Posted by Brad @ 10:48 am on July 7th 2010

I Don’t Care About: Muslims

In the long lines of things, particularly hot button newsy things, that don’t move me a whit one way or the other and that I can’t even work up the give-a-shitatude to write about, I’d like to add muslims, or more specifically, attempts to “placate” or “kowtow” to them. Every once in awhile, I can work up a small iota or annoyance, as with, say, moronic private studio execs censoring South Park because they fear jihad on Viacom or whatever. But for the most part, reading anything on the subject from writers like Mark Levin or Andy McCarthy, who have made a cottage industry of being ambiguously “outraged” every time the government engages in any positive olive-branching to the muslim community, or sees opaque “omens” any time a pol, particularly a Democrat, makes any attempt to try to be nice to muslims or show respect for Islam. It reminds me a lot of the late 80s and early 90s when the outrage of the day was anytime anybody, particularly government actors, tried to make an effort to show courtesy to blacks or Hispanics (“‘African Americans’? Why not just ‘American’??!” or “street signs in Spanish!? Go home!!!” or whatever). Now, anytime an attempt is made to reach out to muslims, we get the same kind of veiled race-mongering, but with an added dose of fuzzy conspiracy theorizing (usually, it appears to have something to do with European and American multiculturalists slowly letting the muslim world Sharia-ize us, or some damn thing – they don’t really articulate it very clearly).

What’s particularly annoying is that it usually involves blog posts that, on the face of them, are implying or straight-up reporting something that is, on the face of it, obviously untrue. Today we find an emblematic representative of the genre in a post by Jay Nordlinger for NRO:

So, President Obama has decreed that a top goal of NASA will be to “engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science . . .” So says NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Isn’t that wonderful? Trace the arc of the Democratic party from JFK to BHO: “We will go to the moon”; “We will help Muslims feel good about their historic contribution to science.” (By the way, is it historic?)

I was thinking that, in the interest of evenhandedness in our Middle East policy, we could reach out to the Jews to make them feel good about their contribution to science — just in case they’re feeling low. Really, you can’t expect them to have made any contribution to science: They are so few in number, and they have been storm-tossed for centuries, driven from one country to another, sometimes murdered en masse . . .

I’m reminded of a story — one that I like a lot. It was told to me by Bernard Lewis, dean of Middle East historians. Golda Meier came to Princeton to give a talk. This was after her premiership. Someone said, “Prime Minister, why is the PLO, which is not even a country, allowed to play a part in UNESCO while Israel is not?” Meir, deadpan, said, “Well, let me see: ‘UNESCO’ stands for ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.’ I guess the Palestinians have more to contribute to education, science, and culture than we do.”

Oh, Golda: The more I read about her — and I’ve been doing that lately, in Yehuda Avner’s memoirs — the more I appreciate her.

Two more comments: Will Muslims, anywhere, ever get sick of Obamite condescension? Are they now? Also, say that, back in the 2008 campaign, you had remarked, “If Obama becomes president, he will demand that NASA devote itself to making Muslims feel good about their contributions to science.” You would have been called the worst and wildest kind of right-winger.

This administration is simply beyond parody. Apologizing to Communist China for Arizona’s immigration laws; directing NASA to address itself to Muslim self-esteem . . . Unbelievable.

Unsourced report attributed to some nobody administrator paraphrasing something about muslim outreach? Check.

Said paraphrase being a claim that nobody actually believes, i.e. that muslim self-esteem will be a “top goal” of NASA? Check.

Concurrently, wild leap from some administrator making said unsourced paraphrased quote that was probably a meaningless feel good throwaway sound byte, to a kind of re-steering of the entire ship of state towards a “muslim agenda”? Check.

Discursive Israeli victimization rant thrown in there for good measure? Check.

Even wilder non sequitor to other national/racial whipping boys (Chinese, Mexicans)? Check.

Strange lack of daylight between far-removed nobody government official and President Obama, such that we can assume if NASA administrator Charles Bolden, said it, it clearly reflects the personal wishes and “ethnic sympathies” of our president? Check.

Probability that the story being reported on, even after the above filters, will impact the actual lives of precisely anybody: 0.

Note, there are a lot of things about the bizarro preoccupation with muslims/Islam/the muslim world that I don’t care about, but these kinds of stories presently top my list.

Previous things I don’t care about: , , , ,


  1. Bolden’s comments regarding Islamic outreach being a primary, Presidentially-mandated goal of NASA were made in an interview with Al-Jazeera. I’ve seen nobody disputing that he was quoted accurately.

