By Ernest A. Canning on 8/17/2010, 5:05pm PT  

Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning

On Sunday, Brad Friedman posted a "Toon of the moment" in which a hypnotist sits dangling a watch in front of two stupified voters as Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) look on. The hypnotist tells the voters:

You know nothing. You remember nothing. You don't remember George W. Bush or how badly he screwed things up. You love Republicans. They are here to help you. You will welcome them back...

Replace the hypnotist and watch with "illegal immigrants" or a "Ground Zero Mosque" (what the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten refers to as a "rising tide of Nativism") and the cartoon would be equally spot on, though this form of hypnosis is utilized by the billionaire-funded hard-right not only to "forget" the disaster that was the Bush/Cheney cabal but to avoid a debate on the Republicans' cold and heartless, class-based decisions to oppose an extension of unemployment benefits, to block funds for state governments intended to prevent a layoff of thousands of teachers, to block vital environmental legislation, to engage in never-ending privatization schemes, which by design are intended to destroy government's ability to provide vital public services (police, fire, health care, education), and to repeatedly level false charges of insolvency as part of their scheme to permit the thieves of Wall Street to raid the Social Security trust fund.

Those who are rational and see the mosque as an issue of First Amendment religious freedoms (and common sense) fail to appreciate the visceral appeal of Republican race-baiting, which, in the case of the mosque, seeks to tap into a deep-seated, cultural anxiety that has been created not only by 9/11 but --- as I explained in "Hate Speech and the Process of Dehumanization" here at The BRAD BLOG, and in its follow-up --- by the vilification of Arabs and Muslims in books, films and on television over a span of decades. It was this same deep-seated and subconscious loathing which permitted the Bush/Cheney cabal to conflate Saddam Hussein --- just another swarthy, mid-Eastern bad guy --- with al Qaeda for the purpose of invading Iraq.

The politics of Republican fear-mongering and race-baiting exploits cultural dehumanization so as to conflate all Muslims with 9/11. The result is a perversion of that seminal event --- which, even under the Bush/Cheney Administration's own "official theory," entailed only al Qaeda --- into an unprovoked assault by the Muslim world on "Christian America."

"You know nothing. You remember nothing. You don't remember George W. Bush or how badly he screwed things up. You love Republicans. They are here to help you. You will welcome them back..."

Dehumanization Makes the Irrational Seem Rational

In The Lucifer Effect, Professor Phillip Zimbardo described dehumanization as a process "by which certain other people or collectives of them are depicted as less than human…

The process begins with stereotyped conceptions of the other,…conceptions of the other as worthless, the other as all-powerful,…the other as a fundamental threat to our cherished values and beliefs. With public fear notched up and enemy threat imminent, reasonable people act irrationally, independent people act in mindless conformity, and peaceful people act as warriors. Dramatic visual images of the enemy on posters, television, magazine covers, movies, and the internet imprint on the recesses of the limbic system, the primitive brain, with the powerful emotions of fear and hate.

As revealed by Jack Shaheen, a Professor Emeritus of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University, who conducted a study of nearly one hundred years of motion picture films in which Arabs have been " vilified," American culture is imbued by negative stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs.

Where Don Imus was sanctioned for his racist remarks about female, African-American college basketball players, right-wing pundits routinely disparage Arabs and Muslims without fear of reprisal from their employers.

As I noted in the follow-up to "Hate Speech and the Process of Dehumanization," America's Eva Braun aka Ann Coulter offered up a series of columns in which she urged that the U.S. "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"; suggested we spy "on all Arabs" and engage in "torture as a spectator sport..." When she was called to task for calling Arabs "camel jockeys," Coulter replied: “Oh. Yeah. No. They killed 3,000 Americans. I’ll be very careful with my language.”

I added:

Coulter’s conflation of the actions of nineteen 9/11 hijackers into “they killed 3,000 Americans” and [Glenn] Beck’s obnoxious demand that a United States Congressman [Keith Ellison] “prove” he is “not working with our enemies” are but a reflection of what Prof. Zimbardo described as the “cortical cataract” brought on by the process of dehumanization; a myopic inability to distinguish the actions of a handful of individuals from the larger, objectified "they," meaning all Arabs, all Muslims.

These same pundits would no doubt think you were crazy if you suggested that there should be no churches within one mile of the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City because it was bombed by a "Christian terrorist," Timothy McVeigh.

Nor do they see any irony in, or have any concerns about, the "Gentleman's Club" (strip joint) which has long been prospering in downtown NY, even closer than the proposed site of the Muslim community center (where a Burlington Coat Factory was until recently) to the "hallowed ground" of the former World Trade Center.

