Bill Kristol Would Like to Remind You of Winston Churchill's Rabid Bigotry

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There's no other plausible explanation for the conservative pundit resurrecting a 113-year-old text.

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In an effort to tamp down riots across the Muslim world, the State Department has started buying ads on Pakistani TV condemning the film The Innocence of Muslims, the nonsensical, amateurish trailer for which sparked off unrest that killed four Americans in Libya. This makes some people uncomfortable, because it constitutes the government spending money to condemn Americans exercising their right to free speech, even if they're not doing anything to stop that speech. Others say the situation demands flexibility to speak to furious crowds. It's a delicate debate, pitting pragmatism against idealism.

Bill Kristol's contribution, however, is something else. The Weekly Standard editor, perhaps best known as America's least effective political prognosticator this side of Dick Morris, has this baffling response. Here he is:

Perhaps the Obama administration should buy airtime in Pakistan to condemn everyone who's ever said anything problematic about Islam. For example, Winston Churchill.

No, you say -- or, rather, the State Department might say -- Churchill's thoughts about Islam aren't in the news, and the video is. Well, here's a passage from the original edition of The River War (1899):

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property -- either as a child, a wife, or a concubine -- must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proseltyzing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science -- the science against which it had vainly struggled -- the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Now it's in the news. State Department, go to work!

There are many things to admire about Churchill, but as this passage makes clear, his views on race are not among them. Nor was this an isolated occasion. "I hate Indians," he said. "They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." During World War II, he at the very least acted negligently in standing idly by while a million Indians starved.

So what, precisely, is Kristol's aim in pointing out this virulent, undisguised racism? Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he himself is not endorsing these plainly bigoted words. Kristol is also bright enough to recognize the difference between condemning Americans' speech and condemning a long-dead foreign citizen's. He surely understands that these ads are being aired to try to prevent further loss of American life. And obviously he's being tongue-in-cheek about expecting the State Department to condemn Churchill's words above (although one would hope that if asked, Foggy Bottom would do so).

The only solution must be that Kristol wishes to draw our attention to these comments to show just how racist Churchill was. Bravo, Bill! In fact, perhaps you ought to launch a campaign to have any sculptures of this unrepentant bigot removed from the White House?

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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