Firebrands Unite

From this morning’s New York Times: the print headline reads: “Anti-Muslim Firebrands Are Arrested in Britain.” For what? Well.

Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, was detained in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the group said, where he was accompanying his deputy, Jayda Fransen, to her court hearing on earlier charges related to using “threatening, abusive, insulting words or behavior” during an anti-Islam speech in August that prosecutors said could qualify as incitement to racial hatred. She has denied the charges.

Shortly after her court appearance, British news media said she was arrested again, this time as part of a police investigation into “an incident at a peace wall” in Belfast on Wednesday.

Earlier, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said on Twitter that detectives investigating speeches made at the Northern Ireland Against Terrorism Rally on Aug. 6 “have arrested a 35-year-old man in the Belfast area today.” The post did not identify Mr. Golding or the offense.

Gee, sounds familiar in a weird, mirror-image kind of way. Naturally, it’s completely unclear what the suspects did or said: the police won’t say, the journalists don’t know, and so, the rest of us are in the dark. “An incident at a peace wall.” What kind of incident? “An incident at a peace wall” almost sounds like a second invasion of Poland. Never mind, though: this sort of opacity is Standard Operating Procedure for the 21st Century Thought Police. And there are people who like it this way. Some even regard themselves as bien pensant liberals. Continue reading

Orientalism, Racism, and Islam: Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

David Riesbeck’s recent post on essentialism reminds me that I have a paper on a loosely related topic that I’ve been meaning (for eight years!) to revise and submit somewhere. As I’m teaching Edward Said’s Orientalism in the fall, I figured I’d make the time to revisit the book and the topic, and finally revise the paper. So here it is, in the interests of feedback from PoT readers, and potentially, for purposes of comparison and contrast with David’s post. Originally presented at the California Roundtable on Philosophy & Race, Hampshire College, October 2, 2009.


Orientalism, Racism, and Islam:
Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

  1. Introduction

Edward Said’s Orientalism has gotten relatively little attention from philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. Arguably, though, the book has been at least as influential in contemporary political thought as has the work of say, Rawls, Nozick, or Dworkin, and has probably been more influential across the breadth of the humanities than the combined efforts of the sum total of analytic normative theorists. Widely regarded outside of philosophy as the foundational text of postcolonial studies, and as the touchstone of a progressive conception of comparative politics and area studies, Orientalism is also a pioneering contribution to race theory. Where English-speaking race theorists had, prior to Orientalism, devoted the bulk of their attention to anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, Said was one of the first academic writers to draw sustained attention to Western conceptions of the Arab/Muslim Oriental.  As one early reviewer concisely summarized the book, “Professor Said uses [his] privileged vantage to observe the West observing the Arabs, and he does not like what he finds.”

In what way is Orientalism a contribution to race theory? The question leads to a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is hard to deny that there is some such contribution. On the other hand, the contribution in question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to specify with any precision. I want to suggest that the conundrum arises from a systematic equivocation that runs throughout Said’s treatment of Orientalism—namely, his persistent conflation of claims about the essence of Oriental racial identity with claims about the essence of Islamic religious doctrine. Contrary to Said, a critique of the first sort of claim, however cogent and insightful, is not easily (or at all) transferable to claims of the second sort. The failure to distinguish race from doctrine undermines what is valuable about his account and abets serious confusion.

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Revisiting “The Muslim Registry”

In light of recent events, including Donald Trump’s firing Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General, I thought I’d re-post this item from November, on the so-called “Muslim registry.” Actions like Yates’s were just what I had in mind when I wrote the post. My hope is that others will emulate her.

A postscript: In the November post, I mentioned that I had intended to try my proposal out on the Bergen County Prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal, on a visit he was making to my university that week. The question I asked him back in November was whether he would be willing to withhold county law enforcement resources from efforts to enforce unconstitutional deportation orders. He side-stepped the question to some degree, pointing out that he was obliged, in the case of undocumented aliens within his custody, to pass relevant information on to the federal immigration authorities, and presumably to cooperate in any legal proceedings they initiated. Continue reading

Republican Islamophobia: A Response

This is a much belated response to Peter Saint-Andre and Michael Young on Republican Islamophobia, from my post of January 5. Given its length, I’ve decided to make a new post of my response rather than try to insert it into the combox.

Looking over the whole exchange, I can’t help thinking that the point I made in my original post has gotten lost in a thicket of meta-issues orthogonal to what I said in the original post. I don’t dispute that the issues that Peter and Michael have brought up are worth discussing, but I still think that they bypass what I actually said.

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Feel the love: theocratic dust-up at the Austin corral (or: Public Reason comes to Texas)

It takes a lot to make me proud to be from New Jersey, but after watching this video, all I can say is that I’m glad I’m not from Texas:

Here’s a companion piece. The gist:

AUSTIN–Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, directed her staffers to ask Muslim visitors–in town for Texas Muslim Capitol Day–to pledge allegiance to the U.S.

“I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” she said on Facebook. “We will see how long they stay in my office.”

The Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday hosted the annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day as “an opportunity for community members to learn about the democratic political process and how to be an advocate for important issues.”

One obvious puzzle here: why would a state legislator put an Israeli flag on her desk, and demand respect for it from American citizens?

Second puzzle, less obvious: why do Muslims need a special designated day to visit the state’s capitol? And why must they visit as Muslims, in specifically sectarian guise? Doesn’t that suggest that they intend to vote strategically, as a bloc–i.e., that they’re lobbying? Of course, the presence of the Israeli flag on Molly White’s desk suggests that they have company.

Third (set of) puzzle(s): Is there a Texas Jewish Capitol Day? A Christian one? A Buddhist one? How about an atheist one, or one for Marxists, Aristotelians, or Petit-influenced small-r republicans? And if not, why not?

Fourth puzzle, yet subtler: how long before the Republican Party implodes under the influence of people like Molly White and Co.?

Fifth puzzle, the subtlest of all: what would Rawls say?

(ht: Minaret of Freedom blog)