Monthly Archives: September 2012

Can morality ever be summed up into a theoretical principle? My personal answer is: ”No, but almost.”

Theories are abstract, and relatively simple. Reality is concrete, and far more complex than can ever be captured by a theory.

There are three concepts of morality that have followed mankind throughout history. World religions as well as secular philosophy/culture are built on them. To sum them up in a single word each, I would call them Empathy, Respect and Maximization.

Such words can mean many different things. So let me explain a bit further what I mean with each of them.

With empathy or compassion, I mean caring about people and making emotional connections with them. ”Love Thy Neighbour”, as the Bible puts it. This kind of empathy is based on doing good things for others, for their own sake. Based on their needs, not on your own need to be needed or to be popular or to feel good about yourself. And based on a real understanding of their actual needs, not on your own fantasies about what their needs ought to be or ”truly is”. In secular philosophy, this is a cornerstone of secular humanism. We are all made from the same stardust, we should care about each other.

With this I mean The Golden Rule. To treat others as you would like to be treated. To not treat others as you wouldn’t want to be treated. Since those ways of putting it are full of loopholes (if I want to die, is it okay for me to murder other people then?), lets put it another way: To treat others by the same rules as you would like to be treated by. To always act as if you wanted the rule behind your action to be universal law. To treat every human being as a goal in herself, not merely as a tool. In secular philosophy, this principle often takes the form of Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

An old joke has it that it is better to be happy, healthy and rich thann it is to be unhappy, sick and poor. The reason this is a joke is that it is too obviously true to be an interesting question. It may be interesting to compare one good thing to another or to compare a good thing to a bad. But comparing good things? Of course we want them all! However, Maximization is not about merely getting as much good as possible (and as little bad as possible) for yourself. It is about getting it for everyone. When you spend your energy on others, it should have the highest possible yield for them at the lowest possible cost for you. And vice versa, when you ask others for help – make sure it costs them as little as possible. (With ”cost”, I mean time and energy and potential damage, not just money.) In religion, the principle often takes the form of encouraging the adherants to give charity to those who need it the most. In secular philosophy, it often takes the form of Utilitarianism.

Follow all three paths
Philosophers have a tendency to pick one of these three principles. To make it their one and only, and to bicker with each other about which one is the one and only true principle. In my opinion, they are all misguided: Reality doesn’t work that way.

Again: Theories are abstract, and relatively simple. Reality is concrete, and far more complex than can ever be captured by a theory.

When we face a moral question, the three different principles may lead to different answers. This is why philosophers want to pick a single principle: If we don’t do that, we will never find The Final Answer. The problem is that there is no such thing as a final answer. Unless you consider ”Don’t give up, keep looking for better solutions” to be a final answer.

When you face a moral problem, try to find a solution where all three principles are in harmony. If you succeed, be at peace: The problem is solved. If you fail, then settle for the least bad option you have available. Settle for now, but keep looking for better solutions. Do not fool yourself that a bad thing is good just because you couldn’t find a better option. If you do, you may close your eyes to future possibilities.

The three principles protects from each other
Imagine the horror of growing up with parents who never loved you. Who gave you what you needed only because it was the right thing to do. Imagine it – or remember it, if this or worse actually happened to you. It is not a good thing.

Living by a purely theoretical morality can be very destructive, for those trapped in your life. Including your family, including anyone who have nobody else to turn to but you, and including yourself. If you are not honest with yourself and your own emotional needs, then your good deeds are likely to twist themselves into something vile. Martyr complex, passive aggressive hidden bitterness, stale moralism, self-deluded hypocrisy. By making yourself miserable for the greater good, you are likely to eventually make everyone else miserable as well. Or to simply give up, and embrace corruption.

We humans are emotional beings with emotional needs. A cold and calculated morality will never be enough for us. We need empathy, for ourselves and for each other. But empathy is never enough, not in the big world out there. It might be enough in your family, if everyone there is emotionally healthy. To handle a world with billions of people, however, we do need cold and calculated morality. Without Respect or Maximization, we don’t have any tool for macro scale morality.

Imagine the horror of a leader who would rather let the entire world die than to break a good rule. Rules doesn’t always work as intended. We need some flexibility in how to follow the rules and in when to follow them at all. Respect without Maximization can lead to all kinds of horrors.

Imagine the horror of a leader who would do anything for a mathematically good result – no matter who got trampled along the way, or how badly. Without Respect, nobody is ever safe. Maximization without Respect can lead to all kinds of horrors.

The three principles of morality need each other.

In the last week, people have been killed over a film. This film never existed. The whole thing was a con, done by a previously convicted conman named Nakoula. This man is very skilled at exploiting people’s weaknesses and prejudices, to turn people against themselves and against each other.

The deception has several layers, aimed against Muslims as well as against Western intellectuals and politicians. To understand these deceptions, let us first analyze the two very different filmmaking products involved in this conflict: The big film that does not exist, and the little Youtube clip that does exist. But before we do that, lets have a brief look at the nature of conmen and Internet trolls.

The act of trolling
On the Internet, we have a phenomenon called a “troll”. This is a person who says things in a calculated way, designed to stir up emotion and pit people against each other. A successful troll knows what button to push. He knows how to make people angry at each other and how to make them stumble over their own entrenched positions.

In other words, an Internet Troll is very much like a con man: One of those professional deceivers who exploit people economically by herding them into cul-de-sacs of the mind. Two classic tricks of the professional conman: To make you believe that he has something huge to offer or threaten with, and to make you invest so much so that you must keep investing or accept that you are about to suffer a terrible loss.

In this case, a previously convicted conman has taken up the role of Internet Troll.

The “film” and the fears it prey upon
It is a full-length movie. Created by America, also known as Hollywood. Scheduled to be played in actual cinemas all over the world! Seen by millions and millions of western people, while certainly being even worse in it’s content than the horrible “trailer”. This awful film is produced by a wealthy white American. And it is financed by The Jewish Capitalists! Surely you can see how the global Zionist conspiracy is behind it all! Well, except for the fact that it is all a lie.

This film never existed. By presenting the youtube clip as a representation of such a film, Nakoula preys on weaknesses common among islamists as well as on weaknesses common among western intellectuals. Exploiting these weaknesses is most likely the calculated intention behind making the youtube clip as well as presenting it in this particular way.

In the Middle East in general, and among its political Islamists in particular, it is common to believe that “the West” and “the jews/Zionists” are plotting against the countries of the Middle East, against Muslims, and against Islam. Many feel very strongly about this.

Among Western intellectuals, it is very common to want to take the side of the oppressed against the oppressors. This is often combined with being very self-conscious about Colonialism and western Imperialism, while being oblivious to oppression and Imperialism committed by as well as against people who are not westerners.

By presenting the youtube clip in this way, Nakoula maximized the chance that it would be condemned by “Muslims” and “Westerners” alike, but for all the wrong reasons. Here comes the bait-and-switch.

Over to the Youtube clip
Unlike the fake movie it represents, the real youtube clip is not so impressive. Any idiot with a hand camera and a grudge could have created it. And that’s exactly who created it: A random creep who had a grudge, a camera, and experience with tricking people. This simple bait-and-switch is the first part of the con: Making people believe that the little thing you have is much more than it is. Making people believe that your tiny melting icecube is the tip of a huge iceberg.

But there is much more to the con itself. The clip actually has three parts. The third part is the part that portrays Muhammad in a very negative light. This is the part that has been given all attention in the public sphere. However, this part is probably nothing more than bait. Nakoula may or may not hate Muhammad, but most likely he doesn’t care at all: His insults against Muhammad was a calculated move to stir up violence, and probably nothing more than that. The real poison lies not in this third part, but in the first two parts and in the title.

Part 1: The side of the oppressed
The first part of the youtube clip is about Egyptian copts being victimized by a brutal mob of Muslims. The classic “torches and pitchforks” routine. Well, torches and scimitars in this case. For context, note that a vast majority of Egypt’s population are Muslims, and that the Egyptian government is now in the hand of a representative of political Islam. Note that violent persecution of Egyptian Copts exists in reality. This context is very important for Nakoula’s con.

There are three factions in this part:
* The mob: Depicted as being full of hatred and intolerance. The oppressors. Torching a hospital, murdering a defenseless woman who was probably a nurse.
* The victims: Depicted as being innocent and good people – they are presented as pacifistic doctors and nurses who would never harm or threaten anyone.
* And finally, the police: Depicted as letting the murderous mob have their way. It is insinuated that they are in league with the mob. As a bonus, their leader is ambiguously white. To many viewers, this group will represent not only the police of Egypt, but also the United Nations, the European Union, the USA and so on.

This part sets the mood and defines what the whole thing is really about. It is very efficient propaganda.

Part 2: The real hate-speech
This part is very short, but it is pure dynamite of hate. It is a brief message, delivered by a certain person. Two aspects: The message and the person. Both are important. Lets start with the person.

He is a doctor, and he speaks as if his hate-filled overgeneralizations were scientific facts. He’s even wearing a lab coat, for crying out loud. His message comes in a form that looks as if it was mathematical formulas, although it is very obviously not. He fills the narrative role of “Reasonable Authority Figure”: A person who the audience is encouraged to trust without questioning. To really set this mood, he even has an in-story audience that treats him with reverence and turns to him for answers.

Even more importantly, he is not white. He is very clearly 100% Egyptian, a part of the oppressed Coptic minority. Another piece of the puzzle for what Nakoula is really up to.

So, what message is it that we get from this person, positioned as being both a “reasonable authority figure” and a “victimized member of an oppressed minority”? Well, it is really three messages:
* He claims that Islamic terrorists are not really human. That there’s a difference between “Islamic terrorist” and “man”. In the context, it is very obvious that “man” refers to “human”, not to “male”.
* This difference is implied to be Muhammad.
* Thus, Nakoula also indirectly imply that those Muslims who are not terrorists are not real Muslims.

In my opinion, the third bullet point is the most disgusting part. It is a vicious slur against the overwhelming majority of all Muslims. Pure Antimuslimism: It is the “real representative” issue again, a core pillar of categorism.

Finally, the name itself
Nakoula obviously knows the art of schoolyard bullying. What is the point of calling a film like this “Innocence of Muslims”? Well, there are probably two points to that. One is a big “fuck you” to western intellectuals for not hating the Muslims of the world. A message of “this is what you consider to be innocence”. Or even worse, underscoring the position held by the “doctor” character.

The other is pure schoolyard bullying. The whole point of making this movie was to make it as infamous and hated as possible. Giving it the title “Innocence of Muslims” fills the function of smearing the word “innocence”, turning it into a bad word when connected to Muslims or Islam. Nakoula is giving a teasing tool for those who want to bully Muslims: Simply laugh while calling them “innocent”.

So, what are the deceptions here?
There are (at least) two surfaces and two big acts of trolling. The two surfaces are to insult all Muslims and to encourage everyone who hates Muslims. The two acts of trolling are very different from each other. One is directed Muslims, the other is directed at western left-wing intellectuals and politicians.

Trolling against Muslims
The trolling done against Muslims has two levels. The first level I have explained above. Pretend that there was an actual film backed by powerful people, not merely some guy with a camera and a grudge.

The second level is the principle known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Since the Muhammad cartoons, Nakoula must have known that if his stunt gained fame then it would lead to a lot of violence with people dying. That must have been part of his plan. He knew that some groups would use his film to incite hatred against the West, he knew that some leaders would use the controversy to divert attention from the real problems. Having made such a great fuss over a silly little youtube clip, it is not easy to back down.

It is not easy to say: “Never mind, we got fooled. Now we know that this was not a real movie funded by a Zionist conspiracy, it was merely a little youtube clip that doesn’t deserve our attention.” No, it is so much easier to keep focusing on how insulting the youtube clip is. Thus, the protesters have backed themselves into a corner. They have taken an impossible position: “If one individual somewhere in the world has a pen or a hand camera or whatever, we must all spend our time protesting against him whenever he say something we find insulting.” In other words, they are telling the schoolyard bullies of the world to please bully them as much as they can, promising to always give the desired reaction of impotent rage. This is good for the worst of Islamic extremists, and it’s good for those who hate Muslims. But it is very bad for everyone else in the world.

Trolling against the West
Being used to apologize when Muslims feel offended, believing the bullshit about a wealthy American backed by Jewish capitalists, western politicians and intellectuals were quick to condemn the film without reservation. Lack of willingness to censor the youtube clip or prosecute the producer was justified by the “free speech” principle only.

Among those two hate Muslims, it is common to believe that the politicians and intellectuals of Europe are in league with “the Muslims” and their alleged plot to take over the world. This conspiracy theory is of course pure nonsense: While some Islamists dream about a global caliphate, they don’t have the Muslims of the world under their sway – and not the governments & universities of Europe either!

By creating a false premise, Nakoula managed to create false evidence for this conspiracy theory, with western politicians and intellectuals talking only about the need to respect Muslims while ignoring the plight of the persecuted Copts.

Lets say that the youtube clip had been presented in a honest way, but somehow got famous anyhow. Surely western politicians and intellectuals would still denounce the hate-speech done in the clip, but they would also discuss the persecution done against the Copts.

Thanks to Nakoula, we now have more tension in the world. We have more Islamist pressure against the young democracies in the Middle East. We have more of the false dichotomy where people in their minds divide the world into “Western” and “Muslim”, in spite of the obvious facts that many Muslims are Western while most non-Western people are not Muslims either. As if a geographical region and a religion were comparable entities! Thus reinforcing the false concept that a world religion is capable of waging war against a country, and thus that the country has “reason to defend itself”.

We also have a situation where the discourse of condemning “blasphemy” has been allowed to dominate over the discourse of condemning ‘hate-speech”. We have people all over the world talking as if the problem with this youtube clip is not that it incites hatred and violence against groups (religious and otherwise), but rather that it portray a religion in a way not favored by followers of that religion. As a result we have a discourse that invites violence, a discourse that promotes the idea that perceived “insults” must be met by force rather than dialogue. The president of Indonesia has made an attempt to start a global dialogue about how to handle issues like this. This is a good idea. Sadly, his attempt is based on the failed concept of Blasphemy, the same concept that has contributed to so much violence against minorities in his own country.

Malice: Successful or stupid?
So. Has Nakoula been successful or not? Well, that depends entirely on what his ultimate purpose or purposes were.

* Contributing to extremist religion (Islamist as well as Christianist) gaining power at the expense of secularism and moderate religion? Successful.
* Contributing to polarization and tension? Successful.
* Contributing to radicalize young and angry Egyptian Copts? Probably successful.
* Contributing to radicalize western antimuslimists and Christian extremists? Probably successful.
* Encouraging some non-Muslims to pick on Muslims and make fun of Islam? Surely successful, considering how some people reacted to the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy.
* Becoming (in)famous and getting a note in the history books? Successful.
* Getting people to notice the persecution against Copts? Completely unsuccessful: If Nakoula had such intentions, he went about it in the entirely wrong way. His stunt with pretending to be a wealthy American backed by Jewish capitalist was as counterproductive as a strategy could get, if his goal was to help the Copts. All he managed to achieve was to make their plight come across as nothing more than a petty excuse for antimuslimism.
* Contributing to anything meaningful, in any way? No, neither directly or short-term indirectly. The reactions to the reactions to the reactions may eventually prove meaningful. But that is in spite of the film rather than because of it.

The bottom line, what kind of world do we want?

Surely not a world that catches fire whenever some random person decides to voice how much he disagrees with one religion or another. And surely not a world where the religion police can silence anyone who has an idea they suspect could make someone else angry.

To achieve a world that is better than that, we need democracy and education for everyone. As the world becomes more and more globalized with global communication, it can less and less afford ignorance and hate. And with that I mean the actual ignorance and hate, not merely the expressions of it. To keep the lid on is simply to keep the pressure up, building towards the next explosion.

I don’t know what kind of world Nakoula is trying to achieve, but I don’t think it is one that I would like to live in.

Lately, a lot has been written about the 13 minutes long badly filmed youtube clip called ”Innocence of Muslims”. Some of them I would simply like to reccomend. There are also two that I find very problematic, and I will make a brief attempt to explain why.

