Middle East

Very Animated Anti-Arab Animus

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Alan Vanneman sends along this dispatch from The Wash Post, in which an ex-diplomat has been sent to jail for being, well, not very diplomatic:

A retired Foreign Service officer was sentenced yesterday to one year in prison for making threats against Arab American Institute President James Zogby and other employees there.

W. Patrick Syring, 50, who served two tours in Beirut during his 25-year State Department career, pleaded guilty to violating civil rights laws. The charges stem from messages he left at AAI in the midst of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

"The only good Arab is a dead Arab," Syring said in a profanity-laden July 2006 voice-mail message delivered to AAI, which promotes Arab American participation in elections and policy issues.

After federal prosecutors in the District accused him of intimidating the workers based on their national origin, Syring sent an incendiary message to a television station where Zogby had been interviewed. In the March 2008 e-mail, Syring repeated some of the language from his phone call and accused Zogby of "promoting the interest of Hezbollah, Hamas and Arab terror."

Whole thing here.

While it's easy to see why the guy washed out of the diplomatic corps, it's not fully clear to me that he should be doing jail time for his out-of-bounds comments (at least as reported in the press). I like the idea of holding government officials to higher standards than the rest of us, but it's not clear to me that's in play here. He should (and I'm assuming he will) have a tough time finding work. What say you, Hit & Runners?

Alan Vanneman site here; always worth reading.

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  1. Wow. He’s going to prison for being an asshole?

    Just FMI, are any of the Bill of Rights amendments still active in this country?

  2. I guess that one could stretch and decide that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab,” was a threat, but I think that’s a reach. The comment could too easily also be seen as an endorsement of Israel’s war policy. And favoring an Israeli invasion of Lebanon, even if your reason for favoring it is that Arabs will die in it, doesn’t sound like a criminal act to me.

    Of course, that being said, how in the hell did this guy end up in the diplomatic corps in the Middle East? Is the State Department out there recruiting among the Klan for diplomatic appointments to Africa?

  3. BTW,

    Why isn’t John McCain in jail for singing about bombing Iran, or saying that war is always preferable to trade with Muslims, or saying that he hopes that increased cigarette exports will kill lots of Iranians? [/sarcasm]

  4. Gotta love Google Ads.

    The one at the top for me now reads:
    Chat With Single Arabs HERE

  5. Is the State Department out there recruiting among the Klan for diplomatic appointments to Africa?

    Sounds more like AIPAC than the Klan.

  6. That’s dumb. I have to imagine they interpreted it as a threat (which I guess it could seem like – I might interpret it as such were it directed at me, but probably not).

    I wonder what else he said though. I am sure it was longer than that.

  7. I guess that one could stretch and decide that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab,” was a threat

    Context is always (obviously) very important with this sort of thing. In one context it is a threat, and in another it is simply being an asshole. Which is what you and J are both getting at, I suppose.

  8. I like the idea of holding government officials to higher standards than the rest of us, but it’s not clear to me that’s in play here.

    Especially since this guy was retired.

  9. Hard to say if this has merit without knowing exactly what “threats” he made.

  10. If we wound copper wire around some American Middle East hawks, their rate of flipping between “we’re spreading freedom” and “kill the brutes” could generate enough to AC current to power New England.

  11. If someone threatens to harm another, it should be illegal. A generalized harrasment law should cover any threatening phone calls. Adding ethnicity to the law just does not make sense. Is calling 30 random nonprofits some how OK?

  12. Joe,

    How do you suggest the US react to brutes? By the way, I follow the m-w definition of a brute: a brutal person. This definition lables individuals based on their actions, not their ethnicity. So, given that an individual acts in a cruel and cold-hearted manner, how should others respond to him?

  13. Yeah I’m thinking harrassment or a threat at most, but for some reason I seem to think that threatening words over the phone don’t seem as terrible to me (no imminence of harm, which imo should be the actionable part of threats). I think losing his job was appropriate (a diplomat taking time out to call the head of a survey center and LEAVE SUCH A MESSAGE RECORDED? WTF?). And I can’t see adding the ethnicity thing as an element as jtuf mentioned.

  14. Oh, I should slow down and read. So he was retired and had no job to lose. If he did this would surely be grounds for firing is still my point.

    And he made these statements on several occasions (though he was charged after the first one).

    Maybe the guy was jockeying for a job in a future Likud Administration?

  15. jtuf

    I’m not joe, but some questions:

    You mean how should the nation of the United States deal with individual brutes? Like brutes in US jurisdiction or brutes around the world? I’m not sure what you are getting at…

  16. Calling the dead good and the living not-good are common religious expressions, consistent with, inter alia, pacifism.

  17. jtuf,

    How do you suggest the US react to brutes?

    Step 1, from which all other steps must follow: make sure to distinguish between the actual brutes, and other people who happen to share ethnicity, religion, geography, or language with them.

    “The only good Arab is a dead Arab,” for example, = FAIL.

  18. Ok. I RTFA. I see assholism by the bushelful. I don’t see (from the article that does not report the entire message) a threat. I hate defending fucktard pieces of scum like W. Patrick Syring, I really do.

    At the end of the piece we get this politically correct anti-free speech statement –

    “There is no room in our society for the intolerance of other races or national origins, particularly by those who hold positions in the government,” said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor.

    I’m pretty intolerant* of certain groups of people. It’s my right. I may not invite them into my home or even be civil towards them. That’s my right. And as others pointed out, he’s retired. He’s not a commisioned military officer, a somewhat different can of worms.

    * 1: unable or unwilling to endure

  19. Sounds more like mental illness than a well thought out political position. They offered him no jail time after the first threats IN 2006, but he kept sending e-mails in 2008. Not very rational when you are already facing charges.

  20. This dude should seriously think about getting an MRI of his brain. Either the State Department is in the habit of hiring bigots for sensitive posts or this guy’s behavior rapidly changed. Despite my lack of faith in the government, I find the second scenario much more likely. If so, he’s probably got some brain damage.

    My uncle did something similar. After decades of being known for being an exceptionally nice guy and as a voice for diversity and inclusion, he started making insensitive remarks at work and being generally uncivil. Turned out he had a tumor that was crushing his frontal lobe. After surgery, he was himself again.

  21. According to the Post article, Syring sent one vicious voice mail to the Arab American Institute and two years later sent a nasty email to a TV station that had interviewed AAI’s president. I can see locking someone up for harassment, but this falls far short of harassment. If freedom doesn’t involve the freedom to be an asshole on random occasions, we’re all headed for the slammer.

  22. Rimfax,
    Similar with my granduncle, but it was frontal lobe atrophy. He never recovered.

  23. I agree with Rimfax and meerdahl. Mental illness or a brain disease that advances over time can sometimes assert themselves as racism.

    Poor, doomed James Forrestal went off the deep end over the Jews and Israel something fierce back in the 40s.

  24. Poor, poor Phineas Gage.

  25. Another article said he plead guilty for “threatening statements.”

    The indictment to which Syring pleaded guilty charged that he sent four emails and three voicemails to AAI employees from approximately July 17 to 29, 2006. The emails included repeated use of threatening phrases. . . .
    “Threats of violent hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on the individual victim,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “These are crimes against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded.”


  26. Step 1, from which all other steps must follow: make sure to distinguish between the actual brutes, and other people who happen to share ethnicity, religion, geography, or language with them.

    “The only good Arab is a dead Arab,” for example, = FAIL.

    In places where the US has jurisdiction, I agree with you whole heartedly. Any factors not relevant to criminal behavior should also be on that list. Therefor, generalizing about hawks based on this case would fail Step 1.

    In places outside the US jurisdiction, the actions of the government in charge is important. A nation has a collective responsibility towards other nations to make sure that no one within its jurisdiction attacks people outside that jurisdiciton. If it didn’t, then we would have multiple governments enforcing contradictory rulings in the same spot. In other words, we would have shoot-outs. So, if a foreign government catches or tries to catch people launching attacks from within its jurisdiction, then the US should wait and let that government take care of it. If a foreign government refuses to stop attacks that originate from within its jurisdiction, then the situation is more complicated. Depending on the details, war can be justified.

