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Lessons Of The Syring Case

George Ajjan draws to our attention the bizarre case of Patrick Syring, former State Department officer 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 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: ThePost, CBS andUSA Today’s blog have some items on this case, but it is generally 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 a critic of administration foreign policy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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