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Margaret Wente

Now here's an assassination to worry about Add to ...

Just a suggestion, but can't we lay off the Holocaust comparisons? I suspect I'm not the only one who thought Sarah Palin was ill-advised to accuse her critics of "blood libel." Sure, her motto is "Don't retreat, reload." But still. Likening your sufferings to those of two millenniums of persecuted Jews, who were accused of using the blood of Christian children to make unleavened bread, does seem a wee bit over the top.

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On the other hand, she didn't start it. New York liberals did. On Monday, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, whose loathing of the Tea Party verges on hysterical, blamed right-wing "eliminationist rhetoric" for creating an environment where political violence was inevitable. This, despite any shred of evidence that the accused Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, was influenced by anything outside his own deranged mind.

"Eliminationism" is a term that refers specifically to the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis. By inference, it means you want to terminate the group you don't like. This is not the first time that Tea Partiers have been compared to storm troopers in the pages of The New York Times.

The hard right and the hard left aren't the only parties guilty of rhetorical excess. Everyone else is over the top, too. The media are treating the shooting of a minor politician by a crazed gunman - a tragedy, to be sure, but not terribly significant in the course of world events - as an existential moment in America's life. As one usually rational journalist opined (again in The New York Times), "Tucson will either be the tragedy that brought us back from the brink, or the first in a series of gruesome memories to come." The entire overheated discourse paints an unflattering but accurate portrait of America: juvenile, hysterical, self-obsessed and oblivious to anything outside itself. If America were a person, it would be a 14-year-old girl.

Meantime, there was another shooting last week - a far more dangerous one for the United States, and for the world. It happened in Pakistan. The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot 26 times by one of his own security guards. Mr. Taseer was one of his country's most liberal and progressive figures. He fought courageously to defend the life of Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman who faces death for allegedly violating Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which decree that insulting the Prophet Mohammed is a capital offence.

Unlike the United States, Pakistan did not unite in shock and outrage at this awful crime. Instead, thousands cheered. Clerics praised the assassin and ordered people not to grieve. They threatened Mr. Taseer's daughter, who had been brave enough to speak up in his defence.

The gunman, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, surrendered immediately and bragged about his crime. He said he'd killed Mr. Taseer because of his campaign against the blasphemy laws, and declared himself a "slave of the Prophet." At his court appearance, supporters showered him with rose petals. Not all were ignorant fanatics. Many were educated, articulate, middle-class fanatics. Many were lawyers.

Democracy has not brought liberalism to Pakistan. The opposite is true. The younger generation is steeped in religious conviction, deeply conservative, even militant. The political ruling class is too frightened even to condemn Mr. Taseer's killing. "The irrational right-wing Pakistani 'Tea Party' is really no party at all," wrote Pakistan expert Mosharraf Zaidi. "It is a lynch mob."

One of these countries really is at a tipping point, and it's not the United States. So far, the worst consequence of the Arizona shooting is a surge in Glock sales. Despite the mudslinging and ugly language, you can be reasonably sure that the next election will take place on time, that it will be fair and peaceful, that civil liberties will be reasonably well-protected. Not so in Pakistan, where eliminationist rhetoric is real and growing.

The unfolding failure of Pakistan is an incalculable disaster for the world. But Sarah Palin has no part in it. So, really, who cares?

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