Yasmin

by Chris Bertram on January 16, 2005

On Thursday night I watched Yasmin , a movie by Kenneth Glenaan with a script by Full Monty author Simon Beaufoy. A somewhat didactic film dealing with the pressures on Muslims in the north of England since 9/11, it was on TV partly because it has failed to secure distribution to cinemas in the UK (or, I believe, North America). The film centres on the life of the eponymous heroine (played by Archie Punjabi ), who lives a life split beween assimilation (changing out of hijab as soon as she’s safely out the door, flirting with workmates, driving a Golf GTi, going to the pub) and conformity (hijab in her community, arranged marriage to distant relative who wants to get British nationality, deference to patriarchal father). Patriarchal father is, however, a basically good man struggling to adapt to modernity; whereas gansta-rap, bling-sporting, drug-dealing (discount for a blowjob) brother is angry and alienated.

After 9/11 everything changes. The family is riven by angry disagreement about the attack between the devout father who sees the murder of innocents as contrary to every religious principle and the alienated son whose response to the images of the collapsing twin towers is to exclaim “Style!”. At work, Yasmin’s colleagues commence low level harrassment (leaving post-its with “Yas love Osama” on her locker, etc. The useless arranged husband (whom we see Yasmin verbally abusing as “banana boat” and “Paki”) makes a call to a relative in Karachi who has some terrorist involvement, leading to a raid on the house, the arrest of all (except the husband who ends up accidentally surrendering to the police in the street in a state of naive bemusement). Women wearing hijab are openly abused by youths in the street.

Unsurprisingly this leads to a psychological circling of the wagons. Yasmin, who hasn’t been to a mosque in five years starts reading the Koran she’s given in a police cell. Her brother gives up his drug-dealing and falls in with the recruiters for the local Al Quaeda franchise who show him endless footage from Chechnya and Palestine.

I said it was didactic, and probably excessively so. Certainly, the key moment of transition, when Yasmin starts reading the Koran and then throws away the official papers that will grant her divorce from her husband (she still gets him to repeat “I divorce you” three times – but this is a signal that she has derecognized the British state in favour of Islamic tradition) was unconvincing. But the basic message: that unremitting hostility to a community will not lead them to abandon their most reactionary traditions in favour of modernity but will rather have the opposite effect, is a valid one. Yasmin’s return to orthodoxy is not so much a result of the pressures on her from other Muslim’s as her reaction to rejection and stigmatization from the majority society.

So how did this go down in the British blogosphere? I’ve scanned the usual suspects and they don’t appear to have watched it at all. The only response is from the crazed site Dhimmi Watch and is based on a Guardian article about the film rather than having seen it. The post is entitled UK: If ‘Islamophobia doesn’t exist, it must be invented’ but the accompanying comments thread gives more than enough evidence that the phenomenon is flourishing. The comments are, in fact, such that if made about other religious or ethnic groups they would arouse widespread condemnation, but, made about Muslims, they are allowed to pass unchallenged.

{ 76 comments }

1

ian 01.16.05 at 12:53 pm

I recorded this to watch but haven’t had the time yet. I’m not surprised however at the general lack of attention or the response at Dhimmi Watch.

It is truly disturbing how the comments boxes on sites like Samizdata are infected by people who in other contexts would be denounced as the racists they are, but are able to hide it under the cloak of calls to ‘liberty’. I hadn’t come across Dhimmi Watch but reading it reinforces my disquiet.

2

Peter Briffa 01.16.05 at 1:34 pm

I didn’t know we Britbloggers we duty bound to watch Channel Four, Chris.
I’m still recovering from Germaine’s exit from Big Brother, mind. And you haven’t written anything about that, I note.

3

Yusuf Smith 01.16.05 at 2:18 pm

I posted a reply to the moronic Dhimmi Watch post here.

4

Michael 01.16.05 at 2:26 pm

I watched it, but I didn’t blog about it as I may well have to write a formal review in the not too distant future. But I certainly agree with Chris that it was excessively didactic – well before the end, the drama had given way to an increasingly transparent attempt at ticking as many “current issue” boxes as possible.

Mind you, it didn’t help that I’d watched Hanif Kureishi’s My Son The Fanatic a few weeks earlier – a film that dramatised similar issues but in a rather subtler way. Worryingly, despite being made several years earlier (it predates 9/11 by half a decade), Kureishi’s film reaches a similarly despairing conclusion – it ends with a Westernised Pakistan-born father and Easternised British-born son completely unable to bridge their differences (and unlike Yasmin, these differences aren’t highlighted by a single event: they’ve been simmering under the surface for years).

Incidentally, you may be interested to know that the scene you mentioned in Yasmin (whereby hijab-wearing women were abused in the street) was at least partially improvised – in that the woman who reassures them at the end was a genuine passer-by who hadn’t realised that she had inadvertently walked onto a film set. This at least conveys a rather more positive message than the conclusions being drawn by either film, though it’s not much in the way of compensation.

5

Michael 01.16.05 at 2:39 pm

For those who missed it, Yasmin is being repeated on Channel Four next week on Tuesday night (or, to be strictly accurate, at 2.15 on Wednesday morning).

6

Giles 01.16.05 at 3:30 pm

Have to agree that My Son the Fanatic was a great movie.

Nonetheless, it has to be recognised that the whole concept of Islamaphobia is a western concept – percieving yourself as a oppressed minority and coining a term for it is very much a western idea.

7

x 01.16.05 at 3:44 pm

I watched it and liked it a lot, much of it was due to the presence of Archie Panjabi, she’s just so good. I agree it was a bit too didactic, nice description! some clichés, excesses… I think poor Faisal was really too much of a caricature. I mean, the goat “my wife”, come on! Sill it was a realistic treatment and setting.

You did feel for Faisal when he ended up in jail precisely because he was such an idiot; initially I was hoping Yasmin would just run away, but by the end I was cheering the way she took care of him.

The scene itself when she picks up the Koran was unconvincing, but the way she found pride in her identity wasn’t. I liked how she just shrugged at her workmate at the end, and went to the mosque.

There is one major theme that has nothing to do with religion or identity though. To me it was essentially the story of a woman who gets bullied around by everyone. Very universal…

8

David Tiley 01.16.05 at 3:49 pm

Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss traverses some of this territory but for more domestic reasons. Manages to be both gentle and challenging at the same time.

9

x 01.16.05 at 4:01 pm

Another thing I forgot to add – I think it’s worth pointing out that the target of the didacticism in the film was not just Islamophobia but the way resentment among Muslims is exploited by religious leaders. I don’t think it was apologetic at all (haven’t read what the wingnuts are saying, but I can imagine that being their main cause of complaint). Even with the clichés and exaggerations it did a nice job of highlighting the contrasts within a Muslim community.

Sadly I have a couple of younger family members who are just like Yasmin’s younger brother… I mean, except for the terrorist recruit part. But only for lack of opportunity. So I could sympathise with her on that too.

10

x 01.16.05 at 4:08 pm

Last, promise… I loved the bit when she is in the pub and her workmate tries and “explain” why people at work are harassing her after 9/11 and she goes, oh so you want to hear sorry, ok I’m sorry, I didn’t do it, but I’m sorry!

The scene itself was a bit too stretched but the sentiment, ah, it just needed saying. Not that it’s ever going to get through some thick skulls who love the idea of collective responsibility only when it’s about other people, but it was great to watch.

11

John Emerson 01.16.05 at 4:30 pm

When the Japanese-American community was mistreated during WWII, there was no such effect. My understanding, subject to correction, is that they dealt with it by stoicism and compartmentalization (“No use thinking about things you can’t do anything about”).

There was very little resistance or protest, and my guess is that what there was came from the most “Americanized” Japanese-Americans (who thought using an American “rights” vocubulary) rather than the least. The “circling the wagons” effect focussed on survival.

A complicating factor was that Japan had not traditionally been accepting of its overseas community, who were thought of as something like deserters. Japanese-Americans had had to create their own new identity, in the face of contempt both from the Japanese in Japan and the non-Japanese Americans.

