Aug 26

A few years ago, I stopped listening to the PRI show Studio 360 because it just wasn’t fair. In particular, it held America to absurd standards that it didn’t hold the rest of the world to.

They used an editor taking the N-word out of Huckleberry Finn as an example of censorship one week, then in a later episode, discussing Iranian censorship, Kurt Andersen said, “Again, it is wonderful for me to see that the ambiguities that are so rife throughout this situation...it’s an authoritarian regime, yes, but they have to allow this, then they find they have to allow this...I adore when things are not as black and white as they are portrayed in the media.” In short, Iran’s censorship isn’t so bad.

Tell that to Jahar Panafi.

I bring this up, because, in the last few weeks, you could accuse us of doing the same thing. We’ve been pointing out dozens of examples of American hate speech against Islamic people without providing examples of Islamic hate speech. So let’s be clear: American hate speech has nothing on the hate speech of much of the Islamic world.

It took a lot of searching to find mainstream examples of anti-Muslim hate speech, mainly because Americans reject hate speech. To find examples, I had to search the fringes of society. (Not surprisingly, I found most of the examples on conservative milblogs. Take that for what you will.) But I can find examples of Islamic hate speech from just watching The Daily Show. Or say, listening to a speech by the former President of Iran.

Islamic extremists use one word above all others to express their hatred of the Westerners and the west: infidel, or “Kafir”.

Islamic extremists use this term to dehumanize their enemies. From Christopher Hitchens, “But in practice, Islamic fanatics operate a fascistic concept of the ‘pure’ and the ‘exclusive’ over the unclean and the kufir or profane.” Extremists use this term to separate one group (Muslims) from another (non-Muslims or “infidels”). (Though we aren’t Arabic scholars, we know that kufir has religious meanings that extremists often distort.) One would only use this phrase if they wanted to permanently cut themselves off from another group. Terms like these keep conflicts going, preventing dialogue and peace.

Except for hateful extremists, who else would use this term?

Oh yeah, soldiers.

Don Gomez of Carrying the Gun has covered this topic pretty extensively. In short, in an ironic reclaiming of the word, soldiers have embraced the term kafur and its English translation “infidel” through brands like Major League Infidel or Infidel Strong. Gomez neatly summarizes the problem with this “reclaiming”:

“My problem with this phenomenon is twofold: 1) whether people mean it or not, the word casts a conflict in religious terms, which is what we don’t want, and 2) the brand is worn to be antagonistic, not simply factual.”

(Don later wrote a second and third post on this term.)

We have three more thoughts on soldiers embracing the word “infidel”:

1. In English, infidel actually means “Not a Christian”. Seriously, we looked it up. From Wikipedia, in August of 2014:

The word originally denoted a person of a religion other than one's own, specifically a Christian to a Muslim, a Muslim to a Christian, or a Gentile to a Jew. Later meanings in the 15th century include "unbelieving", "a non-Christian" and "one who does not believe in religion" (1527).

Actually, let’s just go to Merriam Websters’ definition. The first expanded definition: “one who is not a Christian or who opposes Christianity”.

So anyone wearing the word “infidel” is actually defining themselves as “not a Christian”. Oops.

2. This blog is aimed at Americans and American soldiers. Yeah, I wrote a whole introduction about how we were going to focus on Islamic hate speech this week, but that doesn’t make a ton of sense, does it? Islamic extremists don’t read our blog; soldiers do. We’re writing this blog to improve the U.S. military and U.S. foreign policy.

3. Embracing the term infidel doesn’t help us win the wars we were fighting. From the original Military.com article that inspired Don:

“Sulayman, a Lebanese American who commanded a Marine infantry platoon in Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2008, said he had one Marine who made Kill Hadji stickers.

‘When your Iraqi interpreter sees that, what does he think? Your partners in the Iraqi army -- when they see that, what are they going to think?’ he would ask his Marines. ‘You wouldn't walk up to sergeant so-and-so and drop the N word on him.’

"...Sulayman said he doesn't think the companies that market infidel products to troops mean any harm. He also said he's certain that Florida pastor Terry Jones didn't mean any harm when he oversaw a public burning of a Quran last year because he believed it promotes violence.

"It’s his right, Sulayman said. But is it really helpful?"

No, it isn’t. This is the single biggest argument against soldiers embracing or co-opting this term. They are actually preventing peace and reconciliation.