Some that I simply reccomend:
* Innocence of Muslims: a dark demonstration of the power of film – The Guardian
* The truth about Muhammad and Aisha – The Guardian
* Politics of distraction – Freedom House.
* Addicted to mockery – The Jakarta Post
* Hate Video – al Jazeera
* Beyond insulting the prophet – al Jazeera
* Q&A: Why are Muslims angry over video? – al Jazeera

First text: About ”The Muslim”
Over to the two articles I’m having problem with, I’ll start with the CNN BlogWhy Muslims are still mad at America. It’s a good article, really. Only three problems to me.

First of all, it is really trying to generalize what ”some Muslims feel” into ”what the Muslims feel”. It seem to have this strong desire to turn the Muslims of the world into one coherent Monolith. And it does so without bad intentions. This is not about Muslims as such, it is about a certain way of doing social science. A way that is classic, but outdated and counterproductive for gaining true understanding.

Second, it’s historical scoop is narrow. This monolithical ”The Muslim” that it’s trying to describe is a rather new social construct, the result of a few decadews of religious revival. The text doesn’t even mention that secular socialism used to be very strong in the arab world. Instead, it portrays the present situation as being eternal.

Third, it uses this classic false portrayal of the west. The false dichotomy of the West versus the Muslims, where the west is Secular and the Muslims are religious. This is wrong on so many levels.

Yes, it is true that people in countries with Muslim population majority are angry at the west for pushing secularism. But the article leaves out two of the main reasons for why they have reason to be angry about that. One reason is that this is only the latest whim of western governments, who until recently helped to push political Islam on the populations of the middle east. All in the name of the cold war and the fight against the red block.

The other reason is that this ”secularism” is pure hypocricy. The same countries that claim to work for secularism has Christian politicians and Christian parties. Often the same politicians and parties that push for secularism in the middle east. People have reason to believ that this is not a matter of atheists trying to push back religion, but rather a matter of Christians trying to push back Islam. Western civilization has a long history of pretending that ”democratic equals Christian”. That Muslims can’t be democratic because they would elect leaders who are Muslims rather than Christian.

A few days ago, the (Muslim) population of Jakarta elected a deputy Governor who is a Christian. That was awesome. Is the (Christian) population of Washington DC ready to elect a deputy Major/Governor who is a Muslim? Sadly, I don’t think so. Western countries suffer from the same religious tribalism that they accuse Islamic cultures of.

Second text: Saying what you wanted to say anyway
This text is called ”The only surprise is there aren’t more violent protests in the Middle East”, written by Seamus Milne.

If the protests are not really about the film, then what are they really about? Milne makes it very simple. To him, it is all about the struggle against American Imperialism. He makes it seem as if political Islam is nothing else than a face of, or a tool for, this struggle of western leftwing groups.

It is true, of course, that American Imperialism has had a big and often negative influence on the world. It has prepared the soil for extremists within Islam to become powerful voices within the religion. I do believe that American Imperialism is one of the reasons behind radicalization within Islam during the last half century or so.

Six decades ago, USA and Britain betrayed democracy for their petty greed. In a nasty plot called Operation Ajax, they stopped the democratization of Iran. All for the sake of oil money. If the democratization had been allowed to continue, the world of today would most likely be a much better place. A world where the middle east is home to old and stable democracies, not terrorist networks.

Less than a decade before Operation Ajax, the British government betrayed the palestinians and the Jews. Most of what is currently known as Israel and Palestine was then a British colony. England, needing support in the war, promised the land to both sides, knowing full well that this would neat to war between the Arabs and the Jews. To this day, people are still debating on whether it’s the Jews or the Muslims that we should all hate. Both sides are wrong, of course. Put the blame on Winston Churchil’s government where it belongs, and start sympathize with both sides of that horrible conflict. To this day, palestinians are still mistreated by arab governments as well as by Israel, while israelians live in constant fear of extremist arab groups that wish to start a second holocaust. Bad deal for everyone.

Milne is right that people have good reasons to protest. He is not right, however, that a protest is automatically about what it ought to be about. As the other linked articles show, this issue is really complex. It includes facets such as totalitarian groups trying to gain influence at the expence of more moderate groups, leaders using the controversy to direct anger away from the real issues, and so on. The harshest language, and the most violent protests, come from groups that are strongly opposed to democracy and free speech. Groups that see their own leaders as future dictators, entitled to rule with an iron fist over all Muslims. But to some western left-wing intellectuals, this threat against the freedom of Muslims (as well as the freedom of non-Muslim in countries where much of the population identifies as Muslim) is nothing more than a tool to be cherished and used against America. Naive at best, totalitarian or heartlessly cynical at worst.

People in the middle east (and elsewhere) has a lot to be angry about. It is sad that so much of this anger is currently being channeled through totalitarian movements. Milne mentions only one alternative to politicized totalitarian religion: Nationalism. However, that is a rather bad option as well. There are worthier causes to fight for. Democracy, Human Rights, Freedom of Speech. And guess what? Those struggles continue. The film controversy may be considered more inetersting by the mass media, more conveient by certain leaders, and more useful by totalitarian groups – Islamic and antimuslimist alike. Meanwhile, more interesting things are happening, although they are getting much less attention.

Milne’s goal seem to be to explain the situation to Western readers. He manages to explain that people have reason to be angry, but that is all he manages to do. sadly, for many western readers, the analysis stops there. Milnes article gives two simple questions and two simple answers: Why are people angry? Because of bad things done by the West! And why do they focus their anger on a random guy saying bad things about Muhammad? Well, because they are Muslims and that’s what Muslims do – just look at the Rushdie affair and the danish cartoon affair.

The first question is a good question, but the answer is overly focused on the West. While the answer is part of the truth, it is also a very egocentric answer. This is a western guy telling Western readers: ”You don’t have to understand the middle east, because this is really all about us westerners in the first place”.

