I have always considered Marty Peretz, Harvard don and long time owner of The New Republic, one of the saner liberal commentators in this country. His supple prose and incisive views regularly cuts across liberal cant and he is never afraid to point out hypocrisy on the left (particularly when it comes to its dismal failures in the defense of the State of Israel). But the staggering range of condemnation that visited a recent blog entry in September, regarding local Muslim indifference to the fate of their co-religionists, must have him questioning some of his alliegences.
He crossed the line here first:
“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.”
Oops. Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times quickly pounced on that one:
“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?”
Peretz went on to add fuel to the fire:
“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.
The liberal establishment has unsurprisingly made preparations to burn Peretz in effigy, with the blogsphere spinning into a frenzy.
Recognizing his mistake, Peretz quickly offered apologies for the first allegation but was brave enough to stand his ground on the second:
“The other sentence is: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.” This is a statement of fact, not value. In his column, Kristof made this seem like a statement of bigotry. But on his blog, he notes that he concurs with it. “Peretz makes some points that are valid, and I agree with him that Muslims haven’t said nearly enough about those Muslims who kill other Muslims—in Kurdish areas, in Iraq, in Western Sahara, in Sudan, and so on.”
So the tit for tat goes on.
When considering this question I began to reflect on my own community and how it stands up for its co-religionists.
It is extraordinary fact that some of the most vocal opponents of Israeli policies are Jews who never fail to point out that their heritage lends their opposition greater seriousness. But nary a practicing American Muslim, besides brave souls such as Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, will adamantly protest the slaughter of innocents in Muslim lands.
This strangely enough is a characteristic of even secular Muslims. During a flight to London a few years ago I was sitting next to a young woman with whom I began chatting. When the conversation drifted into religion, she pointed out that she was of Muslim heritage, if non-practicing. At some point in the conversation, I asked her the very question Peretz had raised in his blog entry: Why were Muslims not more vocal in their condemnations of the fratricidal killing of fellow Muslims?
The answer she gave me seemed to sum up a general malaise: “Its enough to worry about our own communities, let alone others.”
That kind of indifference is not peculiar to Muslims. I have found Christian churches of most denominations, largely wanting in a forceful approach to the persecution of fellow Christians in Muslim lands. When I participated, some years ago, in a campaign to bring the escaped Sudanese Christian slave Francis Bok to Los Angeles in order to spread the word about his suffering under Muslim oppression, we could attract few Christian churches to give him a platform. One pastor at the First AME Church, one of the largest black Churches in the country, even told us:
” We still consider ourselves slaves. Why should we worry about the Sudanese?”
I was stupefied. At my own barmitzvah, back in the early 1970s, without any prompting from either my parents or my rabbi, I felt compelled to remind my congregation, that while we were free to enjoy the luxuries afforded by life in the West, millions of Soviet Jews still lived behind bars in a giant state prison. Throughout those adolescent years, the fact of their incarceration was never far from my mind – and something of which I was reminded by constant community rallies on their behalf.
Why don’t we see those kind of rallies by Muslim communities in American cities as every day Muslims kill Muslims in the most horrific manner?
The answer, I fear, is exactly as Peretz contends: Muslim life IS cheap to other Muslims and its about time the liberal establishment recognizes it. The obvious corollary arises: If Muslims can be so indifferent to the spilling of their own peoples’ blood, how do they feel about the spilling of the blood of ordinary Americans in the name of Islam?
That should certainly be the subject of significant public debate.