It doesn’t matter if Muslims use hate speech, because we can be better than our enemies. We can be the bigger person. We can apologize when we make mistakes; we can turn the other cheek; we can treat others the way we wish we were treated; we can be the change we want to see in the world. Yeah, those are all touchy-feely idealistic (and mostly Christian) ideas…

But they also work.

Aug 18

Everyone knows the easiest, most annoying way to win an argument on the internet: compare your opponent to Hitler. (Also known as Godwin’s Law, here are two shining examples from pop culture: Troy in my favorite monologue from the third season of Community, “I use comparisons to Hitler to win arguments on the internet at the drop of a hat.” Next, Emily Nussbaum writing about Veep, “The show has more Hitler comparisons than an Internet flame war.”)

Over the last few weeks, we pointed out examples of people--mainstream and not--demonizing America’s extremist enemies with terms like “barbarian”, “savage”, and “primitive”. But those examples explicitly denigrate and demonize our enemies. Another term has the same effect, only more subtly and with a veneer of intellectual rigor:

Islamo-fascism

“Islamofascism” (and its close relative “Islamism”) compares extremist Muslims to Hitler. All in a single word. It’s a one word example of Godwin’s Law.

To start, let’s break the terms down. And they need to be broken down, because as words, “Islamofascism” and “Islamism” make no sense.

We’ll begin with the proponents of the phrase trying to defend these terms. Christopher Hitchens advocated for the term here, writing that both fascism and Islamism love empire, oppose intellectualism, and display anti-modern, anti-gay, anti-women and anti-semitic tendencies. Except that, as Hitchens writes, “There isn't a perfect congruence. Historically, fascism laid great emphasis on glorifying the nation-state and the corporate structure.”

In other words, the most important part of fascism--the importance of the state over all else--is also the biggest difference between it and so-called Islamofascism--which is based on a love of religion over all else. Fascism is, primarily, a form of government, an authoritarian/totalitarian dictatorship. Islamofascism most commonly refers to a group of non-state actors--al Qaeda--which just seems especially silly. Though al Qaeda dreams of a caliphate (a Sunni Caliphate), they don’t actually represent a state...yet.

Of course, in the last few months, Islamic extremists, for the first time, took over and maintained parts of Iraq and Syria, but the term Islamo-facism existed well before Islamic extremists started their first, completely unrecognized and fragile nation-state. And those extremists clearly value religion over the idea of a nation.

As On V fave Geoffrey Nunberg wrote, this particularly didn’t apply to Iraq:

Actually, the term "Islamo-fascism," if taken literally, doesn't make sense. The "fascist" part might fit Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with its militaristic nationalism, its secret police and its silly peaked officers' hats. But there was nothing "Islamo" about the regime; Iraq's Baathists tried to make the state the real object of the people's devotion.”

The next problem with Islamofascism is that it exaggerates the threat posed by Islamic extremists. Hitler and Nazi Germany actually did threaten millions and millions of people. They threatened all of Europe, if not the globe. As Paul Krugman’s sarcastically wrote about this comparison, “Yep, a bunch of lightly armed terrorists and a fourth-rate military power — which aren’t even allies — pose a greater danger than Hitler’s panzers or the Soviet nuclear arsenal ever did.”

Which brings us to the third problem: this term lumps way too many people together under one umbrella term. Katha Pollitt of The Nation explains:

"Islamo-fascism" conflates a wide variety of disparate states, movements and organizations as if, like the fascists, they all want similar things and are working together to achieve them. Neocons have called Saddam Hussein and the Baathists of Syria Islamo-fascists, but these relatively secular nationalist tyrants have nothing in common with shadowy, stateless, fundamentalist Al Qaeda--as even Bush now acknowledges--or with the Taliban, who want to return Afghanistan to the seventh century; and the Taliban aren't much like Iran, which is different from (and somewhat less repressive than) Saudi Arabia--whoops, our big ally in the Middle East! Who are the "Islamo-fascists" in Saudi Arabia--the current regime or its religious-fanatical opponents? It was under the actually existing US-supported government that female students were forced back into their burning school rather than be allowed to escape unveiled.

Which brings us to the fourth problem, “the Saudi Arabia problem”. If one country represents both Islamic theology and dictatorship, it’s Saudi Arabia. Why does Saudi Arabia take the crown from Iran? Because Iran has a working parliamentary system with elections. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have anything close to that, and oppresses women and minorities way more than Iran.

