For Bigots Only
After accusing various popes, saints, politicians, celebrities, and even my humble self of anti-Semitism over the years, the columnist Richard Cohen is shocked to find that he has been accused of anti-Semitism himself. Im surprised that he is shocked. He has written critically of the state of Israel, and hes now one of a number of liberal Jews (the historian Tony Judt is another) finding themselves in the same dock. How could he not have seen this coming?
This genie has been out of the bottle for a long time. It isnt just Jews, of course; any number can play (except Christians, who are to blame for so many evils). When Senator Joe Biden tried to pay Barack Obama an innocent compliment the other day, he found himself facing the charge of implying that black politicians speak poor English, dont bathe, and wear baggy zoot suits. Watch what you say. Another columnist, David Brooks, has written that the word neoconservative is now an anti-Semitic code-word for Jew.
Never mind the Jews who call themselves neocons. Self-haters, no doubt. Ive always liked Woody Allens reply to that label: Its true that Im Jewish, and I dont like myself very much, but it has nothing to do with my religion. Liberal though he is, Cohen is subject to spasms of common sense and humor, either of which can be perilous. Humorlessness is threatening to become our national religion. A country that considers Robin Williams funny is already in deep trouble.
Sports fans know that the names of their teams are apt to be found deeply offensive to alleged spokesmen oops, spokespersons for this or that ethnic group, such as Indians oops, Native Americans. Once upon a time somebody named a Boston baseball team the Braves, thinking it was innocuous, a way of saluting brave warriors (teams arent named for creatures that are held in contempt, such as rodents, but for beasts and people associated with power and valor, such as lions and tigers and bears); Babe Ruth played for them for a while. Later they moved to Milwaukee and nobody complained. It wasnt until long after the Braves had moved to Atlanta that outrage erupted. Maybe it would have been more prudent to call them the Atlanta Persons.
The forces of Organized Touchiness never rest. That includes the Joke Police. The only safety lies in bland solemnity. America is littered with the casualties of the bigotry wars people who have asserted, suggested, or said things that might possibly be construed to imply anything that Al Sharpton or Abe Foxman finds prejudicial. Never say anything that reminds these people of slavery or the Holocaust, unless you are prepared to do a lot of groveling. Even Marlon Brando had to crawl after blurting that Jews run Hollywood.
Its no use saying youre not prejudiced; thats what bigots always say. Anyway, how would you know? Bigotry may be unconscious. Thats what makes it so insidious.
At the moment, the gravest offense against minorities is Holocaust denial. Its worse than actually murdering them. In fact you might be more readily excused for defending the Holocaust than for expressing doubt of its occurrence.
With millions of new Mexican, Muslim, and Asian (dont say Oriental, let alone Chinaman!) immigrants pouring in, we can expect an intensification of the Sensitivity Sweepstakes. I tremble for my country when I reflect that the Almighty has a sense of humor and that he cannot suppress his laughter forever.
Here on earth, in the Land of the Free, you are guilty if accused. Even if you havent actually lynched or gassed anyone, you are guilty of having been accused. Its not up to you to say whether you are a racist or anti-Semite; even if the charge is false by objective standards, you obviously did something to make someone want to make a false charge. Simple logic. I must have done something to make Richard Cohen accuse me, and now he must have done something to make someone else accuse him. Lets not get bogged down in irresolvable issues of truth and falsehood.
But doesnt this mean anyone can be accused of racism and anti-Semitism? Now youre getting the idea! In the Soviet Union, anyone could be accused of anti-Soviet activities, a term that would have been useless if it had ever been clearly defined. Your own show trial may be just a matter of time.
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