Saturday, September 18, 2010

Peretz: An Apology: Basman: A Comment: Peretz: Atonement

An Apology:

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.

A Comment:

I think in that post she (another blogger) tended to rationalize the trajectory of Peretz's first statement taken up by Kristof and his contrition. Her post caused me to think more about his apology.

I for myself accept his apology as a public statement of what he thinks but on reflection still hold the comment he apologized for against him as evidence of the content of his soul.

This goes to some of the complexity of apology and forgiveness generally, and the complication of that complexity created by the difference between what's public and what's private.

I have certain private biases, certain private terrible notions, certain things I feel which I'm ashamed to admit, certain beliefs and thoughts that, were to they be known, would rightly mark me for extreme disapprobation. What do I do with this batch of darkness? I keep it to myself. I suppress it. I note what I can think through, despite what the worst of me harbors.

And it is what I can think through that I go to the world with: whether that going is to those closest to me and who constitute the sum of my private life, or whether that going is to forums like this or to my professional activities or other similar impersonal destinations which make up the sum of my public life. Between those closest to me and those furthest from me is a scale of descending or ascending “keeping my guard up”, depending what end of the closest/furthest spectrum I move from. But, of necessity, even with those closest to me, I censor myself. We all do, some more than others. I keep to myself what I dare not reveal to anyone.

Peretz is a peculiar instance of the fluidity and mingling in him of the public and private, and of his darknesses and his public comment. He's quick to say what’s on his mind and in his heart and he reveals himself a lot, too often, in fact, for his own good. That unfiltered candor is part of what makes his blog compelling--why so many in TNR universe are drawn to it and him. But that unfiltered candor, which he both conceptualizes and rationalizes as--his word—“vociferousness” allows us to see him as he relatively is. And what he relatively is, in his soul, consists in part of this:

"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."

What we have in Peretz's apology is the illumination and working out of the blurring in him between private and public. Hence, in his indefensible statement he leads with his “gut”. It was not a one off uncontrollable blurting from some nether region. It was not a one off explosion of, as Noga would have it, frustration. How would she know? Rather, it was a piece of his animus against Muslims and Arabs as evident in his posting over the years, but a piece self evidently gone too, too far.

Remarkably--as in worth remarking--Peretz's own sober second thought did not move him to see the error of his way. Rather it was the public accounting of him by way of Kristof taking him up on what Peretz said: “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.”

What is on display here is not a momentary lapse, frustrated intemperance exploding only to be regretted, which regret is to be understood and unreservedly accepted. Peretz wrote his thoughts for the world’s consumption in his publicly read blog after all. What, rather, is on display is the man’s worst angels taking flight, exposed to the light of day, and then scuttling back to the dark place they came from, the arc of their flight indelible on, inerasable from, the paper of the world.

What is on display is the public working out of the fomenting of contemptible dark utterance and the shameful necessity of publicly thinking it through and making public amends. But the content of Peretz’s soul has been revealed. We have glimpsed past the curtains keeping unseen his darkness. And we know it.

So one can accept—not unreservedly--his apology as an articulation of what he needs to go to the world with. We can see how he now chooses to comport himself publicly on these issues. But we will always know what is in his soul because what his “vociferousness” let out ought to have been nobody’s business, which is to say, what he really feels, what really abides in his gut.


This is the eve of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Introspection is the order of the day. The Jewish tradition divides sin into two categories, sins against God and sins against man, and insists that God can forgive the former but not the latter, because only the sinned against have the power to absolve the sin. This is why the asking of forgiveness is an act of supreme importance in this season. I myself have much to ask forgiveness for, and much of this asking will be done in private, as is appropriate. But there are sins that are committed in public, and in this past year I have publicly committed the sin of wild and wounding language, especially hurtful to our Muslim brothers and sisters. I do not console myself that many other Americans at this moment are committing the same transgressions, against others. I allowed emotion to run way ahead of reason, and feelings to trample arguments. For this I am sorry.

May all who fast tonight and tomorrow have (as Americans Jews say) an easy fast -- but not too easy, because the contemplation of one’s flaws and culpabilities is a difficult task, and I wish us all luck with it.

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