Trump and the GOP: Words Will Kill
The NY Times published an op-ed yesterday by a medieval historian specializing in the Jewish life during this period. But the moral of her piece was anything but medieval. It was addressed squarely at Donald Trump and the GOP presidential candidates’ stark Muslim-baiting:
Do harsh words lead to violent acts? At a moment when hate speech seems to be proliferating, it’s a question worth asking.
…Some claim that last month’s mass shooting in Colorado Springs was provoked by Carly Fiorina’s assertion that Planned Parenthood was “harvesting baby parts”; Mrs. Fiorina countered that language could not be held responsible for the deeds of a “deranged” man….
…History does show that a heightening of rhetoric against a certain group can incite violence against that group, even when no violence is called for. When a group is labeled hostile and brutal, its members are more likely to be treated with hostility and brutality. Visual images are particularly powerful, spurring actions that may well be unintended by the images’ creators.
Unfortunately, her article does not take into account even more recent events like the San Bernardino massacre perpetrated by an Islamist couple inspired by ISIS, and the blowback in which mosques in Arizona and Coachella were torched.
Prof. Sara Lipton argues quite convincingly that words, especially ones spoken by political or communal leaders, kill. She returns to her own field and period to reinforce this important message. During the Middle Ages, she writes of a transformation in Christian theology which sought to lay blame for the ills of the world, but specifically for the death of Jesus, at the feet of Jews, Muslims and other non-believers. The leaders of the Catholic Church, from popes to charismatic theologians began to rail at the Jews, blaming them for the murder of Jesus. It was at this time that the first blood libels were heard, in which Jews were accused of killing Christian babies to use their blood to make matzoh.
Generally, these sermons did not explicitly call for violence against Jews. But apparently, that message was tacitly understood. For when the pope did call to free the Holy Land from the heathen yoke of Islam, the first victims were not in the Middle East, but right at home. Rivers of blood flowed through the Rhineland after thousands of Jews were slaughtered by those preparing to join the Crusade.
As part of this theological struggle, Christians encouraged Jewish apostates to denounce their former Jewish brothers and sisters. Some Jewish scholars were even forced into public debates in which they were compelled to defend Jewish belief in the face of “superior” Catholic dogma. These were not mere intellectual exercises since, if Jews lost such a debate it was viewed as a renunciation by God. This too could and did lead to further violence against Jewish communities.
We have seen similar examples of Muslim apostates like Ayan Hirsi Ali, Tawfiq Hamid, Mark Halawa, and others, whose questionable interpretations and personal back stories are taken up by Islamophobes in order to smear Islam. They’ve created, in collaboration with the Islamophobia industry of foundations, ideologues, and individual funders, a veritable minor league farm system of prospects offering fodder for Islam bashing.
Returning to the Middle Ages, the lessons taught by these Christian preachers and the killers doing their bidding have resonated through the ages. It took until the 20th century for the Catholic Church to renounce the teaching that the Jews killed Jesus. Anti-Semitic tropes of the medieval period still percolate in the minds of many throughout the world.
Lipton’s argument is made even stronger argument when you take modern history into account. It goes without saying that the propaganda of Goebbels and publications like Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, were instrumental in stirring up the rage needed to execute the Holocaust. Not to mention the charisma and verbal venom injected into the German body politic by the speeches of Hitler himself.
In Rwanda, it took the Hutu-dominated mass media to stir up rage against the minority Tutsi. Politicians ambitious to make their mark railed against their enemies, degrading them, turning them into sub-humans. From there it was only a small step to mass murder that cost the lives of 800,000 Hutu.
As I wrote above about the anti-Semitic scourge of the Middle Ages, the Rwandan genocide has had devastating consequences in the decades since. Empowered by, and responding to such mass murder, Rwanda’s liberator, Paul Kagame, uses similar techniques to ensure the Hutu won’t return to haunt his country. He intervenes in the affairs of neighboring countries like the Congo, where millions have died in proxy wars between Tutsi and Hutu allies. Now, Kagame himself has become the same genocidal tyrant he redeemed his country from in the 1990s. Neighboring countries like Malawi and Burundi have similarly experienced paroxysm of inter-ethnic violence inspired by Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands more have died in these battles, which continue even today.
In Israel, a rising crescendo of hate has united Jews in a conviction that they are surrounded by angry, violent, implacable enemies who seek their extermination. This has undergirded the political supremacy of the Israeli extreme right, which has controlled national politics, with a few brief interruptions, going back to 1977. In order to retain its grip on power, the rhetoric has grown progressively more heated. As a result, we’ve entered a new Intifada, in which 120 Palestinians have been murdered over the past two months. Among them have been grisly acts of Jewish terror like the Dawabsheh arson-murders. Only a year before that, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was tortured and burned to death by Jewish settler terrorists seeking vengeance against Palestinians.
Just as popes and preachers goaded Christians to hate Jews leading to their mass murder, Israel’s leaders use the same inflamed, hateful rhetoric against Islam in general, and Palestinians in particular. They attempt to turn a political conflict over power and resources into an all-out religious war of extermination. In this sense, Israel’s leading rabbis and politicians are exploiting religion for a wholly secular-material purpose.
The most absolutist among Zionists have argued that the return to Zion and Israel’s rise was presaged by prayers murmured by Jews for centuries about returning to the Land and rebuilding Jerusalem. But those who used this argument forgot several things: no Jew davening in a Polish shtiebel in the 17th century ever dreamed that this would involve a massive army killing tens of thousands of Arabs and the theft of an entire land from another people. And those Jews who prayed for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple never knew that this would involve destroying the third holiest site in Islam and provoking a likely religious war.
In other words, contemporary pro-Israel propagandists co-opt the tropes of Judaism to justify unprecedented violence and repression against Palestinians. Like Joshua raising his trumpet at the walls of Jericho, they draft the Jewish God in an eternal war against Islam and its local representatives, the Palestinians.
Similarly, the GOP today is running down this road at a breakneck pace. The hate spewed not just by Donald Trump, but by even the most moderate among their candidates (like Fiorina), has led to real violence and it’s guaranteed that they will lead to more. No American should accept that the price of innocent American blood shed in San Bernardino should be innocent Muslim blood. If that happens, then Donald Trump and his fellow moral dwarves will be the ones with blood on their hands.
16 thoughts on “Trump and the GOP: Words Will Kill – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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How is their incitement worse than the one you preach yourself for years?
120 Palestinians murdered? Many of them were killed while trying to murder peaceful civilians. Abu-khdeir murderers up being trailed and Dawabsha murders are investigated with suspects civil right been dismissed in order to break open the case.
You basically give Palestinians ‘license to kill’ but attack Israelis even in cases where they self defenses themselves.
Self righteousness is something that runs deep in liberal circles!!
Incitement to kill Jews on Facebook gets a Palestinian indicted.
And BTW. “…that cost the lives of 800,000 Hutu.”
800,000 Tutsi lives. The Hutu committed the genocide against the Tutsis.
“…This has undergirded the political supremacy of the Israeli extreme right, which has controlled national politics, with a few brief interruptions, going back to 1977. In order to retain its grip on power, the rhetoric has grown progressively more heated. As a result, we’ve entered a new Intifada…”
@Richard- How do you know you have not reversed cause and effect? Why are you so sure that the right in Israel hasn’t gained power because of persistent Palestinian violence and rejection of offers to end the conflict?
Sometimes populist rhetoric doesn’t stoke viiolence, it is the response to violence.
@Yehuda: Unlike you I don’t seek to blame the sins & dysfunctions of Israeli society on others/outsiders. It hardly matters why the right has a stranglehold over Israeli politics. It does. Deal with that.
Further, rightist control will end up destroying Israel. Its external enemies won’t destroy it. It’s own internal divisions will.
” Unlike you I don’t seek to blame the sins & dysfunctions of Israeli society on others/outsiders. It hardly matters ”
But that’s exactly what you do with the Palestinians. Palestinian corruption, violence, incompetence and extremism is reflexively blamed on Israel and the occupation.
We could play a blame game on why Oslo failed. Suffice it to say that both sides becamed disillusioned, with justification. So both sides retrenched into hardline positions. Its not so hard to understand. Ignoring why the right has become dominant in israeli politics is burying your head in the sand. Counterfactuals are always problematic, but I can say with virtual certaintly that if buses did not start blowing up after Oslo was signed, the right would have kept quiet and most Israelis would have supported continuing the peace process.
“Further, rightist control will end up destroying Israel. Its external enemies won’t destroy it. It’s own internal divisions will.”
