Islam fascination

(picture: bee hive that reads Allah in Arabic)

As a post in between my philosophy discussions about Levinas and Heidegger, I would like to post my reaction here to question that was asked at Orkut.

The question was (from an Orkuter from Pakistan):

So recently I've had some free time to myself and I've been hopping around communities on here whose themes were centered around discourse, racism, prejudice, justice, human rights, etc. Now, most of the time these communities were created to tackle the above mentioned issues (and more) in a broad sense. Yet, I've been seeing a funny phenomenon.It seems the majority of
threads that are created in the majority of these communities are to do with Islam in one way or another. I could possibly attribute this to the fact that there is an overwhelming population of Muslims on orkut, but it's it seems that its not as simple as that. Many of the threads involve people who appear to be ever-ready to ardently discuss, argue, debate and sometimes even bash and ridicule Islam/Muslims to some extent.

What, then, is behind this apparent fascination with Islam? Whether it be from the persepective of the passionate Muslims who would use many opportunities to give some information about his/her faith, to the people who would do anything to "expose" its teachings, to the people in between who just want to know more. Why is Islam being such a popular subject of discussion (from even before 9/11)?

And my reply:

Interesting question.

Let's start by saying that I am not sure if Orkut as a whole has got that many Islam discussions, I suppose there will be many corners of Orkut where I have never been where totally other topics are being discussed like Star Wars, Linux, ancient Maya cultures and Linkin Park ;-)
In my community list are many Islam related communities and general political communities. It's logical that the Islam communities have Islam related topics, but it's not so logical that American Politics or this community, DAR, has got a lot of Islam related topics.

I think both from the "east" and from the "west" I can mention some reasons why people pay a lot of attention to the Islam. In the east the Islam is one of the major religions (one of the biggest religions in the world). And it's a religion who plays an important role in the daily lives of people. In the Netherlands many people describe themselves as christians, but religion often plays a very small role in their lives, they go to the church with christmas and that's it. So they also don't really want to talk about it at discussion platforms like Orkut.
When you pray 5 times per day, when almost everybody around you is Muslim, when religion and culture are much more mixed and when the education is most of the time religious, religion gets a much more central place in somebody's life. So then people talk more about it, which doesn't mean they want to show the supremacy of the religion or that their aim would be to convert others, the discussions could be just as well about what it means to live as a good Muslim. In the west the perspective is different. The Islam represents what is totally different and strange, and which is soon considered to be a threat for the west. With the cold war the Russians / communists were considered to be the main enemies of the west. With the collapse of communism and the fall of the wall, the political relations changed. Now that we don't have to fear much from Russia anymore, we started to look for new possible dangers and after 9/11 the enemy picture became clear again, from both sides. The war on terrorism is not a traditional or a cold war. The threat from the east to the west is not so visible, predictable or controlable. It's not an open war but a hidden war with terrorist attacks that can strike anytime anywhere, not only in the east but also in the west. We don't know where the next attack will take place and so we can't do much to prevent it from happening. This fear can make that people start to panic and don't think very well anymore. The Islam as a whole is considered to be a threat for the west, not just the small groups of extremist terrorists both in the east and the west. At once it's assumed that normal moderate Muslims think like extremists, that they think that all non-Muslims should be killed. Then the posts at Orkut become a kind of mission to fight against the "dangerous and barbarian Islam" in order to protect the west. The "Barbarians inside the gates" thread title sounds as a clear expression of this fear (although that post was about a small group of youngsters who attacked a train, not about Muslims in Europe in general). The reason why I think it's relevant to talk about the Islam in this community, although it usually has little to do with racism, is that it offers a good opportunity to analyse different types of discourses and perspectives. I am interested in the images that people invent in their minds of other groups. Images of "the enemy". Simplistic and generalized images, group labels that are being put on the heads of unique individuals. Abstract ideas that are based on the media and propaganda of politicians. How can we stimulate that we meet each other with an open mind? What can we do to decrease the hate at different sides and to take away irrational fears?

