Editor-in-Chief of TNR says: “Muslim life is cheap.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possible anti-Muslim double standard in the media, in reference to CNN’s firing of an editor over some sympathetic comments she had made about a controversial Muslim cleric. Here I want to aggregate a few news pieces for the convenience of readers. I realize that some of you may have read about this already, and that there is no shortage of existing commentary, but as James Fallows wrote, “The upsurge in expressed hostility toward Muslims — not toward extremists or terrorists but toward adherents of a religion as a group — creates an American moment that isn’t going to look good in historical retrospect. The people indulging in this kind of group-bias speech deserve to be called out.” So, I don’t feel bad for piling-on.

Recently, the editor-in-chief of The New Republic published a controversial piece that criticizes Muslims, and Muslim Americans, for their lack of angered response to terrorist attacks committed by fellow-Muslims, and then ends with a paragraph that, well, read for yourself:

This intense epidemic of slaughter has been going on for nearly a decade and a half…without protest, without anything. And it has been going for decades and centuries before that.

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Pakistani lawyers burn a U.S. flag while rallying in reaction to a small American church's plan to burn copies of the Quran.

I could not imagine such offensive words written by the publisher of what I had (previously) imagined to be a great magazine of liberal values, one I could point to as the Left’s intelligent answer to, say, The National Review. Though, I should say, their article against Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation deeply troubled me at the time, but I chalked that up to one careless journalist. Nick Kristof at the New York Times, which, Thank Sulzberger, remains true to its liberal tradition, writes in response: “Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?” Kristof even thanks George W. Bush for his quick and public preemption of Islamic hate when he distinguished al Qaeda from Islam.

Martin Peretz published an apology this week, but I found it highly lacking. On calling Muslim life “cheap” he points to Kristof’s words that Muslims could be doing more to speak out against Muslim-on-Muslim violence. Of course, if Muslims in Iraq, the Sudan, and the Lebanon had the same First Amendment guarantees in those countries as they do in ours, that might be possible. He might as well ask why some Iraqi Police who cooperate with American military forces wear black masks–they rightly fear for their safety, and that of their families. I’m willing to give the Muslim shop owner in Baghdad and the Palestinian smuggler in Gaza a free pass because they might be killed for loudly expressing their anti-Mahdi or anti-Hamas sentiments in cafes or markets, much less carrying posters in the streets. And what special duty do American Muslims, the followers of Imam Rauf, say, have to publicly express their distaste for terrorist activity? Is it a necessary condition of citizenship that they must march to protest what is obviously abhorrent, and dance for the satisfaction of American television viewers, like some modern version of the loyalty oath we required of Japanese Americans during WWII?**

Additionally, he explains, the idea that Muslim life is cheap “is a statement of fact, not value.” A charitable interpretation of that sentence might translate it to: Some people believe that Muslim life is cheap, particularly Muslim terrorists who routinely kill Muslims. But it also implies that Peretz thinks Muslim life is also cheap, less notably, to non-Muslims. Perhaps Muslim life is thought of and valued as cheap by Peretz himself, who concludes the paragraph with his odious suggestion that Muslim Americans might not deserve constitutional freedoms we yet accord the lowest criminals in society. This line, that Muslim life is cheap, Peretz does not apologize for, and this is made clear by the link to his apology in his original article, which was “for one sentence” he had written.

Peretz does apologize, unconditionally, for that one sentence about First Amendment rights. He writes:

The embarrassing sentence is: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” I wrote that, but I do not believe that. I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever.

But unfortunately, Peretz cannot credibly apologize for that line. As Brad DeLong pointed out:

It is worth noting–as a matter of communication–that Peretz has written a paragraph that it is logically impossible for him to ever recant. He asks his readers whether he needs to “honor” “these people” and “pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the first amendment.”

Thus any statement Marty should make to withdraw or amend falls under the shadow of his “pretend.” Any withdrawal or amendment becomes a statement that “yes, I do need to pretend–but I don’t mean it.”

The worst part of this episode is that Martin Peretz is not an ignorant man from some small town in the South or Midwest, a hundred miles from the nearest mosque. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of a liberal magazine, graduated from a large and diverse high school in New York City (Bronx Science), and earned his PhD and a professorship from Harvard University. It is frankly not possible for a literate man in the post 9/11 world to not have given sincere thought to frequent, crazed assertions from the Far Right that Islam is synonymous with terror–yet he conflates the two. He conflates, as Kristof said, what even George W. Bush, for all his verbal disasters and foreign policy quagmires, expressly de-linked. When Peretz asks why American Muslims don’t more publicly condemn “the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood“–their Islamic brotherhood–he fans the flames of those rabidly anti-Muslim protestors at Ground Zero, he justifies the discrimination against and suspicion of American Muslims all over the country, and apologizes for the frequent harassment of Muslim children in school and on the playground. How could the schoolyard bully, or the Midwestern bumpkin, know any different when a Harvard professor and magazine editor like Peretz does not? And how could the Muslim in Palestine and Iraq and Iran not think we, Americans, are hypocritical and anti-Islam when fundamentalist clerics can gleefully distribute literature like this, from a purportedly liberal source, no less?

James Fallows at The Atlantic continued in his second piece on the matter:

I suggested that if such a person were any less well-connected, or if the sentiment had been about any other religious or racial group, he would be taking much more heat. (See: Marge Schott, Al Campanis, Trent Lott, Mel Gibson, Pat Buchanan, Dinesh D’Souza, Helen Thomas, etc. Think even of the flap over Lawrence Summers’s comments about gender differences in math-and-science skills, or James Watson or William Shockley on racial differences in IQ. Try to find in one of these cases something approaching “Group X’s life is cheap.”)

It is a shame that he is not. Fallows and Kristof are right; we would not stand for the base description of any other group, and no group in America deserves such generalized disrespect. One writer from Slate points out that Marty Peretz has been doing this for 20 years, this is only more of the same, Marty being Marty. A friend who worked at The New Republic points out that Marty is harmless; Tel-Aviv-based, and away from the office; only a part-owner of the magazine now; who does not seek to influence the message of talented liberal writers like Jon Chait; and a fine magazine should not be judged because one man (the editor-in-chief) occasionally rants about Muslims. But for those not inside the journalistic loop, he can be easily represented as the face of TNR to bigots at home, and as the face of America to our enemies abroad. I would not be sad if he were forced to give up his soapbox.

“A man walks through the crowd at the Ground Zero protest and is mistaken as a Muslim. The crowd turns on him and confronts him. The man in the blue hard hat calls him a coward and tries to fight him. The tall man who I think was one of the organizers tried to get between the two men. Later I caught up with the man who’s name is Kenny. He is a Union carpenter who works at Ground Zero.” via the video description on YouTube. HT: Mondoweiss.


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