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Misplaced Outrage

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Recently, I happened to be watching Fox’s “Hannity and Colmes.” To no surprise, Sean Hannity was doing what he does best: complaining about liberals and political correctness. The trigger for this tirade was an incident at Pace University where a young a man was arrested on hate crime charges because he flushed a Quran down the toilet.

To make matters worse, the putative perpetrator, Stanislav Shmulevich is accused of flushing the Quran down the toilet not once, but twice in separate incidents. This came amid other occurrences of intolerance towards Muslim students at Pace, including racial slurs scrawled on a bathroom wall, and another Quran flushed down the toilet. Hannity and his ilk missed an easy opportunity to demonstrate a little bit of decency by substantively denouncing these acts.

Surely any reasonable person would conclude that these acts were awful. For a Muslim, the Quran is the inerrant word of God. To desecrate it in any way is to commit an unspeakable offense against Islam. This sentiment shouldn’t surprise Americans; after all, a majority describe themselves as religious Christians. How would Jerry Falwell have reacted to stories about a Bible being flushed down a toilet? I can hear his ominous warnings from the pulpit, citing such an incident as evidence that the country is steadily becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah.

However, vocal right-wingers had only de rigueur condemnations of the episodes. The most Mark Steyn, a guest on the show could muster was that “I’m opposed to the desecration of books,” while arguing that it was okay for someone else to do so, an odd pro-choice position for a conservative to take. Steyn then went on for most of the rest of the interview about how arresting people for hate crimes against Muslims would lead to “something called creeping sharia in the west.” Just how such a tiny minority would ever manage to impose that on the United States was not explained by the alarmist commentator. Of course, such a statement is laughable, but hardly surprising from a man who, when asked if there was hostility towards Muslims, replied that “there is none.”

However much some want to deny it, there is hostility towards Muslims in the west. In fact, part of the problem with incidents like this is that it heightens tension between Muslims and members of broader society. Moreover, this comes at a time, when cooperation between Muslims and western governments is critical to prosecute the war on terrorism successfully.

While conservatives had little to offer in the way of outrage over these incidents, most of them went absolutely ballistic when reports surfaced that a cross had been dunked in urine. They were right to do so. As a Christian myself, I was offended that anyone would ever turn a holy object into a tasteless art project. By my question is: why can’t conservatives attack people who desecrate Qurans with the same vehemence they attack people who desecrate the cross? To do so seems only fair to me.

I should say that I am not sure about the hate crimes charges the suspect is facing. Should he really go to prison for this? What exactly constitutes a hate crime, and when should they be prosecuted? I don’t know the answer to these questions. Being a huge fan of the first amendment, I am uncomfortable with the idea that any form of speech, no matter how vulgar or offensive could be punished with jail time.

Conservatives or anyone else for that matter are right to raise such questions. But it simply does not make sense that a Quran desecration should have been a jumping off point for a vitriolic attack on the “liberal media” or on the Council of American-Islamic Relations, or on political correctness, particularly when these same conservatives were aflame with passion when it was a Christian object involved. The logical thing to do is to condemn such desecrations and argue why they violate American ideals, not use it to launch into standard victimist conservative talking points. In short, the outrage I saw on Hannity’s show, and from his fellow conservatives last week badly misplaced.

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About Marcus Alexander Gadson

  • http://www.parttimepundit.com John Bambenek

    When an artist dunked a cross in urine (in an exhibit funded by tax dollars) we called for those tax dollars to be cut and for the exhibit to be removed.

    When a Koran gets flushed, these people call for felony charges and for someone to get locked away for a few decades.

    Just a wee bit of different between the two approaches.

    Perhaps we might be better served to actually talk about ideas and controversies instead of trying to constantly find ways to make “the other guys” into hypocrites.

  • Les Slater

    Flushing a Koran should not be a criminal offence if you legally possess it (own), or have permission of such, to flush.

  • http://liberalsinexile.blogspot.com Melinda Barton

    Although I’m a liberal myself, I’d like to point out that, sadly, there hasn’t been much in the way of outrage from liberals either, just a lot of disingenuous comparisons to “thought crime”, artworks like “Piss Christ”, blasphemy charges, sharia law and the like. Personally, I don’t think this is any more a free speech issue than laws that outlaw burning a cross on an African-American family’s lawn.

    If Mr. Shmulevich had owned the Koran he descrated or were doing it as part of a legitimate art installment rather than to send an intimidating message to Pace’s Muslim students, I’d be right behind him all the way on the free speech issue no matter how repugnant I find his views. Even we staunch first amendment supporters should be wary of promoting the idea that this is a violation considering that said principle could then be applied to cross burnings, swastikas on synagogues and the like.

  • Doug Hunter

    Are the leftist nuts really going to defend jailtime for flushing a book you own down the toilet?

    Fucking sad.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Doug,

    As your knee jerks righteously, I have to say that I doubt you read Mr Gadson’s article fully – particularly the second-last paragraph.

  • Doug Hunter

    I did read it. A small attempt at appearing reasonable at the end of a rant against I’m still not sure what (the fact that Hannity, et al are right on this issue perhaps?)

