Of Course Bishop Tutu Deserves Statues…Then Use The Same Standard To Get Our Toppled Statues Back Up

Wow. Here I was expecting to be reading nasty post-mortems on the despicable Harry Reid before his corpse was cold, and instead a wave of negative punditry appeared about, of all people, revered Desmond Tutu, whose body is only slightly cooler. The controversy? Nobody doubts that he played a major role in ridding South Africa of apartheid. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (whatever that’s worth). However, as the Times of Israel sees it, “underneath the godlike humble appearance was an insidious anti-Semite and anti-Israel vein that throbbed and surfaced in writings, public speaking, and conversation.”

In the U.S., the opposition to honoring Tutu was joined by lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who told Fox News that by the standards the U.S. was now holding its metallic and rock honorees to, Tutu is unworthy. He said on the air,

The world is mourning Bishop Tutu, who just died the other day. Can I remind the world that although he did some good things, a lot of good things on apartheid, the man was a rampant anti-Semite and bigot?…When we’re tearing down statues of Jefferson and Lincoln and Washington, let’s not build statues to a deeply, deeply flawed man like Bishop Tutu. Let’s make sure that history remembers both the goods he did and the awful, awful bads that he did as well….He didn’t talk about the Israel lobby, he talked about the Jewish lobby. He minimized the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust. He said that getting killed in gas chambers was an easy death compared to apartheid. He said that Jews claimed a monopoly on the Holocaust. He demanded that Jews forgive the Nazis for killing them…[Tutu] encouraged others to have similar views and because he was so influential, he became the most influential anti-Semite of our time…The bottom line is that at a time when people are reckoning with the careers, of people with mixed legacies, whether it be Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and others, we have to include in a reckoning of Tutu his evil, bigotry against Jews, which has existed for many, many, many years.

I don’t care to dispute the fairness or accuracy of the case that Tutu was an anti-Semite. His worshipers are already doing that; I note that Wikipedia, which, like every other information source today, just can’t play it straight, shaded its article about Tutu this week to note his support for the Palestinians while adding that he professed a “simultaneous belief in Israel’s right to exist.” (The two positions are impossible to hold “simultaneously.”) It doesn’t matter; for the purposes of the ethical analysis, I will accept that Tutu was as much of an anti-Semite as Dershowitz says.

He still deserves his public memorials, monuments and statues, just as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the other targets of the U.S.’s history airbrushing mob deserve theirs. Virtually all important figures in world history were flawed, many terribly. We honor them for their positive achievements when those are sufficiently significant, not for their worst moments, failures of character, ill-chosen words or personal misdeeds, unless these are so destructive that they objectively demand that we declare that individual a net harm to society or civilization.

If that is not the standard we apply, then we can literally have no icons and heroes, and must never remind future generations of the men and women who helped the nation and the world become better. Winston Churchill saved the world from Hitler, but he was a racist, imperialist and ruthless politician. Thomas Jefferson’s words and idealism made the United States’ possible and laid the foundation for the elimination of slavery; he also could not live up to his ideals in his personal life, and kept his dead wife’s half-sister as his slave and personal concubine. Teddy Roosevelt was a white supremacist and warmonger; his cousin Franklin may have saved the United States, but he approved the racist imprisonment of Japanese-Americans and handed millions of Europeans over to Soviet dictatorship. Jack Kennedy was a misogynist and abuser of women; so was Martin Luther King. Nonetheless, civilization owes all of these, and many more lasting and visible honors. Tutu certainly qualifies to join their ranks.

I was surprised and disappointed to hear Dershowitz endorse the absurd statue topplers’ logic in order to justify relegating Bishop Tutu to their exile from the public square. His is an unethical argument based on personal bias: as a Jew, he feels the most important aspect of Tutu’s legacy is his anti-Semitism. He’s just wrong, and he should be able to see that clearly. The most important aspect of George Washington life is not that he owned slaves, but that he was the “indispensable man” in creating the United States of America. The most important aspect of Abraham Lincoln’s life was not that he was a white supremacist (like virtually every other white American of his time), but that he preserved the United States and ended slavery. inevitably the U.S. will be littered with Barack Obama statues, and his importance as the first black President justifies the honor, though he was a divisive, weak and inept POTUS once he was elected. Similarly, Desmond Tutu’s crucial role in ending apartheid is far more important than his public statements criticizing Israel (which, amusingly, included referring to that nation’s policies as “un-Christian.”)

He earned his statues.

11 thoughts on “Of Course Bishop Tutu Deserves Statues…Then Use The Same Standard To Get Our Toppled Statues Back Up

  1. Jack wrote, “I was surprised and disappointed to hear Dershowitz endorse the absurd statue topplers’ logic in order to justify relegating Bishop Tutu to their exile from the public square.”, “He earned his statues.”

    I completely agree.

    Just watch; social justice warriors are going to smear Dershowitz as a racist because of his opinion on this.

    It’s a very strange world we live in these days.

    • Heck, it makes sense that the pendulum which is capable of swinging so far one way would be just as capable of swinging the other. Necessary, perhaps, even.

