Thrill Of Victory, Agony Of Post-Defeat Criticism
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.
Sitting in their chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. He's also an Army Reserve captain. And, from National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation - that's a conservative think tank - Mario Loyola. And they're all here in Washington, D.C. studios. Yay.
JIMI IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: What's up?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hello.
IZRAEL: The family. What's up.
MARTIN: I know.
IZRAEL: It's good to have everybody. Coop.
R. CLARKE COOPER: How are you?
IZRAEL: I'm - hey, man, this is your world. Super Mario, me without my hooded jacket. What's up, man?
MARIO LOYOLA: Que pasa, amigo.
IZRAEL: You're the man. A train, good to see you.
IFTIKHAR: What's happening, man?
IZRAEL: Listen, man, let's go ahead and - we've got a sad story. We're going to get things started talking about the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple. Now, gunman Wade Michael Page opened fire, killing six members of the congregation before killing himself Sunday. Since then, there have been some back and forth about whether this should be characterized as an act of terrorism, domestic terrorism or, as the local authorities are calling it - or a hate crime.
MARTIN: Well, obviously, part of this is that Wade Michael Page had ties to white supremacist groups. He was active in the so-called white power rock and, you know, had a record. Something we talked about that earlier, but Arsalan, you've been writing about this all week and you seem to feel it's very important to call it terrorism. Why is that?
IFTIKHAR: There are several reasons for that, Michel, and the first one that I always give to people is that - imagine if a brown, bearded man walked into a Wisconsin church and killed six white people. Would there be many people in America that would hesitate to call that terrorism? I don't think so.
And what we've seen since 9/11 is a double standard when the term terrorism is used when somebody who is brown or a person of color committing an act and when a white person commits that same act. Another example - there was a man named Joe Stack in Austin, Texas who flew his single-engine airplane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. Had a brown Muslim man done that, they would have probably shut down every IRS building around the country.
And so, you know, I think the police chief in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was absolutely right in saying that both they and the FBI will be investigating it as domestic terrorism. And I think it would send a resounding message to other potential copycats out there that, if you do something like this, you will be labeled a terrorist. You will not be a patriot. You will not be an American hero. You know, this is absolutely sending terror upon portions of the American public and I think that it should be called a spade.
IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, you've done a lot of foreign policy work in the past. Do definitions matter?
LOYOLA: Yeah. Definitions do matter and it's interesting how difficult it's been for, you know, bodies like UN to come up with a standard definition of terrorism. But I think that most people agree that terrorism is the intentional targeting and killing of innocent civilians for political purposes. And the reason why the political qualifier matters is that there's a big difference between, you know, some stupid lunatic who walks into a temple and shoots a bunch of people up and a political movement that unifies a lot of people behind the objective of killing your children and celebrating when somebody does.
I mean, and so that's a big difference and the reason why is you can't really do anything to prevent the first thing, but you have to do everything possible to prevent the second one - even going to war, if necessary.
MARTIN: Well, yeah. Let me press Arsalan on this point. To this point, people in that community - many people in the Sikh community in Wisconsin think it's a hate crime. And they think it's important because that implies a community responsibility and a response, because it's interpersonal.
IFTIKHAR: Well, and...
MARTIN: So - and the other question I have for you, Arsalan, is you seem to be saying that we should decide how we think about this based on the lowest common denominator.
IFTIKHAR: No, not at all.
MARTIN: You mean, based on other people's prejudice, so you're saying - so prejudiced people would assume that any brown person who commits an act is a terrorist, so therefore, we should follow the lead of the most prejudiced members of our country and I...
IFTIKHAR: No. I'm talking...
MARTIN: I'm not getting that.
IFTIKHAR: First of all, I'm talking about our media narrative that we see in our sociopolitical zeitgeist. Second of all, the man was a self-professed member of the white supremacist movement who has written about racial holy wars. If that's not a political ideology, I don't know what is.
You know, we had the failed Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, who didn't actually even kill anyone and just set off fireworks in his SUV, and we all called it an act of terrorism because we thought that it was. His aim was to terrorize the people of New York City and Times Square. If it was a white guy who had set off his firecrackers, people would have been like, oh, it's just a crazy frat dude.
COOPER: Let's remember...
COOPER: Let's remember, there isn't a standard. Mario made the point about the UN. When I was at the United Nations, we struggled with the over 100 definitions of terrorism around the world. There is not an international standard. I'm not suggesting that there should be one. It's just that, if you look at domestic law enforcement, the FBI, for example, a lot of federal and local law enforcement agencies interchangeably will use extremism and terrorism when they are actually investigating a crime.