    In the bigger picture those on the left are more likely to support the hate crimes legislation that the student is being charged with. Also, another admittedly liberal commenter has already chimed in stating her support for criminalization of the act. I’m glad to see that Les has the intellectual honesty to condemn this, I simply issued the call to see whom else on my left was so brave.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I’m confused after reading this…where exactly should the outraged be placed if not on a system that may put someone in jail for flushing a book down a toilet?

    It’s a book! I read about people burning all kinds of books every day….what’s the difference if you flush one down the shitter?

    I think this is no different than what happened with the cartoons. It’s all bullshit…I guess if your faith isn’t strong enough to handle someone flushing your book down the toilet then your faith isn’t even worth defending!

    The way it’s supposed to work is you let your god take care of it when that person that offended you get’s to the gates…that’s the way I learned it anyway.

    You know…that judge not thing???

  • http://liberalsinexile.blogspot.com Melinda Barton

    Doug,

    Mr. Shmulevich did not flush a book he owned. He flushed and defecated on TWO books he STOLE from Pace’s meditation room during a rash of bias incidents on campus. If Mr. Shmulevich had created an art installment of a Koran he owned in a toilet he owned to make a point about Islam or blasphemy or whatever, I would defend his right to free speech. If he’d burned or otherwise desecrated a Koran during a protest march, I would defend his right to free speech. That’s why I referred to comparisons between these very different types of acts as disingenuous.

    For what it’s worth, if he’d only done it once, I’d think it was probably an act of passion following an argument, as he claims, and not a hate crime. The fact that he did it twice, with the incidents coming months apart, puts a lie to his claim, and makes this look even more like an attempt to intimidate Muslim students.

    In the end, Mr. Shmulevich’s actions should not be considered “free speech” any more than the actions of a Klansmen who burns a cross stolen from the student chapel on a campus with a substantial African-American student body during a rash of anti-black incidents (TWICE).

    Time and a proper investigation will tell what Mr. Shmulevich’s motivations were, but I think any reasonable person should expect that Muslim students in the post 9/11 era had every reason to consider these acts threatening and intimidating.

  • Doug Hunter

    There is already a law against theft. There is no need for additional hate crimes punishment. I know it’s frustrating not to be able to throw someone in jail because they have ideas you disagreee with (muslims are bad in this case), but you must restrain yourself lest you set a precedent allowing the government to throw people in jail willy nilly. Next time it could be you.

    I suppose Pace has some semblance of a code of conduct, kick the bastard out, prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law as regards to the theft and leave it at that.

  • Alec

    RE: However much some want to deny it, there is hostility towards Muslims in the west.

    Actually, I think that most people in the West don’t particularly care or think about Muslims, or at least didn’t think much about them until a small group of them decided to blow stuff up in the West.

    Although flushing a religious text down a toilet is disrespectful, I can’t get very upset about it. Wouldn’t matter if it were the Bible either. I would be more concerned about the potential clogging of the sewage system than I would be about any “hate crime” aspects.

  • Dr Dreadful

    #6: If after reading it you’re not sure what the article was about, then I don’t know how to help you. Seemed pretty clear to me. If you know anything at all about the MO of Hannity and most of his fellow Fox News commentators, then you’d be able to say with some confidence that if it had been a Bible which had gotten flushed, their outrage would have been directed at the perpetrator, not at the prosecution.

    But, as you say in your #9, if Mr Shmulevich deserves jail time it is for vandalism, not for violating hate crimes laws (which are bollocks anyway because you can make a case for pretty much any crime being a hate crime). If he’d only done it once, probably a warning would have sufficed. Twice shows malice aforethought, and should land him at least a fine if not a spell in the pokey.

  • http://liberalsinexile.blogspot.com Melinda Barton

    First of all, hate crimes are covered under special laws for the specific reason that the EFFECTS of the act are different.

    Having been the victim of hate crimes and being both gay and Jewish, I’ll tell you from personal experience that the effect of such crimes is to silence and intimidate an entire community, preventing innocent people from going about their daily lives. No, that’s not the same as the fear provoked by murders in you neighborhood. There’s a big difference between thinking you “might” be in danger and having every reason to believe that you’re a walking target every time you leave your home.

    Secondly, for it to be a hate crime, there must be an underlying crime and the “speech” element must be directly related to the crime. In this case, not only theft and vandalism but harassment and intimidation.

    Third, I’m not frustrated because I can’t throw someone in jail whose viewpoints I disagree with. I’ve already stated that I would defend Mr. Shmulevich in any other case where his views were the same but his actions (and the effects of those actions) were different.

    Fourth, although anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased dramatically since 9/11, they were already a problem LONG before. In the early nineties, I lived in a building with Muslim neighbors, one of them a friend of mine. Far too many people in our neighborhood thought it amusing to harass, intimidate and even threaten them. Besides, pretending that Muslims as a group are responsible for 9/11 (and thus deserve what they’re getting) is about as ignorant as pretending that Christians as a group are responsible for the Klan (and thus deserve whatever they get).

