May 4, 2011

Profiting off Hate is NOT Yoga: Updated.

The original title of this post was: “Profiting off Hate is not Yoga: Call to Protest Gaiam Mats Peddling Anti-Muslim Xenophobia.” But now that Gaiam posted this statement on their site and elsewhere on the web, and pulled their mats from Cafe Press, I no longer want to have a post out there calling for a protest of their company.

Instead, I want to thank Gaiam for taking such swift action on this issue.

In case you missed the whole thing, here’s an updated synopsis from the original version of this post:

Gaiam yoga mats WERE being used (without the knowledge of the company) to spread anti-Muslim hatred and pseudo-patriotic xenophobia.

Gaiam had a partnership with Cafe Press that allowed you to customize your own mat. Until this controversy erupted, however, the company placed no restrictions on what could be produced using their name and their products. And voila: what should appear but a nasty selection of mats celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden.

If that weren’t bad enough, Mother Jones released a story highlighting yet another Gaiam mat, this time promoting anti-Muslim hate:

In the original version of this post, I suggested contacting Gaiam customer service to protest. Obviously, this no longer makes sense.

However, I do think that this incident should be used as an opportunity to reflect on some of the bigger issues involved.

Perhaps the first issue to reflect on is that some – and perhaps many – people don’t feel that there were in fact ANY real issues at stake here. That it’s all just silly, and not worth worrying about.

I really have to disagree. Some of my reasons are listed in the “comments’ section below. But I’d like to add a few more.

For those who believe that anti-Muslim prejudice is not a problem in the U.S., please take a moment to watch this footage – and to digest the fact that officials of the California GOP were there to endorse this ugliness.

Next, let’s consider the fact that according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Foundation, 31% of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and an additional 39% “say that they do not know Obama’s religion.” That means that 70% of members of one of our two political parties is either too uninformed or irrational to know (or be willing to believe) that Obama is a Christian.

Now, is there anything wrong with being a Muslim? NO. But is there something wrong with a country in which so many people insist on believing – contrary to mountains of available evidence – that the President is lying about his religion AND most likely his citizenship?

Oh yes, and that said President just happens to be Black? Hmm . . . is there a pattern here of excluding non-whites and non-Christians from the category of so-called “real Americans”? And – is there any reason to think that this sort of bigotry is a problem? I think (or at least hope!) that the answers here are obvious.

There are SO many critical issues that tie into this – the Iraq War, Gitmo, the list goes on and on . . .

Rather than ignoring such issues when something like nasty mats breaks into our little yoga bubble, shouldn’t it rather be an opportunity to reflect on what’s happening and how we fit in to it all?

Second: I’d like to thank Yoga Dork for picking up on this issue and presenting her own take on it – for which she subjected herself to some criticism. To which I say: Kudos for speaking your truth and taking a stand.

Now, to be fair, I should also thank the commentators on her site (as well as this one) who took stands that I strongly disagree with. And I do – because I value the free exchange of ideas and like to know what others in the yoga community are thinking, even when I find it to be disillusioning.

Here’s part of one of several comments that I think is indicative of an extremely wide-spread sentiment today:

. . . demanding someone remove a product because you don’t particularly like the message strikes me as a violation of someone/some company’s native rights to free speech . . .

Soooo – saying that you don’t like having anti-Muslim slogans printed on Gaiam yoga mats is a violation of free speech?

Say what?

I guess that the only way that free speech is therefore protected is to not say anything critical of any product that a company wants to sell and that someone might want to buy?

So I guess that means that we protect free speech best when citizens shut up and never, ever criticize business and commerce.

Anybody seen the award-winning documentary, Inside Job? Because it was precisely this sort of mind-set that almost brought down the whole world economy – and while we escaped that, millions of people have suffered the very real loss of their homes, jobs, and savings as a result of this sort of blind worship of the “free market.”

Yes, it’s just a yoga mat. But there are some 16-20 million yoga practitioners in the U.S., depending on which estimates you read. And according to Yoga Journal’s 2008 market survey, the yoga “industry” is valued at almost $16 billion annually.

Given these numbers, our collective voice – and actions – matter. Obviously, there are lots of disagreements, which is as it should be. I’d hope, however, to see these unfortunate yoga mats as an indication that we’re a part of the political dynamics of the world too, and that as citizens (and not simply consumers) of a still essentially democratic country, it’s not only our right, but in my opinion our responsibility to be as informed and involved as we can.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Sadly, I do have lots of doubt about this. But I’d like to believe that it’s true. And if it’s not, maybe we still need to try to make it so.

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