EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including my Twitter followers who are just scanning this for the hidden glottal stops),
So Charlie Hebdo is selling like hot cakes, giving new meaning to the Profit Mohammed. And, just as I suspected, the images are pissing off lots of Muslims who aren’t terrorists. And, again just as I suspected, the New York Times et al. can’t help but make that the real story. No doubt millions of people hashtagging “Je Suis Charlie” were sincere — or thought they were — but the real reason that slogan spread into nearly every ideological quarter is that sympathizing, empathizing, and leeching off the moral status of victims is the only thing that unites Western societies these days. Celebrating winners is divisive. How long did it take for the Sharptonians to leap on the Oscar nominations?
What is remarkable is how short the half-life of solidarity for Charlie Hebdo was. The moment it dawned on people that there must be consequences to the Hebdo attack, not just group hugs and hashtags, the divisions, gripes, and handwring re-emerged.
Victims Über Alles
Simply put, victimology is the language and currency of our politics. Fighting for victims is a calling and minting new victims and grievances is a trillion-dollar industry. Heroism, fidelity, courage, duty, temperance: Their stock value may be volatile but the long-term trends have been bad for a while. But guilt and resentment are the gold and silver of our realm, a perfect hedge against the civilizational recession.
And so before the street-sweepers even put a dent in the discarded “Je Suis Charlie” signs, the media was already on the prowl for signs of Western overreaction. The New York Times editors warned that “perhaps the greatest danger in the wake of the attacks” was a backlash against Muslim immigrants.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want an anti-Muslim backlash, but in all of this talk of Islamophobia, it seems the most acute and relevant phobia is the fear our elites have of their own people. The rabble can’t be trusted to keep things in perspective. While the story was still unfolding in Paris, Steven Erlanger, the New York Times’s London bureau chief, was invited on Shep Smith’s show for a “phoner.” Erlanger couldn’t resist starting the interview by warning Fox about how “careful” it needs to be covering the story. The Eloi must be ever vigilant not to arouse the Morlocks, don’t you know. It was this sentiment that no doubt motivated the Times to edit its own reporting on the attack, removing any reference to the fact that one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers spared a woman’s life — and advised her she needed to convert to Islam. You can almost hear the editors saying, “Look, if we leave that in, the little people might get the impression this had something to do with Islam. We know it does, but we can handle that truth. The flyover people might miss the nuances.”
What Did You Do During the Anti-Muslim Backlash, Grandpa?
By the way, how much have you heard about the anti-Muslim backlash over the last decade and a half? Well, here’s a fun fact. In every year since 9/11 the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in the U.S. has dwarfed anti-Muslim hate crimes.
In 2001 — you know, the year when the World Trade Center was knocked down by Islamist terrorists — there were still twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim ones reported to the FBI. By 2002, things got back to “normal” and anti-Jewish outstripped anti-Muslim hate crimes by roughly a factor of five – and it’s stayed that way ever since. In 2013, nearly 60 percent of anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews. Just over 14 percent were against Muslims. Now, I’m not saying America is anti-Semitic, far from it. It’s easily the most philo-Semitic country in the world, save for Israel (and if you spent time listening to Israelis criticize themselves, you’d consider that a debatable proposition). But when was the last time you heard a reporter from the New York Times fret over the need to be careful lest we encourage an anti-Semitic backlash?
I’ll take my answer off the air.
(One hilarious tic of the anti-Islamophobia brigades is they can’t even use the right words. Technically, bigotry against Muslims is anti-religious. But denouncing bigotry against religion creates too much cognitive dissonance for a crowd that routinely denounces Christianity. It’s too risky to set that precedent. So instead they use “Islamophobia” whenever possible and “racism” whenever they can get away with it.)
The Evil Logic of Evil-Logic Arguments about Evil Logic
I don’t dispute that Islamist terrorist attacks threaten to give Islam a bad name. (Actually, that ship probably sailed a long time ago for lots of people.) What I don’t get is why Muslims should have blanket immunity from the rules that apply to everyone else. If Israel does something bad, Jews are expected to condemn it — and they do. When a pro-lifer goes vigilante and blows up an abortion clinic, you can be damn sure that pro-life leaders are expected to denounce it — and they do. More to the point, the entire liberal establishment gets their dresses over their collective heads about the need to hold larger communities accountable. Just ask tea partiers, Evangelical Christians, gun-rights advocates, and my other fellow Legionaires of Doom.
