A fight over the use of the word “savages” in the public square; and, Is it correct to call violent jihadists “savages”?

(Note: Thomas Bertonneau argues that I am incorrect when I deny that jihadists are savages, and I reply. However, in a later entry about the Muslim riots over the anti-Muhammad video, I qualified what I said in this entry about the meaning of “savages.)

Michael C. writes:

Looks like your articles about feral blacks got San Francisco mad. Now you cannot use the word “savage” on their mass transit systems. I saw this at Atlas Shrugs:


LA replies:

The announcement shown in that photograph has nothing to do with blacks. Unfortunately the article at Atlas Shrugs doesn’t explain the photograph. As explained in this article at Huffington Post, the announcement is a response to Pamela Geller’s ad on San Francisco buses which referred to jihadists who seek to destroy Israel as savages and said we should side with civilization against savagery:


The S.F. transit authority tried but was unable legally to get rid of the Geller ads, so instead they created their own announcements on buses condemning the message of the Geller ads.

However, on a separate point, I do not agree with Geller that jihadists are savages. Savages are people who are untaught, unconstrained, lawless, and wild. Jihadists are people who devoutly follow the highly articulated, carefully laid-out laws of the 1,400 year old religion of Islam. As I always say, the problem with jihadists is not that they are bad people, but that they are good Muslims. The particular threat to our civilization about which Pamela Geller is alarmed does not come from the spread of savagery, but from the spread of the tyrannical and homicidal religion of Islam. And let us remember that the civilized men and women of the West, including Pamela Geller, are, in the name of “freedom,” actively supporting the spread of that tyrannical and homicidal religion.

- end of initial entry -

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

You write, “I do not agree … that jihadists are savages.” Subjectively they are not because they think that they are executing the commandments of their god. Objectively they are, however, because the precepts of their creed compel them to perpetrate acts that civilized people recognize as brutal and inhumane. (Not to mention that their god is false.) Generally you are rigorous in keeping the objective and subjective sides of your moral analysis in their proper relation. Here, as it seems to me, you have taken a stance that accepts a subjective self-assessment as authoritative, hence also as objective. The Aztec priests standing atop the pyramid and ripping out the living hearts of their victims also thought they were doing something good, but if savage does not apply to their cult, then why bother to keep the word in the dictionary?

Perhaps you mean that savagery is not capable of elaborate planning or of setting long-term goals, that it is violent and sadistic in a purely spontaneous way; or perhaps you mean that savagery lacks an ideology, and that Islam, being an ideology, raises its adherents above savagery. But what would be the right word for the authors of jihadist atrocities? Is savage banned from this application?

LA replies:

My evaluation of the jihadists has nothing to do with their subjective self-assessment. It has to do with the objective fact that they are not acting out of wild uncontained impulse, like savages, but are obediently following the Allah-given commands of their religion.

For many years I have been condemning the evil and threat of Islam in strong terms without using the word “savage.” How was I able to do this, given your suggestion that the word “savage” is indispensable for describing Islamic jihadism?

“Savage” simply isn’t the correct word in this case. It summons up images and association that do not properly apply to Islam. Islam is sui generis, a uniquely monstrous entity, a respected world religion whose god commands the subjection and murder of much of humanity.

Sayyid Qutb (pronounced KUTub), who argued that the Koran commands aggressive war, including terrorist murder, against non-Muslims, was not a savage. He was a highly intelligent man whose conclusions proceeded with impressive logical rigor from the Koran and the Hadiths. The power of his arguments made him the most influential theoretician of Sunni Islam in the 20th century and the intellectual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Muhammad Atta, the leader of the September 11 hijackers who personally piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center killing thousands of people, performed his wicked deed not as a savage, but as the devoted, self-sacrificing follower of Allah, praying to Allah the night before the attack, praying to Allah as he flew the plane into the building. It was Allah who taught him in the Koran that the most spiritual, the most exalted, the closest-to-God experience a Muslim can have is to die in the act of killing infidels.