12

Giles 01.16.05 at 4:46 pm

I think the point was that Japanese leaders had no interest in encouraging a feeling of mistreatment as they didnt want to “circle the wagons” because, as you point out there was no where for them to go but to integrate.

13

Dei 01.16.05 at 5:26 pm

Thanks Michael: I shall try to catch it then. I’d meant to watch it but I fell asleep long before then. :)

14

fyreflye 01.16.05 at 5:35 pm

The WW 2 Japanese-Americans, unlike the Muslim community (so far) were *imprisoned* and really could do nothing about it. Some committed suicide, others volunteered for (segregated) U S military units to prove themselves patriotic Americans. Most just sat it out and returned home after the war to find their property and livelihoods in the hands of whites. Survivors from this period who I know, though thoroughly Americanized, still consider themselves “Japanese.”

15

Dan Simon 01.16.05 at 6:08 pm

It’s not just Japanese-Americans. Minority groups the world over endure discrimination and harassment with varying degrees of stoicism, but almost always without significant organized recourse to violence, let alone terrorism. I can only think of a few exceptions–blacks in America in the sixties, Muslim extremists in Europe and America today, Catholics in Northern Ireland for some time, and perhaps a handful of others.

As far as I can tell, the only common thread that unites them is the existence of an ideology that (1) justifies their violence, and (2) receives credibility through external validation of some kind. The stronger the external validation, of course, the more readily accepted the violent ideology.

To put it another way, if the national television network broadcasts a drama treating brutal violence by your group’s disaffected members as a sad but understandable product of complex social and familial factors, rather than as a shameful descent into monstrous criminality–as it presumably would for members of any other group–well, that bodes exceedingly ill for your group’s future peacefulness.

16

abb1 01.16.05 at 6:31 pm

Perhaps every society needs an internal group of ‘evemies of the people’ of some kind. The group may be defined by religion, ethnicity, class, ideology, etc.

Soon it’ll be the old people – blood-sucking leeches on the most productive elements of our society. Yeah, that’s right. The old dirty bastards will refuse to make a living by bagging groceries and just won’t die before having a couple of expensive liver transplants. That’ll be a shame, a millstone ’round the necks of our youth. Something will have to be done about it, eventually.

17

Kevin Donoghue 01.16.05 at 9:05 pm

Dan Simon:

“Minority groups the world over endure discrimination and harassment with varying degrees of stoicism, but almost always without significant organized recourse to violence, let alone terrorism. I can only think of a few exceptions….”

Think a little harder. If your statement were true there would be far fewer armed conflicts. The main reason for the patience of minorities is probably the fact that persecuting majorities have a tendency to persecute all the more vigorously if the minority has the temerity to rebel. The relative passivity of American blacks and Ulster Catholics prior to the 1960s probably had more to do with the ruthlessness of the forces confronting them than the lack of an ideology. They didn’t need anyone to tell them they were having a bad time.

Is there some reason why violence cannot be a product of social factors as well as a descent into criminality?

18

luci phyrr 01.16.05 at 9:08 pm

unremitting hostility to a community will not lead them to abandon their most reactionary traditions in favour of modernity but will rather have the opposite effect

Apart from current hostility fertilizing the more reactionary elements, there can also be a radicalization of nascent political movements. Opressive governments (Egypt, Pakistan), the Gulf States’ monarchies, etc. don’t allow avenues for political grievances to be addressed. This pushes legitimate political movements underground, leads to the consideration of more extreme methods, and creates a population susceptible to nationalists, fundamentalists, demogoguery, etc.

Western governments had a direct/indirect hand in establishing and supporting these opressive regimes. (Egypt, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Iran). The neo-cons and Osama’s ilk both agree that something’s gotta be done about the Middle East. Both want to do away with opressive monarchs and dictators in the Middle East. Strange.

19

luci phyrr 01.16.05 at 9:15 pm

Sorry, I wandered OT there. Whoops.

20

Ophelia Benson 01.16.05 at 10:41 pm

“But the basic message: that unremitting hostility to a community will not lead them to abandon their most reactionary traditions in favour of modernity but will rather have the opposite effect, is a valid one.”

1) Hostility in what sense? Obviously abusing people in the street (or anywhere else) is not useful or kind or acceptable or any way to change people’s minds. But is that the only kind of thing that is meant by hostility? Does hostility include for instance criticism?

3) Community in what sense? There are a lot of communities in the world. Granted that abuse in the street is not an ethical approach, should all communities be immune from all forms of ‘unremitting hostility’? Even if ‘unremitting hostility’ includes merely criticism?

3) What follows from the argument? That no community should be abused? Or that no community should be subject to criticism or disagreement?

And before anyone accuses me of trying to score points: these are real questions. I don’t know the answers to them. I really am unsure what is meant by ‘community’ and ‘unremitting hostility’ in that sentence.

21

x 01.16.05 at 11:05 pm

Ophelia, in the film, but also in real life, those questions are completely useless because the answers are so obvious. The answer to 3), for instance, is clearly that criticism and disagreement has nothing in common with abuse, so while it’s obvious that no community or individual should be abused, it’s obvious every community and every individual is a legitimate target for criticism and disagreement. In fact, it’s obvious every community has the strongest disagreements within itself. The answer to to 2) is obvious even without watching the film. A Muslim community is a community of Muslims. Do you really need a definition? The answer to 1) is hostility of the kind depicted, and only in slightly exaggerated ways compared to reality, is not even remotely comparable to criticism. It’s not a film about criticism of religion, it’s a film about violence, racism, mysoginy, paranoia, conflict, family ties, etc. It’s not set in academic or political circles but in working class Britain. Which is where a lot of people live.

I had a chuckle when I checked the IMDB entry, the first comment is titled:
Bend it like Blunkett…

“In explaining the extensive research behind the film, Director Kenneth Glenaan says the examples used (innocent families being awoken by police ‘terror’ squads, thrusting guns in their faces, detaining them indefinitely etc) were typical of many actual cases, as were the scenes of discrimination and abuse in the workplace and in the street.”

What part is not clear about the difference between that and “criticism”?

22

Chris Bertram 01.16.05 at 11:16 pm

Ophelia, I criticised the film for its excessive didacticism. I know you haven’t seen it, but if you do, your criticism will be either that it was didactic in the wrong way or not didactic enough. Michael, in comments above, said that one had a sense that boxes were being ticked as the film wore on. Thanks for providing the Ophelia Benson checklist against which such films (or novels or whatever) can be evaluated in future:

Did artistic production [enter title here] make clear that “communities” are not monolithic? — *check!*

Did artistic production [enter title here] explain that criticism of religious believers is legitimate? — *check!*

etc.

23

x 01.16.05 at 11:20 pm

Just so it’s clear- I’m not accusing you Ophelia of anything, I just honestly don’t see what’s so vague or undefined about the terms ‘community’ and ‘unremitting hostility’. In the film, they’re both very clear. In real life experience, also.

24

x 01.16.05 at 11:25 pm

I want that checklist applied to Bruckerheimer productions!

25

Ophelia Benson 01.16.05 at 11:31 pm

Oh, well that’s a good answer, Chris. Don’t answer my questions, and instead announce what I will think in the future. Okay.

26

x 01.16.05 at 11:32 pm

psst, Chris, it’s Archie Panjabi, not Punjabi :)

27

x 01.16.05 at 11:41 pm

Well you actually got two replies, Ophelia. If they’re not to your liking, just say so.

28

Ophelia Benson 01.16.05 at 11:52 pm

X, I don’t think the answers are obvious. I’m not sure where (if anywhere) the line is being drawn, between abuse and criticism. I’m not playing fake-stupid; I really don’t know.

29

Giles 01.16.05 at 11:58 pm

BTW

As a counterpoint to the idea that “abuse” inevitably leads to hostility why is it htat it doesnt in WA?

