Ethics Rant: “Medal of Honor”, Rev. Jones, and Imam Rauf

Almost everything has been reminding me of the “Ground Zero Mosque” lately. It is driving me crazy, perhaps because the rhetoric of the pro-Cordoba House “You’re a bigot if you don’t think this is the best idea since Disney World”  crowd is increasingly unfair and absurd, and getting worse by the minute. Or perhaps it is that the inconsistent reasoning and blindness to embarrassing analogies exhibited by just about everyone who comments on this issue has reached the detonation point.

I listened to Imam Rauf make the most incoherent argument I have heard about anything in a very long time, saying, in essence, that he made a mistake in proposing that the Islamic center be built near the site of the doomed World Trade Center, but the responsible course now is to follow his mistaken judgment to the bitter end. “If I knew this would happen, that this would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn’t have done it,” told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on “Larry King Live.”  “My life has been dedicated to peacemaking.” But “if we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack.”

This only compounds his error with warped priorities and worse ethics. So one must not rectify a decision that, Rauf says, unintentionally served to upset many people in this country, some because of underlying misconceptions, in order to avoid upsetting Muslims in foreign countries, entirely because of underlying misconceptions. If this is not just an excuse, it is epically muddled. If the organizer of the project now agrees that it is divisive rather than healing, and should have been planned for another site, he holds exactly the same opinion as many of the project’s critics who are being called “Islamophobic” by Maureen Dowd, Jimmy Breslin, Keith Olbermann, and Ed Schultz. If it should have been planned for another site, then the only honest, fair and courageous resolution is to build it at another site, the opinions of radical Muslims notwithstanding.

Obviously.

Meanwhile, as I write this, Rev. Terry Jones is telling everyone that he has brokered a deal, in which his cretinous plan to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 will be canceled in exchange for Iman Rauf’s promise to move the Islamic center. If this is true, I may just saw my own head off. Imam Rauf won’t move the site of the center in consideration of the families of 9-11 victims because Muslims will think he is caving to “radicals”, but he will move it in a deal with a hateful  anti-Muslim fringe lunatic, pumping up his credibility in the process and legitimizing extortion as a negotiation method. Good plan.

This latest example of brain-deadery from a “Ground Zero Mosque” cheering section that refuses to comprehend that it is sometimes more ethical to voluntarily forgo our rights started nagging at me while I was thinking about…the new “medal of Honor” video game. (I told you everything reminded of the stupid mosque controversy.)

Military bases across the U.S. are banning the sale of the game because it allows players to play Taliban fighters and “kill” U.S. troops in Afghanistan. After public protests, including those of British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, U.S. military officials decided not to stock the game in any of the nearly 300 base exchange shops.

By all means, lets get upset about this! It’s censorship, you know. It’s also dumb. They aren’t really “U.S. troops,” they are computer images, no more real than Donald Duck or the Terminator. Previous games have allowed American gamers to kill American G.I.’s as Nazis or Japanese soldiers or North Koreans or Viet Cong, and nobody beefed. Families of current combatants and others like Fox are offended by the game? Nonsense; tell them to grow up and get serious. Fox said “At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers.”

Moron. There are no British soldiers in the game to kill.

I will take my tongue out of my cheek. The banning of the new “Medal of Honor” on military bases is completely, 100% reasonable, even though it is based on unreasonable emotion. The military does not operate as a democracy, and solved the problem with a simple order. Those who live on the base can buy the game elsewhere, just as Muslims can build giant Islamic centers elsewhere. The difference is that the military, within its power and with blinding clarity of priorities, did the right thing. The leadership did not let the conflict metastasize into an Ethics Train Wreck; they did not make weasel statements about how there was a Constitutional right to sell, buy and play the game but that they wouldn’t comment on the wisdom of allowing it at bases where real life soldiers were soon going to be emulating their cyber-equivalents as Taliban targets.

[ Aside: If President Obama felt compelled to comment on Rev. Jones’ book-burning plans—and he should not have—he was obligated to make exactly the same defense of  their Constitutionally guaranteed status that he made regarding Imam Rauf’s ill-conceived project. Typically, when confronted with two bad ideas that were none of his business, he couldn’t resist playing favorites.]

So far, it appears that the manufacturers and fans of the video game understand that the military’s decision to yield to human sensitivity doesn’t prove the dreaded “computergamophobia” or a desire to stifle the First Amendment. Not everyone has been completely unhinged by the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

I may not have to saw off my head after all.

