Thursday, October 19, 2006

Responding to a reader

This comment came in a few days ago from a reader in response to this post by Alien Panda and my subsequent comment on it. I didn't want to respond to it straight away because I was busy and wanted to give it the thoughtful response it deserved.
I’ve been cautioned on this blog before for not being sensitive to religious or national leanings in my comments. In my defence all I said was that Jews have a strong and possibly sinister networking system, and I made a few jokes regarding stereotypes people have of Indians (cows; baths in rivers; endless span of foreskin).

While I am used to Ahsan’s hypocrisy after knowing him for 2 years, it really bugs me that I cant be allowed to use cultural stigmas to make a point even though EVERY TIME Ahsan writes a blog concerning Muslims or Islam he speaks in the most derogatory and disrespectful manner he can manage while still trying to give the impression that he is neutral. I have never tried to engage Ahsan in any discussion which may drag in Islam since his stance emanates from a very skewed and superficial understanding of it. It would be like discussing the fraudulent pretences of the Iraq invasion with Rush Limbaugh or some neo-con who is too stubborn to look past his own comfortable ideological compass to accept new ideas.

This is not a comment defending Islam. If it’s taken that way go ahead, I certainly won’t take offence.

It gets to me how writers on this blog can use a mocking tone when they speak of the flaws and inconsistencies they see in Islamic society. What bugs me more is how reverential and careful you are to not offend OTHER readers. I said a few BARELY non-pc things about Indians and Ahsan sends me 4 emails. We all remember Ahsan’s post regarding the hypocrisy in Islam and how he idiotically equated fundamentalism to all Islam and Muslims in general. Please read that blog as well as his above comment AND Alien Panda’s article and compare it with the tone Ahsan uses to talk about the Mumbai blasts. While disagreeing with the Indian intelligence, the tone never descends into condescension. I can almost guarantee anyone that if the ISI had made such a bold and unsubstantiated allegation, the writers on this blog would have treated them with much more contempt.

Understand, my point is not to defend Islam or some nationalistic plea to “support our country”. But if you are going to espouse your views on what is wrong with your society, do it in a tone consistent with your other rhetoric. I know you guys are trying to make this blog appeal to the masses and therefore you’re going to pucker up for all the Jews, Christians and whatever out there to convince them that you are neutral in your commentary.
Please don’t overcompensate.
Being smart and ideologically neutral, which I ADMIT is a gift if you are a Pakistani, doesn’t give you the right to act like you are above the need to empathize with your roots. Again, I don’t mean that you blindly support Islam or Pakistani policies. Disparage them if you will. But then don’t give me crap about being politically sensitive when Ahsan can basically call Muslims cry-babies.
First, I'll tell you where you're wrong. Then I'll tell you where you're right.

You're wrong when you say I sent 4 emails to you and had your offensive comments deleted because they were "barely non-PC" about Indians and Jews. Firstly, your comments were not restricted to Indians and Jews. You said something (though I forget the exact wording) about "Filthy Muslims" being useless because they "lost a war in six days". For you to forget the fact that your comments included a tongue-in-cheek attack on Muslims is highly convenient, given the content of your complaint against me. Secondly, your comments were not "barely" non-PC. I am no big fan of political correctness myself, but there is a difference between being non-PC and being over-the-top and offensive. Where is that line? Well it depends, and it's different for different people. But talking about Hindus bathing with cows, about Hindus' foreskin, about a nefarious network run by Jews and about Muslims being filthy and incompetent at warfare, I daresay, qualifies as crossing it. You may not feel so. I do, however, and given I share this blog with two other people, neither of whom are you, gives me discretionary power.

Now I know you think it was completely unnecessary of me to have your comments deleted because you only meant it as a joke. Unfortunately - and I think you'll have to concede this point - your brand of humour is, shall we say, slightly bizarre. Not everyone gets it. Hell, I've known you for, what, 4 years almost now and I still find more than 50% of your jokes utterly stupid. The point is, people who don't know you will not necessarily know you're being funny (or trying to be, anyway). It's a sad state of affairs that there are indeed people out there who talk about Muslims being filthy and Jews running networks to rule the world and don't mean it as a joke. But given that is indeed the case, you have to be more careful. This blog is a public forum, and I'm afraid you can't get away with the same level of riduculousness (is that a word?) that you do in private.

