Sugary excerpt from Justin Gest:
Islamophobia is inherently wrong. But if that is not persuasive enough, it is also an enormous strategic mistake in the struggle against Islamic extremism.
Sugary excerpt from Justin Gest:
Islamophobia is inherently wrong. But if that is not persuasive enough, it is also an enormous strategic mistake in the struggle against Islamic extremism.
Ah enfin Shlomo Sand speaks on the attacks in Paris and as almost always adds much needed perspective to the debate:
Some of the caricatures I saw in Charlie Hebdo – long before the shooting – seemed to me to be in bad taste; only a minority made me laugh. But that’s not the problem. In the majority of the magazine’s cartoons about Islam that came to my attention over the last decade, what I saw was manipulative hatred, mainly designed to appeal to its (obviously, non-Muslim) readers. I thought Charlie’s reproduction of the cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was deplorable. In 2006 – yes, already back then – I thought that the drawing of Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban was a pure provocation. It wasn’t so much a caricature attacking Islamists, as a stupid reduction of Islam to terrorism; it’s a bit like identifying Judaism with money!
Some say that Charlie took on all religions indiscriminately, but what does that really mean? Certainly it did mock Christians and sometimes Jews. All the same, neither the Danish paper nor Charlie would go so far – fortunately enough – to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses as a crafty usurer loitering on a street corner in a kippah and tassels. It’s a good thing, indeed, that in what people today call ‘Judaeo-Christian’ civilisation it’s no longer possible to spread anti-Jewish hatred in public, like it was in the distant past. I am for freedom of expression, but at the same time I’m against racist incitement. I’ll admit that I’m happy to go along with the ban on Dieudonné publicly expressing his ‘critique’ and his ‘banter’ about Jews. However, I am absolutely opposed to him being physically assaulted, and if by chance some idiot did attack him, I would be very shocked… but then again, I wouldn’t go as far as waving a placard around bearing the words ‘Je suis Dieudonné’.
This mistake in James D. le Sueur article's on the terrorist attacks,in Paris at the Walrus irks me because it isn't innocent:
French Muslim comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala—who already had established himself as a controversial figure—now faces up to seven years in prison for using Facebook to declare his apparent solidarity with the Kosher-market murderer (“Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”). The arrest seemed hypocritical for a nation seeking to reaffirm its protection of speech—even highly irreverent speech.
Dieudonné isn't Muslin and is as French as Sarkozy. Thus, I wonder why his frenchness is always questioned when both his brand of 'humor' and his antisemitism are very French!
Hollow words from the POTUS used to grandstand:
Our biggest advantage is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans (...)There are parts of Europe in which that’s not the case. And that’s probably the greatest danger that Europe faces…It’s important for Europe not to simply respond with a hammer and law enforcement and military approaches to these problems.
Ah I can't believe that some still believe that Obama gets the world because he claimed to be a citizen of the world!
Sugary excerpt of Monday from Eduardo Sabrovsky:
The exploration of the idea—of the sole legitimate Kantian idea, the idea of Europe—has led us to this conclusion: albeit peculiar, this idea is a religion. We often react with scandal at the Islamic notion of Sharia, Islamic law. This is because we are blind to our own Sharia. In the best of possible worlds, we should be able to understand that our ways and mores may be, for the Islamic world, as scandalous an unacceptable as theirs usually are to us. They have their strict prohibitions, their strange bodily practices; though we may not perceive them, we surely do have ours; when we look at our bodies in the mirror, we see a human body as such; we do not perceive it as formed—and thus, de-formed—by our particular culture. So, in the best of possible worlds, we would live in our particularity and let live others live in theirs. Why don’t we?
Because 'we' disagree...
A good question from Marco d'Eramo:
The question is, how has it come about that young Europeans are no longer prepared to sacrifice themselves for humanitarian, patriotic or socialist reasons, but are for religious ones? What have we done to them to bring them to this point? What’s infuriating about the dominant discourse on Islamic fundamentalism, especially in Europe, is that it glides over structural causes and social alienation, and reduces everything to the implausible and useless category of ‘insanity and fanaticism’.
