October 5, 2001

A spat on the Right reveals a lot

Ann Coulter is a leggy, sassy blonde telebimbo, (and constitutional lawyer) whose career as a TV talking head took off during the Clinton scandals and, like Clinton, she never really went away. Her column, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, has been a mainstay of the firebreathing Right, and she is (or was) a regular on such venues as Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect and Fox News. Ms. Coulter is now embroiled in one of those intramural spats on the Right that reveal more about the participants than anyone ever intended, a scrap which underscores the new era of ugliness that now seems to be dawning in wartime America.


Coulter's post-9/11 column, "This Is War," offered this charming prescription for prosecuting the war on terrorism:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."


Having established that Coulter's regard for human life is on a par with Osama bin Laden's, we note that this jeremiad advocating mass murder appeared in National Review which regularly carried her column without any apparent trouble. Although a Republican President has gone out of his way to make the point that Islam is not the enemy, perhaps NR's editors rather liked the ironic implication that Muslims would be forcibly converted to the One True Faith. (That, after all, was one of the main methods of "proselytizing" for Islam in an earlier time, especially in the Balkans.) They also weren't too perturbed at her effort to portray Arab-Americans as fifth columnists:

"People who want our country destroyed live here, work for our airlines, and are submitted to the exact same airport shakedown as a lumberman from Idaho. This would be like having the Wehrmacht immigrate to America and work for our airlines during World War II. Except the Wehrmacht was not so bloodthirsty."


The policy implications of such a statement ought to be clear enough, and Coulter spelled out just what she thought ought to be done about it in her next column: we not only need to carpet-bomb every Arab country on the map, we also need to conduct a war at home, especially on "swarthy males," who need to be singled out at airports and elsewhere. Ah yes, we always knew to keep an eye on those Sicilians. While just as bombastic and off-the-cuff as her last effort, this particular piece wasn't all that bad: aside from the domestic passport riff and that remark about "swarthy males," the bulk of it was devoted to sneering at the so-called security measures taken at airports in the wake of 9/11. I particularly liked the reference to airport workers as "McDonald's rejects" and I know for a fact that her description of the laxity still endemic at airports is all too true. I flew from New York to San Francisco 2 weeks after 9/11, and the "security" procedures were perfunctory, at best.


It was her relatively moderate second column, however, that got her the boot from the sacred precincts of National Review, and started a ruckus on the Right which is more than just a cat-fight between two rather self-involved, self-indulgent conservative "personalities," Coulter and NR Online editor Jonah Goldberg. The explanation offered by Goldberg is that NR ran her first column "by mistake," and then rejected the second post-9/11 screed, not because they disagreed with its content, but on purely literary grounds. Goldberg avers that the first jeremiad slipped through the cracks, somehow, without really being read not very believable, is it? and then goes on to describe a series of emails between Coulter and the real editor of National Review, Rich Lowry:

"She wrote back an angry response, defending herself from the charge that she hates Muslims and wants to convert them at gunpoint. But this was not the point. It was NEVER the point. The problem with Ann's first column was its sloppiness of expression and thought. Ann didn't fail as a person as all her critics on the Left say she failed as WRITER, which for us is almost as bad."


Nowhere does Goldberg take issue with what she actually wrote: only her mode of expression seems to have offended him. "It was Ann who severed her ties with National Review, and not vice versa," he tells us, underscoring the non-ideological nature of the breach. What really seems to have happened is that NR posted "This is War" with full knowledge, understanding, and agreement, and only began to back away when they caught flack for it. NR Online has run plenty of material that mirrors Coulter's hatred of all things Arab. Paul Johnson penned a little essay for NR claiming that Islam is an inherently "imperialistic religion," and John Derbyshire's sneering contempt for the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent was succinctly and nastily expressed in his summation of the Gulf war:

"The superiority of one culture over another has not been so starkly demonstrated since a handful of British wooden ships, at the end of ten-thousand-mile lines of communications, brought the Celestial Empire to its knees 150 years earlier."


