Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space”

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

The conceit of Amash’s attempt to take McCain to the woodshed is the idea that Westerners see all third world peoples as animals who are less than human and unworthy of respect. But McCain wasn’t trying to imply that Iranians or Muslims are monkeys. He was poking fun at a man whose fantastical utterances and unabashed hate has become the butt of jokes for Westerners for years. Indeed, the problem with Ahmadinejad is that too many Americans don’t take the hatred and the existential threat his regime poses to Israel as well as to the security of the world seriously because he is a comic figure and so easily lampooned. If American comics have dehumanized him, it is not very different from the way Adolf Hitler and his Nazi and fascist allies were depicted in American popular culture before the world learned the tragic truth about the Holocaust. It is a not unnatural reaction for those who are themselves dehumanized by haters to return the favor, if only in humorous context. Although he denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one, Ahmadinejad is not the equivalent of Adolf Hitler. But one has to wonder how anyone, let alone a member of Congress, can muster up much outrage about some comic sniping aimed at the Iranian leader.

Amash is probably trying to use McCain’s tweet to further the popular idea that American Muslims and Arabs are suffering under the burden of prejudice. Though the post-9/11 backlash is more myth than reality, it would have been a terrible thing had McCain actually slurred Muslims or Persians. But he didn’t. He just made a joke about Ahmadinejad and the poor primate that is alleged to have been strapped into a rocket by his terrorist masters.

Americans have always laughed at their enemies. It is a healthy reaction and speaks of our self-confidence as well as our justified contempt for those who despise our democracy and threaten the peace of the world. The only questions about Ahmadinejad’s humanity stem from the hate that he spews, not a silly jest. Amash’s faux outrage about the insult directed at the Iranian president tells us more about his priorities than it does about those of McCain. 

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