Monday, February 22, 2010

label things they refuse to understand "insane"

This is a guest post by Ankhesen Mié, who reads and comments at swpd as Moi, and who writes about herself, "I’m an Ambazonian-American author who digs the unusual. I blog a lot about race, I’m allergic to seafood, and I have a weird thing for really old men."

I just had a very interesting evening at a bar with two white guys.  For this post, we'll call them Jay and Tim; Jay in his mid-20s and Tim is in his late forties (at least) -- just FYI.

Our First Topic -- Stack

So we're having drinks and talking about Andrew Joseph Stack and the apparent hesitation to brand him a terrorist (which he was, by the way).  Jay, like most people, doesn't consider Stack's actions terrorism because they weren't on the same scale as 9/11 and didn't incite as much fear.  I argued the media and FBI were deliberately trying to avoid inciting fear, and Tim and I explained to him white denial, etc. in the face of a "white threat" in order to maintain that "us-vs-them" mentality. Tim and I also had to repeatedly explain terrorism, its basic definition, and how Stack's actions fit that definition to a T.

Jay maintained that anyone who would fly a plane into a building was merely crazy and immature, and he didn't see how Stack's actions intimidated anyone.  Jay apparently hasn't been paying attention to the news, because the intimidation is most definitely again, Tim and I had to explain the social and sociological factors which most people ignore in these situations (e.g., Americans regularly joke and criticize the IRS, so there's been no major outcry in its defense, even though 190 innocent people were almost murdered -- regular people just like them.  And yet folks can't seem to link our everyday sense of  IRS "humor" to the creation and maintenance of our insensitivity towards its employees' lives).

Tim and I quickly realized that all this wasn't sinking in for Jay, because Jay was hung up on the scale and aftermath of 9/11; with Stack, he couldn't see the idealogical aspect [read: religion], nor could he see the organizational/brotherhood aspect of McVeigh -- even though we explained repeatedly that a terrorist does not have to belong to an organization.

And so there sat Jay, doing that common white thing -- he stubbornly insisted that both Stack and the 19 men who took out the Twin Towers were simply "crazy and immature."

Our Second Topic -- What Caused 9/11

So I abandoned Stack and went with 9/11.  I asked Jay and Tim to honestly, seriously, tell me the root of terrorism, and why someone would resort to it.  Jay laughingly insisted on mental illness, while Tim solemnly talked about hatred, fear, and the desperate desire to change things.  Jay scoffed out how bringing down the Towers -- full of innocent civilians -- could never solve any problems.  I said the point was not to "solve" a problem -- those 19 men were not delusional.  Terrorists are not actually "crazy": they do what they do for a reason, but Jay couldn't divine it for the life of him.

So I dropped some words: social inequality (both domestic and global), exploitation, subjugation, and colonialism.

"See," Jay rolled his eyes, "this what bugs me about that -- 'imperialism,' ' colonialism' -- who cares?!"

"Bingo!" I pointed at him.  "That right there?  That is what makes America -- civilians especially -- a target for terrorists.

"Victims have long memories.  You 'don't care' because you have no clue what it's like to have nothing.  You may be poor by American standards, but you have no clue what real poverty is -- and neither do I.  You don't know what true, blatant, raw dehumanization is like.  I have African parents, I was born in Austin, TX and have spent most of my life in America.  For the brief period I lived in Cameroon, I had nannies.  I went to a private school.  My family is prominent in our home province.  So while I too could never see myself flying a plane into a building, I could see why my parents or grandparents -- who were born and raised under colonial rule -- would.

"My father sat me down when I was young to explain how such life was for an African child.  He went to a Christian, British-run boarding school, and didn't see his kin for months at a time.  When there, he could not go by his African name; he had to use his English one.  He couldn't speak his native dialect even if some of his classmates were members of the same tribe.  He could not practice any ancestral beliefs, but Catholicism instead.  And most people in America don't know this, but it was -- for a very long time -- colonial educational policy to teach African children that their ancestors who built the pyramids, temples, kingdoms, and palaces whose ruins still stand, and who featured heavily in the recited histories of griots and scholars (yes, Africans have always had their own historians) -- the children were taught these ancestors were white, and that they [the children] had neither history nor legacy."

Now mind you, Jay's face was red through all this; he was not speaking, and he was avoiding eye contact as though his life depended on it.  So I just went on about how colonialism and chattel slavery will never be practiced against Africans again, and not because the Western world has become so evolved, but because Africans will die before they allow it to happen.  Same thing here: if white America decided to displace Native Americans from their reservations right now, Native Americans would not just sit back and let it happen.  What happened before will never be allowed to happen the same way again in this world.

Tim added how America has not evolved; it's young, and doesn't have the extensive the historical lengths of other nations.  It's going through its own attempts at imperialism right now, though it will neither recognize nor admit to it.  I then added that when the conflict between colonialists and Native Americans first became dead serious, the colonialists were no doubt being told, "This is not your country.  These are not your things.  Either deal with us like civilized people or go back to wherever you came from."

"Sound familiar?"  I asked Jay. "No?  Here's another hint."

I explained that Middle East Asians, when talking about their history of mistreatment by Westerners, don't start their story in the last 20-50 years.  They start it with the Crusades.  Since the time of the Crusades, the Mid East has endured cyclical invasions  --but Americans don't know that.  And like most countries today, the modern Middle East has spent years wrangling with arrogant American politicians and "diplomats" who basically show up to dictate how things will be done (even Western European politicians complain of this type of treatment).  The conflict we are witnessing now is no different from America's conflict from centuries ago: the Mid East will not back down.  The war drags on unsuccessfully because our previous administration erroneously assumed these broke, "backward", brown people could be brought to heel, as brown people have been before -- no.  They will die before they let that happen.  Listen to how they react to American presence on their soil: "This is not your country.  These are not your things.  Either deal with us like civilized people, or go back to wherever you came from" -- does this sound familiar now?

Jay could still not see why Arabs would target American civilians.  I explained it's because American civilians have not been listening for decades.  Oh, they know their government does some "exploiting" here and there (Jay actually said things along this line) but they don't know the gory details.

Americans don't understand how it feels to have heavily armed foreigners show up and order them around with slurs and threats.  They don't care to know.  Genocide was going on Rwanda long before America got involved.  Why?  Americans didn't care (once again; Americans have forgotten their initial negligence, but I can assure you Rwandans have not).  Americans put a dim-witted butcher in office and left him there for eight years to the detriment of themselves and the extreme detriment of others, but have already forgotten the "put him there" part and talk as though he just "became" President out of nowhere.  Americans knew he was being a bully to others, but didn't stop him.  He killed their children, disfigured some others, and massacred hundreds of thousands of humans on the other side of the world, and Americans paid him a fat salary all the while.  Americans don't know Arabic history, don't understand or respect Islam, don't pay attention to their crimes against the Middle East, feel entitled to the rewards they reap from beneath Eastern soil, don't care if their president is committing atrocities in their name...and yet Americans have the gall to wonder why 19 Arab men would go directly after them.

Jay, who'd become a lot less humorous and animated, still insisted on the "insanity" defense, causing Tim to shake his head at him.  Tim then used an example I hadn't thought of -- Appalachia itself.  All three of us have spent the bulk of our lives in Appalachia, and Jay is perhaps the most "Appalachian" of us three: he was born here, he's unable to stay away from it for too long, is currently working for the state researching and writing grants to help provide homes and jobs for the homeless population, and like most Appalachians, Jay refuses to leave in the foreseeable future.

Our Third Topic -- Appalachia

FYI, most Americans can't point out West Virginia on a map (don't ask me what they put down as the 50th state whenever they came up one state short in elementary school geography).  West Virginia, in case you're wondering, is the beating heart of Appalachia to some folks.  To "outsiders" who have some knowledge of its existence, West Virginia like a "Third World Country," populated solely by illiterate hicks who are often the stuff of horror films and the butt of incest jokes.  Most Americans don't know WV's history, nor why, how, or even that it separated from Virginia in the first place (it was an anti-slavery state, just so you know).

