"Nice flag!" the woman shouted sarcastically, adding: "F--- you!"
The woman was seated on the patio of a restaurant overlooking Main Street in this famously liberal capital of this famously liberal state when a truck sporting the Confederate emblem passed by.
I could understand the sentiment (particularly given the fact that her lunch partner was an African-American man). When the woman saw my daughter and her friend, she apologized for her profanity.
And while I could have done without the f-bomb around two 12-year-old girls, my real objection was something different. The young woman's outburst was exactly the reaction the buffoon in the truck was hoping for. After all, Vermont is the heart of union territory (and the first state to ban slavery in 1777). Even without the recent controversies, there's no reason to fly a Confederate flag in downtown Montpelier except to offend.
But is that really the intent when the descendant of a Confederate soldier puts a flag on his ancestor's tombstone once a year? According to many on the left, it is. "If we don't eradicate the Confederate flag," writes "social theorist" Frank Smecker, "we can only expect more of such racist, depraved acts (like Dylann Roof's) in our future."
I'm no big fan of the Confederate flag, but do serious people believe that if Roof didn't have access to the banner, he would have pursued a life of peace?
It's this lack of nuance and distinction I find so troubling -- and hypocritical.
Claude Berube, director of the Naval Academy Museum, recently compared the rush to dig up Confederate graves and tear down statues in the U.S. to Islamic iconoclasm. The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas on the grounds that they violate Islamic law. The terrorist group Islamic State is ransacking historic monuments for both God and mammon.
The comparison has its obvious limits, but it does highlight a remarkable double standard. Islamic terror has been on the rise for decades, yet over that time the left's calls for nuance, tolerance and understanding have only grown louder. Virtually no one condones or makes apologies for the Islamic State's barbarity (one can't say the same about Hamas or Hezbollah), but there has been a Herculean effort to put Islamic extremism in "context."
President Obama insists that the Islamic State isn't even Islamic and that the West should not get on its "high horse" about today's Muslim atrocities given that Christians committed atrocities eight centuries ago. When Islamist radicals were thwarted in their effort to behead Pamela Geller for organizing a "draw Mohammed" contest, many in the news media were quick to argue that she was asking for it. When an obscure pastor wanted to burn the Quran, the U.S. government went into a panicked tailspin, begging him not to offend or radicalize peaceful Muslims. When jihadists attacked a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's greatest rhetorical fury was aimed at an obscure filmmaker who made an offensive video about Islam.
Shortly after the shooting in Charleston, S.C., the New America think tank chummed the waters with a tendentious study insinuating that Roof and his ilk represented the real terror threat. "Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11," proclaimed a New York Times headline. Forty-eight Americans, including the nine killed in Charleston, have been killed by non-Islamist "terrorists," compared with a mere 26 by avowed jihadists.
The study is a methodological mess, starting with the fact that it starts the clock immediately after 9/11, ignoring the 3,000 killed on that day. It counts dubious attacks as right-wing terror and ignores the fact that the U.S. has foiled and deterred numerous Islamist terror plots in the past decade. If you catch a bunch of rattlesnakes in your backyard before they bite and kill someone in your family, is that proof there is no threat from snakes?
It would be an improvement if the left could stick to either of its double standards. Personally, I think fellow Americans -- even ones who wear Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts -- deserve some of the nuance and understanding so many reserve for Islam extremism. But if you're going to take your zero tolerance for symbols of 19th century slavery so seriously, maybe you should show the same myopic zealotry with regard to the forces who are enslaving people right now.