Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bush's willing executioners

My hard drive is cluttered with columns I started and never finished. One of them never got much beyond the title of this post, a reference to Hitler's Willing Executioners," Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's landmark book. The book shattered the myth that the Nazi's hoodwinked an innocent German populace, who knew not what they did. Goldhagen showed the pervasive, omnipresent antisemitism that preceded the Final Solution, and the widespread, knowing participation in it. I in turn was going to write about the ugliness in ordinary Americans that enabled the tragic horrors in Iraq.

But I couldn't have done it any better than this:
When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be "off his rocker." The second congratulated him and added: "Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of "the threat in our midst" would alleviate the public's fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL (, which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting.

"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."

The show aired on November 26, the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday, and Klein said in an interview afterwards he had been surprised by the response.

"The switchboard went from empty to totally jammed within minutes," said Klein. "There were plenty of callers angry with me, but there were plenty who agreed."


Those in agreement are not a fringe minority: A Gallup poll this summer of more than 1,000 Americans showed that 39 percent were in favor of requiring Muslims in the United States, including American citizens, to carry special identification.

Roughly a quarter of those polled said they would not want to live next door to a Muslim and a third thought that Muslims in the United States sympathized with al Qaeda, the extremist group behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
These people who would brand or deport or imprison or execute their neighbors on the basis of religion are probably the very same people who shake their heads in bewilderment at the ethnic and religious violence now convulsing Iraq.

If there is anything beyond dumb luck to modern American exceptionalism, it is little more than that such criminal insanity has somehow been kept at bay by the few who see such barbarity in our midst and find a way to keep the bottle stoppered.


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