Appalachians have been poor and neglected for generations -- there has never been a "Golden Age" in this region.  Like Africa and the Mid East, WV is, ironically, brimming with natural resources: vast forests, huge coal mines, abundant natural gas, natural springs, and long rivers.  For generations, outside companies have come in, taken what they've wanted, and then moved on, leaving massive poverty in their wake.  Out of all Appalachians, West Virginians in particular have come to loathe "outsiders" (and in Southern WV, where poverty is severe, political officials and state employees are almost never greeted pleasantly).  And while their distrust continues to hinder their economy and education, it has kept their distinctive identity -- and historical memories -- intact.

'Cause again, kids, victims have long memories.


Our talk was finally starting to sink in a little for Jay, and I wasn't shocked that it took the only other white guy in the talk to finally break through to him (however, I was refreshed to see an older white guy schooling a younger one about the need to see things from the "Other Side."  I was also elated when Tim brought up John Brown and how his raid was -- and is still sometimes -- considered an act of terrorism).

Now, Tim and I had been vibing quite well this whole time, smoothly backing each other up with insights and historical tidbits, much to Jay's visible discomfort.  It was late, and the bar was getting too loud for us to keep talking, so I began to say my goodbyes.  Tim and I cheerfully thanked each other for the conversation, but Jay was deeply concerned I might be angry with him.  Needless to say, his worry baffled Tim and me, considering how I had not expressed any anger at all.  Why would I?  Tim demonstrated exemplary supportiveness, global historical knowledge, and astounding insight; our intertwining dialogue had been excellent...and all Jay had to say was he feared I may never speak to him again??!?

Jay uncomfortably insisted he still "just couldn't understand" how anyone would think terrorism was an answer, and that they'd have to be insane to actually fly a plane into a building.  Sighing and giving up, I simply assured him I wasn't angry in the least, but insisted on heading out (I figured Jay might talk to Tim more comfortably if I was absent).  I accepted Jay's hug, and let him walk me to my car.

Hope he and Tim are having a good talk.


  1. smell of facepalm in the morningFebruary 23, 2010 at 1:16 AM

    Would you also classify Hitler as a reasonably motivated individual whom pathetic, close-minded western whites just refused to understand?

    He, like Osama Bin Laden, was a mass murderer motivated primarily by anti-semitism.

    Not BawwwwwwwRwanda! Not whiny Soc Science 101 critiques of U.S. foreign policy. Anti-semitism. This is Al Qaeda's primary recruiting meme. This is what most of its foot soldiers sign up for. Many DO believe they are making a difference (i.e., helping to obliterate Israel, along w/the USA which is demonized in large part because of its association with Israel). Getting U.S. troops off Arab Muslim soil is a distant second prong. And achieving a more equitable distribution of wealth and privilege in the Middle East is certainly not one of Al Qaeda's goals. I mean, you distinguish yourself from the 9/11 hijackers on the basis that YOU came from a privileged family within the developing world, and therefore weren't as oppressed or desperate or whatever? These hijackers weren't disenfranchised peasants. Most were wealthy student ideologues, their pricey educations bankrolled by Saudi blood/oil money (which would make them likelier beneficiaries than victims of U.S. foreign policy missteps, amirite?). And then there is ringleader OBL, who from a privilege perspective has more in common with George W. Bush than with you or me. Anyways, somehwat relatedly, if you really think any of the parties directly responsible for 9/11 have given a flying fuck about Rwanda, I honestly feel sorry for you.

  2. If I was that dude I would sigh and leave after he said he still couldn't understand becasue it is so tiring

  3. You have more patience then me to try to dialog with someone like Tim.

  4. '"Victims have long memories. You 'don't care' because you have no clue what it's like to have nothing.'

    As a foreigner living in the US, PREACH!

    I really don't think white America knows how deep this rabbit hole goes (colonialism)...And trust, this shit will bite them back again.

  5. Every time I go to make a comment about topics 1-2 I go off-topic so I'll skip it. I agree with you, though. Topic 3 was a great lead-into for understanding the effects of colonialism.

    A terrible symptom of the white American's inability to understand something like colonialism is that its existence is totally obscured until people hit college or decide to take an African-American history class somewhere along the line. It was never spoken of when I was coming up in school. It may have been posed as a narrative that started something like this, "The British came to such-and-such country to help them and to teach them to read and [insert other noble causes here]." It's glossed over what it actually means to "help" someone like that. The ripping away of culture is NEVER mentioned.

    Anyway, for anyone who wants to know more about colonialism- here's a link to a post I did here with some recommended reading on the subject. If you don't have friends who remember being from countries which were colonized then read a book and become intimately close with the main characters of the stories.

  6. Good write-up, especially about Appalachia since I reside at the southern tip. Trust me, it's a daily reminder!

  7. Uhmmm. I am quite ambivalent with this one. smell-of-facepalm-in-the-morning has a point. I think 'insane' isn't too far-fetched for both Stack and the 9/11 guys, but 'terrorism' applies to both as well, though the fact that one is an organization and the other an individual makes a difference in scale of threat. IMO Stack is more like the Fort Hood one than 9/11.

    But back to the main point about 'insanity'. It's not 'insane' as in they hear voices and hallucinate or are emotionally unbalanced. But insane as in, they have lost their humanity. I really don't see them as defenders of their people at all. Seriously, I think my Muslim friends would be incensed to know that some people think Osama was trying to defend them. Yes, Osama and the likes expressed anger and hatred, but not a desire to change things for the better for their people. And that last bit makes a world of difference.

    Indonesia has suffered several bombings by Muslim extremists, and I assure you that many Muslims in Indonesia are NOT happy with it. I have had Muslim friends complaining that these extremists have a very loud 'voice' but only because they use terror tactics. And that they often also terrorize other Muslims who do not conform to their notion of Islam (which often conflicts with the more moderate version practice by most Muslims in Indonesia). I do not see them as defenders of their people, but as selfish individuals.

    Has anyone ever seen the eyes of the Bali bombers who killed over 200 people? The eyes show their insanity. I kid you not. With those particular bombers it was insanity and self-indulgence.

    I think it is naive for someone in the US to assume that they know what was in the minds of these terrorists, let alone assume that their intentions were for the good of their people.

    I agree with Victoria that the Appalachia example is a good one for helping us consider another person's perspective, to understand that our actions may create anger in others.

    I have a huge problem with the motivations of 9/11 being seen in anyway good when the same people who organized that have links to the ones who organized the bombings on Indonesian soil, because the ones in Indonesia has definitely done absolutely nothing good for the country. In fact, the bombs often kill more Indonesians than foreigners, not to mention how the effects of the bombs mean that the economy slows down each time and the poor become poorer.

    I am having a hard time explaining what I mean. Apologies if it isn't clear. But I just think there are elements of naivete in some of the things said in this post. It's hard to put my finger on it, but from where I'm standing, maybe it's because it sort of sounds like Americans speaking about things on the other side of the world that they don't really understand.

  8. @ Smell

    You're an idiot. Normally, I'm a lot more tactful, patient, and witty (see previous posts), but I don't think that will work with you.

    You've done the "intentionally bad comparisons" one -- check. You done the "asked the wrong questions" one -- check. You've done the "skip over the points, the people (discussed within the points), and talk smack about the author whom you really know nothing about" -- check.

    1) I never said Arabs had anything directly to do with Rwandans (and how come you didn't mention the Appalachians? Oh, that's right...everyone always forgets about them). The post is about people, regular people going through hell, and finding themselves angry and willing enough to do anything -- you glossed over that.

