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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Meaning of Marty Peretz

(updated below - updated again)

I've written once before, several months ago, about the unbelievably overt anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry that spews forth regularly from The New Republic Editor Marty Peretz, typically at his blog, Spine. The post I wrote was prompted by a particularly bizarre and factually false Peretz rant about how Muslims breed like rabbits because they're too "uneducated" to know that only small families can provide children with a loving environment.

In reality, one could write a post like that almost every day about Peretz. His blog, and apparently his political worldview, are devoted primarily to one argument -- that Arabs and Muslims are primitive savages and barbarians, and that the notion of a "moderate Muslim" or even a civilized Arab is all but a myth. The majority of Peretz's posts, with varying degrees of explicitness, is devoted to bolstering that claim.

I had not written more about Peretz because it seems as though there is some sort of tacit agreement that Peretz's hate-mongering won't be held against The New Republic, and that, for whatever reasons, Peretz will be accepted as a more or less mainstream figure despite spewing bigotry of the type one finds on white supremacist sites (albeit directed elsewhere). And since New Republic writers don't, to my knowledge, spout the same hate-filled diatribes, perhaps there was a sense that Peretz is even more irrelevant than the magazine itself and therefore does not merit any real discussion.

But now, an excellent article by Matt Yglesias discussing the highly dubious anti-semitism accusations launched against Wes Clark and others -- accusations fueled by Peretz himself and supported by some at The New Republic -- has led to a broader discussion of Peretz's overt bigotry. Specifically, Ygelsias has raised the question as to why Peretz's bigotry is met with such silence by New Republic writers, including those who diligently search high and low for any inferential hint of other forms of bigotry (particularly anti-semitism).

In response to Yglesias' question, TNR's Jonathan Chait -- one of those who was so deeply, deeply disturbed by Wes Clark's alleged anti-semitic comment -- yesterday leaped to his boss' defense, expressing shock that anyone would find Peretz's comments to be the least bit bigoted. To defend Peretz, Chait focuses on one post in which Peretz wrote that there could never be a "Muslim Martin Luther King" because "they'd break his windows. Imprison him. Or kill him. Finished." Chait insists that Peretz was merely saying "that most of the Muslim world is deeply illiberal" and that "seems indisputably true."

But as Yglesias pointed out, Peretz is "a man whose political opinions appear to be primarily driven by bigotry against Arabs and Muslims." It is hardly confined to that one post. In fact, last week I was almost prompted to write about Peretz again when I read this post:

Yes, I know: Muslims are nice cuddly people like the rest of us, the majority of them certainly. The problem is that at this moment in history you have to take the proposition on faith. No, not any particular faith, just faith.

So the world is divided into two categories: Muslims and "the rest of us." And while Peretz obligatorily parrots (really, mocks) the notion that Muslims are "nice cuddly people like the rest of us," he tells us that there is actually no evidence to support that claim. Therefore, one can only take it "on faith."

And here is Peretz explaining why he prefers the Berbers of Morocco over their Arab neighbors:

Some readers recall my posts about and from Morocco. It is a country I'be (sic) been to twice and a country I like. I've had a soft spot for the Berbers and for Berber culture.

The Berbers had been overwhelmed by Arab armies first in the 7th century, then in the 11th and finally after the 15th when Catholic monarchs of Spain threw the Muslims out of Andalucia. Berber comes from the same root as barbarian. But there is nothing barbarian about the Berbers. Their rugs and and especially their vases are so much more subtle than the glimmery (sic) ornate of their Arab neighbors.

Unlike "their Arab neighbors," Peretz assures us that "there is nothing barbarian about the Berbers." His evidence? The rugs they make are better than the loud, tacky ones which the Arabs churn out.

And here is Peretz explaining his theories about why Saddam Hussein was so evil:

But surely there are tests that could have been taken of Hussein about what makes for evil. A certain level of testosterone combined with certain genes. It's a promising field, these inquiries into the biological origins of cruelty.

The brutality of Hussein was due to "certain genes" and we should examine its "biological origins." Gee, I wonder what he means.

And his view of the Palestinians: "We see whom the Palestinians want as their savior. They want Saddam Hussein or, rather, his replica. That's why Palestine will be a wretched society, cruel, belligerent, intolerant, fearing, with no real justice (or justice system), and no internal peace." And what does Peretz think of Iraqis? The same thing, of course:

The Sunnis of Iraq were content with the tyrant's murderous rule. And, now, they must face Shi'a revenge. Which makes Shi'a Iraq also murderous and grotesque.

