Sunday, October 26, 2008

McCain - "I hate the gooks"

I stated in an earlier post about race in the US Presidential campaign that although the Right was guilty of fomenting anti-black, anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner sentiments, I did not believe John McCain himself was racist. He has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter, for example.
Well, I stand corrected. McCain apparently commented to a reporter on the campaign trail in 2000 that "I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." You can read more about that here.

I know McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and suffered torture at their hands, but really, if that quote is correct, is this the sort of attitude we want from a leader of the free world?

Blasphemy? Jeez, take a chill pill.

In "for f#@*'s sake" news this week, several cases of alleged blasphemy against Islam are causing headlines around the world.

First, Sony has delayed the release of its much anticipated new video game "Little Big Planet", in order to remove a piece of background music that some deemed to be offensive to Muslims. The music in question is Malian kora player Toumani Diabate's song "Tapha Niang", which includes a sung quote from the Qur'an.
A Muslim gamer playing an an advance copy of the game alerted the company to this and asked that it be removed. Some Muslims consider that the sacred texts of the Qu'ran should never be combined with music. Wishing to avoid controversy and surely thinking of their bottom line, Sony duly had the piece of music removed.
Now I have little interest in gaming so probably shouldnt care at all about this, but this whole issue is just a load of crap. I'm all for allowing for ethnic and religious sensitivities to a point, but it's got to stop somewhere. People are waaaayyyy too sensitive about stuff these days, religious people in particular, and plenty of Muslims seem to portray themselves as the most easily offended people on earth.
I would understand the consternation if it were a song cursing out the Prophet Muhammad's mother or something, but I mean, c'mon people, think about it. Referencing a couple of passages from the Qur'an to some beautiful West African music - that sounds more like a good advertisement for Islam, rather than an affront to it, in the same way that black gospel music is a great marketing tool for Christianity. Diabate himself is a devout Muslim who says that far from being blasphemous, his song celebrates Islam. I'm with him.

You can click below to listen to the song. If you are so fragile of sensibility that you going to get offended, DON'T LISTEN TO IT!

I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of Muslims could not give a damn about the musical background of the game. On the other side are those people who just love to get offended about things, and who seize on the most unimportant details and work themselves into a lather of indignation. This is hardly restricted to Muslims; others can see sexism, racism and indefinite other kinds of -isms in places where they don't exist. Some things in life are genuinely offensive, and it's valid to place restrictions on them. But some among us just need slightly thicker skin and a sense of humour. There is a certain point where if you are offended by something, that's kinda your problem.

But the Sony case is a minor thing really. In Afghanistan this week we saw a much more serious example of the ridiculousness of religious insensitivity and the concept of blasphemy.

In the Christian world, the idea of blasphemy has become antiquated and almost irrelevant, which is how it should be, really. There are few of us who don't exclaim, "Damn", "Jesus", or "Bloody hell" now and then. (It's hard to imagine sex without anyone ever saying "Oh my God!") No one really cares about these utterances. In the hardcore Islamic mindset, however, blasphemy is punishable by death.

So within a week we have seen British aid worker Gayle Williams murdered in Kabul by two gunmen, with a Taliban spokesman justifying the action because she worked for an agency he alleged to be preaching Christianity in Afghanistan; meanwhile 23-year-old Afghan journalism student Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for questioning Islam's attitudes towards women, first in his university class and then in an internet article. He had previously been sentenced to death.

Any condemnation I can give would hardly be sufficient in either of these cases. All I shall say is that there is no "Christian" nation today I am aware of that stops Muslims practising or proselytising. And as for Islam's treatment of women being somewhat less than enlightened, that’s about as shocking as saying Tiger Woods is rather good at golf.

I’ve always taught the teenage boys I work with that a sign of a mature man is the ability to rise up what provokes you, and the self-confidence to accept difference rather than always being threatened by it. The faith of Islamic radicals instead comes across as a school bully or abusive spouse, beating up on anyone who dares step an inch out of line, to cover up a deep insecurity about its place in this changing world.

All religions have their medieval elements that need to be discarded, but Islam in particular has struggled with the transition to the challenges of modernity when compared to some other faiths. My big problem with the concept of blasphemy is this: is God such a fragile, sensitive being that we must continually protect Him from the possibility of being questioned or getting hurt feelings? I think not. However it is that you perceive God, I’m more inclined to see Him as a magnanimous being, rather than the fascist control-freak of the fundamentalists.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Race in the Race to the White House

It's a sign that the Republicans are desperate. John McCain is clearly losing the US presidential election, so his campaign, and the US right-wing media machine as a whole, has resorted to the worst kind of race-baiting in order to win the election at any cost. McCain himself has mostly avoided this, but his campaign no longer seems to be within his control. This was exemplified by an incident at a Republican rally where he was actually booed for saying that Obama was a decent and upstanding citizen.

No prizes for guessing that I support Obama, but I actually don't mind McCain. His scary hawkishness aside, he seems to be a far better option than George W Bush, although I could say the same about a wedge of camembert cheese. McCain seems to me to be a man of decency and dignity, and no racist, so I wonder at the internal conflicts he might be feeling at the way the Republican cause has sunk so low in its pursuit of victory.

