How to live with blue people
Christmas on the streets that supported ISIS
A joke: A police officer is doing his rounds at night in the village when he comes upon a drunk man walking circles in the cone of light around the lone lantern on the village square. He observes the man for a while and concludes from the way he is looking at the ground that he must be looking for something. After some time he goes to the man, wanting him to go home forthwith (or face a night in lock-up) and asks him what he is looking for. ‘My keys’ says the drunk man, stumbling and lisping his words. ‘Are you sure you lost them here, you have been searching here for a long time now?’ the cop asks. ‘Well, no!’ says the drunk man, then as he pauses he raises his hand slightly, pointing away from the lantern ‘I heard them fall over there.’ The police officer is staggered, ‘but why are you searching here then?’ he says exasperated. To which the drunk man replies: ‘It’s too dark over there.’
I moved into my new home. Well ‘new’ is a relative term, America was still recuperating from the civil-war when it was build, but it is new to me at least. I don’t regret this decision if, for no other reason, than that a house that survives two world wars must be sturdy if not also lucky.
I hope you understand my prolonged silence in light of these facts; there really was no time to put pen to paper. I must say some people were less than fully understanding that one would move to the heart of where the Belgian-jihadi problem lays, almost as if I’d have to feel ashamed for making this decision. That is, now that Molenbeek and all the other suburban villages of Brussels have come under such scrutiny. But I look at it more as if ‘not moving there’ would have been part of the problem. Fear segregates and in turn people that are segregated develop resentment for each other. As it was, the move was largely economically inspired and even me, who once came an inch from being fired after objecting to the boss’ use of the ‘n’-word, have already had to overcome feelings of racism and fear.
It is not a surprising phenomenon, racism, that is. Evolution is completely at fault (as is the case with many things). First we and other living things are instinctively cautious, to say the least, with unfamiliar things. This goes from places we haven’t been, modes of transport we try for the first time, to people of different races under whose skin we can’t ever look. Next up is the overdeveloped cause and effect judgment that comes instinctually whenever two things coincide. A sound happens simultaneous to an event, therefore it must have been caused by that event. With race, the reasoning is more like: A person that resembles you steals a car; ‘that must be an immoral person’. A blue person steals a car: ‘damn it, fucking bluey! Typical!’ Evolution is no excuse though. Humanity starts where the evolved animal part ends. It is where we transgress beyond our evolution, all the while accepting the beast inside, that define us as human.
What makes it even harder is that there is a grain of truth to racism. Or rather: blue people tend to come from different cultural backgrounds and this gives rise to characteristics that they share. For instance Caucasian people tend to come from Western culture back-grounds which makes them prone to individualism and various blind-spots regarding the treatment of aging people or convicted people. As first adopters of industrialization they also tend to live by the clock which in turn augments the capacity for discipline and productivity, on the other hand reduces empathy as time is considered an asset that is stringently guarded. Are these absolute truths? Off course not! If they were racism would be a science, not a problem. However it can hardly be denied that the replies to a questionnaire regarding the ‘(im)morality of being late for an appointment’ won’t be uniformly more severe in a Western country than it will be in a culture where ‘an appointment’ is itself a much vaguer concept. Let me give another example of what basically amounts to racism, but is totally well-intentioned and closer to the truth than not: in Belgium there are fewer black people than in the U.S. The ones that do live here are concentrated around Brussels and have by and far roots in our former colony which is now called Congo again. For historical reasons Congo was at the time entirely administrated in French. By consequence 98% of the people of Congolese descent in our capital speak French even though the small majority of Belgians is not natively French speaking. As a result black people in Brussels are almost always addressed in French, based on the color of their skin, which is mostly convenient for all parties involved. For all parties except the 2% African-Belgians that have roots in former English colonies and who, despite they often master three languages, don’t understand French. Is it racism? Well if racism means you assume certain characteristics based upon the race, religion or skin color, it simply must be. But no-one off course believes this is tied to race as it is a historical-cultural phenomenon, nor is it done with mal-intend, it is almost an involuntary reflex.
