Is Muslim life actually ‘cheap’?

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
on 30 Comments

New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz’s anti-Muslim slanders have finally gotten him into trouble in the mainstream, after years during which the major opinion-makers pretended not to notice his chronic racism. Here again is the second half of his latest slur, the part he didn’t apologize for: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims. . . This is a statement of fact, not value.”

The racism is obvious. But underneath it is a dangerous and inaccurate assumption – that the Muslim world today is exclusively or mainly violent.

First, the most murderous area on earth by far over the past two decades has been east-central Africa – Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where at least 3 to 4 million of people have died. Most east-central Africans have Christian or traditional religious beliefs. There are a few Muslims in Rwanda; some of them are honored in the genocide memorial I visited in Kigali earlier this year for risking their lives in 1994 to protect the Tutsi victims.

Let’s turn to Indonesia, which with 238 million people is the world’s most populated predominately Muslim state. Indonesia has lived through ethnic/religious clashes, especially during and just after the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998, but today it is basically peaceful, with an imperfect but functioning democracy.

How about Egypt, the nation with the most (79 million) people in the Arab world? Egypt is definitely a dictatorship, supported by both the United States and Israel, and the Mubarak regime does torture its own citizens. There are also clashes from time to time in upper Egyptian towns, with Muslim/Coptic Christian overtones. But Cairo is one of the world’s safest big cities, and you can walk in any neighborhood there at any time. The vast majority of Egyptians have convincingly repudiated the violent Islamic movements of the 1990s, which is why Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who is Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, is hiding somewhere in the Afghani borderlands instead of organizing at home.

In fact, Egypt is somewhat representative of most other Arab nations – authoritarian, repressive regimes; a mass of people who vacillate from acquiescence to resentment; and (sometimes) small violent Islamic movements. (In fairness, some of the rulers (Mohammed VI of Morocco [32 million people], King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia [27 million]), do enjoy genuine popularity, although the Syrian and Tunisian presidents could not win free elections.)

But neither the United States nor Israel makes any noise about Egypt and these similar dictatorships; in fact, their military and security services even collaborate.

So where is “Muslim life” supposedly so “cheap”? Lebanon? There was a ferocious civil war there, but both Christians and Muslims fought in it, and the 1982 Israeli invasion contributed to the killing – at Shabra and Shatila, Israeli soldiers stood by while Christian militiamen slaughtered at least 800 Muslim civilians.

Algeria? Unquestionably, the country lived through terrible violence, particularly back in the 1990s. But the killing did not start until a peaceful Islamist movement won the 1991 elections, and the military overturned the results – with the tacit approval of the West.

Darfur? This is a favorite example of the Muslim haters, but the genuine experts agree that although the violence there has been horrible, the religious element is insignificant.

Which brings us to Iraq. There’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein presided over a murderous criminal dictatorship – but during the period of some of his greatest crimes, such as when he dropped poison gas on the Kurds in 1988, he enjoyed Western support, including that famous 1983 visit by Ronald Reagan’s special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld. The West made no effort back then to either boycott Iraq’s oil, or to stop selling him weapons, so it is at least partly complicit in his crimes.

A civil war would have broken out in Iraq at some stage even if the United States had never invaded. But you can argue that the American invasion has made the fighting longer, more complicated, and even more violent.

Let’s look now at large Muslim communities outside the Arab world. India, with its huge minority population of 138 million Muslims? Hindu fundamentalists, in Mumbai, Gujarat and elsewhere, regularly unleash pogroms against Indian Muslims.

Iran? Another repressive, authoritarian regime, increasingly unpopular. But a regime that kills and tortures to hang on to power, and only uses religion as a transparent, feeble justification.

Which brings us to Pakistan – a nation which, at first glance, does seem to be a nightmare of violent religious passions, of suicide bombings and sectarian killings among Muslims. So far, however, elections there have shown that the extreme Islamists are a minority. As elsewhere, on closer inspection some of the militant political movements seem motivated more by a lust for power than by any genuine spiritual quest.

