This Manichaean Moment: When the margins crawl with insanity, it is all the more important for the vital center of calm, reasonable, evidence-based thought to hold. But some minds that ought to know better are cowed, while others are playing with fire. When Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief of this magazine, declared that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” and “wonder[ed] whether I need honor these people ['those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf'] and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse,” he crossed a line.
Then, reminded by Nicholas Kristof and James Fallows among others that such sentiments are for yahoos, not editors-in-chief of liberal magazines, he apologized for that much—while holding to his insistence that “Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.” “This is a statement of fact, not value,” he clarified. Not for jihadis, or some Arab governments, but “for Muslims.” Muslims in general. Muslims across the board. The Muslim women, too, who are oppressed, “honor-killed,” by Muslim men? When in 2003, Jose Saramago wrote that the West Bank occupation revealed “the Jew” in his essential awfulness, he was rightly excoriated by many, including this writer, for spewing plain Jew-hatred. It was easy to recognize reductive xenohysteria when the Jews were the target. One rightly expects enlightened opinion to rule this sort of thing out of bounds. And now?
I should add that I write more in sorrow than anger, for once upon a time—it seems like centuries ago—Marty Peretz was my political friend and teacher (approving, along the way, my adolescent wanderings in quasi-Marxism). Even across political divides of later years, I have (ill-advisedly) bitten my tongue after reading his diatribes against “the Arabs” over the years. But in the thick of a xenohysteria that stands to worsen as the country churns in panic and miasma, I think it essential to underscore that those with the privilege of the public ear are obliged to take intellectual standards seriously. The life of the mind is not the life of the spleen.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?