The Twittersphere exploded last night with reports that Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American journalist, had been arrested for ‘defacing’ one of the many pro-Israel posters that have recently darkened poster-frames around New York. Eltahawy was one of five arrested the same day for similar reasons.

The poster in question reads: “IN ANY WAR BETWEEN THE CIVILISED MAN AND THE SAVAGE, SUPPORT THE CIVILISED MAN.” Keeping with the most trodden clichés of alarmist propaganda, the entire sentence is rendered in capitals in a presumed attempt to capture attention and stir panic, whilst the text, white against a black background, reflects the intellectual depth of an ultra-reactionary faction evidently unable to think outside the binary. But ignoring the poster’s amateurish appearance, the text by itself is difficult to argue with. Civilisation versus savagery: who could object? Unfortunately for readers feeling uplifted by the apparent moral integrity of this message, it becomes obvious when considering the sentence in context with the footnote underscoring it, which reads, “SUPPORT ISRAEL, DEFEAT JIHAD”, that the ‘civilised man’ and the ‘savage’ alluded to are straw men. The ‘support Israel’ line is bracketed by two Stars of David, clearly indicating support not only of Israel as a political entity, but of Judaism as its sole religion.

Yet these details provide inadequate power to explain the volley of racism accusations that have since been aimed at the poster. It’s worth noting here that Pamela Geller, blogger and the leader of the group behind the campaign, felt in the wake of the 2011 Oslo attacks that the racial backgrounds of the victims were perfectly fair game to exploit on her blog for the purposes of entertaining her Tea-Party readership. It turned out that the photo included by Geller to contextualise the racial references was of the Norwegian Socialist Party’s youth wing, and not of the group actually targeted by Breivik: the Labour Party’s youth wing. Geller’s willingness to unflinchingly tell such lies should convince us that she not only holds racial prejudices, but knowingly acts upon them. Combined with the antiquated language of the poster, reminiscent of the colonialist language that characterised racial divisions as ‘the white man and the savage’, this all but dispels any suspicion that the poster may be promoting religious rather than racial Zionism. I can’t be alone in feeling a dark amusement at Geller’s organisation, which supports a state directing all efforts to crushing the freedoms of the Palestinian people, being titled the ‘Freedom Defence Initiative’.

A video of the arrest, published the following day by Arab news channel, ‘Al-Arabiya’, begins with Eltahawy spraying the poster undisrupted, and seconds later shows Pamela Hall, a member of the ‘Freedom Defence Initiative’, harassing Eltahawy and physically attempting to distance her from the poster using a tripod (of course all in the name of ‘Freedom’). Hall’s remarks during the course of the altercation would be terribly amusing in the unbelievable extent of their hypocrisy if the propaganda she were defending wasn’t so disgusting. An example of this blackest of comedy: Hall, whilst herself obstructing the path of the spray-paint, repeatedly asserted that, by ‘obstructing’ the poster’s message with translucent spray-paint, Eltahawy was directly violating freedom of speech. The video makes quite clear that the words were still fully visible even whilst covered with the spray-paint that in reality added nothing more than a pink tint. The ludicrous accusation becomes less funny when considering that the level of intellectual absence proudly paraded by Hall is typical of not only the bigots endorsing the message of this particular campaign, but of all stripes of bigot. This includes bigots with regard to race, religion, sex and sexual orientation, which, in their combined ignorance, form a substantial proportion of the US population. My ideological feathers were also ruffled by the sheer number of repeated requests the police endured before indulging Eltahawy with even the vaguest explanation for her arrest. Watching the footage, I was reminded of an incident detailed by late Anglo-American journalist Christopher Hitchens, who, upon being thrown into a jail cell in the former Czechoslovakia, was chillingly told through the bars that he had no right to know the charges.

Although only a very minor incident in the overall context of American politics, the repugnant political agenda with which Eltahawy was engaged in combat, and the totalitarian dimensions of her arrest, are microcosmic premonitions of the system we could see implemented on a grand scale should a party of intolerance gain a voter majority.

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