Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pinky and the Brain

I love Pinky and the Brain. Especially when the Brain says "The same thing we do every night, Pinky - try to take over the world!"

According to Mark Steyn, the protagonist of the recent debate on freedom of speech, the Brain and this evasive and homogeneously imagined group called "the Muslims" share the Napoleonic desire of conquering the world. Ah, I'm more relaxed now... I thought it was the 'Gypsies' in Eastern Europe, then the 'Asians' in the Western world that would conquer the world - and hey, 'conquer' is not the right world. Like the Trojan horse - or like the ancient Greeks into the nascent Roman Empire - they would infiltrate 'our' safe havens and transform them into their own:

You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure. (Mr. Anderson, MATRIX)

Exercise: Replace 'human beings' in the last sentence with your choice of groups (anything you want, from homosexuals and feminists to Muslims and Gypsies...). We are witnessing the creation of a new common enemy: the Muslims. Well, we have been witnessing it for a decade now... A whole section of the blogosphere has devoted lengthy posts to supporting Mark Steyn, a columnist and writer, who has recently been the subject of a human rights trial in British Columbia, Canada. The complicated matter can be summarized as follows:

1. Mr Steyn wrote a book - My opinion: One of those Thomas Friedman-type of books that only full-of-themselves editorialists write, where they select particular examples, they generalized based on them and come up with judgmental decisions about where the world is heading to.

2. Mr. Steyn had excerpts of his book printed in Maclean's magazine - My opinion: Those excerpts are indeed annoying and disturbing for anyone who does not believe in authoritative generalizations on how an alarming birth-rate among a group called "Muslims" will take over the world.

3. Thanks to that article, the author found himself brought in front of a human rights tribunal and defended himself by appealing to the good old freedom-of-speech argument.

4. Journalists, bloggers and commoners found themselves divided on the topic: is it right to invoke the freedom of speech? is it right to put barriers to freedom of speech, even if those barriers are motivated by open society, liberal democratic values?

Now, I've tried reading the article in question. It is long, boring and, to me, biased. Deeply biased. Not only in the choice of the topic, in the formulation of the argument, in the choice of words - but primarily in dividing the world into "Muslims" and the "West" - both categories which mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, but with no practical applicability. I've also tried reading some of the bloggers' reactions. I'll just say that quotes like this:

This so-called “Muslim Human Rights Tribunal” has a 100% conviction rate, so it’s highly unlikely that Steyn will be found innocent. Oddly enough, the far-left here in America has been silent about this Stalinist assault on free speech in Canada, but I guess that’s because they too are terrorist sympathizers just like the Canadian government. (the Hot Joints blog)

are filled with the same prejudices and biases, basically failing to go beyond a simplistic hatred towards a group that doesn't exist (there is no "Muslims" as such, just as there is no "Christians" or "Buddhists" - there are churches, there are leaders, there are people affiliated with particular denominations, there are variations, there is multiplicity and yes, there are individuals who invoke religion and do quite crazy stuff, and so on, and so forth).

As an intellectual who has espoused the controversial social constructivist perspective, I think we need to engage with this scapegoating, othering technique through which we divide the world and human beings into categories, then generalize about the group and attach the generalizations to individuals.

Oh, and if you feel like disagreeing, here's another thing: I'm not buying into any religion! Here you go!


a very public sociologist said...

I do agree. The sad facts are not only is this rubbish given a platform, a lot of people do believe it. The only way to stamp it out is by taking it apart through careful, accessible argumentation. It's a tough, long job, but it needs to be done.

Chris Jones said...

So you think what Mark Steyn wrote should be illegal? Whether you agree with Steyn or not is irrelevant. What Canada is doing to Mark is dangerous to writers everywhere. Next time it could be something you write that lands you in a courtroom.

thinkingdifference said...

point taken chris, but at the same time i still think what mark steyn wrote needs to be analyzed, criticized and ultimately discussed publicly so that such stereotypes and hate speech does not go un-noticed. should this be brought up in a court of law? i'm hesitant about this.

but i'd also say that in this particular case, the trial is about a human rights offense and not a criminal offense. again, this needs a case-by-case evaluation. "Canada" as such is not doing anything. there is a trial brought under a Human Rights tribunal, that would be a more legitimate statement.

Carlo said...

Good JOb! :)

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