Steinberg: This isn’t us


The United States is a different country when it’s scared, columnist Neil Steinberg says. | AP file photo

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The danger that black gangs pose in Chicago is sadly familiar, as the murderous violence these black gangs commit shocks the city, but only momentarily, as the deaths caused by black gangs are forgotten and we move on to matters unrelated to black gang violence.

Anything pop out of the above paragraph? Anything wrong with it? It’s entirely true, but something jars, or should: my use of the word “black.” The media doesn’t describe the gangs on the South and West Sides as “black gangs” even though they certainly are, for a variety of good reasons, but primarily because it’s irrelevant. Yes, the violence is an offshoot of African-American urban society, but so is the NBA, and violence is no more intrinsic to blackness than murdering people in Paris is intrinsic to the Germans.

Did you think I was going to say Muslims? Sure, it’s their turn, now, but laying the latest spasm of terror at the feet of Islam is as disingenuous a ploy as laying violence to black people, collectively, or to Germans. It’s just a another slur clutched at by haters, with the cowardly escape clause that bigots use to try to shuck responsibility.


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This flies by many Republicans, who draw a line in the sand at Democrats’ laudable, almost courageous refusal to indulge in their anti-Islam fear-mongering. Last week the Sun-Times published an op-ed, “Democratic candidates clueless even after carnage in Paris,”  decrying comments made at the most recent Democratic presidential debate, chiding Hillary Clinton for refusing to bind terror to Islam, as well as Bernie Sanders for steadfastly insisting that climate change is a far more deadly threat, which it is, as the next tsunami to wash away 100,000 people will remind us, and Martin O’Malley insisting that we continue to accept Syrian refugees despite the desires of ISIS.

“The words spoken at Saturday night’s debate will reverberate through the presidential campaign,” the op-ed predicted.

Let’s hope so. Because panic ebbs, eventually, while truth abides.

I began my career in advertising. And I learned that the direct route is not always the best in delivering a message, particularly one of dubious morality.

Take the alcohol industry’s oft-repeated, “Drink Responsibly.” That’s genius, because they realized that “Drink, damn you!” would draw criticism, So “Responsibly” is tagged on at the end in an attempt to obscure the important part: “Drink.”

With “Radical Islam,” the opening word is the smokescreen. “Radical” is wrong, when you think about it. Being “radical” means hectoring your parents about Marx at Thanksgiving. Calling those who storm theaters and murder people “radical” is pallid, like calling those who blow themselves up in coffee shops “militants.”

But like “Responsibly,” the word conceals. It’s “Islam” that’s the true message, the real reason Republicans make such a stink about it. The right side of our political spectrum is devoted to marrying Islam to terror, Which makes them on the same team as ISIS, because that’s precisely why they commit these acts. Western culture is a big, warm, inclusive blob that absorbs and alters everything. Joan of Arc rides in, clad in armor, her eyes aglitter with passion for the Lord, and 500 years later, Miley Cyrus swings out, straddling a wrecking ball in her underwear. ISIS wants to separate Islam from the West, so men like them can be in charge forever and women never get to drive or sing. Thus they strike at the West in nihilistic acts of terror, counting on the Bruce Rauners of our nation to leap up and shout, “Golly, do we really want all these Syrians here?”

Yes, yes we do. Because the way to manufacture patriotic Americans is by letting their grandparents into the country after their homelands go to hell. My grandfather, Irwin Bramson, didn’t end up in a trench in Poland because a relative, Ira Saks, plucked him at age 15 out of the jaws of doom.  So my mother, June, got to be born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1936, and not in Bialystok, Poland, where she’d end up another 5-year-old butchered by her neighbors.

So yeah, I love America. Even though last week the House of Representatives passed a bill trying to choke off the trickle of Syrian refugees. I never saw Congress act so fast. What’s the Warren Zevon song? “You’re a whole different person when you’re scared.” The United States is a whole different country when it’s scared. I barely recognize it, and can’t wait until we recover our true selves. Because this isn’t us.

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