    2) Like many countries in Africa and Asia, having a nanny and going to private school isn't "privileged" -- it's middle class. It's the norm for middle class (or at least it was when I was a child; economies change). Did you even stop to ask why? Nope...didn't do that.

    Here's why--for those of you interested in learning about everyday life elsewhere--Africans tend to walk everywhere; it's one of the many things our myriad nations have in common. So parents walk to work, kids walk to school, families walk to markets and festivals. Westerners may see this as backward, but Africans don't have an obesity problem and our air is still very clean.

    However, walking takes up a lot of time. Everyone has to get up very early to get to their destinations on time and parents don't make it home before nightfall. In the village, this is not a problem; whole clans live together in nearby compounds and there are plenty of old relatives to watch the kids. But if you live in a town or a city, and you have small children, you need someone home at all times. My mother and sisters did the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry alongside the nanny, because it was more of a "family" effort than a division of class. In such cultures, being a nanny is seen as a great opportunity; it gets you to the town or city and opens more doors for you and your family. A mistreated nanny can simply get up, walk out, and leave you to find someone else to deal with your kids.

    The fact you didn't know any of is this is precisely what I'm talking about -- you don't know about everyday people elsewhere, you have not made an effort to know, therefore you cannot understand their thinking or their anger...but at first chance, you flapped that yap like a typical Westerner, and offered yet another uninformed opinion.

    You forget I also mentioned my family's prominence. Did you even stop to wonder how an African family could be prominent under colonial rule? No...didn't ask that. Here's a hint: tribal prominence. As in spiritual and cultural leadership. Ah...but "prominence" means something different in the West..."privileged". To be from such a family means having everyone know your surname and speak to you kindly, not out of fear, but out of affection. It also meant being held to the highest standards of moral behavior, and no excuses were ever tolerated, but the daughter from the house of so-and-so was supposed to be better than that.


  9. Still @ Stench


    3) Throughout history, revolutions have come about because privileged, educated students united with peasants against perceived tyranny. Let me slept through that particular history lesson? Hell, we even see this tendency in Eastern mythology--Prince Siddhartha, upon learning of the suffering of his kingdom, abandoned his life of privilege to live amongst the commoners in hopes he could find a way--any way--to ease the suffering all people.

    This actually happens to tie into Stack. He was an engineer, had a nice big home, and even his own private plane. We don't know how long he lived in the lap of luxury, but when we now know that he lost said luxury, he really began to see the world differently. It's a common side effect of removing privilege, which is why civilized discussion on blogs like these is so important--they help half-wits like you learn a thing or two about understand other people.

  10. Usually lurk, but felt like I wanted to say something. I guess it's my take on the 'insane' angle. Last night I was watching the news about the guy (Zazi) who confessed to the NY subway bombing plot. Anyway, he supposedly said that he was doing this to bring attention to the suffering of the Afghan people under the US military. I said to the tv (cause I'm apparently a little crazy myself). "That's insane, don't you see that's going to make many Americans care even less about the people's suffering!". What I mean is that many Americans will just get pissed off and want to strike back even more. Sure, there will be some who choose to look deeper into the ideology behind such an act, but most (and maybe this is a white people thing) are just gonna get vengeful. That's what I mean by "insane". I don't pretend to know the answer or the anger suffered by the oppressed in other countries, it just all makes me very sad. I agree with the OP that (to paraphrase if I may) many Americans 'don't care' because of an ignorance of our own history and how that "history" still affects many today. I know I never learned any of this until I took liberal arts classes in college and started searching out info on my own. Guess I'm just trying to say that I wish many of us did pay more attention to history. But, I think "the powers" don't really want us to. I think we do need blogs like this to make us think. It certainly has made me think and I appreciate it, even though I usually feel like I have nothing constructive to add myself.

    BTW ... thanks for mentioning Appalachia, it's nice to be remembered sometimes :-)

  11. @moi: "You're an idiot. Normally, I'm a lot more tactful, patient, and witty (see previous posts), but I don't think that will work with you."

    Call me crazy, but somehow I don't think that insulting someone ever works better than patience... Maybe I'm just not understanding the subtleties of rhetoric, or something.

    Smell brought up a lot of good points, and to dismiss them seems disingenuous to a serious discussion. The fact is that people WILL disagree with you, and just because they do does not mean they are idiots. (The fact that you have a check-list for comment-failure is funny though, but mostly sad.)

    First, he is right that terrorists DON'T care about the issues of poverty, exploitation, and imperialism in the Middle East (or other Muslim-majority countries, or even other "third-world" countries period).

    Sure, the wet-work of terror is done by poor, often uneducated -- or selectively educated -- Islamic men. But the ideological and financial impetus behind them comes from fundamentalist elites, who really only care about furthering a religious agenda -- not about helping impoverished nations or ending hegemonic imperialism.

    Terrorists ARE insane. You have to be insane to fly a plane into a building and kill yourself along with hundreds to thousands of innocent people you've never met. You have to be so insane that you actually BELIEVE that they directly caused the suffering you see in the world. You have to be insane because only insanity makes illogical conclusions like that. But I will say they were also courageous, enough to die for no better reason than that they had faith it would make a difference.

    Your description of Jay is also disingenuous. You straw-man him to make a point, and that's not helpful either. Did you ever try to understand WHY he thinks that way? Because it seems like you were too busy condemning him for a common human inability to see beyond our own personal worlds.

    (Which is how terrorists often end up convinced that killing people will change things, and which is why people around the world hate all Americans, even/especially the average citizens, confusing them for the cause of our country's sins.)

    Maybe it's not your job, but if you're going to take the time to lecture someone, then maybe you should take the time to understand them also. Jay is a person, not a dialectical tool, and to judge him for being human -- just as human as any victim of neo-colonialism -- is as intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant as any "typical Westerner['s]... uninformed opinion."

    Because you don't know about them either, and apparently you don't want to.

  12. island girl in a land w/o seaFebruary 23, 2010 at 8:54 AM

    @ smell

    your argument and condescending tone stink.

    you have done to the original poster exactly what the title of the post describes, namely, labeling her argument, which you willingly refuse to understand, as "insane."

    calling something or someone "insane" is a convenient way of dismissing them. the labeler can retain the right to name the world as he pleases and ignore alternate ways that people name and understand the phenomena and events they experience. simply because whiteness prevents some white people from even seeing or acknowledging the "logic of practice" of POC, people from formerly-colonized nations, and a whole list of "others," does not mean that there is no logic to their actions.

    and yes, victims have a LONG memory. if whiteness didn't prevent people in power from ASKING US about our memories, from LISTENING to us when we share then, and from dismissing our memories as "insanity," perhaps the world might just be a saner place.

  13. @smell re: "Would you also classify Hitler as a reasonably motivated individual whom pathetic, close-minded western whites just refused to understand?"

    Where do you get that idea? Trying to understand someone's situation or motivation doesn't mean that one thinks they are "poor, misunderstood" individuals. Historians, psychologists, sociologists and moralists have spent countless hours and printed reams of paper devoted to the understanding of Hitler (himself a western white, BTW). And simpletons like you blithely insist that he was merely an insane anti-semite. You will be first in the followers' line when the next Hitler figure arises.

    And how, exactly do you know, when there are US troops (or mercenaries) garrisoned on the outskirts of a town and patrolling the streets, that a potential Al Qaeda recruit in that town is more concerned about Israel? Amazing.

  14. @ fromthetropics

    Let me help you put your finger on it--I didn't say I agreed with terrorism. I actually happen to think the Nit-Witted Nineteen miscalculated the effect they would have on their homelands when they took out the Twin Towers.

    So I would appreciate it if from hereon out, people didn't put words in my mouth or automatically assume something like that about me. Nor assume I'm assuming I know what goes on in the minds of others--I'm trying to find out. And that takes talking to and reading others, posing unusual questions and considering unusual factors and being annoyed when I notice people brushing off motives and ideology with an umbrella term like "insane" rather than sitting down and trying riddle things out.

    Talk about naivete.

    And tropics, I really dig you, I do...but please don't pull that condescending Americans-don't-know-shit routine with me; that's my line. To paraphrase you from one of your guest posts: you don't know me, this isn't all about me, and if you need to me to clarify something, just ask.

    And now that we've gotten that out the way, notice there were three topics and a conclusion I was hoping people would pounce on on.

    Here's the problem with the word "insane"--especially in the Western world--it frees people from having to think too much about other people. In the case of 9/11, they relieve themselves from having to say, research American foreign policy, read up at about Islam or Arabic history, get more involved in American political movements, keep tabs on human rights, etc. When you simply brand those 19 men as "insane", and someone asks you to elaborate on why you think they would do such a thing, you can always pull a Jay by just shrugging and replying, "Who cares?"

    Jay has actually asked me why we don't just "ignore" terrorists in hopes they'll get a clue and stop. Allow me to reiterate that: the man asked me why we can't use a behavioral technique prescribed for pets and children...on terrorists.

    Talk about a facepalm.

    Recap: Over 3,000 people died in 9/11. Say we had ignored that, shed our tears quietly, and just kept to the status quo when dealing with the Middle East.

    What do you guys seriously think would've happened next?

    Stuff White People Love to Do: Ignore the fact that they're ignoring POC and poor WP's truth in order to not deal with whatever negative hand they've had in said peoples' problems, and thereby turn themselves into targets.

    People like Jay don't care and don't want to. That he actually suggested we could just ignore something like 9/11--or any terrorist attack--is beyond alarming. Why else is Jay's reaction so creepy? He's the most Appalachian person in my post, knows and writes of its history, and has given up a potentially more profitable career elsewhere in America to stay and try to help uplift his fellow Appalachians and yet...Tim had to draw a line in the sand for him to connect Appalachian suffering to the similar suffering of others around the world.

    When it comes to the American government neglecting Appalachia, and outside companies exploiting the land and people, and then leaving mass poverty behind them, Jay deeply understands and is higly critical. But when he hears the same villains have done/are doing the same things to non-Appalachians (ultimately to the benefit of people like Jay)...he rolls his eyes and asks, "Who cares?"

    Notice the title contains the phrase refuse to understand. Chew on that one for a moment.

    Also chew on the fact that after all this dialogue, all Jay cared about was that I not be mad at him.

  15. Very good post Moi and excellent response to the stupidity and ignorance exhibit by Smell of Facepalm. This is quite typical of Westerners who remain blissfully uneducated and perceive to know EVERYTHING when they know nothing. It's the common arrogance I listen to and read everyday from individuals who are too lazy to do actual research, learn about another culture, and come to a rational and objective conclusion on topics such as terrorism and race relations. I didn't understand Smell's response and won't even try as I believe this individual purposefully post such a remark out of spite. And for an inexplicable reason, they seem to latch onto your upbringing in Africa with absolute fury. I'm sorry for saying this, but I wonder why do some white people completely go apeshit over someone's perspective of colonialism, race, Africa, or any subject where society's morals and values? Does something in the brain just trigger paranoia at sight of the words Africa, terrorism, race, and white all lump together? I am not including all whites into one category, just the few whose response, much like Smell's, are just bizarre and lack any intelligence. Sighs. The deep, deep, DEEP denial of some folks.

  16. Someone else play with Zek. I already answered Stench and Zek appears to have conveniently skipped over all but the beginning of my response to Stench.

  17. @Zek J. Eveks

    The author of the original article never condemn Jay for his beliefs. The author, Jay, and Tim simply engage in a discussion of terrorism and various actions and reasoning by individuals who commit such atrocities to innocent civilians or harbor negative views toward political figures/goverment. Jay was uninformed about past events in world history. The author, along with the assistance of Tim, elaborated on how some attitudes of citizens residing in certain parts of the world can be trace to actions done to their region from decades, even centuries ago. The author never stated anything about terrorists and their relations to Africa or trying to help continent. I am baffle as to how this conclusion came to be. He briefly discuss his upbringing and the perspective/comprehension of how his parents or anyone else he knew would react to colonialism, etc. Then, the author mentioned the Rwandan genocide and US inaction to the crimes in about 2 or 3 sentences. Somehow Africa is a hot button for some people. The author and Tim did not lash out at Jay and make him feel like 'the typical white guy,' who just don't want to get it. It was a discussion among 3 adults, where somehow Jay thought he offended the author after a calm discussion on world history. Even after all of the facts were explained to Jay, there was still a sense of white denial where he couldn't really view another person's perspective. Somehow, Smell went into a tandrum of details solely relating to 9-11 (and quite inaccurate I must say). Then, he tries to correlate this belief with the author's 'privilege' upbringing in Africa and terrorists agenda to help Rwanda (I'm still confuse with Rwanda's mention in this). Yes, we are going to disagree with each other and it's fine. However, it's imporant to remain objective, stay on topic, and at least be rational in your response without injecting pure emotion mix with one's own facts about another culture. Sighs.

  18. @Bloglogger
    "you blithely insist that he was merely an insane anti-semite. You will be first in the followers' line when the next Hitler figure arises."
    You are so on target....Today it is called the conservative movement! Same retoric different time of Hitler,"He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it..

    We are so blind! A good example is the movie 2012, look beyound the special stupid effects to the story line.Those people are real!
    We are expendable people,ask any formerly-colonized nation.

    One question have you ever seen a movie where the Arabic headdress was correct?a small thing but important to those who wear it...They feed us the idea of who people are, and we never take the time to find out ourselves what is right.

    Just like people are quoting the bible and the Constitution and have never read either one!

    I really tried to stay out of this conversation, because of all the truth we all really fail to see.

    My Grandmother often said "Oh NO! Hitler is not dead!!!!"He is alive and kicking!

  19. I don't have time to answer all my critics now and intend to respond more fully later. However, here are a few points I want to throw out:

    I never once dismissed the OP, Al Qaeda or Hitler as "insane." I did take an exasperated, condescending tone, which was probably not constructive. However, I also perceived the initial post as condescending towards those who decline to validate and rationalize the motives of a fanatical group of mass murderers. Anyways, I did insinuate that neither Hitler nor OBL was "reasonably motivated," and also that both have been animated by antisemitism. I stand by each of those assertions. Please let me know if you disagree.

    Moi, I would contend that community prominence is a form of privilege. And I'd also note that many of these terrorists (again see, e.g., OBL) come from prominent families. When I compared OBL to GWB, I wasn't just referencing the fact that both have benefitted from oil money. Key Al Qaeda leaders and several of the 9/11 hijackers hailed undoubtedly from elite sects of society that have actually benefitted, financially and otherwise, from U.S. meddling in the middle east. If they were especially concerned with aiding the local downtrodden, perhaps they would donate some cash instead of slaughtering civilians thousands of miles away.

    Moi, you didn't explicitly say that Arabs had anything to do with Rwandans, but you argue that Arabs have targeted American civilians because "American civilians have not been listening for decades." Then you jump immediatley into your first example of this, which is our failure to intervene in Rwanda. But this is actually not a very good example of the type of willful deafness that would provoke Al Qaeda's ire, right? (In fact, Al Qaeda has specifically targeted U.S. humanitarian efforts in Africa). Next, you mention Bush II, but the WTC attacks were planned in the late 1990s before he even ran for office. Then a bunch of generalizations about how we plunder their resources, etc., but the people planning and perpetrating these hijackings were actually enriched by Western colonialism.

