Saturday, February 03, 2007

Suppose roles had been reversed in Clara Harris case

Police squad cars all across America bear the slogan, "There's no excuse for domestic violence." Yet there is one situation in which the media and the public seem to feel that domestic violence is sometimes excusable - when the perpetrator is a woman, and the victim is a man

Imagine a woman trapped in a loveless marriage with a jealous, potentially violent husband whom she believes may be cheating on her. She stays in the marriage because she fears she could be separated from her children should they divorce, and finds understanding, companionship and passion in a relationship with a coworker. Her husband finds out about the affair and goes on a violent, jealous rampage, slaughtering her in front of her daughter as the daughter begs him not to kill her mother. There would be no tears or excuses for the killer, and nobody would dare to proffer the fact that his wife had been cheating on him as a justification for the murder.

These are the facts of the Clara Harris case, with the genders reversed. Yet the reaction has been quite different. The media on both the left and the right have poured derision upon the murder victim, referring to David Harris as a "rat," a "lying, cheating scumbag" and Clara Harris' "unfaithful dog of a husband." Commentator Susan Estrich asked, "Who could blame [Clara] for getting into her Mercedes and running him over?" and seemed a little sad that the Harris County criminal trial jury did. Conservative talk show host Joseph Farah penned a column entitled "Free Clara Harris!" in which he wrote, "I'd give her a medal. . She did the right thing. That creep deserved what he got."

Even the prosecutor in the murder trial, Mia Magness, expressed her disgust, saying that Clara, instead of killing David by her own hand, should have "[done] like every other woman . get his house, car, kids - make him wish he were dead." Lorna Mullens, the jury forewoman in the recently concluded wrongful death trial, expressed sympathy for Clara but said she decided that Clara was responsible for David's death because, after all, "She kept running over him. She could have stopped after she hit him the first time."

CBS portrayed Clara as a pitiable, betrayed wife in the 2004 movie Suburban Madness, and Oprah Winfrey sympathetically interviewed the sobbing Clara from prison in 2005. Of the 354 news stories covering the wrongful death trial that are indexed on Google News, 233 refer to David Harris as Clara Harris' "cheating husband." Not one mentions the phrase "domestic violence."

The truth behind the Clara Harris case has come from the mouth of a child - David's daughter, Lindsey. Only 16 years old at the time of the murder, Lindsey rode in the front seat with Clara and begged her not to kill her father. Lindsey has denounced the widespread media sympathy for Clara, saying: "[Clara has appeared] in print and on television to persuade the viewers that she is actually the victim, but she is no victim. What she did was the ultimate act of selfishness, caring only about obtaining revenge and thinking not one bit about how her horrible act was going to affect me or my brothers, Brian and Bradley. Anyone who shared my ride in the car that evening, seeing my dad's face as he was about to be hit, and experiencing the horrible feel of the car bumping over his body would understand that this murderess deserves no sympathy."

Bobbi Bacha, vice president of Blue Moon Investigations, the private detective agency Clara had hired to spy on David, also conducted an investigation of Clara. Though the media have largely ignored it, in November 2002 Bacha presented the criminal court with several audio tapes on which witnesses claim that Clara was also having an affair before she killed David.

Lindsey says that Clara mistreated and neglected David, and that her father often confided in her how lonely he felt. Coupled with Clara's temper and evident capacity for violence, David had ample reason to want to get out of the relationship. Instead of letting him go, Clara killed him. While many see the Clara Harris case as one of love and betrayal, it is in fact a garden-variety domestic homicide. Clara Harris is no better than high-profile wife-killer Scott Peterson. Perhaps Clara is even worse - at least Peterson spared us the crocodile tears.


The Left is onside with hate

As their response to David Hicks and militant Islam shows, progressives are losing their moral compass -- if they ever had one (David Hicks is an Australian terrorist held at Guantanamo Bay -- whom Australian Leftists are agitating to have released)

Why is it, asks British journalist Nick Cohen, that apologies for a militant Islam, which stands for everything the liberal Left is against, come from the liberal Left? Why are you as likely to read about the alleged conspiracy of Jews controlling American foreign policy in a literary journal as in a neo-Nazi hate sheet? Why, after the bomb attacks in the London underground, did left-leaning British newspapers run pieces excusing the suicide bombers, these same young men who were motivated by "a psychopathic theology from the ultra-Right"?

