In the aftermath of Dr. Tiller’s murder, I’ve found myself pondering the nature of terrorism. I was actually quite surprised by where this line of thought took me; I found myself, of all places, in a position of empathy with those on the right for whom the Islamofascist [sic] menace is the paramount concern.
Note, of course, that empathy is not sympathy, and it especially important that the two terms not be conflated in this context. Furthermore, it is to some extent fruitless to empathize with those who have no empathy themselves, but nevertheless, as I considered the lengths to which I’d like to see the state go in response to his murderer – and indeed his murderer’s fellow travellers – I won’t lie and say that heavy handed scorched-earth ideas didn’t enter my mind. “And why not?” I thought. “These domestic terrorists are a growing scourge, a threat to our way of life; if we don’t crack down hard now other fringe assholes will simply be emboldened by the success of this murdering piece of shit and become murdering pieces of shit themselves.”
Even as I thought this, of course, I recognized what is obvious to anyone smart enough to read this blog, which is that if there’s a point of separation between my thought processes and those of people like Michelle Malkin or Erick Erickson, it’s difficult to identify. And, lest anyone think I’m worried that I’m not better than people like that, have no fear; I’m way better than them. So are you. So, frankly, are most people – and yet I would argue that people who are better than Malkin and Erickson (and even me) nevertheless have had moments where they think like I have been.
And so I thought, why should it be that when a country that I am a part of is attacked and 3000 people die, my mind doesn’t run to an offensive position, but when one man is gunned down, I’m loaded for bear? Could it be that I’m really exactly as anti-American as the conservatives suggest? Could it be that I’m more protective of a doctor I’ve never met than of a college classmate? What am I, some kind of liberal monster?
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Obviously, the answer to all three questions is no. And there it could lay, because given the fact that everything is all about me, I’m usually quite handy at avoiding making that obvious here at Pandagon. But I wonder whether we can’t rescue some realizations about the right from all of this navel-gazing.
Assuming that there are others whose reactions are like mine (and that’s not a big assumption, since such comments litter the left-wing blogosphere today), there must be something at the heart of the difference in triggers between the right and left. We can’t all be America-haters – and this is a statement that is utterly uncontroversial, despite right-wing attempts to claim the contrary – so why should it be that we avoid calls for extermination of Islam but fantasize about waterboarding Randall Terry?
The answer lies in commitment. What have we committed ourselves to? Speaking for myself, I’ve committed to support the rights of women to bodily autonomy (and, in the case of a high percentage of Dr. Tiller’s patients, to survival) and this murder is, besides a heinous personal crime, an assault on that concept. As are all “pro-life” terrorist acts.
As, for that matter, are Operation Rescue and the other pro-forced-birth organizations. All “pro-life” organizations are complicit. They may be complicit to various degrees. Even in my fever of blame I see the difference between pulling the trigger, buying the gun, and simply standing by mutely. But complicit nonetheless.
But that last paragraph? Again, it has eerie echoes, because I’ve seen it a thousand times. About Islam. Because right-wingers are committed, too. So committed to the cause of American imperialism that any assault on that concept brings them up as one to condemn those who pulled the trigger, those who bought the gun, and those who stood by mutely.
(The parallels aren’t perfect, of course – but then again, I did say we were better than them, didn’t I? And we don’t, for the most part, expand our anger at anti-choice organizations to Christianity as a whole; then again…on my real-name Facebook profile, where having gone to a Christian college and attending a Quaker church I have a preponderance of Christian friends, I posted a Tiller news item and braced myself for a torrent of condemnation that never came. But the point is, while none of my friends or family are to my knowledge members of Operation Rescue, I nevertheless tend to tar all Christians with the same brush because of the success the anti-choicers have had in conflating “Christian” with “woman-hating.” The fact that I’m technically tarred by that brush, too, is neither here nor there when it’s anger we’re talking about.)
And this is how I know it’s not America they want to defend: Because when an American doctor is killed for a political reason, they are, relatively, sanguine. Anti-abortion terrorists assault and kill Americans because of a legal medical procedure, something codified in American law through the American legal system. Clinic bombings are attacks on America. Politically and religiously motivated assassinations are attacks on America. And yet the right manages to resist freezing the finances of Operation Rescue or rounding up Christians on flights into the midwest.
The removal of choice from American women is not a threat to American imperialism*, and therefore crimes committed in its furtherance are not terrorism. The resistance of Islamic countries to American imperialism, on the other hand, is – and the crimes committed in its furtherance are heinous terrorist acts worthy of any response imaginable. This is the position of the modern American right. This is insanity.
The difference, of course, between the left and the right is that we (so far, anyway) wake up from our fever dream of revenge and retribution. The right makes it a reality, and we – Americans, all – pay the price.
* More like a requirement for, but that’s for another day…
Image by ToastyKen used under CC license.