So, to recap, the Palestinians and Iraqis (at least the Sunnis and Shias) are collectively "a wretched society, cruel, belligerent, intolerant, fearing, murderous and grotesque." And Peretz's view of Arabs is by no means confined to the Middle East. Arabs are brutal savages wherever they go:

Dearborne [Michigan] is a largely Shia city, its Muslim population made up largely of Iraqi and Lebanese Shia. When Hezbollah was at war, the hearts of these Shi'a was with Nasrallah. Hate one madman, love another.

Here Peretz explains that Syria is so disgusting that diplomatic visitors can't bear to stay overnight and so they head to Jerusalem instead (emphasis in original):

John Kerry is back from Damascus. Apparently, there are no French restaurants left in the Syrian capitol. And, according to the country's Ministry of Tourism, there is only one first class restaurant in town. Maybe that's where Kerry and his companion, Chris Dodd, ate. Maybe not. And maybe they didn't stay overnight either. When Nancy and Henry Kissinger were doing shuttle diplomacy, they never stayed overnight. My guess is that even James Baker, so fond of Assad père, was content to retreat to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem every time dusk came.

Here is Peretz's response to suggestions that Israel negotiate with the Palestinians: "With which Palestinians? The ones who won't under any conditions negotiate with Israel except for a guarantee of the dissolution of the Jewish state? Or the other Palestinians who can't even run a post office?" Palestinians are either bloodthirsty murderers or stupid, inept fools.

And here Peretz mocks an article by The Boston Globe's Paula Broadwell in which Broadwell argued: "Equally as important, we should strive to give Muslim women across the globe other outlets for empowerment and the opportunity to contribute to countering terrorism in their societies." Nothing could be more absurd to Peretz than Broadwell's suggestion that we try to encourage Muslims to take advantage of opportunities and to oppose terrorism. After all:

If virtually entire Islamic societies have gone bonkers over jihad--not, mind you, the sweet personal struggle type--why should the women be different. Very realistic, Ms. Broadwell. I do hope you get your Ph.D. from Harvard's K School. And, then, given your balance and equanimity, James Baker might give you a job, along with the other fantasts he's employed. And you know a lot of them are women, too.

And finally, here Peretz attacks the claim by the NYT's Nicholas Kristoff that it is mere "stereotype" to depict Arabs and Muslims as violent, primitive savages. In response, Peretz demands to know:

So what are instances of the non-stereotype? Not certainly the desert Arabs. But the "maritime Muslims" who "have the edge." Who are these maritime Muslims? For one, they are the inhabitants of the Sultanate of Brunei, governed for six centuries by the same royals. He devotes four full paragraphs to Brunei. (Is that state as fabulous as Tom Friedman thinks Dubai to be?)

Is Brunei an instance of anything but Brunei? For God's sake, it has a population of barely 380,000 and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Desperate to bolster his idea of non-stereotypical Islam, Kristof dips into history. Haphazardly, as it happens, and also incorrectly. "These days, ferocious anti-Semitism thrives in some Muslim countries, but in the Dreyfus affair a century ago Muslims sided with a Jew persecuted by anti-Semitic Christians." Mr. Kristof, where did your research assistant dig up this nonsense?

Due to the Arab-Muslim character, Peretz insists that "the nation-state has failed utterly in much of the Muslim world" and his "guess is that they will never be nation-states. OK, not never. But not in a century or two, and maybe even three. Which means, come to think of it, not never, ever."

And those are all just from the last month or so. Pick any bundle of Peretz posts at random and you will find a series of claims that Arabs and Muslims are primitive and inferior and incapable of being civilized (the only thing one finds as commonly from Peretz are accusations of anti-semitism against people like Jim Baker and Wes Clark). At times, Peretz's method is the more indirect and commonplace one of implied argument by anecdote - the method used by, say, Charles Johnson, whereby he posts every single day virtually nothing but isolated stories in which Muslims (and nobody else) commit acts of violence, all in order to constantly re-enforce the idea that Muslims are inherently violent and primitive while allowing himself plausible deniability to claim that he never said any such thing.

Obviously, there is nothing at all wrong with discussing incidents of violence, including those committed by Muslims or Arabs. But when those are the only incidents one discusses to the exclusion of all others, and when one highlights those incidents over and over, there is obviously a point being made by the person engaging in that behavior. It would be as if someone created a website for the purpose of posting every story of every actual crime committed by African-Americans, or by Jews, or other minorities, but no others. There are such sites, of course, but one never hears about them, because they are white supremacist sites outside of the mainstream.

