About Adam

I try to be reasonable.

Newsreel 2/11

  • Rick Santorum gained momentum this week by taking three caucus states in one fell swoop. While many still take Romney as the inevitable Republican nominee, this shows that race is far from over. Especially when Gingrich, who at this point has only won one state, has promised to not drop until the bitter end
  • In spite of the beating that Romney took earlier in the week, today it looks like he might be regaining some momentum after pulling out a win in Maine. Ron Paul, though, the only potential GOP candidate still in the race to not yet win a state, won 36% of the vote putting him just 3% behind Romney’s 39%. It seems that Paul isn’t going down without a fight.  
  • On top of his win in Maine today, Romney also won the CPAC straw poll. My gut tells me, though, this has less to do with the party actually liking him, but more as a pragmatic step that the GOP is making to make sure that they actually have a fighting chance against Obama. Mitt just can’t seem to catch a break.  
  • In other news, Obama has come to a compromise on the issue of the government mandate for all employers to cover contraception for their employees. This comes loud opposition by Catholics (and, later, the backing of many Evangelicals), who claimed that this trampled their religious freedoms.
  • Obama also has signed an executive order for the expansion of government collaboration with faith-based organizations by building upon the Office of Faith Based and NeighborhoodPartnerships started under the Bush administration. It’s still unclear, though, whether or not he is going to keep his promise to attach strings to that money that require that any organization taking government dollars to not discriminate grounds in their hiring practices against those of a different faith or no faith at all. Bush allowed it and Obama at least claimed on the campaign trail that he wouldn’t. He’s yet to act on that promise, though.
  • This last one is completely and totally off topic but there was an awesome piece for the New York Times written by a philosopher out of Notre Dame named Gary Getting entitled “How to Argue About Politics” that came out a couple weeks ago. I know on the internet if it’s more than 5 hours old it’s old news, but it’s a fantastic piece none that everyone should take to heart when discussing politics. Seriously. I’m pretty sure most of the problems we have today in this country could be solved by taking the lessons of this piece to heart. 
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Words are Important or; Why Everyone you Disagree With isn’t a Terrorist

While my next couple posts will focus on the different ways that Muslims have been actively involved in politics both at the state and national level, this week I wanted to comment on a controversial claim that Rick Perry made during the GOP primary debate on Monday night in South Carolina. During the section on foreign policy, Perry was asked the following question:

“Since the Islamist-oriented party took over in Turkey, the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent there. Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. The prime minister of Turkey has embraced Hamas and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cypress. Given Turkey’s turn, do you believe Turkey still belongs in NATO?”

Perry responded by saying:

“Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.”

Turkey is run by “Islamic terrorists”, eh? To quote a childhood hero of mine:

To claim even indirectly (which he does here by using the infamous “some would say” card which allows you to place a controversial view out there, use it as a premise in an argument and all the while not explicitly endorse it) that Islamic terrorists rule Turkey is simply baseless and irresponsible. But after you take a step back and pay careful attention of how he words his response what’s going on becomes clearer. This is the key part:

“…what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists…” (emphasis added)

We can’t contest the fact that Perry and others look at, say, the ruling party of Turkey and see “Islamic terrorists” in the same way that we can’t deny the fact that many who look at atheists and see nothing but amoral, potential sociopaths who are one Richard Dawkins book away from seeking a legal ban all religion. They’re, of course wrong, but that does not change the fact that that’s what they see when they look out at the world. This is, of course, in and of itself the issue. When we can no longer tell the difference between the rulers of secular country with a democratically elected government and people who trick children into becoming suicide bombers, we have a problem.

It all comes back to a fundamental truth that politicians on both sides of the aisle should internalize: words are important. Just like when you call someone a “Nazi” or a “fascist”, when say somebody is a “terrorist”, that’s supposed to mean something. These words that describes the darkest parts of civilization are not and should not be used as catchall terms for everything we don’t like. It’s through semantic abuse that terms like terrorist become useless and nothing more than a wide brush used to paint political targets with negative connotations in order to discredit and dehumanize without debate. From what I can tell, this is exactly what Governor Perry was attempting to do here. Riding the high tides of Islamophobia, he wanted to make it look as if he was taking a stand against a common enemy. Either that or he really does believe that terrorists run Turkey. I can’t tell which option is better.

Here’s the worst part of all of this: when it comes to Turkey, there are plenty of things to criticize. There is plenty to take issue with. Turkey’s recent rash of journalist arrests, their use of terrorism laws as a means to squash political protest, and whether or not the government is doing enough to stem the tide of honor killings (warning: pdf) that have been on the rise in the past 10 years are all important issues that need to be addressed. But instead of having a conversation about some worrying recent political and social trends in what is a close ally, we get this…from a man who was at one point seen to be a viable candidate for President of the United States. Hopefully with Perry suspending his presidential campaign today, some of the hyperbolic Islamophobic rhetoric, pandering to the far fringes of the American political spectrum and poor reasoning that has dogged this political cycle will leave with him.

