In examining the human rights challenges of the both anti-Islam movement and religious extremists who rationalize anti-human rights views based on their interpretation of Islam, we must first recognize the impact of intolerance and name-calling in this debate. If we allow such debates to be controlled by those who use name-calling and demonizing, then we have lost any possibility for meaningful thought on these challenges to human rights.
We cannot rebuild broken bridges of trust, critically examine challenges to human rights, and discuss difficult topics on which many will disagree, if we start out with wild name-calling and demonizing of others. While there are many important issues to address, I have listed this first because it is the barrier to even beginning such a dialogue. It has to stop, and the people who can make it stop is ourselves, by holding all of us (including ourselves) accountable for ending the name-calling and demonizing that has become so pervasive in society today on such difficult topics.
The challenges to a political approach to addressing important issues is that politics is not about compassion, but is about popularity. So to entertain and gain popularity, politically-focused activists and writers often employ the "outrage tactics" of wild hyperbole, "outrage tactics" that calls other people names, and tactics that demonize and defame others as a way to "define" their political opponents.
Gaining respect starts by giving respect. To discuss difficult issues, we need to first put down our weapons of verbal and written name-calling, defamation, and demonizing of others. Our disagreements don't have to be disagreeable. That is a choice that we all have.
First of all, I know that I too have made mistakes, and I have said things that I regret in my life, as we all have done. For that, I apologize.
But I can't imagine writing about someone that I disagree with as a "clinical paranoid," a "shrieking harpy," "nutty," a "stunning ignoramus," a "lunatic," among many other comments that I have seen over the past several months demonizing anti-Islam activist leader Pamela Geller, Executive Director of the Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) group, a group that I and R.E.A.L. have opposed for over a year. I can disagree with the SIOA, oppose their views, condemn extremism, and even challenge Ms. Geller's views and actions, without the demonizing name-calling.
Such political outrage tactics are also used by anti-Islam activists in the United States and Europe. This has been documented in the case of profanity laden comments by English Defence League (EDL) leaders and supporters, but we see similar profanity laden comments in other venues as well. I have also been the recipient of some profanity laden comments on email by a well-known anti-Islam leader, and other name-calling by other anti-Islam activists. Furthermore, the SIOA has viewed critics of Ms. Geller in the media as "monsters" in cartoons; the SIOA has also promoted and published cartoons about Muhammad and SIOA supporters have vulgar caricatures of other Muslims on the SIOA Facebook web site, as well as cartoons with violent threats.
The problem with such a political outrage approach is not just an attack on our shared universal human rights of dignity, whether it is a blogger creating a false "image" of someone in a Nazi uniform to defame them, branding someone as mentally ill, or viewing others we disagree with as inhuman "monsters," or demonizing all Muslims and Muhammad with vulgar caricatures. This problem is also one of lazy thinking, with the simplistic view that all we need to do is slur our opponent, stick a defamatory label on them, to make them a pariah. In history, we have seen the use of defamatory cartoons appeals to the lowest minds and thinkers as we saw under Adolf Hitler's regime about Jews to dehumanize not just individuals, but also to dehumanize entire religions and identity groups. Such tactics to dehumanize others seeks to make them "fair game" for whatever hate and venom others can direct towards them.
Today, the relative anonymity of the Internet has allowed people to more readily become crueler and to make more outrageous statements of hate. (I can't believe that half of things that people write they would say to someone's face.) People believe that they can use the Internet to spread hate, call other people foul or outrageous names, or publish the most bizarre and twisted images to defame and spread hatred against others - all without consequence. In fact, there are consequences. We see the consequences in our society today, in the pileups of hate, lies, and demonization that has littered the traffic of ideas on any topic. In addition, the use of profanity and vulgarity has become a staple of too many individuals' regular lexicon, which they use without thinking.
There is no defense for this from any corner. No human being deserves this, and of course, that is the problem - people choose to forget that others are also human beings. It is wrong, and it must stop. The people who are going to make this stop is ourselves, by sending a clear and incontrovertible message that we do not accept such attacks on others and on other identity groups.
Human dignity is not just a privilege, it is a shared universal human right that is inherent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) supported by many nations of the world. To those that wish to gain others to support the UDHR, we must first practice what we preach on such universal human rights, including respect for one another's human dignity.
In this debate, while many may not agree, we need to be willing to respect one another simply as human beings. We need to be able to extend our hands even to those that we completely disagree with, simply because they are our fellow human beings. They too are the ones whose human rights we are struggling to defend. Our struggle for human rights begins with less finger-pointing at individuals and more outstretched hands to all of our fellow human beings, without exception. We cannot gain trust without respect. We cannot gain respect if we allow our dialogue to be littered with the debris of name-calling and demonizing to others that grows so high that we no longer can remember what the issues are we arguing about.
In the case of human rights, our focus is on human beings, which is every one of us. None of us are "animals," "monsters," or dehumanized creatures - no matter how angry or frustrated we are with each other and what other people may have done. Even criminals are human beings. Every one of us - from the most right to the most wrong - is a fellow human being who deserves human dignity. If we go down the path of rejecting human dignity, then it doesn't matter who wins the debate, because we all lose. Debasing some of us, debases all of us as human beings.
We cannot claim to support or defend human rights, if we seek to de-humanize others as human beings. But we have another choice. We can recognize that as human beings, we make human mistakes. Let's also not believe that any of us are beyond reproach in seeking to redirect our behavior to show respect to others. I know that I am not, and I don't doubt that there are many readers of this whose hearts may also share such burdens.
We can regret our rash choice of words and demonizing others. Moreover, we can begin to repair the damaged bridges of human trust with simply two words "I apologize." It may not be enough, but it is a start.
(Author is founder of REAL and Messenger of Love with slogan “Choose Love, Not Hate - Love Wins”)