The Rise of Modern Barbarism

For several decades, the American Right has been fanning the flames of animosity among white men angered over what they see as their reduced status and other threats from modernity. Now that brush fire is threatening to sweep across the nation engulfing whatever decency remains in U.S. politics, Lawrence Davidson notes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Has anyone noticed that the political air is wafting rancid lately? That is the smell of modern barbarism.

Modern barbarism is a malodorous umbrella concept. Underneath the umbrella are lots of fetid phobias, isms and other behaviors: Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, semi-fascism, scapegoating, stereotyping, bullying, libeling and a growing, aggressive intolerance of everything and everyone who is not to the liking of the modern barbarian. Here are some recent instances of this phenomenon.
Michael Quigley, a Democratic congressman from Chicago, made the New York Times on Sept. 24 by promoting the virtues of tolerance and diversity, and lamenting the suffering that occurs when tolerance fails.

Out and about in his Chicago district, he stopped in at a meeting of the American Islamic Conference. He made a short speech to the 100 or so conferees during which he said “discrimination comes in many forms, many shapes and many guises. You have my pledge to work with you to fight them, and I think it is appropriate for me to apologize on behalf of this country for the discrimination you face.”

Rep. Quigley was correct about the growing levels of Islamophobia that confront Muslim Americans. Islamophobia is a delusional mind-set which mistakes the general for the particular, which condemns an entire group (which happens to have a billion plus members) for the particular actions of a very few. There is no logic to such an overreaching generalization. It is irrational.
Within days of Quigley’s brief presentation he came under harsh attack on conservative Web sites, radio shows and TV, with at least one death threat posted at a Fox News site which remained there at week’s end despite requests that it be removed. His office also was inundated with hundreds of angry calls, e-mails and faxes.

Then, Bill O’Reilly weighed in, again on Fox, denying that there was anything to apologize for. “What discrimination?” O’Reilly asked. “Statistics don’t support claims of bias against Muslim Americans.”

O’Reilly was simply wrong about this. As Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented, O’Reilly would “have to be living under a rock” to believe there was no evidence.

Both federal statistics on work-place complaints of discrimination and a recent report issued by the CAIR in conjunction with the Center for Peace and Gender at the University of California at Berkeley have documented the rise of Islamophobia since the 9/11 attacks.
Despite O’Reilly being factually wrong on the issue of rising prejudice against Muslim Americans, Quigley’s apology continued to draw scorn. Soon some right-wing spokesmen were trying to use the apology to call attention to what they believed to be the violent nature of Muslim culture.

Ralph Peters, who might be thought of as a professional anti-Muslim, called Quigley, who is just 51 years old, a “silly old fool” and said you might as well “apologize for preventing them [Muslims] from beating their daughters to death for flirting.”

First of all such violence is not a trait of Islam. Secondly, the United States could be made to look like hell on earth for women simply by over-concentrating on nationwide instances of spousal abuse. Such is the danger of mistaking the particular for the general.
Cheers and Jeers
At about the same time, Islamophobia was playing havoc with Republican politics in Florida. Nezar Hamze, a long time Republican as well as CAIR’s South Florida director, was systematically discriminated against (to the point of the purposeful changing of local party selection rules) when he stood for election to the Broward County Republican executive committee.

Usually those who want to serve on this committee are automatically accepted. It was “the first time … anyone could recall … [someone being turned down] in a county where Republicans complain about being outnumbered by Democrats,” according to a McClatchy news article.

When Hamze’s membership in the Executive Committee was denied, the 300 or so people present at the meeting “cheered loudly.” Those cheers were strikingly similar to the foot stomping and applause that have been heard from the audiences attending the Republican presidential primary debates.

At the Republican debates it is not only Islamophobia that is on display, but rabid reactions to gay rights, scorn for the vulnerability of the uninsured, and calls for the blood of those on death row.

To this you can add the following stances that have come to the fore under the influence of a wave of modern barbarism centered in the ranks of the Republican Party: Tea Party assertions that environmentalism is “unbiblical” and cutting taxes for the rich is righteous; health care reform is “the equivalent of drug dealing” (Rick Santorum); there is a serious threat of America turning into a “secular atheist country … dominated by radical Islamists” (Newt Gingrich); “those who believe in evolution are part of a cult following” (Michele Bachman); and the friendly embracing of fundamentalists who believe that the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” (Rick Perry).
Who are these people who give tea a bad name and show up at presidential debates only to behave as if they are enjoying a bear-baiting exhibition?

Actually, they are Richard Hofstadter’s politically paranoid, Eric Hoffer’s true believers, and Ortega y Gasset’s revolting masses. They are people who are always with us even in the midst of modernity. And they obviously feel that here in America, it is now their time.

Maybe they are correct. They have captured one of the two main parties in the U.S., taken at least temporary control of the House of Representatives, and fashioned a slate of Republican presidential hopefuls in their own image.

As has been noted in a Concord Monitor editorial, in the midst of the cheering and jeering of these modern barbarians “not one Republican candidate … spoke up to admonish the crowd and call for civility.”
For the rest of America to ignore what is going on here is the equivalent of turning one’s back on a mugging in progress. And what is being mugged is the entire country.

Actually, this threat has been building for some time. What do you think Ronald Reagan was doing, in terms of both domestic and foreign policies, if not laying the ground for George W. Bush.

And the Democrats too have done their share to prepare the ground. Bill Clinton helped deregulate the economy to the delight of the devotees of greed and corruption, while simultaneously destroying the lives of millions of Iraqi innocents through draconian sanctions.

