In 2004, at the Cary Christian School in North Carolina, Southern history was taught from a pamphlet titled “Southern Slavery: As it Was.” This pamphlet asserted that “slavery was a relationship based on mutual affection and confidence” and that the Bible “requires a respectful and submissive demeanor from Christian slaves.” A student defended the school on a blog by saying: “The school always believes in showing both sides of an issue.”

By that rationale, the Ku Klux Klan now demands pluralistic tolerance and respect.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, a pharmacist in Tucson refused to dispense the morning-after pill to a rape victim in 2005 “because of religious and moral objections.” When another pharmacist also refused to dispense emergency contraception, an executive initially claimed that her decision on the basis of her religion was protected under civil rights legislation.

Apparently, we should honor your beliefs – even if you think that the woman who wants the pill is a slut that must have asked for it.

It’s a simple game to play. Anyone who doesn’t agree with your own prejudices is biased. A respondent to my recent column on reason and faith (Sex, God and terrorism, 03/28/07) stated: “I love when atheists call Christians bigots because we believe that the homosexual lifestyle is wrong.” Even though gays are demonized, persecuted and occasionally murdered all across the country, it’s you who is the real victim – of anti-Christian bias. Claiming you’re a victim means never having to say you’re sorry.

This Orwellian inversion of “bias” is nothing new. The far Left has been excusing its biases the same way for more than 30 years. In 1978, leftist intellectual Michel Foucault argued that the age of consent should be repealed: “We may even agree that it was (the child) who seduced the adult.” If the kid’s offering, why not go for it? How can society presume to judge the pedophile?

Foucault’s compatriot Jacques Derrida even defended a Nazi propagandist. When it was discovered that his friend Paul de Man had written nearly 200 anti-Semitic articles for a pro-Nazi newspaper during World War II, Derrida retorted that “to judge, to condemn the work or the man . is to reproduce the exterminating gesture which one accuses de Man of not having armed himself against sooner.” In plain language, the person who judges the Nazi is the one who really committed the Holocaust.

These are extreme examples, but they’re part of a broader pattern. Think gangsta rap is misogynistic and dumb? You’re probably racist. Think traditional Islam’s stance on gays and women’s rights is barbaric? Why can’t you tolerate their beliefs? Think “Lady Lumps” makes women look like vapor-brained bimbos? Fergie’s just expressing power feminism.

There’s no clearer example of ethnocentric groups claiming they’re victims of prejudice than the campus groups engaged in debate over the Mideast conflict. Both sides write to the Daily claiming to want a mutually respectful dialogue. Then they list the ways the other side has failed to listen and demand their own perspective be recognized as correct before any compromise is possible. They end by arguing their right to defend their tribe at all costs, including carpet bombings or suicide attacks. Forget the cycle of violence – this is the vortex of hypocrisy.

Conservatives simply extended this logic to bigots.

Conservative political correctness has been devastatingly effective. In a recent Zogby poll, fully 83 percent of the public believes the media is biased, and 64 percent still believe that bias is liberal. Mandatory school prayer isn’t religious indoctrination to some – it’s actually religious freedom. Fox News isn’t a Republican propaganda operation – it’s actually countering liberal media bias. The president isn’t lying – he’s just expressing sincere counterfactual beliefs.

All “compassionate conservatives” needed to do was to adopt the pose of the victim, and the American Left caved. After decades of using no more than accusations of bias to prove their moral superiority, liberals lost the ability to argue from evidence or convince anyone who didn’t already share their beliefs. Now instead of opposing the war in Iraq, the peace movement would rather fight over whether Palestinians or Israelis are more oppressed.

Of course, I could be wrong. As many critics have told me, my own bias infects this column. I believe mutual understanding is better than bigotry and equality is better than privilege. Maybe I’m illiberal for thinking that we ought to marginalize a government gleefully engaged in torture, the demonization of political opposition and the unilateral expansion of empire. When the world is wondering why the American left is silent, I should probably tell people that we can’t unduly judge our opponents’ perspective.

Liberals need to stop banging the drum for their own petty political-cultural identities and unite against politically correct bigotry. We are black or white, gay or straight, Jewish, Christian or Muslim. But we are human first. Without this fundamental unity, we are nothing more than quarrelling tribes, overwhelmed by our old enemies of hatred and fear in a battle that was lost before it began. With this unity, we are strong, buoyed by that same force which carried our forebears, that current of evolution which no narrow-mindedness can divert to serve its own bleak and backwards dreams of purity without perspective.

Toby Mitchell can be reached at tojami@umich.edu.

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