I would like to address the ways in which paid advertisements recently mounted on the New York City public transportation system are connected to the release and circulation of the “Innocence of Muslims” video. Both are made legible through the now-hegemonic grammar of the War on Terror and an archive of Orientalist tropes and themes. It is that same grammar that scripts the protests and violence that erupted across Muslim majority states in reaction to the video (a reaction which was clearly hoped for and incited by the producers) as exercises in rage, a heightened emotional state that precludes rationality. Hatred and rage, we have been told by both the American government and mainstream media since 2001, fuel the fire of Muslim terrorism and of that terrifying thing, jihad. In this discourse, Muslim terrorists/savages do not have politics or history. Instead, they are ruled by an uncontrollable and often combustible hatred for “our way” of life. Their hatred is stronger than their love for their own lives and those of their children. They are too trapped in their emotional states to recognize or respect the very rational and deliberative right to the freedom of speech.
The truths within these statements are so potent they can be distilled into eleven characters for the purposes of both propaganda and parody: #muslimrage.
The same civilizational discourse and invitation to historical amnesia animates the MTA subway ads that state: “In Any Struggle Between the Civilized and the Savage support Civilization. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Here, who exactly we are supposed to support Israel from is left purposely vague, but the words “civilized” and “jihad” invite passersby to identify in that same great war for civilization – a war that residents and citizens of the United States have been primed for since September 11, 2001. The ad, paid for by radical anti-Muslim groups and individuals, is made intelligible in a War on Terror-era United States . If the ad were inverted to imply that in order to stand with civilization we had to stand with Palestinians against the unnamed savages the statement would no longer be intelligible. Its un-intelligibility would stem from the fact that it does not emerge from the dense grammar and vocabulary of War on Terror and civilizational discourses that have long tied Israel to the United States, which are both, it bears repeating, settler colonies that were purportedly “empty” before European settlement. In both cases, the land had been indigenously populated. In both cases, those people who were there were made absent through the mutually constitutive practices of lawfare, warfare, and nationalism. [Read on]