In a meandering, non-sequitur riddled column today, the nation’s dumbest opinion columnist Nick Kristof sewed together enough tropes and canards to make a beautiful, dizzying tapestry of leftist narrative out of completely unconnected events in world news. In the land of Nick Kristof, the refusal of judges to issue gay marriage licenses in Alabama, combined with an atheist killing three Muslims in North Carolina, all goes to show that Obama was right that Christianity has as much to apologize for in the modern world as Islam. I’m not kidding:
In North Carolina, three young Muslims who were active in charity work were murdered, allegedly by a man who identified as atheist and expressed hostility to Islam and other faiths. Police are exploring whether it was a hate crime, and it spurred a #MuslimLivesMatter campaign on Twitter.
And, in Alabama, we see judges refusing to approve marriages of any kindbecause then they would also have to approve same-sex marriages. In one poll conducted last year, some 59 percent of people in Alabama opposed gay marriage. Somehow a loving God is cited to bar loving couples from committing to each other.
These are very different news stories. But I wonder if a common lesson from both may be the importance of resisting bigotry, of combating the intolerance that can infect people of any faith — or of no faith.
The bolded, underlined sentence above (emphasis mine) is frankly the only worthwhile piece of commentary in Kristof’s entire rambling screed, and he would have done well for himself to either end the column there or just realize that he shouldn’t have written it at all. But Kristof being a liberal, once he has his teeth into a narrative, the facts of the matter had better not disagree, lest they get run over in the process. Lest we run too far off the tracks, let us recall that we are discussing the difference between an isolated number of Christians refusing to hand out marriage licenses, an atheist shooting three people to death, and Muslims engaging in a widespread campaign of violence against Christians, Jews, and (yes!) gay people. The differences between these stories are not differences of degree, or of kind.
Not so fast, says Kristof. Jesus doesn’t like it when you play the moral equivalence game!
More broadly, one message of the New Testament is the value of focusing on one’s own mistakes rather than those of others. “You hypocrite,” Jesus says in Matthew 7:5. “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We could do with a little more of that spirit these days, at a time when everybody wants to practice ophthalmology on everyone else.
Setting aside the abuse of scriptural context evident here, Kristof’s poetic invocation of one of Jesus’s most powerful teachings is almost poignant enough to make you forget that… he was the one who asserted the existence of a moral equivalence in the first place. In fact, that’s exactly how his column started: “Look, I know you think these stories are vastly different, but let me tell you how they are actually the same.” In fact, the whole point of this column is rather obviously to defend President Obama’s laughable remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last week:
O.K. I’m sure some of you are protesting:That’s a false equivalency. True, there is a huge difference between burning someone alive and not granting a couple a marriage license. But, then again, it’s not much of a slogan to say, “We’re better than ISIS!”
There has been a pugnacious defensiveness among conservative Christians to any parallels between Christian overreach and Islamic overreach, as seen in the outraged reaction toPresident Obama’s acknowledgment at the National Prayer Breakfast this month that the West has plenty to regret as well. But Obama was exactly right: How can we ask Islamic leaders to confront extremism in their faith if we don’t acknowledge Christian extremism, from the Crusades to Srebrenica?
This is a neat trick, if you can find someone stupid enough to fall for it. First of all say that what they are doing is as bad as what ISIS is doing. When they object, say, “Oh, like being better than ISIS is something to be proud of.” When they point out that what they are doing is not even close, accuse them of playing the moral equivalence game and hope they forget that you brought the whole thing up.
But more to the point, even if Kristof and Obama weren’t transparently engaged in a rhetorical game of pin the tail on the donkey, their argument would proceed from completely false premises. In truth, the most ignorant and sanctimonious person of all is the person who refuses to evaluate historical figures in relation to the times in which they lived. Abraham Lincoln made comments about black people that would make him unelectable for any public office in America in 2015, but evaluated against the cultural backdrop in which he found himself he was a visionary on race relations. It is a favorite trick of liberals, when seeking to cast dirt on the historical legacy of a figure, to evaluate them as though they grew up in the cultural trappings of the late 21st century, ignoring that expecting such enlightenment in terms of tolerance is not a realistic goal. If William F. Buckley Jr. were transported back in time to 16th century England he’d have likely found himself put to death as a radical heretic, and if William Wilberforce were transported forward in time to today he’d be unemployable in polite society as a racist, but liberals have a convenient trick of ignoring context (but only when it suits them within a particular discussion).
Definitely, by the standards and conventions of modern warfare, the Crusaders were guilty of excesses worthy of condemnation. So, for that matter, was the RAF at Dresden, the American Air Force over Tokyo in 1944 and 1945. With precisely the same sanctimoniousness Kristof decries, it is all too easy for liberals, who pride themselves on their understanding, to look back and offer condemnation for these and other military campaigns without bothering to ask or investigate – “Were these actions appropriate, lawful and humane within the context of the time period in which they were found?” And in each case, the answer is “yes,” most especially with respect to the Crusaders, who by all accounts fought against Muslim armies that were infinitely more savage and indifferent to civility in warfare and plunder than they were.
But even more to the point, what possible relevance does the activity of the Crusades, by all accounts expired for several centuries now, have to do with whether the world Muslim community, by and large, has fallen behind expected levels of pluralism and tolerance in today’s society? It might be one thing if Obama or Kristof were arguing based upon a historical slight that existed within living memory of anyone currently inhabiting planet earth, but to offer the Crusades of all things as an excuse for current behavior isn’t policy analysis. It’s the juvenile cry of self-important enlightenment typical of a high school sophomore who just finished reading the chapter on the Crusades in their liberal textbook.
As with all liberal supposed enlightenment, the soft bigotry of low expectations plays a crucial role in the thinking of Kristof and Obama. Never would Kristof or Obama excuse an Irishman for killing an Englishman based upon the confiscation of Ulster Plantation, nor would a Belgian be excused for murdering a German based on the violation of Belgium’s neutrality in 1914 – events which happened much more recently in time than the Crusades. Nor, for that matter, would anyone excuse a Christian for killing a Muslim in order to avenge the Sacking of Constantinople, while we are on the subject of the Crusades. Only Muslims are basically excused for not having the capacity to act like adults in the modern world – which is a not so subtle way of suggesting that they don’t have the inherent capacity to do so. I dissent from such a dim view of Muslims as people, and instead believe that they are just as capable of controlling their antisocial tendencies as anyone else.
And by the way, Nick? Way to not mention in your article that gay Muslims living in Muslim-ruled countries have no prayer of having their marriages recognized by the state. In fact, their main goal is not being sent to the gallows.