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/archives/wardx107/zigzag/008223.html

30

dsquared 01.17.05 at 12:27 am

If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s because people aren’t in the habit of pushing flaming rags or excrement through the letterboxes of “poms” in Western Australia.

Seriously, Giles, you’re not really trying to pretend that there’s some equivalence between the kind of teasing that goes on between Australians and English people, and the shit that Asians put up with in the UK?

31

x 01.17.05 at 12:31 am

Ophelia, forgive me if I insist, but I just can’t understand how that difference between abuse and criticism is not clear. But out of curiosity, are you talking of not being sure where those lines are drawn in some absolute, philosophical abstract sense? Or in real life? In the film?

I gather you didn’t see the film. But, that’s what Chris was referring to. The kind of stuff depicted in the film. Which is also stuff that has happened for real to real people.

Have you seen In the Name of the Father? Would you raise the same questions about that film? It’s not like this film at all, but, you know, raising questions about what is abuse and what is criticism, when there is a story about how people get declared terrorist suspects and thrown in jail without any respect for civil rights and basic legal procedures, I mean…

Is that the kind of thing you’re confused about?

32

Ophelia Benson 01.17.05 at 2:08 am

X,

Have you seen this article by Kenan Malik?

He says this –

There is clearly ignorance and fear of Islam in this country. Muslims do get harassed and attacked because of their faith. Yet I believe that the hatred and abuse of Muslims is being exaggerated to suit politicians’ needs and silence the critics of Islam.

I think the use of boilerplate homilies about ‘unremitting hostility to a community’ tends to work to silence the critics of Islam – including the critics who grew up within Islam, such as Maryam Namazie, several of whose articles I have published on the website I edit (Butterflies and Wheels) and whom Kenan mentions in his article –

Marayam Namazie is an Iranian refugee who has long campaigned for women’s rights and against Islamic repression. As a result she has been condemned as an Islamophobe, even by anti-racist organisations. “On the one hand,” she says, “you are threatened by the political Islamic movement with assassination or imprisonment or flogging. And on the other you have so-called progressive people who tell you that what you say in defence of humanity, in defence of equal rights for all, is racist. I think it’s nothing short of an outrage.”

I don’t think Chris necessarily meant it that way, but I do think that the very fact that words and phrases like ‘community’ and ‘unremitting hostility’ are open to a variety of interpretations helps to discourage criticism of Islam, even by people with an intimate insider knowledge of it.

There’s a lot of worry about the marginalization of the ‘Muslim community’ – but why is there so little worry about the marginalization of people like Maryam? And Homa Arjomand, who is leading the campaign against Sharia in Canada. They’re a minority, and a much smaller minority than ‘the Muslim community’ – but they’re ignored.

So that’s the source of my confusion.

33

Jonathan Dresner 01.17.05 at 2:52 am

I’d like to problematize the premise of most of this discussion: the idea that “hostility” even “unremitting” necessarily produces traditionalist backlash instead of assimilation (talk about your false dichotomies, but that’s another discussion). In fact the narrative of the film, in conjuction with what I know about immigration history, suggests to me a very different thesis, much less didactic. Communities (and it should be “members of communities, though the movie is clearly setting these characters up as somehow ‘typical’) successfully assimilating in a hostile environment can be radicalized if the environment changes and they have access to theoretical and organizational components necessary for fundamentalism.

No, it’s not as nice and neat. History is messy. People are complicated. Deal with it.

34

Chris Bertram 01.17.05 at 7:43 am

Look Ophelia, the problem is this. Every time we have a thread on CT which is vaguely in this area you pop up making exactly the same points and insisting that the discussion conform to your agenda. As it happens, the film — which, living in Seattle, you haven’t seen — doesn’t project a view of “communities” as homogeneous, and doesn’t suggest that Islam shouldn’t be criticized. And when I wrote of “unremitting hostility” I had in mind the kind of bullying Yasmin is subjected to in the film rather than a careful feminist critique a la Nussbaum. I think that would have been obvious to most people.

Maybe I should put an explicit “Ophelia Benson” disclaimer in every post, making explicit that (1) of course “community” is a problematic word (2) “communities”, whatever they are, aren’t homogeneous, (3) there are lots of bad things about religion, (4) respect for “identity” shouldn’t be an excuse to silence justified critique …. etc etc. Or maybe you can write the disclaimer yourself (since I’m bound to have failed to formulate it exactly to your liking) and you can post it on B&W, and I can just link to it every time ….

35

Dan Simon 01.17.05 at 7:58 am

Think a little harder. If your statement were true there would be far fewer armed conflicts.

Actually, as a percentage of the total number of ethnic or racial minorities in the world undergoing routine discrimination or harassment, the number of armed conflicts involving such minorities is very few indeed.

The main reason for the patience of minorities is probably the fact that persecuting majorities have a tendency to persecute all the more vigorously if the minority has the temerity to rebel. The relative passivity of American blacks and Ulster Catholics prior to the 1960s probably had more to do with the ruthlessness of the forces confronting them than the lack of an ideology. They didn’t need anyone to tell them they were having a bad time.

I agree that organized violence among minority populations is highly correlated with the easing of their oppressive conditions–a fact that should by itself cast considerable suspicion on the whole “violence as a backlash against oppression” thesis. But even among populations who undergo discrimination or harassment which is then reduced, violent uprising is a rare response.

For example, the same remarkable transformation in American society that liberated blacks in the sixties, similarly eased the burden on numerous other minorities, including Jews, Catholics, Asians, and Southern and Eastern Europeans. Yet there were no Jewish, Chinese or Polish Panther movements.

Perhaps that’s because the American culture of the period showed little fascination with the romantic idea of oppressed Jewish, Chinese or Polish Americans avenging their suffering through violence.

36

dsquared 01.17.05 at 8:42 am

numerous other minorities

Dan, maybe it’s also because those other minorities were immigrant communities, whereas the black Americans were not.

37

Dan Simon 01.17.05 at 9:58 am

Dan, maybe it’s also because those other minorities were immigrant communities, whereas the black Americans were not.

Perhaps the reason was, indeed, that black Americans were less recent immigrants than the other groups I mentioned. Care to explain why you think this might have made a difference?

Worldwide, I don’t see any correlation between immigrant status and willingness to forgo violence. Have Australian Aborigines been banding together to form violent revolutionary movements? Egyptian Copts? Iranian Zoroastrians and Bahai? (Perhaps they have, and I simply haven’t heard about it.)

In any event, if you’re arguing that the “violence as a backlash against oppression” thesis only applies to non-immigrant groups, then your argument is apparently with the producers of “Yasmin”, not with me. (Or perhaps your argument is with Chris, if you and he interpret the film differently.) Either way, might we at least agree that it’s absurd to blame anti-Muslim discrimination and harassment–of which we both obviously strongly disapprove–for the disturbingly large numbers of European Muslims from immigrant families who are joining Islamist terrorist groups?

38

Chris Bertram 01.17.05 at 10:42 am

Dan, I really don’t know where to start….

Well, first, perhaps, to note that comparing American Blacks with the other groups you list shows either a shocking ignorance of the differences between their respective histories or , alternatively, a really gobsmacking willingness to make light of those difference. Abduction from Africa, slavery, reconstruction, lynching, segregation, … but that’s ok they were “liberated” in the 1960s. (You might want to look at comparative mortality and incarceration statistics.) And as for groups willing to take up arms: when you’ve finished reading _Soledad Brother_ you could start on _Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee_ .

On the matter at hand, you write:

might we at least agree that it’s absurd to blame anti-Muslim discrimination and harassment—of which we both obviously strongly disapprove—for the disturbingly large numbers of European Muslims from immigrant families who are joining Islamist terrorist groups?

I don’t know what the numbers are, but I suppose any number > O might count as “disturbing”. And I’ll note in passing that this was not a prominent feature either of the film or of my original post. But perhaps you can explain, Dan, why the fact that an explanatory consideration E fails to be a _sufficient_ explanation of phenomenon P entails that it is “absurd” to invoke E as a component of the explanation for P?