So there is no question about what happened in Wisconsin was horrible. It was terrible. It was probably terror for those who were experiencing it. However, when one looks at an act against a state or a political motivation, that is being investigated in Wisconsin. We have to remember that the NCTC and what we do have on statute with the Patriot Act combines an attack on a populace with also an attack on the government. So there's actually - the definition of a state being attacked, as well as a populace, when one's looking at terrorism - at least for domestic purposes.
MARTIN: And you think it does matter?
COOPER: Well, it...
MARTIN: I guess - really, that's the crux of it. Does it matter going forward? Because the perpetrator is dead. So the question is, going forward, does it matter for us?
IZRAEL: I think it matters going forward historically. I mean, because your - my massacre can be your crusade. So I think it depends on who's telling the story, and I don't know that we'll ever have an international standard. But I think whoever is telling the story sets the narrative, to your point, A-Train. So it's complicated, but yeah, I think you do to have to have that debate and at least have that discussion there, so when we are discussing this in retrospect, we can have a fuller conversation about what actually happened.
IFTIKHAR: And let's not forget that one of the first terrorist organizations in America was called the Ku Klux Klan, who were not trying to overthrow the government. They were just trying to terrorize the black people who lived in that government.
IZRAEL: They were a Christian organization, right...
IFTIKHAR: They were.
MARTIN: I would argue.
IZRAEL: ...that were ostensibly forwarding the will of Christ. So...
MARTIN: I don't know about that. I think they were (unintelligible) a cult.
IZRAEL: Right. Exactly. So you say tomato, right.
MARTIN: All right. Mario?
LOYOLA: But I don't think - I take issue with Arsalan's point a little bit. I don't think anybody has a problem calling Timothy McVeigh a terrorist or the Oklahoma City bombing a terrorist, even if the guy's white. I don't think it has to do - I think that the Sikh temple bombing - shooting may well have been an act of terrorism, but it depends on whether it's really a political movement and a political motivation, not just a hate crime.
IFTIKHAR: He didn't shoot up a TGI Friday's or a Starbucks. He went into a brown house of worship that has been targeted by post-9/11 backlash, by a white supremacist. You know, if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it probably is one.
MARTIN: OK. I think, I...
COOPER: But a temple or Starbucks are soft targets, and soft targets are targets of terrorism. So, again, it doesn't have to be a religious institution for it to be a terrorist target.
MARTIN: You know, this is interesting, because I wasn't - maybe I was just sort of reacting to just the sense of the tragedy itself and people - and the pain that these people are going to have to live with. But I think, you know, you've convinced me of one thing, that distinctions do matter, the distinction, you know, does matter, you know, going forward.
And I'm not sure I think - it'll be interesting to see the whole question of the lone wolf and how that plays into the question of what is terrorism or what is not, because that kind of - he seems to have been a lone-wolf actor. He doesn't seem to have been working under the guise of some group that was giving him directions saying go do this or that. And I think that plays a role, too. Just like with Nidal Hasan. I mean, the question is he seemed to be mentally - the person who, the Fort Hood shooter who wounded so many people. Who was in...
IFTIKHAR: And Senator Joe Lieberman went two days later and called it an act of Islamic terrorism.
LOYOLA: Which it was.
MARTIN: Right. Which it was. But he's also mentally ill, and he also seemed to have been acting under the direction of another party.
IFTIKHAR: So why can't we call this white supremacist terrorism, is what I'm saying? There's - I mean, it's an ideology...
MARTIN: OK. I think we got it. I think we got it, and I think that we're not going to resolve it here. And so I think everybody's made the points that they wanted to make.
COOPER: And there's still pending investigation to see if there is any links to the criminal act.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. It's kind of an intense one today. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Mario Loyola - who's also an attorney. I didn't know that. And R. Clarke Cooper of the Log Cabin Republicans. And he's also an Army Reserve captain. Everybody's doing double duty here.
Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Everybody whipping out their bona fides.
MARTIN: I know.
IZRAEL: All right.
MARTIN: But they have been. They earned them.
IZRAEL: That's right. That's right.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, moving on to the Olympics. Several U.S. women had stellar performances yesterday. A soccer team and the water polo team both struck gold. And, yo, special shout-out to Clarissa Shields, who took gold for women's middleweight boxing.
You know, as much as there had been great moments to talk about, there have been some not-so-great moments. African-American gymnast Gabby Douglas earned two medals, yet her hairstyle was criticized online everywhere. Serena Williams, she kicked butt on the tennis court, but the victory dance she did afterwards caught mad headlines. And this week, track star Lolo Jones who finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles was a target, too. Michel?
