The Political Animal

Talkin’ Shit about Race: Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Martin Luther King, Jr. every conservative’s favorite Negro,when he wasn’t.

Had I served on George Zimmerman’s jury I believe I would have voted to convict him of manslaughter. I form this belief independent of Trayvon Martin’s race or any conviction about Zimmerman’s racial animus or suspicions. I would have voted to convict George Zimmerman of manslaughter had Trayvon Martin been white.

Had Trayvon Martin been white, I would still think George Zimmerman culpable for his death. We do not need to demonize Zimmerman to do it, nor do we need to rehabilitate him in order to reject unsupportable claims about a depraved mind based on racial suspicion.

In the record of George Zimmerman’s 43 calls to police over an 8 year period what I read is the  neighborhood watch volunteer as prickly, neighborhood busy body, the overzealous wannabe as nuisance and, finally, armed danger to those around him, attentive to and calling about every matter that did not fit his personal sense of community decorum and order.

Any good dramatist could construct the edifice of the plot, weave together the inciting personal and social forces: the obsessive personal traits assuming a citizen law-enforcement mentality and joined to an aggressive and regressive gun culture to lead to the inevitable tragic event.

That Zimmerman’s perceptions were skewed – repeatedly – we know again from the events of that night. Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself. A seventeen-year-old boy with every right to be where he was and doing what he was, who was doing nothing wrong, but walking, instead, home from the store, whose own behavior was less suspicious than that that of the man who killed him, ended up dead.

What shall we say, that fate was the hunter?

I could argue facts of the case and the recklessness of Zimmerman’s behavior – a man whose own trial defense included testimony of his inability to physically defend himself recklessly stalking a stranger in the darkness with only a loaded gun on him to offer that self-defense if needed.

What I wish to argue, rather, is the role of perception in the response to this case.

Zimmerman says in the 911 call, “Yep, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is.”

Zimmerman didn’t know what Martin’s “deal” was?

Martin’s deal was that someone (with a gun, it turned out) was following him in the rain, in that darkness, but Zimmerman was explicitly unable to see things from the perspective of the person he was following, to consider how Zimmerman must appear to him.

What appears?

Perceptions begin to determine appearance (rather than appearance perceptions) immediately after the killing. Had Martin been white, rather than the typically dressed black boy that many later were eager to characterize as a “thug,” would Zimmerman have been booked that night? Had Zimmerman been black (with, especially, Martin white),  would he have been booked? In either reverse case, would juror B37 not so completely have accepted as fact Zimmernan’s completely uncorroborated and legally-perfect exculpatory account of the fatal encounter?

Since the verdict, and the renewed furor in much of the black community, and among many non-blacks too, about the role of race in American law enforcement, we have heard, too, the rage on the right about racial demagoguery, about those who are “making it racial.” Now, the soft liberal New Republic is comfortable publishing articles no different from The National Review.

Recall that making the case “racial” begins with Zimmerman not having been charged until a public outcry. Then, in contrast, the Florida state attorney’s office, as prosecutors stated after the verdict, found the case against Zimmerman obvious. Perception.

African-Americans believe that the racial character of the case began, if not with the killing itself, at the very least with just that failure to charge. Predominantly white conservatives believe it is that accusation, along with claims that Zimmerman acted from racial animus, that racialized the case.


Perception is not illusion. If so many black people in the U.S. find this issue to represent a matter of race, then, again, res ipsa loquitur, it is a matter of race, even if the matter of race – its being “racial” – is only a matter of perception. What accounts for the perception? If a segment of the white population, if politically conservative whites, do not simply disagree, but passionately, angrily object to labeling this case and many others like it a matter of race, what does that mean? What accounts for that passion? What accounts for the anger?

Expressions like “it’s not racial” and “stop making it racial” are not arguments against a claim, but a denial of any grounds for making it. These are not the same. Such expressions blindly pretend to refute the claim within artificially restricted parameters – George Zimmerman’s state of mind – while ignoring, even denying the reality of the greater historical, psychological, and sociological grounds for the perception.

No, you’re not angry. You’re angry over nothing. It’s nothing. It’s you.

That is the ignorant and spiteful conservative response. It’s you.

It’s you because your “self-appointed” leaders are demagogues. It’s you because black America is socially dysfunctional. It’s you because black-on-black crime far exceeds white-on-black crime: to make a national cause of one white-on-black shooting in Florida in light of what happens in Chicago every day, black-on-black, is to gin up a false issue and a different kind of false cause.

Why would African-Americans gin up a false cause? Every possible answer to the question is an act of bad faith or a form of racism.

As some foolish apologists argue, Islamist terrorists don’t hate “America” or the American people. Noooo. Nice American people. They hate the American government.

So many on the right will pretend that American conservatism as a historical political force has not disdained African-Americans. Noooo. Nice African-Americans. It is Jesse Jackson conservatives despise. Al Sharpton.

Brush past that straw-man and one finds millions of African-Americans who believe, as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have claimed – whatever one thinks of those two individuals – that racism is still manifest in their daily lives. If one concedes sincerely or for the sake of argument that Zimmerman himself held no racial prejudice, does that mean that African-American men and women all across the country, for decades, have hallucinated the suspicious and watchful eye, the gratuitous, prejudicial profiling of police?

That would be an extraordinary claim, requiring its own accounting; however, the more common conservative reply, blunt or euphemistic, is that the profiling is, in fact, warranted. African-Americans, particularly young males, deserve to be a generally suspect class. Many of the angry white conservative responses to the Martin-Zimmerman case amount to that claim, and thus the racial malice of blaming and even dehumanizing the victim.

Conservatives seek to bolster this argument, and protect it from the charge of racism, by pointing to crime figures and behavior and thus to premise the profiling on criminal context and not race. Proper criminal and other profiling will include relevant contextual characteristics in the profile. If a crime is reported and eyewitness accounts indicate a black perpetrator, then race is sensibly included in the profiling of potential suspects. Identify too broad a criminal context, however – uncommitted and only potential crimes – and the consequent policing is improper.

Of the most pervasive and highly publicized profiling regime in the nation, New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the defenses amount to just that declaration that young African-Americans males deserve to be a generally suspect class. Kelly’s most recent of frequent defenses of the policy (no doubt, because his name is in the air as a possible next Secretary of Homeland Security) recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal. One presumes that under the circumstances Kelly was making his best brief case. He begins,

Since 2002, the New York Police Department has taken tens of thousands of weapons off the street through proactive policing strategies. The effect this has had on the murder rate is staggering. In the 11 years before Mayor Michael Bloombergtook office, there were 13,212 murders in New York City. During the 11 years of his administration, there have been 5,849. That’s 7,383 lives saved—and if history is a guide, they are largely the lives of young men of color.

In this remarkably distorted presentation, Kelly ignores that New York City’s annual crime and murder rates have been falling steadily (with some year-to-year hiccups) for 23 years, since the latter peaked at over 2600 murders in 1990. The dramatic decline began fully 11 years before Bloomberg took office. Of course, because those years offer the start of the downward trend, the comparative cumulative numbers between the first and second decades will weigh heavily toward the former. However, with some variation, depending on start and end years of a comparison, the rate of decline in the pre-Bloomberg years is dramatically greater – over 63% compared to 14.85 % from 2002-2011. Extend the latter period of calculation to include the striking one-year reduction to only 414 homicides in 2012, and the decrease, at 54%, is still lower than during the years before stop and frisk.

Argues Kelly,

Racial profiling is a disingenuous charge at best and an incendiary one at worst, particularly in the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. The effect is to obscure the rock-solid legal and constitutional foundation underpinning the police department’s tactics and the painstaking analysis that determines how we employ them.

In 2003, when the NYPD recognized that 96% of the individuals who were shot and 90% of those murdered were black and Hispanic, we concentrated our officers in those minority neighborhoods that had experienced spikes in crime.

Remarkably again, Kelly has actually substantiated by this defense the charge of racial profiling.

What we intend by the pejorative racial profiling is an inappropriate form of conceptual class profiling – profiling and suspicion of a person purely or irrelevantly on the basis of membership in an identifiable class, e.g. young men of dark skin tone. Logically, it entails a continuum of the opposing logical fallacies of composition and then division. First, the attributes of some young black men – forms of criminal activity – are ascribed by generalization to the composite whole that is the class of all young black men. Then, those behaviors are attributed, by division of the whole, back to each individual member of the class of young black men regardless of any actual suspicion in specific instances of criminal activity by specific individuals.

