Language use in blogs

I found myself in blog and comment conversation with Bock the Robber yesterday over a posting he had made entitled Islamic Savages. I think that he has made some indefensible links between the use of the word ‘savages’ and Islam. His posting was about the number of “Children currently sentenced to death under Islamic law.” I ask you to read both posts. I agree with him when he says that the torture of children is wrong and I agree with him that this inhumane treatment is disgracefully condoned by the US government. This, rightly, is a focus for his anger.

I take issue though with his use of the word savages in this context. He will, no doubt, post about the inhumanity of these and other regimes, including the US and its sponsoring of torture by proxy. I do not doubt his political allegiances and often find myself in agreement. However, words have meaning and consequences to people and contexts that may not have been intended by an original utterance, as I learned this morning. Taking some responsibility for this plurality of meanings I think, is a sign of political maturity and a ‘good thing’.

If Bock had titled his posting something like Unjust Treatment of Children by Governments or Child Torture in the Middle East we might have something else to talk about. Instead we get a cack-handed ‘controversial’ ‘discussion’ about his right to state his opinions. I am not interested in that debate. I’ve had this discussion with Twenty in the past too. You are a thinking human? You have a right to express these opinions. However, and again, the use of the word savages has a consequence for Bock in a historical context. Savage denotes that civilisation has yet to emerge, that these societies are at a lesser stage in their development, things that I am not willing to countenance. The concept of the noble savage has particular colonial resonances and which Irish people should be particularly aware. In the past there were, for the colonial rulers here in Ireland, the ‘good’ Irish and the ‘bad’ Irish. A determination of your membership of these groups was all about the maintenance of an unjust power and precious little to do with your character, your sense of justice or morality.

The use of the term ‘Islamic savages’ is akin to ‘the savage Irish’ or the ‘peasant Irish’ which denotes a particular relationship between the speaker and his subject. It’s like the use of the phrase ‘Islamic terrorists’: funny how in the 1980s the phrase ‘Irish terrorist’ had currency, isn’t it? I know, he knows, and all his commenters know that he is not writing about Irish savages, or ‘black savages’ or any other kind of ‘savages’. The behaviour of torturing children as young as 12 is savage. The conflation of a political and religious identity with savagery is neither subtle nor responsible.

And oh yea, if he posts about savage practices by Christians or Jews or vegetarian, left-handed, wheelchair-using lesbians from Medellin? I’ll support him. This is savage behaviour; it is not savage because the people perpetrating it are Islamic. Titling the post Islamic Savages has consequences in a way that Child Torture in Iran and Arabia does not.

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22 thoughts on “Language use in blogs

  1. Wasn’t your issue with me down to allowing people to make comments on a post rather than my post itself?

  2. Not so much allowing people to make comments – that’s your prerogative – but, yes, I did have a problem with the posting in that it facilitated a casual racism that you and I both know needs only the slightest tinder to set it off. To me, this is about the giving of oxygen.

  3. Indefensible?

    You’re being a bit superior there, 73man, if you don’t mind my saying so. The people who made indefensible links between Islam and savagery are those who would flog a rape victim in the name of Islam.

    I’ve been around in this world a long time — a good bit longer than you, as it happens — so I certainly don’t need advice on maturity or responsibility. Thanks anyway.

    And I can form my own judgements as to how my words affect people.

    You’re using an old and misleading device of reporting what somebody said, and attacking your own version, instead of the original.

    I did not conflate religious and political identity. You did that on my behalf, the better to criticise what I said. Doing so, as you might say yourself, was neither subtle nor responsible.

    My on-line dictionary gives the following definitions for the word savage:

    1 : a person belonging to a primitive society

    2 : a brutal person

    3 : a rude or unmannerly person

    The kind of people I described, who want to flog a rape victim and execute children, are undeniably brutal, and therefore are savages.

    Furthermore, since their entire justification for these actions is based on the Koran, they are clearly Islamic.