11 thoughts on “Ethics Rant: “Medal of Honor”, Rev. Jones, and Imam Rauf

  1. Is it really censorship on the military’s part? Or is it just a boycott? Censorship would be a total ban on material. A boycott in this situation means that the military doesn’t want to profit from the sales of the game and doesn’t want to aid the manufacturer in the sales of the game. If the soldiers can still buy the game elsewhere and bring it onto base, then it’s not really censorship, is it?

  2. I firmly believe that it *is* “just an excuse.” The fact that the murderous radicals have such a strong desire for the building plan to be carried out at the disputed location that their reaction would be something to fear is reason enough for me to want it built elsewhere, even in the absence of other good reasons. Also, why are the planners of this thing so quick to speak out against the “Islamophobic” Americans who oppose the location, and I’ve not heard of them speaking out against the “Muslim world” that would be so “upset” if the mosque were relocated (that they might go on a murderous rampage)?

    I hate this debate, too. I spent four years of my life studying everything I could find about Islam after 9/11. It was a very disturbing four years, and I don’t like having to revisit it. Nothing new here for me, and my fellow citizens seem to have learned nothing at all. That is very depressing.

  3. Jack,
    Like it or not, Rauf has a point. I’m not saying the protesters don’t have a right to their anger, but honestly, it IS misguided. Those involved in the Park 51 center aren’t responsible for 9/11, nor do they share the same theological outlook. I fail to see how one person (or group of people) finding offense in the actions of another makes said action unethical? As I referenced in my inter-racial analogy in the previous thread, the couple in question doesn’t have to give up marriage, they could just as easily move somewhere else, where people would be less offended.

    Moreover, since 9/11 numerous mosques and other Muslim businesses have been harassed and picketed for all the same reasons given about Park 51, and all could have possibly moved elsewhere, but why should they be forced to kowtow to other people’s ignorance?

    What about the Hallmark card which supposedly said “black hoes” instead of black holes? They were just as wrong as those opposed to Park 51, and by pulling the card, Hallmark gave credibility to their claims. The same holds true here. This whole clusterf*** is a nonexistent problem that was created (right here in River City) as a means of distracting the public during an election year. Seriously, it’s not that big a deal.

    In other news, I must admit to being confused as to why you’ll go to bat in defense of “Medal of Honor” (which isn’t to suggest that I disagree) but won’t excuse a Tide commercial? I’m perplexed .. both are fictional portrayals of fictional situations, and both would be unethical if they were real. Why is one excusable and the other isn’t (especially since the game invites the user to actively take part in the process)?

    -Neil

    • The reason for the offense is not misguided. You may not agree with it (or understand it), but it isn’t based on error, or willful ignorance. I don’t understand why defenders of the plan are so resistant to the fact that it is perfectly consistent, human, and acceptable for non-bigots to intellectually agree that all Muslims are not like Al Qida, and still feel that it is wrong to have an Islamic Center so near the spot where 3000 died at the hands of Islamic radicals. THAT seems willfully obtuse to me.

      Rauf’s point is nonsense. If building the Center at that spot is a mistake, and he knows it, then he shouldn’t do it.

      The “Black Hole” card was NOT a mistake. Pulling the card is like firing the user of “niggardly”—it’s a FIRST Niggardly Principle violation. If they kept issuing a sequence of Black Hole cards, that would be SECOND Niggardly Principle violation. And the “black ho'” complaint was neither good faith nor legitimate.

      A commercial isn’t fantasy—indeed, the point is always to promote identification with the protagonist who buys the product. A TV commercial that presents the cultural message that poisoning beer or lying to one’s child is normal and harmless is polluting the culture. “Medal of Honor” does not, however, suggest that killing Americans is OK. There are no assertions of value or credibility, or that the behavior is acceptable. Are you saying that it would be OK for the waitress in the Direct TV commercial could mow down the Philly fans in a hail of bullets and that would be equivalent to Medal of Honor? I doubt it.

      • And an addendum: The commercial is sent to everyone watching that channel—it is not the viewer’s choice. People who want to play the Taliban can choose to do it, and nobody really should be rationally offended by games other people play on computers and videogame systems. If Direct TV had a Taliban commercial—yes, that would be offensive.

  4. Jack,
    I’m sure I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but I’m afraid I just can’t seem to let this one go ..

