Umbrage as a Rhetorical Tactic

Dorothy Rabinowitz writes:

Immediately after the suspect in the attempted car bombing near Times Square was revealed to be Faisal Shahzad, of Pakistani origin, Mayor Bloomberg addressed the public. In admonishing tones—a Bloomberg trademark invariably suggestive of a school principal who knows exactly what to expect of the incorrigibles it is his unhappy fate to oversee—the mayor delivered a warning. There would be no toleration of “any bias or backlash against Pakistani or Muslim New Yorkers.”
That there has been a conspicuous lack of any such behavior on the part of New Yorkers or Americans elsewhere from the 9/11 attacks to the present seems not to have impressed Mr. Bloomberg. Nor has it caused any moderation in the unvarying note of indignation the mayor brings to these warnings. It’s reasonable to raise a proper caution. It’s quite something else to do it as though addressing a suspect rabble.

Ms. Rabinowitz is wrong. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, there’s been a substantial increase in “bias” against American Muslims and Muslims generally. How many times have you heard someone insist that being Muslim is incompatible with being a loyal American citizen? Or denigrate the religion as inherently violent? How many arguments have been published calling for Muslims to be subject of profiling at airports? Or suggesting that immigration from Muslim majority countries should be stopped?

It would be more accurate for Ms. Rabinowitz to point out that there hasn’t been a violent backlash against American Muslims, that America has elected presidents that encouraged religious tolerance and spoke against stereotyping, and that there haven’t been abrogations of civil liberties on par with what was done to Japanese Americans during World War II.

All valid points worth noting.

It’s also true that the United States government rounded up a lot of innocent Muslims, and held them for years on end without charges in various prisons around the world, sometimes torturing them, but more frequently just letting them rot at Guantanamo Bay, sometimes even after their innocence was established.

This is more the doing of America’s elite than what Ms. Rabinowitz calls its “suspect rabble,” but insofar as the latter group is supportive of these civil liberties abrogations, a bit of preemptive rhetoric to discourage blow back against innocent members of a religious minority doesn’t seem inappropriate. And taking such outraged exception to it strikes me as another unfortunate example of a cultural conservative carrying an unduly large chip on her shoulder. When I listen to Mayor Bloomberg, I think he’s talking to the small minority of Americans who would consider lashing out at Muslims. Those kind of people exist in every society, and it is a responsibility of leadership to dissuade them from rash action. Ms. Rabinowitz hears the same speech and assumes that Bloomberg views average Americans as violence prone rabble. Nonsense. It is dismaying to see how readily the right has adopted the culture of taking offense.

And apparently my take on this matter puts me outside the category of “ordinary Americans” that Ms. Rabinowitz invokes. Funny, I fancy myself as ordinary a citizen as anyone else. Perhaps she can explain why those of us who applaud the thrice elected mayor of America’s largest city inhabit a class of judgmental others in her column.