Of course, Pakistan (or certain other places in the Muslim world) could in fact continue to slide into wider and wider violence. This would be awful, but not completely incomprehensible. We could re-visit the section of our libraries devoted to European History (1929-1945), and remind ourselves how widespread, prolonged unemployment and chronic economic stagnation can create and nourish murderous mass political movements that nearly destroyed the world.

In historical terms, this all happened only recently, and there was scarcely a Muslim in Europe to be blamed for it.

30 Responses

  1. Oscar
    September 14, 2010, 3:22 pm

    It’s quite clear that Marty believes Muslim life is cheap as personally held conviction. It’s the most outrageous form of bigoted spew since the infamous quote from another Martian Marty — Martin Kremer who called for a starvation genocide of “superfluous” young Arab men.

    That Kristof covered this at all is a surprise, and a credit to both his integrity and the Times’ courage in not censoring it in deference to Peretz, who obviously married well and is all but impervious to being called out on his rancid bigotry until the MSM forced his milquetoast, bed wetter half-apology.

    • lysias
      September 14, 2010, 3:40 pm

      Peretz is now separated (although apparently not divorced, at least not yet) from that heiress to the Singer fortune whom he married. Marty Peretz:

      Peretz is currently separated from Anne Labouisse Farnsworth Peretz, daughter of Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr. and an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Company fortune. Anne’s inherited wealth is widely credited as having given Peretz the means to acquire The New Republic.[6]

  2. marc b.
    September 14, 2010, 3:22 pm

    it’s an important exercise of sorts, i suppose, but where is the history of judeo-christian pacificism and respect for the sanctity of life implied in that moron peretz’s commentary? muslim life is cheap for muslims? how many millions of christians were killed by other christians in europe from the late 19th century to end of WWII, not to mention the millions of africans literally butchered by the likes of good christian brits, french, germans, belgians, etc.? the breadth and depth of his stupidity is just astounding. rather than a factual refutation of his screed, we really should just collectively tell peretz to sit down and shut the eff up.

  3. Les
    September 14, 2010, 3:31 pm

    Aren’t Muslims the exclusive targets of cheap-to-operate US drones?

  4. lysias
    September 14, 2010, 3:41 pm

    Kristof has now responded to Peretz’s “apology”: A Martin Peretz Apology.

    • Les
      September 14, 2010, 5:20 pm

      “Arabs see Israelis invading Gaza and insist that Jews don’t value human life.” This is the Times’ Kristof. Wow!

  5. Citizen
    September 14, 2010, 4:23 pm

    I guess Chinese life doesn’t even count to Peretz. China lost upward of 50 million people caused by Mao Zedong’s red guards in the 1950’s & 1960’s.

    • eljay
      September 14, 2010, 7:03 pm

      >> China lost upward of 50 million people caused by Mao Zedong’s red guards in the 1950’s & 1960’s.

      50 million? That’s nothing! Haven’t you heard about the Holocaust, the bestest damned genocide ever, the worst atrocity ever committed in the history of the human race (followed immediately by 9/11)?

      50 million. Hah! What do the Chinese know about real suffering…


  6. Taxi
    September 14, 2010, 5:19 pm

    What makes you think that our American lives aren’t cheap either?

    Rachael Cory.

    Furkan Dorgan.

    They come to mind immediately.

    Plus 34 American sailors on the USS Liberty, whose list of names I oddly could not locate on the internet – yet sadly, I was able to locate a small tombstone that honors them, naming them individually:
    link to

    If our government has already sold the above list of good Americans so horribly cheap, what makes us think that our own heads would be worth any more to them war and peace makers and breakers?