So there's a lot to be discussed with about the Islam at Orkut, still.



The importance of identity

How would Levinas have thought about the importance of identity? Many critics say that he doesn't recognize the importance of identity at all. Indeed if you would count the word identity in his texts you won't find it very often. For Levinas the main point is that the other should be welcomed unconditionally, no matter who is. We all have different characteristics, we belong to different groups and categories, but we are always equal as humans. For the universal principle of how I should treat the other, for the question whether I take my responsibility for the other or whether I totalize him, it doesn't matter who the other person is. But this doesn't mean that it wouldn't matter at all in general.

Rudi Visker says in "Going strange and remaining strange" (see also
Strangers and strange books):

"When we follow Levinas' thinking, we will start to consider racism as the prototype of ethical evil, because the racist is exactly the one who tries to reduce the other to its "form", who doesn't look at his real face but who finally treats him as an interchangeable and replacable copy of his species, somebody who shows characteristics of a certain race which are different from my race and inferior to mine. It is in order to stop this reduction that the other should be welcomed without any "cultural decorations", without the reduction which takes away his dignity as an equal human being and also as a unique irreplacable individual. But what if the other person doesn't want to be recognized as an "abstract human"? What if he doesn't want to be just some "other person", but a woman, black, or gay? When somebody likes to call himself a "black American" it doesn't mean he reduces himself to a certain species, but it doesn't mean he wants or is able to disassociate himself from that either."
I find it strange that when the other isn't being reduced to the categories he belongs to, that he would immediately become "abstract". The fact that the other deserves to be treated as an equal human, always, no matter who he is, only says something about how he should be treated as a human, not about whether it matters or not who he actually is.

I just started to read Levinas' Talmudic studies. There he speaks more about identity than in his philosophical books. The reason why is clear: when he studies Jewish religious texts he automatically starts to reflect as well on what it means to be Jewish, how a Jewish identity can be characterized. He doesn't think that these traditions which have been taught to children from generation to generation, would be irrelevant to describe a person. A personal background / identity can't be put away at once and why should we try at all to distanciate us from that?

Levinas describes in "L'au-dela du verset" how every individual reads the holy Jewish texts in a different way, and also in different times it will be read in a different way. He who reads it is being challenged, not only to understand it's universal meaning, but also to understand the part which is inimitable for others, which is related to the unicity of that person and his personal abilities. Still this doesn't point to a lack of objectivity in the texts. The truth of revelation is a process of the creation of a meaning from the moment the I forms a irreplacable identity. This means that the wealth and thruth of these texts can only be shown in the multiplicity of people and generations, not just by one person.

An individual cannot be reduced to a race or category of "black Americans". But on the other hand this doesn't mean that it wouldn't matter for a person to be a "black American". That might be one of the characteristics that he uses to describe himself. This doesn't mean he becomes interchangeable with any other black American, he is still a unique individual with a combination of characteristics that nobody else has.

"My ownness is not - contrary to what Levinas thinks - something I can give up. Take for instance gender. To be a man or a woman is a characteristic to which people don't want to be reduced. To call a woman a "chick" means to treat her as a copy of a certain species, and to take away her uniqueness. That is sexism. But at the same time she won't like her being a woman to be ignored either. She wants to be recognized both as a human and a woman."
I totally agree with Rudi Visker, with the example that a woman wants to be recognized not only as human but also as a woman, which doesn't mean she likes sexism. However, in my opinion Visker is mistaken to think that Levinas claims that people can easily give up their identity. With regard to Judaism it's the most clear that Levinas doesn't expect people to leave their identity behind. It's interesting what Levinas writes about the Jewish identity in his Talmudic studies. He speaks about assimilation, and that it's a bad thing when the diaspora completely adopts the western culture and when the Jewish traditions only become folklore. But on the other hand he also says that to be stuck with a Jewish culture which is not open for dialogue and the polemic of the West, predetermines the for the ghetto and for fysical extermination.
He searches for a way to breathe new life into the old Jewish texts by rereading them with modern eyes and by translating them to the language of Greek Western philosophy. The Jews shouldn't lock themselves up in their own Jewish corner and they should completely assimilate to the Western culture either. They should find a new way and new language to express their identity and to start a dialogue with people with other backgrounds.

