Friday, February 16, 2007

Death Threats From Your Church-Going Neighbor Next Door

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Melissa McEwen, aka Shakespeare's Sister, has a must-read piece up at The Guardian about the right-wing hate campaign against her and Amanda Marcotte, and why she felt it necessary to leave the Edwards campaign. Among other things, Melissa's commentary reminds us of the way this whole mess started: as the result of accusations of anti-Catholic bigotry made by the director of a far-right Catholic organization, Bill Donohue, who himself has a long history of virulently bigoted pronouncements:

Donohue's history of controversial, including multiple anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim, statements was not mentioned. An article by John Broder in the New York Times the following day similarly failed to mention Donohue's history, as did reports on CNN and MSNBC. Donohue was smearing Marcotte and me - two women who had supported John Kerry, a Catholic, and had both attended Catholic universities - across the American media with impunity, for things we had said on private blogs before we were employed by the campaign.

His case against me? "On November 21, 2006, Melissa McEwan said on AlterNet that 'some of Christianity's most prominent leaders - including the Pope - regularly speak out against gay tolerance'." That was it. That was the sole evidence of my alleged anti-Catholic bigotry. There was more in the press release - like my habit of referring to myself as Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain, and the fact that I used the term "Christofascist" to refer to religious conservatives who pursue legislation with no basis but religion - but none of it had anything to do with my virulent hatred of Catholics. Which may be, as some clever readers might be suspecting by this point, because I don't actually have a virulent hatred of Catholics.

I am, however, vulgar. And I am trash-talking. And I do have some very strong opinions about religious people who try to legislate their beliefs. It's anathema to my governing idea about these things, which is: my rights end where yours begin. If you're trying to legislate a behavior that would have no affect on you, and your only justification is "God said so," I'm going to have an opinion about that - which is both my right and obligation as an active participant in the political process, and should be expected by those who endeavor to politicize their religious beliefs. Private beliefs are none of my business. I don't care if you don't like gay sex or don't use birth control or don't eat pork, as long as you don't care if I do. That seems like it should be an easy agreement to make on both sides, but it doesn't appear to work that way.

Sad but true: in addition to hate mail from right-wing crazies, Melissa and Amanda have taken heat from some on the left for "caving in" to right-wing pressure by resigning from the campaign, despite the fact that both bloggers have been physically threatened. As Melissa points out, when you sign on to a political campaign, you have to be prepared for some heat if you want to stay in the kitchen. However, disagreement, accusations of bigotry, even personal insults or name-calling are one thing -- physically threatening language, including rape, are quite another. No one should have to put up with that, especially when, like Melissa, you know from personal experience what can happen when such threats are dismissed as "just words":

By the beginning of this week, we had become the focus of right-wing blowhard Bill O'Reilly, who dedicated two segments on his show to calling for our heads over our alleged anti-Catholic bigotry. Not only was I distracting attention away from the campaign I had signed on to help, but I was getting increasing amounts of hate-mail and comments at my blog, some of which were threatening in nature - something I could not ignore, having been raped many years ago by a man who made threats that were not taken seriously. And so I resigned from the campaign, with regret.

In the wake of this experience, some have expressed disappointment that I "caved," or accused me of hypocrisy because I have complained about the threats I received since I'm a firebrand myself. The truth is, being a firebrand of any political persuasion does not warrant rape and death threats. Irrespective of the language one uses or the direction of one's targets, threats are simply not an appropriate response to expressing an opinion, which is something on which we should all be able to agree. And no one should be expected to allow themselves to be terrorized indefinitely with no protection, just because most threats may never materialize into action. It's a loss for us all that two more people have been driven from their jobs because people who disagreed with them couldn't just leave it at a fair criticism.

I never expected to speak my mind publicly without ever hearing from someone who disagreed, nor expected to speak my mind brazenly with sometimes ribald language without ever hearing from someone who was offended.

But I also didn't expect that disagreement and offense at something I'd written on my personal blog before my employment would be regarded by anyone as justification for calling for my termination. Nor that my opinion on anything could incite anyone to a murderous rage. The lack of perspective is astounding.

