Krugman, demagoguing


Paul Krugman, the New York Times economist who is usually very persuasive and reasonable — he’s a Nobel laureate and I’m not — has launched something of a loony jihad against the ADL.

In two postings on his NYT blog, and in an op-ed for Truthout, he says the ADL has abandoned its principles with a statement upholding the constitutional right of the Cordoba House to build an Islamic center/memorial near the site of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, but questioning the wisdom of doing so.

Here he is in Truthout:

The Anti-Defamation League’s reasoning for its stance was truly shocking. The organization argued, “Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.”

Translation: Some people will feel bad if this center is built, and we need to take these feelings into account, even though Muslims have every right to build there.

And here’s his original NYT post:

So let’s try some comparable cases, OK? It causes some people pain to see Jews operating small businesses in non-Jewish neighborhoods; it causes some people pain to see Jews writing for national publications (as I learn from my mailbox most weeks); it causes some people pain to see Jews on the Supreme Court. So would ADL agree that we should ban Jews from these activities, so as to spare these people pain? No? What’s the difference?

The difference is the word "victims," and Krugman is too smart not to know it, so I can only presume he’s being disingenuous.  So let’s try some other comparable cases, ok?

Say a two-state solution arises. Israel leaves Hebron and evacuates its settlers. A few years later, a well-meaning Jewish group — totally liberal, utterly dovish, making it absolutely clear it has no stake in re-occupying Hebron — announces plans for a "peace and reconciliation synagogue" two blocks from the site of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer. What would Krugman’s reaction be then?

Here’s another one: "Whites for Racial Equality and Reconcilation" announce plans for a "peace church" two blocks from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. How would that work?

And where’s the Krugman blog post upholding the right of Glenn Beck to embrace Martin Luther King’s values this weekend, on the National Mall, on the anniversary of the dream speech? Advisable?

Look, I’m not equating Glenn Beck with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, I’m not saying that the Cordoba House shouldn’t, ultimately, be built — not my call — I’m saying that in each case, free speech rights are coming head to head with sensibilities. Free speech, in my opinion as a reporter, always trumps sensibilities, but because I’m a reporter, as I said, it’s not my call. And sensibilities have different weights in different situations.

But it is only in the case of south Manhtattan that Krugman willfully extracts sensibilities by consistently substituting the ADL’s "victims" for generic ol’ "people."

There’s another issue that baffles me about Krugman’s column, and by this letter to the New York Times from two ACLU officials basically advising everyone to stay "shtum" on the sensibilities of the victims. ("ACLU advises radio silence" — a headline I never, ever thought I’d see.) Abe Foxman has consistently grounded his case about the advisability of the Cordoba House in ADL’s successful campaign to get the Vatican to remove the Carmelite Convent from Auschwitz.

There are plenty of differences, I know — as I said, sensibilities weigh different case to case — but there is also the underlying problem of any religion or even any combination of religions appropriating grief. (I believe the Raufs when they say this center is more interfaith than Islamic.)

There is no doubt that the Cordoba Institute has quasi-official ambitions as a clearinghouse for grief and reconciliation (just read what they have to say about it) but who exactly determined that faith — that God-talk — is the way to deal with grief? Or that there is an official, or semi-official, or quasi-official way of coping with grief? Why do south Manhattanites need this particular solution rammed down their throats? The best monuments allow grievers to project their griefs upon them, they are not invested with established notions, however meritorious these are. How is it liberals, of all political persuasions, don’t get this?

Here’s my little projection: This is payback for the grief Abe gave Krugman for that Mahathir column, back in 2003. I think Abe, uncharacteristically, delivered undeserved potshots then — Krugman was not diminishing the importance of the Malaysian prime minister’s anti-Semitism, he was only saying that there were other messages in his western tilt; and Krugman is not "obsessive," he is thorough. So I can see and understand Krugman’s anger.

But this is unbecoming. What about it, boys? Time for a sulha?

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