It's very well possible to value, keep and express your own identity and at the same time to meet the totally other with an open mind. It's very well possible to recognize / consider a Jew as a Jew, even though he is in the first place a human being (like with the example of the woman). It's very well possible to be universally human, particularistically Jewish and individually a unique personality, all of that at the same time.

I don't know how this song sounds but I like the lyrics from Gloria Gaynor:

I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook
Or the ovation
It's my world
That I want to have a little pride
My world
And it's not a place
I have to hide in
Life's not worth a dam
Till I can say I am what I am
I am what I am
I don't want praise
I don't want pity
I bang my own drum
Some think it's noise
I think it's pretty
And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle
Why not see things from a different angle
Your life is a shame
Till you can shout out I am what I am
I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the aces sometimes the deuces
It's one life and there's no return and no deposit
One life so it's time to open up your closet
Life's not worth a dam
Till you can shout out I am what I am
I am good
I am strong
I am worthy
I belong
I am useful
I am true
I am somebody
Yes I am



Totalisation in the street

Yesterday I read in the newspaper that Verdonk invented another ridiculous plan, doesn´t she have anything better to do than inventing crazy measures as a Minister of Immigration? She proposes to create a code of conduct that people in the street should only speak Dutch. I thought the street was still from us, a place where we can do what we want as long as we don´t break the law, a public space which isn´t totally controlled by the state. So this rule is a pity then, for all the tourists in Amsterdam who ask for the way. So this is how we should treat strangers in the Netherlands according to Verdonk: we refuse to talk to them. Of course it´s good to promote that everybody living in the Netherlands learns to speak Dutch well enough, it´s good if there´s one language in which everybody can communicate with each other. To stimulate that Dutch is spoken at schools and in community centers, I can imagine, but why on the street? In this time of globalization more and more different languages are being spoken at different locations. The first aim of communication is that people understand each other. Everyone should be a bit flexible in that, that you search for the best language to understand each other, also if it´s not Dutch. According to Levinas language is one of the best tools to bridge cultural differences, because people who are totally different can understand each other through language, they can come closer to each other and have real contact without the necessity to reduce the other to the same. We don´t have to give up our own culture and identity, we can use a different language temporary, a common language which doesn´t need to refer to a common culture. Why would you restrict these possibilities of language as a bridge between people with different backgrounds, why wouldn´t you use all the advantages it can offer?

And the next time Verdonk will say that weblogs in the Netherlands should be only in Dutch and then I loose more than half of my audience here ;)



Why are we so?

(Title of the painting: "Celebrate diversity")
Here's another Orkut chat, Shrinath from India had posted a poem in my scrapbook about the acceptance of difference and diversity. This topic - acceptence of difference - is very important in my opinion with regard to the link between Levinas' philosophy and reflections on intercultural contact. Levinas emphasizes all the time that we should realize and accept that the other is totally different and that we should never try to reduce him to the same. With xenofobia and racism this is exactly what happens: the other the stranger is being objectified and reduced to the same, because I invent an unreal image of the other in my mind and after that I don't look at the real person anymore but only at the image in my mind.

Hye Esther,
I was going through your blogs and I found some of your observations quite profound. I share some of your views and have a strong conviction about these. In fact I've written a small poem kind of thing. It' s about accepting the diversity of people & things around you. This principle is a very inherent part of Indian culture because India as you will know is a land of diversity be it in culture, religions, geography, languages, customs: yet Indians continue to live in harmony as a single brethren. I hope such spirit of tolerance continues to spread throughout the world especially in the current scenario. It's been a long scrap, please do let me know what u think about the poem.

We only see what we really want to see
We only believe in those who tell us what we want to hear
We only fight against whom - we can prevail
How could it always be what we wanted it to be?
Why are we so - Why are we so?

