Op-Ed: Of Monkeys, Pigs and Space Travel
Daniel PerezThe writer was editor of the Jewish Voice of New York. His work has appeared in a variety of news outlets, including A7, Yeshiva World News and JNS. Mr. Perez is currently working as a freelance writer and consultant . He can be reached at email@example.com.
We live in an age of cultural sensitivity run amok – to the point where political correctness supersedes actual correctness as a matter of course. For example, I live in the United States, where people, out of a fear of offending the Black community, will refer to any and all Black persons as “African-American,” regardless of the nationality of the individual in question, as if it's a fixed phrase that implies politeness whether or not it's actually applicable.
It's this sort of self-righteous ignorance that reared its head earlier this week, and turned an innocent joke by an American leader into an alleged racial slur.
In an interview on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that he'd like to be Iran's first astronaut. Tweeted Arizona Senator John McCain: “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space - wasn't he just there last week?” appending to his pithy remark a link to a news story regarding the recent launch by Iran of a spacecraft with a monkey in it.
Okay, first of all – that's actually pretty funny. Well played, Senator. I for one find it encouraging to see an elder U.S. statesman making such savvy use of social media, though I'm not entirely certain the line wasn't typed by a sharp-tongued intern.
That said, it seems that some can't take McCain's harmless witticism at face value, and instead felt it necessary to malign the Senator with accusations of bigotry (to wit, Republican Congressman Justin Amash's admonition that McCain should “wisen up & not make racist jokes.”)
Now I'm not going to win many hearts and minds by pointing out the obvious, but regardless of whether you think McCain's comment was unbecoming a member of the Senate, you have to admit, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does look rather monkey-like. I say this as a man who married into a Persian family (note: “Persian” is what those Iranians call themselves who are proud of their culture but ashamed of the government of their country of origin), none of whom happen to resemble simians. But I digress.
As an American, I spent the better part of the last decade rolling my eyes as President George W. Bush, our head of state, was constantly likened by my left-wing peers (often my own countrymen) to a chimpanzee. Now, these same people take offense when one of our leaders has a little fun at the expense of the despotic leader of a hostile foreign regime? I still feel like I'm pointing out the obvious here, but since no one seems to be saying it, perhaps I should: Assuming that McCain's jab at Ahmadinejad was motivated by race is itself racist. No one would say that the Bush/Chimpanzee visual comparisons were motivated by anti-white racism, per se. Rather, liberals sought to vent their dislike of the Republican Commander-in-Chief - whose Conservative policies and frequent malapropisms led many to doubt his intelligence, and whose prominent ears certainly weren't doing him any favors. Yet say it about a Middle Eastern leader, and you're racially biased. The very fact that there are more compelling, non-racial reasons for the analogy tells us that it is more likely McCain's detractors who are fixated on the issue of race, and not Sen. McCain himself.
The most ironic part of all is that Ahmadinejad himself continues a proud Islamist tradition of dehumanizing the members of a particular ethnic group, based on a passage in the Quran where certain Jews are cursed by G-d and transformed into apes and swine. In June of 2010, the Iranian President referred to the founders of the Jewish state as the “dirtiest,” “filthiest,”and “most criminal” of “so-called humans.” I wonder if Congressman Amash was as distraught by Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic tirade as he was by McCain's wisecrack.
When all is said and done, however, I can see how McCain's comments may be seen as unfair, undiplomatic, and simply mean-spirited. So, while I am not an officially elected or appointed representative of the United States Government, as an American citizen, I would like to issue an apology on behalf of my country:
We're sorry, monkey. We didn't mean to compare you to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You've already been through a lot this week - being launched into space in a shoddy Iranian-made rocket is stressful enough, without us adding insult to injury. So again, we apologize if you were in any way hurt or offended by the Senator's remarks.
In response to the brouhaha generated over his quip, Sen. McCain asked:“Re: Iran space tweet - lighten up folks, can't everyone take a joke?”
I know the question was almost certainly rhetorical, but since we're already on the subject, I'll go ahead and answer it anyway: No they can't, Mr. Senator. No they can't. But those of us with our heads far enough removed from our posteriors to hear your joke for what it was, we support you.
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that by zeroing in on this Twitter nonsense we're ignoring the much more urgent story, namely:The Mideast dictator who wants to wipe another country off the face of the earth is launching missiles into outer space? And the first time we're hearing from it is about Iran's Government News Agency? Don't we have people who are supposed to be on top of this?!
Or as the average Twitter user would put it: OMG! WTF?
Twitterers are nothing if not concise.
Maybe our leaders have more pressing matters to attend to than Twitter-based flame wars?