Tarred With the Same Brush

We've had a letters-to-the-editor conversation in the local paper going on recently, between people who think Muslims are being unfairly expected to apologize every time acts of terrorism are discovered to be planned or perpetrated by radical Islamists and people who think that a) this isn't actually true or b) Muslims should apologize, or at least be clear about the fact that they are against such acts.

One such letter was written by Maher Arar, whose story is known to most Ottawa residents if not most Canadians. The letter is titled "Muslims Have Nothing to Apologize For", and can be found here. Arar states not only that Muslims should not be expected to apologize, but speaks negatively of the imams and members of the Muslim community who have done so, in part because the suspects referred to haven't always been conclusively proven to be guilty. He also decries the fact that this is a unique phenomenon to the Western people/Muslim people dichotomy, and that no one paints all Christians or Jews with the same brush when a Christian or Jew commits a crime.

I have mixed feelings about this. I don't want every Muslim person to feel like they are constantly expected to apologize for a minority of homicidal zealots who perpetrate atrocities under the auspices of their religion -- but I really appreciate it when they do. I would say the important part isn't that they're condemning specific people who may or may not be proven guilty, but that they're condemning the whole radical Islamic agenda. I have heard enough imams make equivocal, hedging statements about 'jihadist' acts to really appreciate when someone of the Muslim faith says flat-out that Islamic terrorists are wrongheaded, criminal and must be stopped. On the other hand, I get that it must seem unfair and tedious if you are a Muslim and you feel like all the eyes on your street turn to you every time some yahoo blows himself up thinking he's headed for paradise and a bunch of willing virgins.

As for the argument that people don't judge other groups based on the actions of a few? I think that's total crap. Would you want to be a Catholic priest right now? Do you think they don't feel they're being scrutinized by every parent with a vulnerable child? I just listened to a piece on the CBC about a town where ATV operators are in a feud with the other members of the community; some people drive the ATVs irresponsibly, tearing up farmers fields among other things, and the responsible drivers claim that they are being penalized and judged based on the actions of a few reckless morons. I'm not defending it, but I think it's ingrained in human nature -- we can't know everything about everyone in a certain demographic, so we extrapolate from the examples we have. I have an overall negative opinion about cyclists; a few of my friends are cyclists, and I believe them when they say they obey the rules of the road and don't run stop signs or weave in and out of traffic, but the majority of my experiences as a driver seems to indicate that all the cyclists I don't know personally are dumbasses with death wishes.

I don't have any answers, this is just something that's been on my mind. I thought I'd throw it out there and play Bear in the Big Blue House, by asking What Do You Think?


Nicole said…
I agree with you in that it is human nature to paint certain groups with one brush: not just religious but also gender related, or even athletically related, as per your comment about cyclists. Let me tell you, I walk my dog every day and every day a cyclist speeds past me ON THE FREAKING SIDEWALK, causing my dog to have a panic attack and pull me off my feet. Anyhoo...

This summer provincial campgrounds banned alcohol during certain weekends (May long get bombed!) because of drunken ATVers ripping up the pristine landscape. I myself don't camp but if I did alcohol would certainly be a requirement in order to induce me to sleep in a tent, and pee in an outhouse. Anyway, there was certainly a lot of outrage for people who just wanted to have a beer by the campfire and couldn't because of this small group of people.

So I guess what I'm saying is that it is not unique, although I can certainly understand the point of view of the Muslim community.
the queen said…
1) Damn cyclists.
2) I think Muslims should apologize if they feel moved to. I have a German last name, and I never felt moved to apologize for WW2 until I saw Schindler's List. For two weeks after I would tell people my last name and then say, "but I'M NOT German. It's my husband's family name." So, it's a per-person choice based on their current level of horror.
Anonymous said…
I think you're right in that we tend to categorize and label people. We can be awfully tribal that way - we sort of love an 'us' and a 'them'. Even us liberal hippies do - for us the 'them' tends to be political conservatives and The Man and moms who feed their children (gasp!) goldfish crackers. Oh nos, not the goldfish crackers!

