Kathleen Parker

The republic would seem to be in good health, if not sound mind, when hurt feelings and public embarrassment are the picadors of public passion.

The past few weeks have provided a surfeit of sensitivity challenges:

-- A group of ``lactivists'' staged a nurse-in to protest an airline's insensitivity to a breast-feeding mom.

-- Two African-American men hired a lawyer to sweeten an apology they're demanding from a racist, epithet-hurling comedian.

-- Six Muslim imams, in an impressive demonstration of cultural assimilation, cried racism when airline officials removed them from a flight for mimicking the behavior of the 9/11 terrorists.

No word yet from seven lads-a-leaping, but the night is young.

The common thread throughout these events is hurt feelings and humiliation. Kill somebody in America and you might get a stint in the brig. But make a person feel bad, and watch your head as the gates of purgatory fly open.

The offended African-American men were in a Hollywood comedy club when ``Seinfeld'' co-star Michael Richards suffered a nuclear meltdown and launched into a racist rant. He later said the men and others in their group interrupted his monologue.

Meanwhile, attorney Gloria Allred has entered the fray. She is seeking an in-person apology from Richards before a mediator, who, she and her clients hope, might order some monetary compensation for their suffering. Not that this is about money, of course.

From his comments, we might conclude that Richards is a rage-filled jerk whose character seems most compatible with the south end of the alimentary canal. Nevertheless, if we start attaching monetary reparations to insults, the country will soon be bankrupt.

On the other hand, columnists will become billionaires. My feelings are hurt not just daily, but by the minute, so perhaps I speak too soon.

The imams, likewise, are demanding an apology from US Airways, and staged a protest Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Muslims claim that they were merely praying in advance of their flight, though we can bet they weren't praying as much as their fellow travelers were.

While we can all feel their embarrassment upon being escorted from the plane in handcuffs, can't they also appreciate others' discomfort under the circumstances? Versions vary, but some witnesses have reported that three of the imams were praying loudly and shouting ``Allah'' in the concourse.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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