Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brian Levin on Extremism

The question of religious tolerance returned to the Huffington Post with an article that truly appeared designed to inflame peoples' sensibilities. It was a blog post by Brian Levin, who works for the Southern Poverty Law Center with the very combative title of "Jews Must Repudiate All Hatred, Especially From One of Their Own." Now I know that the Huffington Post generally picks the titles of the blogs and not the authors, but in this case in particular it was extremely combative.

So what happened? Basically Pamela Geller was going to speak at a Jewish Community Center but then the Jewish  Federation of Los Angeles canceled her appearance because of her...controversial points of view. That's it. This all happened before the article was even written. But Mr. Levin decided it would be a good jumping off point for an article.

Full disclosure time: I am atheist (though Matt is not) and so I generally side in favor of criticizing religion instead of "tolerance." And yes that applies to any religion: I think Judaism is just as silly and often intolerant as any other. But the same way we walk the line carefully between "legitimate criticism" of Israel and anti-Semitism, I enforce the same line between "legitimate criticism" of religion and anti-____________ bigotry.

That being said, I'm not going to defend Pamela Geller. People in the comment threads claim that Mr. Levin misrepresents her views, so if you are really interested in reading that then have a good time. Apparently she is Jewish, which I didn't know, but I don't see why other Jews have some kind of obligation to go after her for that reason, as the headline declares.

The trouble is that as the article goes on Mr. Levin moves away from the original story. He goes into a multiparagraph attack on Geller, which was informative but also not entirely relevant, and other practitioners of hate speech (according to his employer SPLC). I was with him until he got to this section:
"She was cited approvingly one dozen times in the 1500 page Islamophobic manifesto of accused Norway massacre killer Andres Brevick. She also has friendly ties to arguably Europe's most notorious Islamophobe, Dutch politician Gert Widlers, who stated, "the Koran is a book that calls for hatred, violence, murder, terrorism, war and submission.""
I dislike Mr. Levin's first sentence here because guilt by omission is ugly. There is plenty to criticize about Geller's attitude without attempting to draw complicity with a mass murder. Did you know that Timothy McVeigh used an analogy with "Star Wars" when explaining why he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building?

The second section I also disliked because I don't see why Wilders' (and that's how you spell it) statement was considered Islamophobic. The Koran does call for those things. So does the Bible and the Torah. Saying that is not hate speech, it is legitimate criticism of a religious document and by extension a religion. There are plenty of other things that Wilders has said that make it more deserving of that label. But I wanted to point this out to show that Mr. Levin has to be careful as well  before he points the finger.

After this, though, the article returns to a pretty balanced perspective. Although his ire is mostly directed at Geller (as she is the subject) Mr. Levin also criticizes CAIR and other Muslim organizations for hosting radical speakers. Unfortunately this receives all of one paragraph, not a whole article with the title "Muslims Must Repudiate All Hatred, Especially From One of Their Own," but we can't expect miracles from the Huffington Post.

He also points out that anti-Semitism can often come disguised as criticism of Israel. Naturally that made some Huffington Posters mad:

So I guess aside from the Huffington Post's informative headline, the article wasn't bad. If it made the Israel haters unhappy, I guess that's a good start.

1 comment:

  1. Brian Levin doesn't work for the SPLC, though he used to, many years ago.

    Mr. Levin is now the Director of the one-man Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the University of California/San Bernardino.

    The "center" has no staff other than Mr. Levin, has no operating budget, produces no research other than that authored by "B. Levin" and the only e-mail address is Mr. Levin's free AOL account.

    Ironically, Mr. Levin is generally open-minded and well informed when speaking on matters of "hate" so one has to wonder why he needs to create a fictitious "center" to lend credibility to his comments?

    Mr. Levin... tear up this paper "center"


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