There are all sorts of filters in society which link phenomena together which are not intrinsically linked: for instance if you’d take the percentages under-aged drug-users at a rave in the Nevada desert you’d be mistaken to extrapolate those figures to under-aged people in general. Likewise it takes a certain boldness to pack and migrate to another continent. So conceivably, on average, migrating people will be selected for those that will go the extra mile for their self-interest. There is a selection for a specific type of personality for employees in a company’s sales-force. If you only deal with the sales-persons of another continent your subjective opinion of that culture will be biased for the positive and less positive traits of sales-people. Personality traits thus get unjustly linked to providence and race. However, is it racism when dealing within the selected population (the teenagers at the rave, the group of migrants, the sales people), to expect certain tendencies? Because if we must at all times ignore trends within populations it means we need to examine each request -‘of that Nigerian prince in search of a European bank account to park a fortune on‘- individually. There is a cost involved with that. If statistics say that the disenfranchised commit more sustenance-related crimes and you happen to know that certain racial minorities and immigrants have higher levels of disenfranchised, is it racism then to choose your route home at night so to avoid the neighborhood where those minorities are clustered? Perhaps it isn’t, but is this also not exactly the behavior that would cause neighborhoods to become racially concentrated, causing racial and cultural segregation, entrenching cultural identities and re-enforcing the disenfranchisement of those minorities?
As with the phenomenon of the -Congolese-French pre-selection in Brussels- not all biases work strictly in the interest of the opinion holder. Being aware of cultural differences is the first step toward taking them into account and being considerate of them. I was in a blue-exploited fast-food place the other day which had adopted the native custom to put a piggy-bank on the counter in case customers are too lazy to store the change they get and prefer unloading it into a readily available container. The issue is that, while piggy-banks tend to be of the “porcine persuasion”, for the blue owners of the place the pig culturally was an unclean animal. Or was it? I’m actually not sure. All I could establish was that they had sloppily written on the poor thing: ‘I am not a pig, I am a fat sheep’. It is difficult to explain the levels of culture that (possibly) stack up here if only because one of the most famous paintings from Belgian origins is a picture of a pipe (as in the smoking item) sub-titled ‘this is not a pipe’.
Were the blue owners being facetious? Were they being ironic about having a piggy-bank in an establishment that is centered largely on serving pig-free food? Or were they serious in their solution for adopting a functional object while clearly denying the evident: that it was a pig? Was it racist of me to consider either option? Because if I assume it is a joke and laugh at the denial of the obvious I might be stepping on some religious toes. Then again by considering I might violate a religious sensitivity I might be wrongly and biasedly assuming things based purely on the other’s religious conviction. And all things considered this is an innocent example which I circumvented by choosing the more prudent (if not also the most racist) of the two options. But what if such an issue comes up in your work-environment and what if at the same time there was no such silent, non-committal escape? You’d almost have to pretend not to know anything about the relation between blue-people and pigs in order to avoid both the risk of being labeled a racist (because you assume all blueys have pig-freight) or an insensitive bastard (because you bulldozed straight across the blue religious sensitivity)
As an atheist I feel we have hit the next level of walking the tight rope requiring almost ‘FPS game’-like reflexes and accuracy. Since the attacks in Paris, joined with the continuing refugee crisis in Europe, multi-culturalism has become hard pressed. Native- and non-native -race and -culture bisect society one way while religion (with one in particular) bisects it another way. Both ‘Paris’ and ‘migration’ are issues that impact Belgium enormously at the moment, with refugees camping on the streets of our capital and soldiers being deployed, armed to the teeth, on every crowded potential target. These issues are not only dialectically influencing each other, there are other factors as wealth, social & financial security and morality in the mix as well. In so far that any moral and rational person can even formulate a consistent opinion on it for him/her-self, it is not easy or even possible to communicate it to others while including all nuance. Because unless you are Marine Le Pen or D-Trump, the solution is not easy or un-complex at all. We have to take responsibility while not trying to be so politically correct as to take all of the blame. As European citizens we must recognize that our NATO alliance has not unilaterally been a force for good in the world. On the other hand this provides no excuse for what happened in Paris, nor does it even seem to be linked much with the motives for it. When one takes note of the grievances of radical-Muslims (no reason to be bluey-unspecific here, the events stand by themselves) it has as much to do with, for instance, the liberties women have in our society as with perceptions of racism (justified or not). It has as much to do with [neo-] colonialism as with the denied superiority of their überreligion-affiliation. Is it wrong for police in Brussels to stop that car with French license-plates occupied with exclusively olive-skincolored bearded males, which I’ll stipulate is purely racial profiling? Or is it a justified recognition of the statistically significant correlation between religious practices and terrorism of the variety that also bans the wearing of wool clothing in gunpowder factories? Should we look for our keys in the light, where we know they are not, only because it is inconvenient or politically incorrect to search for them more effectively? But then if we say ‘no’ to this, if we stand for racial profiling, how do we prevent this from creating more of the resentment that partially lays at the heart of the problem in the first place? Do we raise a hymn about the peace all religions bring onto the world or do we denounce where they specifically cause it to break down as well? Do we call a pig a pig or will we silently pretend it is a fat sheep?