Why, in short, have Left and Right changed places? Nick Cohen is not the first to write about the unholy alliance between Western liberals and extreme right Islamic fundamentalists, but he does it in a particular and powerful way in his new book What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way.

The book is not available yet in Australia (there are extracts of it on The Observer's website), but in Britain it is already one of the most discussed books of the new year. "At the very least it forces, or ought to force, anyone on the Left to think carefully about where their movement has ended up in the modern world," wrote Martin Kettle in The Guardian.

Cohen is firmly of the Left. When he was 13, he was shocked to find out that his English teacher, who "gave every appearance of being a kind and thoughtful man", voted Conservative. "I must have understood at some level that real Conservatives lived in Britain - there was a Conservative government at the time, so logic dictated that there had to be Conservative voters. But it was incredible to learn that my teacher was one of them," he wrote. "To be good you had to be on the Left."

The Left still claims the moral high ground, but it is rather harder these days to see that it still holds it. Yes, those who opposed the Iraq war are entitled to feel vindicated. But wouldn't you think leftist commentators could put aside their self-righteousness long enough to support the Iraqis who are trying to build a free and democratic society? The anti-war movement disgraced itself not because it was against the war in Iraq, but because it could not oppose the counter-revolution once the war was over, wrote Cohen. "A principled Left that still had life in it and a liberalism that meant what it said might have remained ferociously critical of the American and British (and I could add, Australian) governments while offering support to Iraqis who wanted the freedoms they enjoyed," he said.

When there is - rightly - condemnation of America's many mistakes in Iraq but no condemnation of the terrorist outrages carried out by Islamic extremists; when there is - justified - criticism of Israel but no equal criticism of those whose stated aim is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth; when letters to the editor pour out compassion for one Australian held too long in custody, but there is nary a mention of the victims of a genocide that is going on right now in the Darfur region of Sudan, one suspects at best selective compassion, at worst, bad faith. One suspects that indignation over human rights abuses depends less on the extent of the abuse and more on who is doing the abusing.

I too pity David Hicks. I wish the US would either properly charge and try him or release him. If he is being chained to the floor, as his lawyer says (a US military lawyer says he is not), this is disgraceful. But to compare an American prison - in which there is reportedly a problem with prisoners becoming overweight - to a "Nazi death camp"?

There is something strange going on in the attempts to diminish the unique horror of the Holocaust. There is something strange in attempts to establish a sinister connection between Jews and American power. There is something very murky going on when in certain left-wing circles it is quite safe to compare Jews to Nazis.

Why is scarcely a word spoken by liberal commentators about the treatment of women under the Taliban rule - child marriages, stonings, absolute exclusion from public life - that Hicks wanted to fight to uphold? Why are Muslim feminists derided as apologists for imperialism, or "neocons"? How in the world did the Left allow feminism to be hijacked by the Right, when it was always the Left that fought for women's liberation and the Right that resisted it?

Of course what it means to be part of the Left is much less clear these days. Most people are left on some issues and right on others. But it is not valid either to say these attitudes belong to only an extreme fringe. To greater or lesser degrees they are prevalent in mainstream liberal thinking.

The Left used to be about the future and improving the lot of mankind. The problem for it today, as Cohen points out, is that it has got most of what it wanted. Although there is still a way to go, the Left of a century ago would see the prosperity of today's workers, the equal opportunity laws, the intellectual freedoms, as a paradise. It is harder today to see yourself as a victim of a pernicious system.

So the Left now is about resistance to material progress, to globalisation, and most of all to American power. There is plenty to criticise about Western lifestyles. Still, it should be obvious to all but the most blinkered that the system the US wants to impose on the Middle East is far better than the system the Islamists want to impose on us. Democracy is at least self-correcting. I hope the wearers of the "George Bush, World's No.1 terrorist" T-shirts, never have to find that out.


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