New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is an accomplished and talented reporter. From his coverage of the Tienanmen Square protests to his work on child sex slavery, he has had a long and distinguished career as a reporter.
Being a great reporter does not make you a moral philosopher. It does not mean that you know your way around intellectual argument. Clearly, Kristof does not.
If Kristof belongs to our intellectual elite, we need to reexamine our standards for assessing intellectual achievement.
Today, Kristof disqualifies himself from being taken seriously as a thinker. He does it by writing an embarrassing column in which he attempts to apologize for America's intolerant attitude toward Islam. Link here.
I say "attempts" because, unless I missed something, Kristof does not speak for America. Kristof speaks for Kristof and should, in a proper ethical universe, take responsibility only for those actions where he bears responsibility, either directly or indirectly.
But, perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps Kristof, who commands space on the Times op-ed page, has come to see himself as a member of a class of intellectuals-- call them philosopher-kings or guardians as Plato does-- who are really running the country. As a member of this guardian class Kristof seems to feel that he has some responsibility for the actions and beliefs even of those who do not follow his enlightened teaching.
In reality, of course, the president of the United States does speak for America. Well before Kristof elevated himself to a place from which he could speak for America, Barack Obama was traveling around the world apologizing for America.
Does Kristof consider that Obama's grovel was insufficient or inadequate? Is he proposing that we all learn a new dance: the Kristof grovel?
If the absence of apology has caused all of what Kristof calls the "misunderstanding" between Americans and Muslims, and if these misunderstandings were the cause of Islamic terrorism, you would think that the Obama grovel would have ushered in a new age of Islamic tranquility.
The evidence suggests that this has not happened.
One hesitates to examine the substance of Kristof's arguments, because they are, as I suggested, embarrassing.
He is correct to say that many, many wonderful people in the world today are Muslims. Since no one believes the contrary, this is far from being a dispositive argument.
As has been noted so many times that one hesitates to state it again, while all of the world's Muslims are not terrorists, nearly all of the world's terrorism is being committed in the name of Islam.
Often with the collusion and connivance of Muslim clerics. Consider the case of Omar Abdul-Rahman, the Muslim cleric who masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center.
To use the Kristof standard, we can rightly ask whether any Muslim cleric has ever apologized for Islamic terrorism. Has any Muslim cleric ever apologized for 9/11?
Today, everyone's favorite Islamic rabble rouser is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. This Great Conciliator declared, in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocity, that terrorist actions were contrary to Islam. Doubtless that is the case. Link here.
And yet, when Imam Rauf added that Osama bin Laden was "made in the USA," he was not only sneering at the families of those who had died in the attack, but he was not being contrite, was not taking responsibility, and was not apologizing.
Why would Nick Kristof be willing to take responsibility for the feelings of some of his countrymen while imams cannot take responsibility for actions committed in the name of their religion, and with the collusion and connivance of religious leaders?
I will try to make this issue clear. Try a different example. What would happen if Pope Benedict had not chosen to apologize for the child molestation committed by Catholic priests and for efforts by senior clergy to cover up the abuse? What if he had said that such actions were directly contrary to Catholic teaching?
But while child molestation is strictly condemned by Catholic teaching, most people would have seen quickly that he was dodging responsibility.
Declaring that actions by members of your community are contrary to your community's values does not absolve you of responsibility. It does not mean that you need not offer an apology.
But, you are thinking, Osama bin Laden and his murderous band, to say nothing of the Taliban, do not belong to the priesthood of Islam. Yet, Sheikh Rahman did belong, and more than a few imams have preached jihad from their pulpits. If they have not preached it, they have joined Imam Rauf in rationalizing it and shifting the blame to America.
If these imams care about the way people see their religion and their communities around the world, they should apologize for terrorist actions, not rationalize them. If they fail to apologize-- preferring to leave that to Kristof-- then they do not care, and are willing to enjoy the power that devolves on those whom other people fear.
We all understand that Islam does not have a centralized hierarchy in the same way that Catholicism does. Yet, it does have clerics who command more authority; who have greater responsibility. Nothing is preventing them from apologizing for terror that is committed in the name of Islam.
Strangely enough, Kristof is more than happy to speak up and defend the virtue of the Muslims he knows. Again, no one ever thought the contrary. He offers little more than lip service to his negative feelings about terrorism.
Yet, he saves the better part of his venom for American "extremists [who are] engineering a spasm of religious hatred."
That would be Rev. Terry Jones and his fifty parishioners in Florida. Presumably, Kristof is also targeting the intolerant masses who do not feel as much moral cowardice as he does.
Kristof is perfectly capable of attacking Rev. Jones, even to the point of comparing him, in an extreme example of moral equivalence, with Osama bin Laden, but he can barely criticize those Muslims who have dedicated their lives to engineering spasms of religious hatred.
He actively diminishes their responsibility. As he puts it: "Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of Muslims, and many Afghans believe that Rev. Terry Jones (who talked of burning Korans) is representative of Christians."
In the world of moral equivalence it does not get any more warped than that. Who in his right mind considers the actions of bin Laden equivalent to an empty threat by a no account Christian pastor? Do you really believe that bin Laden is really a harmless kook like Rev. Jones?
In his own way, Kristof must be preparing for the next Stephen Colbert rally. He may think that he is making a gesture of reconciliation. In truth, he is keeping fear alive.