Women and children first, right? No? Women and children second? Forget about ‘em? Get the hell out of my way? Maybe somebody will tell me that special regard for women and children under extreme circumstances — lifeboats on the Titanic, that kind of thing — has eroded or at least grown more complex somehow in modern culture.
But I don’t think so. Not really. We still say drunk guys shouldn’t beat up their wives, right? We haven’t decided yet that it’s up to the wife to learn how to throw a better punch. And a special regard for children doesn’t really need an explanation. Or shouldn’t.
But here we have Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne on TV lending credence to an entirely insane, malicious attack on the child in her city who is now famous for bringing a clock to school. It was her TV host, Glenn Beck, and not she, who painted 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed as a co-conspirator in an international terror plot. But instead of speaking up to shelter the child from Beck's venom — the child of citizens of her own city — she grinned and ducked like a schoolgirl.
Ahmed is the Irving kid who cobbled together a clock from components and took it to school to impress his teacher. The school called the cops and had him cuffed and trundled off because the school officials and Irving police couldn’t tell a clock from a bomb. And his name is Ahmed.
With Van Duyne seated next to him on his guest sofa, Beck painted the ninth-grade boy as a terrorist. Look. There’s something a decent adult human being does in that circumstance.
You stop it. You say, “No, Glenn, this is an innocent child, according to police who have investigated the incident. There is no evidence that this child behaved with any malevolence or with any direction from an adult. This kid has been through enough. Whatever it is you want to talk about, we should leave children out of it.”
You don’t sit there and grin and smirk like Van Duyne did. You stick up for the kid. If you can’t stick up for a kid, you’re a truly worthless human being. Kids always must be sheltered from the full combat of the adult world. I thought we all knew that.
Glenn Beck, sure, forget about it. He’ll say anything. There was another guy on the show with Beck and Van Duyne, a crew-cut former Green Beret identified as head of the Center for Insane Paranoid Bullshit or something like that (I may not have it exactly right). Beck and the insane paranoid bullshit guy launched into an entire absolutely wackadoodle diatribe about Irving as the target of an international Islamic plot. They said the boy, Ahmed, was probably a tool in that plot.
Of course. People like Beck and his guest are cartoon characters. But Van Duyne is the real live mayor of a real live city in our midst in North Texas, and it seems reasonable to expect that she would have enough basic moral decency at least to stick up for a kid.
As for the online commentology community, I don’t know if it’s worth even dignifying that stuff with a response. I would not, except that the online assault on Ahmed Mohamed is consonant with Islamophobia everywhere. If anything, a willingness to assault children may be the most telling indicator of what we’re dealing with.
Cartoon though he may be, Beck nevertheless is preaching a proto-genocidal breed of hatred that denies and negates the basic humanity of the hated, the other, the ones who are not deemed fully human. Going after children is an important indicator. It’s kind of how we know what Beck is.
When a person extinguishes the value of women and children first in his heart, then we know what’s really going on in that heart. That person is hollowing out his heart of human compassion, teaching his heart not to recognize the creatures before his eyes as fellow human beings.
I think we all know where that goes — where it always inevitably goes. Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Germany: In every one of those places long before the killing began, people taught themselves not to put women and children first. Not to care about some kid.
But every society, especially one like ours that values free speech, is going to have Glenn Becks. And that other guy. What we count on is the countervailing wisdom and authority of regular folks, the people who drive the buses, send the kids off to school in the morning, preach the sermons, repair the cars — normal people with decent values. We count on them to know that you don’t use an innocent child as your verbal voodoo doll. We count on those people to be sane and have decency.
So now we know one thing for sure about Beth Van Duyne. Don’t count on her for a damn thing.
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