Peter Pringle's America: Hate written in the headlines

Click to follow
AS THE Mayor of New York said, it was a stunning piece of detective work. Less than 24 hours after the young rabbinical students had been shot crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, a man of Lebanese origin named Rashad Baz was displayed before the press as the key suspect. Arranged on a table for the photographers was an arsenal said to have been in Baz's possession, including a 'Streetsweeper', the nickname given to an automatic shotgun.

What set last week's shooting apart from the daily roster of New York murders was that Baz left a trail like a neon sign. Within a few hours the police had received a tip-off from an outraged citizen that Baz, or someone closely connected to him, had taken the car used in the shooting to have the passenger window replaced. It had been blown out by more than 20 bullets fired by the gunman. With such a vital clue, the car was quickly traced to Baz and the police ballistics department matched bullets fired at the rabbinical students with a gun they found in Baz's car.

Baz didn't bother to hide anything; he wanted to be caught, to broadcast his murderous act. The event was oddly similar to the bombing a year ago of the World Trade Center by a group of Islamic militants, four of whom were convicted last week of plotting the blast. The man who rented the van that carried the bomb went back to the rental company a few days after the bombing, claiming the van had been stolen and asking for the return of his dollars 400 deposit.

The wonder in all this is not how efficient the largest police department in the world can be, but that New York is spawning an increasing number of people possessed by demons that push them into these hate crimes.

New York, which has always prided itself on taming the wilder strains of a polyglot society, increasingly has its ethnic groups eyeing each other in fright. Increasingly one imagines hate cells in Harlem, Arabs plotting the jihad in Brooklyn mosques, skinheads coming to town to go gay- bashing on the once free-wheeling streets of Greenwich Village.

There is no let-up in the number of bigots who engage in hate speech, and thereby incite ethnic or religious violence. Mary Cummins, the chairman of the school board in the New York borough of Queens, called a fellow member, Louisa Chan, a 'slant-eyed chink'. Black disciples of the demagogic Louis Farrakhan heard a spiritual adviser, Khalid Abdul Mohamed, call Jews 'bloodsuckers of the black nation' and refer to 'that old imposter Jew, that old hook-nose, bagel-eating, lox-eating, Johnny-come-lately perpetrating a fraud, just crawled out of the caves and hills of Europe, so- called damn Jew'. No one escapes this tirade. The Pope is a 'no good cracker'.

This new rash of ethnic slurs presents the media with an old problem. Does sunlight disinfect, or does it simply play to the worst fears and turn the perpetrator into a media star? Should the excesses of the likes of Farrakhan and Khalid Mohamed be downplayed, or even ignored, in the hope that, with luck, they will go away? No, they should be exposed for all their filth and falsity. This is a prime responsibility of Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court and the fourth estate, which must not only report such incidents prominently but also put right false hate statements.

Two cautionary tales. A young black law student named Malik Zulu Shabazz got up at a Nation of Islam rally at the mostly black Howard University last week and asked his fellow classmates: 'Who caught and killed Nat Turner?'

'Jews,' the audience shouted back.

'Who controls the Federal reserve?' asked Shabazz.

''Jews,' they cried.

'You're not afraid to say it, are you?'

'Jews, Jews.'

'Who controls the media and Hollywood?'


'Who has our entertainers and our athletes in a vice-like grip?'


'Am I lying?'


Of course he was lying, but the Washington Post put its report of the assembly in its second section without a mention of the Jew-baiting in either the headline or first paragraph. It took the Post's Jewish columnist, Richard Cohen, to right the wrong.

Another example came from yesterday's New York Times. It was a confession of sorts from a reporter, Michael Kaufman, who told a story about the winter 23 years ago when he was doing a profile on Rabbi Meir Kahane, the Zionist firebrand who was later assassinated in a New York hotel. Kaufman said that Kahane begged him not to mention a girl, Estelle Evans, who killed herself by jumping off the Queensboro Bridge in 1966. She was 22 and in love with Kahane, and when he sent a letter to end the affair, explaining that he had a wife and children, she jumped. The letter was found in her purse.

Kaufman said that after Kahane's pleadings he wrote the story 'elliptically and without emphasis' so that it did not end Kahane's public position as a teacher of hate in the name of Judaism. Kaufman bravely wondered in print whether writing more boldly would have stopped the blood revenge that continues in Kahane's wake, and suggested that 'showing mercy to the cruel is wrong and sinful'.

Honesty is the only solace when the world seems full of madmen, each peddling his own version of the only truth. Without such honesty, luck may be all that New Yorkers can rely on if they are to get through the summer without a major eruption of ethnic tension.