39

abb1 01.17.05 at 11:59 am

Perhaps the reason was, indeed, that black Americans were less recent immigrants than the other groups I mentioned. Care to explain why you think this might have made a difference?

I think recent immigrants feel that they kinda deserve being discriminated against. They were allowed to come to a foreign country, it makes you humble, you don’t feel like demanding things even if legally and morally you’re entitled.

40

x 01.17.05 at 12:27 pm

Ophelia – “I think the use of boilerplate homilies about ‘unremitting hostility to a community’ tends to work to silence the critics of Islam”

I feel so dumb, like, I didn’t even get that’s what you were driving at.

I read the article. Stuff I heard a million times, with a few original twists (such as “blacks are more likely targeted by police than Asians, hence the attention to racism against Asians is hiding the real racism” – hm, where did anyone say there is only “one” kind of “real” racism? Why does it have to be, one concern at the expense of the other?

Another line I find absolutely useless: “racism was much worse 20 years ago”. So? Even mysoginy and gay-bashing used to be much worse. What’s that supposed to mean, their modern manifestations are irrelevant? Or yes they’re worrying “but” being concerned about them detracts from other “real” concerns like… crime? Where have I heard that one before.

The most devious reasoning is positing that causal link between denouncing racism and “silencing critics”. Racists are *not* critics. They’re two separate categories. Anyone who doesn’t live in a mansion isolated by the world knows the difference. It’s devious and insulting to *exploit* a perfectly legitimate issue – that of cultural conflicts of mentalities and practices within said group, the same group being targeted by racists – only to somehow attribute the responsibility of “silencing the critics-from-within” to… the anti-racist people who are only “exaggerating racism”. I have heard this one before. Not just about Muslims. It seems to forget that, while no group or community or minority is monolithic, whether of immigrants or children of immigrants, you know, people coming from a different country, culture, religion than the majority (that is the obvious definition of “community” – does anyone ever question what “the Hispanic community in LA” means? does anyone seriously need to qualify that with “of course they’re not all the same”?), the existence of critics-from-within has no bearing on how racism manifests itself. Racism and bigotry and xenophobia, by definition, don’t really distinguish between the most repressive mysoginist Muslim pater familias (not that even he would “deserve” *racist abuse*, right?) and the critic-from-within, in fact, doesn’t even distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim Asian, Arab, or foreign-looking. It’s the racists who treat all people like a monolithic bloc. That’s why they love that “Islamophobia is a myth” line. It allows them to disguise even the most right-wing tabloid tirade against immigrants as “criticism”. Like your Mr Kilroy-Silk. They provoke reactions exactly to be able to say, see, “they” can’t even take some purely democratic bashing. They’re all the same.

Then, as if the existence of Islamophobia was not evident enough from cultural and political manifestations of it, figures – official figures only, ie. only reported incidents – are brought up only to be dismissed in rather patronising ways. 344 incidents of racial harassment in one single year after 9/11? no big deal, they were only about spitting and insulting, like, shit that happens if you’re a foreigner or dark-skinned looking, you know, and didn’t escalate into riots (that was the “real racism” era, 20 years ago…).

The heavy-handed policing – again, figures are only reported cases – is similarly dismissed. With that added distasteful hierarchy of “real” racism (against blacks) vs. “exagerated” racism agianst Asian Muslims.

There is one valid point:

bq. For Muslim leaders, inflating the threat to their communities helps consolidate their power base. For government ministers, making a song and dance about police harassment allows them to appear both tough on terrorism and sensitive to Muslim needs.

But it’s totally ruined by what follows:

bq. But it does the rest of us, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, no favours at all. The more the threat of Islamophobia is exaggerated, the more ordinary Muslims believe that they are under constant attack. It helps create a siege mentality, it stokes up anger and resentment, and it makes Muslims more inward looking and more open to religious extremism.

What creates resentment is not a “perception” or “belief” and “exaggeration” of racism. It’s the real existence of it. It is not a mass phenomenon, racists throughout Britain and most of Europe are a minority, but they exist, and alongisde there is a creeping paranoid, intolerant, patronising attitude which is promoted by a lot of the tabloids and by the degradation of political debate and the rhetoric of the war on terror.

That fundamentalist leaders may exploit this to attract more support for their views is *exactly* one of the “didactic” points of the film discussed in Chris’s post. It covers *that* angle too. When Yasmin’s brother ends up recruited by the jihadist preacher. There is no “excusing” that outcome in the film, the religious figure and his brainwashing tactics are portrayed very negatively; he is not a “product” of intolerance. He exploits the resentment against it. There’s a scene where Yasmin’s brother gets mad at his father for finding excuses for the police. “They pointed a fucking gun to my head and you stood there saying nothing. Your son, they could have killed me right there on the doorstep of your house, and you said nothing”, and the father walks away without saying a word. I thought it was one of the best bits, still stereotyped and simplified as most of the film is, but very telling. Understanding how something happens is not the same as excusing it or approving it. The film targets and denounces *both* the racism and police brutality from outside, *and* the fundamentalism (and mysoginy, and oppression, etc.) from within.

There’s also been other films and books treating this question in even more complex and subtler and interesting ways, but that is never going to stop anyone from rehashing the either/or line of thinking. As if, by the mere fact of denouncing racism, you are saying that the targets of racism should be immune not only from racism but from any kind of disagreement or criticism. No one here is saying that, certainly not the film. That is simply projection of a patronising attitude and binary thinking.

Concluding that, because fundamentalists exploit that resentment, there should be less concern for the racism and intolerance that feeds it, is counter-intuitive and insulting.

You or Mr Malik may be as well-intentioned as can be. But by dismissing concerns about Islamophobia, racism and police abuse, and implying that somehow they need to be qualified each time with “but of course we also need to denounce the fundamentalists and support-the-critics-from-within” (something, which, again the film does deal with anyway, and very clearly), as if one concern went to the detriment of the other and they couldn’t coexist, you are legitimising the very excuse from *bigoted people who couldn’t care less about Iranian feminists or Pakistani gays* and only use instances of mysoginy or gay-bashing to say, see, they’re all barbarians, raus. Do you even realise that? I know it’s a trend to blame all this thickness and hypocrisy on “the left” (does anyone ever question the monolithic projection in that definition, hm?), but the phrase “barking up the wrong tree” does not even begin to describe it.

41

x 01.17.05 at 12:35 pm

Well Chris said in a paragraph what took me three hundred:

bq. As it happens, the film — which, living in Seattle, you haven’t seen — doesn’t project a view of “communities” as homogeneous, and doesn’t suggest that Islam shouldn’t be criticized. And when I wrote of “unremitting hostility” I had in mind the kind of bullying Yasmin is subjected to in the film rather than a careful feminist critique a la Nussbaum. I think that would have been obvious to most people.

Yes, that’s exactly the kind of obviousness I was talking about too.

42

Dan Hardie 01.17.05 at 2:57 pm

Dsquared: ‘Dan (Simon), maybe it’s also because those other minorities were immigrant communities, whereas the black Americans were not.’

Dan ‘me ignorant?’ Simon:’Perhaps the reason was, indeed, that black Americans were less recent immigrants than the other groups I mentioned. Care to explain why you think this might have made a difference?’

The Dan Simon Award for Clownish Comments is, again, won by Dan Simon. Dan: it’s not simply that American blacks are (largely) a non-immigrant group. It’s not simply that American Blacks are (largely) less recent entrants to the American continent than other groups. It’s that they were, until the 1860s, largely *slaves* without control over their own lives and subject to the most vicious forms of social control, lack of property of their own, frequent family breakup etc; and that from the 1860s until the 1960s they were, throughout much of the United States *without Civil Rights, including the Right to vote*, which did rather have its impact on their wealth, health and social wellbeing. Immigrants, once naturalised, could vote, could own property and didn’t get anything like the same attention from the Klan (in the South) or racist city machines (in the North). Dan, this may- just possibly may- be the cause of one or two of the differences between the African-American community and various immigrant or post-immigrant American communities.