Rather, than respond to the law-enforcement demands of a particular crime, or the crime prevention call to profile behavior, Kelly has identified a suspect class – partially obscured by the policing characterization of crime-ridden “neighborhoods” – and made all the members of that class suspect. The class here being one of race, we have purely racial profiling. Yet the only significant attempt in Kelly’s WSJ op-ed statistically to substantiate the policy is the bogus effort cited above, which actually does not even bother to make the connection to stop-and-frisk procedures.. What is more, according the New York Civil Liberties Union,

While violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, other large cities experienced larger violent crime declines without relying on stop and frisk abuses: 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore.

As with the pre stop-and-frisk regime in NYC, there is no evidence of its determinative procedural effectiveness. While the NYCLU quotes Kelly as stating, “There’s no denying that stops take guns off the street and save lives police statistics reveal,

Guns are found in less than 0.2 percent of stops. That is an unbelievably poor yield rate for such an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating police action. Yet, stop-and-frisk has increased more than 600 percent under Bloomberg and Kelly.

To clarify, despite that explosion in stop-and-frisk actions,

stop-and-frisk has not reduced the number of people who fall victim to shootings. In 2002, there were 1,892 victims of gunfire and 97,296 stops. In 2011, there were still 1,821 victims of gunfire but a record 685,724 stops. [Emphasis added]

The numbers get even worse.

During the just-concluded trial on the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, the city argued that officers’ disproportionate targeting of black and Latino New Yorkers was not due to racial profiling but because each stopped individual was doing something suspicious at the time. The data, however, tells a different story: weapons and drugs were more often found on white New Yorkers during stops than on minorities, according to the Public Advocate’s analysis of the NYPD’s 2012 statistics.

White New Yorkers make up a small minority of stop-and-frisks, which were 84 percent black and Latino residents. Despite this much higher number of minorities deemed suspicious by police, the likelihood that stopping an African American would find a weapon was half the likelihood of finding one on a white person.

• The likelihood a stop of an African American New Yorker yielded a weapon was half that of white New Yorkers stopped.

Does this astonishing revelation mean that more white people are carrying weapons than are black people? In New York City, not very likely. What it means is that when white people are stopped and frisked it is more often and likely on the basis of profiling actual behavior in context, which will lead in turn to greater numbers of suspect outcomes.

This has been the activity of the municipal police force in the nation’s largest and one of its most liberal cities. It is only a current variation, adorned in the finery of modern policing theory, of official and unofficial treatment of the African-American population post-Reconstruction. We may argue that claims of racism are nothing at all: bogus, ginned up, demagoguery.

We may argue that they are the product of perception only – a chimera.

We may also seek the empirical causes of perception and test for their actuality. In response, we may deny the evidence, or we may justify the treatment of the suspect population in the behavior or nature of that population. That is the essence of racism. “It’s not racist if it’s true.”

Is this a sorry conclusion for conservatives to reach, that the fault, dear brothers, is not in your stars, but in yourselves? Has American conservatism, after decades and more of sympathetic support and policy prescriptions for the troubled economy and sociology of African-America, simply lost its patience? Has the love, previously overflowing, run out? Did conservatives get the charges of racism before, but now, at last, have seen them go too far, come too fast and easily? Now that the nation has its first black president, and conservatives have welcomed him in grateful recovery from the disease that plagued us, has it become time, at last, only now, to draw a line in history between cause and effect?

Have matters, for conservatives, now simply devolved beyond all previously supportive toleration?

Do we see the conditions anywhere for such loss of patience and sympathy?

As even the most outspoken conservative commentators attest, the victims of black crime are overwhelmingly black. Unlike the period, particularly of the late 1960s into the 1980s, when it seemed the nation’s oldest and great urban centers were all deteriorating in late industrial decay, and their white middle class populations fleeing before an onslaught of poor, largely minority crime, these cities (Detroit excepted and despite the 2008 Great Recession) are full with physical and cultural renascence in a halcyon era of markedly diminished crime. No literal invasion of a dangerous black underclass threatens any longer to rob the white population of its physical safety and its property values, Sanford, Florida notwithstanding.

There is, however, a first black president with his first black attorney general and a national population heading for a non-Hispanic white minority in thirty years that has conservative America anxious, angry, and desperate. Pat Buchanan’s Suicide of a Superpower is a litany of such expressions.