At the same time, I don't think this is necessarily one of the better parts of humanity. Just because we do it doesn't mean that we SHOULD, or that it serves us. So I think that labeling people, and tolerating it when others label people, is not a good thing to do.

However, I also see nothing wrong with someone making a statement that they feel moved to make. Whether it's an apology or a declaration of their love for French cinema. And it is reasonable for us to hold individuals (or formal communities making formal statements) accountable when they do.
Julie said…
i would pretty much just repeat what the others and yourself have said, and since you all are more elloquant than me, i'll just say ditto.

but i did have a thought. while reading the post i was wondering if this could be an argument for the american "melting pot" phylosophy vs the canadian "cultural mosaic"? then i shook my head and said well segregation definately shoots that down. and since 9/11 i wouldn't want to be a muslim american.

and in defence of cyclists, i try not to paint all car drivers as crazy people in giant metal cubes, even when fellow cyclists get mowed down and unfortunately sometimes killed. just remember, car vs bike: car always wins, often at the cost of more than a couple of scratches on your paint job.
Pam said…
Here's my humble 2 cents on the topic. I am guilty of generalizing for groups of people. It happens. It's how I organize my understanding of the world in my otherwise unorganized brain. But that's just it - groups, not individuals. A person should not apologize for some wrong that has been done by another in a group that he/she happens to be a part. However, the spokesperson for a group may take responsibility for the group's response to the offending individual to others outside the group. (Make any sense? I don't know - I'm tired.)

Basically, interacting with individuals should never assume anything substantial about the person until they have spoken for themselves. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

My son has autism which is a part of what makes him who he is. I would never introduce him as my autistic son because he is so much more than the traits of autism and people would lump him into the traits of what they perceive autism to be. Similarly my friends who are Muslim, have a mental illness or a big snake tattoo are much more than these aspects and should not feel they have to apologize for anyone else who shares these traits.

Hmmm. Good topic Allison. And I loved Bear and the Big Blue House too.
SuziCate said…
Very eloquently written. I think you've approached a provocative topic with grace.
Ms. G said…
I agree that people are often judged by the most noticable factions in their belief or cultural systems. Unfortunately often for their negative actions rather than positive.
That said, cyclist are morons ; )
alison said…
I think that Muslims are really getting the short end of the stick. There is a very real bigotry going on here. After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal government building, no one started condemning Christians. IRA atrocities in London and in Ireland didn't produce an anti-Catholic backlash. Muslims are a conveniently identifiable 'other' and are suffering because of the actions of a few crazies. I think that if they feel called to apologise, then that's great, but they shouldn't feel obliged to.
I can see both sides of what you're saying. I think there's a difference between private individuals and official spokesmen - in the same way that we might expect the Pope to apologise on behalf of the church, but not expect anything like that of the Catholic family next door. If that makes sense?
The Mayor! said…
I try not to think...since you do it so well, I will continue to let you do it for me. It's like you pull this shit out of my head anyways.... :-))
I feel like I should be saying something really profound and thoughtful but the truth is that I've been up most of the night with a sick child and I am struggling to put my thoughts into words. I've sat with this post open for 15 minutes and can't think of anything useful to say beyond the fact that I think this post contains something to mull over. I'm not sure what my feelings are in this case. But I might as well let you know I was here in my bumbling overtired way.
Patti Murphy said…
Hey there. Watch it with the cyclist comments. I try to keep my comments about "lazy, reckless drivers to a minimum".

That is all.
Betsy B. Honest said…
It's all just PR. Churches have to do PR. Churches should do PR if they want the client. Religion leaves me with the taste of jaded in my mouth.

Cyclists, however, are awesome. Instead of blowing exhaust into your atmosphere, and your kid's atmosphere, and your grandkid's atmosphere, and their grandkid's atmostphere, they are noislessly peddling through your sprawling suburbs leaving behind nothing but a faint whiff of sweat and lycra.

You know what's even more dangerous than cycling through smoke-belching, cell-phone wielding, jammed-up, awful bitter traffic? Being sedentary!

Cyclists are my boyfriend.

Cities need more bike lanes, not less cyclists.

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