DRAWING THE LINE
Here is my reply to the letter from the Interfaith Conference of Great Milwaukee... (which is reprinted below).
Dear Mr. White:
Thank you for your note in which you and the Interfaith Conference ask WTMJ to remove a controversial item from my website.
I do not intend to remove the post, the links, or the bumper sticker. They are, in my estimation, flagrant acts of free speech. That, too is part of the American tradition.
I am also frankly surprised that you so thoroughly misunderstand – and distort -- the point of Tom McMahon’s spoof.
McMahon’s bumper sticker is a parody that was intended to be provocative. Because it is provocative it was intended to spark reaction and debate and perhaps even offend some people. That does not mean that it should be censored as you suggest. It is free speech that provokes more free speech (which it did – the parody has been linked in both local and national blogs.)
At the risk of speaking for Mr. McMahon, I believe his point was that despite the smug assurance of the original “Coexist” bumper sticker, there are some things – evils -- that we cannot simply “coexist with.” These would include Communism and Nazism. You cannot coexist with Nazism, you must resist it and fight it.
Mr. McMahon believes, and I agree, that we are now engaged in a struggle with Islamic fascism. We cannot coexist with terrorists who blow up buses filled with children, cut off the heads of hostages, and slaughter innocent civilians. We need to resist and fight them.
By substituting the hammer and sickle and swastika in the original image, McMahon “raises the bar” for those who smugly seem to suggest that we have no differences, that we should just get along and sing kumbaya. You can’t sing kumbaya with Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.
In your note, you take particular issue with Mr. McMahon’s argument that it would be easier to coexist with Muslims if some Muslims would “stop hijacking planes and blowing up buildings.” Whether he unfairly conflates all of Islam with terrorism is an issue you might wish to pursue with Mr. McMahon, but I am not going to remove his comments simply because you do not like them.
But that is not the worst.
Your statement that suggests the parody is “comparing Jews to Nazis…” is beyond absurd, bordering on obscene. Or to use your own words, “unfortunate and ignorant.” There is, of course, no such comparison real or implied in McMahon’s parody. I am from a Jewish family: the parody is not an attack on Judaism… it is a critique of those who refuse to resist evil. If you don’t get that, shame on you.
You write: “Replacing the Star of David with the swastika is distasteful. I would expect that you are aware that switching these symbols is nothing new and is a tactic used by demonstrators around the world. It is always offensive.”
No, it is only offensive when it is specifically done to equate Judaism or Zionism with Nazism. Here it was done to replace the letter “X.” Context does matter if you are indeed interested in the truth.
It would have taken you only a matter of minutes to find out that over the years I have consistently spoken out against anti-Semitism and have been a strong supporter of Israel. I’m not sure if there is anyone on this media market who has been more outspoken on either issue.
Frankly, I do not recall a single instance in which either you or the Interfaith Conference ever protested this particular tactic when it has been used by the left. Has there ever been a single instance in which your organization has objected to a left-wing protest in which the swastika was used intentionally to equate Judaism with Nazism? Please be specific.
As for your being offended: I am also frequently offended by things I read and hear. (I’m offended, for instance, by the offensive ignorance of your letter. I am also offended by the fact that with the all of this community’s problems you could not find anything more important to write about.) But I know that is the price I pay to live in a country where we have a vigorous exchange of ideas. My being offended does not give me license to demand that voices I find “offensive” be silenced, or images be removed.
Too often political correctness has been used to stifle free speech and the expression of controversial ideas; too often the media and academia have been bullied by the perpetually offended who trump up outrage over bogus charges or misunderstandings.
I’m drawing the line here. The answer is no.
Tom McMahon comments here:
Groups like the Interfaith Conference and people such as those who put Coexist bumper stickers on their cars are always telling us we must engage in "meaningful dialog" with our adversaries. It just so happens that my blog has a comments feature (as does Charlie's blog) which allows such dialog to occur. As I write this, my Coexist post has had 23 comments added to it. Some people agree with me, some don't. It's pretty easy to get started adding your comments. All you need to do is to write something like this:
Hey Tom, I really think you're full of crap here.
And go ahead and add your reasons for thinking so, if you want. I don't delete comments just for disagreeing with me. But you might want to be prepared to defend your position against other commenters who will disagree with you. You can respond to their responses, and so on and on until everybody's had their say. Good old Town Hall America give-and-take. Democracy at its best. America at its best. Coexisting at its best. I'm looking forward to seeing you there
Here is the original letter:
Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee
1442 N. Farwell Ave., #200
Milwaukee, WI 53202