Those who believe the rise to power of an Obama rainbow coalition of peoples of color means the whites who helped to engineer it will steer it are deluding themselves. The whites may discover what it is like to ride in the back of the bus.

Rush Limbaugh reacts to a Pew Hispanic Center study:

And the warning is: You are on the wrong side of history. And you are on the wrong side of demographics. You better do what the coming majority wants right now, or you’re gonna suffer the consequences. There is an implied threat in this story. You’re getting older. You’re white and you’re dying off. Pretty soon you’re gonna find out what it’s been like to not be you. That’s the implication of the story.

Now Limbaugh is concerned, too, about denying white guilt for slavery.

So maybe it is anxiety about the future (and, frankly, having had it up to here with black people complaining and seeking special treatment) and not any longstanding social antipathy and political animus. Maybe these anxious, angry expressions show conservatives responding simply to the facts of one Florida shooting and to the conditions of the day and are not rather – who would wish to contemplate the possibility – a very cause of that perception amongst black people that conservatives deny.

Maybe it is untrue that it is not merely Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton that conservatives do not like among black civil rights leaders, and that conservatives have never failed to revile any national African-American leader in his time. Maybe it is untrue that Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Republicans scurry to embrace today and abuse as a political weapon against his descendants, was scorned, belittled and mistrusted in his time. Maybe it is untrue that when the national holiday to honor King finally passed Congress in 1983, the man who become the 2008 GOP presidential nominee voted against it, or that one of the three demigods of modern American conservatism, Barry Goldwater, voted against it. Or that Ron Paul voted against it. Or that 77 of the 90 votes against the bill in the House were cast by Republicans, and that 18 of the 22 votes opposing the bill in the Senate were cast by Republicans.

Maybe it is not so that a second demigod, Ronald Reagan, chose to make his first speech after being nominated for the presidency in 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair, only a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights activists James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in a cause so much identified with the federal power to limit a state’s right to enact discriminatory laws, and that in that speech Reagan declared,

I believe in state’s rights;… And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

Maybe it is not so that despite long-standing and transparent conservative denials of the implications of their words and policies, the late and infamous Lee Atwater ultimately revealed in an interview the truth of the Reagan campaign’s “Southern strategy”:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busingstates’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.

Perhaps if we look back in time, we will not discover that the first demigod of American conservatism, William Buckley, once wrote in 1957 of the Civil Rights Movement, in a National Review editorial, and while seeing remarkably into the future,

The central question that emerges … is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race . It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists . The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage . The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own.

Perhaps – perhaps it is not so that if we look back in time over the history of the American republic we will always observe those elements that stand for conservatism invariably out of sympathy with black America, always distorting the reality and diminishing the power of racial history, always rejecting the white role in it, always pointing its rhetorical index at the black population instead, oft claiming in philosophical fancy and rhetorical flight to stand for black Americans, but never in any cause on any political battle line standing with black Americans.

Or maybe it is so that American conservatives have forever and always been talking shit about race, and black Americans and no small number of white and other Americans can smell it, with their eyes closed, even on the short way down.


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The Political Animal

The Boston Marathon Bombing and The Faith Privilege

This article first appeared in the Algemeiner on April 23, 2013.  You can read the follow up there now: “A Campaign of Willful Blindness on Terrorism.”

The Boston Marathon bombing provoked enactment of what has emerged, since 9/11, as a ritual of political theater refined even beyond its long history of performance. Even while law enforcement authorities were still early in the search for unknown and unfathomed wreakers  of violent and deadly terror, the players were scripting the drama to play out as they preferred instead to witness it.

There are, then, of course, those who inflame every developing circumstance and wage jihad against jihad. Just as extreme and inflammatory, just as adept at playing to a contrary animus, yet offered by many a greater grant of legitimacy, there are those who write,

As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge.

Among the more foolish and widely discussed reactions to the bombing, in the midst still of the search for its perpetrators, was that of David Sirota at bidding, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Sirota’s hope arose from his recognition of the reality of white privilege. Among its features, according to Sirota,

There is a double standard: White terrorists are dealt with as lone wolves, Islamists are existential threats.