But Peretz, I guess to his credit, has more courage than people like Charles Johnson, in the sense that he barely bothers to hide, and at times clearly expresses, his view that Arabs and Muslims are generally and irreversibly primitive and violent. That's what renders so astounding and revealing Jonathan Chait's defense of Peretz, as well as the studied silence of TNR writers who search high and low for much more precarious and uncertain expressions of other types of bigotry.

Standing alone, Peretz is neither relevant nor entirely irrelevant. TNR is still considered in certain Beltway circles to be worth reading, and what is notable is that this is the case despite its being edited by such an overt bigot. I thought previously that this was attributable to the willingness to dismiss Peretz as some sort of idiosyncratic crank, but I actually think now -- particularly in light of Chait's defense of him -- that there is something more pernicious and significant going on here.

Tolerance for Peretz's explicit anti-Arab rantings -- set next to the extreme and pervasive outrage generated by much more precarious and inference-dependent accusations of other forms of bigotry (particularly, though not only, anti-semitism) -- strongly suggests that all sorts of sentiments which would otherwise be vigorously condemned are perfectly permissible when directed against Muslims and Arabs. That has been partially caused -- and exploited -- by the Bush administration's constant conflating of all sorts of distinct and disparate Muslim and Arab groups as "The Enemy," even though they have nothing in common other than the fact that they are Arab or Muslim.

The danger of tolerating such sentiments is underscored by The Washington Post's report this morning that the Bush administration has authorized and encouraged not merely the capture, but also the assassination, of Iranian military and intelligence officials inside Iraq, and that its actions are geared toward a broader Middle East agenda of stopping not just the Iranians, but also Hezbollah, Hamas and all sorts of other groups and issues wholly unrelated to Iraq and, for that matter, to the U.S. (Chris Floyd has a superb discussion of the real meaning of the Bush order).

That's the real significance of the blithe acceptance of the fact that The New Republic is led by someone who harbors -- and routinely expresses -- what can only be described as pure bigotry towards Arabs and Muslims. Those sentiments are the basis for many of the foreign policy views of the standard Bush follower and neoconservative, and to one degree or another, fuel many of the claims emanating from the White House about "The Enemy."

Peretz might express these sentiments a bit more nakedly than most others who share them, but his views are by no means unique to him. That is why they do not create anywhere near the controversy which they merit, and it's also why the tacit acceptance of Marty Peretz highlights some issues far more significant than Peretz himself.

UPDATE: From former TNR writer Spencer Ackerman, responding to Chait:

Jon. You know very, very well Marty, um, isn't really fond of the Arabs. For instance, he likes to flirt with descriptions of Arabs as subhuman. Everyone who works at TNR knows Marty is a racist. Don't make me tell stories. You shouldn't really be contesting this point with Matt. And, if you insist on it, you certainly shouldn't write about how someone else "wants to pretend he doesn't know that's the case."

This is the point. It is common knowledge that Peretz is an anti-Arab bigot. One barely needs to make the case because he makes it himself in almost everything he writes (I only documented it this extensively because Chait was denying it and because if an accusation of bigotry is made, it should be accompanied by proof -- something, incidentally, which Peretz and other casual purveyors of that accusation rarely provide)). Yet this well-known fact doesn't seem to generate many ripples. Peretz's magazine is deemed more or less acceptable and, in most mainstream circles, so is Peretz. The fact that such a well-known bigot can be so accepted in so many places obviously has meaning.

UPDATE II: To be fair, Peretz has made some enthusiastic fans since he began blogging. John Podhoretz called him "Rookie of the Year" and said: "You know who's a genuinely great blogger? Martin Peretz."

Days earlier, Podhoretz wrote a column for The New York Post lamenting that the West might be too burdened by "humanitarian concerns" to win wars in the Middle East, and further "pondered":

What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?

Admiration for Peretz's views of Arabs and Muslims, and a desire for more unrestrained and indiscriminate slaughter in the Middle East, are not unreleated, to put it mildly. That is why tolerance for Peretz is so significant. If there is a prevailing view of Arabs and Muslims as hopelessly primitive savages, is it really all that bothersome if we slaughter lots of them? One could even say it's their fault for having brought it on themselves.

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