Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Persona Non Tutu

Perhaps the oldest and stalest argument in the Museum of Empty Rhetoric is the one that goes, ''Don't get me wrong, I strongly support free speech; but there need to be limits to it! People shouldn't be able to say just anything!'' The University of St. Thomas has decided that this applies doubly to the Bishop Desmond Tutu, whose decades of human rights work have now been erased, in their minds, by his having offended someone or other with some recent comments about Israel.

Those comments- “People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This is God‘s world. For goodness sake, this is God‘s world. We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust.” I'm guessing nobody else was offended by the claim that this is God's world. And his thinking could have been a lot less shallow and wishy-washy there. And, yes, the 'Jewish lobby' canard is getting annoying- apparently, every other group can lobby for themselves and their interests in the political sphere, except Israel. But that's enough to make the Bishop Desmond Tutu Persona Non Grata?

I think the problem isn't so much the professional booers who raise hell about every errant comment anyone makes; I think it's the administrators who dutifully shit their pants every time they get an angry phone call or petition. And, in this case, I'm willing to bet cash money that their cowardice will bring more opprobrium their way than letting the man speak would have.


Holly said...

Strangely, what he appears to be saying there is, "Don't be afraid," and it's somewhat beyond me how that could be troubling to anyone. Unless people LIKE to be fearful?

Rufus said...

And some people do.

It sounds from the discussion on the Inside Higher Ed site like people took offense and his having drawn a moral line and placed the Jewish lobby on the same side with Hitler, Stalin, and Idi Amin. I think some people take that comment as directly comparing Hitler and Israel. I took it as him saying that no temporal power is more powerful than God. He probably could have picked some better examples. But I think his point was indeed that people shouldn't be afraid of temporal powers and their response does seem to indicate the opposite.

Holly said...

Yeah, agreed, he could have done better. His logic was good:

1. You're afraid of this power.
2. Lots of powerful, scary things have been brought down.
3. Therefore, don't fear this one, it too shall pass.

... but then he failed at choosing adequate scale for his examples.

Rufus said...

I wonder how the offended parties understand antisemitism. It seems like there's a difference between thinking of bigotries as a certain type of opinion that people hold and understanding them as a characteristic of the person themselves. I've noticed with racism that people will say something that isn't exactly damning, but it will be taken as proof that they're a secret racist. It could be the same here, because it's hard to take his statements as so terrible on their own merits that he should be forbidden from addressing the public.

Holly said...

What is with this thing of barring people from speaking when they say something disagreeable? What happened to letting them finish their sentence, and discussing how they've just made an ass of themselves? I suspect that it's something about the "sound bite" style of news delivery, where it's now standard to provide 10-20 seconds of out-of-context audio or video clip, accompanied by 40 seconds of opinion commentary, which may or may not even address the subject at hand, and call that "news".

Rufus said...

It could be- there might be a tendency to see people as representatives of an easily digested opinion, rather than as complex individuals with a variety of opinions.