    So lets put it all together. They are Islamic. They are savages. They are therefore Islamic savages.

    What I did not say was that all Muslims are savages. That was something you chose to read into it.

    Your comments about skin colour are irrelevant, since a person’s race doesn’t dictate their actions, in the way their belief system does.

    Therefore it’s inconceivable that I would ever write about “black savages”. It would make no sense, unlike “Islamic savages”, or “Christian savages” or for that matter “Blackwater savages”.

    In the end of it all, it seems to me you want to ban the use of the word “savage” as a noun. Would that be right? Or for clarity, maybe you could give an example of where it would be permitted.

  4. Bock: I apologise if I came over all superior but I wanted to be quite precise in the words that I used. Sometimes it reads harsher than it sounds in person. I don’t mind you saying so at all…I would positively encourage it 😉 . In fact this is pretty cool.

    I am glad you have responded to my post this morning. I was not dispensing advice on maturity and responsibility. I wanted to point out that for us all to take responsibility for the way we use specific words would make us all more politically mature. Age has little to do with maturity. I do not exclude myself from that. The word ‘savage’ is useful when describing a physical attack on a person by another or, even colloquially, a savage day of weather.

    My point remains that that the use of the term Islamic savages has particular historical resonance which has very little to do with the way I have ‘set it up’. Dictionaries too are products of a particular way of looking at the world (partly the reason why we have both Conservapedia and Wikipedia). The first definition you reproduce is predicated on a person being a member of a primitive society. By which standard exactly are societies primitive? I think we sometimes live in a primitive society: homelessness, 16% at risk of poverty, beatings in custody, turning a blind eye to rendition. I am sure you’ll agree that we live in a very complex world, not lending itself to easily agreed definitions.

    If someone is gay and a prick then they are a prick but, I think, one is not entitled to call them a queer prick. For me that is unacceptable. I disagree when you say that “a person’s race doesn’t dictate their actions, in the way their belief system does.” Being Islamic is as variegated, as diverse, as wide-ranging as being gay so why use the generalisation? Again, words have meaning in specific contexts. If a gay man murders his lover, he is still a murderer, not a gay murderer.

    I would not want to be the one to ban any noun. Not my job and a slippery slope. We are all only responsible for our own thoughts and the expression of these. I believe it is irresponsible to use the term ‘Islamic savages’, not the use of the noun savages. The beating and torture of anyone is surely savagery. When black people in the US South were swinging dead from trees, no one used the term ‘Christian murderers’ to describe their attackers. Power works in very different ways.

    If you want to use it, go ahead, I’ll still think you are wrong to use the term ‘Islamic savages’. It won’t stop me reading your blog or leaving comments on it.

  5. Twenty: why would anyone turn down a flat when they know they wouldn’t be happy in it? I have a choice about where I live. Drumcondra or Darndale, Terenure or Tallaght. Do you not think she deserves the same choice?

  6. I’ll only take issue with you on one thing there, and I think it’s the kernel of the argument.

    I’m well aware that Islam is a varied world. However, these people explicitly rely on their Islamic beliefs to justify their behaviour.

    Their behaviour derives from the Islamic nature of their beliefs and from no other source.

    Therefore, in this instance, Islam is at the heart of the brutality.

    Now, regarding your analogy with sexual orientation, I can’t imagine calling someone a gay prick. Why would I?

    However, if we had a gay man who killed people for money, I’d call him a murderer. But if he killed people because he hated straights , I’d have no problem calling him a gay murderer. It would be both true and relevant. I realise it’s a ludicrous instance but I’m only addressing the example you gave.

    If these people’s religion were incidental to their actions, in the same way as their race or gender, I would have no reason to call them Islamic savages. Why would I? It would be irrelevant.

    But it’s not incidental: Islamicism is the very reason and justification for what they do. Without it, there would be no 200 lashes for the poor raped girl.

