Thursday 23 September 2010

why are you apologising?

i read this yesterday when a friend on facebook linked to it. it's a rather nice piece written in response to the nasty stuff that's been happening in america around qur'an burnings and the cultural centre close to ground zero. and while i'm really happy that mr kristof has chosen to put up a piece that is in stark contrast to much of what i've been seeing lately, i find myself annoyed with the first couple of sentences:

Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it.

this, in fact, frames the rest of the piece, wherein mr kristof apologises for things that he isn't responsible for. i disagree with the whole notion of collective responsibility for criminal acts of individuals or groups which a form a small part of a pretty large section of humanity. i don't and will never expect any of my christian friends to apologise for the actions of some guy from somewhere in america who decides to do something stupid. i know that the majority of christians don't agree with that kind of behaviour, but even if i didn't know that, why on earth would i expect them to apologise for the actions of some totally unrelated person? it just doesn't make sense.

thinking about it some more, i recall that excellent piece that kate harding wrote some years ago in response to online harassment suffered by kathy sierra. because the crucial bit involves a significant amount of collective responsibility. or does it involve men speaking up in situations where women are being spoken of in derogatory terms, which is a different sort of thing. that's more about individual responsibility & not tolerating things that contribute to a culture of misogyny and violence.

that could translate to any group. i can see the point that we have an individual responsibility to speak up when another member of a group we belong to says something that is harmful or derogatory to others, or that promotes violence. but then, as far as i'm concerned, i'd have that responsibility no matter which group of people i'm sitting with. should i be silent if someone is saying or doing something harmful, just because they aren't my religion, gender, ethnicity or whatever? do i have a higher responsibility if they are my religion, gender, ethnicity or whatever?

even if i accepted that the answer to that last is yes, i still don't accept that i have any responsibility to apologise for the actions of someone i've never met and have absolutely no chance of influencing. which is why i would much rather that mr kristof had framed his piece as a condemnation of words or actions he disagrees with rather than a personal apology for them. because the danger of this particular brand of collective responsibility is that it can very quickly lead to collective punishment. and that is a pretty ugly thing.

note: i'd appreciate if comments would be restricted to the issues i've raised in the post around individual & collective responsiblity. i will be pretty tight on moderation for this particular post.


Anonymous said...
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stargazer said...

anon, please repost your comment using a consistent handle, as requested in the paragraphs above the comment box.

Scuba Nurse said...

This is an awesome post, and a really good point. Starting to apologise about other people's choices is as dysfunctional as expecting other people to make you happy. Or allowing other people to make choices for you.
Thanks SG.

stargazer said...