The late Norm McDonald once joked:
What terrifies me is if ISIS were to detonate a nuclear device and kill 50 million Americans. Imagine the backlash against peaceful Muslims?
— Norm Macdonald (@normmacdonald) December 16, 2016
Stories warning against a bigoted “backlash” against Muslims are practically a journalistic genre. Steve Sailer calls it a “frontlash.” Such stories cast the non-Muslim population as brutes always on the brink of a pogrom against the Mohammedans.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, rather than inciting Americans against Muslims, created this new moral code. Less than a week after the attack, President George W. Bush spoke at the Islamic Center of Washington DC. He regretted that “the English translation [of the Koran] is not as eloquent as the original Arabic,” but quoted from it anyway. He then praised Islam, not least because of its multi-racial appeal:
The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.
When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.
In the years since the 2001 attacks, Islam has gained strength in this country. Keith Ellison, who once wanted a separate black country in America, became the first Muslim congressman in 2006. In 2018, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to the House. They hardly correspond to what we think of as the historic American nation.
“Islamophobia,” or criticizing Islam, is said to be a serious problem. Last year, the Washington Post said Facebook had not done enough to remove “anti-Muslim” pages. The House recently passed a bill introduced by Rep. Omar that would charge the federal government with fighting Islamophobia not just in this country, but around the world. It has since been introduced in the Senate.
Allah only knows if George W. Bush or Mohamed Atta had the better understanding of Islam, but it’s far more dangerous politically to criticize Atta’s religion than Mr. Bush’s, even in what some Americans think is still a Christian country. This is remarkable because being Muslim isn’t an unchangeable characteristic, but a belief. Insulting beliefs is usually considered less offensive than insulting someone for something he can’t change (though, in Islam, apostasy carries the death penalty).
Maajid Nawaz successfully sued the SPLC for being included in A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. That wouldn’t have happened if being called “anti-Muslim” weren’t such an insult it justified a multimillion-dollar settlement. It’s hard to think of “anti-Christian” having the same sting.
It’s probable that if the September 11, 2001 attacks had not happened, Islam would be less powerful in this country. It became “insensitive” to criticize Islam because Muslims could be portrayed as a persecuted minority. Now, civil rights groups carefully track “Islamophobic” crimes, acts, and even statements. Every commemoration of September 11 spawns stories about how the attacks hurt Muslims’ feelings. When Ilhan Omar complained about demands that she disavow al-Qaeda or ISIS, the government-funded Voice of America celebrated with “Ilhan Omar’s Defiance Resonates With Muslim-American Activists.”
Contrast this with what’s happening to Russians, and I mean Russians, not Russia. Many others are not making this distinction.
The war between Russia and Ukraine does not involve the United States directly. Ukraine is not in NATO nor are we treaty-bound to defend it. One might think prejudice would be far less likely than after September 11. However, people around the world can freely insult Russians and Russian culture.
The New York Times reported that “Russian” restaurants, even some owned or operated by non-Russians, have been trashed online and have had cancellations and even property damage. People have also threatened employees and owners. The Times explains that at one restaurant under fire, “Russian employees are vocal about their opposition to the invasion” and the shop publicly supports Ukraine. CBS reports the troubles faced by “Russian” restaurant owners, but there’s a great deal of emphasis on the pro-Ukrainian stances of workers and owners. “While their awnings read ‘Russian,’ their workers avow their hearts are with Ukraine,” says the article. This suggests boycotts or vandalism might otherwise be justified.
In Washington DC, vandals hit the Russia House restaurant, potentially putting it out of business. Someone put up a sign outside the building that said “House of Murderers.” One owner says the restaurant got harassing phone calls, even though the proprietors are not Russian. The owner took down the Russian flag at the restaurant. A woman renting an apartment over the restaurant said, “If they’re not Russian, first of all, or if they are Russian and don’t support the invasion, I feel really bad for them.” This suggests there is a political test for sympathy.
An NBC report covering death threats and bomb scares against Russian business owners also emphasizes the opposition many victims have to the war. Again, if the goal of the harassment was to force political statements, it is succeeding. A restaurant in Texas called Taste of Europe even removed the word “Russia” from part of its sign.
Russian classical music is so glorious even the Communists couldn’t stamp it out. However, the Metropolitan Opera said it would cut ties with Russian artists or institutions “allied” (to use state-funded NPR’s word) with President Vladimir Putin. One casualty was soprano Anna Netrebko. Is this even legal? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin, not just race.
Another victim was conductor Valery Gergiev, whose who lost his job with the Munich Philharmonic. “I would have expected him to reconsider and revise his very positive assessment of the Russian ruler,” said the mayor of Munich. “He didn’t.” Even in an article supposedly against the “hazardous path” of imposing “a moral test on musicians,” the conductor must pay for his “close ties to the Russian regime.” Unless a Russian is willing to denounce his president and country in wartime at the behest of foreigners, he can lose his job.
In Wales, an orchestra removed Tchaikovsky. The cannon fire and militarism of the “1812 Overture” wasn’t just the problem, but also his “Little Russian” piece. It was unexplained in this Newsweek article but “Little Russia” can be considered a demeaning way to refer to Ukraine, much like “the Ukraine.” The article quoted a Twitter user who said:
Tchaikovsky died 129 years before Putin decided to invade Ukraine. He was gay, liberal, and ultimately rejected Russian nationalism. We must not allow our righteous hatred of the invasion turn into disgust at all things Russian or the Russian people.
Tchaikovsky gets a pass not just because he’s dead but because he was supposedly “gay, liberal and ultimately rejected Russian nationalism.”
A Japanese orchestra is also dropping the “1812 Overture.” It is at least including another Tchaikovsky piece, along with a symphonic poem from a composer who championed Finnish independence in 1899.
Tim Wise must never have heard of Tchaikovsky or Pushkin. The famous anti-hate campaigner worked up a little hate himself:
Seriously when your contribution to the world is Faberge eggs, autocracy and pogroms, no one should much care what you think.
— Tim Wise (@timjacobwise) December 15, 2016
The University of Milano-Bicocca postponed a series of lectures on Fyodor Dostoevsky “to avoid any controversy.” The university backtracked after the professor publicly protested, though with obligatory comments about the “horrible” situation in Ukraine. It is horrible, but is such a declaration necessary? If so, why isn’t it necessary from someone like Rep. Ilhan Omar when she talks about Islam, given her support for lenient sentences for ISIS recruits?
In Germany, some stores will not sell Russian-made products. However, one restaurant went further and said it wouldn’t serve people with Russian passports, though I have never heard of a restaurant that checks your passport before it lets you order. A Russian restaurant owner in Germany has also faced cancellations, despite putting up a sign that says “war has no place in our communities” (in English). A beauty clinic in Australia with the name “Killer Russians” is changing its name because it got death threats. (It also supports Ukraine.)
Alcohol is political. Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire signed an executive order directing state-run liquor stores to stop selling Russian products. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah have done the same. Vodka brands that are not Russian are loudly advertising that fact. There have been many news stories instructing readers which brands are Russian and which are not.
What prides itself as the “United Nations of cat federations” (FIFe) has banned Russian-owned and Russian-bred cats from all competitions because it “cannot just witness these atrocities and do nothing.”
Some Russian players in the National Hockey League are reportedly getting death threats. Russian-Americans in Las Vegas are reportedly facing harassment and threats. A report from the Society for Human Resource Management alleges many cases of Russians being harassed at work.
Corporate America is pulling out — at least 124 companies so far. Spotify is removing content from RT and Sputnik. Russia banned Facebook, and Facebook cut users in the EU off from RT and Sputnik. YouTube blocked ads from Russian state-owned media companies. Facebook has shifted policy on the formerly banned Ukrainian-nationalist “Nazi” military unit, the Azov Battalion. It will now “allow praise of the Azov Battalion when explicitly and exclusively praising its role in defending Ukraine OR its role as part of the Ukraine’s National Guard.” Bowing to a media campaign, Amazon banned shirts with the letter “Z” that could be construed as supporting Russia. They are hardly the most offensive things sold on the site.
Much of this is because of the tone media coverage has taken, but there may be a larger context. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously wanted to “reset” relations with Russia, unlike the more hawkish tone of Republicans such as Mitt Romney. Russia’s role as scapegoat for President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory changed that, because it let Democrats blame a foreign foe. Keith Olbermann screamed (not said, screamed) just before President Trump’s inauguration that America was about to be governed by “Russian scum.” Russians are now the people it’s OK to hate. After Muslims attacked this country, the media denounced even a whisper of criticism.
The generally anti-Putin Russian publication The Moscow Times ran an article about the situation in Russia called “She Signed An Open Letter Calling For Peace. Then Got Fired.” Authoritarianism is costing some Russians their jobs; in this country, Russians and even non-Russians are getting death threats and violence for doing nothing. We can debate which system is worse.