    Empirically there is simply no (credible) evidence that building the Park 51 complex will increase Islamic fanaticism, embolden terrorists, or corrupt American values. Thus, the entire argument for moving it seems to rest on the fact that a large number of people find it to be in poor taste and offensive. And while I can sympathize with their situation and understand their grief, it is entirely misplaced. This would be akin to trying to prohibit someone named “Ted Bundy” from moving into your neighborhood simply because he shared the name of an infamous serial killer. I can understand it’s human to make such connections and possibly even take offense, but it’s still a mistake.

    Thus, your sole argument seems to be that people’s sensibilities should be valued more than rights and, frankly, I don’t see it. It’s in the nature of human existence that one person (or group) is liable to offend another and I fail to see how that makes an action more or less ethical since it’s impossible to guess or control how others are going to react in any given situation. Moreover, Rauf never argued the complex was a mistake only that he never intended to create such a massive issue over so trivial a matter. And let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, this is BEYOND trivial ..

    As for the other debate, while commercials are “real” in the sense that their purpose is to create interest in (and sell) and actual project, the means by which they go about it are often anything but. Jack in the Box sells burgers by way of a mascot with a plastic clown head and no one (to my knowledge) assumes he’s actually the company’s CEO. Military recruitment ads have featured soldiers climbing entire mountains and then fighting a dragon, and yet I’ve never met anyone who enlisted to rid the world of supernatural monsters. These are extreme examples, but that’s just the point — when does the portrayal become “too real?”

    Were Tide to have included instructions on the box detailing the best way to steal and return a dress without detection, I could understand your point. But I can guarantee that no one at Tide intended for that part of the commercial to be taken literally and anyone who assumed that was the message being advocated are (like those opposed to Park 51) simply misguided.

    -Neil

    • Neil: let me try to address your concerns:

      “Empirically there is simply no (credible) evidence that building the Park 51 complex will increase Islamic fanaticism, embolden terrorists, or corrupt American values.” Agreed. I can’t imagine how anyone can argue that with a straight face.

      Thus, the entire argument for moving it seems to rest on the fact that a large number of people find it to be in poor taste and offensive. No, I’d say because it IS offensive and in poor taste. What is offensive and in poor taste is determined by community standards, and an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers and Americans find it offensive and in poor taste. One can’t argue it isn’t, because, by definition, it is.That means that those who say “it isn’t” are like those who say that “The Wizard of Oz” is a lousy movie or that Neil Simon shows aren’t funny. They have a right to their opinion, but THEY are out of step with the culture. Anyone who was in step with the culture would have known before proposing such a thing that the reaction has been what it was. I could have told them. My wife could have. It’s rude. It is as rude as dangling the picture of an aborted baby in front of someone who has had an abortion and feels bad about it. You can’t say that matters of etiquette, consideration and taste are “entirely misplaced”! If an act hits an emotional hot button and the actor knows or should know that it will, then it is offensive. I want you to deal with my Me Lai analogy, which no one has tried to do—

      To recap from the post:

      Imagine, if you will, a city in a foreign nation. Let’s call the city Me Lai, just to pick a name out of the air. Now, the nation where Me Lai is has an excellent relationship with the United States, despite the fact that some years ago a U.S. military unit, led by a renegade soldier—let’s call him “Calley”— murdered men women and children in an explosion of racial hatred. There are many survivors of the massacre still living in the city, as well as relatives of the slain. Many in the city of Me Lai aren’t able to make the sensible and fair distinction between the U.S. military and the renegade soldiers who killed their friends, family members and neighbors. The U.S. has made an agreement to set up a base in the foreign country, which its government now supports and has generously helped in many ways. One of the best-suited places is just outside the city limits of Me Lai, though the base doesn’t have to be there; there are other good locales. Reports that a U.S. base will be located next to the city, however—just two and a half blocks away, in fact—have children suffering nightmares and many citizens in a panic. Of course, this reaction is completely unfair and irrational: after all, the military was horrified at the renegade massacre, and punished the perpetrators severely. Calley didn’t typify the U.S. military, but he did do his killing in the name of his country and its armed forces. Oddly, some people, especially those whose loved ones he slaughtered, have a difficult time making the nuanced distinction. Go figure.

      Is it ethical for the U.S. to insist on building the base by Me Lai?

