Jay Currie is a Bigot?

(Update: Monday, June 4, 2007 at 10:19 a.m.): Welcome to all the visitors from Warren Kinsella’s blog. Please feel free to look around and take in the wide variety of subjects I talk about. I’d hate to leave you with the impression that I’m a one-trick pony.

I am quite proud of this blog entry, but I should point out that I have had other dealings with Jay Currie and I know him to be, in most respects, a perfectly decent fellow. He and I do strongly disagree on the nature of the threat Western society faces from radical Islamic fundamentalism, for reasons I describe below, but that’s as far as my criticism of him goes (which is pretty far). So, feel free to read the article as I originally presented it, but take it with the grain of salt required by the fact that this is one man’s opinion, on one particular issue.

I should also note that I close comments on my old posts in order to try and control comment spam. As this post is now almost three years old, comments have been closed for almost two and a half years. If you wish to make a comment about this post or the issues arising from it, I’ve set up a post for you to do so, here.

The blogger in question, by the way, is Tart Cider, and this is the post that may have set the stage for this confrontation. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do think this attempt at guilt by association is a little wrong-headed. Some evidence of his sensibility can be found here, and this is the incident he is talking about.

Jay Currie is a Bigot?

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. He did, however, apply that label to himself. Here’s his post:

Over at the Blogs Canada Politics E-Group I have been suggesting that I am not willing to give Muslims the benefit of the doubt unless and until I hear Muslim organizations and clerics condemn this sort of bestial killing. This, apparently, makes me a bigot.

OK, I’m a bigot.

There you go. For further context, here’s the debate (warning: more than fifty comments follow, but they are all instructive reading).

It started when POGGE wrote about CanWest being caught rewriting Reuters wirecopy, and not notifying its readers. Part of the problem was that CanWest had arbitrarily changed the language, using the word “terrorist”, and thus making it appear that supposedly-impartial Reuters had taken sides in the MidEast debate.

The Reuters news agency is accusing CanWest Global of a little monkey business with its wire copy.

One of the world’s leading news agencies, Reuters, said CanWest newspapers has been altering words and phrases in its stories dealing with the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reuters told CBC News it would complain to CanWest about the issue.

David Schlesinger, the global managing editor for Reuters, says that CanWest has crossed the line. And I agree.

As an example, Schlesinger cited a recent Reuters story, in which the original copy read: “…the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.”

In the National Post version of the story, printed Tuesday, it became: “…the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel.”

Neither the National Post nor CanWest returned calls.

The folks at CanWest are certainly entitled to their opinion but no matter how you slice it, that’s not editing for style. That’s making a substantive change to the story while pretending that it still represents what was reported by Reuters.

Jay Currie rebutted:

Editing for style is acceptable, so is editing out weasel words, distortions and adding information that a paper’s readers may find useful.

After a number of other comments, Robert McClelland chimed in:

Jay, the problem is not when legitimate terrorists are labelled as terrorists, the problem is when people who are not terrorists are labelled terrorists. The problem is when the Arab community as a whole is painted with the terrorist label.

And this results from the right redefining the word terrorism to meet the requirments of the day (ie. labelling Al Sadr a terrorist because he isn’t playing nice with the occupation forces). This is what CanWest and the National Disgrace do on a daily basis.

To which Jay replied:

I would be a great deal more impressed with the bleating of Canada’s Arab and Islamic community if I had seen them collectively and passionately condemn Arab and Islamic terrorism as and when it happens. Until I hear that and given that virtually all terrorist acts in the world today are being commited by Islamists, my assumption is the average Arab or Islamic person I meet is more likely than, say, the average Chinese person I meet, to support terrorism or potentially be a terrorist.

When the Muslim clerics condemn terrorism from the pulpits of their mosques, when the Islamic community shun terrorists and their followers, then I will be more inclined to lend a sympathetic ear to Arab or Muslim complaints they are being discriminated against.

Right now, even in the wake of the attrocity in Russia, the Islamic silence on terrorism is deafening.

As you can imagine, this prompted a number of replies. POGGE pointed out an item where Islamic clerics condemned the atrocious terrorist attack in Russia ; he even pointed out a number of websites of Muslims condemning terrorism. Robert McLellan was more succinct:

Okay, I hear you. After all, my assumption is that the average black person I meet is more likely than the average white person I meet to support criminals or potentially be a criminal. NOT!

Jay remained unrepentant. On his blog, he posted the item I quoted above.

Having sat on the sidelines of this debate and watched it develop from start to finish, I’d have to say that Jay said something that I found to be pretty repugnant. Ascribing a responsibility to any individual within any community for the actions of the extremists of that community is a dangerous thing indeed. For one thing, that “community” and the people who “belong” in it are entirely defined by Jay. It’s doubtful that the “community” that Jay sees is the same as the community that I see, much less the community the average Muslim thinks he belongs to, or even the community that the extremists ascribe themselves to. It’s a dangerous slope, and one on which we’re already slipping.

