LATE ETA: It’s always illuminating seeing what’s being written about me on pingbacks. Needless to say, my (rather low) opinion of the unaccountable & pseudonymous finger-pointers of LiveJournal appears to need no revision. That’s not discourse. It’s self-congratulatory back-pattery while people sit around typing, “ZOMG LOOK WHAT THE BAD PERSON SAID!” Hooray, it’s like gradeschool all over again!
Will Shetterly, Jim Hines, and I have been (sort of) carrying on a (sort of) conversation about Elizabeth Moon’s now somewhat-notorious Citizenship post. Before I begin, I want to stress that I don’t know Elizabeth Moon, beyond her reputation in military science fiction circles — where her reputation is quite good. I’ve been told by more than one writer, reader, and servicemember that Moon is actually top-notch, so if nothing else, this entire late-to-the-party fracas has stirred my interest in purchasing Moon’s work, as such purchases are long overdue anyway.
While going back and forth with Shetterly and Hines, it occurred to me that I am experiencing a fundamental difference in perception, between how Moon’s post was received by her critics, and how I received it. Many of Moon’s critics appear to have taken away from her article the idea that Moon doesn’t think you deserve U.S. citizenship or equal protection under U.S. law if you’re a Muslim. I’ve re-read her article three times now, and I am struggling to find where she has explicitly said such things. So if someone with superior reading comprehension-fu than me can break it down so that this is plain, I’d appreciate it.
For my part, what I saw Moon saying is something I’ve been feeling in my heart for a few years now: that, given the number of American lives lost in the last 30 years — in acts committed by people proclaiming to be acting in the service of Allah and the Muslim prophet Muhammed — Americans as a whole have shown tremendous restraint when dealing with Muslims on U.S. national soil. There have been no pogroms, no detention camps, and the number of instances of death or violence being visited on Muslim Americans because they’re Muslim is remarkably low. Even after the colossal atrocity of 9/11/2001 and certain events which have followed on, like the Times Square (would-be) Bomber and the Fort Hood shootings, there have been no racial or religious purges as have often characterized other parts of the world, both historical and modern.
Yet, the American public is forever petitioned for more tolerance, more understanding, and more emotional and intellectual effort. The American landscape is “Islamophobic,” a recent Time Magazine cover proclaimed. For the better part of ten years, the American psyche has been tied up in knots trying to figure out why these people hate us enough to hijack our airplanes and plow those planes into our office buildings. Because we are a liberal democracy, we expend huge sums of energy trying to determine our fault, our shortcoming, our sin in the affair. That’s the ethos of the age, and for the most part America has stuck with it to a sterling degree.
Now, with the generated flap over the Park51 project near the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City, the cry is louder than ever: what sickness infests the soul of America that America needs to demonize these poor, innocent Muslims who had nothing to do with the events of 9/11 or any other atrocity?
I suspect Elizabeth Moon is fatigued by the whole hand-wringing business. I suspect Elizabeth Moon feels — as I often do — that we as the American people — a liberal and accepting people, even of our former enemies like the British, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Japanese, the Russians — only have so much gas left in our spiritual tanks for this kind of navel-focused self examination. I suspect that while Moon wishes very much for the Muslim side of the equation to do a little self-examination of its own, she has not and is not, in fact, advocating violation of civil rights or the legal marginalization of Muslims in America. In fact, if I read Ms. Moon correctly, I suspect all she wants is for the Park51 project organizers to poke their heads up a little higher into the general U.S. cultural smog and realize that cultural awareness is a two way street. Like it or not, 9/11/2001 is a raw wound with a long shadow on the American soul, and whether it’s fair or not, when news of Park51 broke across the landscape, it became a far more divisive and complex deal than anyone at Park51 ever expected.
Nobody is telling Park51 they can’t do what they want with property that is legally owned or leased by them. Certainly I don’t think Moon ever said that, and I don’t say it either. But I would like it if the Park51 crew sat back and considered the broader American picture before proceeding. Because 9/11/2001 still bleeds in the breast of millions of Americans — people with no real quarrel or even understanding of Islam, besides their rudimentary knowledge that on that dreadful day nine years ago, men proclaiming that Allah was their only God took the lives of thousands of American citizens and plunged the U.S. into almost a decade of protracted, tiresome warfare in a country on the other side of the planet.
Context counts. There is context to consider, beyond bromidinous speculation about the racist history and roots of so-called Islamophobia. We have not, as a country, properly reckoned with this thing called Islam — fractured, divided, at odds with itself as much as it can be at odds with us. But if the peaceful progressives in America’s Islam wish to breed good will among Americans, I do not think it wise to ignore the larger American context in which the Park51 project is embroiled.
If I have misread Ms. Moon, that’s my fault. But I don’t think I’ve misread her by much. And I would ask those who believe her to be an advocate of “second class citizenship” for Muslims to look more carefully at the root of her beef. It’s not about phobias. It’s about being tired. Tired of forever being expected to put forth and give and “bend over backwards” as she sees it, for a confusing and often contradictory religion which even many Muslims cannot properly grasp, much less explain to us Western secular folk.
LATE ETA: because certain people apparently demand that they have the last word, I am abandoning this thread in-place. I could lock it, but I’m not fond of that tactic. So fire away, folks. The club is empty and the mic is still hot. Have your last words all day and all night long.