Islamophobia is quite the "in" thing on the neoconservative Right today. Stephen Schwartz, a former Trotskyite who now writes for The Weekly Standard, has likened the Wahabi sect of Islam whose "quintessence is war on America," and is favored by both bin Laden and the Saudi royal family as a moral threat on a par with fascism, and a geopolitical threat equal to that of the old Soviet Union. Norman Podhoretz, writing in the Wall Street Journal, avers that "We have all been repeatedly instructed in the past few days that suicide bombing, whether in Jerusalem or New York, represents a perversion of Islam fostered by a tiny minority of fundamentalists" and snidely adds, "This may well be so." Yeah, right, Norman we all know what you really think.


What's really ugly what's really changed, post-9/11 is that Podhoretz and the others are barely even trying to hide the hate. The only difference between this crew and Coulter is that the blonde bombshell is upfront and in our face about it, while the Goldbergs, the Buckleys, the Schwartzes, and the Podhoretzes make at least a feeble attempt to mask it: they don't hate Muslims, just Wahabi Muslims. They don't want to invade all Arab lands and kill their leaders (and a good deal of the population): just those resident in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.


I suspect that the real reason for the sudden crackdown on Coulter by National Review Online was due, not to the draconian measures she proposes, nor to her confrontational literary style, but to Goldberg's recent marriage: his spouse is chief speechwriter and senior policy advisor to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Coulter's column, which ridiculed lax airport security measures, came just as Ashcroft was assuring the country that security was being beefed up, while the President was telling us to go on vacation and be sure to fly. Never mind Coulter's declaration of war against Islam that has been the neocon line all along what really got to Goldberg was a perceived attack on a member of his family. Surely Ann didn't think that he would permit an open attack on Ashcroft his wife's boss in his webzine. So her column was axed, and, when Coulter griped about it to the Washington Post, and on Bill Maher's three-ring circus, she was axed, too.


We keep hearing about how "everything has changed." Oh me oh my, we'll never be the same again: the rules have changed, the game has changed, it's the end of innocence. Of course, some people would very much like for "everything" to change: you see, there's a little document called the Constitution that some folks just have no use for, and they would like to ditch it in the name of the post-9/11 national emergency because we supposedly can't afford the luxury of civil liberties right now. The President's spokesman has proclaimed the necessity for everyone to "watch what they say," and anyone who so much as breathes a mention of US foreign policy while discussing our national tragedy is branded a latter-day Benedict Arnold. Traitor! Fifth columnist! Defeatist! The War Party has dispensed with the necessity of even constructing an argument by unilaterally declaring that there will be no debate. "Which side are you on?" is their belligerent riposte to any and all arguments counseling restraint or trying to give some historical context for the September 11 attack. We are living in an age of madness, most of it self-induced.


One thing that certainly has changed since 9/11 is that all too many Americans have become unashamed haters. In spite of the President's admonitions against scapegoating, Arab-Americans (and those who might be mistaken for them) have been subjected to literally hundreds of attacks in the aftermath of 9/11. Several have been shot, others beaten up, many have had their property damaged: Arab-American children are routinely threatened and attacked at school. I have read about at least one attack every single day since the 9/11 attack, and one can only wonder how many go unreported. The latest is the case of Abdo Ali Ahmed, who stumbled out of his San Joaquin (California) convenience store at around 4 p.m. the other day, and into a next door tavern, where he died from a gunshot wound to his midsection. A carload of teenagers was seen speeding away. Ahmed had received threats the previous evening, making it clear that he was targeted on account of his heritage (Yemeni).


But the death of Mr. Ahmed is just collateral damage as far as Ann Coulter is concerned. In her latest tirade. "Detainment Isn't Enough," she screeches that we must "deport all immigrants" from "terrorist-producing countries." No word yet as to whether she means to include the Irish, but I suspect not. Coulter rants:

"As unfair as it sounds, deporting immigrants from suspect countries will actually minimize cruelties toward vast numbers of vaguely Arabic-looking people. Although many immigrants will be swept up unfairly, all the Sikhs, Hindus and Arab Christians will be relieved to discover they don't scare people anymore."


Having read this poisonous claptrap, my heart wrenched as I recalled this part of the Abdo Ahmed story in the San Jose Mercury News:

"'I am an American citizen,' Ahmed would say, according to family members, when someone taunted him or asked if he were related to Osama bin Laden."


