Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Triggers Little Fallout

Kilmeade and Peretz apologies for anti-Muslim rhetoric of little consolation.

October 19, 2010, 8:33 AM

BOSTON, Oct. 19, 2010— -- What do Brian Kilmeade, co-host of the conservative-leaning morning cable show "Fox & Friends," and Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of left-leaning New Republic magazine, have in common?

Both have recently apologized for their anti-Muslim rhetoric. And neither appears likely to suffer any lasting career damage.

"People agreed that what he [Peretz] said was offensive but they were scrambling all over themselves to provide context," said Matthew Duss, national security editor at the Center for American Progress.

That sets Peretz apart from Helen Thomas, for example, the former opinion columnist who lost her job this year after saying that Jews in Israel should go home to Germany or Poland.

After all, Duss asked, "How do you punish a guy who runs his own magazine?"

Not to mention a guy who, after 36 years, has either hired or fired many of today's well-known media figures.

On his blog the Spine, Peretz wrote Sept. 4, "But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. ... So, yes, I wonder whether I need to honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut sense that they will abuse."

He apologized Sept. 13, writing, "I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever."

He stood by his statement that "Muslim life is cheap" referring to it as a "statement of fact, not value."

Meanwhile, Kilmeade has apologized after stating on his show Friday that "not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."

"Well, I misspoke," he said Monday. "I don't believe all terrorists are Muslims. I'm sorry about that, if I offended or hurt anybody's feelings."

Little Fallout From Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

But another Fox News host, Bill O'Reilly, has been less repentant since commenting on "The View" last week that "Muslims killed us on 9/11," prompting two of the co-hosts to leave the set.

Other than feeling heat from critics, however, there has been little fallout, with all three men still roaming the airwaves and magazine pages.

Kilmeade's comments did raise a ruckus in the blogosphere, and Peretz's statements caused a stir in both academic and media circles. New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof criticized him. And Abdelnasser Rashid, president of the Harvard Islamic Society and a senior at the college, organized a protest of a fancy luncheon last month to honor Peretz and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harvard's Social Studies program.

"I was appalled by his comments and appalled that Harvard was honoring this man," Rashid said. "Then I looked into his history. He doesn't limit his racism to one group. It's been going on a long time."

Peretz was forced to leave the event via a backdoor amid a crowd of students chanting, "Harvard, Harvard shame on you, for honoring a racist fool."

Students here at both Brandeis University, where Peretz was an undergraduate, and Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. and taught, wrote letters to the administration condemning his writings.

Andrew Sullivan, a former Peretz employee who blogs for the Atlantic magazine, wrote, "Marty is a man of deep passion and such passion, especially on a subject like the Middle East, sometimes leads to irrationality. He is not immune to this, but neither am I, at times. Who is? We are all human."

Sarah Thompson of the Islamic Society of North America calls the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and elsewhere frustrating.

"The Islamic community is, in general, very frustrated and angry about these kinds of comments," she said. "We know this is not what Islam is, that we are not being portrayed correctly.

"We feel like we are paddling, paddling, paddling up a stream and not getting anywhere."

Such frustration is getting worse as the level of anti-Muslim sentiment seems to grow. "This is a lot like those days post 9/11 ... this is about generating fear in the American community," said Thompson, citing the furor over plans for an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City and the publicity surrounding a Florida pastor's cancelled plans to burn the Koran as flash points.

More Protests on the Way

Hear at Harvard, Rashid and some fellow students aren't giving up in their pursuit of a harsher punishment for Peretz. The Harvard Student Government voted Monday night to press Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust to remove Peretz's name from a Social Studies fund established in his honor.

More protests are coming, Rashid added, and "this situation isn't settled."

Whatever becomes of Peretz, Thompson said, his comments and others will have a lasting effect on the Muslim community. "They are hijacking our religion and taking their message to the public ...," she said, "and people believe them."

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