    Oh and to the person who pointed out that Hitler was western and white...duh. That's actually a big part of why I used him. No one feels obligated to affect sympathy for Hitler in order to appear to have a more sophisticated perspective on his crimes. He's a white oppressor, so while understanding what made him tick might be of some strategic value, we're also free to dismiss him as a loathsome murderous zealot whose mindset and goals were NOT reasonable or rational. I would suggest Al Qaeda leaders merit the same treatment, but maybe that's just me.

  20. @Zek J Evets re: 'First, he is right that terrorists DON'T care about the issues of poverty, exploitation, and imperialism in the Middle East (or other Muslim-majority countries, or even other "third-world" countries period).'

    And you know this--how?

    'Terrorists ARE insane. You have to be insane to fly a plane into a building and kill yourself along with hundreds to thousands of innocent people you've never met.'

    Some people think it's insane to fly in a plane at all. People do things that other people can't understand, but that's not always due to insanity. I can't understand talking to an imaginary being in the sky and thinking that it hears me, but that doesn't make people who do it insane, does it?

    If you make your assertion into an "I" statement, as in "I can't imagine what these people are thinking," then you might be closer to a realistic description of the situation. To label things you don't understand as "insane" is the tendency the OP is about.

  21. Sounds like many a conversation I've had.

    And just as unfulfilling.

  22. I want to add something else.

    You don't have to be insane to commit violence for a larger goal.

    You just have to be human.

    The people who kill themselves and are labeled terrorist firmly believe that sacrificing their live is worth it for their cause.

    In that belief, they are no different from the billions of humans whow have fought in wars, or who have sacrificed their lives to save their families and friends.

    Now, the motivations of terrorists are different and it's completley true that the rich use the poor to advance there goals. If many of the heads of terrorist organizations were allowed to run countries as they saw fit, it's almost certain that they would have some of the same problems as every other country. Corruption and cruelty are a problem wherever humans live.

    But, just because terrorists may have questionable motives, does not mean that their devotion to their cause should be labeled insanity. When you label something as "insane" it's a convenient way to say that there is no need to consider the motives behind a person's decisions because that person is simply insane. It's lazy and patronizing.

    As a black American I can understand quite well how someone would be willing to sacrifice their life to further a cause. What's amazing is that so many other people can't seem to grasp that idea.

  23. Wanted to mention one 'kinda related' issue that disturbed me and that I *hope* isn't a common white way of thinking. When 9/11 happened I was talking to someone I worked with at the time and really respected. He is very educated and has always seemed to be a super nice, sensitive guy. At the time, I was a lot more ignorant than I am now of issues in the world. He's a clinical psychologist so I figured he'd have some insight. So, I asked him why the terrorist hated us so much, and would want to do something like that? He said that was not a question that I needed to ask, that nobody asked 'why Hitler hated the Jews', that it wasn't important and I should not look for motivation in those who are just plain evil. Thankfully I wasn't satisfied with that answer, but it seems to go along in the same vein of "they're insane so it doesn't matter why they do what they do". I would have thought a psychologist would have had more insight.

  24. The words "insane" and "crazy" are being tossed around alot. As a person with a mental illness, I just want people to recognize and think about the ways they are using those words to describe someone. Are you using it as "crazy/insane = stupid"? Or "insane = someone who doesn't understand the consequences of their actions"? Or "crazy/insane = wild"? Or "crazy/insane = mentally ill"?

  25. It strikes me that the “insane” label, in this context, is a particularly egregious form of othering. The person is transformed from a human being who lived in a particular place, time, and context to “crazy, who knows, amirite?” The action is transformed from something that had antecedents, precedents, planning, and intended consequences to “crazy, who knows, amirite?” As soon as I call a person insane, I am absolved from trying to understand them, their life as lived, and what they chose to do. I am actively sequestering them from the realm of the understandable and human.

    Really, I can’t think of a better shortcut, if my intention is to keep living the life unexamined.

    Not to mention, as Angel H. just posted, how using "insane" in this fashion harms people who have brain diseases, disorders and/or are neuro-atypical. This alone SHOULD preclude using such terms when what we really mean is "I don't understand how ..." or "I can't see myself ...".

    So: terrorists are not a monolith, nor are they inhuman, unfathomable or insane. They are people who have decided to do certain actions that have a primary or secondary consequence of harming or killing other people.* I do nothing to help prevent other such actions by pretending that the whats whys and wherefores are not understandable. Unless I happen to share some or all of their context, I will need to educate myself to grasp these issues.

    (*This definition is derived from the work of Caleb Carr, if anyone is interested in some great thinking on terrorism in a military context.)

  26. Facepalm (nice name change)

    You insist upon linking Arabs with Rwanda, though no one else did. Most others on here grasped that Rwanda is just another example of Americans not caring or listening and reacting too late. Even after clarification, you still won't move on.

    I'm glad you brought up my African upbringing because you proved another point about WP not trying to understand and dismissing POC experiences. You just told me about what community prominence means my in my tribe.

    Tell me more: what's the name of my tribe, what does its name mean in our language, what province are we located in, which country do we border, and what does that border mean to us?

    Macon has remarked on my blog that my generosity towards Jay was amazing, and yes, it has been. Jay often gets comfortable with me and seems to "forget" who I am and where my family's from. He'll go on and on about friends he deeply respects and admires because they teach/taught kids in Africa. All of these friends are white, he's very interested in their experiences, wishes he could write about them...but never even knows the names of the countries his friends travel to.

    Even more annoying, people like Jay (or even people like his generous friends) try to talk with me as though we are "equals" on the subject of Africa. I recently had to politely inform one WF acquaintance she couldn't say my name correctly. First, she was shocked, then repeatedly--and petulantly--demanded I show her how. When I explained that my tribal language was structurally very different from English, she rolled her eyes and said, "I lived in Africa." And yes, she did...for 6 months in Botswana.

    I'm from the Ambazonian region of Cameroon.

    To be honest, Facepalm & Zek actually remind me a lot of these people. They don't really "know" about other people's worlds, they're not making an effort to "know". Like, Jay they feel they already have all the basic info they need and therefore shouldn't have to really understand anything else.

    Stuff Some White People are doing on this post:

    1) Immaturely focusing way too much on me, and only one of the three main topics on the post, while not lending any cultural, historical or sociological insight to that topic

    2) Sticking to the insanity defense on basis of opinion...thereby proving my point....

    3) Obsessing over Jay while pointedly ignoring Tim

    4) Ignoring Appalachia...again (oddly enough, Tim's main section)

    5) Desperately avoiding analyzing the effects of colonialism and other oppressive forms on POC and terrorism

    6) Having the audacity to skip all these other issues just so they can get to the part where they talk about how they feel POC should or should not react to Western oppression.

  27. @ Zek

    "You have to be so insane that you actually BELIEVE that they directly caused the suffering you see in the world."

    wait, what?

    are you saying you are unaware, or unconvinced that the actions of Western world--specifically the USA and Europe--are responsible for systematically crippling the Middle East (except for Israel, of course) politically, geographically, economically, and culturally? and did you miss that the chosen target on 9/11 (the WTC in the middle of the largest financial district in the US) was an internationally recognized symbol of Western economic power?? it was a symbolic act, and one that succeeded in its message. for once it became clear to the dense American populous that regardless of all of their wealth and military might, they could be successfully attacked.

    although, a point that has been rolling around in my head since then is that the 9/11 attacks terrified the majority of whites in a completely different way than they did the majority of PoC in this country. but that's a whole 'nother ball o' wax....

    also, in defense of Moi--her tone and checklist are spot-on. it gets tiring to repeat information and explain cogent points ad nauseum, and still have someone ignore what she said VERY CLEARLY in order that they can make their case; a case which is based on ignorance and fallacy.

