09/12/2010 10:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do Arab & Muslim Lives Matter?

john bolton xt.jpgWhen John Bolton, who now said he is considering a run for the US presidency, was set to testify in July 2006 before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his failed effort to get the Senate to confirm his nomination as US Ambassador to the United Nations, I got an early copy of his "prepared remarks" for the hearing. These remarks were handed to me as I walked in to the meeting.

Then as Bolton walked in, we were hurriedly given an updated set of remarks. I knew something must have changed -- and I went through the material page by page until I realized that what had been struck was a zinger that Bolton had been saying in the press frequently with regard to the Israel-Lebanon War.

What was struck was this line:

But it is a mistake to ascribe a moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts, the very purpose of which are to kill civilians, and the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths as a result of military action taken in self-defense.

Bolton, strangely, was going out of the way to argue that the value of innocents killed on one side of a military equation were not equal to the lives of those on the other side. In other words, for Bolton, innocent life does not equal innocent life.

Those attacked -- in this case an attack against Israeli military troops who are deployed both for security and occupation can justify Israel's response that kills and wounds many uninvolved with the attack in question. No need to justify, to rationalize, or even to express remorse. Bolton's argument goes that those killed by way of Israel's counter-response were in the way and are not the equivalent of lives lost, though far fewer by any measure, on the Israeli side.

This dismissal of the value of Muslim and Arab lives by prominent voices has spread to America -- and this trend is deeply, profoundly anti-American, but it is real nonetheless.

Whether it is the efforts to demonize those who would place a Mosque to promote cultural understanding near Ground Zero in New York or the crazy pastor who wants to get headlines by a Koran-burning, it is now a fad of the pugnacious, jingoistic right wing to flirt with racist, bigoted anti-Arab, anti-Islam symbolism that reminds one of the fears that led to the internment of Japanese Americans, as Nicholas Kristof points out in an article asking some of these same questions.

And now the editor in chief of one of Washington's most venerable rights-concerned journals of opinion, Martin Peretz, has written clearly that he doubts that Muslim lives are worth much and that in his gut he doesn't believe Muslims deserve the protections of American laws and civil rights.

Nick Kristoff writes:

For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider a blog post in The New Republic this month. Written by Martin Peretz, the magazine's editor in chief, it asserted: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims."

Mr. Peretz added: "I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."

One of my late mentors, Hans Baerwald, taught me that the only way to get a real rather than shallow sense of a political system's norms and operating behavior was to watch it under stress.

With commentary like that we have seen from John Bolton, Martin Peretz, Richard Cheney, Liz Cheney, Glenn Beck, and saw in the political maneuvering of Cheney Chief of Staff, David Addington, we unleashed an America that defiles key aspects of its own DNA and that is less-trustable by the rest of the world today.

To take this further, I think the debate today is not about the treatment of Muslims of those of Arab descent, but about the United States itself.

John Bolton and Martin Peretz, in undermining America's core values of a big-tent approach to accommodating and absorbing other societies, are not performing a patriotic duty -- but are displaying the opposite of American patriotism.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons