The Case of Eric Allen Bell

Monday, June 24, 2013

The following article was written by Greg Hamilton on his blog, The Malsi-Tung Social Virus. It articulates an insight we could use at least some of the time when we talk to people unacquainted with Islam.

At the beginning of 2012, Eric Allen Bell (EAB) was a staunch defender of Muslims and Islam in America. He was making a documentary about the resistance of people in Murfreesboro to a mosque with a capacity for 45,000 people being built in their town. EAB was firmly on the side of the Muslims for, as a man with strong liberal views, this was a clear case of reactionary prejudice against a minority culture. By the end of 2012 EAB had become an outspoken critic of Islam and firmly committed to opposing its growth and influence.

What had happened to change his mind? What processes had caused such a reversal of sentiment towards Muslims and Islam?

We can understand a significant amount about EAB by looking at the typical configuration of moral foundations for liberals. As I have shown in a previous article, the liberal character is strongly influenced by the Care foundation. This Care foundation is triggered by perceived threats to vulnerable groups such as minorities, immigrants, gays, etc. The liberal often stands in opposition to what he sees as the dominant culture that he belongs to and stands up for sub-cultures that do not sit easily within the dominant culture. The liberal is uncomfortable with dominance and seeks to compensate by helping and protecting the interests of supposedly weaker elements.

It was this Care foundation that was at work when EAB was supporting the Muslims of Murfreesboro to build their mosque. They were the weaker, non-dominant party in the conflict and a typical beneficiary of liberal goodwill and protectiveness based on the Care foundation.

It is almost impossible to change people’s attitudes when they are aligned with moral foundations in this way. The intuitive part of the mind is extremely quick and powerful and uses the ego to rationalize the emotionally moral position that is habitually adopted by someone. In his book, The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt calls this “the elephant,” the automatic and habitual aspect of the brain which “leans” one way or the other on controversial and emotive issues. We judge according to intuitions, then look for respectable reasons to justify how we feel.

Nonetheless, EAB did change his position, so what happened?

Well, it just so happened that EAB took a ride in a taxi driven by an Egyptian Coptic Christian. EAB asked him if he was excited about the removal of Hosni Mubarak, to which the taxi driver replied “no, I am very worried for my family and other Coptic Christians.” EAB inquired further and discovered a little bit more about the plight of non-Muslims in Muslim majority Egypt.

The plight of the Copts triggered Eric’s Care foundation since he is a person who is genuinely concerned about the treatment of vulnerable people. He was able to switch sides emotionally and see Muslims in the role of persecutors rather than the persecuted — which is how he had habitually seen them until then. It is this emotional shift that counterjihadists need to foster in those still blind to Islam’s depredations. Liberals are dominated by their Care foundations and you have to find ways to trigger this foundation to effect a change of perspective. You will get nowhere talking about threats to the dominant culture as liberals frequently see this as paranoia or scaremongering. The “elephant” will be extremely quick in finding ways to defend against a different way of looking at things. But once you have triggered the Care foundation on a different target, the mind becomes receptive to information which confirms the emotional position. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

This is one of the lessons to be drawn from moral foundations as expressed in the liberal mind. Trigger the emotions of the Care foundation in relation to vulnerable groups suffering from Muslim persecution and the liberal mind will become far more receptive to information critical of Islam and Muslims. This is one of the reasons why Raymond Ibrahim's monthly report on Christian persecution and Political Islam's Bulletin of the Oppression of Women are so valuable.

Once this emotional shift has occurred, the way is open to a more honest look at the teachings of Islam and the character of Muhammad. EAB had both the integrity and the courage to do this — even as a high-profile figure with a great deal to lose by doing so.

Liberals have traditionally seen themselves as occupying the moral high ground and tend to treat people with different views in a condescending manner. They have often been the people drawing attention to the hypocrisy of others. But the tables have now turned and it is the counterjihad movement who should be calling liberals out on their hypocrisy: Why do they turn a blind eye to the persecution of minorities in Muslim countries; to the human rights abuses between Muslims; to the status of women in Islam? Why do they claim to be in favor of universal human rights yet give Muslims immunity from their critiques? Why do they lack the courage to ask themselves probing questions about the compatibility of Islam with universal human rights?

But still, until their Care foundation is redirected towards the victims of Islam they will always find ways to avoid dissonant information; to argue (however absurdly) that it's none of their business; to believe the fairy tale accounts of Muhammad's life and character (in books by authors like Karen Armstrong, for example) and the implausible accounts of Muslim multicultural tolerance in the Middle Ages.

Footnote: It is significant that the crucial exchange in the above account took place in the relative intimacy of a taxi and during a non-confrontational conversation. Such encounters open us up to new ways of looking at the world and allow us to experience different emotional reactions to our personal norms. Once we are engaged in a heated or tense debate our animal brains are locked in combat and we are unable to alter our perspective. This is a hopeless position from which to effect change in others. It is also noteworthy that the taxi driver expressed a poignant personal response to the Arab Spring which triggered the opening up to a different view of the situation to the one Bell had previously held. This echoes a quote from Goethe:
What's uttered from the heart alone will draw the hearts of others to your own. 

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