Dr. Dawg

McCarthyism: how it works

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I see it’s time once again to dust off this “Fable for Our Time” by American humourist James Thurber:

Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children. One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his yard and singing remarked, “There is a very proper gander.” An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost. “They said something about propaganda,” she said. “I have always suspected that,” said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander’s clothing. A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the forest. “They were up to no good,” she said. A duck remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. “He said to hell with the flag, too,” said the duck. A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb. Finally everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander’s house. He was strutting in his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. “There he is!” everybody cried. “Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flag-hater! Bomb-thrower!” So they set upon him and drove him out of the country.

This week we have observed this very phenomenon crop up at York University. A professor of cultural studies announces that not all opinions are valid ones: as an example, he offers “All Jews should be sterilized.”

A half-asleep student, and not a very bright one, it seems, hears only the example, storms out of the classroom, and soon the world learns of a vicious anti-Semite permitted to infect the young minds at York.

He didn’t notice Sarah Grunfeld storm out. Grunfeld, a 22-year-old in her final year at York, understood Johnston’s example to be his personal opinion.

She contacted Oriyah Barzilay, the president of Hasbara at York — an Israel advocacy group on campus — who then sent a press release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for Johnston to be fired.

Blogs and Facebook groups picked it up, and in a few hours the allegations spread within the city’s Jewish community, albeit mostly online.

The professor, as it turns out, is Jewish himself. Think that will protect him from the tidal wave of stupidity now engulfing him? Guess again. Some accuse him of lying, others of self-hatred, and insist that he was indeed giving his personal opinion. Others concede he was offering an example, but denounce him furiously for not choosing another one. The use-mention distinction is completely irrelevant to these choleric political vigilantes.

For once I would actually urge readers to visit this moronic website. The webhostess, admittedly, is generous-spirited enough to allow that the professor might simply be “an idiot.” Read the comments thread carefully, however, and reflect. This is precisely how McCarthyism works. A textbook example, in fact.

All we need now is a statement from Jason Kenney, and it’s a wrap.

UPDATE: A welcome note from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. [H/t Marky Mark]

UPPERDATE: More on Grunfeld. [H/t commenter Fern Hill]

UPPESTDATE: Good grief, the ludicrous B’nai Brith president Frank Dimant never fails us:

Enter B’nai Brith, which specializes in ferreting out anti-semitism in the most mundane of places. Even after it became evident a misunderstanding had occurred, B’nai Brith president Frank Dimant concluded Prof. Johnston deserved a public lashing because Ms. Grunfeld “felt marginalized and targeted by the way subject matter relating to odious opinions was presented.”

It didn’t matter if she was mistaken in what she thought she’d heard, he argued. “The very fact that the student reacted this way is testament to the long-term effects of marginalization of the Jewish student body over past years, since both in the classroom and in the corridors, they have been subject to jibes and taunts. In such an atmosphere, it is easy to see how an incident of this nature could develop.”

And a further UPDATE: (September 15) My, that woman does flail like a professional. The comments are mucho entertaining.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on September 14, 2011 10:30 AM.

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