Monday, March 01, 2004

David Frum posted a column over at National Review Online yesterday that infuriated me. Like so many others, he accused Mel Gibson of anti-Semitism while at the same time denying that he's doing it.

His particular beef is with how Gibson answered a question put to him by Diane Sawyer regarding his views on the Holocaust. He says he has friends with numbers tatooed on their arms, and says that there were atrocities committed, and that Jews were among the tens of millions of people who were killed during World War II.

Frum's problem was with what Gibson did not say:
Note that Gibson did not say, "Don't be absurd, Peggy. Obviously it is a matter of historical record that Adolph Hitler and the Nazis deliberately murdered millions of Jews." Note that Gibson did not cite the universally accepted casualty count of between 5 and 6 million Jewish fatalities. Nor did he acknowledge that Jews were special targets of Hitler's hatred or that anti-Semitism occupied a central place in Hitler's ideology.

Note next that Gibson did not use the word "murder." Instead, he used the generic term "atrocities," which could cover anything from mass murder to assault and arson. And whatever was the point of that strange formulation, "Some of them were Jews..."?
I'm not a "letters to the editor" kind of guy (believe it or not), but I couldn't hold back. I sent the following email to Frum:
Dear Mr. Frum,

I appreciate your work a great deal, but I must say that your National Review Online diary of February 29th ("Passionata") was full of the kind of political correctness run amok that NRO usually (rightly) stands against.

Instead of taking someone's words at face value, we must now try to psychoanalyze him through his phraseology; His plain statements are reinterpreted in light of his ambiguous statements, rather than vice versa. If he does not formulate his thoughts using precisely the accepted and approved verbiage (even if he states the same thought in essence), he is anathema.

First let me say (because in this ridiculous climate, we evidently have to say it specifically, or we are immediately tagged as unorthodox) that I believe that the Nazis murdered between 5 and 6 million Jews in concentration camps in World War II, that it was an act of incomprehensible evil, and that it was carried out intentionally by Hitler and his minions as a result of Hitler's racist philosophy. I renounce it, I hate it, and I think every last one of them should be (or should have been) prosecuted to the nth degree.

I truly believe that, but I resent that I am also required to say it in exactly those words in order to conform and avoid the charge of anti-Semitism. Why? Because merely by questioning the treatment Gibson has received, I open myself to the charge, and evidently only the approved language will vindicate me. Heaven help me if I express the same thought in different words. Nothing else will then matter.

So. Mel Gibson does not use those words. He refers to the Holocaust instead as an "atrocity." The word comes from "atrocious," which, according to my dictionary means, "extremely wicked, brutal, or cruel." Do you really mean to imply that Gibson believes the acts of the Nazis against Jews were "extremely wicked, brutal, and cruel," but that they were not murder? Is it not possible that Gibson actually means exactly what he said--that the acts of the Nazis against Jews were wicked, brutal, and cruel? Is to affirm this to be a "Holocaust denier"? Has Gibson ever done anything to forfeit the simple benefit of the doubt? Must he (and everyone else) spend their lives proving a negative--that they do not harbor feelings of anti-Semitism?

You essentially accuse Gibson of playing the same game that the Holocaust deniers do by using carefully chosen language to obscure his true belief while seeming to tentatively affirm the opposite. And yet that's precisely what you do with Gibson! You spend much of the column comparing him with Holocaust deniers, and then you disingenuously say that you are not accusing him of being a Holocaust denier. You claim that you are not lumping him in with that group, and then imply (using an argument from silence) that he must be.

In your column, you actually run through a specific litany that Gibson (or presumably anyone else) will have to cite in order to pass muster with you and be pronounced free of anti-Semitism. You even go so far as to delineate specific wording that he must abide by. It is not enough for him to say that the Holocaust was an abomination. If he fails to cite specific numbers, motives, and tenets of the philosophy of Adolph Hitler, he is an anti-Semite, case closed. He is pilloried for what he (supposedly) fails to say, and what he does say is viewed with unmerited suspicion. You are searching for "code words" with the tenacity of a Jesse Jackson or a Noam Chomsky.

If this is not a play straight out of the Political Correctness Handbook, I don't know what is. The totalitarian enforcers of Political Correctness say, "Express the same thoughts that we do, exactly the same way that we do, with no deviation. If you fail to do this, you will be labeled as evil. Period." And that is exactly what you (and others) have done with Gibson. The difference is: I would have expected it from the others, but not from you.

This is a game for Leftists; any conservative who plays it should be ashamed of himself.

I respect you, but I am very disappointed.

John Rabe

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