Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Do Average Americans Stand up to Injustice?

Do average Americans stand up to defend another human being insulted unjustly by a bully, who claims to be a patriot?

Testing Civic Courage in America

Is it possible to test the civic courage of average Americans in a daily setting?

ABC News network tried to discover this by hiring actors as a bullying baker in a bakery in Waco, Texas and another actor as a Muslim lady customer trying to buy an apple strudel.

This film shows how the baker repeatedly insulted the lady Muslim customer and refused to serve her by claiming that she was a terrorist. Some people in the shop chose not to intervene and actually supported the bullying shopkeeper though she pleaded help.

Then, other customers intervened that she was being treated unfairly and walked out. It is very encouraging that so many ordinary people stood up to defend decency and fairness after the initial run of compliance and shock.

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Through the celluloid media and now the Internet, we have been used to the fact that Americans have exposed their way of life for the world to stare at. One of the most common reactions many people have on their first visit to the USA, is that it's familiar, like in the movies. 

If we refrain from extrapolating issues like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or Neocon politics on to the general American psyche, this video shows that some ordinary people conform to bullies but ordinary people also heroically stand up to defend the underdog. This is the very principle of America, which has stood as a beacon that inspires people. 

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The idea of America shines brighter than the neon lights and slogans!

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Civic Courage in Other Countries

Would this behaviour be fairly representative of the situation in other countries?

What would be the result if we conducted the same experiment with an easily recognizable American, German or Swedish woman (or a man) in place of the Muslim lady in a bakery in a predominantly Islamic country? Would local people take her/his side if the local baker would insult her/him and refuse service by unjustly calling her/him an aggressor?

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It is fashionable to portray the inability to rise up and protest when you see some wrongdoing as a sign of moral weakness. Can we stamp entire societies at certain time periods for such behaviour?

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 1996 Hitler's Willing Executioners argued that the blame for the Holocaust should be placed on all Germans, especially the ones who did not rise up and resist. Goldhagen gained international celebrity, but the simplistic argument of the book was widely criticized by serious scholars and historians.  

Let us hope, as this experiment in America shows, that there are brave lions among the meek, everywhere.


J Denver said...

Americans are no different from other people in civil courage. In fact, I suspect that civil courage is higher in America than abroad.

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Rana Sinha said...

Thanks Mohamed and j denver for your kind comments.

Jonathan I said...

Very interesting. I watched the film and it gave hope. The recent victory of Obama also gives hope that higher ideas prevail.