Yes -- and it's not going to get better anytime soon, as demonstrated by editorials like Mary Eberstadt's in today's WSJ Opinion Journal, in which Eberstadt holds forth on the "Curse of the Christian-Bashers." That would be Amanda and Melissa, of course -- and, according to Eberstadt, their spirit "haunts Democrats":

... [W]hat the blogger tempest really illuminates is a fact that could come to haunt the Democrats as they vie for national office: namely, that their past few wilderness years have also been boom years for the church-loathing liberal/left punditry. As a result, anti-Christian invective now graces (or disgraces) many of the books, magazines, Web sites and blogs to which liberals, including the Democratic elite, habitually look for ideas. One motto of this cottage industry is that the most serious threat to the American republic can be found in, no, not those religious fundamentalists, the ones that first leap to mind after 9/11; but, incredibly, certain other believers--our nation's Christians.

The cover of Damon Linker's 2006 "Theocons: Secular America Under Siege," for example, declares: "For the past three decades, a few determined men have worked to inject their radical religious ideas into the nation's politics. This is the story of how they succeeded." Again, he is not talking about al Qaeda. Other books in a similar vein include Michelle Goldberg's "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism," praised on its cover by Katha Pollitt for exposing "the ongoing takeover of our country by right-wing Christians." There is Kevin Pillips's "American Theocracy," which identifies in its subtitle "radical religion" as a "peril" facing the nation. Enter also Randall Balmer's "Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament," which opens with the unfortunate metaphorical notion that evangelical faith has been "hijacked by radical zealots" and closes with a vow about "taking America back."

To repeat, this apocalyptic rhetoric is not being heaped on, say, bomb-toting Islamists but on your churchgoing neighbors next door. Some authors even argue that those neighbors and Islamic "fundamentalists" are joined at the hip. Mel White's "Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right" is one; he warns that Christians want to "forcibly" take back the country.

Not to be outdone is the recent tome "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," by New York Times reporter Chris Hedges. It delivers more of the same, studded with that tonier F-word, "fascism." Yet despite the book's conflation of prayer groups and jackboots, Publisher's Weekly awarded "American Fascists" a starred review and praised its attentiveness to a supposedly "serious and growing threat to the very concept and practice of an open society."

The point Eberstadt makes could not be clearer: It's perfectly legitimate to conflate a religion practiced by the world's second biggest religion (between 1.3 and 1.79 billion adherents) with the actions of a relatively small (in relation to the world Muslim population) subset of people who twist the tenets of Islam to justify acts of terrorism. But it's Christian-bashing, anti-Christian bigotry, Christian-hating, etc., to conflate Christianity, or the religious faith of the world's biggest religion (about 2.1 billion adherents) with the far smaller subset of people who twist, or have twisted, the tenets of Christianity to justify everything from slavery and anti-Semitism to political assassination, homophobia, and mass murder. To be Muslim is to be a "bomb-toting Islamist," or at the very least to be always under suspicion of being a "bomb-toting Islamist"; to be Christian is to be only "your churchgoing neighbors next door."

The very phrase "Islamic terrorist" or "Islamic extremist" is unarguably a mainstream formulation, used in the media every day, uttered by Democrats and Republicans, and by Christians of all levels of religious observance. It is not viewed as being a slur on the Islamic faith, because the Islamic faith is viewed as a synonym for terrorism. By contrast, someone like Eric Rudolph is an "American terrorist," or a "domestic terrorist," or a "homegrown terrorist" -- but almost never a "Christian terrorist." If he were to be so called, the howls of outrage would be heard from Coney Island to Maui and from Galveston to Anchorage.

It is that double standard, and not left-wing feminist bloggers like Marcotte and McEwen, wherein the problem lies for Democrats.


Rev. Don Spitz said...

Eric Rudolph is not a terrorist, but an anti-terrorist fighter. Those who have killed babykilling abortionists have done so to protect the innocent. People use force everyday to protect the innocent and no one has a problem with it, except when it comes to protecting unborn human beings, then they go ballistic. It's very simple, the unborn deserve the same protection as the born. Born people are protected with force quite often. Force that you would be glad if it was to protect your children against a murderer. Force that you yourself might use to protect your own children from being murdered. The unborn deserve the same protection.
SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

Chief said...

The paragraph that begins, "I am, however, vulgar." pretty much says it all for me. Eloquent and succinct with an economy of words that is beyond my capability. Whan people react with such hate and threats, is it out of fear or an insecurity on their part? I do not agree at all with Limbaugh or Malkin or Bush et al but I would never think of any act (by myself or any other) that brought them harm and certainly would not condone any.

Re: your first comment. It would be a more perfect world if abortions were allowed everywhere but were seldom performed. But I am curious which part of the definition of "terrorist" the good Reverand doesn't think fits Mr. Rudolf.

If the Reverand doesn't want to have an abortion, then no one will force him to have one. But I don't want him to try and push his religious beliefs onto me.