This Fish Needs A History Lesson

It is remarkable how little it takes, on the Left, to earn a reputation for intellectual acuity. Stanley Fish is an academic of some renown, although I’m vague as to what he has actually written or accomplished. Now he has an occasional op-ed column at the New York Times, usually a bad sign.
Monday’s effort–no surprise here–attempts to indict conservatives. Fish argues that when a terrorist attack or other crime occurs, one can blame it on either a “malign culture” or on “individual choice.” He dredges up Timothy McVeigh–what would liberals do without him?–and writes:

[W]hen it turned out that a white guy (with the help of a few of his friends) had done it, talk of “culture” suddenly ceased and was replaced by the vocabulary and mantras of individualism: each of us is a single, free agent; blaming something called “culture” was just a way of off-loading responsibility for the deeds we commit; in America, individuals, not groups, act; and individuals, not groups, should be held accountable. McVeigh may have looked like a whole lot of other guys who dressed up in camouflage and carried guns and marched in the woods, but, we were told by the same people who had been mouthing off about Islam earlier, he was just a lone nut, a kook, and generalizations about some “militia” culture alive and flourishing in the heartland were entirely unwarranted.

Here, Fish tells the story in doughnut fashion, with a hole in the middle. What was actually going on at the time was that liberals tried to blame McVeigh’s crime on conservative politicians and pundits, especially Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. Liberals argued that conservatives’ opposition to Hillarycare somehow equaled encouragement to commit mass murder. (Does history repeat itself, or what?) Conservatives, in response, pointed out that there was no connection between McVeigh and any mainstream (i.e. sane) version of American conservatism. His action was, in fact, that of a lone nut; or possibly, that of a lone nut with a friend. Neither Limbaugh nor Gingrich nor any other conservative had advocated blowing up buildings. But Fish never mentions the Left’s effort to make political capital out of McVeigh’s act.
Fish thinks he has caught conservatives in a contradiction when it comes to the Ground Zero Mosque:

Now, in 2010, it’s happening again around the intersection of what the right wing calls the “Ground Zero mosque” (a geographical exaggeration if there ever is one) and the attack last week on a Muslim cab driver by (it is alleged) 21-year-old knife-wielding Michael Enright.

Let’s just pause on the “geographical exaggeration.” The proposed mosque/Islamic center would be two blocks from Ground Zero, about as close as you can get. And that is the whole point: there are close to 100 mosques in Manhattan, already. What was the selling point of this one on the basis of which its developers expect to raise $100 million in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and elsewhere in the Arab world? It is at, or near, Ground Zero. Fish misses all of this. He continues:

First the mosque. It is wrong, we hear, to regard the proposed mosque or community center as an ordinary exercise of free enterprise and freedom of religion by the private owners of a piece of property. It is, rather, a thumb in the eye or a slap in the face of the 9/11 victims and their families, a potential clearinghouse for international terrorist activities, a “victory mosque” memorializing a great triumph of jihad and a monument to the religion in whose name and by whose adherents the dreadful deed was done.

Fish apparently disagrees with this perspective, but he doesn’t say why. He puts “victory mosque” in quotes, without mentioning that the intended name of the Islamic center is Cordoba House. Does that not, in fact, “memorializ[e] a great triumph of jihad” and serve as a “monument to the religion in whose name” the September 11 attacks were carried out? Most Americans think it does. If Fish disagrees, he should at least explain why. His failure to do so suggests that he is intellectually lazy and dashed off this column for his fellow leftists at the Times, without even thinking about the arguments he might need to make to persuade the uncommitted. Fish continues:

But according to the same folks who oppose the mosque because of what it stands for, Michael Enright’s act doesn’t stand for anything and is certainly not the product of what Time magazine calls a growing “American strain of Islamophobia.” Instead, The New York Post declares, the stabbing is “the act of a disturbed individual who is now in custody,” and across the fold of the page columnist Jonah Goldberg says that “one assault doesn’t a national trend make” and insists that “we shouldn’t let anyone suggest that this criminal reflects anybody but himself.”

Here Fish seems to be banking on his readers’ ignorance. As we wrote here, Michael Enright was a lefty who worked for Intersections International, a “global initiative dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace across lines of faith, culture, ideology, race, class, national borders and other boundaries that divide humanity.” As you would expect, Intersections International enthusiastically supported the Ground Zero Mosque project.
So, if Enright’s drunken attack is to be blamed on “malign culture” rather than “individual choice,” the malign culture was, apparently, Fish’s own American liberalism. But Fish takes the easy way out; he assumes, apparently, that his readers at the New York Times are not burdened with any knowledge of the facts, and he doesn’t try to remedy their ignorance.
Fish sums up, applying his conclusion only to conservatives and not to his own left wing of the Democratic Party:

The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.

What this “formula” overlooks, obviously, is that circumstances vary. Some violent acts–the vast majority– are, in fact, committed by misfits who do not represent any significant slice of humanity. Timothy McVeigh is a good example of that breed. When he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, there was no faction of American politics on either the left or the right that advocated such deeds. No one danced in the streets in solidarity with McVeigh. He was, quite simply, a nut. If there were a few like him in militia organizations or whatever, they were probably outnumbered by the federal agents who infiltrated such groups.
Radical Islam is very different. There are over a billion Muslims in the world, and a significant proportion of them, based on pubic opinion polling, are radicals. “Radicals” in this context means that they advocate mass murder as a means of terrorizing civilian populations so that Islamic government can be established over the entire Earth. Or most of it, anyway.
Is this radical Islamic dream a stupid fantasy that can safely be disregarded? Apparently not. Radical Muslims have committed hundreds if not thousands of terrorist acts in recent decades, killing many thousands of innocent people. They have taken over nations and are lavishly funded by some of the richest plutocrats outside America’s Democratic Party, like, for example, the Saudi royal family. With their many billions of dollars in support, they have established hundreds or thousands of radical schools around the world. Their ongoing efforts to wreak terrorist havoc are obvious to anyone who follows the news. And those efforts are supported and encouraged by many Islamic clerics, including some of those who want to establish a mosque as close as possible to Ground Zero.
So conservatives, far from being inconsistent as Fish groundlessly alleges, have evaluated the facts and drawn appropriate inferences. Nuts like Timothy McVeigh certainly can be dangerous, but they have no connection to any significant strand of liberal or conservative thinking and, therefore, no substantial base of support. Radical Muslims, on the other hand, might be crazy, but they represent an ideology that infects millions of people around the world, is feverishly advocated for by thousands of clerics, and is lavishly funded by some of the richest people and institutions in the world.
It would be foolish to observe the many acts of Islamic terror that have occurred over the last 30 years and fail to associate them with the “malign culture” of radical Islam, or fail to conclude that this “malign culture” is something that should be exposed and combated. That is, of course, exactly the foolishness that reigns in the editorial pages of the New York Times.


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