President Obama has allied with racists in the Middle East and let go free torturers and war criminals who worked for the U.S. government. Indeed, how many of us, politicians and voters, have turned a blind eye to the repeated bipartisan orgies of blood that sacrificed millions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.

Who are these people? Well, intellectually speaking they are our lumpen-proletariat. The one-dimensional thinkers and political savages that, until recently, had dwelled on the fringes of the conservative movement.

However, in another way they are a reflection of all of us and our frustrations with the built in inadequacies of the democratic system. Winston Churchill was right when he said that democracy was the worst political system, except for all the others.

The recurrent corruption, constant double standards, favoritism, and influence peddling can get us all down. But what sets the modern barbarians apart is their simple-minded intention to essentially dismantle government with nothing but a vague and vengeful minimalism in mind as a replacement.

They are, if you will, intimations of our collective political id. So, Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. Who will it be? If you think you really share the character of Dr. Jekyll, then you better assert yourself. Get active, get political, speak out, take a progressive stand. Otherwise, modern barbarism will have its way.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

6 comments for “The Rise of Modern Barbarism

  1. bobzz
    October 4, 2011 at 10:41

    Certainly 9/11 was a tragedy. The American response has killed far more innocent Muslims than the losses we suffered that day. But the point of Davidson’s piece was not to generate a contest of who did this or that, but to make us look at ourselves. Davidson is correct. We are becoming a nation so coarse that, if Jesus had come today, the Christian Nationalist Party would crucify him. (For the literalists, I know there is no such party by actual name, but if REALISTICALLY named, that would be it.)

  2. October 4, 2011 at 06:59

    The first new rule says you HAVE to have insurance. Both my husband and I have pre-existing conditions, and although the new bill says we can’t be denied coverage because of it. So far, the cheapest health insurance we’ve been able to find is called “Penny Health” search for it online if you are pre-existing conditions.

  3. rosemerry
    October 3, 2011 at 15:23

    Lawrence Davidson, as always, writes precisely and is restrained in his remarks. Some of the readers demonstrate his points. I wonder if the reason for the abysmal ignorance shown by so many ordinary people and especially elected officials is the precipitous reduction in the quality of education in the USA. Public schools should be good enough that most people want to send their children there. Home schooling should be restricted to those with genuine need for it eg isolated or sick children unable to reach a school, not because parents have weird religious beliefs. Mixing is necessary so that different groups actually know something about others. Private schools should be carefully vetted so that they keep to real education to allow students to be part of the real world. People like Michele Bachman, with “education” to tertiary level all provided by Christian fundamentalists, do not represent normal Americans. Tribalism seems to be rampant in the lnd of the free!

  4. Morty62
    October 3, 2011 at 15:05

    I think the use fo the word “barbarism” is pure hyperbole. While I condemn the booing of the gay soldier and the politicians’ lack of a response, I stop short of calling rudeness barbarism. Many conservative religious people are uncomfortable with homosexuality so it’s no surprise that some in the audience hid behind the crowd to express their disapproval. But barbaric? What the Muslim world does to homosexuals is truly barbaric. They kill them in most unpleasant ways. That is barbaric, bnot sophomoric booing. You go on to praise Rep. Quigley for prostrating himself before a group of Muslims, b egging forgiveness for our sins when everyday mainstream papers carry stories about American Muslims who are raising mnoney for terrorist groups like al-Shabab and Hamas. So being concerned about this is barbaric “Islamophobia,” while actually doing it is merely the “the actions of a few” and not worthy of even a raised, (no doubt Islamophobic) eyebrow? This is what has “white males” angry, asinine hyperbole that ignores real threats while while at the same time labelling those who show concern as irrational bigots.

    October 3, 2011 at 15:03

    Not that this will make a difference, but the HOLY QUR’AAN specifically states that it is the culmination and the seal of the PROPECIES of the revelaed books of the HOLY BIBLE!!! In other words, any so-called MUSLIM who denies the HOLY BIBLE, also denies the HOLY QUR’AAN!!! The SUPREME MATHEMATICS of the Books of Daniel(PBUH), Ezekiel(PBUH), and the 22 Books of the Messiah Jesus(PBUH), the Book of Revelation, SCIENTIFICALLY reveal the exact YEAR OF THE REVELATION OF THE “LITTLE BOOK”, the Holy Qur’aan,to THE COMFORTER, Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), in 610ad!!
    Being a MUSLIM has nothing to do with the ISLAAMIC spiritual dynamics of the Divine Science of Creation, the History of Prophecy, which is the Prophecy of today’s history, and Extra-Terrestrial Supreme Mathematics!!! If you cannot handle that one, you are a FARCE and a teflon Muslim, not an Islaamic Master!
    Do YOU know that the word AMERICA is an ARABIC ISLAAMIC WORD?
    Do YOU know that the MOTHER SCRIPTURE of the HOLY QUR’AAN is the “7 Seals” of the 22 Books of the Messiah Jesus(PBUH), the book of Revelation?
    Not that his will make a difference, but if YOU do know what you are talking about, PRODUCE YOUR CAUSE, and find a justification for instutionalized BARBARISM in 4,414 years of Holy Scriptures from OUR HOLY FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN!!! (Is. 41:21-26)

    • Desmodia
      October 3, 2011 at 16:20

      Please take your medication. Raving does not promote any forward movement on any front except that of the delusional.

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