WASHINGTON — You have perhaps heard the joke about the liberal who is so open-minded that he can't even take his own side in an argument.
What's less funny is that on gun control, liberals (and their many allies who are moderate, conservative and non-ideological) have been told for years that if they do take their own side in the argument, they will only hurt their cause.
Supporters of even modest restrictions on firearms are regularly instructed that their ardent advocacy turns off Americans in rural areas and small towns. Those in favor of reforming our firearms laws are scolded as horrific elitists who disrespect a valued way of life.
And as the mass killings continue, we are urged to be patient and to spend our time listening earnestly to the views of those who see even a smidgen of action to limit access to guns as the first step toward confiscation. Our task is not to fight for laws to protect innocents but to demonstrate that we really, honestly, truly, cross-our-hearts, positively love gun owners and wouldn't for an instant think anything ill of them.
What is odd is that those with extreme pro-gun views — those pushing for new laws to allow people to carry just about anytime, anywhere — are never called upon to model similar empathy toward children killed, the mourning parents left behind, people in urban neighborhoods suffering from violence, or the majority of Americans who don't own guns.
Some firearm owners have posted images and videos on social media of their destroyed weapons following the school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead. (Elyse Samuels, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
Depending on the survey, somewhere between 58% and 68% of us live in households without guns. But no one who belongs to the National Rifle Association is ever told to prove their respect for our way of life. Rarely is it pointed out that the logic of the gun lobby's position is to create a world in which everyone will need a gun, whether we want one or not. ("Arm the teachers!" "Arm the students!") I reported on Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s, and I can assure you that a heavily armed country is not an ideal (or safe) place to live.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, an institution that suffered the worst effects of our inaction on guns, have not gotten the memo that they are supposed to shut up, and may they be blessed for this. You can tell their angry outspokenness is having an impact, and not only because President Trump has taken modest steps to suggest he hears the message. More telling is that some of the same right-wingers who demand deep respect for gun culture have shown no scruples about trashing the kids.
Bill O'Reilly was so upset at the attention their protests are drawing that he accused the media of "promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases." The condescension is revolting, and never mind that without emotionalism and peer pressure to conform, O'Reilly's former employer, Fox News, would go out of business.
Former Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia doubted the capacity of these students to think or act for themselves. "Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda," he said on CNN. Young people who disagree with him can't possibly have minds of their own.
No wonder the foes of gun sanity are worried. On Wednesday, the students and supporters gathered at the state Capitol in Florida shouting "vote them out!" — a day after the state's Republican-led legislature voted down a ban on many semiautomatic guns and large-capacity magazines.
How come only one side of the supposed culture war on guns is required to exude respect for the other? Because the culture-war argument is largely a gimmick pushed by the gun lobby as a way of demonizing its opponents. None of us who endorse stronger gun laws wants to disrupt anybody else's way of life. And none of the measures we are proposing would do that.
What truly alarms the gun lobby is that many steps to curb the scourge of gun violence enjoy broad support, from those who own guns as well as those who don't. A Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday, for example, found that 97% of Americans favor background checks for all gun buyers. While the survey showed the highest level of approval for background checks in some time, it is not an outlier. Background checks have long been embraced by 85 to 95% of us. Quinnipiac, by the way, also showed that 66% of voters support stricter gun laws, up from 47% in December 2015.
I am all for Americans reaching out across our cultural divides. But if we wait to act until our cross-cultural understanding is complete, many more who might have been saved will die.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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