Thursday, February 10, 2011

When the Word is as Mighty as the Sword

There has been much talk recently about whether people can be held accountable for violence if their words didn’t actually incite the violence, but created a climate of hatred and fear that underpinned the violence.  From a legal perspective, certainly they cannot be held responsible.  However, are they morally responsible?

Two recent cases are on point.  The first concerns the incident in Tucson in which a deranged person with strong anti-government feelings shot and killed or injured twenty people.  Many liberals pointed to Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” map as well as her “reload” language as having some responsibility for the incident.  To which she replied that she abhorred violence and that such an accusation was a blood libel.

But Sarah Palin has a history of fomenting hostility and violence.  The “reload” call and the rifle crosshair map are just more relevant to the current incident.

During the 2008 election campaign and the health care debate, Palin frequently painted Obama as a hostile enemy, not a “real” American, who “palled around with terrorists” and was a socialist.  As a result, her audiences became increasingly hostile, calling out  “terrorist” and “kill him” on numerous occasions.  Not once did Palin repudiate the violence of her audience.

In the second case, a group of Evangelical Christians went to Uganda to press their message that the “homosexual agenda” was evil and that homosexuals sodomize teenage boys.  To put it mildly, they found a receptive audience and the result was a proposed law under which homosexuals would be executed simply for being homosexual. 

While consideration of that bill was put on hold due to international condemnation, a local paper published photos and addresses of key gay activists with an accompanying anti-gay diatribe, after which one was hammered to death in his home.  Here again, the Evangelicals reacted with horror to the crime and said that in no way did they promote or provoke anti-gay violence.

Yes, to paraphrase the NRA, “people kill, not words.”   So Palin cannot be blamed for the Giffords’ shooting and the Evangelicals cannot be blamed for the Uganda murder.  However, their incendiary deceitful words can be blamed for creating an atmosphere of fear and violence towards, on the one hand, Obama and liberal democrats as the enemy, not just opponents, and on the other towards gays as a threatening Satanic force.

A deranged man pulled the trigger and struck the hammer blows, but Palin and the Evangelicals were a force that help point the gun and raise the arm in violence.