Monday, October 20, 2008

Islamophobes, Democracy Now, and Me

Democracy Now with Amy Goodman carried a terrifying segment last Friday on how 25 million copies of a DVD called Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West have been distributed in key battleground states in the last couple of months (at a cost of $50 million!). According to Democracy Now, the film features graphic, violent images and makes comparisons of Islam to Nazism.

You can listen to the story for yourself if you like, “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation”. I was struck by the guests mentioning the recent incident when a woman at a McCain rally called Obama "an Arab" only to be corrected by McCain, "no m'am, he's a decent family man and a citizen." The guests and I had noticed that McCain got kudos for proclaiming Obama's decency, but no one questioned the idea that calling someone "an Arab," meant that they were calling someone "indecent, not a family man and not a citizen."

One of the guests, Isabel Macdonald, communications director at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), and the co-author of FAIR’s new report “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation," talked about how the mainstream media has been relatively diligent and interested in contradicting a widespread "whisper campaign" against Obama claiming that he is "an Arab" and a Muslim. But none of the media have contradicted or covered the underlying assumptions of the campaign, 1) conflating regional origin with religion and 2) that being either an Arab or a member of the Nation of Islam is a bad thing.

McDonald pointed out that in Poland in 1990 back, when there was a whisper campaign that a the incumbent Prime Minister of Poland was "a Jew," the American media covered it as an Anti-Semitic campaign, not solely as a smear campaign against the prime minister.

Not to belabor the point, but it is not just Obama who is being smeared by this campaign, it is all middle-eastern people and followers of Islam. [Side point: isn't there part of you that would just love to watch Obama win the election and elect to be sworn in on the Koran, and then be like, "psych!!!"]

Okay, I also have to admit a love/hate relationship with Democracy Now. I love it because she and her team tell stories that no one else is telling. I hate it because every time I listen to the show, my blood pressure soars and I move an inch further out on my already left coast left fringe existence--and it's scary out here. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you!

As a long-time lobbyist and a bit of a Sacramento (if no longer DC) capitol insider, I have been accused by close friends as being on the "quote unquote left" rather than just left. They later recanted, but I think some of my discomfort with Democracy Now actually bolsters their claim. I really like to have it both ways. I like to think of myself as changing the parameters of the possible, but operating somewhat with the boundaries.

Democracy Now is outside the boundaries. Democracy Now isn't afraid to be arrested to cover the Republican convention. Democracy Now isn't afraid to criticize Democrats when they do the wrong thing.

I agree with all that. Yet, I'm so happy listening to my little National Public Radio. Sure, if I actually know anything about a given story, I'm angry that they missed it, but most of the time these days, I'm blissfully out of the loop, thrilled to hear one more story from the Obama/McCain campaign trail.

I think the struggle for me is how to stay aware, engaged and still calm and peaceful. How can I as an active citizen and a spiritual practitioner educate myself on the important issues of the day, be sufficiently aware that I want to do something about them, but not get caught up in anger, fear, resentment, and the sort of moral superiority and outrage that it brings up in me?

Step 1, I just subscribed to a podcast of "Democracy Now" as an experiment.
Step 2, meditate, meditate, meditate.

No answers today, only questions. For snicholsblog, this has been snichols.

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