  27. If we wound copper wire around some American Middle East hawks, their rate of flipping between “we’re spreading freedom” and “kill the brutes” could generate enough to AC current to power New England.

    You realize, of course, that these two goals are not mutually exclusive, but are actually complementary. For certain values of “brute”, in fact, I would say that “kill the brutes” is a necessary, if not sufficient, precondition for “spreading democracy.”

  28. Mr. Nice Guy | July 14, 2008, 11:00am | #

    jtuf

    I’m not joe, but some questions:

    You mean how should the nation of the United States deal with individual brutes? Like brutes in US jurisdiction or brutes around the world? I’m not sure what you are getting at…

    Mostly I was pointing out that we should group people according to their individual behavior. To a Libertarian looking at a domestic case, the most important question is whether or not an individual initiates force against others. When Joe brought up hawks, I responded to his comment. Arab does not equal terrorist. That means the War on Terror does not equal a War on Arabs.

  29. R C,

    You realize, of course, that these two goals are not mutually exclusive, but are actually complementary.

    If the “kill the brutes” position was sufficiently tailored to actual brutes, that would be true. However, I’ve read enough anti-Arabism (a big, bloody victory will humiliate Arab society and show them that the West is boss), anti-Islam prejudice, and even enough smug declarations about the Iraqi Sunnis “reaping the whirlwind” by not voting in 2005 to recognize just how broadly targeted such statements are.

    jtuf,

    So, if a foreign government catches or tries to catch people launching attacks from within its jurisdiction, then the US should wait and let that government take care of it. If a foreign government refuses to stop attacks that originate from within its jurisdiction, then the situation is more complicated. I prefer not to think of citizens as expressions of the will of the government that controls the territory in which they live, but as individuals whose responsibility accrues from their own actions. By all means, war against a government may be justified if that government wrong us, or fails to stop attacks from within its borders, but the extension of that guilt to private citizens just trying to get along in their lives is both immoral and counterproductive. To do so based on ethnicity, religion, language, or culture, without even a political order to hand your hat on, is even worse.

  30. Arab does not equal terrorist. That means the War on Terror does not equal a War on Arabs.

    Wouldn’t that depend on how it is actually fought?

  31. A bit OT: since I consider “democracy” often akin to “leprosy”, “spreading democracy” should be considered a crime or at least require quarantine of the responsible individual.

  32. jtuf,

    FWIW, I think there is a legitimate, honest appreciation of the universality of human rights and the desire to expand freedom and accountable government to people suffering under despots, within certain strains of neo-conservatism. I think that noble impulse suffers from a sort of righty indentity politics that conflates it with such ideas as the primacy of western, Christian civilization; the expansion of American hegemony across the globe; and the political dominance of the political left over the political right.

    People who look to define their political views as human-rights-centered, and then include Dick Cheney in the rolls of the good guys while casting out Dennis Kuchinich, are missing quite a bit.

  33. Joe,

    Like I said, the situation is more complicated when attacks on the US originate outside the US. If a foreign government refuses to catch people who attack the US from its country, then we have a situation similar to WWI. A situation like this can lead to war, although it doesn’t have to. The distribution of liability between government officials and citizens depends on the case. So do the justifiable recourses. It is clearly wrong to intentionally kill civilians. That is we why don’t do that. On the other extreme, US commandos might enter a foreign country to catch the attacker and end up driving on that country’s roads. Driving on the roads causes an iota of damage to it. That means the citizens will end up paying to replace the roads a few seconds sooner than if the commandos did not drive on them. Is this an unjustifiable treatment of civilians?

  34. People who look to define their political views as human-rights-centered, and then include Dick Cheney in the rolls of the good guys while casting out Dennis Kuchinich, are missing quite a bit.

    Did any of those people post a comment on this page?

  35. jtuf, if you’re still checking this:

    I was referring to neoconservatives in general.

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