Column on Does Background Count?

Does our Background Count?

Tibor R. Machan

In its November 7, 2009 (Saturday’s), issue The New York Times ran an editorial tutoring its readers in how they ought to ignore the background of the accused murderer of the soldiers in Texas. All that matters is what he did, not what groups he joined in the past. So, his being Muslim should be ignored and nothing should be concluded about any Muslims in the light of his actions.

Now this advice has a ring of truth to it except that it is wrong. Certainly not all Muslims may be suspected of bad intentions in light of what one Muslim does. Not without some additional information. Did the shooter’s motivation stem from his Islamic convictions? Maybe a version of Islam, a radical variety, had something to do with how he felt or what he believed about his victims. If so, then his "background" certainly needs to be attended to. It all depends what aspect of his background one has in mind. 

If someone’s background includes having joined the KKK or the Nazis, and even the Democrat or Republican Party, surely it makes sense to consider this fact as one evaluates the person and consider what he or she is or was likely to do. Is this not the case here? Being a radical Muslim isn’t like being black. It is what one chooses to be, like being a KKK member or indeed a member of any other partisan group. And as one M. D. Kruger put it, at The New York Times on line, warning about invoking the perpetrator’s background, as The Times’ editors did, appears to be no more than "the politically correct line." As Kruger goes on to say, "personally, I’m pretty tired of the same cast of very bad actors that never seem to include a baptist minister’s wife, a disgruntled rodeo cowboy, a rogue Chinese food delivery man, a gay cake decorator or the Swedish consul general from San Francisco."

In any case, being Muslim is not something one was born to be, like being a woman or black or a New Zealander. No one can help these matters, so holding it against someone is plainly unjust. But when one is a Roman Catholic, a Republican or Democrat or Jew, these are associations in one’s own power to enter into or the exit. If the convictions associated with such membership are morally or politically objectionable, it is perfectly sensible to consider them as one evaluates someone as a potential associate or friend or spouse. There can, of course, be some gray areas–most of us are brought up by parents who exert enormous influence on us while we are effectively helpless, including on what religion or politics we will have. But after a while a person is no longer captive of such influence and becomes fully responsible for either accepting or rejecting it.

Contrary, then, to The New York Times’ politically correct mantra, it is quite appropriate to ask after a person’s chosen convictions as one tries to understand what he or she did, why and so forth. As someone with very clear cut and strong positions on numerous issues, I am constantly being criticized for what I hold to be true. And very often the critics make no bones about their disdain for me, their considering me guilty for sticking with such views.

A radical Muslim, whose views promotes violence against innocent infidels, can also be held responsible and be blamed for the results of his or her convictions. And this should be pretty obvious, considering how millions of people blame their fellows for even just holding views espoused on Fox TV or by Rush Limbaugh or the editors of The New York Times. Or are we to accept the highly paradoxical notion that no one is responsible for what he or she thinks and for the actions that are guided by such thinking? I don’t think that makes any sense–people aren’t like parrots, having been trained by others to mouth opinions. They certainly have a hand in holding them (other than in the rare cases of having been brainwashed). 

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