That was ‘American History for Ignoramuses and Cretins’, a public service broadcast for the benefit of Dan Simon.

43

Giles 01.17.05 at 3:41 pm

DSquared

No – the point is that moderate amounts of racial differentiation allows groups to choose a moderate amount of non assimilation. In other words it permits a way between the total assimilation vs total segregation alternatives that this program outlined.

So again I’d be coming back to the religious incitement laws; these, by hindering a moderate amount of ribbing, may make the actual choice for immigrants more extreme.

44

Dan Simon 01.17.05 at 5:24 pm

But perhaps you can explain, Dan, why the fact that an explanatory consideration E fails to be a sufficient explanation of phenomenon P entails that it is “absurd” to invoke E as a component of the explanation for P?

Well, Chris, it is “absurd” to invoke E as a component of the explanation for P when E is very poorly correlated with P, but fairly well correlated with the phenomenon of people mistakenly invoking E as a component of the explanation for P. History’s terrorist groups represent (or claim to represent) at most a tiny fraction of the world’s discriminated-against groups, and a goodly number of groups that cannot plausibly be said to have been discriminated against at all. (How much discrimination were leftist students in Germany and Italy really subject to in the 1980’s, after all?)

Perhaps discrimination can, in some isolated cases, play a modest role in provoking terrorist violence, just as poverty may, in some isolated cases, play a modest role in provoking crime. But as even partial explanations, these are swamped by other factors, prominently including a cultural atmosphere that deflects culpability from criminals, or terrorists–as these attempted explanations undoubtedly do, however many caveats you add.

45

Dan Hardie 01.17.05 at 5:42 pm

Shorter Dan Simon: Having absolutely forgotten that American blacks suffered from centuries of slavery followed by the wholesale denial of basic rights, I wish to change the subject to, er… German and Italian student radicals. (Puts on white facepaint, floppy shoes and red nose.)

46

x 01.17.05 at 6:15 pm

“How much discrimination were leftist students in Germany and Italy really subject to in the 1980’s, after all?”

You really are that clueless. First, who’s saying that terrorism is automagically and exclusively provoked by discrimination? You. Projection of obtuse binary thinking, part II. Secondly, what exactly are you referring to by the 1980’s in Germany and Italy? Far left and far right (conveniently forgot about that, hm?) terrorist groups in those countries were active in the late 60’s and 70’s. They weren’t students; they were generally older. Students were among those who as a result were occasionally subject to the climate of police repression and brutality on the one hand, and internal civil war between far left and far right on the other. Riots, violence, street fights, killings, shit like that. End of 70’s mostly.

So, you brought up the Black Panthers, now you’re ignorantly and confusedly referring to Italian and German terrorists in the wrong decade, point being?

What are you trying to do, draw up a comprehensive universal and timeless Theory of Terrorism?

Perhaps discrimination can, in some isolated cases, play a modest role in provoking terrorist violence, just as poverty may, in some isolated cases, play a modest role in provoking crime.

Perhaps social and political phenomena of a certain complexity cannot be reduced to that tiresome either/or paradigm. Perhaps it’s time to quit the straw man that somehow trying to understand and explain how certain social and political phenomena can arise and what factors can contribute to them equals absolving individuals or groups (terrorists, criminals) from any responsibility whatsoever. We’d have no need for social and historical analysis if it was like that. No one should even attempt to write books about, say, the mafia unless to fill them exclusively with the amazing revelation that the mafia is bad and, like, kills people. Otherwise the idiot masses might mistake analysis for approval. The Moral Police needs to be vigilant on the evil threat of the Root Cause argument, or else, the terrorists win.

47

Sally 01.17.05 at 6:20 pm

I’m actually not convinced that earlier immigrant groups really were less militant. What about Irish-Americans in the 19th century? The Molly Maguires? The Ancient Order of Hibernians (before they morphed into a bunch of homophobic blowhards)? Bishop Hughes’s threat to turn New York into “a second Moscow” if a single Catholic person or institution was attacked by nativists? The Fenian invasion of Canada? A lot of this seems goofy or insignificant now, but it didn’t at the time.

48

Ophelia Benson 01.17.05 at 6:24 pm

Okay, Chris, that’s blunt enough even for me. Sorry about ‘problem,’ sorry about ‘popping up.’ Stupidly, I thought it was just participation in the discussion, and I thought I was civil about it; my mistake; won’t happen again.

49

Kevin Donoghue 01.17.05 at 6:50 pm

Dan Simon:

“Actually, as a percentage of the total number of ethnic or racial minorities in the world undergoing routine discrimination or harassment, the number of armed conflicts involving such minorities is very few indeed.”

The grievances of minorities play a part in a great many conflicts. Countries recently affected include Spain, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Turkey, Iraq, Cambodia and many more besides.

There is just a tiny morsel of sense in what you are saying and it is this: if a minority is accustomed to being kicked around and gets no support whatever from any quarter then it may, just may, go on accepting discrimination and harassment as its miserable lot. In that sense it is true that those who protest the treatment of a minority increase the risk of violence. Thomas Jefferson described very well the situation as seen from the oppressors’ viewpoint: “We have the wolf by the ears and can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” But it is nonsense to suppose that the wolf needs Channel Four’s “external validation” to prompt him to bite.

Regarding immigrants: what Sally said; and the Molly Maguires needed nobody to validate their “ideology”, such as it was.

50

Dan Simon 01.17.05 at 6:57 pm

It’s that they were, until the 1860s, largely slaves without control over their own lives and subject to the most vicious forms of social control, lack of property of their own, frequent family breakup etc; and that from the 1860s until the 1960s they were, throughout much of the United States without Civil Rights, including the Right to vote, which did rather have its impact on their wealth, health and social wellbeing.

All of this is true, but rather unconvincing as an explanation of why organized movements espousing terrorist violence against whites sprang up during the 1960’s–primarily in locales where slavery had never existed–and then died down about a decade later. Why then, and not before, and not later? Why primarily in the large cities of the North and West, and not in the South? And why American blacks, but not literally hundreds of other minority groups–in America and around the world–including some that were very badly treated, indeed? Simply put, this “explanation” explains precisely nothing.

Immigrants, once naturalised, could vote, could own property and didn’t get anything like the same attention from the Klan (in the South) or racist city machines (in the North).

This is, to put it mildly, a rather kind description of America’s treatment of its immigrant groups. For a particularly egregious case, you might want to look into the history of the treatment of Chinese immigrants in America.

Clownish Comments….Ignoramuses and Cretins…

I’m truly flattered. But when it comes to historically illiterate comments laced with lame attempts at humor, I cannot hold a candle to the Master.

51

wood turtle 01.17.05 at 7:26 pm

Well, this is so very sad. Many young people that should join 4-H or spend some of their summers at religious or organizational camps learning to sail or do crafts, or something like that.

52

Dan Simon 01.17.05 at 7:33 pm

So, you brought up the Black Panthers, now you’re ignorantly and confusedly referring to Italian and German terrorists in the wrong decade, point being?

…To drive a stake in the heart of the thesis that there’s a significant connection between terrorist movements and poor treatment of minority groups.

What are you trying to do, draw up a comprehensive universal and timeless Theory of Terrorism?

No, actually, I’m trying to debunk one.

Perhaps it’s time to quit the straw man that somehow trying to understand and explain how certain social and political phenomena can arise and what factors can contribute to them equals absolving individuals or groups (terrorists, criminals) from any responsibility whatsoever.

I agree. Some explainers, unfortunately, do adopt the “tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner” attitude. But they’re not compelled to.

The Moral Police needs to be vigilant on the evil threat of the Root Cause argument, or else, the terrorists win.

In fact, my assertion that discrimination against minorities has little to do with terrorism, but that the popularity of the “Root Cause” argument does seem to promote terrorism, is an entirely empirical one. I simply claim, as a practical matter, that (1) combatting discrimination against minority groups will have little effect on the incidence of terrorism, and (2) widespread embrace of the (false) “Root Cause” argument will encourage terrorism to blossom.

