Bad lines

It’s a day for bad lines, innit. For two bad lines in particular.

One is

In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.

The other is

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.

Pretend for a moment that you don’t know where they’re from, who said them or promoted them, in what context.

They’re just bad. On their own, with no further context, they’re bad. On the face – prima facie.

The word “savage” used as a noun is just stupid, and sinister. It borders on taboo, in the way “nigger” is taboo and “bitch” ought to be taboo but isn’t. It’s a relic of colonialism and it just reeks of ignorance and domination. Sorting people into civilized and savage has a terrible, blood-soaked history.

As for the second line – the concept of “slandering” a historical or quasi-historical human male called by his fans “the prophet of Islam” is meaningless outside Islam, and people who forbid us all to “slander the prophet of Islam” are trying to impose a religious edict on all people.

Two bad lines.

Now for the context and who said them and why. The first is perhaps even worse in context. The second is less terrible in context but it remains a wretched choice of words.

You already know the context. The “savage” line is from a poster put up in ten New York subway stations by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. Mona Eltahawy has been arrested for spraying one with purple paint. The context does nothing to make the ugliness of the wording look any prettier.

The “slander” line is from Obama’s speech to the UN.

It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past. We cannot afford to get it wrong. We must seize this moment. And America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future.

The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt – it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women – it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons. The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s resources – it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs; workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the men and women that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims.

Yes; yes; no. The third para goes off the rails. Yes sometimes vandalizing images of Jesus is done as incitement and a kind of ethnic cleansing, but not always. Separate the two. Don’t make it a matter of forbidding attacks on images or prophetic reputations; make it a matter of incitement and violencem. Separate the two, Barack.

I would say more but Popehat got there first, so why bother.



  1. Aratina Cage says

    those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated

    I think that part is even more of a fail than the part about Muhammad. When we condemn something about Muhammad, we are condemning the splash damage which is the inherent racism and/or xenophobia and/or homophobia in some of that slander. But Jesus? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a desecration of Jesus that was condemnable. Some of them have been very funny, like that unintentional one from the “touch up”.

  2. A. Noyd says

    “On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past.”

    Religions are prisons of the past where the promise of the future is kept locked away.

  3. says

    Aratina – think of it in global terms though. Think Boko Haram. Think the trumped-up “blasphemy” charge in Pakistan, where the local imam added pages from the Koran to the Christian girl’s bag o’ trash because he wanted to get the Christians out of the neighborhood. In that context, messing with a snap of Jesus may be mixed up with xenophobia or ethnic cleansing or religious warfare.

  4. says

    True. Popehat (a lawyer, of course) made that point.

    Referring to criticism of a prophet as “slander” buys into the narrative of the censors. “Slander” implies a wrong with a remedy. In American law, for very good reasons, you can’t slander the dead. Policing insult to the dead encourages censorship of ideas, not protection of individuals. We should avoid encouraging the view of this debate encapsulated in the word “slander.”

  5. Rodney Nelson says

    The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.

    Why not? Ignoring the legal point about slandering the dead, why can’t anyone, Muslim or not, say anything we want about Mohammed? Because some people worship him so much that he’s a demi-god doesn’t mean the rest of us have to respect their worship.

  6. mnb0 says

    “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
    Given all the atrocities committed by civilized men in name of their civilization I tend to support the savage. To give an example too many compatriots of mine prefer to forget:

    The article is downplaying the crimes of Westerling according to Dutch sources.
    And yes I know, the Indonesians weren’t nice guys either.
    Another fine example is the Aceh War and Colijn’s role in it – a later Dutch Prime Minister.

  7. says


    If the ‘civilised man” is set against the ‘savage’, meaning a pre-agricultural, pre-industrial human like say the original Australian Aborigine or the Amerindian, then in the light of history, the proposition is nonsense. Those who arrived with their guns, germs and steel cannot be unequivocally praised or supported in their endeavour: for that was all too often and explicitly robbery, rape and genocide. Open, calculated genocide.

    In fact, in the western colonisation of the non-European world, all too often worse armed but better, more cultured and if you like, more ‘civilised’ people, fell before invaders who were better armed, but worse in just about every other respect. From that reality, the modern world has slowly emerged. Vide the Opium War of 1848 waged by the British Empire against China.

    But if the ‘savage’ is the barbarian fanatic who would drag us all back to the 13th Century (eg Hitler) or to the 7th Century (eg the late Osama bin Laden), then the proposition is dead right, IMHO.

  8. yoav says

    Shouldn’t be doing any gambling today, my guess was that both lines came from Ahmadinejad’s speech.

  9. johnthedrunkard says

    And of course, ‘slandering the prophet’ seems to be a matter of who is speaking. Even in that stupid, incoherent ‘trailer,’ was anything said that was not true, or at least reported as true in Islamic sources?

    Mo, if he existed as reported, DID fuck a nine year-old. But to say so becomes slander if it is done by a non muslim.

    ‘Civilized’ and ‘savage’ are such loaded terms that the line has not meaning without a lot of clarification. In my moral view Obama=civilized, Osama=savage. But this is not made any clearer by the pronouncements of an ignorant troll like Gellar.

  10. Ant (@antallan) says

    @ Briane #7

    It’s a good job, then, that I always strive to give proportionate and responsible offence! 😉


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