It's funny that the right have often tried to accuse Barack Obama of playing the race card; for below are some of the smears the Right have resorted to to whip up fear of Obama:

He's a scary black man:
Yeah, vote Obama in and soon enough the logic goes that Louis Farrakhan will be VP and 50 Cent will be Secretary of Defence. Or something like that. FOX News had the audacity to refer to Barack's wife Michelle as his "baby-mama" (black slang for the unmarried mother of a man's child), and to describe the couple's affectionate fist-bump on-stage as a "terrorist fist-jab". Obama's attendance at a black church has aroused suspicion, with his former Reverend Jeremiah Wright's condemnation of America's wrongs against blacks and other nations seen as anti-Americanism. So just to be clear, the US has NEVER done anything bad, ever.

Barack HUSSEIN Obama:
A favoured tactic of Republican speakers introducing Palin and McCain has been to emphasise Obama's middle name. A clear attempt to somehow tie him with Saddam Hussein, and to imply that he is a Muslim, which is apparently a bad thing.

Osama / Obama:
Yes, due to the similarity of these two names, you can find a lot of people who think that that's a little fishy. These darn foreigners and their weird strange-sounding names! Although I question whether Barack Obama is a stranger name than Mitt Romney, or Sarah Palin's sons Track and Trig. (Seriously, Track and Trig! Even Hong Kong Chinese wouldn't consider those to be names)

He's an Arab:
Right-wing nutjob and commentator Rush Limbaugh recently made the claim that Obama is not even black! He's really an Arab. "He's from Arab parts of Africa!" Well if anyone knows blackness, it's Limbaugh, he's totally in tune with black people. Anyway, the story is that some hack studied Obama's family tree and concluded that he was 50% white (from his mother), 43% Arab and the rest black African. Hmm, apparently Kenya is an Arab part of Africa. Which leaves me wondering which part of Africa Kenyans are from. Obama Snr was Luo, who are pretty much as black as it gets, and while he was a (non-practising) Muslim, this hardly makes anyone an Arab. (In case I need to spell it out for you, Arab is an ethnicity and Islam is a religion). In any case, right-wingers are now citing Obama's Arabness everywhere. Interesting thing about this situation is that it seems that being black is no longer scary enough to put off voters, so the right had to paint Obama as something even scarier.

Above: "Arab" Barack Obama Snr. Not black, apparently.

Above: More "Arabs". The candidate with his Kenyan family. No black people in sight.

His parents were communists, which means he is too:
According to Lisa Schiffren of the National Review, Obama's parents must have been communists. Her evidence for this? They had an interracial marriage in 1961, at a time when that sort of thing just wasn't done; the only people to do that invariably had communist connections. Nothing to do with love or passion, obviously. Anyway, since his parents were clearly commies, the young Obama obviously is too - ideology is an inherited trait like eye colour, apparently.

He's a terrorist, or at least his best friends are terrorists:
Much has been made of Obama's tenuous association with Bill Ayers, formerly a member of 60s violent radical group The Weathermen, and who is now a respected college professor. The key to this attack is the word "terrorist" - despite Ayers being a white American, the subtext is that we should link Obama to the kind of terrorists the Western world is currently fighting (ie. swarthy foreign hummus-eating ones).

He hates America and is going to flood the country with Mexican illegal immigrants:
Obama recently commented that it was shame that so few Americans spoke a second language, in comparison to many European countries where it is common to speak 2 or 3 languages. Right-wing commentators immediately seized upon this, implying that because Obama believes Americans have scope to improve themselves, they are inferior to Europeans, and he lacks pride in his country. His comment "Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English . . . you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish" was interpreted by some as meaning that he was planning to open the USA's southern border to all and sundry.

Overall, there is a clear intent to paint Barack Obama as "the other", and not "one of us". And it doesn't matter that the above smears are lacking in the truth department, because if you repeat them often enough, there are sufficient numbers of ignorant xenophobes in America who will believe it, and won't vote for him. Hey, maybe one of them will even try and assassinate Obama, seeing as he's been painted as such a dire threat to the nation. It says less about a fear of black people than a fear of difference, particularly foreign-ness.

There are still a few weeks to go on the campaign trail, there is still time for some more race-baiting, and more smears of this kind. Below I've compiled a list of what allegations the Right might come up with next.

* Obama is a practising Voodoo priest and plans to sacrifice goats in the backyard of the White House.

* Obama is an active member of the Crips street gang.

* Obama's late Indonesian step-father, Lolo Soetoro, was one of the founders of Jemaah Islamiyah, the SE Asian Islamic terrorist movement.

* Obama has appointed Suge Knight as his manager and will release a gangsta rap album in 2009. Dr Dre will produce it.

* Obama's favourite pasttime is deflowering young blonde white women with his giant African manhood.

* Obama's other middle name is Miguel; he is also Mexican as well as being black and an Arab.

I bet at least one of these will come true.

Jakarta's new badass cop on the beat

Move aside, Dirty Harry. Rollercop is here!

Indonesia's notoriously corrupt police force just got even harder to take seriously. You can read about it here.