Can rehab cure anti-Semitism?
In the latest twist to designer John Galliano's now infamous drunken "I love Hitler" tirade in a Paris bar, the disgraced and dismissed creative director of Dior is apparently going to give it a try. After apologizing and announcing he is "seeking help," Mr. Galliano was said to be heading off to dry out in Arizona.
What a week this has been for bigotry. On the hopeful side: His Holiness Pope Benedict, in his new book Jesus of Nazareth Part II, has reportedly issued a "sweeping exoneration" of the Jews on the ancient and ubiquitous charge that they killed Jesus. It might be a tad late in coming, but by enshrining this absolution as official Catholic church doctrine, it deprives the world of one less justification for anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, the French police have laid charges against Mr. Galliano, one of the leading lights of the fashion world, for uttering racial insults.
In response, his haute-couture associates and fans were picking their way through a ruched and ruffled minefield. ("You probably would forgive Hitler had he been a better painter," read one unforgiving comment on the Women's Wear Daily site, reacting to protestations of Mr. Galliano's creative genius). And while allowing that he had been spiralling downward with "uninhibited behaviour," colleagues still sought to condemn his remarks.
An amateur video, which has naturally gone viral, showed that during one confrontation (there may have been others) with some patrons in a small neighbourhood restaurant in Paris's Marais district, Mr. Galliano slurringly told them their relatives would have been "gassed" and made other racist remarks.
Meanwhile, in other breaking bigotry news, revelation of a text message from - who else? - Charlie Sheen has surfaced, courtesy of his ex-wife, in which he allegedly called his manager Mark Burg a "stoopid Jew pig" and said he was going to "execute him." Mr. Sheen also, in a widely disseminated interview, unleashed a Jew-baiting tirade against Chuck Lorre, co-creator of his now suspended show Two and a Half Men, charging that Mr. Lorre's real name was Chaim Levine. (It is, but so what.)
Oh, and let's not forget beleaguered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, claiming to a British magazine that a "Jewish conspiracy" of journalists was out to discredit his organization.
While all of these incidents could be seen as farcical - a lone, overdressed drunk , a clearly manic TV star, a blame-everybody-else-but-me crusader - they are ultimately too disturbing and dangerous to dismiss.
A statement from the anti-bigotry organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, lauded Dior's "principled response" (albeit only after this went public) to the Galliano incident, and said it was "especially important" at a time when there's been "a spike in public anti-Semitic diatribes emanating not only from marginalized extremists, but from among elite personalities in media, finance and public policy."
So is that where we're at? That it's becoming commonplace again to say the unsayable? That after years of Holocaust education, decades of anti-bigotry campaigns, laws enshrined in much of the world against inciting racial intolerance, and heart-warming anecdotal evidence that millions have grown more tolerant, are more people than you think just two bottles of wine away from spewing the same old hatred?
Jews, of course, are not the only targets. There are gays, blacks (right from the start there has been an undercurrent of racism in the criticisms of Barack Obama), and Muslims (widely made to bear the brunt of the evils of jihadism). Being white, as we've seen recently, can also get you verbally and physically attacked in many hotspots.
As this week's bigotry battles make clear, it's up to everyone, exalted or not, to say this can't be tolerated. So Oscar award-winning actress and Dior perfume spokeswoman Natalie Portman went almost directly from her moment of glory into the lion's den, saying she was shocked and disgusted and wouldn't work with Mr. Galliano in any capacity.
Ms. Portman, who is Jewish, bravely set the tone for the harsh response to Mr. Galliano's eruption. In Spike Lee terms, she did the right thing.
As for Mr. Galliano, arguments will rage as to whether he is more a lost soul than a monster who deserves to be criminally prosecuted. He's been targeted himself, he has said, for his homosexuality.
No matter his amends, or his future career moves, he will never be completely free of his ugly behaviour. Rehab can set him on a different course, but years from now, his diatribe of hate will still be there to haunt him. When it comes to re-education, racism can be an even more pernicious disease than alcoholism. As for whether it will permanently ruin him, that's up to the only jury that really matters - the paying public.
Maybe that's the good news from this week. There's no such thing as privately expressed bigotry - in a bar, in a text message, to a cop who pulls you over. It will surface - as actor Mel Gibson learned years ago.
By the way, the trailer has hit theatres for a new Mel Gibson movie, due out in June. I have no plans to watch it.