Mona Eltahawy defends jihad: We are all proud savages now! [Updated]

On Tuesday, the prominent Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy informed her almost 160 000 Twitter followers in no uncertain terms that she was incensed by an advertisement that had been placed in some New York City subways stations. Quoting a Reuters report about the ad, Eltahawy referred to it as “‘Savage’ jihad ad,” and, by adding the hashtag  #ProudSavage, presumably declared her solidarity with maligned jihadists who see themselves in a war against Israel and (western) civilization.

Indeed, as the day wore on, Eltahawy playfully pondered on Twitter how best to protest the ad, deciding eventually that defacing it with pink spray paint would be “sexier” than the alternatives. A few hours later, Eltahawy was going through with her plan to cover one of the ads with pink paint, but was confronted by a woman resolved to stop her. The ensuing brawl was captured by a New York Post camera crew, and Eltahawy was eventually arrested and held overnight to face a criminal mischief charge in court.

This story is a perfect, if utterly depressing, illustration of the mindless sloganeering that all too often passes for political action and debate nowadays.

First, let us consider what the ad that Reuters described as “inflammatory” really said. As the Reuters report noted, the ad equates “Islamic jihad with savagery;” saying specifically:

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.  Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

To me, the most straightforward reading of the message here is: Jihad, understood as war, and in this case specifically as war against Israel, is savage. This is only “inflammatory” if you worry that many Muslims would be insulted to see violent jihadi acts of war denounced as savage.

But apparently, this is not how Eltahawy and her many ardent supporters read the ad. The most revealing illustration for their reading was provided by the well-known cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who has rightly been criticized for his “staggering amount of work dedicated to advancing explicitly anti-Semitic political imagery.”

Latuff was quick to support the #FreeMona campaign developing on Twitter with a drawing that, according to Latuff’s own caption, meant to illustrate that “equating Muslims with savages is freedom of speech – protesting against it is not…”

But while Latuff claimed that the ad was “equating Muslims with savages”, his rendering of the ad tellingly left out the last line “Defeat Jihad.”

It wasn’t the text of the ad that equated Muslims with savages, but Latuff – as well as Eltahawy and her admirers – apparently equated Jihad, understood as war, and specifically as war against Israel, with Islam and therefore with Muslims.

That would probably please jihadists everywhere.

Let’s now consider what the solidarity expressed in the hashtag #ProudSavage really means in the context of contemporary jihadist declarations and actions.

First, I would hope that we can all agree that self-described jihadists who consider videos of beheadings “very,very important” tools for recruiting volunteers deserve to be denounced as savage.

Unfortunately, jihadi rhetoric can hardly be considered as all that more civilized.

Among the most widely known examples is probably the Hamas Charter, especially the declaration:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

The enormously influential Egyptian Islamic leader Yusuf Qaradawi – who is even regarded by some as “Global Mufti” – has explicitly praised this declaration as “one of the miracles of our Prophet,” noting:

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”

Qaradawi has made many similar statements encouraging hatred and violence between Muslims and Jews; indeed, a few years ago, he even used his popular Al Jazeera show that reached an audience of tens of millions of Muslims to praise the Holocaust as a divinely ordained punishment for the Jews, expressing the hope that “Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”

How “racist” or “hateful” is it to denounce these racist and hateful views as savage?

Indeed, if there is such a thing as universal values and universal human rights and if we all share a common humanity, then it cannot be that denouncing calls by mainstream Muslim organizations and personalities for a bloody Muslim Jihad against Jews is somehow worse than this incitement to Jew-hatred and violence.

Well-meaning people like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, are therefore arguably wrong to criticize this specific ad by repeating the well-worn piety that “for the vast majority of Muslims, ‘jihad’ refers to a spiritual quest, not the more politicized idea of holy war.”

That may be true, but the fact of the matter is that, as I have documented above, there is today also a mainstream Muslim understanding of jihad as bloody and, as far as Jews are concerned, ultimately genocidal war. There are also numerous violent jihadi groups, and the “vast majority of Muslims” who understand jihad as a spiritual quest have arguably little reason to feel offended when violent terrorists are denounced as savage.

Indeed, in the wake of 9/11, there were countless appeals by western leaders and commentators admonishing people not to conflate terrorists who kill in the name of Islam with the religion followed by more than 1.5 billion Muslims. But when we have an ad that denounces jihad as savage, the “politically correct” consensus now seems to be that this is an “anti-Muslim” ad.

Unfortunately, this view appears to reflect the sad fact that when it comes to Israel, most Muslims are indeed opposed to the Jewish state’s existence and Jews are viewed negatively by an overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East.

Another reason why this ad is interpreted as “anti-Muslim” is of course the fact that it was sponsored by a group that has often rightly been criticized and condemned for campaigns that betray anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet, such groups arguably only stand to gain adherents when it becomes anti-Muslim bigotry to denounce violent jihad as savage.

As deplorable and objectionable as it is that some believe that by denigrating Islam and Muslims in general, they are engaging in pro-Israel activism, it is not all that much better to pretend that widespread hatred of Jews, Israel and even the West doesn’t exist in the Muslim world.

Particularly a prominent writer like Mona Eltahawy surely had the option to turn to numerous widely read media outlets to explain what she finds so objectionable in this specific ad – and perhaps also what she thinks of the mainstream Muslim views of jihad I cited above. Engaging in an act of futile vandalism accompanied by a few rather vulgar tweets and claiming that this is an exercise of free speech and anti-racist political action is indeed a poor reflection on a widely admired writer of our time.

But while I am writing this, Eltahawy’s most recent tweet announces:

“I return to court to face my charges – proudly – on Nov29. #ProudSavage #FuckHate #NYC

And, in yet another tweet posted just five minutes ago and already retweeted by almost 100 people, Eltahawy declares:

“I spray painted that racist piece of shit poster out of principle, protected speech & non-violent disobedience. Proud & absolutely no regrets!”

Unthinking demagoguery attracts a lot of fans, it seems. And what do you know: there is also a new slogan, because, naturally, when a much-despised fringe group sponsors an ad describing the jihad that targets Israel as savage, the most anti-racist thing to do is to declare that we are all proud savages now…

* * *

This article was published on my JPost blog and in the Algemeiner.

UPDATE:

There is an amazing article in The Forward, which reports under the title: “Jewish Groups Object to Anti-Muslim Ad; Hope To Limit Damage From ‘Savage’ Controversy

“The timing of the [ad] campaign could not be worse, as anger is still simmering worldwide over the anti-Islamic YouTube film ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ which insults the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the small reach of the AFDI campaign – only 10 ads among the 11,000 spread across New York City’s 400-odd subway stations – the reaction to it is unpredictable.

Jewish advocates are particularly disturbed by the ads because they combine anti-Islamic propaganda and pro-Israel discourse as if supporting Israel and rejecting Islam were two sides of the same coin.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a longtime champion of interreligious dialogue, told the Forward that he was “troubled” by the linking of Islam and Judaism in such a contentious way.

“People must understand that there is not a conflict between Muslims and Jews,” Schneier said. “The only conflict there is is between those who believe in coexistence and those who seek to destroy human rights.”

Schneier added that in the same way that other seemingly small manifestations against Islam have been taken as extremely offensive in the past, it would not be hard to imagine how this “could mutate in other parts of the Muslim world” — and raise anti-Israel feelings.

“These ads are Islamophobia at its worst, and in a very irresponsible fashion, since Israel has been brought into the frame,” Schneier said.”

So let’s get this straight: The good Rabbi Schneier, who thinks that these ads present “Islamophobia at its worst,” also thinks that “10 ads among the 11,000 spread across New York City’s 400-odd subway stations” could cause terrible riots all over the Muslim world and “raise anti-Israel feelings.”

