Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Churchill who?

According to an email discovered last week in my in-box, Winston Churchill hated Muslims. [This is more or less what it said] This message was sent by one of my friends, a notorious re distributor of dirty jokes and rabid RW political messages. At the top, he helpfully added: And this was 100 years ago!! [sic]

Such, I suppose, is the state of the discourse.

I saw three ways to reply.

First, the good old "So what?" Do we really care what Winston Churchill thought? Is he suddenly the supreme religious and morality expert of all time? Great, he hated Muslims. As an early 20th century Englishman he likely hated Jews, blacks, women, and children, too. Are we required to embrace all his views on everything? By what authority? He may have saved England from the Nazis, but this doesn't obligate us to imitate his every example.

My second thought was to hoist my friend on his own petard. As a RW, dirty-joke-loving loon, my friend is very soft on torture. I thought it might interest him to learn that good old Winston thought torture was of "doubtful utility." Moreover, during the London blitz when every night was a little 9/11, and hundreds of Nazi agents were held in British prisons, Churchill was firm: No torture. In fact, Col. Robin Stephens, the man in charge of Latchmere House, the jail where Hitler's spies were held, said this, "Violence is taboo, for not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information." Chris Hitchens reports that Stephens fired one of his interrogators after the man smacked a Nazi on the head. Though we might not agree with this approach, Churchill admired it, and someone who blindly accepts Churchill on Islam should also accept him blindly on torture.

Finally, I thought it interesting that my friend thought it significant that Churchil expressed his anti-Islam views 100 years ago. [And this was 100 years ago!! [sic]] Shouldn't this be expected? Wasn't the word a crueler, darker, less tolerant and accepting place back then? And if the point is that views stated long ago by Englishmen carry extra moral value, why stop with Churchil? Instead, of finding an expert from 100 years ago, let's look to the 17th century and King James I (self-announced expert on witchcraft, who took delight in personally interviewing and torturing suspected witches) as our moral light. Or what about Queen Elizabeth I, inveterate hater of Jews and Catholics. She was an Englishmen who lived in the 1560s so surly SHE knew what she was talking about.

In the end, I sent him all three of these arguments. There was no reply, but this morning, right on schedule, I received his daily dirty joke.

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