Thursday, January 26, 2006

Words Kill

What do Woody Allen, Dick Gregory and Harry Belafonte have in common with James Dobson?

This is the question that Suzanne Fields, a columnist with the Washington Times, asks in a provocative op-ed column on
They all blur distinctions of the evil of the Third Reich, making exaggerated analogies in pursuit of a flawed political point -- or in Woody Allen's case, a crass attempt to be funny.

Belafonte was asked by Cybercast News Service whether the fact that both of George W’s Secretaries of State were African American had enhanced the African American community’s opinion of the President. Belafonte responded:

Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich. Color does not necessarily denote quality, content or value.

This statement is not only a complete inaccuracy but also leads me to wonder whether to Belafonte there is a certain analogy between Hitler’s regime and the current American administration. However one may oppose Bush’s policies and be appalled by treatment of prisoners and infringement of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, the analogy is just wrong.

Fields goes on to note that the comedian Dick Gregory made a similar analogy when talking about Black conservatives. He said:

[They] have a right to exist, but why would I want to walk around with a swastika on my shirt after the way Hitler done messed it up?

Black conservatives may be problematic [some, such as Justice Thomas, seem completely insensitive to their people’s situation and history], but to compare them to Hitlerian forces seems to me, to put it kindly, to push the edges of the envelope.

But the worst comes from Woody Allen. In an interview with Der Spiegel, in June of last year, he engaged in, what Fields correctly identifies as, moral equivalence.

So in 2001 some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis….. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. . . . History is the same thing over and over again.

Woody used to be funny but this kind of trivialization of the Holocaust and misstatement of the facts seems to indicate that this man has lost it.

Fields, to her credit, does not ignore people from the far right end of the spectrum. She notes that James Dobson, director of Focus on the Family, [one of the leading antiabortion conservative groups around] had repeatedly compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi death-camp experiments. Dobson said "Ultimately, one life will be sacrificed to benefit another. That's evil."

As Fields notes, there may be a legitimate debate about whether there should be federal funding for stem cell research [I enthusiastically support it]. But it is more than wrong to say the motives of those conducting this research are evil. Fields writes: “The motives behind the research are not evil. Josef Mengele was evil.”

Fields thinks Dobson is a “thoughtful and decent man.” I must disagree. Anyone who can say such things is hardly thoughtful. And decent….?

One can disagree with federal funding of such research but to say that the objectives of those conducting such research are evil is deeply insulting – at best -- and shows Dobson’s willingness to demonize anyone who disagrees with him.

[And for some of Dobson’s followers demons are serious business. For these folks there is only one thing that can be done to them. It is the same thing that should have been done to Mengele.]

People like Dobson may not throw stones or bombs but he says the words which get others to throw the stones and the bombs. As I write in the final paragraphs of History on Trial:

It was words that motivated those who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, dragged an African-American down a logging road to his death, tortured a young homosexual in Wyoming, stabbed a Jewish student to death on the streets of
Crown Heights, blew up Israeli families about to celebrate the Passover Seder, and flew planes into the World Trade Center.
It’s been eight years since Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered for providing abortions. I wonder if Dobson’s followers will soon target the researchers who do stem cell research.

Whether they come from the right or the left, these kinds of analogies are historically inaccurate. They trivialize the Holocaust. And they can be downright dangerous.

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