That Isis are far from insane is demonstrated by the fact that, with two public beheadings, this motley crew managed to get itself recognised as the main enemy of the world’s biggest superpower.
(...) it is somehow odd for a Western politician to be telling anybody, however horrible and unworthy of respect: "You don't understand your own religion, but I do..."
(...) the fact is that the first world war was a time when Muslims were generally used as pawns in European imperial games—whether they were Indians who fought for Britain, Senegalese or Algerians who fought for France or Turks who fought on the German side. Fighting on any side in the first world war was a pretty miserable experience, and that certainly deserves to be remembered. But Islam's collective memory of that period is probably a bit different from the European one.
From Ayaan Hirsi Ali :
I am often told that the average Muslim wholeheartedly rejects the use of violence and terror, does not share the radicals' belief that a degenerate and corrupt Western culture needs to be replaced with an Islamic one, and abhors the denigration of women's most basic rights. Well, it is time for those peace-loving Muslims to do more, much more, to resist those in their midst who engage in this type of proselytizing before they proceed to the phase of holy war.
It is also time for Western liberals to wake up. If they choose to regard Boko Haram as an aberration, they do so at their peril. The kidnapping of these schoolgirls is not an isolated tragedy; their fate reflects a new wave of jihadism that extends far beyond Nigeria and poses a mortal threat to the rights of women and girls. If my pointing this out offends some people more than the odious acts of Boko Haram, then so be it.
I find Ali's predictability scary for it shows that she has stopped growing and thinking. Oh well, she is adapting very well to the American Western modern contemporary intellectual terrain.
I agree with Henry Farrell on this :
Bigotry derived from religious principles is still bigotry. Whether the people who implemented Bob Jones University’s notorious ban on inter-racial dating considered themselves to be actively biased against black people, or simply enforcing what they understood to be Biblical rules against miscegenation is an interesting theoretical question. You can perhaps make a good argument that bigotry-rooted-in-direct-bias is more obnoxious than bigotry-rooted-in-adherence-to-perceived-religious-and-social-mandates. Maybe the people enforcing the rules sincerely believed that they loved black people. It’s perfectly possible that some of their best friends were black. But it seems pretty hard to make a good case that the latter form of discrimination is not a form of bigotry. And if Friedersdorf wants to defend his sincerely-religiously-against-gay-marriage people as not being bigots, he has to defend the sincerely-religiously-against-racial-miscegenation people too.
I agree with Alex Massie on this:
All jihadists may be muslim; it is grotesque to suppose all muslims are potential jihadists. But treating them as though they may be is one way to increase sympathy for the real jihadists. Denigrating someone’s sense of identity is one sure way of ensuring they will have less time for your point of view.
Just the facrs from Chris Dillow:
The fact that a terrorist is likely to be a Muslim does not mean a Muslim is likely to be a terrorist. Even if we assume that there are ten terrorists walking the streets for every one inside, then 99.988% of Muslims are not terrorists. To put this another way, there's only around a one in 8000 chance of a Muslim being a terrorist; it's 16 times more likely that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will name their child Wayne. Given all this, why does anyone think terrorism is a Muslim problem?
I wish this were true:
Though it may be painful, though it may be costly at the polls in the short run, Republicans don't have a future unless they break up with the religious right and the gay-bashing, Bible-thumping fringe that gives the party such a bad rap with every young voter. By fighting to legally ban abortion, the party undercuts the potential to paint itself as a rebel against the governmental-control machine.
It is impossible for the Republicans to break up with the religious right, the best thing to hope for is an open relationship.
One of the dumbest things I have heard this fall from Fergus Downie:
Europe does not have enough of the inherited religious value fat required to sustain an ideological front against Islamism in the way that America occasionally looks like it might – and a scrupulous Weberian legalism is probably the best option available for a continent allergic to the cultivation of strong passions and the fanaticism of principle.
