Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beware of Belgistan

This video represents the sort of fear mongering I can really do without.  I had it forwarded to me as from an otherwise thoughtful person who saw it as "food for thought."  This is a problem, because it is complete nonsense.   It connects with many Americans, however, because there is so much ignorance and fear regarding Islam.  My first reaction was to wrinkle my nose at such ignorance, rant at my wife for a few minutes, and move on to something else.  The problem is, when I do that, there is that much more chance that it won’t be countered.  It becomes that much more likely that everyone who knows better will simply look down their noses at fools who would believe such foolishness.  No one can be faulted for believing nonsense as long as those of us who know better fail to identify it as nonsense.  So, I offer up the following brief response.  It can’t hurt.

There are a lot of problems here, but the first one is that we get a twisted picture of the Muslim presence in Belgium.  Muslims are about 25% of the population of Brussels, but about 6% of the population of the country as a whole.  The Muslim population is centered in the cities.  The total Muslim population of Europe is supposed to be a little over 8% by 2030.  In Belgium it is estimated to be just over 10% by 2030.  So, the situation is not quite what it was represented as being in the video.

Second, the rate of growth of the Muslim population is falling.  This is because Muslim immigration is leveling off and the birth rates of Muslims in Europe are falling.  So, there isn’t a population explosion on the horizon and talk of the “high Muslim birthrate” is misleading at best.

Third, the Muslims in Belgium, as is true of Muslims everywhere, are not a unified and homogenous group of folks.  The Muslims are mostly of Moroccans and Turkish descent, with sizeable groups of Albanians, Pakistanis and West-Africans.  They practice different strains of Islam, and have different beliefs and cultures.  They are highly unlikely to be a unified force with a single agenda.

Fourth, the focus in this video is on what they call a fringe group, but then go on to use as a source for information on Islamic Law.  This would be like talking to someone like Fred Phelps about Christianity (Fred).  It isn’t any fairer to treat this radical as a spokesperson for Islam than it would to treat Fred Phelps as a spokesman for Christianity. 

Fifth, the things that are said about Islam in here are mostly false.  There is not just one Sharia, just as there is not just one understanding of the role of Sharia in the practice of Islam.  The Sharia that has relevance in Western countries is centered on family law, and does not involve chopping hands.  It is the same sort of religious law practiced by Jewish folks in Western countries.  Islam is not fascism.  If you want to claim it is, the least you could do is define fascism.  Islam is also not undemocratic.  Islam is not any more inherently incompatible with democracy than Christianity.  Islam has a strong tradition of lay leadership, community input into decisions, personal and unmediated interactions with God, and critical thinking, particularly in the law. 

Islam is a religion.  Within Islam there is much diversity of ethnicity, race, ideology, and belief.  Some Muslims are radicals bent on your destruction.  So are some Christians.  Most Muslims are ordinary people trying to support their families and enjoy their lives.  When you portray Muslims as radical fiends bent on conquering the world you say more about yourself than you do about Muslims. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dear Mr. President ... here is some advice for that next debate

Dear Mr. President,

I have a suggestion as to what you should say at the next debate.  Here it is.  “Good evening my fellow Americas.  I hope you will excuse me if I dispense with the niceties and get right to the point.  Governor Romney and I have very different visions of what American is and what it should be in the future.  I want to fully reveal those differences for you tonight, so that you can know what your choice is on November 6th.    In the last debate I tried to do that by simply laying out my record and my vision, leaving it to Mr. Romney to do the same.  Unfortunately, he did not do that.  He chose, instead, to distance himself from his own positions and lie about mine.  I don’t know if that is because he is now abandoning positions he took during the primary season in a craven attempt to get the votes of a particular group of Republicans so that he can appeal more to independent voters, or because he simply doesn’t want you to know what he believes until it is too late.  It really doesn’t matter.  I’m not going to let him do that this time.  If I have to I will present you with my positions and his positions.  If he says that I put 90 billion into green energy, half of which went to failed companies, I will point out that 29 billion went for energy efficiency and 18 billion for fast trains and that half of them did not fail and in fact fewer have failed than anticipated in the legislation.  I will also assert that money spent to combat the very real problem of climate change is money well spent.  If Mr. Romney says that his health plan, whatever that is, includes coverage for pre-existing conditions I will point out that it doesn’t.  If he asserts that he isn’t proposing 500 trillion dollars in tax cuts, I will list off all the folks that say he is and I will point out that of course he will be able to do this and lower the deficit because he plans to eliminate all sorts of spending that is critical to the lives of folks in the middle class and really in every class.  If Mr. Romney says that I don’t give credit to folks who succeed by creating their own businesses, I will point out that I do but I also give credit to the role that all of us play in the economic success of our country.  Mr. Romney, you are on notice.  In this debate, you will have to come clean to the American people about what you want, details and all.  If you don’t do it, then I’ll do it for you.  The American people deserve the truth.  They deserve candidates who will simply spell out their beliefs and records and leave the choice to them.”  Mr. President, I beg you to say something like this and then go on the offensive.  Don’t let Governor Romney get away with lies.  Don’t wait for the next day to stand up to him.  Don’t worry about your likability or about being cast as the angry black man.  Give us enough credit to see through all of that nonsense, and make a stand.  We’ll do our job if you do yours.