Sunday, February 19, 2006

Swimming in Coulter's cesspool

I suppose we should take it as an encouraging sign that a lot of voices -- including many on the right -- have been raised in objection to Ann Coulter's bit of performance theater at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference last weekend, wherein she uttered the now-infamous line:
"I think our motto should be, post-9-11: 'Raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.'"

The ethnic bigotry couldn't have been more naked. And that, unsurprisingly, is what everyone has focused on.

But there's a deeper problem that Coulter's comment represents -- indeed, it's only the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. With similar potential for real disaster.

Coulter's remarks -- which included an assassination fantasy about Bill Clinton -- were received with warm applause from the CPAC. And folks on the left, of course, jumped all over them. That's how Coulter's routine always has worked. What's noteworthy is that this time, she crossed a line.

There seems to have been a realization on the right -- long, long overdue -- that Coulter had gone too far. Sure, she can wish aloud for Tim McVeigh to blow up the New York Times Building all she wants, but even they could see that using an ethnic slur was beyond the realm of acceptable discourse.

But it wasn't so much the slur itself, as how it might reflect badly on the rest of the conservative movement. (I think everyone's favorite remark on the right was that "she isn't helping anyone.") After all, reassuring all those middle-class voters that they aren't the Party of Bigots has been an important talking point for them in recent years.

That seemed to be the main concern at places like Right Wing Nuthouse and Outside the Beltway. There was little reflection on the ugliness that these kinds of remarks reveal not just in someone who is a major spokesperson in the media for the conservative movement, but in a movement that would lionize her. She wasn't up on that stage by accident.

Others, like Shape of Days and Jonah Goldberg, were content to dismiss it as just part of Coulter's "schtick," as if she were just a naughty child who got a little out of hand. It's not that she thinks such things; it's that she had the bad form to voice them in public:
I don't think Ann does anybody but herself any good when she jokes about killing presidents, Supreme Court justices or uses terms like raghead. I don't think she should do it and I don't think conservatives should applaud it.

There were some honest expressions of revulsion, like that from Tom Briggs ("I think I'm going to be ill"), and Sean Hackbarth at The American Mind offered a harsh assessment of her rhetoric. On the other hand LaShawn Barber just thought it was "much ado about nothing." Ta-ta.

The refrain heard most, though, was like that from Michelle Malkin, who after lightly slapping Coulter's wrists -- she called the remarks "spectacularly ill-chosen and ill-timed" (words like "reprehensible" or "unacceptable" or "unhinged" seem only to be in her vocabulary with people from the left) -- and worrying about how the remarks would go down with young conservative Muslims, got down to her real problem with the remarks:
Ann's comment gives cover to smug liberals in denial about their own pervasive bigotry (I'll show you 100 liberal hate mails and blog posts referring to me as a "gook" or a "chink" or a "filipina whore" for every 1 "raghead" controversy on the right.)

Glenn Greenwald's response to similar whining about mean lefties from Glenn Reynolds was direct and to the point:
Republicans have been playing this game for years. They wildly inflate the importance of fringe, extremist figures and then -- every time one of those individuals makes an intemperate remark or comment that can be wrenched out-of-context and depicted as some sort of demented evil -- they demand that Democrats ritualistically parade before the cameras and either condemn those individuals or be branded as someone who is insufficiently willing to stand up to the extremists "in their party."

... Unlike, say, Ward Churchill, Ann Coulter is not some fringe, obscure figure for the right-wing crowd. To the contrary, she is one of the most popular and influential pro-Bush speakers around, which is exactly why she was invited to be one of the featured speakers at one of the most significant conservative events of the year. And Glenn Reynolds, just like Coulter, was also an invited speaker at this event.

So, Coulter isn’t just the leader of a substantial faction in Reynolds’ political party (although she is that), but they also have the nexus of both being invited speakers at the same event. Put simply, Coulter’s importance is infinitely greater than Ward Churchill’s (or Harry Belafonte's or Barbra Streisand's or any other left-wing bogeyman), and Reynolds’ connection to Coulter is far more substantial than all of those Democrats who never even heard of Churchill before and yet, according to the sermonizing Reynolds, nonetheless somehow had a compelling obligation to denounce him.

