The Discursive White-washing of Bigotry

“Islamophobia is detrimental to the soul” Foto credit © Timo Al-Farooq

From the high towers of knowledge production to the lowlands of cracker-barrel Stammtisch-culture, tactical language is omnipresent in everyday political discourse, tacitly employing certain symbols and ciphers designed to obscure bitter realities under the smoke-screen of sweet euphemization. The conlang of Newspeak in George Orwell’s spot-on dystopia 1984 for instance is a hyperbolic paradigm of how language manipulation is a key modus operandi for the powers that be in stifling critical thought and thus consolidating their grip on potentially subversive populaces.

Let’s talk semantics

One such example of linguistic flexibility, taken straight from our fiction-turned-fact, prophesy-fulfilled Orwellian times: someone who hates Jews is known as an anti-Semite, but someone who hates Muslims is merely an islamophobe, a person scared of Islam? With a suffix borrowed from medical jargon and pinned to the name of a religious denomination, the term seems lackadaisically artificial and ultimately less harmful than any compound word with the threatening prefix anti in it (to be honest, even antipasti sounds kind of bad-ass; as a kid I always thought it was Italian for “someone who hates pasta”, regardless of the fact that the language of a country in which the staple food is pasta would most probably not have a word for hating it in its vocabulary). And by that logic: why is an anti-Semite not called a semitophobe? And an islamophobe not an anti-Muslim? And what is that even supposed to mean, “scared of Islam”? As if the organized heterogeneous beliefs of over a billion people were a Freddy Krueger- or Candyman-like Golem coming to kill you in your sleep.

From a linguistic standpoint, the semantic insinuation here is that there are normative hierarchies of racism arbitrarily determined by whites (the inventors of the concept of race, the sole shaky foundation upon which they have — with mind-boggling success — built their whole enterprise of divinely-ordained racism and profit-based subjugation better known as Colonialism). Meaning: in Western discourse it is regarded more serious to hate Jews than to hate Muslims. So what at first glance seems like a linguistic mishap is actually a bellwether of the dominant discursive mood in society and therefore fiercely political, ultimately pitting two faiths that share the same core tenets against each other by attributing hierarchical value to them through different qualitative terms for one and the same thing: namely bigotry against a religious group.

This method of value-added double-standardizing also has implications for the question of culpability: by calling one perpetrator an anti-Semite and the other merely an islamophobe, the latter is over-proportionately humanized, his hate of Islam thereby rendered psychologically diagnosable, treatable and therefore exculpable, whereas the anti-Semite is regarded as a human basket-case, a lost cause, afforded not with the patience of inspection, but with the indignation of historical guilt and the reflex of socially consensual pre-judgement. And whereas the anti-Semite is by definition dangerous, a term like islamophobe makes the Muslim-hater seem rather timid, implying that he is not the source of danger, but the victim, merely reacting to an exogenous bogeyman, and understandably with the most human of emotions: fear.

This brand of hierarchical discrimination, selective downplaying and semantic antics also characterizes discourses of gender, sexuality and race: the man who hates women is not a women-hater, but is allowed to dwell in the luxury of a lofty term like misogynist; the gay-hater is re-branded as a homophobe, and the racist renamed xenophobe, both monikers implying that there is some characteristic within homosexuals and foreigners that triggers legitimate fear in mainstream society, thus making the former two somehow complicit in the crime of other people hating them.

A bridge too far

The term xenophobia is a case in point of yet another euphemism deployed in discourses on race, obscuring the severity of the scourge it is meant to describe. Broken down to its key components, the adjoining of the lexeme xeno with the suffix phobia translates roughly into “fear of the strange, the foreign, the alien”. And this breach of logic should already trigger the alarm-system of one’s reason and awaken one’s deductive faculties from their slumber. Yes, if something is unknown or alien to you, your involuntary response might be fear. That is a natural thing (even though “natural” fears are socially conditioned as well) But it is when the naturalized psychological reflex of fear is causally entwined with the active quality of hate, as the common usage of the term xenophobia does, that one falls off the rickety suspension bridge of logic and into the raging waters of politicized language.

For how is it even possible to equate fear with hate? Shouldn’t fear immobilize, induce passiveness? When you’re scared, your first reaction might be to run away, to hide, to move away from the object of your fear. But in the case of “xenophobes” they don’t move away from the foreigners they fear, but do the exact opposite by moving towards them: demonstrating in front of mosques-to-be-built, burning down refugee centers already built, abusing members of ethnic or religious minorities, even attacking them physically and in some cases murdering them. And when all that doesn’t work, the oh so frightened “xenophobe” pulls up his sleeves and starts building walls, first around his own property, then lobbying politicians to do the same around national borders.

