By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“Qaeda terrorists were hiding within the Islamist ranks, and I’m not saying it would have been easy sifting out the moderates from the messianic killers,” writes New York Times Nairobi bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman. He’s not the first or last to write about the Islamist “moderates.” This term is always used by western media as a way to whitewash far right religious fundamentalist conservative hate-inspired extremism. It turns the Islamist version of the KKK into “moderates.” People who hang gay men are “moderates.” Stoning of women? “moderates.” Ethnic-cleansing and mass murder or genocide of minorities as official policy? “moderates.” Cleansing of all archaeological monuments deemed “heathen” and “Infidel”? “Moderation.”
The reason for this is because the western media is incapable of judging anything outside their own country’s borders by the same standards they would judge a religious party in their country. Oddly it goes beyond that. There are no Hindu Nationalist “moderates.” In Israel, there are no right wing National religious Jewish “moderates.” It is primarily a term applied to extreme right wing Islamists.
Most of this has to do with a paternalistic fetish that westerners have with Islamists. They have an almost sexual attachment to them, sometimes in fact a sexual attachment. The way they write about people whose worldview is a cross between Nazis, the KKK and the Inquisition, the kind of people who burned witches in the 16th century, drips with admiration and love for these exotic bearded men. They are always attracted to “prayer beads.” This innocuous item that some men carry with them is always highlighted. Guns, which most western journalists abhor in their own society (think “gun violence” and “gun control”) always are mentioned with an almost devotional imagination as to their beauty and strength they conjure up.
Why this love for religion the minute western secular people who loathe religion at whome leave their country? At home religious preachers like Jerry Falwell are mocked. And they are described as extreme right bigots. If an American Christian pastor prays thousands of times, it’s of little interest. If he wears his pants in the style of the Bible its considered ridiculous. If he quotes scripture he’s considered a nut-job. If he is guarded by “boy soldiers,” like the “moderates” in Somalia’s Al-Shabaab, it would of course be seen correctly as far right religious abuse.
Why is it western media never sees the hatred and intolerance and love of murder that drives movements like al-Shabaab? They see moderation and peace, they somehow miss the adoration of violence. Why is that?
People who grow up in the West are trained to hate guns and gun violence and the far right, but they have been conditioned to admire the same exact thing as long as it is goes by the name “Islamism”, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Nusra, Abu Sayaf, Islamic State, Islamic Jihad, or a thousand other names. Why is that? Why can’t they see these groups and what they do to their societies on the terms they know them back home. People who throw acid in the face of women? People who hold public executions.
How does Mr. Gettleman describe the Taliban’s closing of women’s schools. “Believing that half of humanity deserves to be shuttered in ignorance.” Really, is that how US media would describe it if women were first segregated into separate classes in America and then all women were prevented from going to school. Just “shuttered in ignorance.” No “chauvinism”, no “misogyny”? Nothing about a crime against humanity? It’s not a question of “ignorance,” it is a question of women’s rights. But women’s rights, just basic rights to dress as they want, travel, determine who they will marry or divorce, work outside the home, are ignored in the pursuit of “moderation.” Basic human rights. How about those “abortion rights” every western journalist of course supports at home? No rights for Somalis. How about not having a death penalty. I mean when there are executions in the US, we get a laundry list of horror.
There is always an attempt to humanize far right Islamists abroad. Why is that? Donald Trump, of course media dislikes, but people that are 10,000 times more right wing and hateful are presented as exotic, beautiful, devoted. How does Gettleman describe Somalia’s turn to far right hatred? “They were turning to Islam for a very logical reason. Somalia’s civil wars and chaos had been caused by clan rivalries. Islam was a way to unite a violently divided people.” That explanation could also fit why people in the US South turned to the KKK and why Germans supported the Nazis. The chaos and wars had led them to turn to white supremacy. Yes, it may be a “logical reason,” but for some reason there is less devotion to the exotic humanizing of the KKK. No search for the KKK “moderates,” and the Nazi “moderates.”
The term “moderates” is a western linguistic sickness. It was invented in order to whitewash the extreme far right and turn it into something that could be connected to the western left. That is why Judith Butler infamously described Hezbollah and Hamas as part of the left. “I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” It is part of a well crafted plan to use language to make people think that far right chauvinist bigots and hate-filled death penalty loving, abortion denying, male supremacists are actually “left” and “moderate.” They are not.
Personally I don’t mind guns and uniforms, so when I spend time with soldiers and fighters in the Middle East and see the support of nationalism and Islamism, I get it. But what I don’t get is why people who abhor gun violence and religion and the right in America or Europe, so often have such fondness for the far right abroad? It is because they truly adore it. You could argue that secretly it is because most people like guns and violence and nationalism and religion and most people are attracted to virulent male culture, even though they pretend not to be, they complain of mansplaining, but secretly like it. Because let’s be honest, none of the western media ever talks about male privilege, rape culture or mansplaining when talking about Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In places where reporters never even interview women, they only have male voices, they don’t complain about all-male panels, they don’t mind the all-male setting. So is it as simple as saying westerners who are deracinated of these natural tendencies to be nationalist and hate the “other” and worship violence, are able to channel their love for it abroad, while denying they love it at home and pretending to be “left”? I mean if you support the far right Islamists abroad, you can say it’s “Moderates” as a way to get out of the fact that you actually support the KKK abroad?
It could be that, but the reality is that the “moderates” obsession is deeper. It’s a twist of language that allows people to openly interview hate figures and not be disgusted. The same people openly disgusted of Le Pen or Trump, call them moderates or liberals in Somalia or Pakistan, and humanize them. Because if they called them far right, which they are, then they would know that humanizing them was wrong. If they called them chauvinist, rather than making polygamy romantic and finding an all-male group of people mansplaining, exotic.
So it combines first of all a secret affinity for the far right and male-centered militarism. Second, it involves a need to not be self-aware and admit they are interviewing and helping to whitewash the far right, so they call it “moderate.” Third is the fact that they fear calling it far right because then they will have to admit that these societies that they want to find exotic are basically like a combination of the Inquisition and the Old South.