Op/ed: "Afraid to Speak"

September 10, 2006

Source: The Dallas Morning News


On September 10, 2006 The Dallas Morning News published an opinion piece by author of "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance," Ian Buruma, "The strangest aspect of Mel Gibson's drunken outburst in Malibu was not the anti-Semitic ranting. The notion that 'the [...expletive] Jews' are 'responsible for all the wars in the world' (and pretty much everything else) is neither new nor unusual. It has been an anti-Semitic cliché since the late 19th century. More disturbing, I think, was the peculiar mixture of sentimental religiosity and Hollywood arrogance that came after Mr. Gibson recovered from his hangover in jail. He wished to 'meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.' As though no one else but 'leaders' would do; as though these supposed leaders were priests or psychiatrists or yogis in the business of personal healing. As though anti-Semitism were a wound inflicted on Mr. Gibson by the outside world. It should be no surprise that anti-Semitism still exists, just as bigotry against blacks, Muslims, Sikhs, Tutsis and, indeed, Catholics still goes on. But it is at least one sign of progress that anti-Semitism, like racial prejudice against black people, is no longer socially acceptable. We cannot call people yids or niggers without being taken to task for it, and this is a good thing. This progress probably would not have happened without the efforts of pressure groups and communal organizations, just as workers' rights would never have been expanded, or perhaps even granted, without trade unions. Such American organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP have made society more civilized. Activists and community leaders are there to make sure that it stays that way. But like all forms of power, the power to advance the interests of vulnerable minorities is open to corruption. Just as trade-union fat cats sometimes abuse their position to accumulate power (and wealth) for its own sake, the community leaders and official watchdogs of anti-racism can be tempted to advance their interests and those of their organizations in a way that is not necessarily helpful to the people they are supposed to defend. When the whistle is blown too often, even when it is utterly uncalled for, or when offense is taken for self-serving reasons, even where none was intended, the guardianship of civil behavior can slip into a form of intimidation, which interferes with free speech."