Martin Peretz, the liberal hawk who supported Barack Obama with almost the same ferocity that he backs Israel, has apologized for a sentence in a widely disseminated column he wrote about the Ground Zero mosque furor in which he suggested that Muslims don't deserve First Amendments protections.
At the end of a Sept. 4 blog post
at the website of The New Republic, the influential, neo-liberal periodical he edits, Peretz blasted what he saw as overly heightened sensitivities to the feelings of U.S. Muslims. He concluded:
But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf [head of the group proposing the Lower Manhattan Islamic center] there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood.
So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people 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.
That last line in particular surprised many people, as Peretz and The New Republic have always been staunch supporters of constitutional rights. It zipped around the blogosphere and touched off a good deal of criticism of Peretz, most notably an op-ed
on Saturday by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof opened his piece by calling Peretz's remarks an example of "how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become."
On Monday, a chastened Peretz issued a mea culpa
for the sentence Kristof quoted about Muslims and the First Amendment -- a rare occurrence for a man who confesses that "vociferousness is my business."
The line "genuinely embarrasses me, and I deeply regret it," Peretz wrote.
I wrote that, but I do not believe that. I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever. When I insist upon a sober recognition of the threats to our security, domestic threats included, I do not mean to suggest that the Constitution and its order of rights should in any way be abrogated. I would abhor such a prospect.
I do not wish upon Muslim Americans the sorts of calumnies that were endured by Italian Americans in connection with Sacco and Vanzetti and Jewish Americans in connection with communism. My recent comments on the twisted Koran-hating reverend in Gainesville will give evidence of that. So I apologize for my sentence, not least because it misrepresents me.
But he did defend his other statement: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims." Peretz wrote:
The idea that in remarking upon the cheapening of Muslim lives I was calling for the cheapening of Muslim lives, as some have suggested, is preposterous. There is no hatred in my heart; there is deep anxiety about the dangers of Islamism, and anger at the refusal of certain politicians and commentators to adequately grasp those dangers, but there is no hatred, none.
There has been a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole about Islam in recent weeks. Could this be a sign that the fever is breaking?