Friday, July 29, 2005

Sliming the victim
Atrios points us to Crooks and Liars who points us to Fox News Live for this thoroughly disgusting analysis of the tragic shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes by the London Metropolitan Police last week.
It wouldn't be out of the question for [al Qaida] to pick on someone who may not be Middle Eastern but who may look Middle Eastern. Say, someone who is from South America, someone who is from Central America, and, say, you know, we know they're racial profiling us, so we're going to try to get some public opinion on our side. Let's dress this guy up, tell him to act suspicious, and if the police approach him, tell him to run away, and when the police catch him, then he appears to be innocent, so, you know, in essence, they start sending out decoys. They can do all kind of things when they know that your net -- that you have cast a net that's that narrow.

C&L asks "Is this the sickest analysis you ever heard?" Unfortunately, it's not. At least, I've heard this analysis lots of times in the past. Back before he was Saint Rudy, America's mayor, sliming the victim was Giuliani's standard response to any questionable police shooting. It didn't matter what the facts were, or if Giuliani even knew the facts, in no time at all he would have his face in front of the cameras telling us that the victim acted suspiciously and was probably up to something.

The Michelle Malkin crowd started chanting the "he acted suspiciously" line within moments of the shooting. John Gibson trotted out his execrable celebration of the "tackle and kill teams" soon after that. The "it is better to kill a thousand innocents than to let on guilty person go free" message and the "he acted suspiciously" message naturally combine to produce the "besides, he was probably guilty of something" message of the Fox News caller.

The Fox News caller's statement is reprehensible in that the caller blames Mendes for his own tragic death. He wasn't merely acting suspiciously; he was on their side. He was part of an insidious plan to embarrass us and hamstring our efforts to make the world safer.

The Fox News caller's statement is actually an almost textbook example of the similarity between demonizing the enemy and conspiratorial thought. As any struggle escalates toward life and death terms, all nuance in rhetoric disappears. This is the obvious part; they are all bad and we are, therefore, all good. To deny our goodness is to take the side of their badness. We've all lived through this for the last four years.

Then some strange transformations take place. As shades of grey disappear from language, they also disappear from thought. The rhetoreticians begin to believe their message and so do the consumers of the message. How many of us have seen that creepy transformation of previously rational friends and relatives who, on this one topic, have become completely unhinged over the last four years.

How much experience do we have with pure evil in our lives (outside of junior high gym classes, that is)? Real people are a mixture of good and evil. Pure evil is an abstract. It's a cartoon. When we choose to allow ourselves to believe that the enemy is pure evil, we transform the enemy from mere people into something both inhuman and superhuman.

The paranoid, conspiratorial aspect of this should be clear. The enemy penetrates everywhere. The enemy is impossibly efficient. The enemy has astounding sources of intelligence. No one can be trusted, because the enemy has the power to co-opt anyone. The enemy is everywhere, always one step ahead of us, and responsible for every setback and every inconvenience in our lives.

And still it gets worse. The enemy's evil knows no bounds. The enemy does not love it's children. The enemy would gladly massacre it's own children, parents and neighbors just to put the blame on us and make us look bad.

Because that enemy is so unscrupulous and dangerous, any action to defeat the enemy is justified. Any evil we commit pales before their evil. Because they are such an unimaginable threat, any crime we commit is justified as self-defense. Unprovoked military aggression is preemption. Torture is necessary to stop the ticking bomb. Collective retribution is necessary to show them that we are serious. Genocide can be made to seem rational and necessary.

In Bosnia, people who had lived together for decades, played as children, gone to school, worked and loved together, one day went out and killed each other. The editorial stance in the West was a clucking "well, that's just what those people do. The Balkans are crazy, you know." Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim Bosnians were told by their leaders that the neighbors were planning to kill them. Killing them first was no more than self-defense. Surely the world would see that and understand.

Any people can be primed for genocide with the right words. Germans, Turks, Ukrainians, Poles, Azerbaijanis, Rwandans, Cambodians, and Irish have all had their moment of destroying the enemy within during the last century. The internment of the West Coast Japanese during WWII was an, only slightly less murderous, manifestation of the same fear.

When C&L asks "Is this the sickest analysis you ever heard?" I have to say, sadly, it's not. Unfortunately, I've heard this line and worse far too many times.

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