Thursday, January 8, 2015

Global dog-whistle politics and words we should do without

A large portion of the discussion of the attack on Charlie Hebdo has involved terms and concepts like “savage,” “barbarian,” “civilization,” “Western,” and their variants. These are words we can and should do without.

Not only are they recognized, consciously or (more dangerously) semi- or unconsciously), as coded racist* references generally, but in this specific context they perpetuate the ideas long used to justify violent, thieving, life- and culture-destroying, racist, starvation-causing, rights-denying, democracy-refusing, murderous, censorious, torturing colonial regimes like France’s** and currently deployed in support of US imperialist adventures.

It’s detrimental to the advancement of the freedom of expression and the right to blaspheme to rhetorically locate them in some mythical history of civilization, freedom, and democracy against savagery and barbarism while denying past and present political realities. This tired language leads to lazy thinking and obstructs political analysis, while adding nothing to anyone’s understanding of events.

* And speciesist, for that matter. And plain stupid.

** For accuracy’s sake, I’ll note that that radio presentation offers a simplistic portrayal of Camus’ statement about justice and his mother. A fuller account can be found in Algerian Chronicles.

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