I doubt whether Coulter cares if Ahmed was an American citizen or not, for this hair-tossing Harpie wears her hate on her sleeve, to wit:

"Surely, thousands of immigrants could be waived in instantly on the basis of reliable evidence either that they are not Muslims, or that they are the peaceful, law-abiding variety not planning mass murder as opposed to the peaceful, law-abiding Muslims who recently slaughtered thousands of our fellow countrymen."

Gee, I guess that means Mr. Ahmed might have been allowed to stay for all the good it would have done him.


It was only natural for David Horowitz to snap up Coulter just as fast as NR Online dropped her. After all, if you're a professional hater, then you go where the hate is, and certainly these two self-promoting careerists of the Right have a lot more in common than a shared distaste for "swarthy males." In announcing his newest acquisition, Horowitz attributed Coulter's contretemps with NR to "PC McCarthyism," and downplayed the rest of her comments as not to be taken seriously:

"As a Jew, I could be uneasy at Ann's suggestion that mass conversion to Christianity should be wielded as a tool of foreign policy were it not so obvious that her comment was hyperbolic, tongue firmly in cheek. In the final analysis, nothing Ann said should have caused a scandal. Not in a reasonable and open society."


How we could tell when Coulter is being hyperbolic, as opposed to serious, is beyond me. At any rate, Horowitz has a distinctly odd conception of what "a reasonable and open society" would look like. In a pro-war ad published in college newspapers, he admonishes antiwar protesters with his belief that their activities cross the line between dissent and outright treason. After railing on for paragraphs about what a noble cause the Vietnam war was, and how wrong he was to oppose it, this ex-Stalinist no doubt gets a steely glint in his eye as he writes:

"If I have one regret from my radical years, it is that this country was too tolerant towards the treason of its enemies within. If patriotic Americans had been more vigilant in the defense of their country, if they had called things by their right names, if they had confronted us with the seriousness of our attacks, they might have caught the attention of those of us who were well-meaning but utterly misguided. And they might have stopped us in our tracks."


But how, one wonders, could they have stopped the antiwar movement in its tracks except by illegalizing it? His word for what the antiwar movement was doing is treason, and quite clearly he believes that today's protesters are guilty of the same transgression. Treason is not a political stance, it is a crime for which there is a penalty. Traitors are jailed, and sometimes they are executed: is this what Horowitz envisions? Or is his tongue, like Coulter's, planted firmly in his cheek?


His tongue is planted somewhere, alright, but it isn't in his cheek. There isn't a retrograde trend on the Right that this Commie-turn-conservative hasn't tried to suck up to. For a while there, hardly a day went by when visitors to his website weren't reminded that blacks commit crimes way out of proportion to their numbers in the general population: he teamed up with James Lubsinkas, an editor of the white supremacist organ, American Renaissance, to denounce the "racism" of many blacks. Back when Chinese-Americans were the "fifth column" of the moment (oh, how long ago all that seems!), Horowitz was busy whipping up Sinophobia amongst his knuckle-dragging followers. Now that Arab-Americans are the pariahs of the moment, Horowitz's opportunistic impulses immediately told him what to do: as always, pile on the "enemy" of the moment, and exploit it for all it's worth.


It is always "the enemy within" that Horowitz emphasizes in his wartime commentary: we hear hardly anything from him about how to get to the source of the terrorist threat, which is overseas. Horowitz is fighting this war, as he fought all the others, on the home front and, like any bully, he goes after the weakest, most defenseless members of our community. This is what Horowitz and Coulter have in common aside from their knee-jerk politics and calculated incivility: they are both of them bullies looking for an easy victim and some cheap publicity.


It is sickening, really, to contemplate that these people have any influence, or are worthy of note: but that is what is so different about the post-9/11 era. Normally, such losers would be consigned to the margins, howling their hate in the wilderness. But these people are emboldened by war, they come to the fore in bad times, when they are positively brazen. So brace yourselves, my friends, and hold your nose for the duration: from now on, life or, at least, public life just isn't going to be very pretty.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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