Innocent Muslims are already being targetted by nitwits because of their religion. Journalistic nitwits are already praising mob violence against innocent Muslims in Nepal thanks to the actions of a handful of kidnappers in Iraq. Jay Currie has no problems with deliberate editorial slanting that could potentially generate more hatred towards Muslims in Canada, and he puts the onus of proving one’s human decency on the Islamic individual — an onus that he probably would not put on me, a Christian.

Epithets such as bigot and racist have been overused in society, I admit. I certainly would hate to use them, and I don’t think these words apply to Jay. However, I am disappointed that Jay, loving father and decent blogger, has lowered himself into some pretty intellectually substandard thinking. There is no basis for applying responsibility to the mainstream Islamic community for the actions of a few extremists. It is certainly prejudicial to believe that any individual Muslim is somehow tainted until he or she proves otherwise.

Put it another way, we may have been at war with the Japanese Empire back in 1941, but in this day and age it’s still seen as an atrocity that we interred thousands of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War without due process. In our society, we are all innocent until proven guilty. Discrimination is wrong regardless of who is being discriminated against. To think otherwise is to blame the blameless, to condemn without due process.

I had hoped that we had risen above knee-jerk reactions. I had hoped that we had grown above seeing individuals as more than just members of a visible minority. In this, another battle in the War on Terror has been lost. We have shown ourselves not to be rational creatures; we have shown ourselves to be ruled by fear. We have shown ourselves not to be above the morals of the Islamic extremists, who certainly ascribe blame for the West’s failings on individual, innocent Americans.

Blaming All Muslims For the Ayatollah’s Fatwas

In the comments to another of Jay’s post, this one responding to a Muslim who took him to task for his first post, Sean of Polspy asks:

Let’s discuss two different artists.

Andres Serrano created a work of art called ‘Piss Christ’. His work was deliberately offensive to Christians, and he has had a few legal run-ins with them over displaying his work. Other than that he has been left alone.

Salman Rushdie wrote a book called ‘The Satanic Verses’ which was never intended to offend Muslims. Some took offense anyhow and he now lives in fear for his life under constant police protection.

Adam, if you’re reading this, please explain the discrepancy between how Christians and Muslims treat their critics.

I have a number of problems with this statement. If Sean is referring to the Ayatollah’s Fatwa in his criticism of Islam in general, he can only do so if he ascribes a parallel between the Iranian Ayatollah and the Pope. If so, then it shows a profound ignorance of Islam. It would be the same as holding Protestants responsible for Papal edicts.

More than that, such thinking shows that many in our society are prepared to ascribe far more blame to the moderates of a community for that community’s extremists if that community is Muslim rather than Christian. Perhaps this is because most of the people in this debate, Jay, Sean, POGGE and myself are either Christian or raised to Christian mores, but in general we ourselves seem quite blind to the idiots and the extremists on our side.

Don’t believe me? Ask Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Here’s a few selections from some websites I Googled, simply by typing “J.K. Rowling satanic”:

The Bible is clear that in the last days witchcraft and sorcery will be widespread. In fact, it even reveals that many Christians will be caught up in it! These Harry Potter books are right on time in the end time scenario.

We all know it. We all expect it. But it is so sad to watch. It is hard to watch so many young children embracing blatant witchcraft. There was a time when children’s fiction stories contained dragons and witches; yet they were always evil. Then things began to change: 20th century fiction and fantasy began to divide witchcraft into the “good magic” and “bad magic”. Even magnificently talented writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) helped to plant the foundation for sorceries revival in our day. As wise as they were in so many things, they were often very naive in regard to evil and Satan’s whole agenda. Tolkien did write about evil goblins; yet he would make the wizard to be a good guy. C.S. Lewis followed this practice by pretending that there is good and bad magic, and that God Himself used the “good” kind. He would make “magicians” (i.e. sorcerers) to be the good guys.

For these reasons, these most wonderful books, filled with deep, Christian insights, deserve to be thrown into the trash can. What a waste. No parent should allow a child to read such books.

There have been hoaxes circulated about explicit connections between J.K. Rowling and satanism. There have been hoaxes about people believing in them. The site above, however, is not a hoax. Nor is this one:

I knew nothing of Harry Potter until mail started coming in asking if it was ok for teachers in Christian schools to be reading children books about mythology and witchcraft!!!! Did you read that correctly? In Christian schools!!!!!

Are we now so far gone that the church can’t tell what Witchcraft is? Preachers are not doing what they are supposed to do. They are to expose this trash and inform the flock. But they join in the festivities and will not rock the boat. Halloween is accepted in the church and many of the so-called Christians fight hard when told they should not take part. Now just as Halloween is an abomination to God, so is writing books that glorify witchcraft or any kind of mythology.

Or this:

By reading these materials, many millions of young people are learning how to work with demon spirits. They are getting to know them by name. Vast numbers of children professing to be Christians are also filling their hearts and minds, while willingly ignorant parents look the other way.

The titles of the books should be warning enough to make us realize how satanic and anti-christ these books are. The afore mentioned title of the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, was a real give away. The second book was called “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, while the third book was entitled “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Sadly enough, this blatant witchcraft has been endorsed by well-known and respected “Christian” leaders, who have proven themselves to be modern day Judas Iscariots. Nothing could be more obvious than that Harry Potter books are pure witchcraft and of the devil. The “Christian” leaders, however, defend them by saying that good magic always wins and overcomes evil magic.