  • Baronius

    Dr. D, your comment #11 is a hate crime against Fox News. You’re judging them on what you think their reaction would be to a flushed Bible.

    Hate crime! Hate crime! Hate crime!

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    If I had any doubt the Apocalypse is upon us, Baronius, your comment convinced me.

  • Baronius

    That’s what I’m here for.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Baronius: hold on while I flush my Bible and then call Sean Hannity for his reaction. Maybe then you can accuse him of hate crimes. I’ll get back to you.

  • Baronius

    Doc, the foundational principle in modern political dialogue is that accusations of hate crimes need not be supported. According to the rules, you’re supposed to apologize and establish a scholarship fund for Fox News casters’ kids. You can’t change the rules on me mid-game; that’d be – hey! – another hate crime!

    Hate crime! Hate crime!

  • Dr Dreadful

    Baronius, I talked to Hannity and he said that you are un-American for doubting his unequivocal stance on keeping the Holy Bible out of the plumbing.

  • Clavos

    To what depths will this go???

    Sean Hannity accusing Baronius of being un american???

    Undoubtedly, he has focused on Baronius’ Romanesque name.

    This epidemic of hate crimes is truly out of control!!!

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    No one seems to have noticed this point. Shmulevich is a Jewish name. It strikes me that his motives were indeed to show the contempt he had for Moslems – who routinely condemn Jews and call them Nazis and call for their death and the eradication of their homeland from the map.

    Of course in the “neutral” and politically correct atmosphere of American law, it is alright to condemn Jews and impermissible to condemn Moslems. The proof of the pudding is what happened in this case.

    I feel no sense of outrage – except at Jews in America who should have the sense to come home and not put themselves at the mercy of non-Jewish laws and lawmakers.

  • Dr Dreadful

    What a strange country.

    This notion that there is one way and only one way to be American, and that to deviate from this ideal is un-… well, you know.

    I mean, come on. Do people in Senegal go around accusing one another of being un-Senegalese? I somehow doubt it.

  • Clavos

    Actually, Ruvy, I did notice the name and conclude that it is Jewish.

    However, I decided not to point that out, because in this PC era, it is awkward for a Gentile to make such an observation in front of an audience he doesn’t know.

    In private conversation with my boating buddy, who is Jewish, I wouldn’t have hesitated to mention it, because he knows me.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I did notice the Jewishness of the name, Ruvy, and it is irrelevant. Regardless of what his motives were, the man committed an act of vandalism (and probably harrassment) by repeatedly flushing someone else’s personal property down the toilet, and deserves to have his ass legally kicked.

    I do feel that any punishment should be perfectly well addressed by the university’s code of conduct and – if necessary – the local criminal code. There should not be the need to hurl hate crimes legislation into the mix.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    If the man stole a library book, he should be held liable for restitution of the value of the books to the library plus court costs. He probably should be banned from the library and the educational institution that runs it. That, plus the publicity attendant to these actions is punishment enough.

    But I agree with Dr. D. here. There was no cause for felony charges. Flushing a Qur’an, stolen or otherwise, down a toilet is generally a private act in the United States given that toilets are enclosed spaces.

    Had he stolen the Qur’an from a mosque and displayed it as such, and then defecated on it in public view, this would be more public in nature, and would occasion considering a hate crime prosecution, if the jurisdiction provided for it.

    HOWEVER, the hate crimes of Moslems against Jews in America must be equally punished with equal severity. Otherwise a mockery of the law is being made…

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Ruvy, I think defecating in public falls under a whole different set of laws…

    …but that’s just me.

  • BJWD

    Wow..

    It is fine to express offense at the piss-Christ or toilet koran. BUT it is NOT ok to charge someone for the act!

    How in the hell can you equate Christians expressing outrage with FEDERAL CRIMINAL CHARGES?

    Are you high?

  • Zedd

    Marcus,

    The question regarding Shmulevich’s actions should be if he did it and all of the other acts to intimidate or make the Muslims on campus uncomfortable or unwelcome. If that was the aim, then that it an act of hate much like burning a cross.

    Urine on a cross in a majority Christian society by someone from that society is not an act of hate. It certainly does not intimidate anyone. It may offend but it doesn’t affect the quality of life of Christians in that culture.

    Creating an atmosphere where a minority of people feel intimidated needs to be stamped out. We have a long and strong history of such behavior and we are not so far removed from the days when the good old boys(bullies) ruled the town, impeding the pursuit of happiness of millions of hard working honest Americans. Their behavior was criminal! It is still criminal.

    The Republican’s desire to evaluate things as if we live in a vacuum with no past or future, childishly throwing tantrums about their rights to terrorize (in all forms), should be exposed as opposed to being addressed in a cautious and apologetic manner.

  • Zedd

    Doc #23

    I think that it is an act of crime if there is a pattern of intimidation by this man against the Muslims on campus.

    If I send my kid to school, I certainly don’t expect for them to be called Niger in the locker rooms or have voodoo dolls burned or crosses burnt, repeatedly, as an expression of some bully’s rights. Those in my eyes would be hate crimes.