So for someone so allegedly chicken, the “xenophobe” exhibits an astounding degree of courage, zeal and pro-activeness of work-ethic, thus implying that either the level of fear cannot be that high when you are willing to put in so much dedication and effort in actively causing harm to other people, or that people suffering from the pseudo-medical condition of the fear of the foreign are the most resilient, stoic, disciplined and daring fuckers to walk this earth, a behavioral therapist’s dream come true. To me it seems that the “xenophobe’s” alleged fear of the foreign is just a comfortable excuse to loathe it, outsourcing responsibility to the psychology of human “nature”, thus framing oneself innocent and allowing one to knowingly, willingly and responsibly hate with impunity. As Alana Lentin wrote in her Beginners Guide to Racism (a book that should be compulsory reading for every white person on the planet), she “opposes the idea that racism, both today and in the past, is the result of a natural inclination of human beings to fear or hate others they consider different to them”, going on to characterize racism as “inherently political.” Racism not as an involuntary reaction, but as a deliberate, premeditated action, simultaneously mindset and organizational tool.

Analyzing this, but not that

One of the most striking features in the theatrics of downplaying racism is the rhetorical tool of routinely euphemizing white mass-murders as “lone wolves” and dysphemizing Arab/Muslim mass-murderers as terrorists, with the net result of the former’s heinous crimes being partially (and in the case of white police officers in the US killing blacks) fully reprieved on compassionate grounds (the white lone wolf as a troubled individual, or the unprovoked killing of an unarmed black person by a white police officer justified by the latter’s fear that person might have been armed, the fear of chance thus being not only a comfortable excuse, but also a viable legal defence in a deeply flawed and racially biased justice system like the one in the US), whereas the exact same crimes committed by Arabs/Muslims are spin-doctored to seem so outrageously inhuman that “crime” is not sufficient a word to describe something so disproportionately insulting as an inferior brown person having the audacity to kill a superior white one. Non-whites are designated as inherently evil, therefore not deserving of the white privilege of alleged psychological problems and deep inquiry.

Academics, journalists, political commentators, etc., referred to by Chomsky as the social class of the intelligentsia, spend countless hours bending over backwards in order to find the smallest, most elusive sliver of reason within the stone-cold hate of the hate-crime committing white “lone wolf”, as if engaged in a philosophical scavenger hunt with the theme “Why racists are not bad people.” This luxury-brand of blanket protective custody is NEVER afforded to non-Western/non-white miscreants whose misdeeds don’t need to be examined psychologically, simply because they are genetic: be it the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union, George W.’s Axis of Evil, the Muslim terrorist, the African-American gang-banger, the money-grabbing Jew, Trump’s Mexican rapist, their “evil” is not only ethnically and culturally proscribed by white supremacist discourse, but also explained that way. Furthermore, whites reserve for themselves the exclusive right to define who is “evil” and who is not, resulting in such hair-raising satires like the US, to this day the only nation to ever have dropped atomic bombs on a foreign civilian population, having the audacity to forbid other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Shaming, instead of sugar-coating

So instead of going on fault-finding missions into the deep nether-regions and undercurrents of the oh-so-innocent white subconscious, self-proclaimed center of the Earth, it would be more conducive to its civilizational development to stay above ground and start calling racism out for what it is: an evil ideology. Not a pseudo-medical condition, implied by a term like xenophobia, which can be socio-economically and psychologically explained away, but a disgraceful mentality one should blow the whistle on in order to blow its cover. This paradigm shift from sugar-coating to self-realization and maybe even outright shaming would render the culture of divorcing will from deed annulled and bring responsibility for racist misdeeds back to the doorstep of the white miscreant, instead of shoveling it off to every other blameable entity under the sun like is the tradition of Western discourses on race. In German there is a saying among the left: “Rassisten sind Arschlöscher. Überall.” Racists are assholes. Everywhere. Not xenophobes. Assholes.

Fear of a white planet

When dealing with racism, I admit to finding more discursive solace in the early Malcolm X’s “The white man is the devil” than in over-humanizing, terminological travesties like “lone wolf” or “concerned citizen”, especially given the fact that no ethnicized tribe has committed such far-reaching and sustainable evils throughout the last centuries like the white man has. To this day, global white hegemony remains a singular phenomenon in history, echoed in Samuel P. Huntington’s wise words: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.”

So if anyone should be scared, it is us non-whites of whites. We — in a semantical reframing of the term — should be the real xenophobes, because ever since genocidaires like Cortez and Columbus ushered in the Age of Exploitation we have been shit-scared of this tribe of smelly foreigners with pasty-ass skin and the fire of avarice in their two-timing eyes (the substandard level of personal grooming, hygiene and sanitation of Europeans in the Middle Ages while members of other civilizations were famed for being clean as a whistle is well-documented) who came to the shores of our ancestors and committed such scary evils that on aggregate are known as Colonialism (a term that does not in the slightest adequately capture the scope of its barbarity). And even though we haven’t forgotten these systematic evils against us (how can we, they are still being perpetrated today under yet another white euphemism: Globalization), our caucasophobia remains, not as an unfounded abstraction, but concretized through a body of overwhelming empirical evidence.

But you don’t see us acting out our extremely legitimate phobias through violence, hate, revenge, micro-aggressions and fascist propagandizing. To quote the American poet Nayyirah Waheed: “If we wanted to, people of color could burn down the world for what we have experienced, are experiencing, but we don’t. How stunningly beautiful that our sacred respect for the earth, for life is deeper than our rage.”

Some food for thought, dear “Xenophobes”. I mean, dear Racists. I mean, dear Assholes.