This story is a few days old but it picks up a theme we've heard before. In a Twitter post credited to him, Senator McCain took a poke at President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who in applauding his country's latest space feat expressed a desire to go to space himself. The space feat, disputed by skeptics, was the launch and recovery of a live monkey in an Iranian space capsule, a precursor to manned flight. So when the McCain tweet asked, "wasn't he just there last week?" the Arizonan had gone on record calling the Iranian a monkey. That annoyed a fellow Republican, Rep. Amash of Michigan, who called the tweet a "racist joke." Amash is of Arab descent and thus a disinterested defender of the Iranian. The McCain account replied that Amash and other critics should lighten up....and to an extent they should.
It's certainly undiplomatic for an American senator to call a foreign leader a monkey, but that's not what bugged Amash, who is certainly no apologist for the Islamic Republic. The congressman clearly acted on the assumption that it is "racist" to call any person who isn't "white" a monkey. This point is made more often whenever someone attempts to portray President Obama as any kind of ape. I've felt an unhappy obligation to defend such slanderers on "turnabout is fair play" principles, recalling all the times that George W. Bush was rendered as a monkey by his enemies. To argue that it means something different depending on who is made a monkey is to presume motive, not to mention guilt. Why did people see Dubya as a monkey? Because he was believed to be stupid, and because many perceived a certain "simian" idiocy in his facial features. No charge of racial inferiority was implied or inferred, yet the charge is inevitably inferred whenever anyone gives the same treatment, rhetorically or pictorially, to a "non-white" person. If you portray Barack Obama as a monkey, it's presumed that you do so because you consider him not merely intellectually but genetically subhuman. The same rule apparently applies to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at least as far as Justin Amash is concerned, despite a certain idiocy in the Iranian's face, whose slight resemblance to Dubya in dimness of expression is obscured by the same beard that may make him more apelike in some eyes. From his comments on a variety of topics, homosexuality for example, it's fair if not objective to conclude that Ahmadinejad is in many ways a stupid man despite his professional standing as a teacher and thus deserving of McCain's implicit verbal caricature. Isn't it possible that some people think the same way about President Obama without attributing his alleged idiocy to his race? Given American history, I can understand why some people will always be offended by the portrayal of any black man as a monkey, but if the offense is the dehumanization of a human being shouldn't we all be offended equally whenever any person is monkeyfied? Something isn't right if the rule is that it's OK to make a monkey of a white person somehow, that in such a case you're presumed to be reproaching the individual only, but not OK to do that to anyone else. Maybe Rep. Amash can show us the right direction. As a Republican, he was presumably offended when his President was made a monkey a decade ago, and I should hope that if he'd denounce the simianization of a foreigner he would also denounce the similar treatment of the current President. Perhaps Amash would have credibility if he told the world that no human being should be portrayed as an ape. Until then, he's just flinging poo.