crusader” she should just come out and say it. Besides, that’s not really my medieval identity avatar. My real name is Suleman. Not the magnificent alas. Just Suleman from around the way .When one hears endearing medievalisms these days it usually comes from religious fanatics . Why did two writers decide to use this word in castigating my right to speak/think? Certainly, The Crusades are a front burner problem as we speak and mindful must we all be of a crude recrudescence of that time. Sarah’s take on things is a real sustained piece of anti-American visionary poetry. I love the “threat that our blood may flow into the rivers of milk and honey” right after the paragraph about “winner take all capitalism”. With her visionary poetry Sarah bids fair to be her generation’s Jim Morrison. With her recourse to the unlovely diction of “theory” and “Identity politics” we are much less hopeful. Such sentences as “our pursuance of deconstructing Islamophobia is not a dismissal of your fears”-such sentences confirm my worst fears (I should say “legitimate concerns”)-about line editing and other such quaint archaisms.
One of the problems of fact free opinion journalism is that it tends so often to be corrupt. Stray away from the ancient mission of the fourth estate and you stray into prophecy and lunatic prognostication. In the case of the writer in question, there are helpful offers of scholarship. For instance, I’m told which verses in The Koran might make non-Muslims wonder about the ecumenicism of the religion. But along with the scholarship gratis, the reader is told how to interpret said passage. Scholarship and interpretation one stop shopping. The headline for her piece modestly claimed “If everyone knew what Islam really was, there would be no Islamophobia.” Sara had me there because I don’t believe in the unassailable fact of “Islamophobia”. One knows going into this piece that Islam doesn’t have a unitary voice or leader, that in point of fact, Islam has different branches and sects. In my time I’ve made pitstops at the discrete beliefs of The Bahai and Sufi cultures. As an American, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and The Nation of Islam have always inspired friendly curiosity. One wonders at the presumption to speak for Islam! If one wanted to discuss those who hate Muslims enough to kill them, search no farther than Mecca and Teheran. Those two poles of religious legitimacy have transformed Muslim intermarriage and tolerance into vile supremacist hatred. How are China and Russia doing on minority religious right s for their growing Muslim populations?
I think we need to pause for a second here to explain the huge gulf that separates free range dodos like myself from my openminded opponents. So far as I can figure it’s a difference in sensibility. The pet words and phrases my various critics draw on are the shriveled linguistic fruits of identity politics. I’m old and I have a long history of mocking or ignoring the ossified Stalinism and creepy linguistic bossiness of cultural leftist/identity politics .One of the main reasons, is that the language itself is politicized, bureaucratic and dead on arrival. Ever since this dead poet’s society has made its presence felt in colleges and college feeder schools like our own, the language and the precepts of identity politics have resulted in petty censorship and a hatred of deductive thinking and traditional learning. Guys, in case you’re not paying attention, there’s a big world out there and there is a crisis of confidence in the humanities dimension of higher learning. The main reason is that it is viewed as the dullest leftist indoctrination and seems to assert itself most in History and Literature classes. The class tries to prove that Western Culture is inherently sexist/racist/insensitive/ (you fill in the blank) by cherrypicking facts that support a narrative of grievance/victimhood. You will understand then why I favor Sara’s poetry over the verbal slobber of cultural leftists. The greatest man I ever met on The Queens College campus was an exiled Russian poet, who told me, along with other sage sayings, “never ever think of yourself as a victim.” I have no idea why the writers have cultivated such animus for one of the most innocuous of our social conventions, the melting pot. Maybe if they lived in it, they wouldn’t hate it so much. If I were to accept them at their word, I would have to reconsider “the melting pot” as Satan’s own steaming chamber pot. I guess that’s the way all purists feel about the fallen and impure.
I know the two thinkers who put their names to the command (ah the imperative comes so easily to our future language regulators!) “Don’t use LGBT youth as a way to justify Islamophobia” I have met them under different writerly circumstances but always responding to or creating literature. The self, or selves, that seemed securely immune to clichés when I graded their papers, has arrogated itself the airs of a Grand Inquisitor in second guessing my attendance at two poetry readings and drawing on individual reason to think about my experience. For instance, they write “it’s easy to think that there are molds that everyone fits into, a Muslim mold with a hijab and a gay mold with an ever present rainbow.” What they describe might be a whole lot of things, but it ain’t thought. What are scattered across the page is the scary evidence of what happens when you outsource your thinking to a higher dumber authority that hates free speech. ”Scapegoating Islam in this ‘crusade’ for tolerance of LGBT youth while simultaneously being intolerant of Islam, earns one, to a superlative (sic!) degree, the label ‘Islamophobe,’ the same label that is trying to be disproved”. What a feisty little label. Fighting its darnedest. The writers proceed as though they had formulated a slam dunk response. Anyone slightly familiar with rhetoric would see this second hand phrasing as a non-sequitur. Gore Vidal, a much greater writer and thinker than any of the conformists rallying under the identity politics banner, had more same sex partners than could ever be conceived in the philosophy of grinder. He was there when various likers of same sex partners were discussing, in politically heated meetings, what they should call each other and how “the majority” should refer to them. He dismissed it as a “mania for labelling.” At the end of their piece my doctrinaire detractors perform the usual virtue signaling by insisting that they defend those “who don’t have a voice.” Might I say the same about the writers themselves.
