Thursday, May 3, 2007

The New McCarthyism

The right-wing blogosphere has been all atwitter that the Virginia Tech shooter might have been a Muslim. (And, by extension, that the mainstream press is deliberately covering this up for reasons of political correctness.) Their "evidence" seems to boil down to his attack unfolding in a similar way to some terrorist attacks and the absence of any mention of his religion in the media. Have we really reached the point where the default assumption is that any criminal is a Muslim?

To me, the rise of a sort of new McCarthyism has been the single most disturbing thing about post-9/11 politics. During the 1950s the American public was jumping at their own shadows, afraid a communist was hiding around every corner. Every negative event was carefully examined for hints that commies might have engineered it. People hinted darkly that the press might be involved in the conspiracy. Important political figures were accused of links to the Red Menace.

Now it's Islamic Fundamentalism that has us eying each other suspiciously. We're harassing dark-skinned photographers, and accusing Presidential candidates of having gone to fundamentalist madrassas.

What was lost in the panic back then was that the vast majority of communist party members were peaceful and completely harmless -- just like the vast majority of Muslims are harmless today. It troubles me that as a society we seem unable of recognizing that simple fact, even given a historic example that's within living memory.

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