A dumb, inaffective and dangerous suggestion from SA Hoseini:
It’s high time a law was passed around the world prohibiting any kind of defamation or insult to religion — otherwise we are going to witness a repeat of this kind of grim news — again and again and again.
Sugary excerpt from Pankaj Mishra's review of Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir:
Rushdie's neat oppositions between the secular and the religious, the light and the dark, and rational literary elites and irrational masses do not clarify the great disorder of the contemporary world. They belong to an intellectually simpler time, when non-western societies, politically insignificant and little-known, could be judged solely by their success or failure in following the great example of the secular-humanist west; and writing literary fiction could seem enough to make one feel, as Tim Parks wrote in a review of Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, "engaged on the right side of some global moral and political battle".
Indeed, such complacencies of imperial intellectual cultures were what Rushdie had bravely attacked in his brilliant early phase. "Works of art, even works of entertainment," he had pointed out in 1984, "do not come into being in a social and political vacuum; and … the way they operate in a society cannot be separated from politics, from history. For every text, a context." No text in our time has had contexts more various and illuminating than The Satanic Verses, or mixed politics and literature more inextricably, and with deeper consequences for so many. In Joseph Anton, however, Rushdie continues to reveal an unwillingness or inability to grasp them, or to abandon the conceit, useful in fiction but misleading outside it, that the personal is the geopolitical.
I am left wondering how much the personal even when it is geopolitical should matter in literature even when it is not fiction. Another way to phrase my discomfort would be to wonder how much who Rushdie is or isn't should affect not only how he is read, the value of his writings.
In short, I am butting heads with Mishra because although I am conceding to him that the personal is the geopolitical, I question the essential nature and even the meaning of that assertion...
I agree with Glen Newy on this:
The assumption surfaces, predictably made by persons of faith, but surprisingly shared by many liberal secularists, that religious reasons are grander than others. (...) Practices that might count as grievous bodily harm if inflicted by secularists get legal protection if carried out by bearded hierophants.
One of the reasons why excision never really got 'the legitimacy' of its masculine circumcision is t that it doesn't have the backing of a Über religion (some religions are grander than others). People would have no problems killing the vagina of circumcising their daughters if there were a story in the bible about girls needing it to have a closer relationship with a deity.
Sugary excerpt from Garry Wills on the Vatican's slap of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious:
Last week, following an assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican stripped the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most American nuns, of its powers of self-government, maintaining that its members have made statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has taken control of the Conference, writing new laws for it, supplanting its leadership, and banning “political” activity (which is what Rome calls social work). Women are not capable, in the Vatican’s mind, of governing others or even themselves. Is it any wonder so many nuns have left the orders or avoided joining them? Who wants to be bullied?
It is typical of the pope’s sense of priorities that, at the very time when he is quashing an independent spirit in the church’s women, he is negotiating a welcome back to priests who left the church in protest at the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. These men, with their own dissident bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, formed the Society of Saint Pius X—the Pius whose Secretariat of State had a monsignor (Umberto Benigni) who promoted the Protocols of the Elder of Zion. Pope Benedict has already lifted the excommunication of four bishops in the Society of Saint Pius X, including that of Richard Williamson, who is a holocaust denier. Now a return of the whole body is being negotiated.
Just another proof that Sarah Silverman is right when she proposes to sell the Vatican to sell the world.
Because I'm so thankful that it's Friday, just a sentence from Michael Walzer to make a potent point:
[...] when God is king, what need is there for human politics?
God is omnipresent in American politics and that it explains in part why it is so inhumane.
For all the public statements over the past few days on the need for national unity, France remains a deeply racist country. The threat of Muslim terror has allowed the French to transfer their resentments away from the Jewish population to the Arab one, and to feel the better for it. But the sentiments are exactly the same and made only the worse by rising unemployment and slowing growth.