The comments Coulter made during her speech were reprehensible in the extreme. And those comments prompted not condemnation from the audience but its opposite -- what one observer described as a "boisterous ovation." Certainly under the denuncation standards that have been applied to Democrats for years, every attendee at that event, and anyone pledging featly to the "conservative" cause, has an obligation to say what their views are of Coulter generally and to address specifically why she was invited to be a featured speaker and why she plays such a prominent role, and commands such popularity, in the Bush movement. Although her comments were extreme, they are neither new nor surprising, as she has a long and documented history of urging violence against her political opponents and making comments quite similar to those she made at the CPAC.

Coulter's prominence on the right-wing scene is matched only by her long record of similarly hateful and eliminationist remarks, often in the guise of "jokes". As Jenna K. at The Girl Gets Away adroitly observes, Coulter's jokes just ain't funny, except as a way to vent some genuinely hateful beliefs.

Let's face it, Coulter has been spewing hate -- ethnic and otherwise -- for a long time under the guise of "political humor." In terms of poisoning the public discourse, just how much worse is an ethnic slur than calling for us to invade Muslim nations and forcing them to convert to Christianity? Or, for that matter, wishing for the bombing of the New York Times Building? Calling liberals innately "treasonous," and calling for their oppression? Disenfranchising women? Extolling the benefits of "local fascism"? Fantasizing about shooting the president?

Considering that Malkin devoted an entire chapter in her book Unhinged, to decrying supposed left-wing assassination fantasies, you'd think that the frequency of the latter (inclduing an appearance in this latest speech) from Coulter would earn almost as much ire from Michelle Malkin as an ethnic slur. But of course, Malkin makes no mention of it in her rebuke.

That's par for the course. As I pointed out a bit ago regarding Malkin's treatment of Coulter:
Has Malkin ever spoken up about this kind of extremism? It doesn't appear so. A quick Google of her site reveals plenty of references to Coulter -- but they're all adulatory and approving; many are about painting Coulter as a right-wing martryr.

As Greenwald points out in his post, the same is true of Glenn Reynolds, who boasts a similar Google record despite claiming that he "mostly ignores" her. Across the board, would-be mainstream conservatives behave the same: they invite her onto their talk shows, book her for their conferences, and buy (and promote) her books by the bushel. Then, when she says something outrageous, either simply pretend it didn't happen or sniff that no one takes her seriously.

Conservatives, in fact, have been happily swimming in the Coulter cesspool for a long time and have not only failed to notice the stink, they've positively extolled its virtues.

However, it's also important to give credit where it's due, and Glenn Reynolds, nearly alone on the right, correctly identified the real problem with Coulter's remarks:
[H]er ongoing treatment of Muslims has followed this general pattern of fostering alienation. The result of this sort of behavior is aid and comfort to the enemy.

To win this war, we need to kill the people who want to kill us. But we need to win over the rest. The terrorists of Al Qaeda want to polarize things so that it appears to be a war of Christianity against Islam, of America and the West against all Arabs and Muslims. With remarks like those, she's helping their cause, not ours. Call it "objectively pro-terrorist."

This point has, of course, long been a core operating principle at this blog:
Those who foment war against Islam are objectively furthering the agenda of Osama bin Laden, and are thus an effective Al Qaeda 'fifth column.'

Osama bin Laden wants you to make this into an Islam-vs.-the-West conflict. That was the explicit purpose behind 9/11.

The more that conservatives make the rest of Islam culpable for 9/11, the more they make enemies of our allies in the Islamic world. These include such major strategic partners as Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Their own Republican president has been working hard not to allow this to turn into an anti-Islamic crusade. Yet their own ignorance about the nature of Islam is nonetheless increasing the chances that the "war on terror" could explode into an uncontrollable global cultural conflict.

Remember that shortly after 9/11, bin Laden told his followers, "Tell them that these events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels. May God shield us and you from them." Bin Laden's larger strategy behind 9/11 is to create such a large conflagration that Western society cannot contain it, and it is his religious belief that God will eventually grant Muslims the victory.

Rhetoric like Coulter's poses a real danger to us all. Because rather than keeping the conflict contained to a handful of radical terrorists -- which was our best hope for winning, before Bush's heedless Iraq incursion -- she would have us take on all of Islam in a massive world war. No doubt, given her previous remarks, she would not consider it a victory short of "killing all their leaders and converting them to Christianity." Talk like this plays directly into bin Laden's hands.

What's genuinely troubling is that Coulter loves to be on the cutting edge of right-wing ideology, and so her clarion call for a revival of open bigotry against Muslims -- which is the only realistic interpretation of pointedly featuring a naked ethnic slur in her remarks -- is almost certain to be picked up. At the same time, she also has a history of rather slyly tuning into the right-wing dialogue that's occurring just beneath the surface. The truth is that she's hardly the first right-winger to call them "ragheads," nor will she by any means be the last.