We only learn about what we really yearn for
We only search till we get what we thought we would get
It's then that we begin to stop 'coz this is where we stopped to begin:
To begin - to prove ourselves wrong
Why are we so - Why are we so?

Why do we hate things that are different from us?
Why do we always mingle only with like-minded people?
Why should birds of the same feathers flock together?
In this world full of idiosyncrasies why do we always search for verisimilitude?
Why are we so - Why are we so?

Why are we so averse to change when the only thing thats constant is -
Change. But what really is change?
Well, it' s not just the difference
But it' s the difference we perceive: which is the difference we see
It' s really a parodox: just like life - Why is it so?

My reaction:

It's very good, the poem.

Fortunately, however, I think that humans also have a different side in them. Humans have various urges. The desire for new experiences, for tasting something unknown, can be strong as well. It can happen that a stranger puts into question everything that was considered normal in a community, and that people really start to think about why they do things the way they do and see things the way they see it, and if it's just or if there are other ways that they actually find better. People can get bored when nothing ever changes. A fast changing future is uncertain, but also offers many chances for improvement. What is framed in our minds, what we always learned and always thought, is easier to recognize and to understand. We can recognize it because we already knew it, which is easier than with something completely unknown.

But on the other hand we can learn much more about ourselves in that way (when we are confronted with something completely unknown), about what is supposed to be known but what usually remains at an unconscious level. When there's a clear difference you can see where one object stops and where something else begins. Because of the contrast you can see both objects more clearly. If people can succeed in overcoming their fear for the unknown, for strangeness and the uncertainty of change, if they don't fear it but are open for it, they can certainly use that experience and learn from it.

And here's part of a Level 42 song that combines well with the poem:
We are all sleepwalkers
We only see the things we wanna see
Tunnel visions
And there’s no end in sight

We are all sleepwalkers
We don’t see nothing we don’t wanna see
We dream in color
We paint each other black and white

Let’s take one step at a time
Let’s take each day as we find
Give me the chance to speak my mind
Don’t you know that after all
That’s all I really need, to cross that line

We give the impression that all is well
Trying to live all of the lies we tell
We cry when there’s no one near
We don’t know why there just ain’t enough love
In these alien years



Side by side

I have a friend in the UK that I know from Orkut who is going through a very difficult time. He asked me to go to church and pray for him. As I said before in this blog, it happened only recently that one could say that I returned to religion (beacuse of reading Levinas), after it had been gone for a long time. So it's a very long time ago since I last prayed to God, if I ever did so.

I found out that in a church near my house the minister of the church had weekly consultation hours, so I decided to go there, despite the fact that these kind of things are very unfamiliar for me, and I didn't know what to expect from such a consultation hour. But it was very good to talk to him. He said that I should find my own language to talk to God and he said that God is with us. What he said matched very well with the Jewish religious axiomes where Levinas' philosophy is founded on. Everything he said I recognized immediately, both from my youth (the songs of Huub Oosterhuis) and from what I read in books of Levinas. So below I tried to write down what the minister said, with some of my own thoughts added to it (I added the concpet of Infinity and that the darkness hasn't conquered the light yet).

And one more comment: I still don't know if God really exists and what he would be like exactly. We can never know that for sure, in a rational scientific way. I don't need no factual proofs either. What the minister said I found very beautiful and it could be true. In a poetic spiritual way my intuition tells me that it has to be true. Half of my life I assumed God didn't exist, so why wouldn't I assume he exists now, for a change.

God is my mate, my companion, he is the fellow traveler of man. God is with us, God supports us, we can trust him. We can be sure that he is there, always, he awaits us. God sends his Love to humans, to all humans, his infinite Love. We can feel his presence, he is close to us, he listens to our prayers, he cares for our suffering. God travels with us and supports us, he gives us strength and confidence so that we are no longer weak, afraid or uncertain. God leads us out of the darkness into the light, he leads us from exile to the promised land, as Moses did with God at his side. When Moses called God, God came to him and said that he didn’t need to fear, because God is with him. So God guided and supported Moses as a travel companion. In the same way God is still with us as our travel companion and anchor for support. God is especially close to people who suffer, to vulnerable people like the poor, the stranger, the widow and the orphan. People who are hungry, ill, homeless, refugees, asylum seekers, people who are oppressed, who have no rights, these are the people that God’s heart especially goes out to. All humans are equal, but vulnerable people should be the first to care for, both by God and by humans (by politicians, policymakers, by the church, and by normal citizens as well). Any society should in the first place take care of drop-outs, of people who threaten to fall out of the society. The people who have no safe ground to hold on to, people without a home, strangers, widows who lost their partner, people who have to fight all the time to survive and to find a place where they can be at home and at peace, those are the people that we should care for in the first place. The way the Dutch government locks up foreigners in the Schiphol detention center (where the fire broke out) is exactly the opposite. Instead of treating people with respect and carefulness, instead of searching together for a suitable solution (with which both the foreigner and the state can live), they are treated as criminals, though most of them never committed any crime. This kind of inhumane policies leads to a dead end (even literally).

It’s not only me and God, it’s us together, we should stand together as humans. An individual is nothing all by himself. From the moment we are born we need others around us who love us and support us. In he first place our parents, and then the rest of our family, friends and other people in our surroundings. Nobody can live completely alone. A human being is a social being. Martin Buber (Jewish philosopher) wrote a book called “Ich und Du”, but Rosenstock-Huessy (also a Jewish philosopher) argued that it shouldn’t start with “I”, he plead to turn it around into “You and I” (or “Thou and I”). The egoism of completely being locked up in ourselves doesn’t bring us any further. The only person who can liberate me is the other (as Levinas said, the third Jewish philosopher in this list). Through the face of the other God is revealed to us. God is a secret for humans and he will remain so for ever. But we can feel his presence, we can feel his Infinite Love and Goodness. God is Love, God is like a passionate lover who loves all humans. He can’t forget them, he thinks about them and cares for them all the time.

There is no need to fear God. When you try your best to be good, God will forgive all your mistakes an sins. God is not a violent merciless master who aggressively punishes humans all the time. God is Love, as a warm bath, as a big positive Light that conquers all darkness of evil, injustice and suffering. God’s light is stronger than death, his power is eternal, it cannot be conquered by death.

Through the other, through my fellow man, I can meet God. Do you know when the night turns into day? According to Judaism it happens when the face of my fellow man, the face of the Other, appears in front of me. We should try to stir up the fire / light of goodness in ourselves and others and we should try to come closer to God, to the Infinite Light of Goodness. We should spread his Light. Then we will be strong, we can face all problems, no matter how big they are. And the darkness hasn’t conquered the light yet.

I will end this post once more with a song, you can imagine me walking with my travel companion God by my side ;-)

So we ain't got a barrel of money

Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we travel along
Singing our song
Side by side.

Through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we're together
It doesn't matter at all

Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
maybe it's trouble and sorrow
but we'll travel the road
sharin' our load
side by side.



Enchained in roots

During my winter sport vacation I read two essays from Levinas: "Reflections on the philosophy of Hitlerism" and "On escape". My aim was to collect arguments from Levinas against Heidegger's enrootment philosophy. The core of the philosophy of Hitlerism is the idea that humans are not free but completely enchained. They are enchained in their physical bodies, in their race and in their history. These factors determine their fate as individuals and as a people and also their human value. The idea that humans are determined by their race and background legitimizes the idea that some races / peoples are superior to others, which means that the inferior ones can be excluded and that "universal" human rights can be denied to these groups.

Although this is the core of Levinas' criticism towards Hitlerism, it cannot directly be read as criticism to Heidegger's enrootment philosophy, since Heidegger's philosophy isn't based on race but on authochthony. However, I think that his concept of autochthony is rather vague. How many generations should a people have lived on one terratory before they can considered to be autochthoneous, where should the line be drawn? And why should the farmers of the Black Forest live in that particular forest, why can't they feel close to the nature and live in their traditional way in a similar forest in another country? But in fact it doesn't make much difference whether the exclusion is based on race or something else, the exclusion, violence and dehumanization that they lead to are the same.