My moral position, as it happens, is that discrimination against minority groups should be combatted, for purely moral reasons, even if doing so has no practical effect on the incidence of terrorism. I also happen to believe that promulgating empirically mistaken explanations for terrorism is morally wrong–though probably in a milder class of wrongs than, say, unfair discrimination against minority groups.

53

x 01.17.05 at 7:43 pm

Ophelia: does “passive aggressive” also sound too blunt to you?
You raise questions that the film already answers, but you haven’t seen it; when people tell you that, and how the film deals with the topics you raised, in the impression you may be interested in actual discussion and answers, you repeat you are unsure about the very definitions of things, and display a total lack of interest in the film being discussed itself; then after more insisting you finally reveal what you had in mind all along, about racism being exaggerated and silencing the critics; you are told, again, that’s not what the film argues nor what anyone referring to it was arguing, but instead of maybe bothering with an acknowledgement of that, or even “yeah but regardless of the film and what Chris and x and so and so wrote about it, that’s what this person and this other person are saying and that’s what I disagree with”… you go back to your ostrich, but only after complaining about being mistreated or ignored.

Hello? Am I so masochist to even bother? I did think you had an honest, if baffling, question at the start. Now it just looks like you’re taking the mickey. Please accept my most civil apologies if that’s a wrong impression, your majesty.

54

Dan Hardie 01.17.05 at 7:59 pm

Dan Simon: you’re a fool. Struggling through your thickets of tortured prose, I believe you to be saying that ‘Oppression is not a necessary cause of violent rebellion, though the lessening of oppression may be.’ This strikes me as both oxymoronic and historically inaccurate. Of course, it may not be your thesis. Your prose is pretty impenetrable- I would recommend that you buy and study Ernest Gowers’s ‘The Complete Plain Words’.

Now to your attempted criticisms:

Firstly, no-one offered slavery-plus-denial of Civil Rights as a sufficient cause of Black American violence. I can think of a number of explanations of the timing and locale of the violence, but none that excludes the issues of denial of civil rights and the legacy of slavery.

I would include, among the proximate causes of the unrest of the ’60s, the demographic explosion of the era and the consequent problems of increasing youth crime;
the return of alienated and trained soldiers from Vietnam;
the violent response by city machines (notably but not exclusively Daley’s in Chicago) to religious, non-violent protesters like Martin Luther King and the consequent discrediting among urban blacks of non-violent protest (hardly an exclusive list). These immediate pressures were felt across American society but acted with particular force on the societies of the Black sections of the inner cities, which had always had extremely high levels of violence, distrust of the law, and poverty; where policing, in contrast to most white areas, was conducted with extreme violence by cops who didn’t live in the area, and who in many cases hated blacks;
and which were now particularly vulnerable due to the overcrowding and increased competition for scarce housing caused by the influx of Southern rural blacks: all of these long-term factors being, of course, the heritage of slavery and the subsequent denial of rights to Blacks.

Dan ‘Krusty’ Simon, on other hand, did not make a single mention of slavery and civil rights until it was aggressivley
brought to his notice.

The ‘cities of the North and West’ point is a historically ignorant canard. Firstly, Black on white violence did erupt in a number of Southern cities throughout the 1960s and after: see especially Atlanta and Baltimore. Since you have mentioned the Black Panthers, they had ‘chapters’ in Memphis, New Orleans, Winston Salem (North Carolina), Dallas, and Houston. Oh, dear, Dan: do you feel like admitting that it is you who is ‘historically illiterate’?

Secondly, and most importantly, my post did not say that the egregious discrimination against blacks was limited to the South, and I explicitly mentioned the maltreatment of blacks throughout the US, not limited to the South, instancing the ‘city machines’- as Simon knows, since he quoted the relevant phrase. Dan, I know you’re dishonest, and you know you’re dishonest: doesn’t it all get a little embarrassing?

Thirdly, concerning the Black on White violence that did erupt in Northern and Western cities in the 1960s: as Simon would know if he had read as much as one reputable textbook of American history, the Black populations of American cities were massively swelled, and socially transformed, between 1932 and the late 1960s by huge influxes of Southern Blacks whose social behaviour and view of the world had largely been formed by their upbringing in the South.

Re immigrants:
Are you just saying that only the Chinese got treated anywhere near as badly as the Blacks, in which case- given that they were effectively evicted from the West Coast in the 19th Century, and that the Blacks were too large a community to be so treated, and had in any case nowhere to go- that is, I think, not something that can be cited in support of your thesis.

Or if you’re saying- your prose is too turgid and imprecise for me to be sure- that white immigrants actually got just as bad a deal as black slaves or ex-slaves, I’d like to know where the scholarly literature is that supports this false and dishonest assertion. Come on, Dan ‘Krusty the Clown’
Simon: I want references- names of books, authors, journal details. Not some crap on the web from Glenn Reynolds: I have access to
a number of university libraries, and if there’s a historical literature out there that says that Blacks were no worse treated than white immigrants in 19th or 20th Century America, I’ll be able to read it. Come on: put up or shut up.

55

abb1 01.17.05 at 9:32 pm

I simply claim, as a practical matter, that (1) combatting discrimination against minority groups will have little effect on the incidence of terrorism, and (2) widespread embrace of the (false) “Root Cause” argument will encourage terrorism to blossom.

This is very counter-intuitive, I like that.

It’s good, though, that we can negate harmful effects of widespread embrace of the false “Root Cause” argument simply by distributing large amounts of crack cocaine in contaminated areas. Works like a charm!

56

Dan Simon 01.17.05 at 10:35 pm

I’m actually not convinced that earlier immigrant groups really were less militant. What about Irish-Americans in the 19th century? The Molly Maguires? The Ancient Order of Hibernians (before they morphed into a bunch of homophobic blowhards)? Bishop Hughes’s threat to turn New York into “a second Moscow” if a single Catholic person or institution was attacked by nativists? The Fenian invasion of Canada? A lot of this seems goofy or insignificant now, but it didn’t at the time.

Interesting case. I frankly know very little about the violent Irish-American movements of the nineteenth century. I’d be very interested to hear hypotheses regarding their social causes.

By now, though, it should be utterly obvious that “the Irish were cruelly discriminated against” does not constitute a plausible social cause. Yes, the Irish were cruelly discriminated against in America at the time. But numerous groups were also discriminated against just as cruelly during the same period, without forming terrorist movements, while numerous violent movements sprang up that could not possibly have had discrimination as a justification. (Perhaps the most famous had a lot of K’s in the name, as I recall.)

In what’s supposed to be a blog by social science academics, the degree of acceptance of a thesis that has absolutely no empirical justification, on what appear to be sentimental or aesthetic grounds, is just stunning. And it’s getting in the way of interesting discussion of an important social and political question. Why am I the only person here who seems the slightest bit concerned?

57

Kevin Donoghue 01.17.05 at 11:30 pm

Dan Simon, the only “thesis that has absolutely no empirical justification” being presented around here is your claim that “the number of armed conflicts involving [oppressed] minorities is very few indeed.”

You are attempting to defend this bizarre thesis by the dreary old tactic of launching a counter-attack on a straw man. As you might expect on “a blog by social science academics” this isn’t impressing anybody.

Since you ask for a suggestion as to why some of the Irish in America showed a greater propensity than other immigrants to form secret societies etc., you could consider this: they had been doing just that at home, where their old enemies were WASPs and where these tactics were sometimes effective. Those who came to America with memories of (for example) the Prussian police may have been more fearful of reprisals. That’s just a guess, however.

If you want to explore such questions you might usefully ask why some natives settled peacefully on reservations while others went on the warpath. I suspect the answer is simply that some saw that resistance was futile while others did not.

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Dan Simon 01.18.05 at 12:56 am

the only “thesis that has absolutely no empirical justification” being presented around here is your claim that “the number of armed conflicts involving [oppressed] minorities is very few indeed.”

