In view of the discussion on the return of Imus to the radio and the many valid comparisons of his brand of hatefulness to the hatefulness of other radio personalities (Limbaugh, Hannity, et al), I thought I'd write today about why it is so important to continue to speak out against these people.
Free speech should never be curtailed. But we must speak out against those whose free speech is akin to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. They are making intolerant, hateful speech part of our culture. As Tomcat said in his comment on the Imus post, "Bush, the GOP, the neocons and the theocons have made hate mainstream." And this is the real danger of this type of free speech. It makes hate acceptable in our culture.
While we were in the Adirondacks two weekends ago, Leonard Pitts, who writes a syndicated column for the Miami Herald, had a very interesting op-ed piece that was published in the local town newspaper near where we were staying.
His article concerned the remarks Ann Coulter had made about Jews on a recent program:
"Last week, Coulter said that in her perfect America, everyone would be a Christian. She said this to Donny Deutsch, who was hosting her on his CNBC program, The Big Idea. Deutsch, who is Jewish, expressed alarm. Whereupon Coulter told him that Jews simply needed to be ''perfected'' -- i.e., made to accept Jesus as savior. Which is, of course, one of the pillars (along with the slander of Christ's murder) supporting 2,000 years of pogroms, abuse and Holocaust."
Pitts said that many people would be telling him he shouldn't be wasting his time condemning Ann Coulter, and that it would be better to ignore her. But he refuted this idea, saying:
"I suspect the reason some people believe that kind of ignorance is best ignored is that they find it difficult to take it seriously, or to accept that Coulter -- or those who embrace her -- really believes what she says. After all, this is not 1933, not 1948, not 1966. It is two-thousand-by-God-oh-seven, post-Seinfeld, post-Gore-Lieberman, post-Schindler's List. We no longer live in the era when open anti-Semitism could find wide traction. This is a different time.
But time, Martin Luther King once observed, is neutral. Time alone changes nothing. It is people who make change in time. Or not. So you have to wonder if this determined sanguinity in the face of intolerance is not ultimately an act of monumental self-delusion."
Pitts went on to say that in fact, letting remarks like Coulter's pass without protesting them, without shouting out that they are wrong, will just give the impression that this type of hatefulness is acceptable in society.
"While some of us are cheerfully assuring one another that They Don't Really Mean It, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups in this country has risen by a whopping 40 percent in just the last seven years. If you had spent those years, as I have, jousting in print the agents of intolerance, you would not be surprised. It would be all but impossible to quantify, but I've noted a definite spike, not simply in the hatefulness of some people, but in the willingness to speak that hatefulness openly and without shame. What used to be anonymous now comes with a name and address.
Like Coulter, many of those people find intellectual cover under the cloak of conservatism. It is a development that thoughtful conservatives (the very need to use that qualifier makes the case) ought to view with alarm. For all that Colin Powell, J.C. Watts, ...and others have done to posit a friendly new ''big tent'' conservatism, Coulter and others have done even more to drag the movement back toward open intolerance.
That will be read as criticism of conservatism, but I intend a larger point. After all, liberalism has had its own unfortunate extremes -- the drug use of the '60s, the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army and the like. The difference is, say what you will about Michael Moore or Jesse Jackson, they are not pushing back toward that which has been discredited. Coulter is.
And if some of us are laughing that off, not everybody is.
So this is not about bashing conservatives. It is, rather, about challenging them, and all of us. Within living memory, we have seen Jews in boxcars and blacks in trees and silence from those who should have been shouting. They pretended it wasn't happening until it already had.
So, what about Ann Coulter? What about the push-back against diversity, pluralism and tolerance, that she represents? I keep hearing that we should just ignore it.
My point is, that's been tried before. It didn't work."
So we must keep protesting when we hear hateful commentary on the air waves. We have to keep pointing out that this type of speech is wrong and is not to be tolerated. We must urge people not to listen to these voices. Our country has free speech. But we are also free to protest what is said.
I'm going to skip the haiku today and instead quote this, by Pastor Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.