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Jewish World Review March 22, 2001 / 27 Adar, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Storm troopers vs. free speech -- DESPITE media proclamations of "the public's right to know" and frequent invocations of the First Amendment, there has been a deafening silence from the national media over the storm trooper tactics used on college campuses against student newspapers that carried a paid advertisement by JWR columnist David Horowitz, outlining the case against reparations for slavery.

At the University of California at Berkeley, the editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Californian, abjectly apologized for having run the ad after mobs besieged the paper's office. Fortunately, such storm trooper tactics did not work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where editor-in-chief Julie Bosman stood her ground when the mob surrounded her office. She refused to recant or apologize. On other campuses around the country, student newspapers refused to run the ad in the first place -- in short, pre-emptive surrender to mob rule.

Charges of "racism" have been flung hither and yon by those protesting the ad, but "racism" has become like ketchup -- something you can put on almost anything. Anyone who actually reads David Horowitz's carefully reasoned and factually-based ad will understand why his critics did not simply reply to him and try to prove him wrong. His logic is too air-tight and it demolishes the idiocy of those who are calling for reparations.

The first thing to understand about the campaign to get reparations for blacks for slavery is that everyone on all sides of this issue knows that it is never going to happen. Those blacks who hope that it will and those whites who fear that it will are both becoming exercised needlessly.

The only gainers from this campaign will be those race hustlers who thrive on publicity, liberal politicians who benefit from keeping as many blacks as possible resentful and dependent on them, and others who are engaged in a never-ending ideological vendetta against American society and all that it stands for.

Nevertheless, David Horowitz's attempt to inject some sanity into the reparations issue is very valuable, not only for this issue but also for exposing the whole mindset of those who are using slavery for ideological or political purposes.

Despite sweeping and fiery rhetoric about "whites" and "blacks" in general -- covering people living in this country over a period of centuries -- most of those people are dead and the only people we can do anything for or with are the small fraction who happen to be alive at this moment.

Nothing we can do in the 21st century can redress the wrongs done by people long dead against other people long dead. So we might as well put aside these sweeping definitions of "whites" and "blacks" that extend back through history and talk about those particular whites, blacks and others who are alive today.

As one of those black Americans, I consider it as ridiculous as it would be phony to pretend that I am worse off than if my ancestors had remained in West Africa and I had been born there. They themselves might well have been better off remaining in Africa, but they are not the ones who would get any reparations.

Then there is the question of who would pay the reparations. There are millions of white Americans -- of Jewish, Italian and Slavic descent, for example -- whose ancestors arrived on these shores long after slavery had been abolished. Are they to be taxed to pay reparations for what other people did? And what of people from Asia and Latin America who arrived more than a century after slavery was over? Are they to be taxed too?

Even among those white Americans who lived during the era of slavery, most never owned a slave and didn't have the money to buy one if they had wanted to. Should their descendants be taxed?

Slavery existed for thousands of years on every inhabited continent. Its victims included Europeans, Asians and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, as well as Africans.

You are going to have to do some strange gerrymandering of history to say that blacks in America are the only ones to get reparations. What about the Slavs, who were enslaved for so many centuries that the very name slavery derived from their name -- not only in English, but in other European languages and in Arabic?

The painful irony is that those who are crying out against the slavery of the past include many who are trying to impose an enslavement of the mind today through storm trooper tactics.

Those in academia and the media who are cowed into silence look pathetic when compared with those who fought against slavery in the past.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate