Two Varieties of Media Dehumanization

Conservative and liberal Islamophobias, and what they say about the persistence of the War on Terror. PLUS: Biden invokes the 2001 AUMF against…Iran's coalition

Two Varieties of Media Dehumanization
The cover to "Dehumanization" by Crucifix (detail).

Edited by Sam Thielman

THE FIRST THING TO SAY ABOUT ISLAMOPHOBIA is that it kills. It took barely a week after Oct. 7 for the dehumanizing description of Muslims that many in the American media employed to result in someone stabbing a child in Plainfield, Ill. to death. The second thing to say about Islamophobia is that it has been normalized. Many wonder if it is worse now than it was after 9/11. However you quantify it, the fact is that Islamophobia in America is now a multi-generational phenomenon. 

The third thing to say about Islamophobia is that conservatives and liberals both engage in it. Two risible pieces over the weekend, published in highly respectable outlets, put that on vivid display. Together they offer a look at how conservative media and liberal media each perform dehumanization.  

In the Wall Street Journal, the executive director of the propaganda outlet MEMRI, which exists to portray Arabs and Muslims as violent fanatics who require global policing, wrote that Dearborn, Michigan is the "jihad capital" of the United States. "Counterterrorism agencies at all levels should pay close attention," is Steven Stalinsky's bottom line. (He should complain to those agencies that his last name is a psyop by his enemies.) 

Dearborn, and much of southern Michigan around it, is perhaps the oldest Arab community in the United States, heavily Lebanese and Syrian. The persistence of the War on Terror ensures that it will be persistently scrutinized by Stalinsky's cherished counterterrorism agencies and convicted in conservative media like the Wall Street Journal opinion page. I am so old that my very first piece for The Nation, in 2006, was about the persecution of Dearborn. On Saturday, the town's mayor, Abdullah Hammoud, ordered an increased police presence in the hopes of preventing the violent vigilantism that happened in Plainfield. And in Burlington

On the liberal side of the ledger, in the New York Times, Tom "Suck On This" Friedman offered that the widening regional war emanating from Israel's collective punishment of Gaza could be understood "through the animal kingdom." Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a wasp, the Axis of Resistance militias are larval insects, four countries (Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Syria) are caterpillars, Benjamin Netanyahu a wily lemur and the United States a noble lion, "still the king of the Middle Eastern jungle." It's such bad writing that I have to resist the professional instinct to copyedit this kind of dehumanization. 

When Friedman's majestic lion swatted his tail on Friday, it didn't kill insects. In Iraq alone, it killed sixteen people, among them number of civilians, prompting beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to call it a "new aggression against Iraq's sovereignty." As the Biden administration insists that its new negotiations with Iraq are about determining the scope of an enduring U.S. military presence, Iraq says that presence "has become a reason for threatening security and stability in Iraq and a justification for involving Iraq in regional and international conflicts." 

Friedman would surely object to being placed in the same company as Stalinsky. But each of their dehumanizations feeds on the other. The liberal says there are monsters abroad and the Lion, as king of the jungle, must hunt them. The conservative, nodding, adds that the monsters have already made it into the Lion's den, and so the Lion must hunt them down as well. Perhaps, even, the Lion should prioritize those monsters closer at hand. 

I've written an entire literal book about the symbiotic and iterative nature of these two propositions. Their familiarity over the past 23 years doesn't make their persistence any less gruesome. They are a pathway into power for nativist authoritarianism and they have substantial constituencies across the Security State. Stalinsky and Friedman are rallying those constituencies. Friedman writes that the U.S. has "no counterstrategy that safely and efficiently kills the wasp without setting fire to the whole jungle." There are those who don't consider that a problem

But Friedman is wrong—tellingly wrong—when he says that the U.S. has no counterstrategy absent a bloodbath. There is and has always been one: restrain Israel from committing a genocide. Once Israel is stopped, the Axis of Resistance attacks on Israeli and American forces will either stop or be exposed as an exploitative gambit. So much of U.S. politics and journalism right now is determined to avoid reckoning with plain statements of intent like this one, from a Houthi official in Friedman's paper: "Our military operations against the Zionist entity will continue until the aggression against Gaza stops." It's just like the post-9/11 refusal to recognize 9/11 as fundamentally about resistance to U.S. policies in the Arab and Muslim world. It's easier to license violence that way.  

Friedman would see the counterstrategy if he thought of those who are dying from Israeli and American weaponry as people and not as animals. Stalinsky I doubt would be interested.

THE ESCALATION AGAINST IRAN'S COALITION began on Friday and Saturday, in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. It will not stop there. "If necessary," Biden wrote to congressional leaders on Sunday, "I will direct additional measures, including against the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and IRGC-affiliated personnel and facilities, as appropriate, to address the series of attacks against United States forces and facilities." 

That's in a War Powers Resolution-required update to the Speaker of the House and the Senate's president pro tempore. Biden says that authority for the strikes lay "with the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq (Public Law 107-243)." 

Just to be clear, Biden's official policy is to repeal that Iraq AUMF. More striking to me is the invocation of the 2001 AUMF. That's the wellspring of the War on Terror. And while the 2001 AUMF is terrifyingly capacious, there is no way to justify the weekend's strikes "against the IRGC and IRGC-affiliated personnel and facilities" under it. These are its 60 operative words

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Various administrations, facing minimal resistance, told themselves and Congress all manner of stories about how the AUMF licensed attacks on "al-Qaeda affiliates" or even ISIS since there was some theoretical through-line to al-Qaeda as it existed on 9/11. There is simply no such story to tell about the 2001 AUMF's applicability to Iran and its affiliates. If one is accepted, then the 2001 AUMF really just is a global war authorization without limit, against any enemy a president declares. Maybe it will be invoked when a shooting war with China starts, I don't know. 

The best time to repeal the 2001 AUMF was yesterday. The second best time is right now.

HERE'S ME and Hooman Majd on Chris Hayes' show last week:

MY BABY, WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, is all grown up and collected into a hardcover edition that you can purchase. Yesterday was her Bat Mitzvah. She started life as a comic book and today she is a graphic novel. If you want a four-issue set of her baby pictures, autographed by me and certified authentic, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics! No one is prouder of her than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN.