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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Chait

Covert Drone War: Obama Worries Future Presidents will Wage this kind of Perpetual wars.

President Obama warns in a new interview of a future in which a U.S. president could engage in perpetual covert wars “all over the world.”

But he claims that the accountability and transparency measures he is instituting will make that less likely. (As if when the warriors want to go to war will be unable to circumvent any measures)

In the interview, with New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, Obama expressed agreement with one of the most salient critiques of his drone war, that it risks creating “institutional comfort and inertia with what looks like a pretty antiseptic way of disposing of enemies.”

Obama explained that he had looked at “the way in which the number of drone strikes was going up and the routineness with which, early in my presidency, you were seeing both DOD and CIA and our intelligence teams think about this.”

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Eisenhower 2.0? Promotes war then warns of its consequences after you leave.

He continued: “And it troubled me, because I think you could see, over the horizon, a situation in which, without Congress showing much interest in restraining actions with authorizations that were written really broadly, you end up with a president who can carry on perpetual wars all over the world, and a lot of them covert, without any accountability or democratic debate.”

[See update below, in which the White House press secretary says Obama was actually talking about how he felt before he instituted his reforms.]

The president expressed a sense of urgency to rein in these powers that seems particularly appropriate given that both candidates for the White House have indicated receptiveness to intensifying the use of military force abroad, with Donald Trump going so far as expressing openness to killing the families of suspected terrorists.

“By the time I leave here, the American people are going to have a better sense of what their president is doing,” Obama said.

“Their president is going to have to be more accountable than he or she otherwise would have been. The world, I think, will have a better sense of what we’re trying to do and what we stand for. And I think all of that will serve the American people well in the future.”

But the one existing transparency measure Obama touts as an example in the interview — the administration’s release of its tally on civilian casualties from drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia — was viewed by many in the human rights community as a farce, largely because it pointed to a death toll far lower than outside observer tallies.

The release, made public on the Friday afternoon of Fourth of July weekend, reported that between 64 and 116 civilians were killed during Obama’s two terms.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, by comparison, has estimated that between 492 and 1,077 civilians have been killed by drone strikes during the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

And critical questions about those operations remain unanswered, such as the circumstances that led to the death of Momina Bibi, a 68-year-old Pakistani grandmother killed in an October 2012 airstrike;

or the reason for the attack that took the life of Salim bin Ahmed Ali Jaber, an anti-al Qaeda imam in Yemen a month earlier;

or the full story of how American forces came to target a wedding convoy, also in Yemen, a year later, killing 12 people.

Those questions remain unanswered, in part because when the administration released the civilian casualty report, it did so without detailing a single specific incident in which the deaths of civilians were confirmed — thus foreclosing any possibility for follow up or public accountability for those operations.

(See The Intercept’s series The Drone Papers describing the secret military documents that exposed the inner workings of Obama’s drone wars.)

What’s more, the alarming changes that Obama describes as over the horizon are already here.

“What’s so interesting is that President Obama acknowledges this problem — that future presidents will be empowered to kill globally, and in secret.

What Obama doesn’t acknowledge is how much of a role his administration had in making that a bizarre normal,” Naureen Shah, director of national security and human rights at Amnesty International, told The Intercept.

“There is something so strange about the person who many would say is very responsible for this situation actually acknowledging it and saying he tried to plan for it,” Shah added.

“What we’ll be left with from the Obama administration is a far more dangerous precedent of secret, global killings than what we started with.”

From the very beginning of his presidency, Obama tightly embraced legal arguments, including the “state secrets privilege,” to deflect inquiries into the government’s use of lethal force in foreign countries;

he fought vigorously for years to keep his rationale for assassinating an American citizen secret;

he never explained how the U.S. came to kill that same American citizen’s 16-year-old son; and he has never once forced his premier intelligence agency to publicly answer for the deaths of non-Western civilians — of which there have been many — during an eight-year covert bombing campaign.

In the New York magazine interview, Obama gave human rights groups and “the left” credit for pushing him on issues of transparency in targeted killing — but at the same time indicated they had little impact on his own decisions.

“I’m glad the left pushes me on this,” Obama said. “I’ve said to my staff and I’ve said to my joint chiefs, I’ve said in the Situation Room: I don’t ever want to get to the point where we’re that comfortable with killing. It’s not why I wanted to be president, to kill people.”

(What he intended and wanted, do Not match his desires to feel comfortable with the war institutions)ri

“Do I think that the critiques are fair or fully informed?” the president went on to say. “Not always. Sometimes they are. Much of the time they’re not.

To give you the most basic example: People, I think, don’t always recognize the degree to which the civilian-casualty rate, or the rate at which innocents are killed, in these precision strikes is significantly lower than what happens in a conventional war.”

While the Obama administration characterizes drones as a surgically precise weapon, the facts don’t always support that conclusion.

In 2013, for example, research by Larry Lewis, a former research scientist at the Center for Naval Analysis, found that drone strikes in Afghanistan were 10 times more likely to kill civilians than piloted airstrikes.

Obama’s critique of Congress — that it doesn’t seem to care enough to rein in the drone program — is both on point and ironic, coming from him.

Far from encouraging Congress to weigh in, the Obama administration has actively fought Congress’s attempts to even get basic information about drone strikes.

The White House, for instance, refused to show the legal memos authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki to Congress until 2014, when Obama nominated the memos’ author to become a federal judge, and a group of senators threatened to hold up the confirmation until they could read the memos.

Chris Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union said he was not impressed by Obama’s own sense of restraint. “The president has left behind very broad claims of executive authority to order lethal strikes away from traditional battlefields. Even if he’s instituted some processes, and some minor levels of transparency — such as aggregate levels of casualties — it is still a very broad power with almost no meaningful checks on it.”

Update: 6:15 p.m. ET
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday told reporters that Obama’s comments about a future president potentially waging perpetual wars actually referred to a state of affairs in the past, which he has since averted.

“He was talking about the situation he inherited,” Earnest said. “In the early days of the administration, he was considering the tools that had been made available to him, and considering the way in which they were being used, and he was considering how, over the horizon, was a scenario in which there would not be sufficient transparency in place to contain this extraordinary authority that, based on new technology, could be wielded by the president of the United States.”

Earnest insisted that “what the president and his team have steadily worked to do is to try to impose greater transparency and to impose constraints that would address those concerns that the president had from his earliest days in office.”

But rather than wind down a Bush-era program, Obama dramatically escalated the pace of drone warfare, conducting nearly nine times the number of strikes as his predecessor. (More drones and performing drones were made and needed testing in the battlefield?)

Obama’s moves toward increased transparency and accountability are, as mentioned above, limited. And Congress has neither conducted oversight nor passed legislation that would restrain a future president.

And as Obama himself said in the interview, he has not arrived at “a perfect solution.”

He told New York magazine that the country still needs to find a balance between “not elevating every terrorist attack into a full-blown war” and “pretending as if we can just take shots wherever we want, whenever we want, and not be answerable to anybody.

What I’ve tried to do is to move the needle in the right direction, to set some trends in the right direction. But there’s gonna be a lot more work to do.”

Failed Matt Lauer’s Interview: Trump can Win

Beware of the Brexit referendum: The communities barely visited by journalists (the deep communities)are the ones who will eventually vote against the elite point of view.

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates.

Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists.

I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources.

Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Lauer focused a third of his questioning time on Clinton’s private email server. Her decision to follow Colin Powell’s advice is a legitimate blot on her record.

But Lauer did not move the ball forward on the question in any meaningful way:

The word judgment has been used a lot around you, Secretary Clinton, over the last year and a half. And in particular concerning your use of your personal email and server to communicate while you were secretary of state. You have said it’s a mistake.

You said you made not the best choice.

You were communicating on highly sensitive topics. Why wasn’t it more than a mistake? Why wasn’t it disqualifying, if you want to be commander-in-chief?

Lauer followed up with four more email-related questions.

The impression an uninformed or even moderately informed viewer would receive from this interview is that the email issue represents a sinister crime, perhaps completely disqualifying from office, rather than an unjustifiable but routine act of government non-transparency.

The email exchange would not by itself be so alarming except when viewed in juxtaposition with Lauer’s hapless interview of Trump.

Trump began the interview by boldly insisting, “I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from 2004. You can look at before that.” This is a lie.

Trump has been quoted supporting the invasion beforehand and even afterward.

Nobody has produced any evidence of Trump contradicting his support for the war before it started. His line to Lauer was transparently ridiculous – how could a 2004 interview supply evidence of having opposed a war that began in 2003?

But Lauer did not try even a single follow-up.

A  case study in journalistic failure.
nymag.com|By Jonathan Chait

Trump went on to make a series of wild and dangerous statements.

He praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong, effective, and popular leader. Lauer did press him on this point, and when he did, Trump offered the astonishing rebuttal, saying President Obama had done equivalently brutish things.

Lauer did not press Trump on his claim that the president of the United States behaves in a fundamentally similar way to a dictator who imprisons and kills political critics and journalists.

Trump likewise reiterated his belief that “to the victor go the spoils” is the proper basis for American foreign policy, specifically with regard to his long-standing lament that the United States failed to steal Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion. (But the US did steal the oil and even dumped enormous quantities  of crude oil in valleys that are now condemned)

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Lauer’s attempt to press Trump was the completely ineffectual technique of asking repeatedly if he is ready to serve as commander-in-chief. Lauer probably believes the answer is no, but nothing about this question would drive home Trump’s extraordinary lack of knowledge.

Instead it allowed him to performatively demonstrate his confident, alpha-male reality-show character as a prospective chief executive.

Both of these beliefs stun and appall foreign-policy experts in both parties, as readers of the Washington Post or the New York Times know.

But the average undecided voter isn’t reading those newspapers.

The average undecided voter is getting snippets of news from television personalities like Lauer, who are failing to convey the fact that the election pits a normal politician with normal political failings against an ignorant, bigoted, pathologically dishonest authoritarian.

Update: National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke writes, “Welcome to the Club.”

Cooke’s point is that my dismay at Lauer’s performance contradicts another piece I wrote four years ago, about the liberal influence of Hollywood.

“Now (Chait) believes that pop culture — which is just as shallow and dumb as it’s always been; Lauer is no anomaly — is hurting him and his party. And we can’t have that!,” sneers Cooke.

Cooke’s accusation of hypocrisy suffers from two flaws, each of them fatal.

First, my 2012 essay, which Cooke does not link, does not celebrate liberal influence, it describes it, and indeed argues the conservative critics have reason to feel resentful:

This capacity to mold the moral premises of large segments of the public, and especially the youngest and most impressionable elements, may or may not be unfair. What it is undoubtedly is a source of cultural (and hence political) power.

Liberals like to believe that our strength derives solely from the natural concordance of the people, that we represent what most Americans believe, or would believe if Not for the distorting rightward pull of Fox News and the Koch brothers and the rest.

Conservatives surely do benefit from these outposts of power, and most would rather indulge their own populist fantasies than admit it.

But they do have a point about one thing: We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite.

Cooke’s notion that I have been hoisted by my own petard implies that Hollywood is my petard, rather than an institution I analyzed critically as a source of liberal propaganda.

Second, the entire focus of that essay was on Hollywood – movies primarily, but also television shows like Modern Family, Glee, and so on.

My criticism of Lauer focused on television news. Those are different things entirely. Did I think morning television or soft-focus feature news has a pronounced liberal bias? No, I don’t think that, I didn’t think that and I didn’t write that.

 

End of Israel Lobby?

Iran deal passed, but Reports of death of Israel Lobby is greatly exaggerated

The pro-Israel lobby was never the shadowy, government-controlling entity portrayed by its most paranoid critics. It was, however, an important influence on American politics.

Zionism is to Jews what the civil-rights movement is to African-Americans, a political program organized to protect basic survivalist concerns.

Jews participate disproportionately in political life in every way: voting, intellectual debate, donating, and organizing. The pro-Israel lobby organized an important constituency in American politics that shared a relatively unified understanding of its collective self-interest.

A month ago, that lobby was gearing up for a massive national campaign to block the Iran nuclear deal, using every medium at its disposal: television ads, face-to-face lobbying, impassioned pleas from the bimah and in the Jewish press.

The campaign has not only failed, it has appeared almost completely ineffectual, and its failure has left its members stupefied. The deal’s anticlimactic success shows that the world has moved beyond them, and they fail to understand how or why this happened.

The miscalculations by opponents of the Iran deal began with a poor grasp of public opinion.

They imagined they could foment a broad public backlash, and opponents frequently, and triumphantly, cited opinion polls showing more respondents disapproved than approved of the Iran deal. But the results of these polls varied widely.

Small changes in wording produced wildly varying results, reflecting the fact that few people knew or cared much about the issue.

Turning a foreign-policy issue with no immediate salience to American security — even a nuclear-armed Iran, a worst-case scenario, would not involve an attack on Americans at home or abroad — into an issue Americans would actively care about was never realistic.

A Republican leadership aide, speaking to the Los Angeles Times, blamed Donald Trump’s candidacy for distracting the public. (“The GOP leadership aide, granted anonymity to discuss the setback, said billionaire Donald Trump’s attention-grabbing presidential campaign, along with scrutiny of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email server, overshadowed all other issues this summer, making it harder for the Republicans’ message to attract attention.”)

Their plan could have worked! If only the atmosphere had been, as they apparently assumed it would be, completely devoid of a presidential campaign or other news. (Was the deal signing postponed to fit into this campaign period?)

The deal’s opponents not only misjudged public opinion as a whole, but more astonishingly, they misjudged the state of American Jewish opinion in particular.

Congress might have been moved to oppose the Iran deal if the American Jewish community had viewed it as an existential threat to Israel. But Jews did not, on the whole, take that view.

A detailed survey of American Jewish opinion by The Jewish Journal found that American Jews support the deal, 53 percent to 35 percent. How could that be? Well, this chart shows how Jewish opinion breaks down:

Photo: Jewish Journal

Liberals like the deal, and conservatives don’t, by roughly equal margins. But most Jews are liberals. Rising polarization of American life has cleaved in two everything in its path. There is no more “Israel lobby”; there is a red Israel lobby and a blue one.

The implications of this cleavage made blocking the Iran deal hopeless from the outset.

As a simple matter of political mechanics, acquiring a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress meant hawks needed liberal Democrats to take their side. But they did not have arguments that could appeal to liberals — even liberals with a deep emotional connection to Israel.

Non-proliferation experts strongly supported the agreement as the best way out of a difficult circumstance.

Even Israel’s security establishment disagreed with Benjamin Netanyahu and the pro-Israel right. The technical case for the strength of the inspections and the enforcement mechanism was strong; the case against leaned heavily on apocalypticism.

And this underscores the most important tectonic forces moving beneath the Israel lobby’s feet.

Over the last 15 years, the foreign-policy debate in Israel has moved steadily rightward. (In the last election, left-of-center Israeli parties relied on domestic issues, rather than appealing for territorial compromise.)

The Israeli right favors either permanent occupation of the West Bank, or an occupation that lasts until such time as the Palestinians produce a pro-Zionist government, which is functionally the same thing.

That perspective has become increasingly coterminous with the American “pro-Israel” view.

At last year’s AIPAC conference, some 65 percent of the attendees were Republican. That skewed perspective has pushed the American Jewish establishment to the right of American Jewry as a whole.

Jewish Republicans have always believed that forcing Jews to pick sides between a conservative Israeli government and a liberal American one would leave them with the larger share.

Elliott Abrams, a former Bush administration Middle East adviser, today defends the Israel lobby’s choice to launch an existential fight it could not win.

“If AIPAC would not fight on this issue,” he concludes, “many of its supporters would wonder why it even exists.”

Launching unwinnable fights — and then retroactively justifying the decision in spite of failure — is, of course, an ingrained neoconservative tactic. This is a movement that has no language to express the concept of a counterproductive fight on behalf of a worthy cause.

But there is more at work than simple pigheadedness or habitual aggression. Many conservative supporters of Israel do not necessarily regard the crack-up of American Jewish opinion as a problem.

In their view, diplomacy with Iran is the prelude to Israel’s annihilation, and support for Netanyahu’s permanent occupation is the sine qua non of genuine support for Israel.

It follows that the Iran debate essentially succeeded, by smoking out the fake Israel supporters. An almost giddy Jennifer Rubin concludes that the deal’s victory destroys “the myth of bipartisan support for Israel.”

The crack-up of the Israel lobby is, for its most conservative members, not a failure at all but the fulfillment of a longtime dream.

(I failed to comprehend the conclusion. What is the long-time dream of the conservative members?)

Josh Ruebner shared and commented

I sure hope that Jonathan Chait is right that the Israel’s lobby’s loss on the Iran deal signifies its demise. However, I’m also reminded of Mark Twain’s quip: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

There is no more “Israel lobby”; there is a red Israel lobby and a blue one.
nymag.com|By Jonathan Chait
 

 

Why are you “Je suis Charlie?”

In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons

Featured photo - In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons

Joe Raedle

Usually, defending free speech rights is much more of a lonely task. For instance, the day before the Paris murders, I wrote an article about multiple cases where Muslims are being prosecuted and even imprisoned by western governments for their online political speech – assaults that have provoked relatively little protest, including from those free speech champions who have been so vocal this week.

I’ve previously covered cases where Muslims were imprisoned for many years in the U.S. for things like translating and posting “extremist” videos to the internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package.

That’s all well beyond the numerous cases of jobs being lost or careers destroyed for expressing criticism of Israel or (much more dangerously and rarely) Judaism.

I’m hoping this week’s celebration of free speech values will generate widespread opposition to all of these long-standing and growing infringements of core political rights in the west, not just some.

Central to free speech activism has always been the distinction between defending the right to disseminate Idea X and agreeing with Idea X, one which only the most simple-minded among us are incapable of comprehending.

One defends the right to express repellent ideas while being able to condemn the idea itself. There is no remote contradiction in that: the ACLU vigorously defends the right of neo-Nazis to march through a community filled with Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Illinois, but does not join the march; they instead vocally condemn the targeted ideas as grotesque while defending the right to express them.

But this week’s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself.

Numerous writers thus demanded: to show “solidarity” with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. “The best response to Charlie Hebdo attack,” announced Slate’s editor Jacob Weisberg, “is to escalate blasphemous satire.”

Some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were not just offensive but bigoted, such as the one mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens (left).

Others went far beyond maligning violence by extremists acting in the name of Islam, or even merely depicting Mohammed with degrading imagery (above, right), and instead contained a stream of mockery toward Muslims generally, who in France are not remotely powerful but are largely a marginalized and targeted immigrant population. But no matter.

Their cartoons were noble and should be celebrated – not just on free speech grounds but for their content.

In a column entitled “The Blasphemy We Need,” The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat argued that “the right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order” and “that kind of blasphemy [that provokes violence] is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good.”

New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait actually proclaimed that “one cannot defend the right [to blaspheme] without defending the practice.” Vox’s Matt Yglesias had a much more nuanced view but nonetheless concluded that “to blaspheme the Prophet transforms the publication of these cartoons from a pointless act to a courageous and even necessary one, while the observation that the world would do well without such provocations becomes a form of appeasement.”

To comport with this new principle for how one shows solidarity with free speech rights and a vibrant free press, we’re publishing some blasphemous and otherwise offensive cartoons about religion and their adherents:

And here are some not-remotely-blasphemous-or-bigoted yet very pointed and relevant cartoons by the brilliantly provocative Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff (reprinted with permission):







Is it time for me to be celebrated for my brave and noble defense of free speech rights?

Have I struck a potent blow for political liberty and demonstrated solidarity with free journalism by publishing blasphemous cartoons?

If, as Salman Rushdie said, it’s vital that all religions be subjected to “fearless disrespect,” have I done my part to uphold western values?

When I first began to see these demands to publish these anti-Muslim cartoons, the cynic in me thought perhaps this was really just about sanctioning some types of offensive speech against some religions and their adherents, while shielding more favored groups.

In particular, the west has spent years bombing, invading and occupying Muslim countries and killing, torturing and lawlessly imprisoning innocent Muslims, and anti-Muslim speech has been a vital driver in sustaining support for those policies.

So it’s the opposite of surprising to see large numbers of westerners celebrating anti-Muslim cartoons – not on free speech grounds but due to approval of the content.

Defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.

Indeed, it is self-evident that if a writer who specialized in overtly anti-black or anti-Semitic screeds had been murdered for their ideas, there would be no widespread calls to republish their trash in “solidarity” with their free speech rights.

In fact, Douthat, Chait and Yglesias all took pains to expressly note that they were only calling for publication of such offensive ideas in the limited case where violence is threatened or perpetrated in response (by which they meant in practice, so far as I can tell: anti-Islam speech). Douthat even used italics to emphasize how limited his defense of blasphemy was: “that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended.”

One should acknowledge a valid point contained within the Douthat/Chait/Yglesias argument: when media outlets refrain from publishing material out of fear (rather than a desire to avoid publishing gratuitously offensive material), as several of the west’s leading outlets admitted doing with these cartoons, that is genuinely troubling, an actual threat to a free press.

But there are all kinds of pernicious taboos in the west that result in self-censorship or compelled suppression of political ideas, from prosecution and imprisonment to career destruction: why is violence by Muslims the most menacing one? (I’m not here talking about the question of whether media outlets should publish the cartoons because they’re newsworthy; my focus is on the demand they be published positively, with approval, as “solidarity”).

When we originally discussed publishing this article to make these points, our intention was to commission two or three cartoonists to create cartoons that mock Judaism and malign sacred figures to Jews the way Charlie Hebdo did to Muslims.

But that idea was thwarted by the fact that no mainstream western cartoonist would dare put their name on an anti-Jewish cartoon, even if done for satire purposes, because doing so would instantly and permanently destroy their career, at least.

Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim commentary (and cartoons) are a dime a dozen in western media outlets; the taboo that is at least as strong, if not more so, are anti-Jewish images and words.

Why aren’t Douthat, Chait, Yglesias and their like-minded free speech crusaders calling for publication of anti-Semitic material in solidarity, or as a means of standing up to this repression?

Yes, it’s true that outlets like The New York Times will in rare instances publish such depictions, but only to document hateful bigotry and condemn it – not to publish it in “solidarity” or because it deserves a serious and respectful airing.

With all due respect to the great cartoonist Ann Telnaes, it is simply not the case that Charlie Hebdo “were equal opportunity offenders.”

Like Bill Maher, Sam Harris and other anti-Islam obsessives, mocking Judaism, Jews and/or Israel is something they will rarely (if ever) do. If forced, they can point to rare and isolated cases where they uttered some criticism of Judaism or Jews, but the vast bulk of their attacks are reserved for Islam and Muslims, not Judaism and Jews.

Parody, free speech and secular atheism are the pretexts; anti-Muslim messaging is the primary goal and the outcome. And this messaging – this special affection for offensive anti-Islam speech – just so happens to coincide with, to feed, the militaristic foreign policy agenda of their governments and culture.

To see how true that is, consider the fact that Charlie Hebdo – the “equal opportunity” offenders and defenders of all types of offensive speech – fired one of their writers in 2009 for writing a sentence some said was anti-Semitic (the writer was then charged with a hate crime offense, and won a judgment against the magazine for unfair termination). Does that sound like “equal opportunity” offending?

Nor is it the case that threatening violence in response to offensive ideas is the exclusive province of extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam.

Terrence McNally’s 1998 play “Corpus Christi,” depicting Jesus as gay, was repeatedly cancelled by theaters due to bomb threats.

Larry Flynt was paralyzed by an evangelical white supremacist who objected to Hustler‘s pornographic depiction of inter-racial couples.

The Dixie Chicks were deluged with death threats and needed massive security after they publicly criticized George Bush for the Iraq War, which finally forced them to apologize out of fear.

Violence spurred by Jewish and Christian fanaticism is legion, from abortion doctors being murdered to gay bars being bombed to a 45-year-old brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza due in part to the religious belief (common in both the U.S. and Israel) that God decreed they shall own all the land. And that’s all independent of the systematic state violence in the west sustained, at least in part, by religious sectarianism.

The New York Times‘ David Brooks today claims that anti-Christian bias is so widespread in America – which has never elected a non-Christian president – that “the University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality.” He forgot to mention that the very same university just terminated its tenure contract with Professor Steven Salaita over tweets he posted during the Israeli attack on Gaza that the university judged to be excessively vituperative of Jewish leaders, and that the journalist Chris Hedges was just disinvited to speak at the University of Pennsylvania for the Thought Crime of drawing similarities between Israel and ISIS.

That is a real taboo – a repressed idea – as powerful and absolute as any in the United States, so much so that Brooks won’t even acknowledge its existence. It’s certainly more of a taboo in the U.S. than criticizing Muslims and Islam, criticism which is so frequently heard in mainstream circlesincluding the U.S. Congress – that one barely notices it any more.

This underscores the key point: there are all sorts of ways ideas and viewpoints are suppressed in the west.

When those demanding publication of these anti-Islam cartoons start demanding the affirmative publication of those ideas as well, I’ll believe the sincerity of their very selective application of free speech principles. One can defend free speech without having to publish, let alone embrace, the offensive ideas being targeted. But if that’s not the case, let’s have equal application of this new principle.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images; additional research was provided by Andrew Fishman


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