What do you think would happen if some marginal American crank (say, Nixonite and former Republican storm-trooper Pat Buchanan) objected to an advertisement featuring someone wearing a yarmulke, arguing that the headwear was symbolic of the "terrorism" being carried out by Israelis in the Occupied Territories? Doubtless, the fool would be ignored and left to stew without being given even the satisfaction of a significant public rebuke; certainly, he could not hope for the slightest gesture in acquiescence to his delusions.
Now, what would happen if a marginal American right-wing bobble-headed "pundit" objected to an ad featuring an actress wearing something that could be taken for a kaffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf, in the belief that the ad promotes "murderous Palestinian jihad"? I thought I knew the answer to that question. Sadly, I did not--which should come to me as no surprise by now.
Indeed, neo-con gargoyle Michelle Malkin seems to have single-handedly frightened Dunkin' Donuts into pulling an ad that showed a woman wearing the offending headgear around her neck (thus criminally wasting an opportunity to ask the cloth why it hates America's freedoms). The corporation later released a statement insisting that "absolutely no symbolism was intended" and lamenting that "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention, to promote our iced coffee"--a fascinating response, as Dunkin' Donuts implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of Malkin's interpretation and simply denies responsibility for it (i.e. "we understand how people could immediately and instinctively associate Arabs with terrorism, and we certainly did not intend to trigger that association. Our bad. We just wanted to unload some bloody coffee!").
What's astonishing, of course, is that the kaffiyeh is symbolic only of Arabism; its terrorist aura is an hysterical red herring projected onto it by nativist paranoia. Thus, from the relative lack of critical public response to this lamentable event, we must conclude that Americans find reasonable the notion that Arabs are reprehensible in themselves and as such and that their relegation to pariah status and their total erasure from American public spaces are desirable initiatives. These attitudes are crucial prerequisites for strategies of cultural "cleansing", not only for small ones like Malkin's petty philistinism, but for large, systematic ones, such as Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws. While very different in scope and texture, both kinds are odious.
Incidentally, one must be surprised to see an advertisement come under ideological attack. Americans have always applied rather loose ethical standards to marketing, one of the few Western professions to which we grant the right of ritualised perjury. Americans have always believed that, in the sacred project of selling stuff, all must be permitted; the American marketer is the Nietzschean Overman, through whose aloof disregard for the inner restraints that domesticate the quotidian lives of Mass Man America fulfills her core, pelf-making mission. That ads are now being dragged from the giddy heights of moral transcendence and made to satisfy the same xenophobic criteria Americans apply to the more obviously discursive elements of their pop culture speaks to the deepening virulence of America's Islamophobic contagion.
It is one thing for small, vulnerable entities to betray their consciences and allow themselves to be intimidated into shameful acts by something more powerful, something fully capable of devastating retaliation. Though such compromises are psychologically understandable, it pleases many of us to describe as "cowardice" the many acts of shabby enabling and collaboration that defaced Germany and its occupied satellites in the face of a brutal fascist ascendancy during the '30's and '40's.
It is quite another thing for a massive, wealthy corporation to stoop to nativist cretinism at the behest of a single carping charlatan who hasn't the wherewithal to do one iota of significant damage to its profitability. Such an immediate and craven moral collapse suggests that Dunkin' Donuts did not need to be threatened but was, in fact, quite happy to oblige. It's a special kind of cowardice that folds before a credible threat is uttered.
To measure accurately America's current cultural temperature, we need to understand that, while they consider it outrageous to display something Arabic, it is perfectly acceptable to display the Confederate flag (it is, in fact, necessary in those southern states which retain it as part of their official state emblems). In today's U.S.A., it is less offensive to honour a legacy of human bondage and savage racial oppression than to profess the plain fact that Arabs are not necessarily unspeakable vermin. This is the kind of "generous, liberal internationalism" our libertarian-continentalist carnies are barking about whenever they contrast America's alleged broad-mindedness to our "petty, nationalist parochialism". When I hear of a woman being drummed off Canadian airwaves for daring to look like someone whose ancestors were not among the crew of Jacques Cartier's Grande Ermine, I'll start to listen to pro-American special pleading with somewhat abated contempt.
In other news, some American grunts in Iraq seem to be doing a little missionary work on the side, using coins to spread to Gospel message (in further confirmation that Americans simply cannot separate religion from money).
Now, I can understand how the GI's might be getting a tad overconfident and bored--having bribed many Sunni tribes into a loyalty of convenience and enjoyed more than six months' worth of a Shiite cease-fire--but, really, must they behave like the "crusaders" Bin Laden says they are?
As violence in Iraq declines, the U.S. military is finally making the first tentative steps towards living up to their own propaganda. Let's hope they soon stop living up to Al-Qaeda's.