The second question is wrong in itself. The populations of the middle east do not focus on the film. Some angry people protested a bit, these protests was not a bigg part of their lives. A few totalitarians ”protested” a lot, with violence. And indeed, this had very little to do with the film, although their reasons were very different from Milne’s rosy portrayal. Mass media coverage here in Indonesia focus on how to handle the few violent protestors, the attitude to the film itself is that it is awful – but only a little youtube clip. Some politicians, including the President, have taken an interest. This interest has not been in the film itself, but in the legal framework. The President argues that all blasphemy against all religions should be outlawed, globally. While I strongly disagree with him, as do many others, at least he puts the issue on a level that can be discussed rationally and in an interesting way. It is not about some idiot making a film, it is about how authorities should handle when some idiot makes a film and people get angry about it. I do think the blasphemy law is doing terrible damage here in Indonesia, and exporiting it would be a very bad idea. Countries like Indonesia and Germany ought to get rid of their blasphemy laws, replace them with stronger protection against hate-speech that is actually inciting violence.

Anyway, with the question itself being wrong, the answer is even wronger. The Rushdie affair was very much a part of Iran’s totalitarian dictatorship asserting itself and exporting the idea that we must accept horrible regimes oppressing the entire population – because only such a regime can protect us from a single individual writing a little novel. The Iranian regime didn’t do this because they are Muslims, they did it because they are a totalitarian dictatorship. Such dictatorships will always need ”enemies of the faith” to vanquish, so that they can give an illusion of being needed and of being the true representatives and defenders of the people. Lets not fall for that.

All political and social processes are actually very easy to understand. Simply pick one factor. Decide that this one factor is the core of everything. Then limit your analysis to pointing out the connection. Finally, pretend to yourself and others that this is the whole picture.

This strategy will help you feel good about yourself. If will give you a (false, but still) sense of understanding everything. The strategy will also give you prestige if you convince others, or a sense of belonging if you speak among people who already think the same way. However, the strategy will not help you understand the complexities of the real world.

Theories, concepts and perspectives are tools for understanding the world. Useful tools, necessary tools. They are good as long as they remain tools. The problem is when you turn them into cages or weapons. When you decide that a theory or perspective is the one true theory or the one true perspective, then you have turned that tool into a cage. A cage for your own thinking. Do you really need to put your mind in a cage? Does your mind benefit from being narrowed?

Theories, concepts and perspectives are abstract. They are always oversimplifications, and none of them will ever cover all aspects of the complex reality we live in. This does not mean that all theories and perspectives are equally true: Some explain more than others, and some are more accurate than others – my only critique is that none of them alone will ever accurately explain everything.

The concept of categorism is all about pointing out the phenomenon of categorism: When categorization of people is not a tool for understanding, but instead a cage or a weapon. The concept of categorism may be a very good tool for understandning. This does not make the concept immune to being used as a cage or weapon.

Let us start with a simple question: Is the pehenomenon of categorism ever a good thing? But first, lets make it even simpler. Racism is the most famous form of categorism. Racism is categorism against a certain skin-color or ethnicity. So, lets narrow the question down a bit further. Is racism ever a good thing?

Well, sometimes a person has to put his mind in a cage. Sometimes he need to use irrational hatred as a weapon. Racism done by a dominant group against a subjucated group is always oppressive. However, racism done by a subjugated group against a dominant group can sometimes be a part of liberation. When small countries in Europe got invaded by Nazi Germany, many freedom fighters resorted to hating Germans. Not just hating the Nazi ideology, but hating all Germans.

This racism helped them to hate the German soldiers and to dehumanize them. If a German is not really a human being, then killing a German doesn’t make you a murderer. In reality, the German soldieres was just as human as the rest of them. Many of them were scared teenagers who didn’t even believe in the Nazi ideology. For a safe distance bystander it would be needlessly heartless to not recognize this truth. But for a freedomfighter fighting for his life, such a reality may be too painful to bear. It might be preferable to put your mind in a cage that lets you pretend that germans are not really human.

Note that I used Nazi Germany as my example. With the nazis being an abyss category of our civilization, they are the choice least likely to distract the reader from the principle I’m talking about.

However, the same principle apply to other subjugated groups as well. Women fighting against patriarchy, third world populations fighting against colonialism, and so on. For this reason, some choose to define categorism done as these groups as not being categorism. They define racism as something that can only be done by whites against blacks – black racism against whites doesn’t count. They define sexism as something that can only be done by men against women – female sexism against men doesn’t count. This is an extremely bad solution. It accounts only for social structures, not for individual situations. To make it worse, it is based on two major mistakes regarding what social structure is.

The first mistake is the belief that there is only one social structure. A failure to consider intersectionality. In reality, every person belong to many groups. Most people belong to dominant groups as well as subjugated groups.

The second mistake is the belief that structures are monolithic and eternal. However: categories are social constructs – their meaning and content changes from time to time and from place to place. Believing that men always have the power and women are always subjugated, that is to give men way too much credit. Believing that whites are always the power ful ones, that is actually one of the worst kinds of racism against those who are not white. Adult women and non-whites are adults, and should be treated as such. Racism and sexism done by non-whites and women is still racism and sexism, and it is still bad. In the few special cases where it contribute to liberation, it can be seen as a necessary evil. But nothing more.

So. the phenomenons of racism and sexism are weapons and cages. Weapons that are nasty, but can sometimes be put to good use. Cages that limit our understanding and empathy, in ways that in some very special cases are needed to survive – at least emotionally.

