Stephen Walt’s creepy warning


From his take on the controversy surrounding the Islamic center near Ground Zero:

And don’t these critics realize that religious intolerance is a monster that, once unleashed, may be impossible to control?  If you can rally the mob against any religious minority now, then you may make it easier for someone else to rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road.

Okay, let’s analyze.

–Clearly, he’s referring to Jews. What other "religious minority" is perceived as having a stake in this controversy?

–No, it’s not a vicious warning. He’s not saying he would lead or support such a charge. "Religious intolerance is a monster." Walt is congratulating himself: He, of course, would be opposed to any such backlash. He would stand up against it.

–So, is it just that he’s smug? No: There are two subtle tells here — and I’m not sure he’s self-aware enough to figure them out (I’ve caught flak in the past for suggesting as much, but my reflex is to give the benefit of the doubt):

A): "These critics." "Rally a different mob against you." Some of the critics of the center (he’s right, it’s not purely a mosque) are Jewish; so are some of its supporters. Most of its critics are not. Yet this conflation — the encompassing "these critics" and the mob that would be rallied "against you" — suggests that Walt, perhaps not entirely wittingly, believes that this is mostly a Jewish-led jihad. Not one representing all Jews, or even a majority — he singles out Michael Bloomberg for praise — but apparently led almost entirely by Jews.

I look forward to hearing Sarah Palin’s Al Het next month.

B) "Rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road."

This really is the unsettling proposition: Jewish safety is invested not in the Constitution, in the rule of law, in the American culture of tolerance — but in the balance of political power.

Think about what this says about how Walt perceives Jewish power.

Think also about what it says about his confidence in American protections of any minority.

The pity of the single, objectionable paragraph is that it sticks out from an otherwise laudable column: Walt continues, eloquently, to make the case that all American traditions are not equal. He chides New York Times columnist Ross Douthat for suggesting defunct American bigotries "have real wisdom to offer."

Walt says:

The two America’s are not morally equivalent, and we should all be grateful that when those two Americas have come into conflict, it is the second America that has steadily given way to a broader vision of a free and open democracy.

Right. It’s a battle worth winning — not just in the public square, but within our own souls.

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