Now, one can recognize very real truth in the notion of white privilege and still see that it is a finer insight than the dull blade Sirota wields, beginning with the recognition that unemployed factory workers and low-wage Wal-Mart “associates” enjoy it rather less than white people like, say, David Sirota. Or, for another instance, the person from whom Sirota drew his argument, Tim Wise, the self-advertised “Anti-racist educator, author and educator.” Offered Sirota, from Wise,

“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

Before we turn momentarily to Wise himself, we do have to take note of the lack of integrity in this argument so far. However one may wish to challenge components or all of the post 9/11 so-named War on Terror, if Wise has evidence that any corn fields or mountain towns anywhere in the world have been bombed “just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas,” he is welcome by all, I am sure, to present it. So far he has not.

One observes, too, that while they were Saudi nationals who led the 9/11 attacks, the United States did not bomb Riyadh. Many terrorists have received training and direction in Pakistan; the U.S. has not yet bombed Islamabad. I believe the Italian-American analogy Wise invokes should more properly lead to the bombing of Rome, but, of course, he seeks to slip in a Western white religious preference in the substitution of the Vatican, so, no, please note, the U.S. has never bombed Mecca either.

At Wise’s own website, he attempts to bolster his case, which purports selective focus and generalization about Islamist terrorism, by offering an exhausting if not exhaustive list of white (presumably non-Muslim) American terrorists. He ends it with everyone’s favorite fallback to colloquial snark, “Ya know, just to name a few.”

A curious thing about the list if one, ya know, actually examines it is how very quickly it begins linking to accounts of crimes dating back not only to the pre 9/11 1990s, but even church bombings from the 1960’s civil rights era and lone bombers from the 1940s and 50s. How very quickly one may find on it, reportedly, mentally unstable people with long criminal records who can only be described as, you should pardon the expression, lone wolves.

Those who argue as Wise does are those who attempt to turn the subject to that of whiteness as a correlative to Islamic faith. With the one hand they grasp at greater historical culpability on the part of white people – white privilege – while with the other hand, they swat away any suggestion of greater contemporary culpability on the part of Islam. They do this by equating an acquired system of belief with an inherent physical characteristic while claiming any imbalance of greater criticism toward either as a bigotry.

What we have here is someone committed to making a case, just not the case itself. The necessity is to understand what the real nature of this commitment to the case is, commitment even in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

On Friday, the political comic everyone loves to disdain when he is bluntly, often crudely hammering shibboleths too close to home – Bill Maher – received as his first guest on his Real Time show the California State University San Bernardino professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism. When, at the start of the interview, Maher focused his attention on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Islamic extremism, Levin was moved to interrupt in order to object.

Could I just interject? Look, it’s not like people who are Muslim who do wacky things have a monopoly on it. We have hypocrites across faiths, Jewish, Christian who say they’re out for God and end up doing not so nice things.

Maher called this “liberal bullshit” and tried to focus, again, on contemporary extremist and violent currents in the world. Levin’s immediate response was to tar Maher with a likeness to Pamela Geller and the implication of “Islamaphobia.” That is, any attempt on Maher’s part to argue that all is not one and the same, but that there are historical and empirical distinctions to be made was met not by critical argument, but by critical ad hominem.

LEVIN: Here’s my difficulty with your premise here, Bill, and that is look at how religions over history have had things done in their name that have been terrible.

MAHER: Absolutely. But we’re not in history. We’re in 2013.

For several hundred years, Christianity, after playing its role as equal participant in the God is notlove follies of the Crusades, was ideological support for the trans-continental genocidal terror committed against much of the world’s indigenous populations. White Christian Europe engineered the centuries-long barbarity of the African slave trade. “Anti-racists” like Wise, Sirota, and Levin encounter no mental bar to perceiving those empirical distinctions. When challenged, however, by contemporary empirical reality, Levin can only smear Maher.

LEVIN: If I may, though. You are making an error in that Islam has over 1.4 billion adherents. There’s a heterogeneity to it. Are there extremists who are horrible people who would slit your throats? Yes. But there are also folks that are fine, upstanding people.

MAHER: Of course.

LEVIN: And I’m very worried you have a national audience where we’re promoting Islamic hatred.

