Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Media coverage of Pavlo Lapshyn, the far Right in Europe, and secularism

In a recent post about the far Right in Europe, I discussed the sentencing of white supremacist murderer and terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn. The threat from movements of the far Right comes not only from the actions of individuals in their ranks but from sympathetic and even encouraging responses from governments. It also comes from distorted public views of these actions, and those views are powerfully influenced by media coverage (or the lack thereof). Steve Rendall at FAIR describes the imbalance in US media coverage of the murders of Mohammed Saleem and Lee Rigby:
This story of terrorism hardly registered in US news media. According to the Nexis news database, Mohammed Saleem and Pavlo Lapshyn were mentioned in just 10 US newspaper and news wire stories, most of them brief Associated Press and States News Service wires (e.g., Associated Press, 10/25; States News Service, 19/25). The New York Times was alone among major newspapers, running a detailed report on October 23.

Saleem’s story can be contrasted with that of British Army Sergeant Lee Rigby, murdered by Islamist assailants in a London street a few weeks later. Rigby and his killers, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, were mentioned in 570 US newspapers and news wire stories.

There's more than one reason for that. Rigby's killers stayed at the murder scene and were videotaped talking about killing the soldier. But it's hard to deny that one reason Rigby's story got [more] than 50 times the coverage of Saleem's is that it fits a false and damaging media narrative about who are the perpetrators and who the victims of such horrific acts.
This neglect is one part of the problem. Another is the reluctance even to acknowledge non-Muslim terrorism, especially when the victims are Muslims. Steve Rose suggests that the refusal to call Lapshyn’s intent and actions what they plainly were provides
further proof that terrorism is an empty term, a label reflexively applied when the perpetrator has a specific religious identity. As a result, supporters of the English Defence League can continue to claim, ‘That all the terrorists at the moment are Muslim’, which is another falsehood.

Until we stop dehumanising Muslims to feed the illusion of our own moral and cultural superiority, we will not learn from this tragedy. Nor will we reflect on our own capacity for terror on those we oppose. Nobody has the monopoly on terrorism. It has no nationality or religious faith, it crosses borders and cultures.

Yet, like any fundamentalist, Lapshyn's utopian vision was built on the aggressive removal of the 'Other'. He hoped his campaign would cause Muslims to ‘leave’ a section of Birmingham. In isolation, that idea is closer to the mainstream than many admit.
Public acknowledgment of rightwing violence and campaigns of terror is badly needed. In one incident, last week in France, someone painted Nazi graffiti outside the home of Abdallah Zekri.

Earlier in October, a heated conflict surrounding the slaughtering of conscious animals as part of the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” led to the burning of a mosque in Gdansk, Poland.*

Zekri and others are making the connection between the campaigns against Muslims and those against Jews, past and present (it helps when the racists make it so obvious). The Jewish community in Gdansk issued a statement associating the mosque attack with Kristallnacht, the 75th anniversary of which is in a few days:
Representatives of the Jewish community of Gdansk, Poland, said the torching of a mosque had “frightening connotations” of the Nazi-inspired Kristallnacht pogroms against Jews.

The association was inescapable, three of the city’s Jewish leaders wrote in a statement Thursday. “On the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, during which synagogues were burned in the Free City of Gdansk, the burning of the mosque must bear frightening connotations,” the statement said.

Unidentified individuals started the fire early Wednesday morning. It consumed the mosque’s door and some of the equipment, resulting in damages to the tune of $16,000.

“In the face of this cowardly act of barbarism, Jews of Gdansk cannot stand idly by,” wrote the authors of the statement, Michal Samet, Michal Rucki and Mieczyslaw Abramowicz. “We express our deep indignation against the attack on the temple and the sadness of the fact that it took place in Gdansk.”
There are other disturbing developments. Last week, (alleged) secularists held a joint event with Catholics protesting the construction of a mosque in the French city of Metz:
The demonstration was initiated by Génération Patriotes and enthusiastically supported by Résistance Républicaine. You might think this is an odd alliance, as Résistance Républicaine is a front organisation for Riposte Laïque, a militantly secularist group, while Génération Patriotes is fiercely religious. The one claims to be advocating a hardline version of laïcité, while the other aggressively upholds the Christian heritage of France.

However the French far right has been redefining laïcité to incorporate the promotion of Christianity, precisely in order to facilitate unity in inciting hatred of Islam. The forthcoming Résistance Républicaine demonstration in Paris has been called to defend laïcité ‘and our other traditions’. In addition to supporting the 1905 law which established the separation of church and state, it has adopted the slogans ‘Hands off Christmas!’ and ‘Hands off our Christian holidays!’
Fortunately, the Metz event seems to have been about as well attended as a Washington ex-gay rally, but again, the danger doesn’t just lie with the campaigns themselves but with the responses of the powerful and the shaping of public attitudes. The key insight in Pitt’s post is the recognition that “the French far right has been redefining laïcité to incorporate the promotion of Christianity.” (Something similar seems to be going on with…whatever the hell this is.)