So. What about the concepts of racism and sexism? Well, they are also weapons, obviously. Although much cleaner and nicer weapons. The concepts are weapons for labeling and stigmatizing the phenomenons that the concets represent. Calling it ”racism” when someone act or argue in a racist way stigmatizes the use of racist acts and ways of thinking. This is usually a good thing, although it can of course be misused.

Sometimes they can also be cages. A person may refuse to see a certain situation for what it is, simply because he believe that it would make him racist or sexist. This may make him vunerable to misuse of the weapon. For example, an indivdual non-white person may argue that his behavior may never be critisized no matter how he behaves, because that would always be racism. Of course, the real racists will insist that this is exactly what happens whenever someone doesn’t agree with their prejudices.

Back to the concept of categorism. This concept is not only a tool for understanding the various forms of (the phenomenon of) categorism. It is also a weapon against categorism. A weapon to unify the struggles against individual forms of categorism into one unified struggle for human rights. A weapon for labeling those forms of categorism that doesn’t have individual labels of their own. A nice and clean weapon, useful for good use in worthy struggles. The classic risks of misuse still exist, but are diminished by the fact that categorism isn’t about any one specific category.

There are also other risks. For example, putting too much emphasis on the categorization itself puts one at risk of losing track of the socio-economic context where the categorization is made. If a categorization is prejudiced or bigotted, and thus is categorism, then why was it made this way? What kind of purpose does it serve, and is there a good point somewhere behind the bad things? Another example, activists and lobbbyists may use the concept not only in good ways, but also twist it for various problematic purposes. Please notify me if you can think of such a twist. I’d like to include preemptive arguments in my thesis and/or book.

The attempts to stir up racism and categorism against Christians proved futile. Today, the citizens of Jakarta elected Jokowi and Ahok as the new Governor and Deputy Governor of the city. Ahok is Chinese and Christians, something that followers of the (now former) governor Fauzi tried to use against the pair.

In my eyes, Jokowi’s victory is a big step in the right direction. A step towards change and openness, a step away from fear and tribalism.

Next year we have the national elections. Chances are good that the alliance containing islamist parties will lose this time. Chances are also good that the new government will be much better at fighting against corruption and against violations of minority rights. However, there is a risk that the new government will take steps away from democracy. Some worry that the next president will become a new Putin. Especially since the favorite contender is an old military hotshot with a bad human rights record. We will have to watch the development closely.

Meanwhile, three lawmaking bills are very worrysome. The National Security Bill, the Mass Organizations Bill, and a bill on halal certification for food. These packages of suggested new laws aim to stop the islamist extremist organizations that threathen democracy, minority groups, and just anyone standing in their way. This is a noble goal. However, the bills may pose threats to democracy in their own right.

The national security bill has been widely criticized for, among other things, giving too much power to the military, Most likely, this bill will not pass.

The mass organizations bill risks to wing-clip the freedom of the massmedia and of all non-government organizations, putting ideological requirements on them all. Such a law would be a huge mistake, even if the ideological principles required are sound in themselves. Totalitarian tendencies are always a threat to open society, no matter how good the intentions are.

The final issue is a proposed system for certifying that food, beverages and pharmaceutics are ”halal”, approved by islamic clerics. Making such a system may be good for many consumers and business – over four fifths of the population here are muslims. The problem is that some lawmakers has the idea that ”by the way, this certification will be mandatory”. Such a step would outlaw all small businesses that can’t affoard to get a certification, trample the religious rights of non-muslims, as well as enforcing religious rules on Muslims who are getting more and more secular. Being expected to lose the next elections, the islamist parties might be quite desperate to push this through, and fast. Lets hope they’ll fail.

On my way back home from work, my mind worked on a synopsis for a blog post about some uncontroversial issue.

As I got home, however, I saw that one of my Indonesian friends had texted me. Asked me to not go out alone unless I have to. Because I’m white. And because some people would want to kill any white man they could get their hands on.

I have lived in Jakarta for over two weeks now. The reason she says this today is because the Jakarta election is only two days away, and because the ongoing global nonsense about a film. And no, I’m not talking about the new Resident Evil with it’s ”Think global. Kill local.” Although that slogan certainly applies. No, I’m talking about the movie that was NOT well made.

Some guy makes a movie. The story is so simple and badly written that an unskilled teenager anywhere in the world could have written it. The filmmaking displays a total lack of resources as well as a total lack of skill and talent. Any group of unknown wannabes could have made it. And that’s exactly what happened. This film was not made by “The West”, “America”, or “Hollywood”. It is simply a case of some random guy, somewhere in the world, having a camera and a big grudge against Muslims.

Bad movie, bad reactions
Yet, this mediocre film, ”The innocence of Muslims”, becomes extremely famous. Pretty much everybody knows about it now, denying this film the obscurity and lack of recognition it deserves. A lot of people have even seen the film, in spite of it clearly not being worth their time. All this because some people fought very hard to make it famous, advertising it’s existence by killing people and attributing their crimes to being outraged
about the movie.

Ironically, that’s exactly what the film is designed for. It’s 13 minutes long, claiming to be a long trailer for the real movie. Personally I doubt that this longer version exist at all. The film starts with violent present day Egyptian Muslims burning a hospital to the ground while the police choose to do nothing. Thus the Muslims kill an Egyptian woman, probably a nurse. Simply because she’s a Coptic Christian. The film then switch to be a bad adventure story with a silly person identified as Muhammad as its protagonist.