Westerners just can’t take in the uniqueness and strangeness of Islam. They can’t take in that a religion, especially an “Abrahamic,” monotheistic religion with a transcendent god, can be, at its core, murderous, in that it sacralizes the killing of innocents. So they refuse to understand Islam in its own terms. They seek instead to assimilate the violent religion of Islam to more familiar, comfortable concepts, such as “savagery.”

In this connection, I highly recommend the collection of my writings on “Non-Islam Theories of Islamic Extremism,” which is all about this blind refusal of Western intellectuals’ to comprehend Islam in its own, Islamic, terms.

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I might have a further response tomorrow, but just now I would like to pose a question that seems fair to me. If you had the means to put messages in the SFMTA vehicles, as Pamela Geller has, what carefully chosen words would you choose?

LA replies:

First, I am not against Geller’s message. I support her message. If I gave the opposite impression that was not my intention. I am only quibbling over whether “savage” is the correct word for jihadists.

Here again is what Geller wrote:

In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.

Support Israel.

Defeat Jihad.

For a short message on the side of a bus consisting of 18 words, a message designed to make a strong impression on people and hit them with the main point, I’d say that “savage” is fine. I like the boldness of it, since in liberal society you’re not supposed to say that anyone is a savage (or a barbarian). And certainly the behavior of jihadists is like the behavior of savages, even if, as I’ve argued above, the basis of their behavior is different from that of savages. We should support the civilized man against the savage. At the moment I can’t think of a better word for what Geller is trying to convey in a snappy phrase, though if I think about it I may come up with something.

Also, I have a feeling that her first sentence is a quotation from Ayn Rand. It has an aphoristic, authoritative quality which is not Geller’s style.

September 2, 12:30 a.m.

Alan Roebuck writes:

Your guess that Geller’s statement, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” is a quotation of Ayn Rand’s is correct. Via Google, I found this, which contains the original Rand quote, and this, in which Geller attributes the quote to Rand.

LA replies:

Thanks for finding this.

Here is the original Rand statement you found, at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights:

Ayn Rand on Israel (Ford Hall Forum lecture, 1974)

Q: What should the United States do about the [1973] Arab-Israeli War?

AR: Give all the help possible to Israel. Consider what is at stake. It is not the moral duty of any country to send men to die helping another country. The help Israel needs is technology and military weapons—and they need them desperately. Why should we help Israel? Israel is fighting not just the Arabs but Soviet Russia, who is sending the Arabs armaments. Russia is after control of the Mediterranean and oil.

Further, why are the Arabs against Israel? (This is the main reason I support Israel.) The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. [LA replies: What an ignorant remark! Even in the time of Muhammad, there were city Arabs, and nomadic Arabs. And Muhammad himself was a city Arab, a resident of Mecca and a member of the dominant clan there.] Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. [Emphasis added.] Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don’t want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don’t wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I’ve contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.

Here, from a January 30, 2012 article at American Thinker, is Geller’s attribution to Rand of the statement (though Geller changed it a bit and actually improved it):

… But my AFDI ad, which quotes Ayn Rand—“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”—was not acceptable because it “aims to demean and this isn’t okay.

September 20

LA writes:

In a later entry, I qualified what I said in this entry:

I said recently that I do not think it is correct to refer to jihadists as “savages,” since practitioners of jihad are not merely wild and unrestrained, but are following a highly articulated set of rules and laws, the Islamic sharia, dating back at least to the eighth century. That does not mean that no Muslim behavior is savage. The multi-nation Muslim mayhem that has been going on for the last four days—the pretext being a ten minute video produced by private individuals on the other side of the world from the rioters—is the behavior of savages. And the failure or refusal of their governments to stop the violence shows that Islamic society as such is implicated in the savagery.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 01, 2012 01:33 PM | Send

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