You edited out a very important bit–the part at the beginning where I said, “as a percentage of the total number of ethnic or racial minorities in the world undergoing routine discrimination or harassment”. I believe that with that qualifier included, the thesis is utterly unassailable. Pointing to anecdotal examples–even numerous anecdotal examples–of minority groups facing discrimination or repression who have also spawned violent chauvinist movements, and thus claiming a correlation, is no more convincing than pointing to numerous anecdotal examples of minority groups with predominantly type A blood, who have also formed violent chauvinist movements, and then claiming a correlation.

If you want to explore such questions you might usefully ask why some natives settled peacefully on reservations while others went on the warpath. I suspect the answer is simply that some saw that resistance was futile while others did not.

This is another interesting and useful question, and your proposed answer is definitely worth considering. Notice, however, that at its heart it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with oppression, discrimination, or cruel treatment. It simply claims that groups that perceive (perhaps through experience) that violence is an effective political tool will be more inclined to form violent political movements. As I’ve already pointed out, plenty of groups that could not remotely have been said to have been victims of majority discrimination or mistreatment have nevertheless formed violent political movements–presumably because they considered it effective to do so.

I would add only that one way a minority group can come to perceive violence as a potentially fruitful path is by seeing the majority attribute violence by minority groups to mistreatment, and then respond by redoubling its efforts to redress the violent minority group’s grievances.

59

Chris Bertram 01.18.05 at 7:49 am

Even if we allow Dan Simon’s account of the facts, his conclusion still doesn’t follow.

Compare:

“Of the children who catch infectious disease X, very very few indeed die.”

Therefore

“Infectious disease X could not be responsible for the death of this child”.

No-one is going to accept that inference, are they? So why should they accept

“Very very few of the ethnic minority groups that are oppressed and persecuted turn to violence.”

Therefore [Dan Simon]

“Oppression and persecution cannot be [any part of] the explanation of why this group turned to violence.”

60

Kevin Donoghue 01.18.05 at 10:05 am

Dan, let me know when you have worked out the “total number of ethnic or racial minorities in the world.” If you have no way to calculate that figure then certainly your thesis is “utterly unassailable.” The reason why social scientists don’t share your interest in arguments of that sort is pretty well known. I assumed that somewhere amid your verbiage there was an operational hypothesis. My bad.

Certainly a work of art which portrays grievances in a sympathetic light may promote unrest. Rulers have always worried about this. Many a culture has insisted that every flouting of the law should be presented as nothing more nor less than a “shameful descent into monstrous criminality” without regard to the circumstances which provoked it. But if you want to promote that righteous outlook it isn’t Channel Four you should be worrying about. The American Declaration of Independence is a catalogue of excuses for a violent attack on lawful authority by a discontented minority which, all things considered, had really very little to complain about.

If you want to cite that last remark as a vindication of your claim that minorities don’t resort to violence simply and solely because they are oppressed, feel free. I never said they do, nor did anyone else in this thread. Why don’t you go the whole hog and post the viewpoint you wish to attack, sign it S. T. Rawman, and proceed to demolish it? But in fairness to our hosts, you might do it on your own blog.

61

Dan Hardie 01.18.05 at 2:02 pm

Shorter Dan Simon (continued): Isn’t it amazing the amount of verbiage that I can generate, simply by not having heard of the difference between necessary and sufficient causes?

62

Dan Simon 01.18.05 at 4:31 pm

Compare:

“Of the children who catch infectious disease X, very very few indeed die.”

Therefore

“Infectious disease X could not be responsible for the death of this child”.

Well, in the absence of all other information about this disease and this child, I’d say this is actually a pretty good inference. Of course, if we further know that this disease occasionally causes high fever, and that high fever occasionally causes death, and that this child experienced high fever, then we can revise our hypothesis accordingly. On the other hand, if we know that this child had no signs of high fever, but did experience severe head trauma unrelated to the illness, then we might well stick with our original guess.

Now I won’t bore everyone with a history of terrorist movements, but I believe that if you investigate them, you’ll find that precious few of them followed the path, “oppressed minority leads to general restlessness among minority members, which leads to spontaneous formation of terrorist movement.” In fact, a hefty percentage of them cannot be said to have originated with an oppressed minority at all.

However, the etiology “enterprising radical leader spots opportunity to gain notoriety and power by killing people, embarks on a terrorist campaign” is a very common story indeed. Sometimes the power is obtained through the support of members of a minority group that considers itself oppressed. Sometimes it’s gleaned from a majority group that sees a minority group, or foreign nation, or a political faction within itself, as a threat. And sometimes it’s gleaned from a majority group on behalf of the minority group that the leader claims to be representing.

Of the three, I’d estimate that the first is the rarest and least effective source of support. In fact, terrorist groups that claim to represent oppressed minority groups are often despised by a vast majority of that group’s members, and even act as conventional criminal organizations preying on the group they purport to defend.

Of course, I haven’t cited any hard data here–although I believe the terrorism research will back me up–and if Chris or anyone else wants to come back with a similarly detailed analysis of the claimed minority oppression-terrorism link, I’m ready to listen. However, “everybody knows” doesn’t constitute an argument–nor does a compelling BBC television drama.

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Sally 01.18.05 at 5:13 pm

By now, though, it should be utterly obvious that “the Irish were cruelly discriminated against” does not constitute a plausible social cause. Yes, the Irish were cruelly discriminated against in America at the time. But numerous groups were also discriminated against just as cruelly during the same period, without forming terrorist movements

Are you sure? You didn’t know anything about the history of Irish-American violence: how do you know that you just don’t know about the histories of other ethnic groups? As someone who studies immigraton history, it bugs me to no end that a lot of Americans (and I’m assuming you’re American) rely more on cherished myths than on the actual historical record to understand the immigrant past.

I’d be very interested to hear hypotheses regarding their social causes.

The best recent attempt to understand Irish-American violence is Kevin Kenny’s Making Sense of the Molly Maguires. Kenny argues that the Mollies were recent immigrants from a particularly remote and underdeveloped part of Ireland, and they didn’t have the cultural capital they needed to deal with modern industrial capitalism. They didn’t understand the rules of the game. When they met with discrimination and exploitation, therefore, they fell back on methods of peasant resistance which worked in Donegal but which just brought the wrath of the state down on them in Pennsylvania. The effective solution to their grievances was to form a union, but they hadn’t figured that out yet. They were in an in-between state where they were trying to fix modern problems with traditional tools.

Kenny makes it clear that they were a subsection of the Irish community: they were recent immigrants, they were Irish-speaking, they came from a particular region of Northwestern Ireland. Many Irish-Americans knew full well how to play by the rules of capitalism, and they were trying to form a non-violent union. But those distinctions were lost on the general population, and the Molly Maguires became associated with, and were used to bring down, organizations which had nothing to do with Molly Maguire violence. Most Americans saw the Molly Maguires and the union as linked; in fact, they represented two totally different approaches to dealing with the discrimination and exploitation faced by Irish-American miners.

So to Kenny, the Molly Maguires were a culturally-determined response to real oppression. But also, “Irish-American culture” wasn’t monolithic, and it wasn’t fixed. It’s hard to imagine Irish-Americans resorting to that pattern of violence fifty years later, because at that point there weren’t any Irish-Americans who were as unfamiliar with industrial capitalism as the Mollies were.

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x 01.18.05 at 7:09 pm

“Now I won’t bore everyone with a history of terrorist movements”

That’s a pity, I was looking forward to that. It would have been so accurate. I was so curious to hear in which decade you’d have placed the Baader-Meinhof or the FARC. 30’s? 90’s? somewhere in the future? There is, after all, among historians, substantial disagremeent on that too.

65

Dan Hardie 01.18.05 at 7:50 pm

Shorter Dan Simon (hopefully concluding): I have a complete Theory of Terrorism Throughout the Ages for which I am offering no data at all, and unless someone can offer a complete data set of all terrorist incidents ever we will have to conclude that My Theory Is Right. Chutzpah- never heard of it.

66

Sparks 01.18.05 at 8:02 pm

For those who missed it, set your VCR’s, it’s on again tonight at 0215 on Channel 4.