The maker of this movie may or may not be white. (Some reports have indicated that he’s a Coptic Christian from Egypt, one of 300.000 who have recently fled to USA because of persecution from Christian-haters within the Muslim majority.) Just in case he might be white, some people think it’s a great idea to murder any white person they can find. Or burn down the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, in spite of the overwhelming odds that the owner is actually a local businessman who is not white and has never even visited America.

Well, it might not be about skin-color as much as about being American. That’s what my friend warned me about. Those people may think that I’m American. And she’s right, of course. Never mind that most white people are not American. Never mind that many Americans are not white. And never mind that the maker of the film may very well be Egyptian or whatever rather than American.

Some people turned of their brains to mindlessly blame a wide category of people. Whites. Americans. Westerners. Jews. Christians. Or Muslims.

Please note that I’ only talking about those who actually have this mindset. For example, there’s a huge difference between being critical against USA politics and hating all real or imagined Americans. Much of the protests, especially the ones that are not violent, are not really about the movie and not about hatred or intolerance either. It is just people seizing the time to protest about things that have annoyed them a long time. But back to the issue of those who distribute blame so widely.

”True representatives”
One of the primary factors here is one of the basic forms of categorism I have noted over the years: If a person or group in a category you dislike does something bad, then they see it as representing the whole category of people. On the other hand, if a person or group in the category does something good, it doesn’t count. The person does not represent the category, at least not at that particular time. I’m sure there’s a lot of psychological research on this facinating consistency in lack of consistency.

Of course, the violent reactions triggered by the film were never really about the film. And the hatred against muslims triggered by those violent reactions was never really about those violent reactions. No, this is about people who already hate a certain abstract concept (the West, Freedom of Speech, Democracy, Islam) or a category of people (White people, Americans, Modern city-dwellers, Muslims).

Global violence – and anti-violence
In Libya, the people elected a secular democratic government. When militants used the film as their excuse to murder the American ambassador, many demonstrated against the terrorists.

In Egypt, the leaders of the fragile young democracy are trying to handle this mess as well as they can. The extremists are strong, and try their best to use the film as their excuse to encourage violence.

Here in Indonesia, nobody has been killed. It would be preferable to keep it that way. There has been some property damage, and some wounded people. Police officers as well as protesters. No bystanders or victims of attacks. 400 people participated in the demonstration that turned violent. Lets say that none of them came from other cities or the countryside to participate in the protest. That they were all living in Great Jakarta.
That’s 400 out of a population of 30.000.000. And as for those 400, it is likely that most of them never intended the protest to turn violent.

The violence sparked some television talk show debates about what to do with the thread of ”radicalized” religious people, as the totalitarian Islamists are often called here. I saw one of those earlier this evening. (A coworker helped me understand what they were saying.) There appear to be consensus in the Indonesian public sphere that it’s okay to do peaceful protests against insults against Islam (although many worry that all protests may encourage people to make such insults in the first place), but that it is not okay to be violent or break the law. The president himself made a speech on this matter early on.

Indonesia is a country where at least 85% of the population is Muslims. A democratic country, where most of the Muslims vote for secular candidates. Right now, Islamist parties have 30% of the seats in parliament, with surveys predicting this to drop to 15% in the next election. These Islamist parties do not condone violence. Translated to political Christianity, this branch of political Islam is more like the republicans of USA and Kristdemokraterna of Sweden, while the Islamist terrorists are more like those Americans who bomb abortion clinics and the Rwandan Hutu Supremacists who used Bible quotes to justify their genocide. However, many suspect that at least one of the Islamist parties indirectly contributes to the violent extremism. Just like many suspects that the republicans indirectly contribute to violent Christian extremism.

Radicals or fascists
The radicalized/extremist Muslims would have it that they are the ”true” Muslims, while the majority Muslim population is not as true to Islam as they are. Christian/western supremacists are more than willing to agree on this. See the ”True representatives” discussion above. Personally I strongly prefer to talk about religious fascists rather than religious radicals. Because there are different ways to be radical, and some of those ways are good.

The Islamic intellectual Irshad Manji has another word for certain bad versions of Islam: ”Desert Islam”. With this she means a harsh and narrow-minded version of Islam, that has it’s roots in ancient tribal culture rather than in the teachings of Muhammed – who fought to move society forward, beyond this petty tribalism.

Regardless of what you call them, they exist. Groups and individuals who hate modernity and modern city life. Who hate democracy and human rights. Who look only backwards to ancient times, wanting to turn the clock back and roll back all improvements that has been done these last few hundred years.

Some of these groups are Christian, some are Islamic, some are Hindu, and some worship the northern pantheon with Thor and Odin and the others. The Nazi party of the third reich encouraged it’s own peculiar mix of Christianity, Northen Pantheon and general mysticism.

Such backwards-facing groups, especially the violent ones, are a threat to everyone. Including their own members, since such groups very often turn their hatred inwards. However, it would be wrong to claim that these groups represent all of their religions. Singling out one single religion makes it even worse.

In the West, it is becoming increasingly common to do this kind of categorism against Muslims. This particular form of categorism is often called antimuslimism. This antimuslimism give all Muslims the blame when a Muslim do something bad in the name of his religion, but don’t give them any credit when other Muslims do good deeds in the name of their religion. In the minds of some antimuslimists, Islam can be to blame even when someone who is not Muslim (but not White either) does something bad without doing it in the name of religion or whatever. There is really a big overlap between antimuslimism and regular racism.

The antimuslimists and the worst of the backwards-facing groups within Islam agree with each other on some important things. They agree that trying to create a global Taliban Afghanistan or similar is the ”true” face of Islam. They agree with each other that the vast majority of Muslims, who want democracy and human rights, are not as ”real” or
”true” Muslims as the extremists or radicals or desert Islamists or whatever you want to call them.

