Discussing the violent anti-American demonstrations erupting across the Middle East outside U.S. embassies in Arab capitals, MSNBC contributor Michael Eric Dyson put a share of the blame on, well, "horrible" Americans.
It was the "demonization of a predictable minority," in this case Muslims, that was the spark that light the conflagration, Dyson argued on the September 14 edition of the noon Eastern program Now with Alex Wagner. "It's not as if, oh in America, we've resolved this with equanimity and grace," he added, seeking to conflate isolated incidents of hate speech against Muslims inside the United States with the violent response of the Arab street to an obscure low-budget YouTube video. [MP3 audio here; video follows page break]
"It [the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims"] just exposes our flanks in a very serious fashion," the Georgetown University professor lectured.
Dyson's blame-America-first posture didn't sit well with at least one other panelist.
"Any day you want, on the Internet, [you can] go and find something to be offended about any religion in quite intense and graphic terms," BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith protested, adding that while the film is "offensive," there was "a very specific chain of events" where organizers were planning riots with the movie as an excuse. The bottom line is that "On any given day you can find something like this" to use as an excuse for a riot.
That was too simple an explanation for Dyson, who then turned to the left-wing professor's favorite bogeyman, colonialism.
"What is it, Rosaldo Renato [sic, it's really Renato Rosaldo], the anthropologist talks about imperialist nostalgia, in one sense" where "we destroy countries and then we go weep with them after they've been destroyed," Dyson lectured Smith, before laughably adding (emphasis mine):
Now, you're talking about a chain of events necessarily, that has to focus on what actually happened. But if you draw back a bit, that doesn't account for what America has done, how it has been perceived and understood in a world where it has also fomented, with far more skill and grace, than these so-called barbaric acts that have revealed it. I think we have to have a bit more responsibility in that.
Struggling to contain his laughter, Smith shot back, "Well, sure, but what actually happened does seem like something that you ought to be discussing here," prompting Dyson to double down, "But what happens is what America has done and contributed."
A few moments later, Dyson, an ordained Baptist minister, tripled down, which is where his "horrible" Americans charge came down:
You can find a lot of hate on the Internet. But that ain't all equal. All hate ain't equal. It doesn't target people with the kind of vicious specificity that Muslims have endured in this country since 9/11. So we can't pretend because there could be some anti-Christian stuff that's out there that it parallels what's going on, that, that not only attacks and assaults Muslims but also stigmatizes them in ways that we haven't quite dealt with in our society.
So when we see these kind of conflagrations, we're able to point the finger: oh, how horrible it is. But we're horrible too because we've quietly, you know, fueled and fomented the kind of unnecessary hostility that we ought to take a mirror and look at ourselves.