Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates’ PBS program Finding Your Roots is apparently dedicated to showing prominent people how they come from families of victims, and thus belong among today’s elites. For in today’s insane world, victimhood is currency, and the more you have of it, the more privileged you are. But if your family was the victim of one of today’s protected special victim classes, Henry Louis Gates suddenly becomes less interested in awarding you the coveted victim status.
This became clear in a recent episode of Finding Your Roots. According to Daniel M. Bring in the Spectator Monday, “the guest on February 9 was the Lebanese-American actor Tony Shalhoub. The episode made several false or misleading statements that downplayed what historians now call the ‘30-year genocide’ – the mass killings perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against Christians from the 1890s through the 1910s.”
It seems that, as Gates put it on the show, Shalhoub’s great-grandfather “died in 1895, in a region of the Ottoman Empire which was then part of Armenia. At the time, Armenian nationalists were pressing for political reforms, and the Ottoman state decided to make an example of them. An estimated 150,000 people died in massacres that made international headlines.”
Bring explains that “though he does not name them, Gates is speaking of the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1897, during which as many as 400,000 Armenians and other Christians were killed. Gates wrongly identified these killings as the politically motivated repression of Armenians. Instead, these were the overtures of the methodical slow-moving genocide of Armenians and other Christian minorities that accelerated during World War One.”
The trouble began when Gates “discredits a contemporary report about the killing of Shalhoub’s grandfather. Shalhoub reads a harrowing passage from a period newspaper clipping: ‘He was crucified, being nailed hand and foot to a cross and left to suffer many hours before being finally dispatched by a lance thrust. Particulars reached his son in Appleton by letter from a relative who escaped.’”
Shalhoub, according to Bring, “is astonished and repeatedly asks if the story of the crucifixion was true. Gates’s response is stunning. ‘Well, the article was written during the era of yellow journalism, where newspapers often sensationalized or exaggerated stories to improve circulation, right? And at the time, there was a major bias in American newspapers against the Ottomans because they were Muslim. So it’s possible the story was exaggerated.’”
Ah, yes. It must not have happened, or at very least it wasn’t really as bad as it was reported to be. It was just another case of “Islamophobia.” Gates, as a cosseted member of the political and cultural elite class, knows that Muslims are always and everywhere victims, and so what was reported about Shalhoub’s grandfather just couldn’t possibly be true. If it were true, it would upset the establishment narrative, and the establishment narrative must never be upset.
Muslims cannot and must not lose their victim status, you see, because victimhood, in today’s insane society, is currency. Gates himself is a fine example of this. A few years ago, I boarded an airplane and saw Gates already seated in first class. He was exquisitely dressed, happy, bantering with the flight attendants — the very picture of wealth, privilege, contentment and success. As the line slowly inched back to where the great unwashed were crowded together, I saw that as he sipped his drink, he was reading an academic paper — perhaps even proofreading one of his own — about racism and oppression of “brown people.”
The irony was not lost on me. The privileged classes today are those who are present themselves as victims, and Muslims are among the left’s designated victim classes. Thus Gates had to dissemble about the Armenian Genocide and claim that “there was a major bias in American newspapers against the Ottomans because they were Muslim.” Any other analysis would have been “Islamophobic.” But did the Ottoman Muslims really crucify Armenian Christians? Yes. That doesn’t matter, however. As Old Joe Biden put it in August 2019, “We choose truth over facts.”
Truth over facts, or more precisely, the Leftist narrative, presented as truth, over reality. That succinct summation of the Leftist modus operandi may be the wisest thing Wise Old Joe has ever said.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.
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