I disagree with Hamilton because his assertion is as easy as it is stupid. It is always dumb to characterize a country as racist based on the traits of some of its citizens because that would make it possible to argue that Britain is anti-French and that America is an ignorant country. The point is that Hamilton makes critical mistakes because he doesn't know the context and is emboldened to make grand, empty, and mistaken statements by his complex of superiority undoubtedly created by his certainty to be right ad to come from a better/purer country; that might just be called racism for people who are Hamilton is eager to condemn with knowledge and too much self-sastisfying zeal.
The sentences of the week and possibly of the year are from Anita Diamant:
The basic insight of feminism is that women are human beings. I don’t think you can be a serious Jew and not be a feminist.
Ow, I'm all verklempt! I just wish someone would explain to me what it means to be a feminsit!
This bit from Jack C. Chow arguing that a President Rick Santorum would be good for 'Africa' is as offensive as it is narrow-minded:
Alone among his rivals, Santorum has staked out global health as one of his preferred instruments of asserting American power abroad. He is the only Republican candidate to declare he wants to "keep and expand" Bush's humanitarian aid push in Africa. In contrast, Mitt Romney is "very reluctant to borrow lots more money to be able to do wonderful things" if other countries and groups do not contribute more; Newt Gingrich has called for government-run foreign aid to be replaced with private incentives; and Ron Paul, a physician, has asserted that "all the foreign aid in the world will not transform Africa into a thriving, healthy continent." [...]His record so far is promising. [...]He has couched aid programs as "one of our best international investments" and credited humanitarian aid and fighting AIDS as critical to winning "hearts and minds" in competing against the influence of "China and Islam" in Africa. "We have done more good for America in Africa and in the Third World by the things that we've done," he said at the Nov. 22 debate. "And we have saved money and saved military deployments by wisely spending that money not on our enemies but on folks who can and will be our friends." His reasoning echoes the arguments asserted by the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke about saving Africa from a demographic cataclysm caused by HIV/AIDS.
Chow's argument is offensive for two reasons. The first is that he makes the ignorant presumption that African countries are all the same and therefore that their sole priority is to battle Aids. The second reason is that Chow obviously believes that charity is what African countries need most from America is aid or rather charity.
Thus, arguing that President Rick Santorum would be good for "Africa" is as condescending as it is paternalist because it reduces very different countries to a single aspect Aids while asserting ideologically that they need to be saved by an American president who will believe that it is his religious duty to do so.
Quote of the day from Saint and culture warrior Rick Santorum (hat tip: Alex Massie):
I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.
I'm speechless! Even Newt Gingrich wouldn't say this, no correction, he would say, but he wouldn't mean it, the trouble with Santorum is that he means what he says.
Sugary except of the day from Norm Geras:
There are believers who, in the name of religion, act to silence, harm and sometimes indeed kill others, and there is, unfortunately, a lot of this sort of thing about. No secularist is obliged to adopt a relaxed attitude towards it. On the contrary, in defence of freedom of belief, they should be intolerant of it. Secularism, just like genuine liberalism, does not entail tolerance of the appeal to religion to justify intolerant, cruel or murderous ends.
Sentences from David Kopel to munch on this Sunday:
I find it disgusting that a Gallup Poll found 22% of Americans (18% of Republicans, 19% of Independents, and 27% of Democrats) say that they would not vote for a well-qualified candidate of their party who happened to be a Mormon. That’s actually an increase compared to 17% who gave the same answer in 1967.
Another argument for politicians making their religious faith private instead of showing it off as they do their wives.
Sugary excerpt from Hanif Kureishi:
I come from a Muslim family; I come from a Muslim country: Pakistan. I’m well aware of how dangerous religions like Islam can be. It’s ridiculous to think it’s racist to attack a religion. In fact, it’s racist not to attack a religion. These are systems of power, huge political forces of the world—you have to speak back against it, otherwise you exist in an authoritarian system. Look at the way these societies have attacked and tortured intellectuals in the past, in places like Iran, Egypt and Libya. The West has continued to patronise them and refuse to attack them. A very robust exchange is extremely important.
The sugary excerpt of the day comes from the great Stephen Smith from his must-read article on Laurent Gbagbo:
‘Gbagbo was born before shame,’ ordinary people in Abidjan used to say. It didn’t necessarily mean they disapproved of him. It was more a case of stating the obvious. The way he looked at it, history was the victors’ account of a merciless fight. ‘It’s difficult for us to make history,’ he once explained to me. ‘We have to carry out our own French Revolution with Amnesty International peering over our shoulder.’ Murder, intrigue, corruption, bare-faced lies, betrayal, ethnic cleansing: all means would be justifiable provided the end was attained. In Gbagbo’s home region, where Ivory Coast’s main cash crops are grown, the sons of the soil, the Bété, turned against migrant workers from poor Sahel states and against fellow Ivorians from other parts of the country.
It is alarming, to say the least, that so many political leaders are worried about making history rather than governing and improving the lives of their 'people.' Obsession with history is one of the reasons why there have been so many Mugabe, Gbagbo, Amin, Doe, Taylor, Gaddafi on the African continent for after all if one's only concern is history, the people become means to achieve greatness not much else, politics is religionized and political violence becomes acceptal and even normal.
Another proof from R.W. Johnson that faith in politics is about the bling and should remain in the private sphere:
The news that Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace were among the million people (including 22 ‘world leaders’) who thronged St Peter’s Square for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II lends a piquant note to what was already a gothic occasion. Their presence was not, in itself, surprising: Mugabe tends to remember he is a Catholic whenever it is convenient – as in the case of his marriage to Grace, celebrated in a Catholic high mass in Harare, although they had by then already had two children. More recently, however, the main point has been to evade the EU’s targeted sanctions and thus provide Grace (widely known as ‘Dis-Grace’) with opportunities for her extravagant shopping trips. The Mugabes were in Rome in 2005 for John Paul II’s funeral, and again in 2008 and 2009 for UN food conferences – they get a free pass from the Vatican and from the UN, of which Zimbabwe is still a member.
Sugary excerpt of the day or rather of the night from Juan Cole:
Note to Muslim-hater Bill Maher, who should know better: It is not true that women cannot vote in 20 Muslim countries, and please stop generalizing about 1.5 billion Muslims based on the 22 million people in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, the only place where women cannot drive and where men can vote (in municipal elections) but women cannot. It would be like generalizing from the Amish in Pennsylvania to all people of Christian heritage and wondering what is with Christianity and its fascination with horses and buggies.
I have to admit that I have stopped watching Bill Maher years ago because I couldn't take him seriously. He is exactly like the people he criticized, arrogant and fanatically persuaded to be on the right side except that his views are seen more fashionable and more 'cultured' (some forms of inculture in America and elsewhere are tolerable/fashionable than others when they lead to more palatable conclusions).
Bill Maher doesn't care about the status of women in the "Muslin world," to use an expression that I hate. He is using it to make a cheap point to win an argument that isn't about women, but about a group of people he considers as savages. My own point here isn't that there is no there there, but to make the assertion that consistency matters when being self-righteous.
I will not foolishly assert that women in America are not privileged compared to others or that foreign countries especially those in certain parts of the world have a 'woman problem.' I will just argue that saying that isn't saying much for the question remains what is the ideal, what are absolute and universal values, and to stop using women as human shield, as props to win ideological wars.
Interesting stuff from Charlemagne:
The West is guilty of two errors, in my view.
Firstly, in the contest between the police state and the mosque, it too easily fell into the trap of backing the police state. It therefore became associated with oppression and hypocrisy in the minds of many Arabs. It never sought to help foster other democratic opposition forces, or to criticise rulers for their oppressive ways. President Barack Obama’s brilliant speech in Cairo in 2009 criticised the Bush-era’s (short-lived) notion that democracy could be brought at the point of a gun, but did not shy away from making a powerful case for freedom. The trouble is, Mr Obama’s America then did little to support the cause of democracy in the Arab world. The same was true of Europe.
