Is that too long a post title? I don’t think so. 

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times has joined the anti-Marty Peretz jihad because Peretz — who runs The New Republic — allegedly wants to deprive Muslims of their constitutional rights and thinks Muslim life should be viewed as cheap.  Here is Kristof’s characterization:

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?

This is one of those times that test our values, a bit like the shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.

The dispute arises from Peretz’s blog post taking The New York Times to task over the Corboda mosque controversy:

The New York Times Laments “A Sadly Wary Misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.” But Really Is It “Sadly Wary” Or A “Misunderstanding” At All?

The truth is that Peretz neither was expressing the view that Muslim life should be viewed as cheap nor that Muslims should be deprived of constitutional rights.

Here is a fuller excerpt from the Peretz blog post, with the sentences quoted by Kristof in bold:

I want to believe that Muslims are traumatized by the unrelieved murders in Islamic lands. Frankly, the only demonstration against a mass killing (after all, they happen nearly every day) I’ve read about was last week in Pakistan when some 30-odd people, not designated and not guilty of doing anything except going to a Shia shrine were blown right then and there. A day or two after two bombs went off taking the lives of what turned out–you can read it about in the recent Tehran Times–to be just under one hundred Shi’ites in two town different towns.

This intense epidemic of slaughter has been going on for nearly a decade and a half…without protest, without anything. And it has been going for decades and centuries before that.

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.

Peretz was making a point about the Muslim indifference to mass murder of Muslims by other Muslims.  That is the context of the “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.”  Similarly, the sentence about First Amendment rights does not in any terms call for Muslims to be deprived of constitutional rights.  The words are not there.  Instead, Peretz was making a point in a snarky way about the connundrum faced by free societies, that those (in this case “those Muslims led by Imam Rauf”) who invoke our constitutional protections do not always respect those rights in others. 

It Marty Peretz actually had written that Muslim life should be viewed as cheap, or that Muslims should be deprived of constitutional rights, then condemnation would be warranted. He just didn’t write that in any fair reading of his post.

Pointing out the stone cold silence in the Muslim world to the slaughter of Muslims by other Muslims, or the constitutional hypocrisy of extremists, hardly makes Peretz a racist, much less the equivalent of the then Democratic President and hero to generations of Democrats, whose administration interned Japanese Americans and turned away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Kristof, it is worth noting, also played the “Mosque Urinator” card.  You remember, soon after the not-what-it-seemed Cabbie Stabber incident, someone urinated on the rugs in a Mosque in Queens.  The media and blogosphere erupted in horror at another anti-Muslim incident, but in truth it turned out the guy was just flat-out drunk, didn’t know he was in a Mosque, and did nothing to indicate any anti-Muslim feelings.

Nonetheless, Kristof trots this incident out as part of his hit piece on Peretz, by pointing to a Jewish woman who raised money to replace the rugs.  Kristof thus contrasts the bad Jew (Peretz) with the good Jew (the fundraiser):

If this is a testing time, then some have passed with flying colors. Hats off to a rabbinical student in Massachusetts, Rachel Barenblat, who raised money to replace prayer rugs that a drunken intruder had urinated on at a mosque. She told me that she quickly raised more than $1,100 from Jews and Christians alike.

So Nicholas Kristof takes two sentences (actually, one sentence and one part of a sentence) out of context to slam Marty Peretz, and then invokes the now-debunked Mosque Urinator incident to prove that there still are good Jews out there.

Like I said, Nicholas Kristof wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him in the face and then sat on his head.

And it just did.

[Note: Spelling of Kristof’s last name – one “f” not two – corrected from original.]

Update 9-13-2010:  Marty Peretz responds that he regrets one of the sentences in his post, but that he never intended either sentence to reflect anti-Muslim sentiments:

The embarrassing sentence is: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” I wrote that, but I do not believe that. I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever. When I insist upon a sober recognition of the threats to our security, domestic threats included, I do not mean to suggest that the Constitution and its order of rights should in any way be abrogated. I would abhor such a prospect. I do not wish upon Muslim Americans the sorts of calumnies that were endured by Italian Americans in connection with Sacco and Vanzetti and Jewish Americans in connection with communism. My recent comments on the twisted Koran-hating reverend in Gainesville will give evidence of that. So I apologize for my sentence, not least because it misrepresents me.

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.”

Every week brings more and more gruesome evidence of this, in the the Middle East and Central Asia and elsewhere. The idea that in remarking upon the cheapening of Muslim lives I was calling for the cheapening of Muslim lives, as some have suggested, is preposterous. 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. In these unusually inflamed days, I am glad to say so clearly.

I did not read either sentence, in the context in which they were presented, as being anti-Muslim.  The fact that Peretz feels obligated to respond shows that the accusations that he is anti-Muslim were very damaging and growing, from people who didn’t like him to begin with.

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