The Hubris of Peter Beinart
When Peter Beinart published his now notorious New York Review of Books article in June, I knew that a big book contract would be in the offing, making him into next year’s version of Walt and Mearsheimer. There is nothing the official liberal establishment likes better than an American Jew who, speaking in the name of all good American Jews, blasts the current Israeli government, its defenders in the United States, and anyone who does not agree with him. I wrote about his article in this blog, and provided links to articles critical of Beinart by Noah Pollak and Jamie Kirchick.
Since his article and the publication of his book The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, Beinart has revealed his own hubris in column after column written for The Daily Beast. But today he outdid himself, weighing in on the Ground Zero mosque controversy. And as anyone familiar with Beinart would know, he would support the building of the mosque and condemn anyone opposed to building it close to the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.
Pretending that he misses W., a man for whom he had nothing but disdain when he was president, Beinart now argues that at least Bush and the Republicans used to argue that most Muslims were “decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me.” Bush administration spokesmen told the world that in America, Muslims were free to practice their religion. So Beinart declares, “I pine for George W. Bush,” a man who “respected religion, all religion.”
Beinart’s implication is that if one opposes the mosque being built on the proposed site near the World Trade Center, they are opposed to freedom of religion. He ignores the obvious point that Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid and other politicians of both parties are making. While freedom of religion is a right enjoyed by all Americans, that right does not mean that it must be exercised at all times and in all circumstances. If the goal of the mosque is to bring people together, which its Imam says it is, then they have certainly failed. But Beinart claims those opposed are all declaring “war on Islam.”
Second, he argues that from now on, one can no longer refer to “idealistic neoconservatives,” since those we are supposedly fighting to free in Iraq and Afghanistan have now learned that believers in Islam cannot “practice their religion free of intimidation and insult…on the lower tip of the island of Manhattan.” No, Peter, they can freely do so -- and build a mosque or community center on that tip, only a few more blocks away from the Ground Zero site. That is, unless one defines freedom of religion as the right to build a mosque anywhere its sponsors want, even if it offends the sensibility of most Americans. One must wonder if Beinart would support a Japanese cultural center next to the ruins of the American battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor, or if he thinks the Pope was wrong to tell the Carmelite nuns to close down their order’s building put up next to the remains of Auschwitz. Was the Pope, then, opposing the right of Catholics to practice their religion?
Next, Beinart lectures the French about their anti-headscarf law. Evidently, he is not familiar with the atmosphere in France and elsewhere in Europe, where in many Muslim neighborhoods women live in fear of opposing sharia law, and the wrath of the righteous who seek to limit their freedom. I’m certain that Phyllis Chesler would be glad to send him some of her books to educate him on this question, as undoubtedly would Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Finally, we come to the most egregious paragraph of all, which I shall print in its entirety:
And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat. Evidently, it’s never crossed your mind that the religious hatred you have helped unleash could turn once again against us. Of course not, we’re insiders in this society now: Our synagogues grace the toniest of suburbs; our rabbis speak flawless English; we Jews are now effortlessly white. Barely anyone even remembers that folks in Lower Manhattan once considered us alien and dangerous, too.
Whom, may I ask, is “locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin”? Perhaps Father Coughlin, whose last article before he died was an interview in the left-wing New York paper, The Village Voice, in which he made a strong attack on the Vietnam War and an endorsed the anti-war movement, is really more akin to Peter Beinart. Assuredly Beinart would have been in the anti-war movement, were he then a little older. And given Coughlin’s virulent anti-Semitism and pro-Hitler views in the '30s, had he lived longer, he would have been Beinart’s ally today in his criticism of Israel.
Now I’m certain that Beinart opposes Pat Robertson’s religious grounds for being pro-Israel, and sees it as spurious and dangerous. He, like many liberal and leftist Jews, undoubtedly does not welcome support for Israel from Christian evangelicals. But Robertson’s claim to be pro-Israel is as legitimate as Beinart’s claim that when he opposes everything Israel does, he is still being pro-Israel. As for the Israelis, many of them welcome the support of Christian evangelicals, who are sticking by them when everyone else, including liberal American Jews, are leading the charge against support for the Jewish state.
I wonder what a poll of Israelis would say if they were asked who is more their friend and supporter, Pat Robertson or Peter Beinart?