“Some People Did Something” Posted on April 14, 2019 by Irfan Khawaja under Uncategorized Share this:EmailTwitterFacebookLinkedInLike this:Like Loading... Related
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I know the music to “Hair,” but don’t think I’ve ever seen a production (or the film). This reminds me that I should.
The context behind my posting this video is the controversy over Ilhan Omar’s supposedly trivializing use of the phrase “Some people did some things” to describe 9/11. I don’t dispute that the Tet Offensive was an instance of some people doing some things, but I think it misses the point of the video I posted. Americans have come to have an offensively idolatrous relationship to 9/11, treating it as though it was some sui generis event uniquely suffered by Americans, of a kind the world had or has never seen before. They’re perfectly willing to excuse a president who conjures up non-existent crowds of 9/11 celebrants in Jersey City, but to express the thought, as Omar did, that some people did something, and yet all of us were treated as guilty is somehow too hard for them to contemplate or digest. Since the audience she was speaking to was largely Muslim, it was obvious that what she meant was “some Muslims did something, but all Muslims got blamed.” But had she said that, she’d have run the risk of being interpreted as saying, “some of us did something, but all of us got blamed,” which seems to imply identification with the attackers. In one sense, it almost doesn’t matter what she says: she can’t win, mostly because so many people want her to lose.
Reflection on the carnage we’ve produced in the world suggests that some of “us” have done some things, too. 9/11 was a large and terrible terrorist attack, but viewed in the broad perspective of the annals of warfare, including warfare engaged in by the United States and its closest allies, it wasn’t uniquely terrible. Americans should stop deluding themselves into thinking it is. A bunch of videos isn’t going to stop them, I know, but it may induce a sense of disquiet in a small handful of viewers, which is all I intend to do.
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Yeah this “uniquely terrible” rhetoric is clearly nonsense. I take it to be a poor expression of solidarity: the (more reasonable) point is that *we* (Americans) were attacked and that should be of special importance to *us* (Americans). That seems right, but at some point you have to have some reasonable sense of proportion, for God’s sake! And not take things out of context and blow them up out of proportion. I liked this piece on the Ilan Omar kerfuffle (and Conor Friedersdorf in general): https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/ilhan-omar/586993/
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I agree with you, and with Friedersdorf. But even he doesn’t go far enough. The truth is that the sacred cows of both the left and right are still immune from criticism. On the left, the idol is Title IX, and on the right it’s the campaign against BDS. As I see it, Title IX is a threat to procedural justice, and the anti-BDS movement is a threat to free speech and related norms. If you attack Title IX, you’re perceived by its defenders as defending rape (or rationalizing your own desire to rape); if you attack the anti-BDS movement, you’re perceived as defending BDS, which means being an anti-Zionist, which means being an anti-Semite, which basically means being a Nazi. I guess that makes me a Nazi rapist.
Since these are all psychotically stupid inferences, both sides have a strong interest in whipping up hysteria, and reinforcing solidarity over emotionally resonant images–to garner support by extra-rational means. The Ilhan Omar episode is like the basso continuo of the anti-BDS movement, the bass accompaniment that churns along underneath the melody and harmony. But the attacks on her are just one aspect of a larger problem, the union of Republican Islamophobia and Americanized Zionism, whether Republican or Democratic.
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Most of that sounds right. What stands out for me, at a more general level and across the left/right divide, is folks taking a sacred value/commitment and treating a whole lot of things as necessarily violating it in a way that belies viciousness, injustice etc. Much of this strikes me as power-play and self-delusion (the cases where, in fact, we are choosing between dominant norms or sets of norms that are broadly acceptable, not between ones that are acceptable as against those that are obviously or fundamentally unjust). It is interesting how the right sees this dynamic more or less for what it is when the left does it (e.g., when the left uses trumped-up, touchy, bullying standards of racism/sexism/homophobia etc. to meet normative complexity) but not when they do it (e.g., when the right uses trumped-up, touchy, bullying standards for anti-patriotism, anti-Semitism etc. to meet normative complexity). If the right is not politically correct in their own way, they are something very similar. And in ways that often flirt with or allow for gross cruelties and injustices that dwarf being caught on the short end of campus or media political-correctness battles.
The right certainly has its own form of political correctness. It’s easy to miss if you fixate on elite universities and the doings of the mainstream media (CNN, Rachel Maddow, etc.), but people seem to forget how much of the rest of our culture is dominated by the political right or by right wing sentiment. Elite universities may be very politically correct in a left-wing direction, but non-elite universities and public schools are not. Where I live, people regard DARE as completely uncontroversial. But DARE and its offshoots are just right-wing anti-drug propaganda. I’ve already blogged about the way law enforcement tends to have an open invite to command the attention of K-12 students. The military tends to get a free pass, too: this organization’s presence in the schools is taken as uncontroversial where I live (and elsewhere). And try to be the parent to object to the presence of military recruiters in your kid’s school.
As for colleges, it always amuses me when non-academics will confidently say things like, “The left dominates the universities,” followed by a listing of a bunch of leftist academics and PC scare stories, or polls showing that faculty tend to vote Democratic. But try teaching college students at a non-elite institution and convincing yourself that they are leftists.
You posted the video giving no context. It aroused this Vietnam veteran’s sense of disquiet, so it seems you succeeded in a way you didn’t intend. Peace.
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