This phenomenon, antimuslimism, is often called ”Islamophobia”. In my opinion, this label is a very bad idea. The question here is, what is the essence of Islam? My andwer is that this is something that muslims will have to decide for themselves. Many of them reach different yet peaceful conclusions, and they can agree to disagree.

The word antimuslimism is an accusation of not understanding muslims and not giving them the respect they deserve. This is a good starting point for demanding a wider understanding with more diversity.

The word islamophobia is instead an accusation of not understanding Islam and not giving it the respect it deserves. This is a dead end. Can someone who does not belong to a certain religion ever truly understand it? Many religious people would disagree, at least regarding their own religion.

The word islamophobia is very useful for the antimuslimists, since it makes it so easy for them to make a convincing argument. All they need to do is to pick any one of the worst Islamic groups, agree with it’s interpretation of what Islam truly mean, and ask if this religion really deserve our respect: ”If it’s islamophobia to be against beheading of innocent people, then I am an islamophobe”. They even get the moral high ground of ”respecting” these Islamic groups interpretations of Islam, never mind that these groups never had a mandate to speak for all Muslims in the first place.

More importantly, one of the most basic forms of antimuslimism/islamophobia is to view ”Islam” as one single monolithic entity. The word ”Islamophobia” encourages this mindset, making the problem worse. We need to talk about diverse Muslims, not about one single Islam.

In the west, many who see Islam as monolithic are divided on how to interpret riots done by Muslim groups. One side blame ”the Muslims”, while the other side believes that ”the Muslims” can not be held accountable for their own actions. It must me explained away, as if they were children with no self-control. Both sides are wrong. The groups who use violence, or promote violence, should be condemned. Held responsible for their own actions. If their actions are true to their interpretation of Islam, then their interpretation of Islam should also be condemned. Meanwhile, everyone need to remember that these groups do not speak for all Muslims That it would not be fair to condemn all Muslims along with these organizations.

It is also important to keep in mind that politics are complex. While cracking the imaginary monolith is a start, the real world Muslims are far more diverse than what one can divide into two groups or a few groups.

Sadly, many in the west simply divide Muslims into “Good Muslims” and “Bad Muslims”. To make it worse, this division has often been drawn by completely different lines than enlightenment and commitment to democracy and human right. Most infamously, USA has traditionally favored the “stability” of despotic regimes. (Don’t get me started on Operation Ajax. Just don’t.) Meanwhile, leftwing groups tend to favor any group, no matter how totalitarian, that opposes America and Capitalism.

Back to Jakarta
So, anyway. Like I said, the election is only two days away. Well, one day now. I started writing last night, and now I finish in the morning before I get back to work. There are two candidates in this second election round. Jokowi and Foke. Jokowi got the highest number of votes in the first round, but did not secure the 50% needed to win right away. Foke came second, and is also the incumbent governor. Jokowi are backed by two political parties, Foke is backed by several – including the Islamist parties, but also big secular parties.

In the second round of the election, there has been a lot of negative campaigning. Followers of Foke has been resorting to what is here called SARA: Using race and religion to incite hatred. They are trying to convince people that they must vote for Foke because Jokowi’s running mate is a Christian of Chinese ethnicity. Some of them are spreading the vicious idea that a Muslim who votes for a non-Muslim is not a true Muslim himself.

For this reason alone, if nothing else, I hope with all my heart that Jokowi will win. A victory for him would be a moral victory for diversity, while a victory for Foke would be a moral victory for those who promote a tribalist and backwards-facing mindset. These are small victories, but they do count.

From a Jakarta perspective, the film could not have come at a worse time. With the racism and religious tribalism already on the surface, the anger over the film may even tip the scale in Foke’s favor. I certainly hope that it will not. Then again, if Jokowi wins in THIS current social climate, the moral victory is even greater. Meanwhile, I didn’t plan to go out tonight anyway. But if my plans had been to take a long walk in unfamiliar parts of the city, I would have reconsidered. Stayed at home tonight after all, and do the exploring some other day.

Two days ago, I had a very interesting but upsetting conversation with some coworkers. They informed me that if a child is born by parents who are not married to each other, the hospital will not give the child a proper birth certificate. Without the birth certificate, the child might not be allowed to go to school. Having reached adulthood, there will still be problems with getting an ID card or passport, thus making it hard to for example vote or leave the country.

Oh, and by the way. A little detail. If the parents come from different religions… they are not allowed to marry each other. Sure, you can change your religion esaily, if your social situation allows that. And if you have enough money, you can also fly to another country and get married there instead. So, there are ways around all these problems… assuming you belong to the elite, not the general population.

Yesterday I went out shopping with one of my friends. I asked her about this issue. She said that she’s one of the many who has this problem. She managed to sneak through school on empty promises to show them her birth certificate soon. Grew up knowing that she was not really allowed to go to school, that she only got her education by pretending. She later managed to get an ID card somehow. Getting a passport is out of her reach, however.

Today I met a man from the American Embassy. I hope he’s okay: The religious fundamentalists attacked the embassy later in the day and had a big battle with the police. Anyway, we talked a bit about this birth certificate issue. He’ll send me some report they have written. I also plan to have a serious talk with Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association and some other organizations, learn all I can about this issue. See what projects and campaigns are going on about this and see if I can help.

The current system, or lack thereof, really seem to be one huge injustice. Stigmatizing unmarried couples is bad enough. But taking it out on the children, who had no say or choice in the matter… 😦