“That bloke is a nut. A nut who happens to be Muslim. Blaming Muslims for this is like blaming Hitler’s moustache for the Holocaust.” – Tweet from Russell Brand after Mujaahid Abu Hamza and Michael Adebowale brutally murdered and dismembered Drummer Lee Rigby in a London suburb.
Since he had more stupid than he could fit into 140 characters, Brand followed up with a widely shared piece in the Huffington Post.
Russell was right about three things:
- Whether or not many Muslims are cruel and evil, we should not harass innocent men, women and children of any religion.
- “Huge numbers of people who feel alienated and sometimes victimized … may look to their indigenous theology for validation and to sanctify their, to some degree understandable, feelings of rage.”
- The idiocy and cruelty of some in the west exacerbated the problem; we must call out and correct those cruel idiots if we want things to get better.
Brand’s central points
The ideology that Brand articulated seems to have three central points:
- All rational people, religions and cultures are essentially the same. They have different rituals but they all share the values that Brand believes are self-evident.
- Anybody who disagrees with Brand is abnormal and mentally insane.
- The only exception is the truly evil people: the rich, the powerful and the occupiers. Those evil people caused all these problems because they want liberals and Muslims to fight each other, thus distracting them from their true common enemy.
All people and religions are not the same
“The main narrative thrust of the Bible though, like most spiritual texts, including the Quran is: be nice to each other because we’re all the same.”
Wow. No. “Be nice to each other because we’re all the same” is not the only value in the world, and is certainly not the central thrust of either book. Egypt’s President Morsi, for example, has declared that Israelis are descendants of apes and pigs. Morsi has a PhD from the University of Southern California, is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is not insane. But he apparently didn’t get the memo about the central thrust of the Quran.
People like Russell Brand (and David Cameron, George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, etc.) seem genuinely unaware of how patronizing it is to define other people’s religion for them. I don’t know what, if anything, is the central thrust of the Quran. But I’ll allow the possibility that what most Muslim leaders in the Middle East describe as the Quran’s central thrusts are also reasonable ways of understanding it.
Brand also seems unaware of the existence of other values that might be central to religions and other ideologies. For example, submission to the word of God, sexual restraint (or liberation), and spreading holy (or secular) teachings. Not every world view starts and ends with “be nice to everybody.” Brand’s certainly doesn’t.
“After my Hitler Tweet I got involved in a bit of back and forth with a few people … ‘People all over the world are killing in the name of Islam,’ someone added. This is the most tricky bit to understand.”
Yes Russell. It’s a real headscratcher.
Differences in values do not prove insanity
Brand repeatedly insists that Mujaahid Abu Hamza and Michael Adebowale proved themselves insane when they brutally murdered and dismembered Drummer Lee Rigby.
“That bloke is a nut. A nut who happens to be Muslim.”
“In spite of his dispassionate intoning, the subject is not rational – of course he’s not rational, he’s just murdered a stranger in the street, he says, because of a book.”
History is filled with people killing for ideological reasons, ranging from Communism to Nazism to religion. Many of those people were cruel and evil, but not necessarily irrational or insane.
Brand implies that it’s insane and irrational to turn to an evil and / or vacuous ideology to validate, sanctify and liberate one’s cruel and animalistic urges. It’s morally wrong, but it’s sane, rational, and quite common. As Brand presumably knows from experience.
“Islam when practiced by normal people does not advocate violence.” Of course not. Once you’ve defined “normal people” as people who do not advocate violence, Brand’s statement becomes a tautology.
Russell Brand’s real enemy
The worst part of Brand’s post is not that his vacuous ramblings leave us all dumber. It’s not that those who accept his writings are more vulnerable to evil people, and are entering a battle of ideas completely unarmed.
The worst is that Brand lives down to the law of conservation of cruelty. Those who are kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind. Brand isn’t against hatred and blame. He’s against hating and blaming the wrong people and groups.
“What I think is that all over our country – all over our planet – there are huge numbers of people who feel alienated and sometimes victimized by the privileged and the powerful, whether that’s rich people, powerful corporations or occupying nations. They feel that their interests are not being represented and, in many cases, know that their friends and families are being murdered by foreign soldiers.”
Why does Russell Brand think British soldiers like Drummer Rigby were in Afghanistan? To steal their oil? Rape their women? Convert them to Christianity?
No. British (and other) soldiers are sacrificing their lives in Afghanistan in an attempt to make the world safe from the “nuts” who “happen to be Muslim.” To protect innocent people from the very extremists Brand claims he opposes. Soldiers like Rigby are trying to create a world where Muslim girls in Afghanistan can go to school without having acid splashed on their faces. Where people screaming “Allahu Akbar” don’t walk into ice cream stores and murder women and children in cold blood, or detonate themselves on school buses, or fly planes into tall buildings. Or butcher and dismember British men in broad daylight in the middle of London.
Ironically people like Brand seem to have little problem blaming Christian or Western culture for promoting things like greed, dramatic wealth inequality, chauvinism, homophobia or “rape culture.” But they reject the possibility that many Muslim leaders have far more dramatically advanced those same things, plus the indiscriminate and brutal murder of innocent people.
“The establishment too is relatively happy when different groups of desperate people point the finger at each other because it prevents blame being correctly directed at them. Whenever we are looking for the solution to a problem, we must identify who has power. By power I mean influence and money.”
Speaking of influence and money, before we dismiss Brand as an irrelevant nutter, let’s remember that when he hosted the MTV Video Music Awards in 2008 he said “If there was a female Christ, it’s Britney [Spears]” and called President George W Bush “a retarded cowboy fella.” He was then invited back to host the next year. A few years ago, he signed a £1.8 million (roughly $3 million) book deal with Harper Collins, though his primary income is from acting. He’s the poster child for the rich and influential mocking others’ religious beliefs.
But when he calls on us to identify the people with influence and power he doesn’t seem to turn his criticism inward. He wants us to focus on the people who are trying to carve out areas where innocent men, women and children are safe from cruel and vicious people. He wants us to focus on the people who have too much money. On the people who control the media and other tools of influence. And on the occupying nations.
Russell Brand represents the Cornelius Fudges of the Western world. The bumbling idiots for whom recognizing evil would challenge their illusions of themselves and the world. So they turn their anger onto those who name and fight evil and cruelty. And they ironically declare the defenders of civilization to be the true evil.
We’re in a battle of ideas. To win, we need to learn to articulate intelligent answers to the idiocy and cruelty of people like Russell Brand.