Finally: The "Ayatollah of E-Waste" Apology

The Apology...  Happy Earth Day

[Photos here are from Cameroon, Africa, where I lived in Adamawa, a pluralistic area that was about 50% muslim, and everyone got along]

Half of my students were Muslim
This month I have worked, on and off, with the apology. Interest is high - the blog leading up to this apology got 200 hits in a short period.

One good piece of advice about apologies is to be specific (er.. and brief).  Find something you did which hurt someone, something you regret, and build the apology around that.

I'm sorry for calling Jim Puckett the Ayatollah of E-waste.  Here's why.

Here and now, I apologize to my friends in Islam

After I sincerely tried to find compromise with BAN, I got frustrated.  Even the "Shouldn't Have to Make That Choice" blog in 2009 was treated as an "attack" by Jim.   They came out swinging.  I retorted by calling BAN the "ayatollah of e-waste", which they construe as an "ad hominem attack".

My words played to the fears of Americans who don't know much about the 1.6 billion muslims in the world.  There are thousands of very real differences between all muslims, just as there are between Pontiffs and PTL Clubs.  Muslims are all different individuals. Using a single word, like "Ayatollah", to label an extremist, was unfair.  I have grouped the well-meaning together as "watchdogs", and I've grouped them with a single word depicting Islam which leveraged Americans fear and doubts about different cultures.

My best friend grew up in Islam
Using the word "ayatollah" to spark a reaction was only funny to some.  It also leveraged American fear and neurosis.  It was really no different than Jim pointing at me, and whispering to an EPA official "he's an exporter", not realizing she was a friend of mine (Boston Park Plaza, 2004).

None of us are immune from our own righteous indignation.  I've used an innocent term which is used perjoratively by bigots to describe someone whose politics I ascertain to be bigoted.

In so doing I did signal that I'm not afraid of Basel Action Network.  I'd like other companies to be less afraid, and to agree with me about fair trade recycling more openly, and less anonymously.   My company is transparent, we do what we think is right, and we want other companies to compete with us by offering even better deals than we offer to our geeks of color friends overseas.  But my intentions don't excuse the insult.   I used a cultural label as a shortcut, and drew applause and laughter through an image of religious stereotype.  This is an internationally read blog.  Ironically, I was writing in defense of Indonesians, using a religious title which any one of them would see their children choose as a career... a title their family member can earn with the utmost pride.   BAN should not badmouth scrap recycling yards, and I should be careful how I use the titles of mosques and churches.

Horrible things have been done in the name of moral authority for centuries.  No "organized moral authority" is immune.   Whether it was the Mayan sacrifice temples, the crusades, or extremists of any ilk, it was a mistake to repeatedly use one religious label to brand an environmental zealot.   It was callous and opportunistic of me, and I was in effect taking another job or title away from people desperate for alternatives.  Not many muslims are radical, and only a few environmentalist watchdogs are radically undermining sustainability.

In Cairo, there are Islamic extremists who kidnap and rape young coptic Christian women from among the Zaballeen, effectively forcing "conversion" to Islam (since the alternative is honor killing).   But when a Jew or Hindu or Muslim uses "catholic priest" as a reference to a child molester, they are out of line.  And so was I.   I actually posted a picture of myself wearing a turban, in an April Fools release... the turban photo was taken when I visited muslim trading friends in Cairo, who had taken my whole family on the tour of the pyramids and sphinx that day.  I really am sorry.

3 El Hajis took me in as a stranger and fed me
I apologize for calling Jim P. the Ayatollah of E-Waste.   Redneck, rag-head, spic-lover, and flatlander are all ad hominem attacks.  Using a religious title in lieu of such a label does not dignify the insult, but rather devalues the religion that bestows the title through association with the environmentalist's own pomposity.

So much for brief.

And I apologize to the readers, those who I led to believe I was going to apologize specifically to Jim, Sarah, Donald, and Mike (whom I've never met).  I've worked on identifying just how big the City/Slum Pixels are, how big the 83% of the world has become world, the restaurants opened by former geeks, the passing away of TV repairmen whose photos I've postered, I've only just managed to see how puny my own "e-waste" cause is, I've only managed to put my own "crusade" in perspective.

The enemy of my friend is an enemy.  But attackers on the geek-attackers must grow up.   Friendly fire ricochets from defensive positions.  So far I've managed to insult California regulators, Stewardship advocates, environmentalists, environmental regulators, investors, competitors, and others whose "ewaste" cause is wrong.  Insulting the people who've denigrated my friends is against an emerging market background puts us both lower than the people we are arguing over. America and Europe's importance in surplus electronics is eclipsed by the emerging markets themselves.  Our harsh opinions of each other, like our used cell phone and monitor supplies, carry less weight .

Using my muslim friends' holy religious title to describe the people who'd destroy their businesses is dysfunctional.  It deserves to be scrapped.

My friend Michael fought for the Brits in Europe
Abuse of moral authority for financial gain, seeking to regulate human transactions with a blessing, certification, or tax stamp, is as old as civilization. There's nothing that makes one religion unique.

There is more to be said about the history of religions certifying the sex act through a marriage license that they control...  If I am holier than either lover, I can leverage their exchange of vows... Desire + Certification = Profit! 

The King certifies your love, the Town Hall certified your love, the IRS recognizes it with taxes, we offer civil unions and marriages, and everyone seems to want to get money and power for the trade and exchange of spiritual and emotional value.   Whether these people de-certify mixed race marriages, or homosexual marriages, or charge money for anulments for re-marriages, or make Zabaleen daughters the hostages of soul branding violent conversion, its an abuse of moral currency to leverage income and control, with very, very bad outcomes overall.

The Beatles also signaled they were not afraid of moral authorities.  They sang, "Love, love, love".   It was a cry to ignore third party authority over genuine emotions, but to fight them through forgiveness, a message common in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

For my recycling buyers overseas, we want trading relationships they are free to decide about, relationships which are fair and equal and rewarding, and trade they can stop if it goes bad.

I am sorry for making this debate about anything else.

"I'm good at what I do.  I'm not very good at what people think I am trying to do.  That's part of being good at what I'm actually trying to do. ". - Robin Ingenthron

No comments: