In The Guardian today, Moustafa Bayoumi has an excellent essay on the history of anti-Palestinian bigotry in the US. I was disappointed, however, when I looked up Professor Bayoumi’s website, to find in his bio that he proudly references as an accomplishment “the most re-tweeted tweet of the 2016 USA presidential debates,” in which he wrote:

I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri. #debate


I can’t say I know the context for this tweet, but I’m absolutely certain that it was unnecessary to use this stigmatizing language that reinforces negative and harmful stereotypes of people with mental illness, and it’s especially disappointing coming from a Professor of English, as the way the tweet is constructed shows a deliberate weaponization of psychiatric language.

The use of the word “crazy” is of course a slur, and should never be used. In this context, it is used as a tool of pathologization to amplify the apparent dangerousness of the person on stage, explicitly invoking the stereotype of people with mental illness as being violent. I’m reminded of the way that Amy Cooper, the white woman walking her dog in Central Park in 2020, deliberately weaponized Christian Cooper’s race, as a call to violence against him, by reporting that “there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

Similarly, the use of the word “woman” in this context is important, as it plays on the trope of women and children being particularly vulnerable and in need of protection by white men, which in turn motivates the carceral and criminalizing logics that are deployed against disabled people and Black people. And finally, the use of the word “report” here is significant, because it demonstrates Bayoumi’s full and complicit knowledge of how mental health has been thoroughly securitized, and the sort of tongue in cheek way that the author invokes and invites policing of a “crazy person” is both offensive and insensitive to how these carceral logics harm the disabled community.

Edited to add: The phrase, “I’m a Muslim,” is also doing a lot of work here and it’s quite sad. It’s the author acknowledging that despite all the harms caused by the heavy policing and surveilling of Muslim Americans, the author is ok with legitimizing that same law enforcement apparatus as long as it is used against “the right kind of people.” That’s US liberal politics in a nutshell. Instead of seeking to dismantle state tools of violence, liberals just find other groups to point them against.

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