  28. Most Americans don't know WV's history, nor why, how, or even that it separated from Virginia in the first place (it was an anti-slavery state, just so you know)

    ^ That's actually not true. West Virginia legally allowed slavery (although it was uncommon in that area due to the lack of fertile soil for plantations), but they decided to stay with the Union rather than secede with the rest of Virginia.

  29. Thank you very much, AngelH and IrishUp -- can we please not be ableist? It's really problematic to use insane/crazy to mean "complete lack of humanity" or soulless or irrational or evil or obsessed or even desperate-beyond-imagination.

  30. OMG! Ur defending HITLER!!!one!!eleventy!


    Jay totally reminds me of my sister's fiance. He doesn't realize that not everybody is white and male and well-off and thinks and experiences things like him. Totally bookmarking this post.

  31. What's evident in this thread is an extreme lack of empathy. A lot of understanding race is understanding the importance of differences. But here I think there is a failure to appreciate similarities. If you can't imagine why someone would do something, imagine what it would take for you to do that. On a very basic level, we're all the same: we all want to self-determine, we all want respect. Just like you don't do things or feel things for no good reason, the same can be said for everybody else. When you think someone different is crazy, it's a failure to empathize.

  32. @ Yeshtatic

    That's right. I knew I missed a detail in there somewhere. I find it amusing they were that eager to "switch sides", so to speak.

  33. @ Zek

    "Maybe it's not your job, but if you're going to take the time to lecture someone, then maybe you should take the time to understand them also. Jay is a person, not a dialectical tool, and to judge him for being human -- just as human as any victim of neo-colonialism -- is as intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant as any "typical Westerner['s]... uninformed opinion.""


  34. @ Moi:

    Throughout history, revolutions have come about because privileged, educated students united with peasants against perceived tyranny.
    Is it your contention that this is the purpose or effect of Al Qaeda's terrorism?

    (nice name change)
    What significance, exactly, do you attach to my going by "...facepalm..." in my second post?

    You insist upon linking Arabs with Rwanda, though no one else did.
    Actually, I expressed incredulity and contempt at the proposition that the two could be linked.

    I'm glad you brought up my African upbringing
    No, you brought up your African upbringing. In particular, you stated:

    For the brief period I lived in Cameroon, I had nannies. I went to a private school. My family is prominent in our home province. So while I too could never see myself flying a plane into a building, I could see why my parents or grandparents -- who were born and raised under colonial rule -- would.

    Anyways, in response, I merely pointed out that the people who flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11 and the people who orchestrated those attacks also came from prominent families and enjoyed many of the material advantages you describe. Yet, they fly planes into buildings and you don't. I would venture this has something to do with a combination, on their part, of religious and political zeal. What say you?

    You just told me about what community prominence means my in my tribe.
    Please point out where/how I did this. Direct quote(s) would be ideal.

    Finally -- why is it immature or audacious to address one distinct analytical subpart of your post without commenting on the others? I personally declined to comment on your discussion of Appalachia because I did not find any portion of it to be particularly incisive or particularly problematic.

    And, @ everyone who has expressed such aggressive disdain for the proposition that anti-semitism motivates Al Qaeda, I guess I'd just curiously ask why, in a discussion on an anti-racist blog concerning the motives of a group whose founding manifesto was entitled "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," the "Jews" part ought to be so facilely disregarded? After all, the "crusaders" aspect got plenty of ink. If we're concerned with examining the implications of these events vis-a-vis racial/ethnic bias, animus and inequity, then this doesn't seem quite right.

  35. @Marissa;
    I can't see how a lack of empathy is sufficient to explain the experience Moi posted about, nor does it explain the deliberate derailing that facepalm & zek have responded with.

    Moi's post details how, despite having parallels clearly drawn, despite having both cultural and historical context provided, despite telling the same narrative with different particulars from several different angles, her friend Jay kept using a "insane" to explain behavior that - however horrible - cannot be correctly described as insane. Further, it took both an older WM, and a domestic (white) example to make any inroads on Jay's original position. But in the end, or at least where Moi's story leaves us, Jay is returning to the default "not like me" position.

    If I understand the whys and hows of somebody’s life that resulted in a particular event, and I think “I cannot relate to that” – that’s a failure to empathize. If you start telling me the why’s and how’s, and in my head I’m going “Yeeeaaah, no; they those people them that other place has nothing whatsoever to do with me may as well be Jupiter – zzzzz --- oh look, LA just scored!”, well that is beyond a mere failure to empathize. That is being resistant to the idea that I CAN empathize; its rooted in the fact that I have so thoroughly OTHERED whomever the topic is, that I am unwilling to entertain the idea that there are any shared experience through which to experience empathy.

  36. @ Irishup:

    I'm actually pretty sure that Marissa is attempting to indict ME for MY lack of empathy, and maybe Jay as well -- but I don't think she is attempting to insinuate, a la zek and lurker, that everyone in this thread ought to be more empathetic all around.

    While it is understandable that many of you would be chagrined that I managed to open the thread with an epic Hitler comparison (a comparison I don't back down from, btw, as it actually has some instructive implications with respect to several posts), I'm curious why you'd characterize zek's posts in the same vein. To me they appear thoughtful and relevant, if occasionally, arguably careless w/regard to the use of the word "insane."

    And if you DO want to explain trolling, "deliberate derailing," etc., a lack of empathy has everything to do with it. Think about it.

  37. @ IrishUp

    This really caught me: "That is being resistant to the idea that I CAN empathize; its rooted in the fact that I have so thoroughly OTHERED whomever the topic is, that I am unwilling to entertain the idea that there are any shared experience through which to experience empathy."

    Thank you for this; it lends a lot of insight into Jay for me. 'Cause that night, I kept wondering why he wasn't speaking much except to shake his head and insist terrorists would have to be "insane". He wasn't offering any other thoughts. Even when we asked him to guess or theorize or draw on some history, he just stuck with "insane", like a friggin' broken record (embarassment for his lack of knowledge? or was it me - was I not supposed to "know" anything or was I just not supposed to have this particular type of conversation with him? was I making him uncomfortable? did not he not like hearing this come from a POC?)

    It was honestly quite annoying. So if people on here think, "But that doesn't sound like a real conversation," then imagine actually sitting across from this person who's face is burning red (anger? shame? discomfort?) and who's not fully verbalizing why he won't even try to understand an alternate POV.

  38. wasn't there already a post on this blog about the white tendency to diagnose mental illness without any qualification? how can anyone determine whether a terrorist is insane from "looking in their eyes"? seriously?

    also, if you're going to argue that committing an act of violence qualifies a person as insane, then technically any person who has ever participated in a military conflict would fit that definition.

    this whole stream is just a set of generalizations and counter-generalizations, not real points. anyone bother to define "terrorism" or "terrorist"? or to speak of specific acts and not just talk about "terrorists" as though every terrorist act is committed by the same monolithic group in the same context? wtf?

    it's incredibly problematic to try to paint modern terrorism as a reiteration of a historical trend dating back to the Crusades. The political histories of Middle Eastern countries are far more complex than "everything was cool until the Crusades, and then the rest was imperialism." If you've ever studied Near Eastern history you would know that the Crusades were not considered nearly as significant to the region as the later Mongol conquests. This post and this whole thread is so eurocentric it hurts.

  39. WV has a GDP per capita of $31K vs the US average of $39K. Rwanda is at $800. WV is less well off than most of the US, but it in no way shape or form similar to a 3rd world country wealth-wise. The opportunity that a typical WV kid has if s/he studies in school or learns some trade is worlds beyond what people in 3rd world countries have.

    What responsibility do we as Americans bear towards Rwanda? What did the much closer countries in Africa do? Anything substantive other than throw up there hands and half-heartedly deal with the refugee crisis forced on them? No. Ignoring Rwanda and similar situations is a all-races issue, not a 'white people' issue.