Well, I wouldn’t be so hysterical about it. Many democratic countries have gone throught spasms of political upheaval and swings towards the extreme right or left, and they survive. That’s because neither the far right or left actually have practical solutions. People get fed up and want change. And internal divisions existed whether the right or left was in power.
Um, yeah. Until you permit a Palestinian state free from Israeli control there is no conceivable way you can blame Palestinians for anything. You control Palestine. The residents are rats living in a cage you made. Open the cage, let them run their own country. Then if you choose to blame them, your views would have at least some resonance. For now, they have none.
Yes for you it is a big game. People die on both sides because your country rejects compromise & lives in a world of make-believe. And it’s all a game in which you move the pieces around a chess board of your own making. The Palestinians were perfectly willing to compromise after Oslo. But your countrymen murdered the PM who sought to compromise and that was the end of things.
As for the terror that followed, gimme a break. After Rabin’s murder, which Bibi incited btw, there was no hope for peace. Peres botched things by waiting too late to call the next election. Hamas terrorism was merely the icing on the cake of this disaster. Israel made the cake itself.
There is no swing toward the “extreme left” or even the left or even the center. There has only been an increasing rise of fascism beginning in 1977 & continuing virtually unabated till today.
The far right runs the country so of course the have practical solutions. More of the same mess they got us into in the first place. The left has no practical solution because it doesn’t exist.
I’m invoking my three message rule because you’re monopolizing the comment threads. No more than three comments posts in any 24 hour period. Respect this rule.
“rightist control will end up destroying Israel. ”
“It’s own internal divisions will.”
This current sniping at the Israeli Left and Rightist populist rhetoric is nothing compared to what the early Zionists did, with their political assassinations, extreme rhetoric, party infighting, ill fated coup attempts.
You name it.
And after the formation of the State of Israel, when the leftist Mapai Party was in power, Mapai beat down the Palestinians in Israel.
But, Israel has survived, if not thrived.
Trump is a demagogue and a bigot. But there is a reason that he gains traction. And that reason is Obama and the left’s culture of political correctness.
America and Europe have a guilt complex over their past sins, namely from colonialism and racism. This makes these the biggest sins of all, and avoiding them means overlooking other sins. This means that it is verboten to talk about the values of other cultures, and how they might or might not be inferior to our liberal values. Tolerating the other is conflated with tolerating other culture’s values, no matter how much they conflict with our own. So it is forbidden to talk about the possible effects of an influx of Muslim Arab refugees into a liberal Western population. Obama even said that the Syrians are like the Jewish refugees after the holocaust. Such a failure to make even the most basic moral and historical distinction is characteristic of this kind of post-modern thinking– in which political correctness comes before truth.
So it is in this context a plain-talking Trump comes in and captures people’s attention. If Obama and his democratic allies where a little more open and honest in their discussion about the refugees, Trump wouldn’t even get the attention that he does.
@ Yehuda: Your lopsided analysis of Israeli politics is bad enough. But to have to endure your mauling of U.S. politics is more than I can bear. Please stick to a subject you can at least make a pretence off knowing something about. Blaming Obama for Trump is like blaming the sun for an earthquake.
You must’ve taken the Im Tirzu degree in “modern post-Zionism.” Please don’t throw around concepts about which you haven’t a clue. It’s terribly embarrassing to read your pretence of intellectual sophistication. There is no historical distinction between Syrian refugees and Holocaust refugees. 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. 200,000 Syrian have died in the past five years. If you think Jews have a moral monopoly on suffering go talk to the Bosnians or the Rwandans or the Cambodians or the Congolese. You don’t have such a monopoly, so stop whining about Jewish exceptionalism.
I find your Islamophobia repulsive. I’ve warned you about it once. If I see it again, you’ll be moderated.
You just called him a “demagogue and a bigot.” Now he’s a “plain talker.” What is he? Hee can’t be both.
You mean if Democrats were a little more racist than Trump, we’d suck some of the wind out of his sails? No thanks. Democrats are perfectly content to see Trump trash the GOP. There are several hundred million sane Americans for the several tens of millions of insane Republicans bigots out there. We’re perfectly happy to see the GOP self-combust & wait for the general election to resume control.
“There is no historical distinction between Syrian refugees and Holocaust refugees. 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. 200,000 Syrian have died in the past five years. ”
There is a glaring distinction between the Jews who died in the Holocaust and the dead in Syria. About half the deaths in Syria are combatants.
Were half the Jews who died in the Holocaust combatants? No.