The entire edifice of supposedly sophisticated left-wing thinking is about collective responsibility. For instance, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an impassioned case for reparations last year. Whatever you think of his argument, two things are indisputably true: (1) The piece was universally praised on the left (and parts of the right) and (2) slavery reparations amount to collective punishment. You might say that slavery was collective punishment — and you’d be right! But there are no living former slaves in the U.S. (not counting refugees) and there are no living former slave owners of the Confederacy either. Moreover, there are quite literally hundreds of millions of people who have little to no tangible connection to slavery — even by lineage. There are over 40 million foreign-born Americans today. Why should a Vietnamese immigrant be asked to pay for 19th-century slavery? My mother is half of southern heritage and half of northern, but my dad’s side of the family were all refugees from the pogroms. Do I pay a quarter reparation?
Forget reparations. What about correcting “white privilege,” taxing the “1 percent,” and denouncing all cops for the actions of a few? These, along with critical legal studies, critical race studies, and vast swaths of feminism, Marxism, post-colonialism, and other bits of wreckage from the overturned manure truck of left-wing thinking all depend, in one way or another, on notions of collective responsibility. Moreover, they depend on them not just in a communal or political sense, but as a matter of metaphysics. White people owe. Men owe. The wealthy owe. The West owes. They owe because the goddess “social justice” demands it. And this particular goddess is Crom-like in the sense that she cares not whether you were born in poverty or what good works you have done in your life. You don’t matter. All that matters is the eternal them and they owe by virtue of their identity.
Murdoch Is Gallic for Mordor, Right?
I bring all of this up because I found the hissy fit over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet last week pretty hilarious. Murdoch wrote:
Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.
Now, I might have phrased that differently, but you have to suffer a kind of anti-Murdoch dementia to not get his point. He was not calling for drone strikes on 1.6 billion Muslims. He was saying the Islamic world has to confront the problem in its own community, as he explained here.
But for those who feel awkward and uncomfortable denouncing Islamic terrorism (people might get the wrong idea!), denouncing Rupert Murdoch is like curling up by the fire in warm footie-pajamas. It is ground zero of the liberal comfort zone. Chris Hayes called Murdoch’s tweet evidence of “A disgusting, vile sentiment, whose logic is ghastly.” He added:
"Hold them all responsible" is precisely the evil logic of terrorism. #pt
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) January 10, 2015
Now, in a seminar, it’s absolutely true that one can do a little dance at the chalkboard and explain why the language of Murdoch’s tweet can by syllogistically compared to the “logic” of terrorism. But in reality, the real evil here is playing word games that fuzz-up the differences between an utterly defensible tweet and the mass slaughter of innocent people by large groups of people determined to kill more and, ultimately, erase Western civilization and all the liberal and “liberal” values progressives hold dear. What I mean is jihadism is at war with both my kind of liberalism — free minds, free markets — and Chris Hayes’s kind of “liberalism” — gender norming, sexual liberation, etc. But confronting that truth is hard. It’s so much easier and more satisfying to whine about Rupert Murdoch because “Fox News!!!!111!!!
Kevin Williamson got this very well in an excellent piece on the use and abuse of ideological extremism. Just because you can do the logic chopping dance and compare different kinds of “extremism” that doesn’t make them equivalent in the real world. Here’s Kevin:
As the slaughter at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris reminds us, the phrase “religious extremism” is useless in that it is almost entirely devoid of content. It matters — and it matters a great deal — which religion is under consideration. The world does not have much of a problem with Quaker extremism, Mormon extremism, African Methodist Episcopal extremist, Reform Jewish extremism, Zen Buddhist extremism, Southern Baptist extremism, etc. We’ve seen, over the past few decades, scattered paroxysms of Hindu extremism and Sikh extremism (India), Buddhist violence (Burma), quasi-Christian cult violence (Uganda, Sudan), etc., but the big show in terms of violent extremism is the never-ending circus of jihad.
Juan Cole, in a particularly dopey moment, compared Sarah Palin, of all people, to the sort of people who just carried out a mass murder in Paris. “The values of [John McCain’s] handpicked running mate, Sarah Palin, more resemble those of Muslim fundamentalists than they do those of the Founding Fathers,” he wrote. “What’s the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick.”