Though accusatory, self righteous and self pitying, my opponents can easily lay down anti-democratic law. They don’t like state laws and that some states have different laws than we do. How’s that for embracing diversity? They would deny Mr. Hanson his right to free speech (saturated with fact) and my right to recommend his truly informed and wise writings. In a hysterical and poorly written passage they reprove me (what better way is there to dialogue with opponents then to tell them that their thoughts aren’t worth the effort?) for suggesting Mr. Hanson’s piece as a “xenophobic article in a school full of immigrants” as though that censorious sanctimony was all the more reason to light their bonfire of the humanities. Mr. Hanson comes from that strange foreign country where free speech flourishes and public polemic draws its strength from sober attention to stubborn fact. That country is full of immigrants who came here precisely for freedom of speech and association. Our fact free editorialists trash his right to exist in print by quoting him.”The more a Muslim youth enjoys casual hookups…….” With their love of controversy and antipathy to fact, they don’t realize for a second that Mr. Hanson has described the hedonist penitent m.o. for one way pilot Mohammad Atta and the brothers Tsarnaev of Boston Marathon infamy. Come to think of it, that penitent-voluptuary dynamic probably goes a long way towards describing those idealist thousands of young people who abandoned the relative comforts of the West to perform community service for ISIS recently.
I would encourage the writers of the last piece to reconsider the impulses that culminated in their hectoring tone. I had no idea the GSA reading was a political rally. I have a long history of liking gay writers. That’s why I went to the reading. I went to The Mideast reading because I have happy memories of reading Badr Shakkir Al Sayyab as a teen. As writers, who in some sense believe what they’re saying about overlooked voices, why are you so fast to excommunicate, apostasize or full on dismiss those who don’t share your perspective? Do you really want to go on record as a censor? Try, also, to discipline your writing. I had no idea of “the corporatization of The LGBT struggle.” It was not germane to anything I said or suggested. It sounds rather like someone’s favorite “indie” performer is in mortal danger of ”selling out”.
We all wonder at this strange marriage of convenience between the anti-free speech left and religious zealots- who we might associate with the right. But why wonder at marriages of convenience? Extremes meet. Neither far left nor right care much for free speech. They think free speech is best savored in echo chambers. One’s an echo chamber of theocracy and the other of ideology. Both extremes can vouch for the invisible that eludes our pathetic fact based five senses. One can vouch for the presence of God and the other can spot “micro-aggressions” that only they can see, hear, taste, touch, smell and imagine. If the tenor of the remarks I heard in these critiques is any indication, The First Amendment has a dire future.
I also see that there is an angry letter on the electronic version of The Classic about my incorrect will to someone else’s heaven. I’m browbeaten for my poor attitude to Muslim majority countries – a ludicrous charge based on febrile imagination. The writer certainly doesn’t respond to anything I wrote. I can accept that “with technology as advanced as it is today” that said countries have high tech amenities. Unfortunately, I think Saudi Arabia is light years ahead of us a superconductor for the superhateful Wahabbist and Salafist branches of something or the other. They have devoted more of their national treasure to this project than anything disorganized Americans have conjured as a response. I’m berated for my inexperience vis a vis Muslim majority nations. I will visit them. I hope the person who enlightens my ignorance sojourns at his leisure through the mongrel lands that spawn the likes of myself. Why did a respected, talented young gay poet decide to relocate from Iran to Israel only recently? Probably didn’t know what was good for him. But I’m going to be part of the solution. With my large circle of LGB T friends and family, I’ve already booked a dream come true Gulf Package Tour. I can envision it now. We’ll be greeted by a huge welcome committee at the airport. Lots of helium balloons. Then we’ll be personally conducted to the nearest luxury high rise where we’ll be shone to our rooms. After a chance to freshen up, we’ll be invited to the greatest rooftop party ever, dj included. I’m sure that I and my LGBT circle will make a big splash. sandwich
Hey, lovers of acronym and self fancying SJWs, it’s time to lighten up for prom season. You will notice that the prom queen in Fontana , a town just outside San Bernadoo, has a hijab wearing Muslim prom queen , Isla. But then again they hold blood feuds and Islamophobic grudges for generations in the high desert of California.