  7. yourstruly
    September 14, 2010, 6:19 pm

    Western nations said the same thing about the Japanese during WW II, the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and now the Arabs/Muslims in these multiple perpetual wars against said people in the Mideast and Central Asia. Western nations do this for two reasons, firstly to assuage any guilt feelings among their populace at the killing of others – “What the heck, if their own people don’t care, why should I” – and secondly, as an indicator of how exceptional westerners are compared to the enemy – “After all we care, they don’t.” Except, of course, they care every bit as much as we do. Matter of fact right now how many Americans even know, let alone care that from ten to twenty-eight Americans are being killed every week in Afghanistan? Isn’t that a sign that life’s cheap here in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

  8. Sin Nombre
    September 14, 2010, 6:22 pm

    Seems to me it might be observed that it’s all just a matter of what adjectives one chooses to use. True, when it comes to fighting Israel, esp. with suicide bombers, “muslims” (Palestinians esp.) can seem to value their lives rather … casually.

    On the other hand what’s different when one considers, say, the jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto sallying forth with incredible bravery, knowing it was suicidal at times, to fight the Germans? Well we look at the … casualness of their attitude towards their lives as forms of valiant bravery don’t we? That they regarded their lives as cheap payment in comparison to the larger cause they were fighting for. No different than the way the world has essentially come to understand the Polish cavalry during the Blitzkrieg, tossing down a last vodka toast, strapping on their sabers and charging panzers on their horses.

    The irony, and tragedy, is that Peretz, and Israel too it seems, can’t seem to see the “muslim” actions in this light to any degree. Irony because of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Tragedy because by no perceiving it and instead seeing only some kind of … muslim degeneracy … Israel thinks it can finesse the situation.

    A few weeks ago Ethan Bronner was essentially justifying his bias by saying of the Israeli settlers “people who don’t stop make history, and these people don’t stop.”

    Well, people who are willing to blow themselves up for their land, knowing that it may even mean retaliation against their relatives (of the kind that Israel shamefully practices, almost in imitation of the Nazis), those folks don’t quit either. And it seems there’s ever more Israelis every year who *are* “quitting” … via moving out of Israel.

    This is a long long long term thing going on here; it might be 100 years before anyone can tell who’s the winner and who’s the loser here.

    • eljay
      September 14, 2010, 7:38 pm

      >> Seems to me it might be observed that it’s all just a matter of what adjectives one chooses to use.

      Ain’t that the truth.

      All “we” ever do is send brave men and women to liberate nations. Sure, there may be some collateral damage and we may have to employ enhanced interrogation techniques to get information from the insurgents, but these are the regrettable costs of spreading freedom and democracy.

      All “they” ever do is send terrorists to destroy nations. They deliberately slaughter innocent people and employ torture to get information from civilians, but these are the horrific costs of spreading tyranny and injustice.

    • Mooser
      September 15, 2010, 2:02 am

      “This is a long long long term thing going on here; it might be 100 years before anyone can tell who’s the winner and who’s the loser here.”

      Yeah, you wish. I wouldn’t bet on it. You think four more generations of Israelis will be content to go on this way? My god, you have a lower opinion of them then I do.
      And the hundred year contention doesn’t take into account the capabilities of the Palestinians, who will not stay down forever.

      A new generation of Israelis are either going to finally say that Israel must have peace, or the fear that the new generation will say that will cause the old guard to say: ‘let’s use those atomic weapons we’ve got, final solution!’
      I don’t know which they will choose, although I tend to think it’ll be the bombs, but it won’t take a hundred years. And oh yes, won’t the environmental consequences of Israel create terrible exigencies long before then?

      I don’t think Israel has a century left. Not in its present incarnation.

  9. RoHa
    September 14, 2010, 7:33 pm

    Muslim lives are certainly not cheap.

    Look at cost of the Iraq war alone!

    The Iraq war cost the U.S. alone over US$700,000,000,000. If we use the estimate of 1,000,000 Iraqis killed, and pretend that they were all Muslims, that comes out at $700,000 each! Now add in the costs to other countries, (U.K and Australia in particular) and you are really racking up the price.

    Time for us to find someone cheaper to kill.

