Ed Driscoll

The "Truth to Power" Gap

Back in early 2007, when Barbara Boxer (D-CA) grandstanded after grilling then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and invoked one of the hoariest of recent political cliches, I wrote a lengthy post explaining the surprisingly recent (1955) Quaker origins of the phrase “Speaking Truth To Power.”

In his latest essay, Jonah Goldberg explains how selectively it’s applied. Here’s but a sample:

Just look at Britain. It is currently harboring a gaggle of non-British Muslim preachers who call for, among other things, the slaughter of Jews and the imposition of sharia law in Britain. These people are accepted, sometimes even given welfare benefits, in the name of pluralism, multiculturalism, and tolerance.

But when Geert Wilders, a documentary maker and member of the Dutch parliament, was invited by British members of Parliament to screen his documentary critical of the Koran in London, the government said, in effect: “Whoa, whoa, whoa! We can’t tolerate that.” Wilders has been barred from the country because his ideas “threaten community harmony.”

If only Wilders’ supporters beheaded people or thronged outside embassies spewing various “death to” chants, he might have been invited to have tea with the queen.

Speaking of beheading, have you heard about the founder of a television network in upstate New York dedicated to showing Muslims as peace-loving and political moderates? You might have when he started his enterprise in 2004, as the venture received lavish attention. But when Muzzammil Hassan allegedly cut off his estranged wife’s head this month, coverage not only was muted, but the media bent over backward to dispel any notion that religion had anything to do with it. After all, isn’t wife-beheading an ecumenical practice?

One can run through a long list of contortions and double standards when it comes to Muslims: honor killings swept under the rug, theater productions canceled, books shelved by publishers, thought-crime tribunals in Canada, death threats over political cartoons. Chin-strokers at the state department will tell you U.S. foreign policy needs to cater to the “Muslim street,” which chants “death to America” as a voice warm-up exercise.

But the point here isn’t to single out Muslims. Of course most Muslims are law-abiding and peaceful. And I would say that even if the Council for American-Islamic Relations wasn’t prepared to hound me from public life for saying otherwise.

But it’s worth remembering that government and corporations aren’t the only institutions that can abuse power. Factions, to borrow a word from the Federalist Papers, have a power all their own. When governments cave to that power, they become mere tools of bullies. And when journalists go along for the ride, there’s no one left to speak truth to power when that is what’s needed most.

Or to only slightly paraphrase James Taranto, cable television executive allegedly beheads wife. Feminists shrug.

Update: Related thoughts from Mark Steyn.