They’re also one of America’s closest allies.   

Some pundits--like Christopher Hitchens above--fear a pan-Islamic front. They believe that all Islamic nations could rise up together to oppose, and possibly destroy, the Western world. Except that Muslims aren’t uniting; they’re dividing. Dexter Filkins, on the New Yorker’s “Political Scene” podcast, (somewhat accurately) predicted an all out Sunni/Shiite civil war. Instead of the world facing a unified front, America’s greater concern would be a multi-state religious war...between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Which just goes to the point of the whole thing. If there is a giant Sunni/Shiite rift in the religion of Islam--even if there isn’t a gigantic pan-national intra-Islamic war--it doesn’t make sense to use one term to bunch all extremist Muslims together. Unless you want to dehumanize and demonize them.

America has enemies. Some of them are Islamic, but we can’t group them under one umbrella term. Especially an umbrella with overt references to America’s number one historical enemy, Hitler--who superseded the British for Northerners and Abraham Lincoln for formerly confederate states--as America’s number one enemy. It prevents any sort of dialogue or bridge building.

Instead of “Islamo-fascism” we should use what we always have: Islamic extremists. This phrase does two things: 1. Identifies a group (or groups) that uses violence to achieve a myriad of political goals. 2. Separates the extremists from the rest of the Muslim world.

Which is much more accurate.

Aug 12

(To read the rest of our posts on language and war--our “Getting Orwellian” series--please click here.)

To prove that many (too many) Americans demonize our enemies, we’re listing examples, starting last week and continuing today, of examples of hate speech against Muslims. What better place to do that than with conservative milblogs?

In the minds and words of some milbloggers, Muslims aren’t human. They’re barbarians, primitives, or savages. In other words, they’re less than human. We’ll detail why--on moral, ethical and practical ground--this language is unacceptable in later posts. Today, consider this post to be the proof, slaying the “straw man” ahead of time.

Without further ado, the hate, uncensored:

Barbarians

They are ruthless barbarians who boast about killing those they have taken hostage.

- The Jawa Report, “Beheading Desecration Video of Dead U.S. Soldiers Released on Internet by al Qaeda

It is high time for Pakistan to decide whether it belongs to civilization or to the barbarians.

- The Captain’s Journal, “When It Comes to Pakistan, We Just Can’t Handle the Truth

They are barbaric and full of hatred and vile for this country, regardless of whether we’re following the rules or not.

- A Soldier’s Perspective, “Take Off The Gloves

 “Feel better now you sub-human swine?...F**ing animals!

        - Blackfive, “Our Barbarian allies Kill UN Workers in Kabul

I hope the stars stay aligned for more operations against these barbarians.”  

- This Ain’t Hell, “US Marines free German ship from pirates”

Primitives

The primitive peoples of the middle east are perhaps the most gullible ethnic group on the planet.

        - Blackfive, “Squandering Our Victory”

Savages

So let me say that the proper response is not to look deep inside our souls and reflect on how it is that we could have done something to not offend these savages.

- Blackfive, “It’s not you, it’s me...

We are driving down the road of appeasement in speaking with savages that understand only one thing; power.

        - Blackfive, “1979 Anyone?

“...let's not let a bunch of marginally-civilized savages screw around with international shipping.

        - Blackfive, “Taking down pirates the hip thing to do

(For more examples from Blackfive, please don’t click here, here, here (also a Washington Times op-ed.) or here.)

Yeah, well, here’s the thing; these goat roping 6th century savages are going to attack us no matter what we do – remember the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the attacks on our African embassies, the attack on the USS Cole, the attacks on 9/11?

- This Ain’t Hell, “Peace talks inspire more terrorist groups”

“...goat-humping, 7th century, savage...

- This Ain’t Hell, “Ask an Infantryman”

Have you considered what would happen if the US and NATO declared victory and left your backwards-assed, 7th century collection of savages that you call a country...”

- This Ain’t Hell, “Just a Friendly Note to President Karzai from Col. Nathan Jessup

- “The Democrats recommend that we negotiate with 12th Century savages who are still cutting off hands and executing criminals in public. Savages who deny that there were millions executed in Europe because of their religion and sexual preferences in the last century.

- This Ain’t Hell, “Jack Reed; this drawdown is not a drawdown

Two thoughts: one, which century are these savages actually from? The sixth, the seventh or the twelfth? Finally, This Ain’t Hell has two more examples of using “savages” here and here.