    I can imagine civilised muslims all over the world cringing in embarrassment at the actions of their savage brothers, but I didn’t make it so. That’s Islamic zealots for you, as opposed to Islamic moderates.

  7. Yup, that’s the kernel right there: “these people explicitly rely on their Islamic beliefs to justify their behaviour.”

    And these people are wrong to do so and so to call it Islamic savagery is inaccurate?

  8. Oh yea, and I disagree with this too: Their behaviour derives from the Islamic nature of their beliefs and from no other source.

    Something about the complexity of the human mind that prevents it from being determined by one thing solely.

  9. The difference is that you pay for your accommodation and you’re not claiming to be concerned about the welfare of a toddler while choosing to live in a place with no running water and which is rat infested ahead of a flat which, while it might not be to your exact taste, is surely a better option.

  10. Bock: but to say their belief comes from no other source is a little tendentious. But we’re splitting hairs now.

    Twenty: but surely the point is that the decision is up to her in conjunction with the housing authority? In any case, it’s one among many. I’m not willing to bring down the wrath of Dave on my head for now.

  11. Protestant savages

    Anyone see anything wrong with that description of members of the LVF? The LVF believe that they are Protestant, and it’s not for me to tell them that they’re not.

  12. Hugh: I would rather describe the actions as savage than a group of people all in one go. Protestant savages does not have the same racial meaning to me that Islamic savages does, but perhaps that is where Bock and I are at odds.

    In any case, I am not the one who decides who can and cannot say what.

  13. In general terms, I think it’s wrong to categorize any person as a savage, since that absolves them from any moral responsibility for their actions. Just as a dog can only do dog things, a savage can only do savage things.

    Bock says that in this case that ‘their behaviour derives from the Islamic nature of their beliefs and from no other source’, but that is simply not true, since there are hundreds of millions of practising Muslims who do not engage in savage actions. If the actions are direct consequences of ‘beliefs of an Islamic nature’, how come so few Muslims act savagely?

    So my point was: if you are going to say that Islam is the determining factor in the savage actions, then you must also be consistent and recognise that Protestantism, or perhaps Christianity is the determining factor in the actions of the LVF. After all, they openly killed Catholics ‘For God and Ulster’. I don’t think that the evidence is convincing in either case.

    To give another example: if the IDF shoots at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, or drops cluster bombs on Lebanese civilians, do we say that Judaism is at the heart of the brutality? If not, why not? After all, Israel calls itself the Jewish state. I think most people are capable of making the right call when it comes to Christianity or Judaism, but when it comes to Islam there are severe difficulties.

    I would contend that the savagery in this case (and they are savage actions) is the product of a state apparatus which gains its power from many different sources and cannot be sustained by narrow religious ideology alone.

  14. We wonder if there is any difference between “Islamic savages” and “savage Islamics”?
    The issue comes up in the “queer prick” illustration versus an entirely possible alternative: “prick queer”.
    Which term is the main perjorative?

    If we assume you do not hold someone’s being gay to be a moral fault, then you would call them merely a “prick”. If you believed elsewise, you might say something else.
    The situation is decidedly murky when both terms are used as perjoratives and their strength varies from speaker to speaker, and the range of their application changes: “Islamic” covers a good deal of territory.

    We sensed that “Islamic” was being used by some as a perjorative term and by others as a neutral indicator of religious affiliation. It also seemed at times to flip back and forth between these in the very same writer.

    At this point, we might add that none of this means too much when we descend into that heart of darkness where the children are.
    So it appears to me my words were a total waste of time.

    I think the trick lay in allowing our passion to rouse us to address and assuage that which outrages us.
    Now how we proceed at this point requires passion, reason, insight, understanding; the whole gamut of the human soul.

  15. Don’t look at me. I read it again and I did not understand it either.

    It sort of makes sense at first, but then it sort of shimmers in and out, then disappears off the radar.

    Sorry.

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