Against this exclusive philosophy, Levinas puts forward his "humanism of the other". There are two ways of how you can treat another human being: either you dehumanize him the way this is done by Heidegger and Hitler, or you can decide to welcome the other and to always treat him as a real person, an equal human being.

Below is another part of an Orkut discussion, where I described this difference between dehumanization in the one hand and the welcoming of the other on the other hand, in relation to racism and stereotypes. An Orkuter complained that because he has an Asian appearance and a name which could be Islamic, people automatically assume he's a Muslim and start to express their negative stereotyped images about Muslims to him. I think that these posts make it concrete, what Levinas means.

The Orkuter said:

"My gripe comes from the fact that I contributed to a forum on race and the first thing people noticed was my name and pic, which in their eyes represented a 'muslim'. This is a fact. You see, a distinction is therefore already made without a word being uttered by me. The gerneral stereotype therefore is reinforced (rightly or wrongly) as
- Muslim = conservative and ignorant to other views (Closed shop)
- White = Liberal or conservative, open mined or whatever the choice seems endless
You may not believe this to be the case but this distinction does exist and it is prevalent even here among more enlightened individuals. It may be that its just their nuerolinguistic programming and therefore their nature. I don't expect people to be tip toeing around me just for the sake of political correctness but I equally don't want people to be stereotyped.
Its extremely patronising and makes me have to justify my motivations for any comment. I don't see these questions and issues being raised or put to white Christians as are put to muslims. Sometimes I notice things, though this is not exclusive to this forum, questions can be so pregnant with assumptions that they are arguably better left unanswered. Not because they do not relate to important issues but because they are so loaded with prejudice and crippled by ignorance, that the manner in which they are put renders them incapable of addressing important issues."

I replied:

"I totally agree. This community has got racism in its name, but many problems are no clear racism, but a related phenomenon which is less visible but which can be as harmful. The real problem is very much related to the stereotypes. Racism, the discrimination and exclusion of races, is only an extreme form of the same kind of problem. The core of the problem is in my
opinion the dehumanization of individuals by inventing a stereotype image based on assumed characteristics of the group / category they belong to according to others. Other people make a judgement about whom I essentially am without listening to what I say myself. They look at me and invent a picture of what I am like, that I am a "typical Dutch naive lunatic liberal", for instance. After they have invented that image, they don't look at / listen to the real person anymore, as if they killed the person. The real person has been reduced to / replaced by an object: the image of that person in somebody elses mind. But other people cannot reduce me to an object, I always remain human and I should always be treated like that. I have a right to speak for myself. It doesn't matter where I was born, what the colour of my skin is, in which culture I grew up or what my religion is like. The only thing that matters is what I do and what I say. You can find it bad what I do or say and you can explain to me why you think so. You cannot turn me down just because of my (assumed) race, nationality, culture or religion.
Differences in group characteristics cannot make one group superior to another with regard to the value of the humans as humans. No race or culture can ever be inferior at the level of being human, every human being is completely human.

That's the most important thing: to always treat a human being as a human. You can assume / guess things but then you always have to check if it's true in this particular case or not. Try to have an open mind as much as possible, really listen to what someone says, instead of listening to your own thoughts about 'that kind of people'."



Racism and other bad behaviour

Here's another Orkut discussion, a Muslim girl (Su) posted a spiritual (Sufi) text and a Muslim boy (Ad) said that she should stop with such "religious freakshows". He thought that Muslims are backward, compared to non-Muslims, because they are too much occupied with religion and not enough with e.g. economics and politics. A boy from Switzerland (St) agreed with Ad and said that Su's post doesn't belong in the Discourse Analysis and Racism community. I replied that people can post whatever they like as long as the posts don't contain personal insults.

Then the discussion between me and St becomes interesting, because it concerns the question of when views / problems should be considered as racist and when not. And here's the story of my participation in a "black power" meeting, that St refers to.