You're also wrong when you say every time I write a post on Muslims and Islam that I use the "most derogatory and disrespectful manner possible". But since this is a matter of interpretation, I'm not going to get into it. If you feel that way, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

You're right when you say that if the ISI had made a similar claim as the Mumbai police, I would have treated it much more disdainfully. When I ask myself why this is so, I come up with three answers: (a) I hate the ISI more than possibly any other organization in the world, (b) I am infinitely more aware and cognizant of the ISI's flaws because I am Pakistani, and (c) I feel more comfortable attacking the ISI because I'm Pakistani. It's the second and third reasons I want to concentrate on.

As you say, "It gets to me how writers on this blog can use a mocking tone when they speak of the flaws and inconsistencies they see in Islamic society. What bugs me more is how reverential and careful you are to not offend OTHER readers." I've been over many of my "issue posts" (i.e. the ones that deal with controversial/socio-political topics) and I don't think there's as great a difference in my tone as you make it out to be. Nonetheless, as I said earlier, this is a matter of interpretation, and there's no point getting into it. The point to get in to is the fact that, as you point out, my tone is different, even if I contend the difference is smaller than you suggest.

Let's get back to reasons (b) and (c) in the paragraph-before-last, and generalize. Let's take the ISI part out, and substitute Pakistan/Muslim world for it. One of the reasons I am angrier with the failings and drawbacks in the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular is because I am more aware of them. I come across them every day. When I read about university standards in the Muslim world in comparison to the rest of the world, I get really pissed off. When I read about honour killings and gang rapes in Punjab, I get really pissed off. When I come across the hypocrisy and the responsibility evasion vis-a-vis violence in large parts of the Muslim world (and Pakistan in particular), I get really pissed off. This is so simply because I have a greater stake in these failings. Ultimately, my life depends very little on what IMs Mark Foley may have sent to his pages or what war crimes may have been committed in Haditha. Those failings are someone else's responsiblity, not mine. So while I read about them and discuss them, I do so with a greater degree of detachment than I could ever allow myself discussing corresponding failures in our part of the world. Honour killings in Punjab will always matter to me more than the Iraq war. Even if one accounts for 3000 deaths, and one accounts for more than a hundred times that, it's really no contest. So when I see something that pisses me off more, that greater state of pissed-offedness (I know that's not a word) will manifest itself in an angrier and more caustic tone.

That was (b). What about (c)? I think from a sociological and psychological perspective, this is much more interesting. I've always wondered why black people are allowed to call each other nigger, when nobody else can. What about the fact that I can call NB and Alien Panda (and I guess you and a couple of other readers) things I wouldn't dare call anyone else (at least without the threat of a serious thrashing)? I'm sure there's a sociological term for this type of comfort level within a circle, but I am not aware of it. For now, let's invent a term. GIA: Group Insult Allowability (this term has the added benefit of being a movie in which Angelina Jolie appears nude). We all been beneficiaries of GIA. We're also quick to remind people when they transgress the boundaries of GIA. Have you ever had that conversation with someone, you know, where they think they're in your Group, so feel they can say something about you/your job/your school when in fact they are not? And then you have to set them straight and tell them they don't have GIA priveleges when it comes to you?

Anyways, where was I going? Oh yeah, GIA and me. Basically, it's pretty simple. I use a mocking and deragatory tone towards failings in Pakistan and the Muslim world because I feel I can. We're on GIA terms. Is that unfair? Sure it is. As a "neutral", as you say, I should use the same tone no matter who or what I'm talking about. And maybe I would, if I were a real journalist and had real responsiblities towards even-handedness. But I'm a blogger. I write as I think.

You're right in that I could try harder to be fairer and choose my words more carefully. And maybe I will. But in doing so, I would definitely take the instinctiveness out of it, which detracts from the sheer enjoyment I derive from blogging. Is that a worthy price to pay? Perhaps. Time, I suppose, will tell.

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