But who am I kidding? It’s only January. We’ll be lucky if we get to next week without something equally as absurd being said. ‘Tis the season after all.

Adam Garner is a senior at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign studying philosophy and religion with a focus on epistemology, applied ethics, and British Empiricism. He is the Vice-President of Campus Outreach for the UIUC group Interfaith in Action, a Better Together Coach for the Interfaith Youth Core’s 2012 Better Together Campaign, and is the head of the Education Committee for the Illinois Interfaith Service Challenge. Raised Mormon, Adam is now an atheist that has one goal in life: to leave the world a little bit better than he found it through the power of rational discourse and interfaith cooperation. When not interfaithing or philosophizing, he enjoys watching cat videos on the internet, finding new Sci-fi shows to become addicted to, and teaching other people how to do handstands

The Politics of Islam

Once something becomes a political issue, it’s safe to say that productive conversation is going to come to a screeching halt. You don’t have to look far for evidence to support this claim. Gay marriage, abortion, and basically anything you can say about the economy are classic examples. Where there could be legitimate conversation about the nuances of these issues, we instead fall back on well-worn talking points, red herrings, and mudslinging. Oddly, this is the exact opposite of what should happen.  Democracy is based on the fundamental premise that we can discern what is true from what is false and form a consensus based on verifiable facts. Without this, we’re simply stuck with a tyranny of the ignorant masses where what’s right is determined by who yells the loudest.

Compounding this is the fact that being a politicians requires one have an understanding of economics, foreign policy, political theory, ethics, history, legal theory, and about a dozen other different disciplines that are essential to the running of a country. These are areas of study that require a life time of learning to come to a proper understanding. But, out of pragmatic necessity, politicians must navigate these waters, either by leaning on the understanding of others or through their own understanding, when deciding on policy issues. I’d claim that this is an issue: just like we want who ever is piloting the plane we’re on to not be reading “How to Fly for Dummies” as we’re taxiing on the runway before lift off, we’d like to think that our politicians should have a solid background in everything that it takes to proverbially pilot our country. At least from where I stand, it just doesn’t seem like that’s reasonable or even possible to ask of our elected officials. The obvious problem with this is that complex issues almost by necessity become oversimplified and polemics replace careful argument.

Islam, when discussed in the context of American politics, runs into both of these problems. It has now been both politicized and oversimplified. As someone who has spent a decent amount of time studying Islam academically, I can tell you with reasonable certainty that politicians – especially those who use buzz words like “Sharia law,” “radical Islam,” and “Islamism” – either get it wrong or stretch the truth to the point that it breaks. Being that I’ve spent the past 5 years studying Islam, 95% of the time when someone talks about Islam, my blood begins to boil. Also being an atheist who was raised Mormon, I know the frustration that comes along with someone misrepresenting or oversimplifying what you believe. Because of my academic background in Islam, a slightly unhealthy desire for learning new things that wont get me a job and my love for telling people they’re wrong, I’ve decided to try to do what I can to help fight against the tide of ignorance in hopes of promoting a nuanced understanding of Islam and its one-billion-plus adherents that will leave us a nation better prepared to tackle what is an incredibly tricky subject.

But before I go any further I have a confession to make: by no means am I an expert on Islam. What I am, though, is someone who has taken numerous classes, read more books than I can remember, and constantly hounded my Muslim friends to answer questions about Islam. Islam is kind of an obsession of mine that I’ve constantly come back to over my academic career.  In spite of my less than ideal knowledge, I’m going to use what little information I am armed with to help you navigate what will surely be a political season full of straw men and hyperbole.

So for the next year, I’m going to provide commentary on the various ways that Islam appears in politics. This is going to be one part fact checking, two parts commentary and to top it off there will be a hearty side of unnecessary bad jokes. Hopefully this will serve not only as a way for me to better understand Islam, but also for you to learn something along the way.

Adam Garner is a senior at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign studying philosophy and religion with a focus on epistemology, applied ethics, and 18th century British Empiricism. He is the Vice-President of Campus Outreach for the UIUC group Interfaith in Action, a Better Together Coach for the Interfaith Youth Core’s 2012 Better Together Campaign, and is the head of the Education Committee for the Illinois Interfaith Service Challenge. Raised Mormon, Adam is now an atheist that has one goal in life: to leave the world a little bit better than he found it through the power of rational discourse and interfaith cooperation. When not interfaithing or philosophizing, he enjoys watching cat videos on the internet, finding new Sci-fi shows to become addicted to, and teaching other people how to do handstands.