    I've read this blog for a while to shake up my 'privileged' mainstream viewpoint, but the recent guest blogging is ridiculous. facepalm makes sense; moi does not and resorts to name calling at the drop of a hat.

  40. I don't think facepalm & moi's views are irreconcilable/contradictory, I think they compliment each other, but more on that later when I have time.

    For now - @ihurt - I am not white. I specifically said that I did not mean that terrorists are mentally ill. I used the word 'insane' to mean something like: selfishly murdering people but using 'defending the oppressed' as a pretext, and then basking in the glory of it afterward. But please note that I've realized that perhaps the word 'insane' is not appropriate since it seems to have very different meanings for different people. (For me, I never use it to mean 'mental illness'.) Also note that I specifically have the Bali bombers in mind, and the reason why they are relevant to the discussion is because their leaders have been said to be linked to Al Qaeda which is linked to 9/11.

    Re: "looking in their eyes" - You've obviously never watched a footage of the Bali bombers while they were in prison (often while being interviewed), or if you have, your unfamiliarity with Indonesia & Indonesians may have meant you overlooked the nuance of what was happening. (e.g. During the social unrest and rioting of 1998 in Indonesia, the CNN reporter couldn't seem to tell the difference between vigilantes roaming the streets and student demonstrators as she (a poc) painted them all with the same paintbrush. But those familiar with Indonesia can usually tell with one quick glance.)

  41. @ i hurt
    wasn't there already a post on this blog about the white tendency to diagnose mental illness without any qualification?

    Yes. But labeling someone insane actually goes one step further in its absurdity. "Insane" is not a legitimate mental illness. It's a legal term which encompasses any mental condition which could leave a person unable to understand his or her own actions and thus unfit to stand trial and be held accountable. In the post about WP who label other whites with a specific mental illness, those WP have narrowed the field down and picked one which they feel like they understand. The "he's insane" comment is its lazy half-sibling. Before, a WP had to at least know what mental illness s/he was talking about. With "he's insane" anyone can do the labeling and they can never be wrong.

    anyone bother to define "terrorism" or "terrorist"? or to speak of specific acts and not just talk about "terrorists" as though every terrorist act is committed by the same monolithic group in the same context?

    Yup, it's all there. And it's on the previous post about Stack himself - and in the link Moi has provided to her blog.

    @ sez me

    I've read this blog for a while to shake up my 'privileged' mainstream viewpoint

    The word privileged in quotes, huh? Right.

    but the recent guest blogging is ridiculous. facepalm makes sense; moi does not and resorts to name calling at the drop of a hat.

    The name-calling really throws ya doesn't it... so insulting to be called a name - we'd better end this crazy guest blogging now! I guess it's ok to hop on here, choose an anonymous name and be completely condescending without actually having to own your words. Let's not call foul on that.

    Frankly, what's actually insulting is the way WAY too many people are asking questions which Moi has taken the time to answer in GREAT DETAIL. If you disagree after that, you disagree. Take your ball and go home already. A handful of you aren't reading the damned answers and then want to say something's not making sense. You don't want it to make sense, you want someone to pat your back and tell you you're right.

  42. I wrote something, then re-read what Irishup wrote and realized that Irishup already said everything I had to say, only better. I'll only add that I think most of us have at least some things about which we have a Jay-like reaction if pushed: I don't want to understand because if I did understand I wouldn't be able to stay so centered on my own point of view.

    Attributing things to "insanity" is maybe a recent turn for people who don't have a religion that lets them call it "pure evil" or "the devil's work". Or so I'm thinking. It just seems bizarre to me. (Or I could go there and say "It just seems insane to me to call something insane when you don't understand it.")

  43. Disagreeing is not the same thing as refusing to understand.

    Stack and the 9/11 terrorists were motivated by hatred/revenge and perhaps by megalomanic fantasy (hero saving the world). These people were not "insane" by conventional legal definitions.

    A large percentage of Muslim countries have political traditions of using anti-Semitism as a means of distracting the populace from unpopular policies, inept governance, corruption, suppression of internal dissent, and other internal issues. This strategy to maintain power works well, particularly when coupled with active suppression of dissent.

    This is no different in principle from whipping up homophobia in the USA (2004, 2006, 2008 elections), Jamaica, Uganda (the current poster child), Kenya, etc. The average voter can be distracted very easily by playing on fears and emotions.

    I am convinced that many Muslim politicians would like to avoid doing anything concrete for the Palestinians living at this moment. The Palestinians serve them better as a perpetual grievance than a viable people.

    By the same token, I have no doubt that the leading Republican Party strategists don't want to achieve the party platform of re-criminalization of abortion because legal abortion has been such a useful recruiting issue for the rank and file.

    Have people mentioned the generally counterproductive nature of terrorism, with regards to improving the situation of a whole people (as opposed to a political faction)?

  44. @NancyP,
    I totally understand your sentiment but the people of Arab and Persian nations feel as if the West has totally encroached on their territory and violated their brotherhood by placing Israel smack dab where it isn't wanted. So I think if Arab/ME politicians had the choice, they would def. remove Israel or do something concrete about Palestine.

    I think if right wingers could, they would turn this nation back to the land of jim crow yester-year they so eagerly yearn for.

    As far as this post goes, I understand what some people are trying to say in the 'insanity' part. I was in a class discussing political theory in relation to nuclear weapons and nuclear war, and I could not believe that we live in a world where academics devote their time to figuring out whether or not we are going to freaking blow each other up.

    We just should not live in a world where we have racism, nuclear weapons, or large populations so marginalized they fester in their anguish and frustration until that festering turns into violence.

    You kinda have to be a little bit 'crazy,' to smash into a building with an airplane. Crazy in the sense that this is not an action that a rational human being would most often employ.

    But we are missing the point. I believe that the OP is saying, we live in a world where we corner people like f-ing dogs and they believe that violence and extremism will help overturn their oppression, will help lift up their people out of poverty. It is an acculturation-type process.

    So yeah, I def. think that crazy terrorists actually think suicide bombing and all this violence will help make their demands heard. But I don't respect these people or think that they are justified in anyway, because they use the same tactics of coercion and aggression that they are rebelling against.

    What I think we should take from this post is that there is a certain process that leads to a radical mentality. I think Stack was crazy, though. Like clinically off his rocker.

    Ok the best example I can think of is from my homeland of Pakistan.

    In Pakistan, it's not like people in the big cities are terrorists or radicals. It's the poorer people in the Northern mountain regions, the federally un-incorporated provinces, FATA, places like that, that have a lot of radicalism.

    Places like this are breeding grounds for terror cells because

    1. these people are often ignored by the government (appalachia).
    2. terrorists come in and want to settle down in this area, and the people, whose lives are crippled with poverty and whose children do not get an education because the govt refuses to pay for dirt poor kids to go to school, welcome terrorists with open arms because they do not see any other way out of their circumstances.

    I think of the black civil rights leaders who were peaceful, but also of those who felt that violent tactics or aggression was the only way to be heard.

    People do not get up one day and decide to be terrorists. They do not suddenly decide that they are going to kill a bunch of people or become radicals.

    It is a gradual process that can only be averted if we nip it at the bud, if we stop 'isms' such as racism and anti-poor and anti-brown sentiment. If we stop making people feel like they have nowhere else to turn but violence, by LISTENING to them and understanding their frustrations, and by treating them as simply human, this is the only way you stop the process that leads to the 'crazy'.

  45. @NancyP: You're spot-on, especially about abortion. Many prominent anti-abortion organizations are actually just fundraising arms for other conservative causes. To tie this back into the topic, what good would it do to just write them off as "insane"? It's much better to try to understand the motives both of the people organizing such activity and of the people who get recruited into it.