    Do I take it from your summary that you think he was lying for PR purposes? And if so–if he’s making false assertions, in a major media outlet, about statements allegedly made by the President of the United States–he needs to lose his job, doesn’t he?

    Comment by Rojas — 7/7/2010 @ 12:41 pm

  2. No, I think he is being taken wildly out of context.

    To wit, I am sure it is also a “top priority” of NASA, the FDA, the EPA, the Department of Education, and really any government agency, to create a non-discriminatory workplace in their offices. Would it be fair to say then “President Obama Dictates: FDA Hire More Blacks?” That’s essentially the logic these sorts of stories are taking; taking what is a rather mundane statement of multiculturalism as a top-down directive to fundamentally alter the machinations of government. Were Hillary Clinton President, and the NIH decided to put some effort in highlighting the contributions of women to science, let me write that headline: Or “Hilary Clinton to NIH: Let’s Make this National Institute of Women’s Health!” Or, the Department of Education putting up a sexual harassment hotline: “President Obama to Women in Education: Cry Rape and Turn in Your Male Superiors!” Or having ballots in Sante Fe printed in Spanish: “Bill Clinton Wants More Illegals to Vote.” Pick your poison here, but overwhelmingly lately this phenomenon is centered on Barack Obama and muslims.

    In the real world, it’s a meaningless bit of multiculturalist twaddle, which if it didn’t fill some narrative certain writers are constantly trying to grind out, would be one of the thousands of such things we dutifully ignore on a day to day basis. There is a real world filter here, and a Clash of Civilizations Holy War 911!>!@ filter. These stories almost invariably get passed through the former. In Nordlinger’s mind here, this is a data point in a set of evidence that specifically Barack Obama is consciously pushing to hasten Islamsims creep into American culture and to blind us to the evils of Islam. I submit to you, A. it is not, and B. any treatment of Islam or muslims not explicitly hostile would be used as a data point to exactly the same end.

    Comment by Brad — 7/7/2010 @ 1:12 pm

  3. Here’s Christopher Beam with a brief recap of this controversy, followed by some much-needed context for what, exactly, NASA does. Even if this statement was intended to go beyond simply the educational enterprise of NASA (which is a large part of it, and which does indeed do things like highlight blacks and women and muslims and Chinese and Jews and what have you, as is fairly routine with these sorts of things), so what?

    The Shuttle-Mir Program, a U.S.-Russia collaboration announced in 1993, fostered good relations between former rivals. The International Space Station was another opportunity for cooperation with Russia, Japan, and the European Space Agency. Obama puts even more emphasis on international relations. An administration report on national space policy released last week promises that exploration projects will help “all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting.” It also assures allies that “there shall be no national claims of sovereignty over outer space or any celestial bodies.” In more concrete terms, the administration’s current plans for human space travel—a stop by an asteroid by 2025, followed by an eventual (and still very hypothetical) trip to Mars—would likely include other nations, and U.S. officials have reportedly reached out to China about joint space efforts.

    In context, using NASA to reach out to the Muslim world doesn’t sound all that crazy. Bolden may have put that goal in patronizing terms. But the core idea—that space efforts represent an opportunity for cooperation with countries in the Middle East—is a compelling one. Iran has a space program, as do Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Inviting them to join the International Space Station or to collaborate on bilateral projects would be win-win.

    Comment by Brad — 7/7/2010 @ 1:20 pm

  4. But finally, let me add this: there are hypothetical discussions to be had here, I guess, as there probably are in all the small non-stories suddenly overhyped and run through the talking points machine to spit out the Drudge Headline machine about how America is moving towards a Sharia state or whatever. But the reason I don’t care about these kinds of stories is they strike me, nearly without fail, as very shallow dogwhistles for the following:

    1. Muslims are bad and out to get out us.
    2. Barack Obama is either a muslim, doesn’t understand point 1, or is actively colluding with point 1 either through naivety or (just as likely) malign ulterior motives of some opaque and inexpressible sort.
    3. We need to not be nice to muslims, ever, because we are at war, and any attempt to meet the muslim community on any ground not explicitly hostile is a form of surrender and retreat.

    Comment by Brad — 7/7/2010 @ 1:23 pm

  5. No, I think he is being taken wildly out of context.

    To wit, I am sure it is also a “top priority” of NASA, the FDA, the EPA, the Department of Education, and really any government agency, to create a non-discriminatory workplace in their offices. Would it be fair to say then “President Obama Dictates: FDA Hire More Blacks?”

