I draw three lessons from the Don Imus controversy.
The traditional Muslims were right: I"ve noticed that the Middle Eastern media is treating the Imus story--and how our little scandals travel worldwide!--with a certain degree of relish. And I think I know why. Remember the Muhammad cartoon scandal? When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed the cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, many in the West viewed this solely through the lens of free speech. The media coverage suggested a confirmation of Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis. We believe in free speech and they don't. Many conservatives rallied to this viewpoint.
Clearly the embassy-burnings and rabid protests of the Islamic radicals showed that there is a faction in the Muslim world that completely rejects open debate. But the traditional Muslims fell silent. They did not join with the radicals, but neither did they defend the cartoons. And indeed some commented that the way in which the West was treating the controversy was unfair and hypocritical.
The Imus controversy vindicates the argument of these traditional Muslims. How often during the Imus brouhaha have you heard the words "free speech"? Hardly.
Did the First Amendment even come up? Nyet. Did dozens of other radio hosts choose to echo the epithets directed at the Rutgers women's basketball team in order to affirm their solidarity with Imus and their enthusiasm for civil liberties? No, there has been an almost-universal howl of outrage. The man must be fired! Everyone involved should have sensitivity counseling to make sure this doesn't happen again! All of this is indicative of the racism that is endemic in our society!
No wonder the Muslims are chuckling. They see that when our sacred cows are gored, we scream bloody murder and demand accountability and heads on a platter. By contrast when someone elses's sacred cows are gored, we proclaim ourselves loftily on the side of free speech and demand that they "get over it."
Some minorities are more equal than others: Imus got booted because he forgot to consult The Politically Correct Guide To Insulting People, a wonderfully useful manual that is unfortunately out of print.
That's why he violated Rule Number 1, which is that if you're going to insult someone's appearance and sexual habits, make sure it's a white guy.