Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: Muslims Are Not Savages
When did the memo go out that it was okay to call Muslims savages?
A week ago Joe Scarborough responded to the deadly Muslim protests of the anti-Islamic film by calling it “savagery.”
“Think of the savagery, the sheer unrestrained savagery.”
I watch Morning Joe and am a fan of the show. And on that morning It was clear that Scarborogh was processing grief at the killing of American soldiers serving their country in Libya and Afghanistan. He spoke out of anger; I understand that. And if, on that grim Monday morning a week ago, Scarborough had been clear that he was venting his anger at al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorists groups that in fact had carried out the attack on the ambassador I would have regretted the savagery language, but agreed with the sentiment.
But unfortunately Joe went on to talk about Muslims in general:
“You know why they hate us? They hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture, and they hate us because of peer pressure. And you talk to any intelligence person, they will tell you that’s the same thing.”
The horrible irony is that just as he was painting the Muslim world with one brush (which Andrea Mitchell warned him against doing), there were peaceful protests against the killing of the ambassador with Muslim men, women and children holding up signs of apology to America.
Instead of understanding that many of the protests were instigated by factions more concerned with domestic power struggles than offended piety, or acknowledging that every major Muslim organization in America condemned the killing of the ambassador and called for calm in response to the anti-Islam film, or that Muslims are the targets of Islamic terrorist violence more than non-Muslims, Scarborough associated all Muslim with the horrific actions of a few.
More recently you have Pam Geller’s New York subway ads with the message:
“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The New York subway ads pit civilization versus the savages — civilization being with Israel, and savages being presumably the Palestinians. This is a horrible set-up for aiding the extremists on both sides.
Viewing all Palestinians as Muslim savages plays into the worst temptation of settlers to regard a Palestinian life as less valuable than an Israeli. Likewise, instead of providing an antidote to the violent extremism that exists among Israel’s enemies, this only gives the terrorists more talking points for recruitment.
The use of savage to talk about “the other” is, of course, an old trick — just talk to the Native Americans, who were the original “savages” in our country; or the people of Africa for Europeans. Calling someone a savage is a designation of a sub or semi-human status. Savages are threatening because they are like wild animals: unpredictable, unreasonable, and dangerous.
Unfortunately, this “civilization versus savages” is being put forward at a time when need to avoid seeing the world in simplistic “us versus them” terms.
Because the reality is that the struggle is not “us Americans” versus “them Muslims.” The struggle is between those of “us” who want to do the hard work of building peace around the world and “them’ who want to take part in the much easier work of destroying it. It is “us” who want to find a way to resolve the deep suspicion and sense of being wronged that is held on both sides, and “them” who continually infect old wounds with distrust in order to keep fires of burning for a fight to the death.
Even in the midst of such “savage” language thrown at them, Muslims and the wider interfaith community has rallied in support of peace.
Newsweek published a demeaning cover of a group of Muslims practically foaming at the mouth with the title: MUSLIM RAGE. The article, written by an ex-Muslim and Islam critic included a coy invitation to further discuss the article by using the hashtag #MuslimRage, Muslims came up with aresponse full of wit, using humor to combat insult with one saying: “Shawarma with no garlic sause? #MuslimRage. ” And soon #Jewishrage and #ChristianRage were formed in solidarity.
Likewise, in response to the subway ads that call Muslims savages, Muslims and the wider community have started another peaceful online protest with the #MySubwayAd, which included one that said: “In NYC we speak 140 languages and hate isn’t one of them.”
We all need to leave off the “savage” language and the mindset that is behind it. Instead Americans need to double down on the strength of our country which is our commitment to pluralism and respect of the other.
That is what makes us civilized and that is what will save us.