@ Barbar: I see. So if “only” 100,000 Syrian civilians died that creates a distinction that makes them unlike Holocaust victims. Is that your argument? Or perhaps you wish to argue the Holocaust was genoicde but Syria, Rwanda, Congo, etc aren’t? Doesn’t work either since all of them are tribal/religious conflict in which genocide figures quite prominently as motivation.
Again, you can take your Jewish exceptionalism and…
I don’t know which Jewish refugees Obama likened Syrian refugees to, but I do know that Syrian refugees are the product of a civil war, whereas Jewish refugees fleeing Germany, were not products of a war. They were fleeing the persecution of the pre-war Nazi state.
After the war had ended, Jews, and many others, were also refugees.
@Richard “Or perhaps you wish to argue the Holocaust was genoicde but Syria, Rwanda, Congo, etc aren’t? ”
Nice try. Those aren’t the same. Rwanda, and Cambodia were genocides. Armenia was. Syria is not. Look up the definition yourself. While what is happening in Syria is a human tragedy, it is primarily civilian casualties in a civil war. While there are criminal indiscriminate attacks by the regime resulting in mass civilian casualties, they are not trying to exterminate a particular group. Perhaps ISIS would like to commit genocide against Yazidis and Christians, but these are not most of the refugees. Refugees are escaping a war zone. There are not the same as survivors or attempts at genocide, such as the Jews or Armenians.
What this comes down to is a moral and political argument of what comes first: concerns about your own security or civil/human rights. The left says unequivocally civil rights. The right says security. End of story. Its not about facts or numbers. Its about outlook. Its not about Islamophobia, either. There have been questions about other immigrant groups as well. For example, there have been a number of serious espionage cases involving Chinese Americans. Same for Russians. Not about immigration, there even has been discussion about Jews working in the CIA, about their potential split loyalties with Israel. That’s not antisemitism. I have no problem with this being asked. So its a legitimate discussion to have, how to minimize a potential threat and balance it with human rights, and it shouldn’t be shouted down by PC people shrieking Islamophobia.
@ Yehuda: You are dead wrong. Syria is certainly a genocide as Alawites & Sunnis are attempting to annihilate each other. This is certainly genocide. But that’s not even my point. My point is that the Holocaust is the same as all other historic incidents of mass murder in human history. It is certainly heinous. But you don’t deserve exceptional status for it.
The Syrian dead, just like the Jewish dead of the Holocaust were civilians casualties. But if you think Syria is a “civil war” with more than ten outside powers butchering and slicing up the country, you’re crazy. A civil war is two sides in an internal domestic conflict. Syria has long ago stopped being that.
So the Alawites are killing themselves? Shiites? Christians? Jews? Buddhists? No, they’re killing…wait for it…Sunnis. And Sunnis are killing? Wait for it…Alawites. So neither one is trying to exterminate a particular group? Is that still your claim?
Nonsense. Holocaust survivors tried, just as Syrians are now trying, to escape a war zone. There is no difference.
Really? So that’s why your comments were entirely aimed at proving the brutishness and incivility of Muslim society??
I’m glacially tired of your arguments. You’re done in this thread. Don’t return here for further comment.
Right now I cannot remember his name but I believe that there was one Pope who forbade the persecution of Jews (in Europe).
The first biographer of Hitler, Konrad Heiden, wrote that Hitler proved what all experts had predicted would be impossible namely that one can “unite” a nation that craves for unity with just the right propaganda. That propaganda must be founded on a well-recognizable scapegoat, in his case “the Jew”. Donald Trump may make a serious error of serving up two scapegoats: illegal residents and Muslims. That could be too much variety.
I am glad that Prof. Lipton mentions Ayaan Hirsi Ali who, together with Theo van Gogh produced a vile anti-Muslim flicks worthy of “Der Jud Suess”. It did not trigger attacks on Muslims in the Netherlands but the murder of van Gogh.
There are obviously “reversed-attacks” against racist/ethnic propagandists/murderers. The killing of vom Rath in Paris is another example.
A check of the constitutions of the states on the Eastern and Southern borders of the Mediterranean reveals that nearly all (Syria is or was an exception) have an article which makes Islam the national religion. The issue in that region is therefore not democracy vs. dictatorship but secular vs. religion. As long as that is not understood the most secular rulers of the region such as Gadhafi and Assad are targeted for being murdered or otherwise removed.