Sometimes it’s worthwhile to check some newspapers from around the country, in order to find out how widely a story is being covered. Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer is full of reports on the presidential candidates’ recent campaigning in Ohio, for example– but has nothing on Pam Geller’s ads in the New York subways. The New York Post has a little item in the “Metro” section on the release of Mona Eltahawy, who spent the night in jail for spray-painting over one of the ads.
In case you missed it, Pam Geller’s group, the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative, has placed ads in the New York subway system after having won a challenge in court for the right to do so. The text reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
First, Israel is not currently in anything recognizable as a war. Israel has enemies, has been in wars in the past, and is prepared to go to war if necessary, but is not currently at war. That’s not to say that Israel is at peace– surely that is not the present state of affairs, either. But to characterize the situation today as “war,” is to misunderstand the situation, or to misuse the word “war.”
Second, to characterize any group as “savages” is an old rhetorical device to dehumanize that group, thereby making the killing of them permissible. It is at least understandable how this happens in combat situations, when people are under severe stress. In this instance (an ad on a subway wall), the rhetoric serves no discernible purpose– except to inflame for the sake of inflaming.
Third, while in the history of this conflict it is true that sad and terrible violence has been inflicted on innocent Jewish Israelis, it is also true that sad and terrible violence has been inflicted on innocent Arab Palestinian Muslims. A conceptual framework that places who is right and “civilized” on this side, and who is wrong and “savage” on that side, is not a helpful conceptual framework. It distorts the picture.
To support civilization is to encourage thoughtful moderates on both sides of the conflict (yes, those people do exist!) to do the work of making peace. Inflamed rhetoric– even from an American who lives on Long Island– only makes a civilized resolution more difficult.