Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Monday, September 27, 2004

Response from Steve Palme

Steve was good enough to respond to my criticisms of his letter to the editor, and because Haloscan (may it's makers die a foul death) has a limit on how long comments can be, so he sent his reply directly to me. Because nobody wants to read six paragraphs in italics, I'm writing my own preface in italics, and Steve's response is in regular type. My comments will be in bold.

NOTE: You can find Steve's original letter, and my fisking of it, here. For my translation (that I got bored with after a few paragraphs) of the Arab-language column that was the source of Cal Thomas' column, look here.

Update: I've chopped out all but my conclusion because I felt I have an unfair advantage when I can write as much as I want, and Steve is limited to either Haloscan's word limits or e-mailing me his posts directly.

Steve writes:

I wanted to take a moment, now that I have a moment, to respond to Sobek’s criticisms of my editorial letter about Cal Thomas. However, I don’t want to engage in some tit-for-tat rhetorical dance or back and forth parsing of statements to see who may gain the upper semantic hand. I am far more concerned with the larger ideas that I found implicit in Cal Thomas’s editorial those couple weeks ago, and have seen with disturbing and growing frequency over the last 3 years.

You can look almost anywhere on the far right, at columnists, radio hosts, cable talk, or authors and find either explicit or implicit in much of what is being said a current of intolerance. Not just intolerance, really, but often outright exhortations to violence broadcast across the airwaves or circulated in print. They are constant, and numerous. Mike Savage called Muslims in America a dangerous fifth column that should be killed or rounded up. Limbaugh dismisses torture of prisoners in Iraq (and let us not quibble, it was torture—people went into interrogations alive and came out beaten to death) as just a few guys letting off steam, really nothing more than a fraternity hazing. Coulter, well she consistently advocates violence against just about everyone except herself. Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly called for wholesale slaughter of Iraqi men—armed or no—on his Fox show. And Michelle Malkin penned an entire book on the defense of the internment of Japanese during WWII (and implied that it is something that should be revived again today).

I am certain that there could be more hairsplitting over exactly what was said, in what context, where, when, by whom…but what is the point? It is undeniable that this idea of using violence—and detainment is most certainly a form of violence—against a minority group that is part of our society not only exists, but has been growing and is fomented by those I mentioned above and others. Whatever the rhetorical frame or semantic dancing that is applied to statements and suggestions that have been advanced, if you are prepared to be totally honest and objective in your assessment then you must admit that this is actively occurring. And I for one, am horrified by it and feel compelled to speak out.

Muslims, Arabs, however you want to characterize the group that is currently being demonized, are no more guilty of a collective crime than the Jews of Germany or Russia or the African Americans of the United States or the Tutsi of Rawanda. Yet that is the portrayal that is being foisted on the American public with increasing frequency and virulence.

Whatever our differences of opinion as to the way our country should be governed and move forward, this is something that we must not permit. It is a dark, dark road that once started down is hard to turn away from and, as history has shown, even harder to atone for. These calls for internment, for violence, for the curtailment of the civil rights of Arabs and Muslims (and by extension, all of us—the law as applied to one applies to all in the same way) that have been increasing over the last 3 years are something that we should denounce, loudly and without reservation. I can see in these statements that are being made and the calls for action against a minority group that is part of our society in America shadows of McCarthyism, of the shameful treatment of the Japanese in America during WWII, and of worse things still. It cannot be allowed to continue. Democracy is a fragile thing, and once the rights that we enjoy within our democracy are lost they will never be regained. This is the way that governments falter and the manner in which republics fail. This has been true since Caesar crossed the Rubicon and signaled the demise of the Roman Republic. Citizens acquiesced, they gave up rights, they allowed security to overtake liberty, and they allowed those in the minority to serve as scapegoats for their insecurities and fears.

Whatever our differences may be, the line should be drawn at allowing a minority, any minority, within our society to suffer the malicious rhetoric that is now growing in our society and is directed at the Muslim community. If we will stand to see our neighbors treated in this way and even, as some now suggest, to be taken away and interned then who will stand up for you or me when they come for us?

This may or may not come as a surprise, but malicious rhetoric is fundamentally engrained in our society. The ACLU is willing to defend the KKK, not because they agree with the Klan's racism and violence, but because they recognize the value in keeping speech free even when that speech is genuinely vile, hateful, counter-productive to an ordered society, profoundly ignorant, or maybe even leading to violence. Because therein lies the "when they come for us" issue. I support the KKK's right to speak, much as I despise what they say, because I value my right to speak.

To Steve's credit, I will remind the readers that his conclusion in his letter to the editor was entirely reasonable. He did not call for Thomas to be fired, or for the Times-Picayune to stop carrying his columns. He didn't ask the government to silence him. He recommended that Thomas be shunned, and while I disagree with the necessity, I totally agree with the approach.

If no one reads Thomas' columns, he will have no forum to say what he wants to say. If people turn off Rush, Hannity, Savage or Boortz, they are effectively fired. If no one shows up at the KKK rally, there will be no more KKK. And if, as a society, we shun and ignore those who really do preach violence against Muslims and Arabs, then they will have no forum and their ideas can do no harm. And of course, if Steve is wrong about the relative danger of Thomas' words, then Steve's suggestion can be safely dismissed - and for that reason, the specific boundaries of the source and degree of anti-Muslim rhetoric is unimportant to this conclusion. If Rush really is preaching violence, then turn him off. If Steve is wrong, and Rush isn't preaching violence, keep him on. He has no right to speak if we have no desire to listen. And perhaps a thoughtful letter to the editor will cause some reader to decide that a certain speaker really has crossed the line, and that voice will reach one less person in the audience.

But all of this, of course, is the effect of the masses consciously choosing their message, and tough as it may be, I must support any speaker's right to say hateful things. That's just what we do, because we're Americans.