Lipstick and 3,000 corpses in lower Manhattan, hundreds of thousands more around the world, and a dozen new ones in a Paris magazine office.
I am sure there is something that passes for an “extreme Unitarian” but I would feel much safer around one than an avowed “extreme Wahhabist.”
Don’t Call It Brave
The Left has long been enamored with the idea that they speak truth to power. But the powerful people they set their sights on almost invariably turn out to be pretty harmless (and the institutions they attack — universities, corporations, etc. — are remarkably spineless). As I noted the other week, if the Koch brothers were a fraction as dangerous as they’re made out to be, no one would be attacking them for fear of being fed to sharks with frick’n lasers on their heads. We’re breeding generations of citizens who think attacking left-wing college administrators from the left is bold and courageous and denouncing Islamic extremism is racist. We apologize for the “root causes” that lead to actual violence, while we theorize endlessly about how ultimately we’re really to blame. Our military heroes are terroristic and the terrorists are misunderstood. That’s not merely dazzlingly idiotic; it is effulgently suicidal.
Back to the Backlash
I realize this “news” letter has been taking a gloomy turn of late, but I am truly dismayed about where things are going. I feel like Fred Thompson in The Hunt for Red October: “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.”
Again, I support Charlie Hebdo and I am glad they didn’t back off. But, again, this isn’t necessarily good news. It’s simply a matter of making the best of a bad situation, but so is finding a nice buoyant armoire amid the flotsam of the Titanic. And doing the right thing often makes things worse in the short run. When the Brits finally declared war on Nazi Germany, they did the right thing, but that didn’t mean they weren’t in a bad place.
America is not the Titanic and we are not on the verge of World War III, but we are in a bad spot. Jihadism is forcing bad decisions on the West, and the West isn’t even choosing the least bad decisions when it can identify them. Things will get worse before they get better.
So I came out foursquare against another Romney run. I don’t want to revisit all of that here. But I think the angry responses are interesting. Lots of people complained about how Romney is a great guy and really qualified to be president yada yada yada. The problem with these arguments is that they are explanations — good ones — for why you would vote for Romney. They are next to useless as arguments for why other people would vote for him. (It’s all very similar to the left-wing arguments for John Kerry; his military record will win over other people.) Look, I supported Romney for many of those same reasons, but there’s something about the guy that is unappealing to the voters a Republican needs to win. They’re not just swing voters either; he also doesn’t excite many members of our own base. (Even the dude who got his face tattooed with the Romney tattoo isn’t on board anymore!)
This isn’t a slight against Romney. I love Phil Gramm and would have loved to see him become president. But he turns off lots of people, too. And, heck, if electability isn’t a consideration, there are dozens of people I’d like to appoint president of the United States, possibly including yours truly (“I’m not moving!” — The Couch). This is purely a matter of politics. And, politically speaking, the best thing Romney had going for him was that voting for him was a vote against Barack Obama. That asset is gone forever.
One last thing: Please, please stop telling me that Reagan ran three times. The 1968 example is pretty ridiculous. The Nixon analogy is a little better — at least he got the nomination in 1960. But first of all, he probably had that election stolen from him. Second, he spent eight years in the wilderness as the political climate ripened perfectly for a law-and-order anti-Communist candidate. Third, the caricatures notwithstanding, Nixon was a brilliant politician in a way that Romney will never, ever, be. Romney was a one-term governor. Nixon was a congressman, senator, vice president, and ran for governor of California.* The best analogy is to Thomas Dewey. He ran three times, getting the nomination twice. We all remember how awesome the Dewey administration was.
*An earlier version of this “news”letter stated that Nixon had been Governor of California. I knew that so I’m looking in vain for someone else to blame for the error.
Various & Sundry
I’m in Florida with my kid for a long weekend of Daddy-Daughter hijinks. My wife, alas, is taking care of her Dad who broke his hip last week. So no Zoë update, save for the fact that she is doing fine in this lady’s capable hands. Maybe if you ask her nicely she will tweet updates.
Here’s the latest GLOPcast. The image will haunt your dreams.
Here’s my latest column, which I liked.
I’m told that my Beacon Institute talk is just about sold out. But there might still be time.
Meanwhile I will be at the University of Michigan on February 12. Maybe by then YAF will have a new, more svelt, picture of me.
More Freedom! You can now snort chocolate in Vancouver
And, of course, Debby’s Friday Links!