I don’t think he has it quite right, though, when he suggests that this redefinition is being attempted “precisely in order to facilitate unity in inciting hatred of Islam.” That’s part of it, but the other aspect is that they’re confident that their religion, as the historically dominant one, will come out ahead to the extent that this view of religion as national tradition – and therefore deserving of public privilege and power even in a nominally secular society - comes to hold sway. Their confidence isn’t misplaced. There are a number of examples in the US and Europe of this sort of cooptation of secularists, who willingly or unknowingly participate in campaigns that tend not only to foster hostility and even violence toward Muslims but also, often, to expand the influence of rightwing Christianity.

There are of course plenty of real religious secularists. But there are also many religious people on the Right who want to use an ersatz secularism to promote both anti-Muslim bigotry and their own religion and its role in government. Genuine secularists should make it clear that our secularism is universal and that secular policies should be developed and applied without partiality to any religion, including when it’s defined as local tradition or heritage.

* I oppose the slaughter of animals in this or any religious ritual, as part of a general rejection of hurting and killing animals. I don’t, as should be well known to anyone who’s read what I’ve written over the years, believe that people should be given a pass or legal exemption on the basis of religion. Causing suffering and killing animals for religion should end just like causing suffering and killing animals for other human purpose.

Focused campaigns such as this, though, are often useful to opportunists looking to exploit the situation to stoke prejudice against marginalized people and spread racist tropes about how barbaric and primitive they are. Further, many who join these campaigns lack a comprehensive understanding of the scale and realities of factory farming and its links to halal slaughter. In voicing our objections, animal activists have to be cognizant of the cultural context into which our protests fall and their possible effects within that context.

Here’s a good example of how to address the issue without furthering bigotry, from treekisser and the very funny Vegans Must Be Stopped:
Today commences the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, during which millions of sheep, goats, camels, and other animals have been or will be ritually slaughtered for the occasion. (

The concept of sacrificing another being, in this case by slitting the throat of a fully conscious animal, always boggles my mind. Setting aside my personal distain for organized religion, it just doesn’t seem logical. Taking someone else’s life is their sacrifice, not yours. If you believe a magical person in the sky requires you to spill blood to prove your devotion, spill your own.

To the millions of animals mercilessly slaughtered today, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for the pain you experienced while your life bled away. I’m sorry for the fear you endured while witnessing family members be killed in front of you. I’m sorry humanity’s superstitions have manifested themselves in a way that costs the lives of so many human and non-human animals every day. Rest in peace.

(**Because this is the internet, and the internet breeds miscommunication and misinterpretation, I should clarify that this is not an anti-Islam post. I’m equally saddened by the 45 million turkeys being slaughtered this month in preparation for Thanksgiving).

EDIT: Based on the comments left so far, apparently I need to clarify a few more things. When I refer to superstition and believing in a magic person in the sky, I’m referencing all religion, not Islam. I realize their are nuances of all religions that I don’t understand, and I don’t pretend to. My overarching point is the sadness and futility of all the lives lost as a consequence of religion/tradition. Today, the focus is on Eid Al-Adha. Next month, you’ll see my same level of outrage regarding slaughter in preparation for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For tradition, for religion, for superstition, for taste preference, for holidays, for sport, for culinary adventures, or for fashion, I will never be okay with needless killing.
To think you had the nerve to actually get people to think about the concept of the killing of animals for ritual purposes in the name of religion is most upsetting. Where does such an outrageous appeal for peace towards sentient life have a place in religion? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Also don’t tell us that you have the same problem with other cruelty caused by other religions as people will not believe that because they will simply not want to, and that should be good enough for you.

I’ll have you know that chopping the head off an animal is an incredibly humane thing to do. Just look at all the people telling you so, and you can bet your bottom dollar that all of these people saying so, have had their heads chopped off, so they know exactly how little pain is involved in the action. They’re not just speaking out of their ass. It’s very scientific.

It’s much more humane than just not doing it in the first place. I hope when somebody non-consensually kills me, they do so in such a peaceful manner.

Also, as other people have mentioned, they give the meat to the homeless, because as well all know that homeless people cannot and will not ever eat plant based foods, so that would just be ridiculous to give them that. Almost as ridiculous as purposely breeding a creature with the pre-meditated reason of killing them, when you can just use that land to grow crops.

I can only hope that you have thought about your actions here. When it comes to disrespecting beliefs that are based on religion, you should be quiet.

I hate it when people give me shit for committing cannibilism under the name of my God, Zandabar, the Underwater Peanut Butter God. I know all of these people who want respect for their actions based on religion, would completely, in turn, respect my religious beliefs and not criticize me in any way, especially when they know nothing of my religion, and my God and I can justify my actions by merely saying My god says it ok, so shut your mouth,

If any of you are upset by my actions under the name of my religion, let me just say that when I do what I do, I make sure to give blessings, show praise, talk about miracles, and a add a bunch of other flowery, theatrical, meaningless, and empty words to justify my behavior, since I can plead ignorance to independent thought.

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