Who Has Been Radicalized?

People commonly use the term “radicalization” to explain how individuals could commit certain horrific acts of violence. News reports about the person believed to have carried out the Manchester bombing have focused on when he (and possibly his brother) became radicalized, and both the Trump and Obama administrations have discussed how to combat radicalization. In these examples, radicalization refers to a process in which people develop “extreme” commitments to a particular viewpoint and sacrifice many things, even their own lives, to further that viewpoint, often using violence against others. Continue reading “Who Has Been Radicalized?”

Profitable and Harmful Fear

I-5_north_approaching_I-10_east_split-_long_viewDo you remember when a few people suggested that Obama would crown himself dictator, run for a third term, confiscate all of the guns, etc., etc.? Now that the primaries and caucuses for the election of his successor are virtually complete, those fears seem to have dissipated, replaced with new fears, of course. And stoking fear happens across the political spectrum. Someone is taking away our opportunities (whether identified as immigrants or the superrich). Someone is trying to take away our vote (whether a particular party or campaign, SuperPACs or legislators through redistricting and new voting requirements). If the other party (whichever is other within the conversation) comes to power, they will take away vital rights (reproductive choice, second amendment, privacy, etc.). We are repeatedly told to be afraid. With all the talk of fear, it appears that the freedoms and quality of life in the United States hang by a thread.

And yet, if we step back and think about it, our way of life is not as tenuous as some would lead us to believe. The horrific shooting in Orlando this past weekend is both tragic and scary, fanning our common fears of mass violence, especially among communities who feel targeted. While people discuss various aspects of the shooting and propose potential policies that might prevent it (depending on which cause they emphasize; homophobia, religious zealotry, access to guns, mental illness, . . . ), we need to remember that we are more likely to die in a traffic accident (as the signboard counts of YTD fatalities remind us) than in a mass shooting, yet that fear is not as visceral. Continue reading “Profitable and Harmful Fear”

Cultural Boundaries and Murder

Fazl_MosqueNotions like tolerance and multiculturalism, suggesting that a society should celebrate the variety of cultures present, has many positive elements for encouraging diversity and underrepresented communities. To function, though, multiculturalism relies on the delineation of boundaries for various cultural communities and, as implemented in places like Great Britain in the 1990’s, specific organizations represent clearly labeled communities and become the conduits for government grants and the means for communication with the government. The potential pitfalls of this approach have come to the fore in the response to the recent murder of Asad Shah, whom news reports identify as an Ahmadi shopkeeper in Glasgow.

The tragedy itself is not attributable to these concepts of tolerance or multiculturalism. The person charged with killing Shah has issued a statement in which he accused Shah of claiming to be a prophet and thus disrespecting Muhammad. Apparently, Shah’s identification as an Ahmadi, who generally identify as Muslim while professing to follow Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a more recent messenger from God, was an impetus for the murder, if the accused killer’s statement is to be believed. Continue reading “Cultural Boundaries and Murder”

The Unspeakable Profession: Sex Work, Silence, and Social Narratives

ProstituteWhen we think of things that we encourage children to be when they grow up, “prostitute” is not typically on the short list, needless to say.  In fact, when I talk with my students about the social stigmas regarding sex, several of them not infrequently remark that telling their parents that they have committed murder would be more desirable than admitting to sex work.

While there are a multitude of different conversations that would be necessary to explore why we are so quick to demonize sex workers but simultaneously worship others who sell their sexuality (supermodels, anyone?), I am interested in thinking through the social story we tell that permits us to so easily separate and compartmentalize people when the topic of sex is at stake. Continue reading “The Unspeakable Profession: Sex Work, Silence, and Social Narratives”

Better Safe Than Sorry

Hsas-chartThe old adage that many parents have taught their children has taken on more powerful form in the age of Terror Alerts and school shootings. Like those airport announcements about reporting any unattended baggage, these admonitions and attitudes generate fear that justifies increasing governmental surveillance and the appropriation of additional resources to the state’s security apparatuses (and the private companies who make surveillance equipment like the $120 million of full body scanners whose effectiveness is questionable). The troubling consequences from this creation of terror and fear extend further. Continue reading “Better Safe Than Sorry”

Finding the Frames

Picture 15As we have repeatedly argued at this site, how we classify acts tells us much about the world we are trying to create. And among those telling acts of identification are choices to see something as evidence of a widespread structural issue in which many of us are all implicated or, instead, as the unpredictable result of a lone actor with impenetrable motives. We’ve seen debates on this before, of course, and, in light of the mass murder of nine black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, just two evenings ago, by a white suspect who is now in custody, well…, we’re seeing this debate take place again. Continue reading “Finding the Frames”

Authorizing Authority: Some Notes from May Day

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While spending a few days in Montreal, my partner and I (and our 16-month-old) were detoured several times while walking back to our hotel from an event at McGill University (though I did manage to snap a few pictures of what was going on, which I’ve included in this post). It was May Day, which many may associate simply with maypoles and flowers, a la Guinevere’s pastoral frolicking in Camelot, but which is also International Workers’ Day—a celebration and reminder of the important roles played around the world by those in working classes who often go forgotten in conversations on public policy and legislative prioritization. Of course, some tend to think of the September Labor Day in the U.S. as a day off and a chance to toss some burgers on the grill. But the May date for International Workers’ Day was chosen in the late 19th century to commemorate the so-called Haymarket affair of 1886, which began as a group of workers demanding an eight-hour work day and protesting the deaths of some workers the day prior at the hands of the police during what had been an nonviolent rally. When someone in the crowd tossed a bomb during the demonstration at Haymarket Square, the police began shooting. Eleven people were killed, and many were wounded. Continue reading “Authorizing Authority: Some Notes from May Day”

On the Demonization of Violent Resistance

Citizens lining up to protect Baltimore police.
Citizens lining up to protect Baltimore police.

This is the first of two posts from the Edge on what is currently happening in Baltimore…

The recent protests in Baltimore have gained widespread media attention in the US, especially the level of violence to which the protesters have risen. It seems that both whites and African Americans are lamenting the actions of the violent protesters. One young African American man in Baltimore took to YouTube with this commentary, ending up on the front page of Reddit: Continue reading “On the Demonization of Violent Resistance”

Strategic Identification on Huffington Post

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Culture on the Edge‘s Steven Ramey contributed to the Huffington Post blog last night, thinking about recent violence in North Carolina and Alabama and what’s at stake in the ways we talk about and label the victims and the perpetrators. To read the blog post, check out Huffington Post Religion.

Words (and Peppers) Matter

Dried_spicy_red_peppers_(4888546786)My colleagues have discussed on this blog the significance of labels many times, such as labeling something a restoration, a gang sign, and Paleo, or simply as something different. This concern for the significance of labeling, though, is not limited to the strategies of marketers and politicians or everyday observations. The selection of identifying labels often reinforces the dominant discourse, even when apparently not intended.

Rereading Fred Clothey’s Religion in India: A Historical Introduction (Routledge 2007) for my Survey of Asian Religions course, I noticed a significant example of the power of labels that I had missed previously. One passage in a section on Cochin Jews caught my attention this time. Continue reading “Words (and Peppers) Matter”