But the anti-racists are not, by their own focus on white racism and disallowance of other sources of bigotry and hate, promoting white or Christian hatred by managing to distinguish only the identifiable crimes of European and Christian civilization? Or are only whites and Christians capable of distinguishable levels of social and political deviance? And if one were to claim as much as that, would that not be a kind of racist assertion to be made by an anti-racist? (Can one be anti-racist without the professional label? Let’s hope.)

Maher was a remarkably better thinker in this argument than the professor. He clearly and fundamentally distinguished between analysis of a subject over time, with historical periods and phenomenon perhaps of little relevance and application to current circumstance, and certainly not representing  it, and analysis of the current situation. Levin, a purported expert in the study of hate and extremism was readily empirical in labeling types of, and motivations for, hateful extremism, but he suffered under an intellectual disability to apply the conceptual – ideas derived under the aegis of empirical observation and analysis – back, in turn, in any applied manner to empirical circumstance. According to him, the best we can achieve from the study of hate and violence is the insight that all people and peoples are capable of it, a feckless product of research that would seem to justify any arch anti-federalist’s desire to cut federal funding of the academy.

What we face in this weak-mindedness is an ideologically determined humanistic commitment to opposing group hatred that disables objective consideration of the evidence. Boston University professor Richard Landes has identified the complex of intellectual constructs that manifest this disability, from “liberal cognitive egocentrism” to “masochistic omnipotence syndrome” to “human rights complex.” There is, too, a nexus of action and reaction that further enacts the disability. Hateful rightwing extremists like Geller, and countless of her type on social media, quickly, objectionably express themselves immediately upon the occurrence of an event like the marathon bombing, and a certain type of leftwing voice finds it more important to establish the Gellers as mistaken and beyond the pale than to respond directly and with clarity to the primary offense.

That is one source of the commitment to the case that diverts any lucid analysis of the case. A second source is the faith fallacy.

The faith fallacy exhibits itself in the pious profession that people’s faiths, even if they are not shared, should at least be respected. The faith fallacy is committed on the basis of granting the faith privilege.

The faith privilege is granted on the basis of the meta-level faith-teaching that affirms that all faiths, whatever their historical, theological, or doctrinal differences, are expressions of our deep need for connection with God and God’s love. Since most people consider these needs definitive of the human experience, and since we acknowledge the spiritual and emotional commitment of our faiths to be among the dearest and most necessary human beings may make, we grant a privilege to faith, an acceptance of the notion that all faiths are to be respected.

However, this privilege is granted not only from our common regard for fundamental human need and expression; in liberal democracies, it arises, too, from principles and traditions of tolerance. Liberal democracies seek to accommodate, as a definitive expression of their own systems, the multiplicity of what are actually, on close inspection, mutually exclusive faith doctrines.

What you believe is not what I believe, but you believe it piously, profoundly, and in love and devotion. I honor that. I bow down, not in my belief, but in respectful recognition of your piety.

That is the idea. That is the privilege. From that is committed the fallacy. One way to challenge the privilege is through aggressive assertion of the truth of one’s own faith and objection to the truth of another, but this is the disagreeable history humanity seeks to overcome. The other way to make the challenge is from the standpoint of agnosticism if not atheism. One must be able to disengage from the conviction of faith in order to acknowledge a faith doctrine as just another system of ideas subject to intellectual evaluation no less than any other.

Most of the current challenge to the faith privilege comes from what are sometimes called the new atheists. The late Christopher Hitchens was one. Sam Harris is another. Richard Dawkins is, too. A characteristic of the new atheism is that it is assertively so. It is not simply a personal determination as to the nature of the universe and spiritual being, but a determination to influence others and to oppose the influence of faith in the world. One may share the new atheism’s criticisms of faith while still recognizing that its aggressive proselytizing and unimaginative response to human spiritual nature provocatively engenders its own response.

One thing these new atheists have not shied from doing is what Bill Maher, a fellow atheist and an admirer, did, which is to assert that while all theisms are objectionable to them, at this time in history, one, Islam, plays a more problematic role on the world scene than do others. Very recently, with Hitchens now deceased, it is Harris and Dawkins who have been attacked from the same precincts on the left as were our focus earlier. Because Harris and Dawkins, not unlike Hitchens, are provocative, they lay themselves open in the manner that those who do not traffic in agreeable pieties will. Harris was recently roundly attacked by Glenn Greenwald, author of our initial quotation above. Various articles have been written now attacking the new atheists as flirting with Islamaphobia or for being already, perhaps, Islamaphobic.

