An Apology

by Martin Peretz | September 13, 2010

Nicholas Kristof and I do not see the world—and America's role in it—in the same way. I have sometimes expressed my disagreements with his opinions vociferously (vociferousness is my business). But in yesterday’s The New York Times, he quotes two sentences that I recently wrote—one of them genuinely embarrasses me, and I deeply regret it.

The embarrassing sentence is: "I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse." I wrote that, but I do not believe that. 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. When I insist upon a sober recognition of the threats to our security, domestic threats included, I do not mean to suggest that the Constitution and its order of rights should in any way be abrogated. I would abhor such a prospect. I do not wish upon Muslim Americans the sorts of calumnies that were endured by Italian Americans in connection with Sacco and Vanzetti and Jewish Americans in connection with communism. My recent comments on the twisted Koran-hating reverend in Gainesville will give evidence of that. So I apologize for my sentence, not least because it misrepresents me.

The other sentence is: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims." This is a statement of fact, not value. In his column, Kristof made this seem like a statement of bigotry. But on his blog, he notes that he concurs with it. "Peretz makes some points that are valid, and I agree with him that Muslims haven’t said nearly enough about those Muslims who kill other Muslims—in Kurdish areas, in Iraq, in Western Sahara, in Sudan, and so on." 

Every week brings more and more gruesome evidence of this, in the the Middle East and Central Asia and elsewhere. The idea that in remarking upon the cheapening of Muslim lives I was calling for the cheapening of Muslim lives, as some have suggested, is preposterous. There is no hatred in my heart; there is deep anxiety about the dangers of Islamism, and anger at the refusal of certain politicians and commentators to adequately grasp those dangers, but there is no hatred, none. In these unusually inflamed days, I am glad to say so clearly.

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