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 What Is This Thing Called Hate? 

July 26, 2005 
Michael Graham, a talk-radio host here in Washington, has stirred a hornets’ nest by calling Islam (the whole thing!) a “terrorist organization.” Today's column is "What Is This Thing Called Hate?" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.After all, he points out, the terrorist acts that have arrested the West’s attention lately haven’t been committed by the Pennsylvania Amish. They’ve been committed by Muslims in the name of Islam.

Naturally, Muslim groups are accusing Graham of “hate.” He replies that he’s only dealing in plain facts that others refuse to face.

If the debate (such as it is) ended here, I’d declare Graham the victor. Hate has become the most abused word in the English language. It should be a matter of shame to all of us that American universities, our intellectual strongholds, now have “speech codes” forbidding what is called “hate speech.” Most Western countries actually have laws making some forms of expression criminal, punishable with prison terms, even if no actual harm can be proved (or is even alleged).

Chief among these crimes is what is called “Holocaust denial.” An infidel, in the West, might now be defined as anyone who expresses faint doubts about the victors’ account of World War II; but the list of taboo beliefs and attitudes continues to swell as the list of self-described victim groups lengthens. Discuss objective realities — race and violent crime, for instance — at your own risk. Be sure you treat rap music as one of the vital signs of American culture.

Pleading truth may be a strong defense, as long as your advertisers aren’t upset. Here the seemingly uninhibited Graham is always very prudent. His roster of terrorists doesn’t include Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, or Ariel Sharon. The state of Israel is a democracy, of sorts, so Zionism isn’t considered “hate,” though many Jews are embarrassed by it.

“To generalize is to be an idiot,” said William Blake, generalizing. He wasn’t even referring to talk radio or campus speech codes, two areas where it may indeed be idiotic to acknowledge the basic truth of any unflattering demographic observation, no matter what the statistics indicate.

[Breaker quote for What Is This Thing Called Hate?: Free speech and stereotypes]Of course even hard-looking statistics may soften under analysis. “Facts” about race and crime, which may be accurate as far as they go, look a lot different when you take into account the number of criminals who grew up without fathers. When black illegitimacy was unusual, black crime rates were far lower.

In a similar way, terrorism among Muslims may be due to more specific factors than their religion, which they share with far more Muslims who aren’t terrorists. Many Muslims, especially in the Arab world (where, after all, only a minority of the world’s Muslims live), share their grievances without adopting their violent methods.

Popular stereotypes usually have a grain of truth in them, but they are prone to gross exaggeration. Forty years ago white Americans were spooked by the so-called Black Muslims; they were called a “hate” group. But their scary image in the press was hardly justified by their sober behavior. Still, that image was unfortunately strengthened in 1964 when their spokesman, Malcolm X, made one of the most explosive utterances of the decade: he said the assassination of President Kennedy was a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”

The uproar, now forgotten, was tremendous. I remember my own horror at the time. The Black Muslims silenced Malcolm, who soon broke with them and was shortly thereafter murdered, apparently by some of them. A couple of years later I read his autobiography and was happily amazed to find how badly I’d misjudged the man.

Today streets and schools are named after Malcolm, and the Black Muslims seem pretty normal — just part of the American landscape. The old “hate” group has become pretty conservative; in fact, it always was.

America reeled again in 1964 when the new world heavyweight champ, Cassius Clay, announced that he’d become a Black Muslim, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and denounced “white devils.” But once again the original shock has been long forgotten, and Ali has become an endearing old guy, about as menacing as Smokey Robinson.

What’s hate got to do with it? A fellow may pop off now and then without hating anyone at all. He may have a point most people aren’t ready to hear yet. We should be wary of the ones who are eager to shut him up.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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