      Of course not. The Second Niggardly Principle applies. If the U.S. can do its job by building elsewhere, it should. Why? Because a right to do harm doesn’t make it right to do harm. Yes: if it was important to build a base, and Me Lai was the only place it could be built, fair and reasonable balancing dictates that an emotional objection, even a powerful and wide-spread one, should yield to necessity and rights. In that case, the Principle doesn’t apply.

      It doesn’t apply to the Ground Zero mosque, either, if this is really the only place the Islamic center can be built. But it isn’t: the state of New York has offered other property, to defuse the issue. The arguments for building it, therefore, including religious freedom, are ethically deficient. If less harm can be done to third parties while accomplishing the same legitimate objectives, then the ethical course is to cause the least harm, and not to argue that people are stupid, irrational or bigoted because they feel the way they do.

      Deal with that. Your Ted Bundy analogy is flawed by undervaluing the fact that the the Islamic Center isn’t sort of LIKE the same religion that led the 9-11 murderers and the terrorist organizers of the attack to kill thousands—it is the EXACT SAME RELIGION. The organizers of the attack would view the Center as a symbolic triumph, and they have not been brought to justice. The intentions of Imam Rauf are irrelevant (and also confused.) If there was a good reason for the Center to be built where it happens to be maximally offiensiev, as I said in the Me Lai analogy, then fine: it should be built there. But the Richard Cohen argument that doing it because you have a right to do it is sufficient reason is itself offensive—and Chris Mattews to the contrary, the idiot Rev. AND Glenn Beck’s choice of date for his rally are cases in point. There are rights that I would agree are so important that even an overwhelming community reaction against the act embodying those rights requires that the act go forward. I’d say the Nazi march in Skokie is in this category, but the Nazis marched and it was over. The Nazis building a Nazi Center in Skokie would be offensive even if these were different, peaceful, Jew-loving Nazis; even f this was just a group that shared the same name and none of the beliefs with Hitler’s party. The Center is a permanent fixture. That’s a significant factor.

      I do not say the center should be stopped, and never have. It can’t and shouldn’t be stopped, except voluntarily, because it will do more damage than good, and already has.

      “Moreover, Rauf never argued the complex was a mistake only that he never intended to create such a massive issue over so trivial a matter. And let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, this is BEYOND trivial.” Neil, saying it’s trivial is like saying it isn’t offensive. Trivial is what nobody cares about. Tom DeLay thinks ethics are trivial. I run a theater company—most Americans think that’s trivial. The day the Red Sox won the World Series —OCT 27, 2004!—was one of the happiest days of my life, and non-baseball fans have no business telling me that’s trivial. The fact that you think the center is trivial proves, all by itself, why you can’t understand the arguments of those who oppose it. It isn’t trivial if so many people care about it.

      I’ll deal with Tide later. Yes, THAT is trivial.

      Thanks for caring enough to argue!

  5. Your Me Lai example isn’t on the level. You need to change your rogue Calley to a “Black Water” contractor, not a member of the US Army. Then you need to change the story from the

    “US Army choosing one out of many possible locations”

    to

    “US Army has an existing temporary location near Me Lai that is serving their needs and they are considering upgrading it’s capabilities rather than selling and moving further away from Me Lai.”

    Now we have a good comparison.

    • I’ll accept the second change (though I don’t think it matters one bit.) The first is wrong, however. The Terrorists were members of an Islamic group, albeit a radical one, not contractors. Islam shares accountability for what any of its followers do in its name, just as the US army is accountable for what its members do in its name. Changing Calley to a contractor suggests less culpability—though the army is also accountable for the misdeeds of its contractors. The difference is that the terrorists *are* Islam, just rogue members of it. Calley is more legitimately marginalized—he wasn’t part of a vast multi-national movement within the Army.

      But you get brownie points for at least dealing with the analogy, because no one else has.

  6. I seriously don’t know why Islam and Christianity are labelled “Organized Religions”. There’s no organization there. I’d have to say the only 2 organized religions are Catholics and Mormons. There’s a hierarchy and a structure that results in accountability.

    Islam is so fragmented that they fight each other, rather than uniting. Until they figure out how to structure a global unification strategy, promoting even one sect of the religion only contributes to the fragmentation. I can only assume that hard line Islamic members think that American Muslims have bastardized “their religion”.

    This world is funny because people seem to think that religion is for everybody. That’s simply not true. Faith is for everybody, but religion is for those who need to be the same as others.

    [I’m not sure what I just wrote has to do with anything, but I felt it had to be said. My apologies.]

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