    Fair enough. Here is the context:

    “When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering,” Bolden said in the interview.

    Brad, you have indicated that you are concerned about the Muslim-obsession on the right. That’s fine. But take a look at the actual quote here.

    This is not an example of the right pulling an Islamic rabbit out of a hat, or inserting Islamism into a context in which it doesn’t belong (such as the Miss America Pageant). What we have here is an administration official dropping Islam into a context in which it doesn’t belong, and then asserting that the President instructed him to do so. This is not the RIGHT choosing to make everything about Islam, this is the LEFT choosing to make everything about Islam.

    Nor is he identifying this as a “top priority” along the lines of non-discrimination in the workplace, as you analogize. This guy was asked an open-ended question about his agency’s priorities. He could have identified unstaffed missions, subsidization of privatized spaceflight, cost-cutting, a new moon mission. And of the infinite options available to him, he asserts that one of the President’s three chosen objectives for NASA is…Islamic outreach.

    Again, this is NASA we’re talking about here. This doesn’t strike you as at all bizarre? This doesn’t strike you as worthy of criticism?

    There is also, of course, the amazingly patronizing nature of the “outreach” effort to consider. “You people sure used to be good at science! Way to go!” I wonder what sort of Muslim is expected to respond positively to that sort of condescending pat on the head…

    Comment by Rojas — 7/7/2010 @ 5:56 pm

  6. Rojas, given the audience and context, it still doesn’t bother me in the least. It is certailhy not worthy of Nordlinger’s utter nonsense. In this supposed interview between Bolden and Obama, do you not think there is a rather clear expectation, that need not even be mentioned, that he should, you know, manage the affairs of NASA as designated in a plethora of approved mission and vission statements, presidential decisions and variously named guidences? Would it be hard to imagine the President saying at one point, “B, couple-three things I want you to do that might be a bit outside the normal, obvious, of course you will do them context: see if you can device and execute some programs that leverage NASA’s stature do do X, Y and Z.”
    This entire story is the absolute epitome of a tempest in a teapot.

    Comment by Jack — 7/7/2010 @ 6:38 pm

  7. My best guess is that the guy is just out-and-out lying because he thinks it’s what Al-Jazeera’s audience wants to hear. I can’t quite fathom ANY scenario in which the President of the United States would tell a NASA administrator to leverage his agency in terms of Islamic outreach; it’s just too farfetched and dumb.

    And that, in turn, gives rise to two possibilities. Either 1. the President of the United States is making farfetched and dumb decisions, or 2. an administration official is telling lies to a major Islamic media outlet and attributing them directly to the President.

    Now, it seems to me that either one of those is a story worth reporting on, and holding the appropriate party accountable for. Brad’s spin on the thing is to get frustrated at the right-wing reaction because it’s too intense and religiously motivated. I get that, but it needs to be recognized that it was not the right that introduced Islam into the equation here; it was Obama’s representative.

    And the executive dumbassery involved–this sort of clumsy swing-and-a-miss approach to soft power–is also worthy of recognition, if perhaps not worthy of a tirade. At minimum the President ought to be asked whether this is indeed a component of his vision for NASA.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/7/2010 @ 8:15 pm

  8. Rojas: do you believe that the mission of NASA has been fundamentally changed, at the President’s directive, and that the “Obama Edict” to “help [the muslim world] feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering” will significantly alter or detract from their, you know, space missions or educational programs to non-muslims or research support or anything else?

    In the real world, we all know precisely what’s going on here: a guy giving an interview to Al Jazeera stressed that aspect of his portfolio that most aligns with the audience he’s standing in front of. He’d do the same if he were in front of the VFW, or Japanese astronauts, or inner city schoolkids, or whatever.

    Now, alright, he clearly is, as you say, either wildly exaggerating (much more likely), or this is a top-down directive (either “muslim outreach” as a general principle, or specific to NASA). But Jack’s right, there are so many levels of real world assumptions you have to dismiss to get to the point where President Barack Obama storms across Washington to NASA headquarters, throws open the doors, and grabs administrator Bolden and says “Fuck exploration – I want you to make muslims feel better about their contributions to science!”, that it boggles the mind. And even if that were the case, I’m still not sure I’d care.

    Comment by Brad — 7/8/2010 @ 9:31 am

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