Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some Things I've Been Thinking

1. Several of the bloggers I've enjoyed following for years are slowing down, posting less often, possibly losing interest, and/or transferring their energies elsewhere. I'm sure this is true of any activity, and some of my favorites continue as energetically and stimulatingly as ever, but I remember when blogging seemed so new. And now, with so many other ways of communicating and posting and having one's say--Twitter and Trumblr and Instagram and Facebook, and so on--is blogging becoming a bit . . . dowdy?

2. As with so many other "Others," when most of us (me, at least) think of Muslims, we think of some huge, undifferentiated sea of people, and at times, this thinking has some fear attached to it. It turns out, however, that Muslims as a group are as divided as any other group. As noted in the New York Times, "while many non-Muslims are now aware that there is a sectarian divide in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites, it is less commonly known that Syria is ruled largely by members of an esoteric Islamic sect, the Alawites, whose belief in the divinity of Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, is just one of the reasons that they were oppressed as infidels for centuries by other Muslims." These schisms continue to be enormously divisive and, in many places, deadly, leading to civil war and brutality and mayhem of all varieties. Since I was thinking about all this, I just googled to learn that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were/are Sunni. Are they the ones were supposed to be scared of? Is it possible that there are Sunnis who aren't scary? Most likely.

I suppose these could be questions for my pal the Discomfort Czar, who seemed to be unavailable the past couple weeks. Guess there's a lot of activity to take care of in the discomfort department.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dear Discomfort Czar, #3

Dear Discomfort Czar,
Thank you for answering the questions from previous weeks. This has encouraged me to write in with my own question. Here it is. A few years ago, after Obama was elected, one of my neighbors hung that ugly poster of Obama-as-the-joker on his front porch. It bothered me because it's so insulting. When Bush was president, I didn't like him, but I would never hang one of those Bush-as-chimp posters, or anything like it. This neighbor is a very right-wing type (maybe even Tea Party; I'm not sure) living in a very Leftie kind of town, which I'm sure isn't entirely easy for him. He's actually a really smart guy, and a friendly guy, and an admirable guy in many ways, and kind of self-conscious about certain things, but also a bit of a clown. I know he's worried about this country, and he especially fears that the Muslims are going to take over and impose Sharia Law. He is definitely not stupid. This is just what he believes.
Anyway, a few months after he put the poster up, I noticed that he had taken it down, which was a relief, to not have to see it all the time. But I noticed a couple weeks ago that he put it up again. Probably has something to do with the election season getting into gear. When the poster was up the first time, I thought about going to talk to him about it, not to ask him to take it down. I believe it's his right to hang whatever he wants from his house (within limits, of course). My purpose would be just to ask him why he put it up and to tell him why I didn't like seeing it. What do you think?
A neighborly neighbor

Dear neighborly neighbor,
As your post highlights, ideological diversity can be as uncomfortable as any other kind. How do we talk about our differences? Can we talk about our differences? There are no right answers here. The first step might be an examination of your own motivation. If you think you can approach your neighbor in an open, nonjudgmental way, with willingness to listen to his position, you might learn something and/or feel more connected with him.

Now, this might not be at all relevant, but I wonder if your neighbor knows that the person who created that image did not do it with a demeaning political agenda in mind. According to the LA Times, he was a bored college student experimenting with Adobe Photoshop software. He posted the finished image online, et voila, as they say in the digital age. And he does not see what the connection with socialism is, which is the label that somehow got attached to the image he created.
Even if you don't end up talking to your neighbor about the poster, I'm glad to hear that you're thinking about it, and that you can see your neighbor's good qualities even if he might be a bit buffoon-ish in how he presents himself to the world.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dear Discomfort Czar, #2

Dear Discomfort Czar,
Do you ever feel comfortable?
I'm sincerely wondering.
--A reader

Dear Reader,
No. Or very rarely. Thanks for writing.
The Discomfort Czar

Dear Discomfort Czar,
Do you have anything to add to the conversation on the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida? It seems like a topic you would have something to say about.
--A concerned citizen

Dear Concerned Citizen,
I, like you, have been concerned with these tragic events and have read and listened to many thoughts and insights about what happened that night in Florida between those two humans. Unfortunately, no one besides those two will ever know what really happened, and even if both were still alive to tell about it, their versions could differ dramatically because of everything we know about memory and perception and so forth.

We have been told that Trayvon Martin was black, and more recently we've been told that George Zimmerman is Hispanic. One thing that occurred to me, and that I haven't heard anyone else mention, is that the name Zimmerman, at least in the world I come from, is usually Jewish. I feel that the label black definitely has meaning, or is meant to have meaning, in the context of the shooting, but I am not sure what meaning the label Hispanic might have, except to suggest some inherent tension between the two ethnic groups? And if George Zimmerman is Jewish as well as Hispanic, I'm not sure what that would mean or why no one has mentioned it. But as the Discomfort Czar, my job is not really to figure out meaning, but to acknowledge and illuminate the full range of potential discomforts that relate to diversity.
--The Discomfort Czar