    • syvanen
      September 14, 2010, 11:05 pm

      This brings to mind a statement made by an American official in Vietnam in about 1965. He was comparing the cost of the war (even at that early date) to the number of Vietcong we were killing. He quipped — ‘wouldn’t it be cheaper to send them all to Harvard’.

      • RoHa
        September 15, 2010, 4:53 am

        I recall hearing of a calculation that it would have been cheaper to bribe all the Vietnamese to leave the country and go and open restaurants in Paris.

        I never checked the figures.

    • traintosiberia
      September 15, 2010, 8:17 am

      Killing is not cheap for the tax payer. It is simply lucrative for the industry and the military .There is also no product liability. Beyond military and industry,there are columnist in print-media and expert on TV who also huge reap benefit.

  10. Kathleen
    September 14, 2010, 8:33 pm

    Of course Americans think Muslim lives are cheap and do not matter. Look at our MSM do you ever hear them bring up the hundreds of thousands dead , injured and the millions displaced in Iraq. This pisses me off so bad. What has happened to this country to my peer group. What happened to how pissed off we all were about the unnecessary loss of life in Vietnam. Now I know millions marched before the invasion I was there. I know some people care. But what is wrong with Rachel maddow , Keith, Chris Matthews, Ed, Dylan Ratigan. Why are these people who have suffered so much from our illegal invasion ever even mentioned. Why don’t we count the dead and injured in Iraq? I am so furious about this I can barely breathe.

    There is something terribly wrong with our country

    similar discussion over at Washington Note
    Do Arab & Muslim Lives Matter?
    link to

  11. Kathleen
    September 14, 2010, 8:33 pm

    Important read
    by Jeff Kaye and Jason Leopold
    Government Report on Drugging of Detainees Is Suppressed
    link to

  12. syvanen
    September 14, 2010, 9:09 pm

    This notion that non-Western people think that life is cheap was established in Western minds during the colonization era when British and Europeans conquered the third world. They came in with advanced weapons (especially the machine gun) and a platoon of soldiers could kill the local inhabitants by the hundreds. It seemed so fruitless for them to resist the advanced West. But their determination for autonomy caused them to sacrifice their lives for a cause that what we Westerners felt was totally foolish. Hence, the notion that these subject people were congenitally different from us advanced people and had no respect for their own lives — the idea they valued their freedom more than their lives was ignored.

    WWI should have killed that nonsense. European soldiers died by the millions charging senselessly into each others machine gun emplacements. I never heard it claimed that the French, British, Germans, Austrians, etc did not value their own lives because of their willingness to sacrifice themselves for some absurd nationalistic ideals.

    We have heard the same story over and over again every time we go to war with them — the Japanese during WWII, the Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War and the Vietnamese of course. (Funny how the Russians died by the millions resisting Nazi aggression, though we do not hear that they do not value their lives). The same old colonialist mindset is now maintaining that Arabs do not value their lives because they are willing to die resisting Western domination. It is quite racist.

    • Kathleen
      September 14, 2010, 9:22 pm


    • Psychopathic god
      September 15, 2010, 7:17 am

      Avi, It’s instructive to note that Israel and Israel advocates in the US lead and participate in the “Othering” of Muslims; it’s one of the three themes of Haggai Ram’s “Iranophobia.”

      According to Ram, in a complex twist, Israeli Jews — more precisely, European or Ashkenazi Jews in Israel — have created and deeply inculcated a mindset with Orientalism at its core, but that attaches all of the disdain and devaluation of “orientals” — which includes Arabs; Iranians; but also Iranian, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews to the experience of European Jews in Europe, especially Germany, where Jews WERE the devalued “Other.”

      To understand the pretzel logic of Ashkenazi Jewish “othering” of even other Jews as well as Arabs/Muslims, it’s important to fully absorb the power of Jewish influence in Germany between the 1870s thru World War II. This two anecdote suggests how German Jews thought about themselves:
      Political Violence, an essay by Jeffrey Feldman:

      If you really think hard, you can figure out that “people like you” refers to my being Jewish, which this reader must have deduced from my last name, which sounds–Jewish.

