Robert Azzi: Beware the pirates of the intellect

For the Monitor
Published: 10/28/2018 12:10:21 AM

The Camp of the Saints, a 1973 racist novel by Frenchman Jean Raspail that purports to depict the destruction of “Western Civilization” because of unfettered illegal mass immigration from non-white, non-Christian nations, is much beloved by neo-Nazis and white nationalists, especially by Steve Bannon; reading it today foretells the hysteria and racism currently being invoked by President Donald Trump over a caravan consisting of desperate poor brown people they fear will soon invade America.

Sadly, too, it foretells the level of ignorance and intolerance that today plagues America.

Khaled Abou El Fadl wrote, in The Search for Beauty in Islam, that “the pirates of intellect, the sharks that crave the pedantic and thrive on the insignificant.”

Today, those pirates, those sharks, are the new barbarians embracing a vision of America based on racial hatred, xenophobia and violence, barbarians whose divisive rhetoric and dehumanizing policies are an existential threat to America.

“Truthfulness,” Ibn Ḥazm, an 11th-century Andalusian poet and philosopher, wrote, “is composed of justice and courage.”

In today’s America, with our existential freedoms and values under assault, we find little truth, little justice and even less courage to confront demagogues and threats to our liberties.

Instead, with little more than a week until midterm elections, we’re forced to confront nativist conspiracies embracing racism and xenophobia – embracing vile, anti-Semitic tropes – that are attempting to rally a xenophobic right-wing base in order to continue its treasonous assault on our homeland.

Trump’s rallying cry, “Make America Hate Again” resonates with his base because no one in the Republican Party, no figure in leadership, has the courage to confront the demons they unleashed in 2016 when they made a pact with the devil in exchange for privileges, power and tax cuts.

Last month, when President Barack Obama said that Trump’s positions were an “appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all” I’m sure that even he did not expect that within weeks Trump would offer “I’m proud of our country, and I am a nationalist,” evoking a term that in America is most often embraced by those who define national identity by race and ethnicity – generally white.

He’s a nationalist – for all the racist and authoritarian meaning that word connotes – being tormented by the press, who are “the enemies of the people,” the elites, who rule from “The Deep State,” and the globalists, as personified by Jewish philanthropist George Soros, who is often the subject of anti-Semitic dog whistles – and one of the recipients of a pipe bomb.

A nationalist whose supporters, as seen at a Minneapolis rally, may sport a T-shirt reading “Rope. Tree. Journalist – Some Assembly Required.”

This week explosive devices, nearly identical to that sent to Soros, were sent to Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, to Eric Holder, Maxine Waters, Joe Biden, John Brennan, Robert de Niro and others.

Explosive devices – whether designed to work or not – that represent a major terrorist assassination attack on American political leadership less than two weeks from the most important U.S. election in generations.

I believe that, as former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt tweeted: “Trump has stoked a cold civil war in this Country. His rallies brim with menace and he has labeled journalists as enemies of the people. That someone would seek to kill their political enemies is not aberrational but rather the inevitable consequence of Trumps incitement.”

Today, not long after he began a policy of kidnapping children from their parents and incarcerating them in cages, Trump is evoking a Jean Raspail-type spectre of brown-skinned peoples storming our borders who must be met and subdued by military force.

Trump seeks to triumph in November by exacerbating social divisions, dehumanizing minorities and people of color and encouraging violence by portraying his political opponents as violent mobs that must be opposed.

Please, my Salem and Dover and Milford neighbors who traffic in these vile, hateful and racist tropes; please, you across the nation who share such hate, xenophobia and ignorance at the expense of your humanity and your nation; please, all of you, be attentive to what side of history you stand on.

I know this; that while you may today dwell in a place where you view the Other as less human, I know, with certainty, that with love, with knowledge and passion, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” – that it bends toward all of us.

The day will come when we’re asked: Where were you when the privileged 1 percent got 84 percent of the tax cuts? When voting rights were being suppressed? When women were being molested and denigrated? When pillagers, profiteers and war-mongers were bombing Yemen and despoiling the earth?

That the day will come when we will all be held accountable, by a child, a grandchild, by your Creator, and asked, “where were you when peoples fleeing Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, peoples fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, peoples fleeing Africa, peoples fleeing inhuman conditions for which America is in part responsible, came to you for help?

Where were you when the “Pirates of intellect who, possessing no intellect of their own, (who) rehabilitated their ignorance with intolerance” came for your soul?

Where were you when the stranger from Egypt arrived; did you offer shelter or did you throw the children in cages?

Where was I – where were you?

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at His columns are archived at

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