In any dictionary you will find, the word safari is generally defined as an expedition to observe or hunt down animals for pleasure. The other definition would be, a web browser developed by Apple.
Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Flemish politician Filip Dewinter were definitely not talking about the web browser when they coined the term “Islam Safari” to describe their campaign last week to inspect the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek, a place they called the “European capital of jihad.” Following their failed campaign, Wilders and Dewinter have been calling for mass demonstrations against the “Islamisation of the Netherlands and Belgium.”
Dewinter during an earlier inspection of mosques and schools in Borgerhout and Antwerp. “Met deze ‘Islamsafari’ willen we laten zien hoe het Vlaamse karakter van Antwerpen verdwijnt.” (With this ‘Islamsafari’ we want to show how the Flemish character of Antwerp is vanishing.”)
It was all over the news. Yet how many actually noticed or cared that these two extreme-right politicians just brazenly employed a word meant for animals, and applied it to a population of human beings?
Well, why should anyone even notice or care? In this age of revitalized and ever-growing populism, we’ve grown accustomed, deaf, and immune to trashy, condescending populist talk. It has become normal. It no longer shocks. And we would rather just ignore it because to pay attention could only dignify the loud, flashy, publicity-hungry antics of the rabble-rousers.
But in life, there are insults better left ignored and there are insults that beg to be addressed. When human beings start reducing their fellow human beings to the level of animals even just verbally, it is undeniably an insult. Not just to one community, but to the whole of humanity.
The question is – is it the kind of insult you ignore or the kind that you address? How far and how much should we tolerate when it comes to the usual populist attacks?
Words are just words. But they can be a powerful weapon for degrading and alienating others. And while we have no control over the way people talk, we can always stay critical and vigilant about the way we or others use words. Because anything, if used and tolerated often, can easily and inconspicuously become a triviality. Or worse, a mentality and a way of life. Remember Trump. Remember Brexit. Or remember the Nazis.
Demagogues will always make noise. And so long as their words fall on deaf ears, we may have no cause for alarm. We can only hope and pray that those provocative terminologies and calls to action we choose to ignore will not fall on accepting, impressionable, and convincible ears.