Peretz’ “apology”: sorry about the First Amendment, but not about the bigotry.

Marty Peretz’s non-apology apology: all the more reason to curse him.

I was about to pile on to Mark’s, Jonathan’s, and Mike’s witty curses directed at Marty Peretz’s loathsome remarks about Muslims when I saw that one of Mark’s commenters (Larry Birnbaum) had linked to an apology Peretz recently posted.  Time to retreat?  No.  Time to remind people of Peretz’ original argument, whose bigotry went way beyond two sentences and which his apology by no means takes back.

Here’s the original—apologies for the long quotation:

…In fact, there has not been a single rally or demonstration in America aimed at Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies. I suggest that this is largely the case because Americans are so fearful of being accused of bias, however the injustice of the charge might be.

This is certainly not the situation in Britain and France, Germany and Denmark, Holland and Spain where a demo against the Arabs or the Pakis or the Algerians or the Moroccans or the Turks and Muslims more generally is a regular feature of the political landscape and where parties win parliamentary seats precisely because they campaign with Islamists and islam [sic] as the targets.

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…[ellipses in original] 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.

So: Peretz’ argument (and remember the original headline: “The New York Times Laments ‘A Sadly Wary Misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.’ But Really Is It ‘Sadly Wary’ Or A ‘Misunderstanding’ At All?”) was this:

(1) Americans should not apologize for our own anti-Muslim bias since our politics has been less openly hostile towards Muslims in general and Muslim immigrants in particular than is common in Western Europe, where xenophobia is more mainstream;

(2) On the other hand, maybe being anti-Muslim is not bias at all but an understandable and proper fear that Western societies feel in the face of “alien philosophies” (i.e. Islam);

(3) two signs of this philosophy’s alienness are that

(a) “routine and random bloodshed…defines their brotherhood [i.e. Islam],” with the billion or so Muslims who’ve never killed anyone apparently not to be counted; and

(b) Muslims don’t hold demonstrations when total strangers in other countries whose residents happen to be majority Muslim kill other strangers in those countries.

Peretz then made a comment about the First Amendment that he has later indeed apologized for in what he himself describes as an “apology for one sentence.”  In the rest of his non-apology apology he says this:

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.

Peretz has not apologized for, in fact has repeated, his original claims concerning why we should be alert to the “dangers of Islamism”: that Muslims are by the nature of their religion prone to mass murder; and that random Muslims don’t feel inclined to cry out specifically against those killings in the world whose perpetrators or victims happen to be Muslims.  Kristof never read Peretz’ statement about Muslim life being cheap as a statement that it should be cheap.  He read it as a statement of bigotry that tarred a billion Muslims as potential murderers, or at least sympathetic to murder, because Peretz regards them as holding others’ one another’s lives cheap.  Kristof continues to read Peretz’ position this way, and continues to be appalled both by that position and by Peretz’ absurd implication that Kristof in any way endorses it.  And he’s right to be appalled. Given a chance to reflect on his bigotry, Peretz has chosen to repeat it and to claim that it represents legitimate “anxiety,” nothing more. He hasn’t begun to understand what the problem is—and clearly has no intention of trying.  There is plenty of hatred in Peretz’s heart.  He’s simply gotten so used to feeling it that it seems to him like reason.

May Peretz spend the afterlife in an endless library whose entire collection consists of back issues of Tikkun.

And, to touch him where it really hurts: when he dies, may the New York Times publish no obituary.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

9 thoughts on “Peretz’ “apology”: sorry about the First Amendment, but not about the bigotry.”

  1. Andrew,

    You say a lot of things above, much I agree with and some that I don't.

    This is where you lose me completely:

    "…that Muslims are by the nature of their religion prone to mass murder;"

    This just seems to me to be a misreading of Peretz. The question of social, cultural, and political propensities towards, or insufficient inhibitions against, sectarian and political violence aimed at civilians is complicated and fraught. Peretz isn't actually helping achieve a rational and balanced discussion of these issues with his intemperate language. You're not helping by exaggerating what he says in this way.