This is the oldest con game ever hatched out of hell.

And what about the so-called Christians who seek to ban books by Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis, simply because these two Episcopalean/Anglican authors mention witchcraft or, in Madeleine L’Engle’s case, put Buddha in the same sentence as Christ?

And if you think that we Christians are above giving out death threats, think again.

And that’s just the Christian side of things. What about the Jewish extremists populating some of the settlements in the West Bank, whose part in making peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine an impossibility has been virtually ignored. What about the fact that the few remaining settlers in Gaza, believing the land to be theirs by Biblical fiat, make Ariel Sharon look like a moderate? What about the Israeli extremist that assassinated Yitzhak Rabin? In my criticism of Israel, my beef has never been with the moderates of Labour, or even the moderates of Likud (though Sharon himself is responsible for enflaming the situation just before becoming Prime Minister). Why do we not hold up the Israelis to the same standards some are proposing to hold up mainstream Muslims to?

Returning to Christianity, what about the fact that there are groups of Christians out there whose support for Israel is motivated less out of a support for one of the only democracies in the Middle East and more out of a desire to fulfill the prerequisites of the End Times and the Apocalypse? These Christians exist, and they seek to bring about the end of the world, possibly through a great war between the West and Islam. Do we honestly believe that these individuals speak for mainstream Christians? So why do we believe that Islamic extremists in some way speak for the wider Islamic community?

I’ll admit that the closest equivalent we Christians have to an Ayatollah dishing out hatred and bitterness is Jerry Falwell, and that these two individuals are not equal. Jerry has neither the Ayatollah’s influence on the Christian community (thank God), nor has he issued Fatwas. However, listening to the invective that pours out against homosexuals, against Muslims in general, against Democrats, even, I’d suggest to you that all it would take is one small push — if not for Jerry, then for somebody a little less reserved.

If we don’t think that Christians can’t so twist their religion as to take up arms against their fellow human beings, then we’ve forgotten the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. We have forgotten the Branch Dividians of Waco. And we ourselves are denying our own connections and our own commonalities with these extremists, even as some of us are applying those same connections and commonalities between mainstream Islam and its extremists.

I didn’t hear priests in my pulpit denouncing the blatant misuse of Christianity by those extremists involved in Oklahoma City. Then again, I wasn’t listening for it. As mainstream priests of the religion I shared stood in those pulpits, I thought that the condemnation was already there in their hearts. For me it was clear that decent human beings did not need to say a thing more to prove their humanity.

And Finally…

I’d like to take a moment to comment specifically on Jay’s words below:

Until I hear that and given that virtually all terrorist acts in the world today are being commited by Islamists, my assumption is the average Arab or Islamic person I meet is more likely than, say, the average Chinese person I meet, to support terrorism or potentially be a terrorist.

The fact that virtually all terrorist acts in the world today are being committed by Islamists should come as some surprise to the people of the Basque region of Spain. Or to the people of Northern Ireland. Or to the Muslims targeted by Hindu extremists in India. Or to the victims of the Unabomber.

Jay must have a remarkably short memory since it’s been less than a decade since most of the world’s terrorist attacks were carried out by non-Muslims. From Oklahoma City to Omagh, places like Northern Ireland are only a decade out from very dark periods in their history. The military militias are still operating in Montana and in Michigan.

It is true that a lot of acts of violence originate in the Middle East these days, but that’s no surprise. The region is governed by a series of dictatorships and there is a wide gap between rich and poor. The fact that the bulk of the Middle East happens to be Islamic is an accident of history. And the fact that the region is governed by a series of dictatorships has as much to do with Western imperial mistakes made in 1919 as it does any other reason. One small push back during the Crusades might have been all that it took to have Muslims dominating modern civilization today, and Christian extremists hijacking airplanes.

The sad fact is that humans in general are not far removed from violence. Believing oneself to be immune, or believing oneself to be better than an arbitrarily defined group of individuals, is arrogant. It invites downfall.

The Best Defence Against Hate Speech is More Speech

On a completely different topic (sorry for the heart attack, Jay), I’d like to say that Matthew at Living in a Society has a good point. Though I still favour the creation of anti-hate crime laws to deal with people in positions of trust or people backing up their hate speech with violence or threats of violence, Canada is not a country where one should be able to call the police whenever an individual shows up peacefully holding an intolerant sign.

No. The best response to that sort of hate speech is speech of your own. My hat goes off to two McGill Students who, when faced with a lone individual walking around with an anti-Semetic protest sign outside of McGill Campus, responded by holding a peaceful demonstration of their own.

“Today he’s had a really bad day,” Ormond said Wednesday. “He’s been spoken to by many, many disgruntled university students who want their campus free of negative speech.”

I’m thinking students should get extra credit if they continue to peacefully demonstrate with their own counter-signs for the rest of the term. Call it a special PoliSci course on free speech.

Further Reading

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