Because calling a pig a pig is what Sam Harris did in his recap of ‘sleepwalking toward armageddon‘: with nuance and distinguishing between Islam’s followers and the religion itself, yet being unapologetic in naming the role of Islam in the Paris attacks specifically and in global terrorism today in general. Debunking as he did, both that Muslims are uniformly suspect or that the issue lay solely with some individuals that just happened to go berserk. But when I went and shared his page on Facebook the only feedback it got was a ‘where is the unlike button?’ from one of my Muslim friends (which made me worried for a while until we had time to clear the air). The truth is both more nuanced as the solution is complex, nor can it be remedied solely by taking a step back and keeping quiet. Because if the problem was how racism prevented minorities from obtaining a secure life, from gaining basic respect or real political representation not only would the terrorists have a point, we would have a moral obligation to do something about it. And we do have that obligation because it IS a problem as it is evolutionarily almost unavoidable and it is something we must work on daily. Identify your prejudices. Hold on to them tentatively, if at all, when dealing with any person from any color, blue or otherwise. Get to know that person for real before you draw conclusions. He/she is a real person, not just a member of a subgroup. But also: it’s ok not to give your bank-account-number to a Nigerian-prince or to temporarily single-out bearded fellows in cars with foreign license-plates. We must recognize that the Emperor has no clothes, that our keys are out there somewhere in the dark and that cavity-searching grey old ladies is not the best investment of our limited national-security resources. Because apart from our mutual (and unwavering!) obligation to build a multicultural society we must also protect that society for all involved. The society can’t only give to its members, they must contribute as well.
From what we learned from the terrorists digital footprint the social injustice and segregation are not prominent on their radar. That’s why unilaterally retreating is not a solution. Because one of the things these terrorists resent more than social inequality is any amount of social equality women have, the fact that a woman can chose to wear pants or to wear a mini-skirt; the fact that a lingerie commercial can be as tall as a building and both leave a man indifferent or (with some manipulation) arouse him to ejaculation in some other (preferably private) moment; the fact that for some nothing compares to crisply baked bacon or a well-aired bottle of red ‘Gran Reserva’ wine ripened for five year in oak barrels; or the fact that some people don’t think all that highly of Mohammed, or even doubt that he and Allah are more than fictional characters, or that some believe one should not take into account anything they (or Yahweh for that matter) supposedly said when organizing society.
Off course we only have the interpreted translation of Kuran (and other considered-as-holy-books) and it may very well be that the original only contained “butterflies & rainbows”, but you see: the same can be said about your copy of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’. Perhaps in the original German it says something entirely different making clear where it was only intended to be ‘symbolic’ instead of literal. Because, as I recently experienced, that is the last tool moderates have to recuperate these holy-books with. These books which are filled with stuff that, when taken verbatim, violate most people’s sense of morality. But, for the same selective reinterpretation of ‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler becomes a benign God (or final prophet or sacrificed son-of-a-god) whose "Divine Word" (actually written by himself!) was insufficiently interpreted in symbolic terms and whose deeds could not have been immoral since he and only he is God and whatever God does is moral so ‘go-fudge-yourself-you-infidel,-you-stinking-bluey!’. Or we could implement intellectual honesty and recognize that there is a lot of objectionable content in ‘Mein Kampf’, Kuran and Bible, enough so as to make the remainder of the books not worth reading and none of it worth considering or following.
But off course this is simply a bridge too far for any self-respecting theist which in turn is why I would propose we do away with religion all together. Radical atheism as a remedy for radical Islamism, if ever there was a proposition more self-defeating I’m yet to here it. And yet I’ve not found an alternative that is also not simultaneously drenched in intellectual dishonesty. [the next argument is pure Harris’] For if religion has no part in this and all this is are frustrated individuals blowing themselves to smithereens out of social despair were are then the Tibetan suicide bombers in Shanghai? Why are Christians not blowing themselves up in Pakistan and where is the atheist rebellion rising up in Bangladesh? To say that religion is not a crucial part in this is to deny the Paris’ death, “then say they were not slain but death they still are!”.
As long as we keep addressing the problem by circling where it is not; As long as we actively deny the diversity/complexity of the problem, both by exculpating Islam(and other religions while at it) off hand or by blaming (registering and banning) all Muslims outright; that’s how long the soldiers shall remain on guard, giving a little of their freedom, for a little of our security… and no solution or peace for anyone.