Eunice and Trent and Peg and malice

Noonan the Loon decides to lecture Trent Lott (and, really, who isn’t lecturing the Mississippi Moptop?) about race relations in America. Hopefully she’ll take time to read what she wrote:

It is very painful, our racial past. We made blacks and whites and all other colors equal in this country at great cost. A lot of feelings got hurt; a lot of people got hurt; a lot of people died. To pick only one of the millions of examples: Harold Ickes, the political operative who worked for Bill Clinton and now works for Hillary Clinton. I can’t imagine agreeing on too many political issues with Mr. Ickes, but back in the ’60s he helped organize the Freedom Riders to desegregate the South. In Louisiana he got into a fight with some local bad guys. He was beaten so badly that he lost a kidney. He’s still walking around with only one kidney. He’s just a middle-aged white lawyer who’d pass you by on the street in a shirt and a tie, but in this respect, in terms of what he did 40 years ago, he is a hero. There were a lot of heroes in those days. It was all wrenching, but in the end we did the right thing.

And we’re proud of it, and should be.

That’s today’s Peggy. Here is Peggy back on 9/20/02:

Three young Muslim men walk into the middle-class chain restaurant in a Georgia town. They are dressed in what customer Eunice Stone apparently understood to be Mideastern dress. As for Sikh, Saudi, whatever, she probably didn’t know. She probably knew as much about Muslim culture as the three young Muslim men knew about American Indian culture. Which is to say: probably nothing.

So they’re all in a small southern town, at a local chain restaurant, and when the three young Muslim males walk in, the locals–Southerners, Americans, neighbors–look at them. Maybe hard. Maybe up and down. Who are those guys?

And here we might ask: Who are the Southerners? They are likely, being Southerners, Americans who take a rather protective and even loving interest in their country. They are painfully aware that America had, just one year before, been brutally attacked by groups of people who were young Muslim males. They left 3,000 dead–innocent people, civilians, young people just starting out. It grieved a great country. It grieved them.

The Southerners know, for they keep a close eye on the news, that there are now in our country cells of young Muslim males loyal not to the United States but to the grievances and leadership of terror masters. They mean us ill. A bunch of men allegedly meeting this description were arrested last week in Buffalo, N.Y. More are said to be lying low in Michigan, Florida, New Jersey and other states. They move among us with confidence, taking advantage of the freedoms we guarantee, and taking advantage too of our cultural reluctance to jump to conclusions based on a person’s look or sex or ethnicity.


So the Southerners eyeball the young Muslim males, and the young Muslim males feel the vibe.

And they don’t like it. They resent it.

Here they had two clear choices: Try to understand the emotions of the people around them–people who’ve been bruised, who’ve seen their country take a roundhouse right from history–and choose to be polite and friendly. The young Muslim males could smile and nod, for instance. This probably would have gone far in making progress between peoples, for one thing we’ve all read about the terrorists of Sept. 11 is that they never bothered to be nice. They tended to treat the Americans with whom they interacted with Sullen Dead Face–the inexpressive look young men put on so it will be hard for you to read them. Because they don’t want to be read. Because they want to convey an air of some menace.

They could have introduced themselves to the waitress, mentioned they’re on their way to medical school. They could have been quiet, minded their business, chatted softly.

But they didn’t bother to be nice. They wanted things on their terms.


But they were right about one thing, and it’s a big thing. This really does appear to have been a story about bigotry.
There was someone who was prejudiced, who made assumptions based on newspaper reports and urban legends; there was someone who didn’t like “the other” and assumed bad things about them; there was someone who was insensitive, lacking in compassion and aggressive.

And it wasn’t Eunice Stone. It was the three young Muslim males, the young would-be doctors, the college-educated men, who thought they’d have some fun with their social, intellectual and moral inferiors.

And here is the Peggy of 10/19/01:

Suddenly to our right, on the sidewalk, we saw two “Mideastern looking men,” as we all now say. They were 25 or 30 years old, dressed in jeans and windbreakers, and they were doing something odd. They were standing together silently videotaping the outside of St. Pat’s, top to bottom. We watched them, trying to put what we were seeing together. Tourists? It was a funny time of day for tourists to be videotaping a landmark–especially when the tourists looked like the guys who’d just a few days before blown up a landmark.

We watched them. After a minute or so they finished taping St. Pat’s and turned toward where we were. We were about 20 feet away from them, and we eyeballed them hard. They stared back at us in what I thought an aggressive manner: a deadeye stare, cold, no nod, no upturned-chin hello.

They stared at us staring at them for a few seconds, and then they began to videotape Rockefeller Center. We continued watching, and I surveyed the street for a policeman or patrol car. I looked over at the men again. They were watching me. The one with the camera puts it down for a moment. We stared, they stared. And then they left. They walked away and disappeared down a side street.

Let me tell you what I thought. I thought: Those guys are terrorists.


In the past month I have evolved from polite tip-line caller to watchful potential warrior. And I gather that is going on with pretty much everyone else, and I’m glad of it. I was relieved at the story of the plane passengers a few weeks ago who refused to board if some Mideastern looking guys were allowed to board. I was encouraged just last night when an esteemed journalist told me of a story she’d been told: Two Mideastern-looking gentlemen, seated together on a plane, were eyeballed by a U.S. air marshal who was aboard. The air marshal told the men they were not going to sit together on this flight. They protested. The marshal said, move or you’re not on this flight. They moved. Plane took off.

Good news: Everything went safely and calmly. Bad news: The two men were probably Ph.D.’s from Yale on their way to a bioethics convention. They made it clear they resented being split up, and I understand their resentment, and would feel real sympathy if they told me about it. You would, too.

But you know what? I think we’re in the fight of our lives, and I think we’re going to need their patience. And I think those who have not yet developed patience are going to have to grow up and get some.

To recap:

When Trent Lott blurts out a stupidity, he is showing thinly repressed signs of racism, and it’s time for him to “step aside”.

When Noonan talks about the uppity, suspicious “three young Muslim males” or “deadeye(d)” “Mideastern looking men”, she is just protecting our American way of life.

There isn’t a dimes worth of difference between Eunice Stone of Georgia, Trent Lott of Mississippi…and Peggy Noonan of New York. But she is right about one thing: racism isn’t confined to the South.

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