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'Capitol Building attack is like Syria' and other Orientalist takes on pro-Trump violence

Van Jones compared Capitol violence to events in Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 January, 2021

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As the US picks itself up after a night of violence in the Capitol Building, some pundits are being criticised for Orientalist takes on the drama.
The US is clambering to pick up the pieces of its global reputation after supporters of President Donald Trump laid siege to the heart of government in Washington on Wednesday evening, in a chaotic response to Congress' expected affirmation of Joe Biden's election victory.

As the country's media responded to the violent storming of the Capitol Building, comparisons were made to recent tragic events in the Middle East which were slammed by some as racist and Orientalist.

CNN news anchor Van Jones attracted the ire of Arab-Americans and people in the Middle East by comparing the riots in Washington to recent events in Syria.

"Where we're headed looks more like Syria than the United States of America," he said.

Comparing these ugly scenes in the US capital to tragedies unfolding in the Middle East play into Orientalist stereotypes that posit the people of the region as homogenously chaotic.

It also downplays the consequences of coups and repression, sometimes with US backing, have had on people in the Arab world.

"This is what infuriates me," wrote one inflamed Twitter user. "Stop these comparisons, Van Jones."

"It's truly remarkable how resilient American exceptionalism is," another added.

ABC News Chief Martha Raddatz compared Capitol Building scenes to "Baghdad".

"It's so horrible to know, we are in America where this is happening, on Capitol Hill. I'm not in Baghdad. I'm not in Kabul. I'm not in a dangerous situation overseas. We are in America."

Journalist Deanna corrected Raddatz. "You do know Baghdad & Kabul were in those situations because of America? Stop this repulsive Orientalism," she wrote.

"The West is the progenitor of violent colonialism. @VanJones68 also likened it to Syria. Violence is not endemic to these nations. It is a reaction to colonialism & despotism."

Another Twitter user criticised the throwaway US exceptionalism on local television.

"Crazy how smoothly established that there are first and second class humans on national tv, like she basically declared it's the norm to experience violence in daily life when you are from those countries, while implying it should be a given to be save when in America..damn ma."

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also appeared to compare the riots to events in the Middle East.

"It's going to make the Sunnis and Shiites look like a very calm family gathering," he said on-air, when comparing post-Trump relations between Republicans and Democrats. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIRS) swiftly condemned his comments, and in a statement.

"Rahm Emanuel's comments about Muslims were demeaning, uninformed and Islamophobic. In America and abroad, Sunni and Shia Muslims live as neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family members," Government Affairs Department Director Rovert S McCaw.

"Emanuel's Islamophobic comments show a fundamentally flawed understanding of the Muslim community and perpetuate the false and harmful anti-Muslim trope that Sunni and Shia Muslims cannot peacefully co-exist.

"Emanuel should not misuse Islam to 'spice up' his political commentary. This remark is just one reason why Emanuel should not be included in the Biden-Harris administration, let alone in President Biden's cabinet."

Leaders across the world have expressed shock and concern over the events in Washington DC.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the scenes "disgraceful", while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the rioters as having a "contempt for democratic institutions".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday condemned as "disgraceful" violence at the US Capitol building by supporters of his staunch ally President Donald Trump, despite Israel's own brutal repression of peaceful Palestinian protests in the West Bank.

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