In fact, one of the really disturbing trends of the past year is the extent to which you see conservatives conflating radical Islamists with mainstream Muslims -- not merely conflating, but essentially identifying and failing to make any distinction between them whatsoever. The festering capital of the use of "ragheads" is of course the Free Republic, but you can also find it present throughout the right blogosphere, at sites ranging from Little Green Footballs to Jawa Report to Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler to Dr. Sanity to Ace of Spades to RedState. These all are sites where conservative Muslims are consistently identified with Islamists -- and identified as the Enemy. The comments at these sites are particularly vicious, and rife with the use of "ragheads."

And, perhaps not surprisingly, they are all on the blogrolls of Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin and all those other supposedly mainstream conservatives horrified by Coulter's remarks. Consistency would suggest they would be as ready to denounce the steady patter of rhetoric that plays into the hands of our very real enemies coming from throughout the conservative movement.

But no. They've all been too busy making hay by denouncing the behavior of the Islamic cartoon rioters -- and linking to all these sites in the process. And committing, by extension, the same mistake.

There's no doubt the cartoon riots are yet another example of the violence that can be wielded almost at will by the forces of fundamentalism, and are deeply disturbing for that reason alone. No doubt, there are serious free-speech issues at play, and I think the ramifications could be profound for Europeans especially.

Yet one thing you'll notice that's decidedly absent in all the right-wing horror at the riots is any recognition of the power relationship that is the real context in which they are occurring. There seems to be no recognition that we're talking about a people -- namely, Third World Muslims -- who've suffered a century and more of economic and political deprivation, a setting that has made them ripe for exploitation by fundamentalist demagogues.

Of course we don't riot or engage in violence when someone is disrespectful of our culture and our beliefs; we Westerners have been perched in the catbird seat for some time now and can afford to ignore it if we choose. That's not how people on the bottom rung, though, are likely to respond to high-handed mistreatment and disrespect. Making fun of the high and mighty and privileged and powerful is an honorable thing, even if not very profitable. Making fun of the downtrodden -- especially from a position of privilege -- is a despicable thing ... but it sure is easy.

Muslims are rioting because the Danish cartoons that sparked the anger have come to symbolize the ethnic arrogance of Europeans and Americans, typified by ethnic slurs like "ragheads," that they blame as the engines of their dienfranchisement, and from which they now believe they are finally able to rise up and restore their societies. Certainly the way that Westerners on both sides of the Atlantic have responded to the riots -- holding them up as evidence of innate Muslim barbarism -- has only served to deepen that anger.

The American voices who have joined in this chorus have almost certainly not gone unnoticed. Just today, Muslim rioters in Indonesia (another one of our Muslim allies) targeted an American embassy, though it's hard to tell if this is a product of the Iraq war or just the general sense of American complicity in the spread of the supposedly sacrilegious cartoons.

Yet we have to be extremely careful and measured in how we respond to this. The thousands of rioters, for all their ugliness, are almost certainly ordinary fundamentalist Muslims and not radical Islamists. Yet it's also clear that they are being manipulated by fundamentalist clerics whose sympathies appear well in line with the cause of Al Qaeda.

Certainly, they are being pushed into bin Laden's arms. After all, bin Laden has, like the Wahhabists generally, scapegoated the West (and the USA in particular) in the process of trying to stake a claim to representing the true Islam. Recall that immediately after 9/11, he cast the coming "war on terror" as one involving all of Islam rising up against the West: "What America is tasting now is only a copy of what we have tasted. Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more than 80 years of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated."

He also has warned: "Every Muslim must rise to defend his religion." And so, it seems, they are beginning to heed him. That this is occurring is bin Laden's dream, and our worst nightmare.

People like Ann Coulter, and the thousands of little Freepers and wingnuts who are part of the "raghead" chorus, and their cartoon-drawing counterparts in Europe, have not only been swimming in their own little hate-filled cesspool, they are slowly dragging the rest of us into it with them. Not just the nation, but the world.

They drive ordinary Muslims into the waiting arms of bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even as they convince more Americans that their enemies really are those same ordinary Muslims. In the process, they help bin Laden realize his strategy exactly as planned.

Coulter's book Treason, it will be said in the years to come, really was just a classic piece of right-wing projection.

No comments: