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Joe Scarborough photo montage.
On September 17th, Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, offered viewers his take on the protests and attacks at the United States diplomatic offices in Egypt and Libya.  Scarborough dismissed the notion that the violence was strictly the result of Muslim anger with the release of a trailer for the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” and instead offered the following comments; the entirety of which can be viewed here.

“I talked to intelligence people all weekend.  They hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture, and they hate us because of peer pressure.”

Scarborough’s comments are clearly myopic, insensitive, and reductive.  Islam is presented as a singular entity absent organizational divisions, ideological variation, ontological nuance, or theological complexity.  This homogeneous and static Islam is also conflated as both religion and culture, which serves only to obscure the rich diversity among the 1.5 billion adherents of Islam.

It would be easy to attack Scarborough’s comments as yet another example of the demagoguery pervasive in American politics, media, and entertainment that regularly vilifies Muslims and demonizes Islam.  It would be easy to dismiss Scarborough as someone who has read too many books by Raphael Patai, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer.  It would be easy to lump Scarborough in with politicians, like Michelle BachmanNewt Gingrich or Peter King, who have tried to raise their public profiles by maligning Muslims. It would be easy to put Scarborough in the camp of media personalities like Sean HannityRush Limbaugh, and Pat Robertson who regularly denigrate Islam in the hopes of increasing their ratings.

The problem is that while such tropes would make it easy to pillory Joe Scarborough, there is no evidence that he is a rabid Islamophobe or regularly peddles in anti-Muslim hate speech.  In fact, Scarborough previously spoke out forcefully against such demagoguery; a point ignored in many of the current opinion pieces denouncing Scarborough.

Two years ago, on August 17, 2010, Joe Scarborough strongly condemned Newt Gingrich’s assertion that an Islamic cultural center (aka Park 51 Community Center) located a few blocks from Ground Zero was akin to Nazis’ placing a sign next to the Holocaust Museum.  Scarborough lambasted Gingrich’s comments as “reckless” and “irresponsible” and stated that such comments “send a horrific message across the globe” and make “millions of law-abiding Muslims-Americans feel as if some leaders want them to be under siege in their own country.”  Scarborough then offered Gingrich a bit of unsolicited advice; namely that he read the Constitution and “stop pandering to the lowest base in American politics.”

What we have here are two Joe Scarboroughs – one who finds it terribly offensive to denigrate Muslims for simply exercising their freedom of religious practice and one who cannot fathom why a small number of Muslims reacted violently to a shabby anti-Islam film and retreats to reductionist explanations of religion and culture.  In this, Scarborough represents a sort of cognitive dissonance that is far too common in American society.  This is a mindset that champions the notion that individuals should not be judged based on their race, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation, but frequently relies upon one-dimensional answers – some would say stereotypes – to complex questions that involve myriad social, political, cultural, religious, and economic factors.

The question “Why do they hate us?” cannot be adequately answered with a one-word response, such as “Religion” or “Culture.”  If all Muslim hate us, then how do we explain the more than 6, 0000 Muslims who have served in overseas war deployments between September 11, 2001 and December 2011?  What about the 14 Muslim-Americans who were killed while serving their country in Iraq?  Are these the people who hate us because of their religion?  I certainly don’t think so and suspect that neither does Joe Scarborough or millions of other Americans.

More importantly, the larger problem is that the wrong question is being asked.  Rather than asking “Why do they hate us?” we need to consider questions such as “Why did some Egyptians and Libyans resort to violence over the film?” or “Do the small number of protestors represent widely held views within each society or were these protests the work of extreme minorities?”  and “Why weren’t there protests or violence over the film in the United States, Bangladesh, or Algeria?”  While the answers to these questions will undoubtedly include some elements of religion and culture, reaching such answers will first require an ability to deal with complexity, nuance, and ambiguity.  This promises to be an arduous task that probably will not make for great television or good ratings, but in the end are the questions we need to ask and have answered in order to make sense out of the events.

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October 18th, 2015

Mapping the Dead in the Latest Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Basma Atassi at Al-Jazeera has put together a great storymap that explores the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Complete with pictures, text and place location, this resource allows you to get a good sense of where, when and how the violence is occurring. Definitely worth a look.

October 16th, 2015

Netanyahu, Context & Responsibility

At the center of this current iteration of violence in Israel and Palestine stands the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has reacted to this violence as if he was surprised that Palestinians would resort to violence when for decades he has done everything within his power to thwart the establishment and growth of a responsible Palestinian civil society, expanded settlements with the explicit aim of crippling an emerging Palestinian state, and undermining the responsible leadership of Mahmoud Abbas at every possible opportunity.

October 8th, 2015

Abbas, Netanyahu and Responsible Leadership

Abbas is demonstrating his commitment to deescalating tensions and calming the violence that is a direct result of Netanyahu’s persistent efforts to whip Israeli society into a panicked frenzy about an existential threat lurking behind every corner.

June 30th, 2015

Our Dictator in Cairo – Abdel Fatah el-Sisi

So, once again, the foreign policy of the US has chosen perceived immediate stability over the somewhat more bumpy and unpredictable evolution of democracy in the Middle East. It’s not the first time we’ve done this… it’s sort of our thing at this point… we’re pro’s out it.

June 22nd, 2015

The Many Victims at Mother Emmanuel

The problem with Gosnell and others who make these arguments is that they believe intentionality serves as some magical “Get out of Jail Free” card that absolves perpetrators of the violence they commit. Further, and in many ways far more problematic, is the realization that Gosnell and others only want to use this logical canard to absolve themselves or other like them. No such compassion regarding intentionality and the multiplicity of victims derived from violence will ever be used with the families of the 9-11 hijackers. In the end, the fundamental mistake that Gosnell and others make over and over again is that they focus on issues of intentionality rather than on issues of responsibility.

March 4th, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Congress

There are two things to never forget when considering Netanyahu’s views of regional threats. First, he is desperately seeking his “Churchill moment”. Second, he has a record of being blinded by his own biases and is never, ever a sober analyst of a situation

February 16th, 2015

Cursed Be The Peacemakers?

This video, produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, has been released as part of the current Israeli political contest where the extreme right wing of Israel is attempting to maintain the rightist complexion of the Israeli government. For me, the truly offensive aspect of this video is how it makes the case that working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians or defending Palestinian and Israeli human rights somehow makes you a threat to the country.

February 14th, 2015

The Danger of Molly White’s Islamophobia

Rep. White is the new poster child for the anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamic hatred and Islamophobia that is so deeply embedded in American society that it can hide in plain sight.

July 15th, 2014

In Focus: The Gaza Strip

As Israeli bombs are dropped throughout the Gaza Strip and Hamas missiles are launched into Israel, the media coverage has focused on discussing Gaza as a known yet ill-defined entity. We are made aware of roughly where it is (next to Israel), who lives there (Hamas) and what happens there (rockets are made and launched). But this reductionist view of Gaza doesn’t provide any insights into the common, everyday lived experience of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in the 360 sq. km that makes up the Gaza Strip.

July 14th, 2014

Middle East News Review #28

The Middle East was plagued with news of violence this week. In Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Libya, episodes of violence resulted in death and destruction. Iran continued its negotiations with the US and EU this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement over the country’s nuclear program and removing the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. In Iraq, violence between the militant group ISIS and the Baghdad government reached new heights as 29 people were found massacred in an apartment and Human Rights Watch condemned the government for mass executions carried out earlier this year. The direct physical violence in Iraq was mirrored this week with political turmoil as the government of Nouri al-Maliki erupted into conflict with the semi-autonomous Kurdish government.