67

Dan Simon 01.18.05 at 9:25 pm

As someone who studies immigraton history, it bugs me to no end that a lot of Americans (and I’m assuming you’re American) rely more on cherished myths than on the actual historical record to understand the immigrant past.

In fact, I’m not American, and as my previous comments have hopefully shown, I’m under no illusions about the harshness with which the US (like most countries) has treated its immigrants. In fact, that was one of my points–the “Root Cause” argument (that oppression and discrimination causes terrorism) fails to explain the rarity of organized terrorist violence among immigrant groups, nearly all of which have suffered considerable oppression and discrimination in America.

Based on your description, your example–the Molly Maguires–appears to be an interesting exception, rather than a typical case. It reminds me a bit of Nicholas Lemann’s analysis of black inner-city problems–that they were introduced by black migrants from certain regions of the South, where violence and family breakup were already firmly established in the local culture–black and white–for various historical reasons.

The interesting thing about this explanation is that discrimination and mistreatment don’t necessarily play a particularly strong role in provoking the ensuing violence. Yes, the Donegal Irish who emigrated to America faced harsh treatment–but they organized into violent groups because that was their tradition, not necessarily because they were oppressed. To make an analogy, Sicilians arriving in America also faced discrimination, but it would be hard to argue that they responded to it by establishing Mafia families. Rather, they formed Mafia families because that is what they had done in Sicily, and they probably would have done so even if their only problems had been the ordinary poverty and governmental indifference they endured back home, without the added burden of discrimination.

Or am I wrong–was there something specific about the mistreatment of the Northwestern Irish in America that set them off more than “mere” hardship would have?

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Kevin Donoghue 01.18.05 at 9:56 pm

Little by little, Dan Simon is coming around to the view Chris put forward:

“[The] basic message: that unremitting hostility to a community will not lead them to abandon their most reactionary traditions in favour of modernity but will rather have the opposite effect, is a valid one.”

The reactionary traditions may come from Donegal or Sicily or Pakistan. It is not asserted that they must be terrorist traditions; merely that under the pressure of hostility the wagons will form a circle.

Now whether this theory has much general validity I don’t know, but it is much more interesting than Dan’s “Root Cause” argument, which he hates with a passion despite the fact that it is his very own baby.

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Sally 01.18.05 at 10:36 pm

In fact, I’m not American, and as my previous comments have hopefully shown, I’m under no illusions about the harshness with which the US (like most countries) has treated its immigrants.

I wasn’t implying that you were ignorant about the harshness with which the U.S. has treated immigrants. I’m implying that you’re ignorant about the incidence of violent response. Your only evidence for the scarcity of earlier terrorists is that you’ve never heard of them. And I think that speaks more to the biases in historical memory than to what actually happened.

I study Irish-Americans, and I can’t speak in detail about organized violence among other groups, except to say that I can cite quite a few examples of Central, Southern and Eastern Europeans who were involved in anarchist and labor violence. (And in the case of the Haymarket martyrs and Sacco and Vanzetti, others who probably weren’t involved in violence but were executed for it anyway.) I’m sure you’d say that those people were exceptions, too, and in a sense they were. The vast majority of past immigrants, just like the vast majority of today’s immigrants, don’t resort to terrorism. But it’s just not right to say that earlier immigrants didn’t become terrorists. And if you’d asked a middle-class Anglo-American in 1905, he or she might well have insisted that Eastern Europeans were conditioned by their crazy non-Protestant culture (or their racial inferiority) to solve problems by assassinating the president, rather than by working hard and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps like civilized people.

Yes, the Donegal Irish who emigrated to America faced harsh treatment—but they organized into violent groups because that was their tradition, not necessarily because they were oppressed.

This strikes me as simplistic and as a false dichotomy. I don’t believe that either “traditions” or “oppression” alone triggered a particular response. I would be surprised if there were very many immigrant groups which didn’t bring with them traditions of violence, yet they only resorted to those traditions in certain circumstances. And there’s actually some interesting comparative immigration history which suggests that immigrants from the same background (and sometimes even the same families) behaved very differently depending on whether they ended up in places where they were welcomed or places where they weren’t. I think it’s more useful to think of tradition and local circumstances as things that interact, rather than competing explanations for behavior.

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Dan Simon 01.18.05 at 11:11 pm

Little by little, Dan Simon is coming around to the view Chris put forward:

“[The] basic message: that unremitting hostility to a community will not lead them to abandon their most reactionary traditions in favour of modernity but will rather have the opposite effect, is a valid one.”

Uh, no, I’ve been arguing quite consistently that society’s “unremitting hostility to a community” has very little impact on the latter’s formation of violent movements. Other influences–including, but not limited to, the community’s past traditions–have a much greater effect.

(I’ve also suggested that another influence–a sympathetic response to the community’s violence–sometimes plays an important role. That point has gotten lost a bit in the more historically-oriented discussions, because I believe that it was until recently very rare for people to romanticize the terrorist killers within their own society. But that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the claim.)

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dsquared 01.19.05 at 12:16 am

that they were introduced by black migrants from certain regions of the South, where violence and family breakup were already firmly established in the local culture—black and white—for various historical reasons.

Here’s a possible historical reason why there might be a few problems in the black family as an institution; I’ve got the surname “Davies” because I had a great-great grandfather who had the surname “Davies”. How many black Americans can make a similar claim?

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Dan Simon 01.19.05 at 1:04 am

Here’s a possible historical reason why there might be a few problems in the black family as an institution; I’ve got the surname “Davies” because I had a great-great grandfather who had the surname “Davies”. How many black Americans can make a similar claim?

This is way off-topic, but I figure since a CT poster is initiating it….

Legacies of slavery might explain, say, a black illegitimacy rate of 18 percent in 1950 (as compared with 2 percent for whites). However, it’s much worse at explaining the rough quadrupling of this rate to 69 percent by 1997. (The white rate crossed 18 percent in 1980, and has since leveled off at a little over half the black rate.)

Marriage and divorce rates show a similar pattern: around the middle of the 20th century, family cohesion statistics that are until then only marginally worse among whites than among blacks suddenly become epidemic problems among blacks (and a much milder problem for whites). Explaining how the effects of slavery could have “reached out” across a half-century period to devastate black families seems like a difficult job.

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abb1 01.19.05 at 10:06 am

epidemic problems

It’s not a problem, it’a trend; it’s just that marriage is the thing of the past, look at Scandinavia; the ‘marriage’ dogma is dying.

Blacks are more urban and therefore less conservative.

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Mark Eli Kalderon 01.19.05 at 3:00 pm

One thing I found odd about Yasmin’s turn to “orthodoxy” that has not been brought out in the comments so far is that it seemed like she was engaging in a bit of identity politics. What’s odd is that fundamentalist Islam and identity politics seem like strange bedfellows–even if some pursue identity politics by adopting the trappings of fundamentalist Islam.

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Antoni Jaume 01.19.05 at 4:38 pm

Mark, I think you are wrong to believe that fundamentalist Islam is at odds with identity politics. Islam is different from “Occident”, and more so to people whose families harbours from Muslim countries, but who themselves have in fact a mostly western vision of those countries an of Islam. A rigorist interpretation of Islam that refuse any change that would bring customs to be nearer those of our society is rather, in my perception, the norm. It is a bit of “Not Invented Here” syndrome.

DSW
OT: simple personnal curiosity, Kalderon is sephardic?

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Mark Eli Kalderon 01.19.05 at 11:47 pm

Antoni, perhaps you are right, but somehow I feel there is a big difference in motivation and perhaps in substance between someone’s faith in a fundamentalist version of Islam where that person was raised in that tradition and where a person adopts that faith as a reaction to felt oppression. There is at least this much difference: the former need not involve resentment in the way the latter does. If I am right in suspecting a difference in substance as well as motivation, then radical Islam as identity politics is, ironically, an expression of modernity even as it is a reaction to it.

And yes, the name is sephardi.

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