  2. Until this moment I didn’t realize I could facepalm while eating popcorn. What a surprise! Members of marginalized groups can be prejudiced against other marginalized groups! …As if that hasn’t been happening for millennia.

    Now the groups who identify as marginalized will be forced to fight each other until they realize that humans are nuanced, and the same person or group can simultaneously have aspects worth honoring and aspects worth condemning.

    Maybe now they’ll be forced to learn how to actually deal with people’s fears. Racism isn’t a terminal value for people; people are racist because they fear that if they aren’t it’ll lead to problems for themselves. (Sometimes that problem is a feeling of crippling inadequacy, but that’s still a fear.) Likewise, people don’t fear racism itself; they fear the problems it causes. Racism isn’t a fundamental force in itself.

    Case in point, what Dershowitz says that Bishop Tutu said doesn’t seem per se anti-Semitic so much as highly insensitive. I suppose actual anti-Semites might use it as justification, but that’s their responsibility. If Dershowitz has better examples, he should have used them.

    Don’t worry, the vast majority of the famous people alive today are going to get canceled a century from now for eating meat anyway.

    • I probably should have moved that first sentence to the end of the second paragraph. The facepalm with popcorn is a figure of speech. It’s my reaction to the morbidly spectacular prospect of two groups of humans who make a point of already having enough problems deciding to become enemies of each other for no real gain. Hopefully someone’s going to put a stop to that before things get really stupid.

  3. A few years back (going on almost 10 now), I made a point to read the Bible from cover to cover. Mind you, this was the Catholic Bible, so it had extra books, and required more work. Figures.

    I noticed something curious. Pretty much all of the greatest “heroes” of Judaism were flawed people. Moses…David…Solomon–all flawed and all of them specifically “suffered” for their flaws. The greatest Jews were not perfect, yet the Jews celebrated them.

    And, they were right. Once you accept that even the “best” people (not in a Trumpian sense) are not going to measure up to perfection, it is much easier to disregard the flaws and focus on what makes someone the “best.” This, however, requires humility, and it is hard to be humble when you think you know everything. Just ask Solomon; the wisest person still screws up.

    I do not know if Christianity, which takes its cues from God Himself, sets them up for an unrealistic expectation of people, or not. Islam is not much better, as Mohamed is practically deified.

    At least in this regard, the Jews got it right. Bacon, shrimp and cheeseburgers? I will politely disagree.

    -Jut

  4. If you want me to tear Harry Reid apart, I can do it, but I was waiting for you to make a post calling him an ethics villain, which he was.

      • No, he’s a dead horse’s ASS.

        Harry Reid, the bitter, sepulchral-voiced former majority leader of the Senate who pronounced the whole GOP field in 2016 losers, is dead. Most of the obituaries from the mainstream media talk about him being an amateur boxer way back when and say that made him pugnacious, like that was something good (I can guarantee you if he belonged to the other party that would have been used to paint him as a bully). A few acknowledge he came in for “some criticism” from the other side (I can guarantee if he belonged to the other party that criticism would have been much more highlighted).

        Many talk about how he changed the Senate’s rules regarding appointees so that Obama’s judges could sail through, but few acknowledge that came back to bite under Trump, despite Chuck’s attempt to then slow walk appointees, and now might have put SCOTUS on the path to overturning Roe v. Wade, so maybe it was…a bit shortsighted.

        None mentioned how he promised Arlen Specter that he would treat him as though he had been a Democrat from day one (which would have given him some powerful committee chairs) if he switched parties to get Obamacare through, then promptly forgot all about it once Obamacare was safely passed. None mention the fact that he flat-out lied about Mitt Romney (not that I’m Mitt’s biggest fan these days) on the Senate floor so he couldn’t be sued, then sneered about how the lie worked. None mention how he failed miserably in his attempt to push Federal gun control after the last such law sunsetted under GWB. None mentioned how for his last four years as majority leader he did nothing but run interference for Obama, stuffing every bill that came from the House down the memory hole.

        I could sneer at how he died and say it was karma, but I’ve seen what cancer does, not just to the victims, but to their families, so I won’t do that. I could condemn him as a partisan, lying, conniving, arrogant, bullying hack sonofabitch who’s in Hell frying like bacon now, but I don’t know that for a fact, so I won’t do that. I could come up with some attempt to poke fun at his death, but jokes that mock anyone’s death (except maybe bin Laden) never age well and tend to reflect worse on the teller than on the target, so I won’t do that. This I will say, though: he’s going to have an awful lot of explaining to do and an awful lot to answer for on the other side. May God have mercy on his soul.

  5. Dershowitz is only applying the rules that the Left has set to someone the Left wants to honor.

    Fair is fair. If they want the Tutu statues, then the ones they tore down go back up.

    • That was my read, as well. What Dershowitiz doesn’t seem to realize, though, is that the Left despises Israel, reviles at its existence, and wishes evil upon its citizens. Tutu’s eulogies will ignore his stance on Israel/Palestine, or they will sidestep the issues because to discuss them would result in tarnishing Tutu’s legacy.

      jvb

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