Any promotion of democracy in the Arab world cannot avoid the encounter with some form of Islamism. And this is Europe’s second error: its failure to distinguish between different currents of political groups inspired by Islam. Not all groups bearing the name of “Islamic” are puppets of Iran’s mullahs, or comrades of Osama bin Laden. Hamas may be the violent Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt. But the Egyptian branch declares itself to be non-violent and democratic, and is hated by al-Qaeda. At the very least, its democratic credentials should have been tested through greater dialogue.
I disagree with Charlemagne's implied affirmation that there is such a thing as the Western world. Nevertheless, he isn't wrong. The trouble is that he doesn't assert explicitly that the problem comes precisely from the too-easily made assertion that some foreigners are different, not mature, brutal, have an exotic or homogeneous or simply an essentialist culture, which makes it impossible for them to have self-determination and other good things in life. In short, the issue is always going to come to Sameness, commonness, that is to how much Charlemagne's West believes that the people from the rest of the world have in common with them.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Anjad Khan:
Essentially, Islamists have been successful in the UK where they have failed elsewhere. They have duped the establishment into thinking that they represent Muslims and Islam, all the while using that as a guise to promote divisive and potentially explosive identity politics. Their job has, of course, been made easier by soft deluded “liberal” multiculturalists who are in fact guilty of the racism of lower expectation and who don’t apply universal norms to the ‘exotic’ others who we can’t expect to behave like us.
Sugary excerpt from Christopher Hitchens in his debate against Blair on Religion
Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things. Handed a small baby for the first time, is it your first reaction to think, beautiful, almost perfect, now please hand me the sharp stone for its genitalia that I may do the work of the Lord. No, it is -- as the great physicist Stephen Weinberg has aptly put it, in the ordinary moral universe, the good will do the best they can, the worst will do the worst they can, but if you want to make good people do wicked things, you'll need religion.
Over at the OUPblog, Elvin Lim has the best article(and the last one I will quote) on the whole NPR and Juan Williams episode. Sugary excerpt:
But NPR, in firing Williams, wasted an opportunity to make such a pedagogical statement. It wrapped up its reasons in faux reasons of journalistic standards and objectivity, and ironically, ended up implicitly endorsing the legitimacy of Williams’ first, emotional, reaction. Indeed, I suspect that Juan Williams was fired because his bosses at NPR were, in turn, uncomfortable that he had articulated his own discomfort. And that is the problem. One reflex knee jerk begot another, but no reasonable explanation followed.
One thing we do know is that emotions cannot be bottled up. We either feel them or we don’t, and Juan Williams apparently feels them when he sees someone dressed up in Muslim garb. What NPR did, in firing him, was send the emotional message that his emotions were illegitimate. But – and here was their mistake – NPR said nothing about either the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the reasons which provoked Williams’ particular emotional reaction.
Emotions indicate the salience and intensity of issues, and they should be addressed even – and, in fact, especially – when they are based on bad reasons. NPR pushed a discussion of the legitimacy of these emotions under the carpet by firing Juan Williams under the faux reasons of journalistic objectivity and this is why in one fell swoop they lost both a journalist and a teaching moment. If NPR wanted to be politically correct, it might as well have gone all the way.
What has been alarming about the whole episode is the realization that America is under a strong emotional dictatorship, one where feelings ,especially when at their center is outrage or pain giving one the perception that s/he is victimized, are seldom questioned as the basis for political and other important decisions. I still remember George W. Bush responding to Al Gore's legitimate criticisms of his record as Texas's governor by saying that he was hurt that his heart was being questioned. Just take the one of Obama telling Democrats to either get over their disappointment or not to feel discouraged because it is only the first quarter of the game. In short, emotions are the center of every debate because they make it so difficult to think or rather so easy to shoot from the hip and to indulge on junk without even considering the need to exercise or to eat healthy.
I agree with Brendan O'Neill on this:
(...)The great irony of the French government’s restrictions on the burqa in public places, and to a certain extent the Belgian government’s restrictions, is that they have been presented as being in the tradition of the Enlightenment. This is about liberating women from oppression, they say, and therefore it is a good, Enlightened, