By Katherine Yaremko, Columnist
Political satirist and comedian Jon Stewart broke the air of suspense initiated a couple of weeks ago with the announcement of his "Rally to Restore Sanity." Meant to be a satirical jab at Glenn Beck's gathering at the Washington Mall, the rally is supposed to advocate for those moderate, non-extremists across America who feel that the political commentary of this country has been overtaken by screamers and shouters, fundamentalists and frazzled voices.
Unfortunately, as Stewart points out, these opinions readily receive a substantial amount of air-time. From a business standpoint, the move is an intelligent one, although it leaves more to be desired concerning the rest of the nation. It is not news that the news industry is primarily driven by ratings, which means entertainment.
It is not difficult to see why crazed, radical attention-seekers have been so easily able to push their way into the media spotlight. They don't even need to try; the cameras are ever willing to capture their inaccurate rants for increased ratings.
So, in honor of Jon Stewart's call for sanity and moderation, I have devoted this week's column to a study of how we can become more accurate in terms of discussing political issues. It is certainly not as entertaining as watching a Tea Partier shove a sign in someone's face, but it is something that, as conscientious citizens, we should pay attention to. Otherwise, political discourse will become a topic we can never again take seriously.
A simple, yet overlooked area of debate involves how we use words and define the concepts that dominate national headlines. While the issue has already been discussed thoroughly, one example is the outrageous debate on the proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. News organizations and ordinary citizens regularly contribute to such discussions using the word "Islam". Yet, if we are to think about it analytically, what is the true definition of Islam? The term applies to a specific religious belief system with a number of practices and tenets, one of the most important being submission to the will of an anthropomorphic God.
While this is a sensible notion, it is still a term that gets misused, even by those who are entirely accepting of what it represents. Islam is, at its core, a religion, which is simply a system of beliefs, values, and ideas. How often have accusations been made that Islam is attempting to dominate the world with its ideology? Besides the inaccuracy of this statement, the true interpretation of this claim is that a set of beliefs about the divine is seeking world domination. Yet it is individuals, not ideologies or ideals, who attempt to force their worldview upon others.
This again seems to be such common sense that it not even need mentioning. However, the fact that we use the term Islam, or any religion, so generally means that we consciously overlook what we are literally saying. In doing so, we end up inevitably making generalizations about the individuals who fall under that label, lumping anyone who falls under that umbrella as holding the same set of beliefs.
How can we even talk about any religion at all as a single entity? Yet this is often what happens in political discussion despite the existence of a number of different branches within Christianity and Islam, some with highly divergent beliefs.
In addition, not all individuals who practice a particular branch agree with all of that branch's tenets and practices. I have found this to be the case especially within Christianity. So many pick and choose certain principles from their faith while rejecting others. Pondering political and social issues rationally and carefully is tedious and difficult. But, it is necessary if wise, thoughtful decisions are to be made.