Thursday, June 11, 2009

Here's the problem with the "Hate Speech" equals "political violence" argument

So the 88-year-old white supremacist anti-tax anti-government anti-Semitic nutcase kills a guard at the Holocaust Museum, and there is an immediate {and by immediate, I mean within less than a couple of hours] move to portray him as a fringe part of the so-called Conservative movement, claim vindication for the DHS Rightwing terrorism report, and reiterate calls that the GOP has to rein in its rhetoric....

Then Newsmax--an unabashed right-wing shil outfit--goes out and finds a Reform Rabbi from New York:

Rabbi Dr. Morton H. Pomerantz is a member of the Reform movement of Judaism and serves as a chaplain for the State of New York. A former Navy and Marine Corps officer and chaplain, he has also served as deputy national chaplain for the Jewish War Veterans of the United States.

Rabbi Pomerantz then turns the table, and uses virtually the exact same language of hate speech, coded messages, and failure to rein in the fringe of his movement ... right back on President Obama:

Our new president did not tell a virulent anti-Semite to travel to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to kill Jews, but he is most certainly creating a climate of hate against us.

It is no coincidence that we are witnessing this level of hatred toward Jews as President Barack Obama positions America against the Jewish state.

Just days ago Obama traveled to Cairo, Egypt. It was his second trip in a short time to visit Muslim countries. He sent a clear message by not visiting Israel.

But this was code.

In Cairo, Obama said things that pose a grave danger to Jews in Israel, in America and everywhere.

And if his views are not vigorously opposed they will help create a danger as great as that posed by the Nazis to the Jewish people.

Just last week, Obama told his worldwide audience — more than 100 million people — that the killing of six million Jews during the Holocaust was the equivalent of Israel’s actions in dealing with the Palestinians.

This remark is incredible on its face, an insult to the six million Jews who died as a result of Hitler’s genocide — and it is a form of revisionism that will bode evil for Jews for years to come.

While Obama acknowledged that “six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today” — his discussion about the Holocaust was followed by this statement: “On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

“On the other hand . . . ”?

Obama’s clever construct comparing the mass genocide of six million Jews to the Palestinian struggle will not be lost on the estimated 100 million Muslims who tuned into to hear him.

Given the terribly heated nature of this debate, I have to say [three times]:


Regular readers will know that I am intensely critical of longstanding American policy toward Israel and Israel's policy toward Gaza.

Got it?

Because here's what Rabbi Pomerantz then does with the President's speech:

Obama’s clever construct comparing the mass genocide of six million Jews to the Palestinian struggle will not be lost on the estimated 100 million Muslims who tuned into to hear him.

Perhaps it was not lost on James W. von Brunn, the 88-year-old white supremacist identified as the alleged attacker Wednesday at the Holocaust Museum. He apparently felt that he could easily take retribution against the Jews for the atrocities Obama implies they are guilty of.

I am not drawing an equivalency here, but lots of other people--and not all of the Republican operatives--will.

That's because the entire construct of right-wing vs. left-wing extremism championed in the DHS report and elsewhere is fatally simplistic, and because you should never think you've developed the charge nobody will ever be able to counter.

Ask yourself how this plays in the non-blogging, essentially apolitical public.

Lots of Israelis and American Jews are vehemently opposed to President Obama's foreign policy, to the point that the Israeli press is daily calling him anti-Semitic and cabinet ministers are threatening to mobilize Jewish voters in America to target swing Congressional districts in 2010.

Lots of people saw less of a hand out to Islam in the Cairo speech than a boot in the face to Israel and Jews the world over [sorry, Dana, I agree the whole shoe controversy was ginned up, but I could not pass up the line].

There remain in the this country virulent anti-Semitic extremists--both lone wolves and organized groups--who will take aid and comfort from the fact that President Obama has very publicly started distancing himself from Israel on many policy issues.

And so, when that geriatic idiot walks into the Holocaust Museum firing, will those people [many of whom voted for Barack Obama by the way] be more likely to ascribe his possible inspiration to Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, and Michael Steele, or to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be credible.

And--unfortunately--with a lot of people it is going to sound credible enough to discredit those who are portraying Von Frumm as the poster child for rightwing extremism.

This is where I go completely with Anonone:

I know that you’re not advocating banning speech. But your statement gives aid and comfort to those who would.

A person’s speech, as protected by the First Amendment, does not make them culpable or responsible for the criminal actions of another person, even if the criminal says that it inspired him/her.

I agree that there is some social responsibility for all of us to try to maintain at least a semblance of a responsible civilized discourse.

That’s all.

Delawaredem argued that my opposition to the DHS Rightwing Extremism Report:

I am not calling you a right winger. But on occasion, you do give them cover)

I know that. But I think the principle of free speech is that important.

Now go back and compare that to A1's but your statement gives aid and comfort [arguably, "cover"] to those who would.

Pandora [to whom A1 was responding] also knows that, but she feels like the safety and security of fellow American citizens is that important.

There's the rub: there are two legitimate dynamics in action here, both centering around Freedom of Speech and its place in a free society.

You can lean toward feeling there is enough need for accountability after speech to be willing to accept significant curbs on potentially legitimate if unpopular and controversial speech.

You can lean toward feeling that the premise of free speech is so important to a free society that you have got to even be willing to risk casualties to maintain it.

Progressives tend to lean pretty far in one direction, libertarians in the other, and most Americans are somewhere in the spectrum between them.

But while holding either extreme view does not make one un-American, the difficult with this discussion is that it has put many of us--all of whom oppose political violence by extremists--on opposite sides of a shouting match in which everyone [me included] has become more interested in scoring points than listening.

If we don't stop doing that locally, we're not going to stop doing it nationally.

One last note: there can't be preconditions on stopping. I think of it as the Iran paradox. Last year most of my liberal and progressive friends applauded candidate Obama for saying he would be willing to sit down and meet with Iran [and other unfriendly regimes] without preconditions. He wasn't going to ask them to apologize for anything to open a dialogue. Many of the same people who cheered that concept are now saying they won't sit down and discuss this issue until people on the other side apologize and beg forgiveness as a precondition to entering the discussion as a fellow American citizen.

That, to me, is unacceptable.

1 comment:

pandora said...

I fully admit that I'm struggling with this and, by no means, have the answer.

I am 100% free speech, so even writing my concerns at Delaware Liberal twists my gut.

Perhaps we need a massive grass roots push back against hate speech. No laws, just a lot of mouth!