It takes about five seconds to persuade an Indian that hate speech is dangerous.
We learned long ago that such propaganda harmed us by representing Natives as inherently different from others, and specifically evil or bad; threatening to others, themselves portrayed as innocent and good; and obstructing some better future that would presumably transpire if only the “problem” we posed were eliminated.
We endured, for example, the Jan. 3, 1891, Saturday Pioneer editorial on the occasion of Wounded Knee, published in Aberdeen, S.D., by L. Frank Baum just a decade before writing “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Baum wrote, “Our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers …”
Indians aren’t the only people to have suffered the effects of hate speech. This sort of ethnic propaganda has been used time and again with horrifying results.
We saw it during the rise of German fascism, when newspapermen like Julius Streicher disseminated it in publications like Der Sturmer. In a 1925 speech, Streicher declared, “You must realize that the Jew wants our people to perish. … Let us make a new beginning today so that we can annihilate the Jews.”
Fourteen years later, his call became state policy.
We saw it under Slobodan Milosevic’s reign in the former Yugoslavia. As Renaud de la Brosse reported to the International Criminal Tribunal, media outlets collaborated with nationalists to promote “the superiority of the Serbs and the degeneration of the Bosnian Muslims.” Consequently, many Serbs wondered “whether the Muslims belonged to the human race.”
One popular story fictitiously claimed that besieged Muslims in Sarajevo were feeding Serb children to zoo animals.
And during the Rwandan genocide, 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered by extremists who listened to hate speech on Hutu-controlled talk radio. On March 3, 1992, Radio Rwanda falsely reported that a human rights group in Nairobi had said Tutsis were on the verge of attacking Hutus. Believing it, Tutsis began killing Hutus the next day.
Can’t happen here? Think again.
Glenn Beck host of CNN Headline News’ “Glenn Beck’ talk show, is a pudgy, bespectacled, nerdy sort of guy who looks about as tough as my tax accountant. He fancies himself funny and uses the word “frickin’” a lot – it even appears on the T-shirts he’s selling on his Web site – probably because he thinks it makes him seem edgy and hip.
What Beck says, however, is no laughing matter. As the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting recently reported, Glenn Beck has been threatening Muslims with concentration camps.
On his Aug. 10 radio program, Beck threatened “[a]ll you Muslims who have sat on your frickin’ hands the whole time and have not been marching in the streets and have not been saying, ‘Hey, you know what? There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. We need to be the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head.’”
Why? Because “human beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it … they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: it will happen.”
He’s correct – it is “Nazi, World War II wrong” – but he returned to this reasoning on Sept. 5, saying that in 10 years “Muslims and Arabs will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West … when things heat up, the profiling will only get worse, and the razor wire will be coming.”
As FAIR pointed out, when Beck invokes razor wire, “he’s talking about concentration camps – in the original sense of the word, places where masses of people are imprisoned ‘just based on the way you look or just based on your religion.’” FAIR’s report, issued Dec. 5, features more of Beck’s hate speech and is worth reading. It’s on FAIR’s Web site at www.fair.org.
Here’s my question: Why is Beck on the air? Aren’t these terroristic threats? We live in a society where it’s illegal to joke about bombs on planes or yell “fire” in a crowded theater – but it’s OK to threaten American minorities with concentration camps?
Not that we’re surprised. This is, after all, the same man who called Katrina refugees “scumbags,” publicly fantasized about strangling filmmaker Michael Moore and watching politician Dennis Kucinich burn to death, and recently said to U.S. Representative-elect Keith
Ellison, D-Minn., a Muslim and African-American, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”
It’s a sad commentary on our so-called “information society” that our most powerful broadcasting companies have made people like Beck filthy rich for spewing this sort of garbage. To his credit, Beck has repeatedly said that he’s no journalist. What’s CNN’s excuse?
Personally, I don’t believe the razor wire is coming – I actually have more faith in Americans than that – but I do think CNN, Clear Channel Radio and Beck should be held accountable for any attacks that might be made on individual Muslim Americans. Hate speech, after all, breeds hate.
And should that razor wire come, well, they would definitely hold responsibility for that. The propaganda of hate is not a product of genocide but a cause.
There’s legal precedent for my view. In December 2003, an international court in Tanzania convicted three Rwandan communications executives for the anti-Tutsi hate speech they proliferated through their outlets. It was the first conviction of media execs for crimes of genocide since Julius Streicher was condemned at Nuremburg. In her closing remarks, the Tanzanian judge told the defendants, “Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.”
Words have power. Repeated often enough, especially by supposedly reputable sources, they can make one group seem threatening and bad, another group appear innocent and good, and an inhuman Final Solution seem like the only solution.
Baum certainly recognized this immense power of words. In the same newspaper calling for Indian genocide, he observed that “when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre.”
Keep that in mind the next time Beck talks about putting up razor wire or shooting bad Muslims in the head.
Postscript: Public discourse was never better, smarter or more mature, than when John Mohawk produced it. As someone who treasured John’s scholarship and Indian Country Today columns for years, I was greatly saddened to learn of his sudden passing. Miigwetch, John Mohawk.
Scott Richard Lyons, Leech Lake Ojibwe, directs the Center for Indigenous Studies at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y., and is a columnist for Indian Country Today.