VITAL SIGNSrnJOURNALISMrnPersecutionsrnby Philip JenkinsrnIdon’t know if I was more shocked byrnthe article itself, or by where it appeared.rnThough I have heard the argumentrnthat gay advocates vastly overstaternthe prevalence of hate crimes in order tornsupport a far-reaching political agenda,rnwho would have thought that such arncoldly skeptical demolition of their caserncould have appeared in the ultra-liberalrnNew York Times? But there it was, underrna firont-page headline: “A Move to Facern’Persecution’ Facing Gays Worldwide,”rnwith “persecution” framed in quotes.rnAnd the opening paragraphs followedrnthis same theme, with various atrocitiesrnrecorded, but always in scornful termsrnwhich cast doubt on the reality of the victimization:rnWe read of people gatheringrnto support “what they call gay martyrs,”rnor marching in support of “the gays theyrnare told are suffering” in countriesrnaround the world. Although specificrncrimes are described, there is a powerfulrnsuggestion that these are so ludicrouslyrnoverstated that they may not be real. Thernbulk of the article focused instead on thernbalanced and moderate opinions of objectivernexperts who denounced the ballyhoornabout hate crimes and urged that anti-rngay sentiment be understood in therncontext of traditional social attitudes. Asrnone distinguished think-tank authorityrnremarked, “There are local forces, localrninterests, so it’s not subsumable underrnone kind of conspiracy against gays.” Ifrnthe audience being agitated by thesernwild charges of anti-gay persecution wererna little more sophisticated, they would realizernthat this sort of violence goes on allrnthe time, and there really is no need tornget so excited. The worst possible coursernof action would be to pass ill-consideredrnemergency legislation to force the federalrngovernment to protect potential victimsrnof persecution, a policy which couldrnonly make things worse. Many mightrnfeel that the whole article was astonishinglyrncallous to the well-documentedrnsufferings of the victims of hate crimesrnacross the world, but it was refreshing tornfind such a wildly atypical piece in thernTimes. Clearly, the editors are willing tornexpose humbug and posturing fromrnwhatever part of the political spectium itrncomes.rnYes, of course, I am joking —well,rnpartly. The article in question was indeedrnprinted on the front page of thernTimes, on November 9, 1998, under thernbyline of Laurie Goodstein, and all thernquotes did appear exactiy as worded, exceptrnthat in each instance, I havernchanged the name of the minority grouprnbeing subjected to torture and murder: Itrnwas originally Christians, not gays. Oncernwe realize that, we can comprehend thernwhole mystery of how a paper like thernTimes might have discovered a categoryrnof hate crime which it is prepared to tolerate,rnor at least to cover as if the persecutorsrnrequired equal time with the victims.rnIn this instance, the crimes arernonly of interest in demonstrating howrnpowerful right-wing pressure groups usernsuch apparentiy trivial issues to mobilizernsupport among the ignorant faithful, andrnto galvanize Christians to become politicallyrnactive. So much for the voicelessrnChristian victims, those inconceivablyrnpoor Africans, Asians, and Arabs whornself-evidently fall into the category ofrn”torturees,” Graham Greene’s classicrnterm for those who can be maimed andrnkilled with impunity. We can almostrnhear the newspaper’s sneer: If not for politicalrnadvantage, why else would AmericanrnChristians care about such people?rnThe Times would never have treatedrnany other ethnic, social, or religiousrngroup as dismissively as the persecutedrnChristians of Sudan and Saudi Arabia,rnPakistan or China. Goodstein even rejectsrnthe concept of anti-Christian persecution.rnAfter all, as “experts say” (thosernfamous experts again), “what outsidersrnoften label Christian persecution is oftenrna complex brew of racial, economic, political,rntribal and religious rivalries.”rnNow, I have tried diligently, but I cannotrndecipher how that description cannotrnequally be applied to any other form ofrnhatred or discrimination, most conspicuously,rnto antisemitism. Nor can I discoverrnwhy the fact of being such a “complexrnbrew” should mean that observersrnshould take less account of it. Let me testrnthis against an imaginary news story:rnThough the mob destroyed thernsynagogue and killed several believersrnat prayer, authorities explainedrnthat the event should notrnbe viewed too seriously, as the perpetratorsrnwere motivated by a complexrnbrew of ancient rivalries andrnemotions.rnNo, it doesn’t read too convincingly,rndoes it? Or at least, it would not in therncontext of any group besides Christians,rnwho, as we are explicitly told by thernTimes, are still in the doghouse “over thernindifference or even complicity of somernChristians in the Holocaust and in genocidalrnwars in Rwanda and Bosnia.” Nevertheless,rn”Christians are seeing themselvesrnas the victims and martyrs of thernmoment.” I especially admire the phrasern”of the moment,” with its implications ofrna faddish cause du jour. The nerve ofrnthose people, whining just because a fewrnhundred thousand of their fellow believersrnare beaten, beheaded, raped, and torturedrneach year.rnWe have to be precise about our termsrnhere. All religiously motivated attacks onrnJews are hate crimes evoking Kristallnachtrnand the holocaust; all attacks onrnhomosexuals are manifestations of pervasivernhatred arid bigotry, requiring massivernpublic re-education; the notion ofrn”anti-Christian persecution” is, however,rna “misguided oversimplification,” howeverrnblatant the element of religious bigotry.rnIn fact, even to express concernrnabout this last kind of organized terrorismrnis in itself a form of hate crime,rnchiefly directed against Muslims. I hopernthat’s all clear.rnIncidentally, all due credit should gornto Goodstein for her rhetorical talents.rnAnyone else writing such a story mightrnhave been tempted to lead with one orrntwo of the straightforward and well-documentedrnrecent instances of humblernChristian believers executed or murderedrnfor their faith, but this might havernrun the risk of arousing sympathy for thernvictims. (For many such instances, readrnthe heart-rending case studies in TheirrnFEBRUARY 1999/41rnrnrn