In England, where domestic Islamic radicalism is more prominent than in the U.S., Landes’s  human rights complex has been more vocally reactive, and recent pronouncements, including on Twitter, by the abrasive Dawkins have generated a particular response from those who cry Islamaphobia. Harris has offered a longer refresher on the integrity of his reasoned arguments against the systems of ideas called faiths and shorter responses to the name calling against him from Greenwald.

There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.

It requires only slight capacity for empathy to imagine that the past nearly twelve years have composed the lives of good people of Islamic faith in the United States with difficulty, uncertainty, and even self-consciousness. Americans have felt reasonable apprehensions, apprehension does not reason, and there are low, mean elements who will draw out the greater darkness loitering in any shadow. But to argue that those conditions, rather than the current problematic stage in the development of Islam, is the danger we face presents a case of willful blindness.

As it happens, whatever David Sirota wished, the people behind the Boston Marathon bombing do appear to have been motivated, apart from sheer human dysfunction, by the kind of Islamist extremism that robs its adherents of the most fundamental human sympathy.

As it also happens, there was an interfaith service held last week to salve the wounds of the Boston community. President Obama attended. The Imam originally invited to participate, representing Islam, from The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, was later disinvited when Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick was reminded of the center’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood founded Muslim-American Society, which has a record of anti-Semitic statements and statements advocating jihad.

This also happens to be recorded, in the FBI’s 2012 report on hate crimes in America. For 2011, the tenth year after 9/11, the FBI recorded 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses. Of those, 18.2 % were religiously-based. Of the religiously-based hate crimes recorded in the United States in 2011, 13.3 % were against Muslims. In the nation outside of Israel widely judged to be the most welcoming to Jews of any in the world, 62.2% of recorded anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews.

We can all judge, amid the general human capacity for bias and hate, what is the state of any Islamaphobia in the United States. You might judge it, with me, all things considered – and in contrast to the Jewish record of terrorism over the past decade – remarkably low.

The first sentence of the second paragraph of the U.S.  Declaration of Independence begins,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

How many single sentences have ever contained such wisdom? Still, there are many who have and will misconstrue it. During battles over the civil rights derived from human equality, there have always been those who point out the unequal apportionment of ability amongst human beings, mistaking the equality of human dignity and worth – regardless of physical difference – for human capacity. The “pursuit of happiness” is a wondrous and open phrase, coming right after liberty, expressing all of the existential uncertainty and freedom of a life to make of itself what it can. All of the specifically enumerated rights of the U.S. Constitution have one general purpose – to support that pursuit of happiness, over and over again in every individual life. Every individual holder of a life gets to choose, how he or she will, for good or ill, the ideas that will motivate and direct that life toward happiness, however the holder may perceive it – ideas including those of faith. The all men are created equalphrase – equal whether white or black or yellow or red, tall or small, brilliant or dull, swift or slow – is not an all ideas are created equal phrase. Neither the U.S. Declaration of Independence nor human reason self-evidently affirms that equality.

Call it a doctrine, a philosophy, a theory, a dialectic, an enlightenment, an ideology or a faith – it is a set of ideas, which may be the basis of acts in the world, subject to reason and evaluation, to acceptance, indifference, or rejection. No one who rejects a set of ideas on a reasoned basis, including a faith, should be calumnized as a bigot or hater the way we would condemn those who hate because of nature. Those who do simply fail to make their case in every way. They name call instead of reason. They substitute smugness for the product of reason.

Typical of the convention, the piety, the privilege, President Obama, the day the manhunt was brought to a close, praised the nation as one in which “we welcome people from all around the world — people of every faith, every ethnicity, from every corner of the globe.” Well, this is true and good, but once again it grants the privilege; it lumps ethnicity, an immutable state of nature, with faith, a voluntary state of mind. We should welcome the people, but we need not welcome the ideas. Each of us is free to pursue happiness holding to whatever set of non-threatening ideas may please; each of us is free to tell the other that he is wrong and to tell him how and why.

No faith, as a system of belief and a practice of living, is automatically deserving of respect just because others commit their lives and pray to it. Ideas, whatever label we affix to them, including that of faith, must earn our respect and not be granted the privilege of unthinking and uncritical acceptance.

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