Lee Rigby: The narrow-minded EDL and Muslim bigots can learn from Walt Whitman
TWO views on the apparently racist and religion-driven murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich and the outpouring of bigotry it sparked in support for the EDL and criminal attacks on innocent Muslims. Philip Collins in the Times:
The two suspects seem, instead, to be two men who had come to believe that, underneath their many layers of being Nigerian, black, male, students and sons of their parents, lurked an identity that trumped everything else.
Once honour was paid to Drummer Rigby and the unwatchable grief of his family had been noted, the reaction has been predictable and depressing. One side searches Islamic scripture for some special propensity towards violence. The other side insultingly echoes Adebowale’s deranged speech that an eye and a tooth taken in Afghanistan is bound to be matched by an eye and a tooth taken in Woolwich.
Both sides share an assumption that the “Muslimness” of the atrocity is the central question. Peaceful Muslim preachers have pointed out that the suspects are not “real” Muslims, as if the idea of a real and an unreal Muslim made even the slightest sense…
In recent years people of Pakistani origin in Britain are usually described as “Muslim”, much more than those of Indian origin are called “Hindu”. To subsume an actual person under a single label and then to suggest that it is somehow more deep-seated than all the others is historically unwarranted, presently untrue and a dangerous stereotype that reinforces the silly idea that the world faces a battle between warring civilisations.
Don’t flatten the human being into a single dimension. Don’t define yourself and others by one act or one thought. See subtlety and irony. Don’t lose yourself in the mob.
It’s not only the Islamists who define themselves in the narrowest of terms. Lee Rigby’s name seems to be always punctuated with reference to his career in the Army. In the media he is Drumemr Lee Rigby. But he wasn’t only that. He was a father, a son, a thinker and all other aspects that made him a man. His reductive, weak-minded killers defined themselves by one thing: Islam. They did the same to Lee Rigby. To them he was only a soldier. They were too stupid and bigoted to see the man.
“You do yourself no good by not seeing the greatness even in people who have held disreputable ideas. To look at Walt Whitman and just see a racist is precisely what makes racism wrong: you don’t see the entire person–in all his complexities, virtues, and foibles–you just see the race. By doing this, you artificially flatten the person, and thus you literally lie to yourself, for you intentionally deny the truth that a great man can have within him both grandeur and vice.
“If you want to be better than Whitman, rid yourself of the habits of mind that in him resulted in the beliefs that you now find offensive. The ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is a sign of intellectual maturity. Thus, discarding the wheat because you can’t bear the chaff does not punish Mr. Whitman; it punishes you.”
We want debate. Can we handle it..?