Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kick Sobran under the bus? It's tempting, but ...

James Wigderson - at 2 am - sent an e-mail to Wisconsin political bloggers to place pressure on the Wisconsin Forum to rescind an invitation to columnist Joseph Sobran to speak at the MAC this coming Thursday. Sobran is a former editor of the National Review who was removed from the masthead of that magazine for writings that were deemed to be anti-semitic or, as Bill Buckley once put it, inconsistent with the "welcome" structure of "prevailing taboos" concerning Jews and Israel. James wants us all to pressure the Wisconsin Forum to give Sobran the boot.

I am not unsympathetic to James' position, but, ultimately, I disagree.

Where I come from: Although I am a practising Christian (Anglican; hence use of the letter "s"), I am ethnically half Jewish. My wonderful daughter-in-law is Jewish and intends to raise my outstanding little grandson in that great tradition. When it comes to Israel, I am militant. If the Islamofascists (that word again) want global jihad over the right of little Israel to exist, I'm in. Israel may be, as Sobran says, an "expensive ally" from whom we have little material to gain, but everything that is decent compels that we give her our strong, if not uncritical, support.

I think the idea that Jews have some ill-gotten disproportionate influence in American life is laughable. While it is true that Jews are represented at high levels of certain professions at a level that greatly exceeds their share of the general population (mine is one of them), they have earned it. If you are embarassed by it, shut up and study harder.

There are two perversions of Christianity that just floor me. One is the historic failure on the part of many Christians to recognize the equality of women that screams from the Gospels. Granted it was a completely countercultural, but what do you expect from the Son of God? The other is anti-semitism. I am with John Paul II on this. You cannot be a good Christian and an anti-semite. It's incoherent.

As for Joe Sobran, my impression is that he is an intelligent writer who says stupid things about Jews and Israel. Its hard not to think that there isn't a black part in his heart, although Buckley has denied that this is so.

But I am not a fan of imposing orthodoxies on who can be invited to speak - particularly after the speaker has been invited. There are some people with bad opinions who make no sense. They cannot be engaged because they are uninterested in the rules of rationality. Ward Churchill, Kevin Barry and homophobe (the word fits here) Fred Phelps are examples. There is no point in inviting them to speak because discourse is not possible.

I am not convinced that Sobran falls into that category. I think he is almost completely wrong about what I take to be the premise of his talk, i.e., that "the Jews" (as if they are a monolithic body)have taken over conservatism. But I don't know that he is incapable of linear thought or that the subject itself is beyond polite company.

So I don't think the Wisconsin Forum ought to be pressured to disinvite him.

I do think he was a poor choice. Were I advising a conservative group on who to have speak, I'm not so sure I'd choose someone who makes conservatives look bad. But they did and we're grown-up enough to hear what he has to say.


Dad29 said...

Damn, you're good at this.

Anonymous said...

A poster at Wigderson's blog points ou that Wisconsin Forum extended this invitation to Sobran to speak during the Jewish high holy days -- as you no doubt know.

So let him speak -- but, as also was pointed out, the Wisconsin Forum's slogan emblazoned on its website is "Ideas Have Consequences."

That's a Judeo-Christian concept that ought to please all involved.

But you (and Dad29) don't address whether there ought to be consequences for the idea of inviting Sobran to speak, and what they would be. Loss of sponsors' funding for the Forum? Refusal of the Milwaukee Athletic Club to continue to be the site of its events?

James Wigderson said...

Ah, but Rick, reading Buckley's "In Search of Anti-Semitism", we have a definite picture of someone who cannot be reasoned with.

Indeed, since his departure from National Review, Sobran's rhetoric has only coarsened, and his associations have only become more troubling.

As there is nothing to be gained by having Sobran speak, and it only serves to damage the conservative movement, surely it would be in the best interests of everyone if Sobran's invitation were rescinded?

And surely you would agree that David Irving should under no circumstances be given a platform by any organization, yet Sobran promotes this same Holocaust denier.

Rick, even though we may disagree on whether the invitation should be withdrawn, I'm sure you would agree that the extending of the invitation in the first place should be condemned, as should Sobran's continued trafficking in anti-semitism.

Rick Esenberg said...

James (did you have cosmetic surgery?):

Yeah, I can and I think I did. But, to be clear. I am not impressed by the invitation or Joe Sobran.

James Wigderson said...

I'd use my own picture but then it's difficult to hide from the groupies.

Anonymous said...

The call to rescind the invitation sounds a tiny bit like a Muslim reaction.

James Wigderson said...

I'm not suggesting burning cars, riots, killing nuns and declaring a fatwa on the guy. I'm merely asking that decent civilized society not associate themselves with a bigot, no matter the bigot's pedigree.

John McAdams said...

Wouldn't just not going be a lot better than something that smacks of censorship?

(Yes, I know the issue is not government censorship, and having him "disinvited" would not be nearly so bad.)

That would send a pretty clear message, and do so without making Sobran any sort of martyr.

Indeed, creating publicity for the event may well be counter-productive.

James Wigderson said...

Surely some statement needs to be made that Sobran is beyond the pale. Merely not attending would not demonstrate to Wisconsin Forum they did anything wrong. On the contrary, by putting pressure on them to withdraw the invitation we are letting Wisconsin Forum know they never should have extended the invitation in the first place.

As for the concern about publicity:
1) Sobran thrives becuase his anti-Semitism is not well known, or the veneer of respectability protects him. We need to strip away his reputation and expose him.
2) Since I have sent a press release to half the media in Milwaukee, I'd say that ship has sailed.