MARTIN: Yeah. She was, and she was upset about it, as you can hear from this interview that she did on the "Today Show," where she - you know, there was an article earlier in the week saying that she was overrated. And we'll just play a clip. This obviously hurt her feelings. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TODAY SHOW")
LOLO JONES: The fact that it was from a U.S. media, like, I mean they should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes, and instead they just rip me into shreds. And I just thought that that was crazy, because I worked six days a week every day for four years for a 12-second race. And the fact that they just tore me apart, it was just heartbreaking.
IZRAEL: Mm. Wow.
MARTIN: Well, what about it?
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.
MARTIN: I mean, what about it? Jimi, what about it?
IZRAEL: Well, you know, we work in media, so we know how the sausage is made. And I think there was this narrative from the beginning that - I mean, that went away from the narrative that people thought was going to happen. So when producers have to adjust, you know, to these new narratives, they come up with new storylines. And I think this, you know, the Olympic trials are looking more like, you know, "Desperate Housewives." You know, you've got infighting and we're talking about...
MARTIN: Excuse me?
IZRAEL: We're talking about people's - we're talking about these young ladies' hair. These women have won gold.
MARTIN: But they weren't engaging in that. They weren't engaging in that.
IZRAEL: Well, actually, there were some inter-team fighting among the track runners. Yeah, they were talking about how Lolo was getting more shine than...
MARTIN: Well, she was.
IZRAEL: OK. But does it matter? At the end of the day does it matter?
MARTIN: Well, OK. I guess the question I would ask you all is: Do you think that the way that these athletes were treated in the U.S. media primarily was fair? I don't know. Clarke, what do you think?
COOPER: At the end of the day, what matters is what has been done by merit. And merit has been - is awarded as we've seen. I mean so, you know, Gabby got the gold. Who cares about her hair? She - at the end of the day, she was standing on a platform with a gold medal around her neck. Bottom line.
COOPER: I mean, so I really - you know, she performed. So if one is to be judged, if an athlete is to be judged upon their merit of performance in the field of sport, that's where they're judged.
IZRAEL: You know, I thought that was an intra-racial conversation that went viral. I thought there were a lot of black women on Twitter and on the blogosphere chatting about it, and then the mainstream media picked up on it, which is sad.
MARTIN: Mario, what do you think?
LOYOLA: Well, I just - it reminds me of this great phrase that the Spanish writer Ramon del Valle-Inclan came up with at the end of the 19th century, zoological shame: something that makes you embarrassed for your whole species.
LOYOLA: And it's just people's appetite for, you know, for the most trivial trivialities. I just don't know whether to be depressed or happy, because on the one hand, they obviously don't have anything more important to worry about.
LOYOLA: And that's good, I guess. But on the other hand, it's just so embarrassing that they would care about any of this enough to gin up media interest in it. I mean, because it's not the media. Media just caters to people's tastes, you know.
MARTIN: Interesting. Arsalan, what do you think?
IFTIKHAR: Well, for me, you know, I sent this out on Twitter yesterday. I said, you know, for me the Olympics is kind of like Occupy Wall Street. You know, the 1 percent of Olympic athletes remind the 99 percent of us out there how obscenely out of shape we are.
IFTIKHAR: I mean, it has...
IZRAEL: Speak for yourself.
MARTIN: That's true. That's good.
IZRAEL: Speak for yourself. I'm doing all right over here.
IFTIKHAR: It has been - I mean, honestly, I'm so proud of the American women. This has been the Olympics of the woman. I mean, you have the U.S. women's soccer team. You have the gymnastics teams. You have Missy Franklin in swimming. I mean, the guys soccer team didn't even qualify for the Olympics. I mean, so American ladies, go brush your shoulders off. You represented.
MARTIN: That's it. That's what's up. That's what's up. The whole - but that's question of whether the media - you kind of expect your national media to be a little jingoist and to, you know, and support...
LOYOLA: Of course.
MARTIN: But I think part of Lolo's part is, excuse me, but they're the ones knocking us. What's up with that? And I don't know if you think that was a fair criticism or not.
IFTIKHAR: No, I mean I, I just think, I mean I think it comes with the territory. I mean, you know, when you have Bob Costas, you know, doing the NBC tape-delayed broadcast, and whenever - and I notice that whenever an American is out of contention for the medals, they move to the next, you know, event. And so, you know, you're going to have this sort of thing, especially with people like Lolo Jones and people who have higher profiles and endorsement deals. You know, when they don't show up on the track or in the stadium, it's going to come back to bite them.
IZRAEL: You know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of the whole - the hip-hop West Coast-East Coast beef. To me, that was also a media-manufactured beef.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. True.
MARTIN: It was.
IZRAEL: And the best thing with the inter-team beef between Lolo and the rest of the runners, it strikes me as a media-manufactured beef, as well.
IFTIKHAR: Is she Biggie or Tupac, though?
IZRAEL: I don't know. Don't get me started on that.
IFTIKHAR: All right.
MARTIN: Yeah, I think I'm going to leave that alone, too. So speaking of hip-hop, one more topic.
MARTIN: You know, Kanye West gave clubgoers a preview of some unreleased music last weekend at a New York City nightclub. And one song has received a lot of attention for the title. And I've not heard it, obviously, because I wasn't at that club - like, why would I be? If I wasn't at Chuck E. Cheese, I wasn't anywhere. But the title was - and you'll have to interpret - "Perfect B." And you can figure out what the B is.
COOPER: We're picking up what you're putting down.
MARTIN: He later tweeted that the song was about his girlfriend, the reality show star Kim Kardashian. And she claims to be honored by this. And I just have to ask you all: Do you find that romantic?
COOPER: I'm sad. It's actually gross. I mean, let's presume that they get married and there's a little West, there's a little Miss West, is that going to be a song about her mother?
IZRAEL: Wait a second. Wait a second, Coop.
IZRAEL: Hold on, Coop. OK...
MARTIN: Yeah, how about that?
IZRAEL: So, so hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Show of hands, how many of us have nicknames for our significant others that others might find inappropriate? Just show of hands. You guys are liars. You guys are total liars.
IZRAEL: I promise you that we all have nicknames for our significant others that you, you or you might find inappropriate. And to be...
MARTIN: All right substitute here.
COOPER: But for public...
MARTIN: Substitute. Substitute here. Let's say...
COOPER: ...for public distribution?
MARTIN: Let's say she had some musical talent and her pet name for Kanye was the N word. Excuse me? Excuse me?
IZRAEL: That's not - you know what? You know what...
LOYOLA: Now that's been used since "Pulp Fiction."
IZRAEL: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's not my business. It's not my business what their pet name is. And if he likes it, I love it.
MARTIN: If it's a title of an album?
COOPER: Well, that is individual liberty, but do we have to listen to it?
IZRAEL: If he likes it, I love it.
IZRAEL: And if it's a title of an - I mean, Nas already did that so it's - we've been there.
IFTIKHAR: And then he had to back off when he named...
MARTIN: Here's - all right.
IZRAEL: And he shouldn't have backed off.
IFTIKHAR: I know.
IFTIKHAR: But he did.
LOYOLA: Well, this is another example of, you know, we can talk about whether Kanye has been appropriate or inappropriate, but he's catering to people's tastes, after all. And, you know, I mean, Michel, it may come as something of a shock, but some of the members of your gender have taste that run to, shall we say, the exotic? And...
MARTIN: OK. What is exotic?
LOYOLA: And, well, they - and some of them....
MARTIN: What is exotic?
LOYOLA: You know, and some people may like this kind of talk. I don't know. And who am I to judge them?
IZRAEL: Right. That's exactly what I'm saying. It's not our business.
MARTIN: Here's who you are to judge it. Here's who you are to judge it, is that what these cultural workers do creates a context for the rest of us.
MARTIN: And if I have to go out in the street - this happened at a party recently. I went up to a woman, I complimented her outfit and she said yo, B, bla, bla, bla. And I so I had to tell her...
MARTIN: ...that is not my name. Do not call me out of my name. And I just think that when we create a context where people think it's acceptable to call each other that - is he irresponsible for raising my kids, Jimi? No, he is not. But he is responsible for polluting the culture that I have to swim in, and that is why it matters to me.
IFTIKHAR: Preach. Preach.
MARTIN: I'm sorry. Excuse me...
COOPER: Well, and if we're talking about merit and performance - and merit not only on the athletic field or in the office or whatever - then any kind of degradation or misogyny counteracts that merit.
MARTIN: OK. Well, thank you. That's a high-brow note in which to leave our conversation for today.
MARTIN: That was R. Clarke. He's executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. That's a group that advocates for gay and lesbian rights, particularly within the Republican Party. He's also a captain in the Army Reserve.
Jimi Izrael's a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Mario Loyola is here. He's director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think-tank focused on the impact of federal policy on states. He's also a columnist for the National Review.
And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. Everybody was here in Washington, D.C. how great is that?
MARTIN: Thank you so much.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Tune in for more talk on Monday. Jacki Lyden will be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.