      If you think EVEN harder, you can figure out that the writer’s name sounds — GERMAN.

      Benjamin Netanyahu wove an elaborate tale around a ring that bore HIS ancient Jewish last name, Netanyahu, but as TPM pointed out, Bibi’s father changed his family’s last name from a Lithuanian name to Netanyahu in the early days of Israel’s statehood.

      Ashkenazi Jews in Israel are intent on creating in and of Israel the glorious Germany of their late-19th and early 20th century experience when Germany was the most advanced and sophisticated culture in the world, and in which Jews rose from a marginalized ‘other’ in that culture to roles of leadership in it and of it. In this Europeanized Israel, Ashkenazi Jews — Jews with “Jewish” names like Feldman — will be in charge and will be the dominating influence. To rub elbows in Israel with Oriental Jews, Arabs, and Muslims is a perpetual and painful reminder to Ashkenazi Jews of their “othered” status in Europe just two generations earlier.

  13. Avi
    September 14, 2010, 11:01 pm

    Studying WWII propaganda about the war in the Pacific compared with the propaganda about the war in Europe quickly shows the underlying racist elements.

    Both American propaganda and Japanese propaganda sought to paint the Other as subhuman. And anti-Japanese propaganda was rather instructive as the U.S. used racism and bigotry as the driving force behind such propaganda. Those same racist and bigoted undertones are echoed in today’s anti-Muslim propaganda.

    The Japanese were cast as brutes, savages, while the Germans were cast as imperial, hegemonic and evil, but also smart and ‘civilized’ nonetheless. Nazi Germans were not subhuman according to American propaganda. But, the Japanese were subhuman according to that same propaganda machine.

    • syvanen
      September 15, 2010, 12:21 am

      Yep, you are making the same point, from a different angle, that I was making above.

  14. traintosiberia
    September 15, 2010, 8:26 am

    Only an economic interest or fear of retaliation will force Harvrd or any institution to strip Peretz of any association with them.
    It is time to remember that when asked why Harvard had rescinded the book-event on “Beyond Chutzpah” by Finkelstein, it responed of being facing threat of “economic retaliation.( by John Farley )

    Most likely Harvard made it up. It could have secured immense popular support across the nation from all strata and increase in fund raising from numerous sources if it went public on the source of the threat and then went ahead with the book-event.

    • potsherd
      September 15, 2010, 8:34 am

      But it’s antisemitic to mention Jewish billionaires and their undue influence.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 15, 2010, 10:08 am

      Are moral courage and leadership no longer considered important values for the young people Harvard educates? If Harvard’s leaders do not model moral courage and leadership, how can they teach it?
      First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
      Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim.
      Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

      Pastor Martin Niemoller, with certain liberties

      • lysias
        September 15, 2010, 11:37 am

        Please don’t alter Niemöller starting with “First they came for the Communists”.

        Excising that eliminates a major part of what Niemöller was saying, how dangerous it is to go along with persecuting an extremely unpopular group. He apparently said it in speeches in 1946, in what was to become West Germany, just as the Cold War was starting up.

  15. Les
    September 15, 2010, 10:53 am

    Has our media missed something by not noting that the company Homeland Security hired to spy on American opponents of fracking, and American opponents of god only knows what else, is Israeli owned? Outsourcing US security to a foreign company seems a worthy news topic.

  16. lysias
    September 15, 2010, 3:29 pm

    Significant parenthetical in Andrew Sullivan’s defense of Peretz:

    (The exception to open debate and intellectual honesty was and is anything to do with Israel, a subject where the debate at The New Republic is profoundly intellectually rigged, a fact that successive editors have simply had to accept or not take the job at all.)

    Peretz and The New Republic played significant roles in Sullivan’s early career, so I suppose it’s to Sullivan’s credit that he doesn’t join in the attack on Peretz, but I wonder if Sullivan realizes how devastating that parenthetical is.

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