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.