    One thing about this whole topic that got me thinking is whether the labelling as "insane" is all that relevant, or whether the disinterest in understanding is already 90% of the problem. It reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago with my grandparents about evolution, where their rationale for denying evolution was their inability (in the framework of their present knowledge) to conceive how complex phenomena can arise from simple chemical/biological processes. The fact that plenty of people DO understand a huge part of the topic (and have spent entire lifetimes pursuing it) was irrelevant. I know it's a bit off-topic but I think it's connected to the same white (or human?) tendency to refuse to understand the knowledge or perspective of those seen as "other".

  46. I want to scream a little reading these comments. "Insane" and "crazy" are avoidance words - "I refuse to consider the deeper social implications of what this person has done, so I'll call them crazy".

    None of these terrorists are mentally ill, and it's a vicious slander against the mentally ill to immediately equate violence with insanity. It's also dangerous, in that tidying all terrorist acts away under "crazy" means that the conditions which lead to the acts will never be changed, and will engender more terrorist acts. By saying "they were crazy", we are saying that these acts happen in a vacuum, and there is nothing we can do to stop them, so *shrug* crazies - amirite?

    This is foolish and it is an extraordinary mark of privilege to be able to dismiss all non-conformist behaviour as "crazy" simply because the ideology behind their acts makes us uncomfortable.

  47. I appreciate this post, both for its main points and for the way the dialogue displays other common white tendencies (e.g. Jay learning more from Tim's input than Moi's).

    I always detest when people describe the actions of terrorists (or rapists or abusers) as insane or as monstrous. I think that this diminishes our ability to understand the factors that contribute to their behavior and therefore, potential solutions. Yet, whenever I make this point, I am accused of making excuses for the perpetrators (as Moi was here). To attempt to understand or gain insight into one's actions is not to excuse them. Sure, it's a lot easier to put people in a box and to say that they're not "regular people," but in doing so we do ourselves a disservice. To use facepalm's Hitler example, there is a lot of scholarly writing on how Germans era WWII were just ordinary men who, given the right political, cultural, and economic pressures, colluded to do horrible things. We give a lot of lip service to the idea of "never again" with regard to genocide, but if we reduce the actions of the Nazis and their many active and passive supporters to insanity, we have given up any real opportunity to understand and therefore prevent genocide.

    Another example I gave was rape. So many times, I have heard rapists described as monsters, with little thought given to how our rape culture and rampant misogyny affects the value that women are given in our society and how this contributes to rape and assault (not to mention cycles of abuse).

    So, yeah, to me it is obvious that Western (including U.S.) policies of imperialism contribute to a lot of anger against us, thereby inflaming violence. I do agree that anti-Semitism plays a large role in motivations behind many acts of terror, but that neither directly contradicts Moi's point, nor is it at the center of this discussion. Is there a reason why we cannot talk about American/western/white actions that contribute to terrorism without deflecting the conversation to the anti-Semitism of some arabic people or nations? This blog is not Stuff Arabs Do, right?

  48. @attack_laurel re: 'This is foolish and it is an extraordinary mark of privilege to be able to dismiss all non-conformist behaviour as "crazy" simply because the ideology behind their acts makes us uncomfortable.'

    Agreed. Maybe Jay's reddening face was a sign that at some level he knew that his insistence on the label "insane" was a defense of his privilege, and maybe he was peripherally aware that to open up that crack in the wall would challenge his integrity in a way he wasn't prepared to face. Maybe. I say that because if he were totally clueless, he would probably not be disturbed at all by what Moi and Tim were saying.

  49. @the science girl,

    The point of the OP is to understand, not condone.

  50. RE: plastiknoise

    "People do not get up one day and decide to be terrorists. They do not suddenly decide that they are going to kill a bunch of people or become radicals.

    It is a gradual process that can only be averted if we nip it at the bud, if we stop 'isms' such as racism and anti-poor and anti-brown sentiment. If we stop making people feel like they have nowhere else to turn but violence, by LISTENING to them and understanding their frustrations, and by treating them as simply human, this is the only way you stop the process that leads to the 'crazy'."


    Ladies and gentlemen, Moi has now left the building.

  51. Moi,

    This is great! Excellent! I love reading your comments here, btw. I actually read it last night and then attempted to read the comments this morning. However, I got lost in a sea of arguments.

    I really believe that the negative comments are completely unwarranted. The message from the OP is so simple, and the behavior that she depicts is extremely common.

    I was watching O'reilly maybe a month ago. He played a clip from a press conference of journalists and (whom I'm guessing to be) a homeland security official.

    Well, one of the journalist asked something on the lines of "Why are these people doing this"

    The officials initial response was that of surprise. His eyes drifted and he stumbled searching for words. In the end it was a pretty disregarding "They hate us and religious ideology is blah blah blah."

    From there, O'reilly went on to relay his analysis of the subject which was somewhat similar too the officials, but of more vitriol. "They HATE US! THEY ARE RELIGIOUS EXTREMIST! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT!"

    Now, although, I don't recall hearing the word "insane" thrown around in this particular situation, it still displays the same kind of refusal to understand, self-educate, and question.

    These kinds of actions are detrimental. They keeps people aloof from a comprehensive knowledge of what's going on in the world. To a certain extent, it also keeps are opinions polarized.

  52. [no slappz, this post is not about whether Stack was a terrorist or not; it's about the common white tendency to label such people as terrorists "crazy" or "insane," instead of attempting to understand why they do what they do (a common white tendency repeatedly displayed in the post by "Jay"). If you submit a constructive comment on that topic, I'll be glad to publish it. ~macon]

  53. Instead of projecting our own sense of motivation, why don't we actually go to the horse's mouth?

    Courtesy of the Guardian,, Bin Laden's letter to America.

    [way-long excerpts from BL's letter redacted. ~macon]

    So in this letter he cites everything from the fact that the state of Israel exists to our tolerance of homosexuality to the fact that so many in America aren't Muslim. So it's really anyone's game.

  54. Moi - thank you for this post.

    While it was all fantastic, your final and third points struck me particularly hard.

    For the final point: that Jay's ending thought of the whole discussion could be summed up as "she's mad at me" brings up a couple questions. Does this relate back to the perception that every time a PoC points out racism, they're just being Angry For The Sake Of It? Or was his automatic impression that, rather than wanting to address and discuss an issue with him, you were actively accusing him? Though that feels like it still ties into the first question.

    Am I imagining it, or do a ridiculous number of us (WP) get this cringy, dog--that-just-peed-on-the-carpet, "oh man, I'm going to get my bottom spanked and then I'll have to apologize to the PoC for existing, couldn't we just not talk about this" response to racism coming up? Some get really wounded by it, as if noticing and pointing out racism is worse than the racism actually taking place. Of course, another WP is just as 'guilty' as they are, so even if they say the same thing as a PoC, they won't punish us/get unreasonably mad at us, so we stop cringing and actively (in theory) listen.

    For the third point, Appalachia: Jay, even though very obviously a compassionate and empathetic man, still couldn't make the connection between the situation in the Appalachians and the effect of colonialism in the rest of the world. By the same token, America as a country is blind (willfully? I wouldn't doubt it) to the situation we create in Appalachia. Do these two lacks of intuitive thinking and self-analysis come from the same place?

    Or is it all linked together with the first point -- that WP can only perceive the statement "this is wrong for these reasons" as anger, that pointing out problems is negative and wrong in and of itself? I'm thinking of Neo-con groups and the constant accusation of "you just hate America". Because looking at our country critically, analyzing the ways in which our policies breed terrorists on both our own soil and abroad, and working constructively to correct them is hate.

    I saw this idea rear it's ugly head during a panel on the actions and war crimes of G.W. Bush some years ago; the lawyer investigating it could admit that yes, he did commit war crimes, but balked at actually putting the man on trail. Why? Because it would weaken the country's faith in it's leadership, of course. It's bad publicity and that's ever so important.


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