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The controversy surrounding the mosque and Islamic cultural center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero is a case in point. That project has been defended on First Amendment grounds by everyone from Imam Rauf to President Obama, who insist that Muslims have a First Amendment right to built where they please. But in truth none of the mosque project’s opponents – who polls show include the majority of New Yorkers, hardly a right-wing powerbase – have questioned the right to build a mosque at Ground Zero – only the wisdom and decency of doing so at that sensitive and, for many New Yorkers, uniquely sacred location. No reasonable person would deny that Muslims should have the same access to the First Amendment as all Americans, but the promiscuity with which proponents of the mosque project have tried to make a constitutional issue out of what is really a debate about propriety certainly validates Peretz’s concern about First Amendment abuse.
The hypocrisy of Peretz’s critics is also striking. The same protestors who professed outrage at Peretz’s comments about the First Amendment tried to have him barred from speaking at this weekend’s celebration. How genuine are their concerns about the unrestricted exercise of the First Amendment if they are so eager to deny it to those, like Peretz, with whom they disagree?
All the more rank is that hypocrisy when one considers that Peretz’s other controversial comment – “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims” – is not actually that controversial, and has been made so only through deliberate misconstruction. Thus, the Economist absurdly interpreted the statement to mean that Peretz was downgrading the significance of Muslim life generally and charged, equally absurdly, that America’s military involvement in the Middle East “creates pressure to believe this sort of thing.” But as would be obvious to any fair-minded reader, Peretz was simply making the irrefutable observation that Muslims are disproportionately responsible for the deaths of their fellow believers.
Evidence for the claim abounds. In a 2007 article, for instance, Daniel Pipes estimated that of the approximately 11 million Muslims that have been violently killed since 1948, over 90 percent were killed by fellow Muslims. Muslims may cry foul about Israeli and American “occupation,” but the cold fact is that they are their own worst enemy. From Sudan, to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to Iran, to Iraq, to Gaza, no one kills more Muslims than other Muslims. What the Economist considers a “prejudice” on Peretz’s part is in fact a reality – a reality no less true for being so tragic.
But if Peretz can be largely exonerated of the charges of bigotry and racism – the latter especially bogus, given that Muslims are not a race – the same cannot be said of his critics. In charging that Peretz was prejudiced, the Economist claimed that he represented a “segment of American Jewish politics” that tried to inflame conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. Even ignoring the historical fact that Israel’s Arab neighbors have never required additional incentive to war against the Jewish state, it was a curious claim. Given that lots of non-Jews in America share Peretz’s pro-Israel views, one might well wonder why the Economist felt compelled to single out Jews.
What then are the lessons of this manufactured scandal? In part, to be sure, Peretz’s troubles are a cautionary tale on the dangers of blogging, a medium that often privileges the immediacy of writing over its thoughtfulness. But it’s far more reflective of the intellectual corruption of the politically correct Left, which expends more energy condemning critics of radical Islam than its terrorist practitioners. Focus on Islamic radicalism and you’re likely to be told that you are feeding anti-Muslim bigotry and encouraging a backlash against Muslims. Never mind that the threatened backlash never materializes, that America remains an exceptionally tolerant country, and that much of what is dismissed as “bigotry” is in fact justified anxiety about the dangers of Islamic extremism. The facts are immaterial. The backlash against Peretz is thus properly seen as part of a broader campaign to delegitimize views that the Left dislikes and in so doing to constrict the boundaries for acceptable debate – a campaign of intolerance waged under the flag of tolerance.
Seen for what they are, the attacks on Peretz require no defense. Still, Peretz has ably provided one. Since his critics are so fond of citing his writing, it’s perhaps best to let it speak for itself.
“There is no hatred in my heart; there is deep anxiety about the dangers of Islamism, and anger at the refusal of certain politicians and commentators to adequately grasp those dangers, but there is no hatred, none.”
That these commentators have been more alarmed by a few sentences from a liberal Jewish writer than by the threat of radical Islam is compelling proof that Peretz’s anxiety, and his anger, are more than merited.
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