This week, after supposedly "talking to intelligence people all weekend," Joe Scarborough shared with us the insight that people in the Middle East "hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture." He went on to add: "Think about the savagery, just the sheer unrestrained savagery that we have seen across the Middle East and the Arab World over the past week." And just in case you're under the impression that Scarborough accidentally left out the word "some people" or something, he further emphasized the extent of his generalization by suggesting that "every street vendor to prime minister in that region" hates America. Before pointing out what's wrong with these ill-informed and distasteful comments, let me note that they are the mirror image of comments made by Muslim fanatics who accuse "the West" of hating Islam and Muslims.
Whenever you hear that "they hate us," it is always useful to start by asking who "they" are exactly. Scarborough first referred to the "Middle East" and the "Arab World," so we're talking about hundreds of millions of people. But then he said they hate us because of "their religion," so if it's Islam that's the problem, then now we're talking about over a billion people. Numerically speaking, of the billion-plus Muslims in the world, only a few hundred people rioted in each of the few countries that witnessed a disturbance over the anti-Muslim film. To put this into perspective, the number of people who rioted in the Muslim world over the film is drastically lower (in both relative and absolute terms) than the number of murders committed each year in the United States. If this were about numbers, what conclusions would Scarborough have us reach about American culture? And did anyone bother to count the Benghazi demonstrators who protested the attack on the U.S. consulate there? Or can we at least look at what polls show as far as Libyan attitudes towards the U.S. are?
Of course, we don't have to be reduced to statistical comparisons to see how absurd Scarborough's line of thinking is, here. Anyone who knows anything about the Arab and Muslim worlds understands fully that they are individually and jointly far too vast to be collapsed into a single culture, religious interpretation, or political orientation. To collapse hundreds of millions of people into "they" and attach "hate" to them is a quintessential example of prejudice, and a seasoned politician and mainstream political commentator like Scarborough really ought to have known better than to promote such dangerous and inexcusable attitudes. And if Scarborough was serious about this view being prevalent in the intelligence community, then this problem becomes all the more terrifying.
As for the anti-American sentiment that does exist in the Middle East, it has just as much to do with "their culture" and "our freedom" as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim views here in the U.S. (particularly among Republicans) have to do with "our religion" and "their falafel and hummus." Just as hate here builds when the bigots exploit tragedies like 9/11 to foment the anti-Arab/Muslim sentiments, hate there builds when fanatics exploit a wide range of terrible American policies to promote anti-Americanism. As James Zogby put it in his most recent column:
There have been too many insults and too much pain--inflicted both ways. We remember the bombing of the Embassy in Beirut, American hostages held in Lebanon, and the horrors of 9/11. Arabs remember the toll of the long war in Iraq, the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, the dismantling of Palestine, and U.S. support for Israel's devastating assaults on Lebanon and Gaza. We have become targets and scapegoats for each other.
As I noted last week, we need a campaign of education both here and in the Middle East to promote more constructive responses to provocations by extremists, as well as a campaign of marginalization to isolate the extremists and drain their power of celebrity. While I don't share Scarborough's political orientation, I always thought of him as a moderate voice and an obstacle in the face of extremism. I hope that today's comments aren't reflective of his true worldview, and that he will reconsider his comments after thinking them through.