Peretz-Wieseltier Smackdown! The Islam Menace! (Also, Yours Truly on NPR, Sunday)

(My NPR details: ‘On the Media,’ Sunday Sept. 5. In NYC, 10 am on 93.9 FM, 3 pm on 820 AM. Elsewhere, check the show’s schedule.) (Update: here is the broadcast, streaming audio plus transcript.)

On to tachlis: The New Republic has a particularly seething confrontation on its website between the editor in chief, Martin Peretz, and his chief deputy, literary editor Leon Wieseltier, on the place of Muslims and Islam in America. Actually, that’s putting it too mildly. The debate is really over the question of whether or not Muslims can be trusted around our children. It gets pretty raw.

To be fair, Peretz doesn’t exactly say they can’t be trusted. But he did say, in a September 2 post on his blog, “The Mosque Is In Trouble, Very Big Trouble,” that the people fighting against the Islamic community center planned near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan are a fine bunch of folks fighting the good fight against bad people of various sorts.

Did I just hear the editor of The New Republic condoning Christian celebrations in pubic schools? That would be big news if he meant it. But he’s just getting carried away in his rhetoric. He’s after bigger game. First of all, Sharif El-Gamal, “the real estate hustler who is behind the project,” who has been “endlessly taken to court by his tenants” and owes back taxes. Imagine that. Who ever heard of a landlord, and a religious one at that, being taken to court by his tenants? Look what happens when you let infidels into your backyard.

Wieseltier offers what sounds like a sharp rebuke in his “Washington Diarist” column, “Mosque Notes,” also dated September 2 (though the timing suggests he hadn’t read Peretz’s post before he wrote his piece).

He starts off indirectly by discussing Baruch Goldstein, “one of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time.” He recalls that critics who called for introspection by the wing of Orthodoxy from which he sprang were denounced as slanderers of religious Zionism or Orthodoxy or Judaism itself. You can see where he’s going with this. But read on:

He goes on to say that he has

And just as he believes it’s right to examine the Jewish roots of Baruch Goldstein’s beliefs, it’s “not Islamophobic” to put bin Laden and the 9/11 killers within the context of their stream of Islam. “Apologetic definitions of Islam will not avail anybody in this struggle.”

O.K., so Islam as a whole is as flawed as other religions. It follows that it is entitled to the same First Amendment freedom of religion due to other faiths. It’s fundamental American principle.

(The full Wieseltier piece is behind the subscription firewall, but you can read it in full on this blog. It’s worth it.)

If you thought Peretz was going to take that lying down, you were wrong. He came back two days later in a September 4 blog post tersely titled “The New York Times Laments ‘A Sadly Wary Misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.’ But Really Is It ‘Sadly Wary’ Or A “Misunderstanding” At All?”

His ostensible target is a Times poll of New York City residents “which found that 33% of them thought Muslim-American ‘more sympathetic to terrorists’ than other citizens.” Peretz thinks that’s an underestimate, first because respondents are frequently less than frank, and second because Heartland Americans are probably more suspicious of foreigners than New Yorkers are. He also thinks the country at large is all but silent in the face of the Muslim threat because people afraid to speak out.

Indeed. Somebody really ought to be doing something about those religious minorities with their insidious commitments to foreign governments. I’m sure Marty will have no trouble finding people ready to line up behind him on that. I hear John Mearsheimer has already sent in his dues.

Peretz writes that Muslims have been slaughtering each other en masse for decades, even centuries, and nobody ever bothers to protest.

And so, dear Leon,

Take that, Brooklyn boy. Henry Ford couldn’t have said it better.

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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