Friday, January 26, 2007

We want Barabbas

One of the many weird elements to the blog row between The New Republic supremo Marty Peretz and various others (nicely summarised here by Brainiac) is Peretz's ability to tune out the core role of self-sacrifice in religious faith. Consider his ill-tempered response to the initial row --

I am grateful to Jonathan Chait for defending me against Matthew Yglesias' insinuation that I didn't really know that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been imprisoned (by the state) and murdered by a racist. This racist, James Earl Ray, was convicted by the state in a jury trial of his peers and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

What does Yglesias think would have happened to a nearly unimaginable Muslim Martin Luther King had he arisen in Iraq or Syria or Iran or Algeria or Taliban Afghanistan? Would he not have been killed by the regime? And had a jihadist killed him would not that pious person be a hero to his society?

My riff was actually based on a Yiddish proverb: "If God lived on earth people would break his windows."

The last bit is particularly bizarre, as the proverb is surely intended to be open to multiple interpretations. After all, one school of faith says that God did live on earth, although not at a time when people had windows. And of course the point of his time here on earth, as interpreted by Christians, is that only a few people were ready to accept his message (and maybe still only a very few people).

MLK for one surely drew comfort from parallels of Jesus with his own life, and reformers in any society, regardless of faith, must ponder the possibility of (unwilling) self-sacrifice for their cause. Yet Peretz is blind to the possibility that his absent Muslim hero would eventually succeed despite having his windows broken, or worse.

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