But the illogical and visceral reaction to the "Ground Zero Mosque" is by no means limited to right-wing pundits. The mosque was openly opposed by The Anti-Defamation League with the "L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center" attempting to take what it deems a more moderate approach of leaving the decision to the 9/11 victims' families.

Aside from the fact that these organizations seem unaware that Muslims, like Tariq Amanullah, a vice president of Fiduciary Trust International, which was on the 97th floor of WTC-2, also perished on 9/11, one wonders how these two anti-defamation organizations would react if someone were to suggest that we leave it to the family of Rachel Corrie (a 22 year old American member of the International Solidarity Movement who was run-over and killed by an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) bulldozer while she was trying to protect a Palestinian family's home) to decide whether a synagogue could be built in the state of Washington?

Avoiding the Harsh Reality of Fascist Economics

Time devoted to debating a phony "issue" like a "Ground Zero Mosque" is time that is not spent focusing on the fact that Republican billionaire and gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's "plan" to restore California's economy is simply a rehash of the failed Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, coupled with a scheme to sell the state to Wall Street. It's time not discussing KY's Republican Senatorial candidate Rand "accidents happen" Paul's ignorance of the mine labor history of Harlan County, KY, or Paul's insane assertion that the likes of Massey Energy and its despicable CEO, Don Blankenship (already responsible for ecological devastation through mountain-top removal and numerous safety violations even after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in which 29 hard-working Americans perished), should be permitted to wreak further havoc, unfettered by federal regulations.

As I noted in "'Tea Party' Future: Fascism, Feudalism, Economic Collapse," former Vice President Henry Wallace wrote in his April 9, 1944, New York Times op-ed:

The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money and more power.

They claim to be superpatriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjugation.

"You know nothing. You remember nothing...They are here to help you. You will welcome them back..."

First Amendment Defense of Mosque Not Enough

Setting aside the inexcusable backpedaling by both the President and the cowardly Harry Reid (D-NV), Barack Obama's effort to defend the mosque solely on First Amendment religious freedom grounds, though legally correct, falls woefully short. His audience is not an educated judiciary but a viscerally-manipulated populous who simply do not begin to appreciate the depth of the cynical manipulation or the extent to which they have been culturally dehumanized.

Ideally, if he had not already compromised his credibility by way of the Orwellian speeches he gave to justify escalation of the "war on terror," the President could and should have used the bully-pulpit to lecture the American public on the process of dehumanization. He has not done so, and it is doubtful that he ever will.

For now, let's hope that Americans can at least get a glint of what is wrong with this picture from the interaction between Chris Hays and Princeton Univ. Prof. Melissa Harris-Lacewell during the Aug. 16 edition of The Rachel Maddow Show. (video below).

"You love Republicans. They are here to help you. You will welcome them back..."

Update 08/18/2010: We, at The BRAD BLOG are delighted to receive a comment from Dr. Jack G. Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, whose work I covered in greater depth in Hate Speech and the Process of Dehumanization: A FOLLOW-UP.

Readers are encouraged to watch a 50-minute video by the same title, in which Dr. Shaheen's narrative about his study of more than 1,000 films exposed "stereotypes that rob a people of their humanity."

As applied to this current nonsense about a "Ground Zero Mosque," the applicable word from the film is "Islamophobia."

An example of Islamophobia can be found in a letter to the editor from Arthur Senzy of Santa Monica which appeared in today's Los Angeles Times: "I agree with Obama: We are not at war with Islam. But the president is overlooking the fact that Islam is at war with America..."

Hmmm! That may come as a surprise to the Muslim-Americans who are serving in the U.S. armed forces, and especially to the families of those who died while serving the U.S. military in Iraq.

Among the many powerful observations Dr. Shaheen's narrative presents is the salient point that motion pictures provide the most powerful medium for "creating propaganda."

After presenting numerous examples of negative stereotypes about Arabs in general and specifically Palestinians as "terrorists," Dr. Shaheen states:

And we never see…Palestinians who suffer under occupation, Palestinians in refugee camps, Palestinians who are victimized, who are killed; innocent Palestinians. These images are denied us.

Now why are they denied us? Is there an unwritten code in Hollywood saying that we cannot and will not humanize Palestinians? And why can’t we humanize Palestinians in the same manner as we humanize Israelis? Is not the life of a Palestinian child, media wise, Hollywood wise, politically wise, as important, as humane, as valuable as an Israeli child? And if the answer to that is yes, why can’t we see that on the silver screen?

Why indeed!

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Chris Hays and Prof. Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the Aug. 16 Rachel Maddow Show follows…


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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).