October 23, 2007

Tunnel Vision: Horowitz, Watson & the Irony of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week

The usual cadre of right-wing punditry and proponents of blinkered fear of the other, led by media-savvy blowhard David Horowitz, are touting something called Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. The basic premise of this series of events, mainly talks by a bunch of people who always manage to believe that the problems with the world are somewhere "out there," is that there's some particular group of people who are causing terrible problems in the world by combining their religious ideology with a militant desire to remake the world in their image. This image is based on a rigid social stratification and unwarranted valuation of other people leading to terrible forms of oppression. I'll let David Horowitz explain it himself:

We have organized students on over 100 campuses across the country, we are hosting over 30 speakers on subjects like the plight of women in Islam and we are leading the discussion on the danger of Islamo Fascism,” David Horowitz said after his speech at the University of Wisconsin Monday night. “Considering the breadth of activities we have organized and the level of coverage from the national media, Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week is already a success, and this is just Monday. By the end of the week millions of people will have heard our message that we will no longer turn a blind eye to the violence directed against women, gays and 'infidels’ in Islamo-Fascist regimens. This homicidal intolerance and the conspiracy of silence that protects it on America’s campuses will no longer be accepted.
The sad thing is, this guy is serious.

Now, by no means do I deny that there is, in fact, violence against women, gays and infidels in countries all around the world where fundamentalist Islam has gained sway. Far from it; I think it's a terrible problem. The thing is, this isn't something particularly symptomatic of fundamentalist Islam, but of fundamentalist religion in general and, in fact, a product of the combination of ignorance and ideology that can occur any time belief supplants reason.

To suggest that there isn't violence against women and gays in good old, Jehovah-fearing God-Bless-America is unbelievably absurd. We have a tremendous problem on our hands here, in fact, even according to the Department of Justice's own website on the matter. It's a huge problem, and it's rooted in an idea that somehow women are supposed to be subservient. In fact, I find it more than a little bit ironic that Horowitz fails to recognize that while he's running about trumpeting "awareness" of violence against women in Muslim countries during his awareness week, he hasn't said a word about the fact that the US government, complete with a proclamation from the White House, has declared the entire month of October National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. All of which is very nice, of course, but proclamations don't change societal norms. Horowitz and friends are so busy pointing fingers "over there" that they don't even notice what's going on right here where we might actually be able to do something about it. I suppose that's the nature of punditry, though; they get paid to blather, not to bother doing something tangible. As long as you can accuse somebody living next door, you don't have to clean up the mess in your own house.

And is this guy serious about discrimination against homosexuals? Hell yeah, it must horrible being gay in Saudi Arabia, but it's not exactly a picnic in most of America, either. Discrimination against gays is every bit as much a norm in the US as it is anywhere in the world. One example: a group called Watchmen on the Walls has taken root in California, a transplantation of a hideously violent anti-gay movement that started in the decidedly non-Muslim nation of Latvia. This is a Christian organization that expressly targets violence against homosexuals right here in America.
A growing and ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley is centered among Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants. Many of them are members of an international extremist anti-gay movement whose adherents call themselves the Watchmen on the Walls. In Latvia, the Watchmen are popular among Christian fundamentalists and ethnic Russians, and are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In the Western U.S., the Watchmen have a following among Russian-speaking evangelicals from the former Soviet Union. Members are increasingly active in several cities long known as gay-friendly enclaves, including Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle, told The Seattle Times in January that God has "made an injection" of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin," Kusakin said.
The reaction from the Christian right has been resoundingly silently toward this group, already responsible for at least one death. I can only surmise that Horowitz hasn't noticed this happening in his own backyard. Considering that one of the most fundamental platforms of current right-wing politics in the USA is to keep homosexuals from achieving equal protection under the law at every turn — from being included in anti-discrimination legislation to achieving equality under marriage laws — I have a hunch he doesn't necessarily disagree with the violence. Many, if not most, of his followers don't have a hard time with it.

The kind of "Fascism" that Horowitz thinks he's raising awareness about isn't in any way unique to fundamentalist Islam. It's just as present in fundamentalist Christianity, Hinduism, or any other ideology that seeks to set forth a rigid social order based on some imagined innate valuation of human beings. We can even see it in statements made by the occasionally curmudgeonly, past-it scientists like James Watson, a guy who disparages anyone who isn't James Watson but most recently proclaimed the inferiority of brains of African origin. It's right there that "Fascism" (as defined by Horowitz) begins.

The thing is, someone like Watson doesn't have much impact. He can't claim divine authority. There's no bible verse he can point to in support of his rather bizarre ideas about human evolution and the role of race (itself a category error). Moreover, the kind of discrimination Watson advances (and no, I don't care if he apologized for it; he said exactly what he meant to say) is the result of twisting about scientific ideas to suit an already-existent norm. Nobody is going to be influenced by Watson who doesn't already believe his nonsense, even if they haven't a clue who Watson is.

But when you take this kind of negative societal norm and put it in the capable hands of a true ideological leader, you've opened the door to something really horrible. When said leader cracks open his book of "What DA LAWD told me," you've not got divine authority behind it. It doesn't matter whether this supposed authority stems from the Quran, the Old Testament, or the Rg Veda; the society already wants to hear those words of justification that instantly institutionalize their distastes and prejudices. That's the problem.

Horowitz and friends, in fact, are simply beating the drum for their own Christian/Jewish dislike of Muslims. This stuff is a product of the same stuff that they're supposedly speaking out against, and therein lies the irony, even the hypocrisy, of Horowitz & Co.'s media event. They don't seem to understand that the same rhetorical tactics are employed in those "Islamo-Fascist" groups to justify their violence and oppression in the first place. Horowitz is made of the very same stuff of which his putative Islamo-Fascists are made. If he weren't, he'd be out simply speaking against discrimination and violence against, and the oppression of, women, homosexuals and "infidels." There's no need for some bogus religious qualifier. That's just hand-waving, an exhortation to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. It's a ducking of the responsibility that Horowitz and his right-wing cohort bear for doing something about the mess we have right here where, despite all our protestations about rights and democracy, we have plenty of fundamentalists who work every day to insure that we place unequal values on lives based on gender, skin tone, and sexual proclivity.

Ah, but that's coming from me. I can no doubt be easily enough pigeon-holed into that old "liberal left" box of which these people are so fond. After all, I don't agree with their values. It's such progress that we now have a shorter word in this country for "discrimination," and one that puts such a positive spin on the concept. I mean, if it sounds positive, it couldn't possibly be the creeping tendrils of Fascism just beginning to choke the life out of freedom, right?


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