By far, the best thing that Vox has done is to bring Max Fisher to my attention. He covers the Middle East for the website and he often takes on the tone of a patient parent, “Stop doing that; it’s racist.” I’ve written about his work a number of times, most notably in, The Bigoted “Muslims Condemn” Ritual. Well, Fisher was back a couple days ago with another article where you can almost hear him sigh before the first word, US Media Coverage of Michelle Obama’s Saudi Arabia Trip Isn’t Just Wrong — It’s Racist.
There is a very real and casual racism in this country — not just against Arabs but against Persians, Indians, and pretty much any other group you could name. If it hadn’t been for the Nazis and the Holocaust, Israelis would be included in that group. I still commonly hear people refer to “towel heads” and “those people” who attacked us on 9/11. It is the most naked form of racism. Race itself is a racist construct and you can see it clearly here. Muslims are commonly equated with Hindus and Sikhs, even though there is far more relationship between Muslims and Christians and Jews. But they are all the same to most Americans, not because they are, but simply because Americans are some of the most ignorant and parochial people on the planet.
Fisher made nine points in his article, but it all comes down to one thing: the American media coverage shows a shocking lack of understanding of Saudi Arabia. The supposed kerfuffle is that Michelle Obama didn’t wear a headscarf to the funeral of King Abdullah. This has been portrayed as some kind of major statement about the terrible treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also heard it claimed that her dressing in blue instead of black was some big deal, but even I know that white is a traditional funeral color in many regions.
The main issue is that the elites of Saudi Arabia would be freaked out by seeing a woman who wasn’t enclosed in a portable tent. Fisher wrote, “Saudi royals are comfortable with the West and with Western customs; many spend long parts of the year in Europe and a number were educated in American boarding schools or colleges.” Of course they are. It reminds me of Mike Huckabee running around the nation claiming that those backwoods morals are so superior to the terrible morals of those New York and Los Angeles elites. As if he isn’t perfectly comfortable with elites, as he’s shown time and again. Just because elites here and in Saudi Arabia demagogue with religious fundamentalism doesn’t mean they fall for it.
It is one thing for the masses to have no idea that a Jain, unwilling to swat a fly, is quite different from a radical political Muslim suicide bomber or a Christian sniper who was proud of his 160 confirmed kills. But when the media can’t tell the difference, we are doomed. And I really do think that is the case and that they aren’t just pretending to generate clicks. Similarly, what are we to make of Ted Cruz’s tweet, “Kudos to @FLOTUS for standing up for women & refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia”? I suspect he actually thinks that — and he is a smart and educated guy. But once you build a worldview based upon the idea that America is better than all other countries, this is the kind of blind stupidity that results. And that’s not just Ted Cruz — that’s America writ large.