Avoiding the R-Word
By Aaron D. Taylor
When Mitt Romney stood before a group of supporters in Israel and declared that cultural superiority and divine providence are the reasons behind the economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians, the corporate-sponsored “liberal” U.S. media called his remark ignorant, insensitive, and a “gaffe, but other than taking the indirect route of quoting Palestinian leaders, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American journalist with the moral fiber to call the remark what it actually was. When it comes to the R-word, the U.S. media bows to the sacred cow of silence. Nobody wants to say the word racist anymore.
True, the word racist is loaded. The word conjures up images of attack dogs, fire hoses, church bombings, guys in creepy robes riding horses in the dead of night torching homes, not to mention Hitler, neo-Nazis, skinheads, the Help. Given the historical baggage associated with the word racist, it’s understandable that in America today, when somebody throws the R-word out to denounce the words of another, the shame more often goes to the accuser, not the accused.
That’s exactly the problem.
Because the word racist is so often associated with its most obvious manifestations, it’s difficult to call into question the racial views of another, even when their words and actions reflect a worldview that says that God favors one group of people over another.
When it comes to Israelis and Palestinians there are, of course, other complicating factors. Jews for centuries have suffered horrific atrocities under the banner of racism. Academic circles endlessly debate whether Zionism is racism, or whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The words Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people are synonymous for many people, making it difficult to criticize one without criticizing the other. To make things even more complicated, the very concept of the Jewish people’s “chosen-ness” comes straight from the Torah, which both Jews and Christians revere as the Word of God.
As complicating as these factors are, at the end of the day we’re left with a socio-political-religious ideology that says that God favors one group of people over another, and when God’s favored people (Israel) happen to exhibit near total military and economic control over the other (Palestinians), it’s entirely appropriate to call into question the moral implications of such an ideology, and to raise the question of whether it might be considered racist.
While Romney was for sure attempting to rake in some cash and shore up the Jewish vote, it’s no secret that any comment that praises Israel and insults Palestinians might be considered a wink and a nod to the supposed “evangelical” base of the Republican Party. The dominant media narrative is that evangelical is synonymous with Christian Zionist. Christian Zionists believe that God obligates them to support the state of Israel—including the expansion of Jewish settlements—because any nation that refuses to do so will be cursed. Palestinians are an invented people that don’t exist in their view, so when their homes and orchards are demolished to pave the way for new settlements, it doesn’t matter because Palestinians (who don’t exist) are trespassers on land that God says belongs to the Jewish people. Christian Zionists oppose a two-state solution and they want Israel to permanently occupy the West Bank and Gaza strip.
Thisis the ideology that Romney was trying to appease by insulting Palestinians. And make no mistake about it. Romney’s remark was an insult. Romney says that his remarks were mischaracterized, but in what universe does telling an entire people that they’re culturally inferior to another people not an insult?
Sorry Mr. Romney, you can’t blame the media on this one.
As for my evangelical friends that Romney was trying to please, if you’re not at war with the Muslim world, if you believe that following Jesus means challenging racial and religious prejudice, if you believe that loving your neighbor includes practicing nonviolence and combating Islamophobia, if you believe that Jesus calls you to work for the peace, safety, and well-being of all people, without distinction of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, then I invite you to register for the Evangelicals for Peace Summitcoming up on September 14th in Washington D.C.
It’s time to reclaim our faith.