Evidently Eboo Patel, a member of President Obama's Faith Advisory Council, occasionally stops in at our blog here. He quoted my earlier posting about our protest chalking in this Washington Post blog entry criticizing AAF, AHA and SHIFT as bigots:
It's not so different than saying that the black students on your campus remind you of the armed robber you saw on the 5 o'clock news because they share a skin color. That's called bigotry when it involves race, and it's called bigotry when it involves religion.
Patel's arguments have all been raised against us several times in the past few weeks and in spite of his high profile, he does not add missing depth that would make them coherent. Patel gives examples of how free speech could imaginably be used poorly and in pointlessly destructive ways, implying but not establishing our actions were pointlessly destructive. For example,
Will the free speech cloak protect you from social outrage if you went to a party dressed in blackface? If you chalked a swastika on the sidewalk leading to the campus Hillel?
It is here implied context and purpose are somehow irrelevant, as if our choice of means was random, arbitrary, and in response to nothing. Patel's logic fails miserably. First, socially unacceptable symbols or phrases really are used in protests and for other reasons by respected members of society. Comedian/activist legend Lenny Bruce frequently used racial epithets and crude language to illustrate the silliness of proscribing words wholesale and the absurdity of racism in the first place. In recent decades the homosexual community co-opted slurs like "gay" and "queer" as in-group speak even though these were considered bigoted or at least crude words. Just months ago Sarah Silverman in front of a huge TED audience riffed about adopting a retarded child in order to prove a point about the hypocrisy of forbidden language. To assert all of these people were just trying to offend is beyond duplicity; it lays bare the aim of people like Patel to attack political adversaries no matter the cost to the truth.
Second, none of the things from his list are actually sacred cows of any kind. Is he asking (suggesting) that the N-word a sacred cow? Are "mothers"? How 'bout cancer? The answer, Mr. Patel, is no. All of these things have been fodder for many satirists and comedians. Denis Leary even named one of his specials "No Cure for Cancer," which has quite a few cancer jokes. There are so many "yo mamma" jokes entire books are dedicated to them. The "N word" has been trotted out regularly for comedy by the likes of Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Joe Rogan. You know why those aren't sacred cows? Because no one ever threatened to kill Leary or Chappelle. In fact no one even suggested it was somehow an affront to diversity that they used those jokes.
In past eras all someone had to do was suggest you had been a communist and you were through. In our time the term is "bigot". It is almost reflexively hurled at anyone who is in political disagreement with the status quo. Patel suggests we used the phrase "you people" to insert racist words into our mouths - none of us ever said that. Like previous eras, it doesn't matter if the claim can be substantiated - the accusation is enough. Like before there is an "in" and an "out" group. This time it's the powerful and Politically Correct who are "in" and they do their damage by suggesting we are "out", we are bigots and "intolerant". Nevermind that we protest our good intentions and that our actions are logically connected to worthy purposes. We're bigots no matter what we say, after all why else would we be accused?
We can't be allowed to harass the put-upon Politically Correct minority, the Muslims, who have no one on their side other than the Assistant Dean of our University and members of President Obama's team. They're practically defenseless against us, 20-odd chalk-wielding students so full of hate only smiley stick figures could quench the thirst for evil.