Monday, February 20, 2006

I recently drew an analogy between rioting Muslims today and rioting African-Americans in past decades, concluding, based on the American experience, that alienated and violent minority groups do not necessarily stay that way forever. And as I later pointed out in a comment on one of LTEC's posts, the reaction of the society at large to rioting members of a minority group--in particular, whether they appease or condemn the rioters and the leaders who inflame their grievances and promote their violence--plays a huge role in determining the frequency and disruptiveness of future violence and mayhem. I would argue that two major causes of the decline of racial tensions in the US in recent years have been the rise of public expectations for law and order in large US cities--most notably New York--and the decline in the public standing of such rabble-rousing leaders as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.

Well, my analogy has now been picked up by Robert Wright in a New York Times Op-Ed--but with a bizarre twist. Wright views the decades of racial hostility that plagued America from the 1960's through the early 1990's, and the fawning attitude towards rioters and their cheerleaders that perpetuated it, as a healthy phenomenon:
Remember the urban riots of the 1960's, starting with the Watts riot of 1965, in which 34 people were killed? The St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson, in his 1968 book "From Ghetto to Glory," compared the riots to a "brushback pitch" — a pitch thrown near a batter's head to keep him from crowding the plate, a way of conveying that the pitcher needs more space....

Amid the cartoon protests, some conservative blogs have warned that addressing grievances expressed violently is a form of "appeasement," and will only bring more violence and weaken Western values. But "appeasement" didn't work that way in the 1960's. The Kerner Commission, set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 to study the riots, recommended increased attention to the problems of poverty, job and housing discrimination, and unequal education — attention that was forthcoming and that didn't exactly spawn decades of race riots.
Now, it may be nothing more than a stunning coincidence that decreased attention to the problems of poverty, job and housing discrimination, and unequal education during the late 1990's--starting with the welfare reform of 1996--was accompanied by a significant improvement in race relations, after years of tension marked by the (1977) New York, (1980) Liberty City, (1982 and 1989) Overtown, (1991) Crown Heights, and (1992) LA riots, and many, many smaller conflagrations. But it's hard to argue that increased attention to these issues results in improved race relations, when the historical pattern is so strikingly inconsistent with that claim.

Likewise for Wright's other prescription:
But the American experience suggests that steadfast self-restraint can bring progress. In the 1960's, the Nation of Islam was gaining momentum as its leader, Elijah Muhammad, called whites "blue-eyed devils" who were about to be exterminated in keeping with Allah's will. The Nation of Islam has since dropped in prominence and, anyway, has dropped that doctrine from its talking points. Peace prevails in America, and one thing that keeps it is strict self-censorship. [emphasis added]
Now, the Nation of Islam may have"dropped in prominence" lately, but it was still going strong in 1995, when its leader, Louis Farrakhan, organized the "Million-Man March" on Washington. Was his fall from prominence aided or impeded by the "strict self-censorship" that made the lunacy of his views a taboo topic in the press until his bizarre speech at that event made ignoring them impossible? Likewise, was Jesse Jackson's career as a racial shakedown artist helped or hindered by the "strict self-censorship" (occasionally fortified by threats of violence) that suppressed from public view his shady dealings and personal indiscretions? And have race relations in America improved or declined since these leaders ceased being the objects of widespread veneration?

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds said it best: "when you reward violence and efforts at violent intimidation, you'll get more of them." After years of racial-guilt-induced blindness to that simple principle, Americans have finally acknowledged it with respect to their African-American minority, and the result has been far greater racial harmony. We shall see which countries, if any, apply it in turn to their dealings with their Islamic minorities.

1 comment:

LTEC said...

Wright talks with Kaus about this here:

I stopped listening when Wright asserts that there is a big difference between Muslim cartoon "protesters" that burn down buildings and Muslim terrorists that blow them up.

Also, Wright's article can be found (for free) here:

I think the article is much much worse than Dan makes it appear. Wright goes from the obvious assertion that editors always use some kind of taste ("self-censorship"), to what is really a sympathy for vast, international terrorism.