  2. Larry,

    That one can legitimately study, or politically debate, "social, cultural, and political propensities towards, or insufficient inhibitions against, sectarian and political violence aimed at civilians" is of course correct. Much of my own present and planned work does just that. That activity, though, requires distinguishing various causes (and above all treating them *as* causes, not as intimations of pollution or moral taint) and admitting that social and political context makes all the difference. Peretz does nothing of the kind. Look at the last paragraph of his apology, where he lumps together about a dozen countries in one sentence–or at his original piece, where he speaks with imperious looseness of "the domains of Islam," "Islamic lands," "the Islamic world"—and, most definitively of "the routine and random bloodshed that *defines their brotherhood*"–which in the context can only mean Islam as a whole. That Muslims are by the nature of their religion prone to mass murder (or at least sympathetic to it, as I qualified a sentence later) may not be your position, and it does you credit that it isn't. But it is Peretz's. If he doesn't mean that, let him say what he does mean, because that's the only fair construction of his writing so far.

  3. I assume everyone knows this episode didn't happen in a vacuum, as an isolated blemish on an otherwise sterling personal history. The sad truth is that Martin Peretz has revealed himself to be a nasty piece of work fairly regularly over the decades. Practically the only time his prose loses its characteristic clotted, involuted, inconclusive quality & speaks clearly is when he's being unpleasant. It leaves the impression that when he's not hateful it's often only with great effort. There are enough people who share his prejudices that he need never fear dining alone.

  4. Andrew, I see what you're getting at. The language has an incendiary interpretation; however I would read "defines their brotherhood" more like "is widespread" or even "is ubiquitous" rather than "is definitional of" or "inherently constitutive of". So I just don't agree with you that the incendiary interpretation is the only fair construction of his writing on this issue. Admittedly one should avoid language with incendiary interpretations.

    So I come back to what I think he's trying to say that may be controversial but shouldn't be incendiary: that many Islamic societies have a serious problem with political and sectarian violence aimed at civilians; and a horrible lack of responsible political, religious, and perhaps even intellectual and media leadership in the face of this problem. And that this lack of leadership is a problem for us as well as for them.

  5. I'm a person who thinks that the right to have your statements read in the most charitable light possible is something that we should accord most people by default; it's a privilege you lose, not one you have to earn. As K correctly points out, though, Peretz long ago forfeited any legitimate claim to being read charitably on this issue. I'd be inclined to say that we should all just ignore dim-witted and mean-spirited people like Peretz if there weren't so many who inexplicably shared his views.

  6. Larry, you really crack me up! Now there's some self-contradiction!

    'however I would read “*defines* their brotherhood” more like “is widespread” or even “is ubiquitous” rather than “is *definitional* of”'

    So saying that something "defines" a thing is not saying it "is definitional of" it? What language are you reading?

    Orwell would be proud, as he would of Peretz' redefinition of 1st Amendment Constitutional *rights* as "the *privileges* of the First Amendment".

  7. Thanks for this blog post. As someone who used to read the New Republic, before being finally driven away in disgust because I could no longer stomach giving money to a magazine owned by a vile bigot like Peretz, I can assure Larry that Peretz has every intention of stating that Muslims as a group are evil, violent, and "prone to mass murder." Its his entire theme, day in and day out, and has been for many, many, many years. Muslims are not just uniformly mass murderers but also primitive, classless, lying barbarians who come from a culture that supports and celebrates all those things, in Marty's view.

    What Marty does, you see, in addition to the more obviously ugly statements like his "Muslim life is cheap" comment, is provide a constant stream of "commentary" on every violent or untoward act committed by a Muslim. The end result is akin to a talk radio host who won't come out and use the n-word, but will endlessly and gleefully talk up violent acts committed by anyone who happens to be black.

    Of course, occasionally he'll just come out and say what he means. "[The Lebanese] fight simply because they live. And the culture from which they come scarcely thinks this is odd. Their men fight on and on, and the women and children bleed." That's an oldie but a goodie.

    Or there's this: "But surely there are tests that could have been taken of Hussein about what makes for evil. A certain level of testosterone combined with certain genes. It's a promising field, these inquiries into the biological origins of cruelty."

    Sometimes it can actually be hilarious. Marty on why there's "no Muslim Martin Luther King Jr." "They'd break his windows. Imprison him. Or kill him." Um, yes … it's a good thing non-Muslims would never do anything like that!

    To sum up, Martin Peretz is about as close to a sheet-wearing bigot you're going to find in polite company nowadays. Don't bother parsing his words. Stop by his blog and it'll take you about five minutes of reading to take the measure of the man.

  8. justbecause–thanks for the added quotations. Do you have links for them, or at least dates? I tend to think such things should be put in for the record when possible, both because spurious quotations can be repeated without being fact-checked and because even genuine quotations will be called spurious by someone who wishes they weren't genuine.

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