I was considering posting about this back when Peretz’s original post went up and started to cause controversy, but the issue was addressed pretty eloquently by several sources with far higher readership, so I thought I’d let bigoted magazine editors lie and move on to other issues. Yesterday, in response to some of the criticism, Peretz issued what he deems to be an apology. I’ll say this for Peretz: he’s willing to stick to his guns. His reductionist, bigoted guns.
For those who missed the original dust-up, Peretz’s particularly outlandish statements (and that’s saying something with his record) were the following two sentences from this September 4 post:
Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims… I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.
Peretz’s apology addresses the second bit about the denial of First Amendment rights. He says the statement “genuinely embarrasses” him, adding that he does “not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever.” For what it’s worth, I take this statement as fairly genuine, though why such deeply-held respect for the First Amendment (from a magazine editor no less) neither precluded his initial impulse to click “publish” nor gave him impetus to apologize until after Kristof’s piece came out is puzzling to me. That said, as a blogger who knows how easy it is to let emotionally-driven half-formed thoughts turn into intemperate rhetoric that can’t be un-published, I’ll give Peretz the benefit of the doubt.
He goes on, though, to defend his statement that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” Indeed, he bills it as “a statement of fact, not value.” He seems to think that Kristof agrees, noting that in a follow-up post, Kristof wrote that “I agree with him that Muslims haven’t said nearly enough about those Muslims who kill other Muslims — in Kurdish areas, in Iraq, in Western Sahara, in Sudan, and so on.” Um, if Peretz honestly thinks those two statements are equivalent, then he’s a terrible writer and shouldn’t go anywhere near a keyboard. He might have read the next sentence from Kristof’s post, which notes that “at some point criticisms morph into racist stereotypes and slurs, and the suggestion that Muslims don’t value human life and maybe don’t deserve First Amendment protections is just that, a slur.”
Peretz didn’t say, “I wish I saw stronger condemnation of internecine Muslim violence from prominent Muslim leaders.” He didn’t say, “there is violence in many parts of the Muslim world that I wish I saw more Muslims aggressively addressing.” He said “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” Slightly re-phrased: ‘Muslim life isn’t valuable, especially to other Muslims.’ His evidence, apparently, is that there are a lot of wars going on in Muslim-majority societies and the 1.5 billion Muslims of the world aren’t engaging in a massive, coordinated movement to stop them.
Let me close with a small thought experiment. In living memory, societies made up largely of Western Christians engaged in a half-decade of mechanized killing on a scale without historical parallel. Very few people on any side of the conflict objected. Is it legitimate to conclude that “Western life is cheap, most notably to other Westerners?” If not, then we must recognize Peretz’s statement for what it is: reductionist bigotry.