And I couldn't find the pig cartoon that St speaks about, but I did find another pig cartoon with
poor little piglet being executed ;)

St says: Esther - since you still cling to the notion of "racism", explain this: Ad is Pakistani, yet he hates the culture in his country. I really like him for his honesty and his will to change things. Is he racist? Am I racist? Nah, of course not! You might have noticed that it's all a matter of attitude, culture and ideology. We don't love or hate people because of the way they look or the group they were born in, but because we share their ideas or not. Trying to go along with the "racial" argument leads you straight into a dead end. Your participation in that "black power" meeting reminds me of that cartoon where you see two grim looking butchers surrounding a cheerful little pig, which is eagerly explaining his concept of universal peace and happiness...

Esther says:
How do you know that I cling to the notion of racism? Ad is not a racist and you are not a racist, no matter how much you or him dislike Muslims / the Islam or whatever.

To dislike a culture or religion or to dislike the way it develops or to be critical towards certain traits in it is not the same as to consider some races as inferior to others.

St says:
"How do you know that I cling to the notion of racism?"

You go to meetings where participants were selected based on the colour of their skin (you being the only exception). You thought that them having a specific skin colour would give them special insights or that they need more defending than other people of a different sking colour.
I believe that we all have our specific strengths and problems, quite independently of skin colour and that the major problem is always in our mind. While you say so, you still do stand up for anti-racism instead of anti-bad-behavior. You still hesitate to call such bad behavior by name when it is committed by a supposed "minority". You'd be surprised how minorities multiply when they are given a special status, excemption from prosecution etc.

Esther says:
"You go to meetings where participants were selected based on the colour of their skin (you being the only exception)."

No they were not selected, other people just didn't come.

"You thought that them having a specific skin colour would give them special insights or that they need more defending than other people of a different sking colour.

I believe that we all have our specific strengths and problems, quite independently of skin colour and that the major problem is always in our mind."

We are all equal as humans, skin colour doesn't matter for our "human value". But in practice our "specific problems" -- or the lack of them - are clearly related to skin colour. The lighter your skin, the better your chances are in society. This is especially strong in countries like Surinam. Parents hope to get a bit lighter children, because the lighter their skin, the bigger the chance that they will find a good job and be succesful in life, because a lighter skin has a higher status in that society.

The major problem is in our minds indeed, the skin / race itself has got nothing to do with it. But the fact that racism / discrimination is an irrational immoral form of behaviour doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. I cannot take away the prejudices and negative images that exist in other people's minds with regard to people with a different skin colour.

Sometimes bad behaviour, discrimination, a hateful discourse is too quickly labeled as racism, while it could be just a dislike of a certain culture. But real racism does exist, you don't deny that, do you?

"While you say so, you still do stand up for anti-racism instead of anti-bad-behavior. You still hesitate to call such bad behavior by name when it is committed by a supposed "minority"."

I try to distinguish carefully between racism and other forms of bad behaviour.

With regard to the African Roots Movement I implicitly said that racist comments where made in these speeches, because generalisations were made about the struggle of the black race against the oppression of the white race. That's a racist way of thinking.

"You'd be surprised how minorities multiply when they are given a special status, excemption from prosecution etc."

I don't give anyone an exemption from prosecution.

St says:
"I don't give anyone an exemption from prosecution."

Of course not: you're not a politician in power. But check out what's happening.

(And then he describes how the state e.g. in France, often doesn't punish minorities for bad behavior because of their "minority status".

It's interesting to see how the same elements always come back in these discussions. So, when is racism playing a role in a certain situation and when not? If what St says is true ("We don't love or hate people because of the way they look or the group they were born in, but because we share their ideas or not.") - and I believe that he speaks the thruth - then St and Ad are no racists indeed, and I confirmed that. I never accused them of racism, by the way, so at first I didn't understand why St said that I still cling to the notion of racism. He seems to mean it in general. When he says that their skin colour gives them special insights, he accuses me of racism, I think, and on the other hand he says that I fail to aknowladge the racism from their side towards white people. But I do know that a skin colour doesn't give any special insights (there are no brains in your skin) and I did recognize the racism in the ARMS speeches.

St says that I stand up for anti-racism but not for anti-bad behaviour. When he compares me with the happy peace pig that will be slaugthered, he claims that there is no racism where the ARMS people were fighting against, and in which I agree with them. That St personally can't be accused of racism doesn't mean that racism against black people doesn't exist at all in the world.

St said: "I believe that we all have our specific strengths and problems, quite independently of skin colour and that the major problem is always in our mind." He is right of course, personal characteristics are not related to skin colour. But specific problems that people are faced with can very well be related to skin colour. Not that the skin itself would be a problem, of course, but because people are discriminated because of the colour of their skin, they are faced with problems / injustice. This is something that cannot be denied, no matter how equal all people with all skin colours are in their worth as human beings.



The little minds of the herd

Here's one more post about Heidegger, and then I will move on to Levinas' criticism against Heidegger's philosophy of rootedness. Although it's not so relevant for my dissertation, I wanted to write this time about Heidegher's criticism of the "everydayness of the mass man". People are afraid of their own death, according to Heidegger, they know that their lives are finite and that death can kill them any time. Instead of facing the real life, people often try to run away from their fear to live a apparently safe and simple fake life.

People escape from the real life to a life of simplistic and superficial everydayness. They focus on materialism / consumerism and idle talks. They forget about their roots and about what they really find important and what makes them unique individuals. They only follow the mass, so that they don't have to think and decide for themselves and so that they aren't noticed, everybody l
ooks exactly the same. 'Behave normally, that already crazy enough." It's safe and easy to act exactly the way others in your surroundings expect that from you, even if it doesn't fit for you at all. you blow with all winds, you never take a position and then nobody is against you. Heidegger strongly criticizes this empty, superficial, fake and nihilistic mentality.

I never liked that attitude. Especially at highschool, where thesocial pressure was high to adapt to the mainstream, I had a difficult time. I always felt different from the "mainstream", and I didn't want to assimilate, but on the other hand I didn't want to be alone either. I prefered the university, where people were not so much bothered about different styles or views, diversity was much more accepted there. And the superficial talks which are only carried out as a social formula, as a role game, without any real meaning, have
always been the most difficult for me. I am shy so I find talking always difficult (clearly more difficult than writing), but when I can speak about topics that really touch me, like philosophy or politics, then I can talk much more easily. With the talks about the weather or soccer I have to watch out that I don't forget to listen to the talk and that my thoughts don't drift away.

There are so many social rules for how you should behave and how not, and people take part in that without thinking about it, because everybody does it. People look at themselves through the eyes of others, to meet their expectations, instead of deciding for themselves what they want to do.

I can play that game sometimes, for it doesn't make sense to resist against these social rules all the time, I can't change them anyway, and it doesn't really matter to play the game every now and then. But it helps to realise that it's just a game and that I can remain completely myself, I don't have to "assimilate" to the mass norms, it's enough when I temporary adapt my behaviour to the situation at hand. I try that more and more
the last years, to be completely myself and to stop worrying about what others might think about me. This is why I like this kind of Orkut communities a lot, because they are based on the same idea, communities like: "I don't fit", "social imbeciles", "be yourself" and "beautiful freaks".

And the lyrics of Eels match very well with this theme:

They told me that i couldn't come back here again
Took me for some kind of fool
Said I was doing things that never should be done
But I don't care about their rules
As if I cared about the little minds
In the little heads of the herd
There's nothing you could dream
Would be more absurd

I don't know what it is they're trying to do to me
Make me into some sick joke
But no one's laughing
And least of all not me
It's hard to laugh as you choke

Hollywood lies piled up to the sky
Floating your way soon
Hope you like the rotten stench of doom

I don't know what it is they think i'm gonna try
They don't know what they need to fear
The surest sign that the end is coming soon
Is right there in the bathroom mirror

Everybody knows these are rock hard times
I gotta make it through
These are rock hard times

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