The New York Times “Interpreter” column is a recent addition to the paper’s news pages. Sold as a philosophical, high-level fact-check, it comes off as an excuse to sneak yet more liberal opinion into the paper under the guise of offering an elevated perspective on current events.
Most egregious yet: Wednesday’s column by Amanda Taub, in which she goes to ludicrous lengths to wave away the problem of the threat of sexual assault by Islamic migrants and denigrate conservative critics of the assaults: “Portraying Muslims as a Threat to Women, Donald Trump Echoes ‘Us vs. Them’ Refrain.” Taub’s text is even worse than the headline, as she offensively compares valid concerns about Islamic refugee sexual violence and refugee attitudes toward women in general to Jim Crow and the lynching days.
Donald J. Trump, reiterating his call to restrict Muslim immigration to the United States, has adopted a tactic that has long been a mainstay of strongmen and sectarian provocateurs: portraying outsiders as a threat to women’s safety.
In a foreign policy speech on Monday, Mr. Trump referred to the practice known as honor killings in Pakistan and the mass sexual assault on New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne, implying that Muslim immigrants pose a threat to women in the United States.
Taub using classic liberal hypocrisy, dismissed conservative concerns about women’s safety.
Mr. Trump, knowingly or not, joined a long line of people who have justified harsh policies against a group by portraying its members, often in sexualized terms, as perilous to women. White supremacists justified lynching in the Jim Crow era by depicting black men as predators targeting white women, for example, and British propaganda during World War I featured lurid tales of German soldiers raping Belgian women.
By using women to measure moral distance between “us” and “them,” such messages portray outsiders as not just different, but dangerous. History has proved this rhetoric effective -- though more at rallying people behind the messenger and ostracizing the outsiders than at actually protecting women.
Taub saw an overarching pattern of bigotry.
Such messages tend to follow a script. The first step is to condemn an individual male member of a group -- a group seen as outsiders by the mainstream audience -- for an outrageous attack on an innocent woman or group of women. The next step is to portray the attack as evidence of the poor moral character or depraved culture inherent to the man’s social group, arguing that it therefore poses a danger to the mainstream society’s families and values. Finally, that danger is used to justify harsh, sometimes violent, action against that group.
Mr. Trump hewed closely to that template in Monday’s speech, at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
Taub desperately changed the subject away from Islam to Hinduism, before comparing Trump’s logic to Southern lynching.
A similar flawed logic was used to defend lynching in the South: Black men, the theory went, by some innate nature threatened the honor and safety of white women. But historians have documented that many black men who were lynched had not even been accused of rape. Rather, the deaths were a product of the portrayal of black men as an undifferentiated mass who had to be terrorized into submission.
In an amazing bit of pretzel logic, Taub managed to turn the idea of protecting women from “honor killings” into merely the other side of the same “honor culture” coin.
Although Mr. Trump denounced honor killings in his speech, he was embracing a line of argument that itself stems directly from honor culture, in which men’s ability to control and protect their families, particularly the women in them, is a key element of masculine social standing.
The columnist blindly refused to see a connection between the surge of refugees from Islamic countries and sexual assault.
Mr. Trump, by portraying gendered violence as a threat that comes from immigrants -- even though domestic violence and sexual assault are severe problems in the United States that hardly need to be imported -- reframes the issue from one of protecting women to one of demonizing migrants.
Taub caught a whiff of fascism.
For this reason, portraying social groups as a threat to the purity or safety of “our” women can effectively rally men against that group, as Mr. Trump did in highlighting the Cologne attacks to suggest that Muslim immigrants pose a sexual threat to Western women.
She finally admitted that concerns may in fact be genuine, but:
....it highlights how appeals to honor culture often have the opposite effect, because they are really about guarding the honor of men, not the safety of women....history has shown that it can be all too easy to exploit those dangers toward very different ends, indulging male honor culture to rally social groups against one another and to unite “us” against “them.”
Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin responded to Taub’s news-section screed with incredulity.
....That this was published as a news article in the news pages rather than in the opinion section is a testament to the decision of the Times and other liberal publications to drop any even the most minimal pretense of objectivity in their coverage of the election....it is not Jim Crow racism to speak of the epidemic of assaults in Europe that seem to have their roots in the influx of vast numbers of immigrants who are unwilling to adapt to Western norms with respect to the treatment of women. The notion that there is any comparison between justified concern about this unfortunate situation and the post-slavery oppression of blacks is as offensive as it is misguided....To the extent that liberals refuse to discuss these issues honestly, they are lending more credence to Trump’s critique of political correctness, not undermining it.