Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mutual Hypocrisy; Or, Both Sides Can’t Have it Both Ways

In the wake of the tragic assassination attempt in Tucson, there has been quite a lot of discussion as to whether violent rhetoric and imagery either led to the shooting or created an atmosphere that at least indirectly made the shooting possible. For the record, I don’t think that Loughner tried to assassinate Rep. Giffords because Sarah Palin put a crosshair on Rep. Giffords’ district or because Sharron Angle suggested the use of “Second Amendment remedies” or because Tea Partiers showed up at rallies with signs claiming that they’d come “unarmed this time”. But I do believe that the careless, almost gleeful use of violent rhetoric and imagery has had a negative impact on our country as a whole and on political discourse in particular.

Words have meanings and we need to take care of the words that we use lest those who may be influenced by those words act in the ways suggested by the words or images. How many times can people claim that Barack Obama is not the legitimate President of the United States or that he hates America or white people before someone decides to act on the basis of those claims? Rhetoric that suggests violence as an acceptable way of resolving any conflict just may, in fact, lead to the use of violence to resolve that very conflict. And nobody should be surprised by that.

That is what those on the left have been saying since the shootings in Tucson while those on the right work to distance words and images from actions (going so far as to claim that it is a “blood libel” to claim that violent rhetoric or imagery leads to violence or that there is a “pogrom” being waged against “conservative thinkers” or that the left has a “lynch mob” mentality).


Now let’s look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or the broader conflict between Israel and its neighbors and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world). For years, it has been those on the right who point to the violent rhetoric and imagery being used by the Palestinians and their Muslim and Arab brethren. They have complained about Sesame Street-like TV shows that glorify martyrdom, about TV series depicting Jews slaughtering Muslim youths for their blood to make Passover matzah (the Blood Libel), about school books that distort history or claim that the Holocaust never happened, about leaders who tell their people (and the world) that they want to wipe Israel off the map and drive the Jews into the sea or kill them wherever they may be found around the world, and about the governing documents of the Palestinians that call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews. The right has criticized the “Pallywood” industry, that is, the fabrication of news events or the willful disregard for the truth, designed to show the world how evil the Israelis are. And the right has criticized western media for failing to draw proper attention to these matters while placing blame on Israel for … well … for everything, it seems. Those on the left, however, have usually either remained silent, created false equivalences, excused Muslim and Arab violent rhetoric and imagery for such reasons as “culture”, or even supported the use of the violent rhetoric and imagery  apparently under the misguided notion that Israel is the greater evil.

But… Did you notice anything odd about these positions?

To the left, violent rhetoric and imagery is bad and can lead to violence. At least it can in the US. But violent rhetoric and imagery that has led to violence in the Middle East is ignored or excused. That is called hypocrisy.

To the right, violent rhetoric and imagery is bad and can lead to violence. At least it has in the Middle East. But violent rhetoric and imagery in the US is ignored or excused. That is called hypocrisy.

Switch a few words around and look where you are.

The right is being hypocritical to object to violent rhetoric and imagery from the Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims while ignoring violent rhetoric and imagery here at home. But the left is equally hypocritical in objecting to violent rhetoric and imagery here at home while ignoring it when used by the Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims.

Readers of this blog will know that I consider myself to be left of center. And I also consider myself to be a supporter of Israel. Readers of this blog will also recognize, I hope, that I’ve decried the violent rhetoric and imagery both here at home and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here at home it is time for both the left and right to look at the use of violent rhetoric and imagery and decide whether words and images have meaning or not. The criticism (or lack thereof) arising following that self-analysis needs to be consistent and the hypocrisy — from both sides — needs to end. Both sides can’t have it both ways.

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