The Zimmerman affair is polarizing American society. One side argues that one must respect due process. The other argues that the victim was black and that proves discrimination. But it was Martin Luther King who fought discrimination like no other, yet called on black society to ask itself why its proportion of criminals and single parent families was so much higher that other minorities. In other words being sensitive should not prevent one asking questions.
So despite my hypersensitivity I do not get angry over reasoned criticism of Judaism (or of myself). I don’t expect thinking Muslims to object to a reasoned critique of Islam. Is this insensitive? No, I don’t think so. Religious leaders or authorities should expect criticism over mistakes or poor judgments. The Ethics of the Fathers declares, “Nagid Shmey Avad Shmey. [A Name Made is a Name destroyed.]” If you set yourself up above the crowd, you must expect scrutiny and criticism.
If American politicians like Spitzer and Weiner, who lost office through their own sexual misdeeds, choose to run for office again, they must expect the scrutiny and explain why they should be trusted with high office. They cannot be treated with kid gloves. It is not insensitive to challenge them about their past behavior. I recall John Profumo who in 1963 lost office against a background of sexual impropriety. But then he lived a life of good deeds, modesty, and charity. We all have choices. If we take the high ground, we must expect to have to defend it.
Of course there is still racism, anti-Semitism, and anti a whole lot of others. The Supreme Court opened up a debate over preferential treatment for minorities. New York is arguing over police profiling. All sides are getting their oars in openly and blatantly. That is the beauty of robust, open, contrary debate.
In Britain and Europe, where state broadcasting systems affect the narrative and in practice dictate the manner of debate by imposing a wet blanket of political correctness and bias, it is much harder to find a fair, open, and honest hearing of a contrary point of view. Just read Melanie Phillips’ blog to see what it’s like to try to offer an alternative narrative.
The USA also contains different states with different laws and different biases. Some are pro-business and some are pro-union. Some impose State taxes, some do not. Some allow gay marriage , others reject it. If citizens do not like one state’s laws, they can move to another. The freedom to insult in the USA often surprises Europeans. But in the end I believe its brutal openness is healthier. In other words, being sensitive ought not necessarily to mean you cannot say what you believe is right. If I am hypersensitive I need to get over it.
About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.
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