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Lessons Of The Syring Case

George Ajjan [1] draws to our attention the bizarre case of Patrick Syring, former State Department officer [2] and apparently inveterate Arab-hater (how’s that for dispelling myths about State Department employees’ reflexive Arabism?).  During the war in Lebanon, he sent vulgar, nasty and threatening messages to members of the Arab-American Institute.  He has been indicted [3] on 2 counts of “Threatening Communication in Interstate Commerce.”  Whether he has violated the statute in question is not really my main concern, and I am skeptical that the laws he may have broken are actually constitutional, but a few things do occur to me. 

The first is that if the situation were reversed and there were a government official sending such hateful messages to Jewish-Americans and their colleagues, it would be a major story and would be hyped from here to eternity by the usual suspects.  We would see daily coverage in The New York Times and hear constant commentary every day.  There would be bloviating pundits asking “how many” other Foreign Service officers held similar views, and what Secretary Rice was doing about it.  Certain newspapers and magazines would have a field day and would draw broad, sweeping claims about State’s toleration of these attitudes.  As it is, so far as I know, this has not been a major news story and is not likely to become one.  Further, it occurs to me that the reason why it is not a bigger story than it has been is that Syring’s opinion that “the only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese” is one with which I fear all too many pundits and citizens of this country might be inclined to agree, at least to some degree, as shown by the appalling indifference of the American public to the civilian casualties of the bombing of Lebanon and the propagandistic mantras that “they” deserved what they were getting.  In short, it is not more of a story than it is because the public would not be interested in reading or hearing about it.  Additionally, I note that Syring’s repeated declarations in which he allegedly wishes “death” to various Arab-Americans is a strange imitation of standard street protests in the Near East by the very people whom Syring regards as “dogs” (which would apparently make him an imitator of dogs?).  Yet another thing that occurs to me is that it is sickening that foreign conflicts can so inflame Americans against each other that they would wish harm upon their fellow citizens for the sake of a state on the other side of the world.  This is why we were advised to avoid passionate attachments to any other nation, and why we should have no permanent alliances abroad.  Such alliances breed attachments that are not healthy for the political life of our country and they set Americans against each other over wars with which we properly have nothing to do.     

Update: The [4] Post [5], CBS [6] and USA Today’s blog [7] have some items on this case, but it is generally [8] not a widely reported story.  Suffice it to say, this would be inconceivable if the targets of the threats were not Arab-Americans and the context in which the threats were made was not the war in Lebanon. 

Syring (evidently a Notre Dame alum) was apparently a big fan of threatening people with hellfire, as he had done previously in condemning [9] a critic [10] of administration foreign policy.

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10 Comments To "Lessons Of The Syring Case"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 20, 2007 @ 4:54 pm

The man’s incredibly rude, something of a swine and possible a nutcase, to judge by his remarks. His remarks are, or should be, constitutionally protected.

And Daniel’s right, of course, if the shoe were on the other foot, many, from Foxman to Hewitt to Lantos, would be on the warpath, and justifiably so.

Anti-Catholic ranting is also largely ignored. Anti-Orthodox ranting would also be ignored, if anyone bothered to so rant.

#2 Comment By GAjjan On August 20, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

Thanks Daniel for the link. I made an addendum to my post featuring some of your comments.

I was pleased to see Grumpy Old Man drop by and comment chez moi also. I wonder, though, what is the limit of constitutional protection in such a case?

By the way, anti-Orthodox ranting is alive and well whenver a Gemayel is on the ballot. I’m half joking of course. 😉

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 20, 2007 @ 8:01 pm

I’m not familiar with Lebanese ranting, Alhamdullah. The mission I attend is under the omophorion of a Lebanese bishop, but he doesn’t rant, so far as I know. He was sent to a monastery at age 12.

I think constitutional protection ends (a) when there’s an overt threat of harm to an individual; (b) a deliberate falsehood about a person, even a public figure; and (c) when there is unlawful discrimination (say, a Starbucks posting a sign, “No Arabs need apply.”) There is a case that said a kid wearing a jacket in a courthouse that said “F**k the draft” was constitutionally protected. “You’ll roast in Hell” is protected speech, I think.

In fact, there’s an old English law case of a man who said “Were it not assizes time, I’d run thee through.” Held, no actual threat, no assault. It’s still a good guide.

#4 Comment By George Ajjan On August 20, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

Thanks for the brief legal lesson. I’m trying to be as objective as possible here, and it does seem to me that repeatedly calling/emailing the Blue-haired Ladies Society to communicate that “the only good Blue-haired lady is a dead Blue-haired lady” is pushing the limits of constitutional protection (note, I say this in the context of the 2nd count of the indictment about threatening communication, not the 1969 statute about national origin, which it seems the Democrat Congress is trying to expand this very year.)

#5 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 21, 2007 @ 11:10 am

A judge might leave that one to the jury.

#6 Comment By MGB On August 21, 2007 @ 11:10 am

Mr. Larison,

Great points all. I often make a similar argument when I grill those with dual citizenship or multiple passports. A simple question such as, “So if the US went to war with Country X (the country of my opponent’s dual citizenship or passport), whose side would you be on?” The replies I receive are mindnumbingly idiotic, ranging from “We (we?) would never go to war with X” to a dismissive roll of the eyes. Sometimes it is really trying just being a patriotic American with no foreign attachments.


#7 Comment By George Ajjan On August 21, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

I totally agree with the remarks of MGB. Aside from illegal immigration, if we do not tighten up standards for naturalization, we will erode our sovereignty one citizen at a time. A US passport is not an emergency credit card.

I discussed these points on VDare earlier this month – [11]

#8 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 22, 2007 @ 8:45 am

It used to be that if you voted in a foreign election or enlisted in a foreign army (at least, without permission of the US government), you lost your citizenship because these acts were inconsistent with US citizenship.

The Supreme Court put a stop to it. I believe the reason was that citizenship shouldn’t be revoked without a jury trial, but I haven’t looked it up and am therefore not certain.

So, gentle reader, you can run off and join the French Foreign Legion and still vote for Hillary Clinton. Life is grand.

#9 Comment By MGB On August 22, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

Why should any of us be upset about the “patriots” among us who have more passports and citizenships than most of us do fingers? Our Homeland Security Tsar Michael Chertoff has dual citizenship. I know, I know, he got it by birthright. But never forget that one can always renounce said emolument.

#10 Pingback By Eunomia » The Conclusion Of The Syring Case On July 15, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

[…] Some good news for a change.  Via Nick Gillespie comes the word that Patrick Syring, the State Department official who was harrassing members of the Arab-American Institute, has been sentenced to one year in prison for the threats he made against James Zogby and others.  Thanks to the commentary by George Ajjan, I first noted the Syring case last August when he had been indicted. […]