On the last point, the Rabbi might be less worried if he knew that “anti-Israel feelings” and outright Jew-hatred are so prevalent in the Muslim world that it’s hard to “raise” them. And when it comes to his inordinate fear of Muslim mob violence, the Rabbi might want to check out the excellent World Affairs Journal piece by Michael Weiss on “Guilt and the ‘Innocence of Muslims’.”

But, most pathetic – if likely well-meaning – is of course this part:

“People must understand that there is not a conflict between Muslims and Jews,” Schneier said. “The only conflict there is is between those who believe in coexistence and those who seek to destroy human rights.”

Rabbi Schneier should tell this one time to Global Mufti Qaradawi – though unfortunately, he won’t be able to do this in person, because Sheikh Qaradawi doesn’t meet with Jews

The Forward’s coverage of this story also includes a blog post that reports gleefully that at least five of the 10 ads have been politically corrected – which is to say, partly plastered over by stickers claiming “Racism” or “Hate speech.”

The morale of the story is clearly that it is “Islamophobia at its worst” to distinguish between Muslims and jihadists – which presumably means: all Muslims are jihadists and anyone who wants to say something not so flattering about jihad should be told to shut up so as not to risk a frightful outbreak of jihadi=Muslim rage…

 

5 responses to “Mona Eltahawy defends jihad: We are all proud savages now! [Updated]

  1. Not certain why you think RIck Jacobs was excused for his duplicity, as if he is just well-meaning but misinformed. You need to remember he is a founding member of JStreet’s rabbinical board (resigned so he could take over the Reform movement and spread his disdain about Israel’s right to defend herself) and supports BDS against Israel He is an apologist and supporter in many cases, for those that wish to commit genocide against the Jewish State. While Pamela Geller may be just a little too in your face for most people, Jacobs, on the other hand, is an embarrassment to the Jewish people (just like the Judenrat of old) and the reason my family is no longer members of the Reform movement.

    • I’m not sure how to respond to your points in a few sentences, but I’ll try to make at least some points.
      1) I think there are enough challenges to deal with, so I’m usually trying to take a very big-tent Zionism approach.
      2) I’m not really familiar with Rick Jacobs political views and activities.
      3) I’m most unhappy to find myself defending something that comes from the Geller circle. I can’t claim to know more than a few samples of what they’re doing, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not anything I would support.
      4) I came across this specific instance by sheer coincidence, and wrote about it because I’m really infuriated by what seems to me the fundamental intellectual dishonesty of this whole debate.
      I guess a lot of people fall in line with denouncing the ad as racist because they don’t want to endorse it as a pro-Israel ad, and this is a view I largely share, not least because the jihadi ideology denounced by the ad is not just directed against Israel or even Jews, but against the US and the West, and even against Muslims who don’t suit the jihadi view of the world.
      5) wrt Jacobs or, apparently even worse, Schneier, I must admit that this is the first time that I’m looking more closely at the whole kumbaya interfaith crowd — and it’s only now dawning on me how much kumbaya there is… To be sure, I can imagine that on the local level – in NYC or even the US as a whole (or also in Germany, where I know a bit about it) – it makes sense and seems doable to have good interfaith relations; even though my feeling is that this tends to mean everywhere that Jews and Christians have to court Muslims. But the price for (a facade of) good interfaith relations is of course that everyone pretends that Islam is the religion of peace. When it comes to the US, there is even some truth to it — as illustrated by a revealing sentence from a Pew study: “Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most other Muslim publics”
      http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2087/muslim-americans-islamic-extremism-911-attacks-mosuqes

      Obviously, the problem is that the interfaith enthusiasts don’t want to acknowledge what this means, given that US Muslims are just a tiny fraction of the global Muslim population.

  2. Pingback: Mitt Romney’s jihad | The Warped Mirror

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