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Thursday, April 24, 2014

How We Talk about Islam and Terror: Nuance and Context

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On April 23, the CNN program "The Lead" featured Reverend Ruth Yoder Wenger, a prim and self-righteous gray-haired woman, in black blazer and eyeglasses, lips firmly pressed together in a sanctimonious fake-smile posture that could strike fear into any school child's heart, and Peter B. Gudaitis, a bald man in a sweat jacket, member of "New York Disaster Interfaith Services."

Wenger and Gudaitis appeared on CNN to protest that Americans are saying bad things about Islam and Muslims. Specifically, Wenger and Gudaitis were there to protest the National September 11 Memorial Museum's feature, "The Rise of Al Qaeda," which

"describes the emergence of the terrorist organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks. It concentrates on a period of roughly 15 years, beginning with al-Qaeda’s founding during the Soviet-Afghan War and concluding with its rationale and planning for the attacks of 2001. The program tracks al-Qaeda’s embrace of violence and the decision of its leadership to commit mass murder, at the dawn of the 21st century."

The host, Jake Tapper, asked Wenger and Gudaitis what their specific complaint was.

Wenger and Gudaitis repeatedly used two words: "nuance" and "context."

Beware of those words. They are weasel words. In liberal, academic environments, I have seen these very words used to obfuscate and forfend any serious discussion of real issues.

"Well, ya know, the Soviets did some bad things. Like the Holodomor that exterminated uncounted millions of Ukrainian peasants."

"Hey! That statement lacks nuance and context!"

These words can also be used to deflect any positive statement about perceived enemies.

"Hey, did you know that the Catholic Church is one of the major provider of social services in the United States today?"

"Bogus! No nuance or context!"

The CNN host Jake Tapper would have none of this. He pressed his guests: What specifically do you object to about stating that members of Al Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist group, attacking the US on September 11, 2001, in their own words, in an act of jihad?

"Islamist terrorist," Gudaitis said. You can't say that. You can't associate Muslims or Islam with terror. To do so … lacks nuance and context.


My friend Otto Gross sent me this clip. Otto is German. Ask Otto about lacking nuance and context. ALL Germans must live with the heritage of Nazism, must constantly justify their own existences to … well to people like me who have a huge chip on our shoulders against Germans.

When I say, in published writing, that German Nazis did despicable things, NO ONE demands "nuance" or "context." German Nazis did despicable things. Period.

I'm Catholic. I am part of an institution that hid child molesting priests. I can never hide from that reality. No nuance. No context. Child abuse is bad and the Church made terrible mistakes and we must change.

I have friends who are Jewish. Jews were overrepresented in the Communist secret police that murdered and tortured Polish heroes after WW II … and I am Polish, and my own people carried out pogroms against Jews.

No one is trying to protect Germans or Catholics with weasel words like "nuance" and "context."

Muslims will know that we love them and respect them and accept them into the wider human family as thoroughly as we ought to when we drop the pretense and speak frankly about crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam in the same way that we speak frankly about crimes committed by Catholics or Germans or Jews or members of any other group.

Feeling stigmatized? Join the club … and, like many of the rest of us, step up to the plate, and work for improvement in your own community.

The New York Times covered this story as well. Many NYT readers, in the comments section, revealed a certain amount of impatience with Politically Correct whitewashing.

A Times reader named "Maggie" wrote: "The museum didn't associate the hijackers with Islam, the hijackers associated themselves with Islam. People, religions, nations have to own their histories.

I've never owned a slave but I still recognize that ugly part of America's past. I have never condoned the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, but as a Catholic I have to live with that part of my religion's story.

Sorry Muslims, they aren't you but you still have acknowledge their ties to your religion."

You can read those comments here.

You can view the CNN clip here.

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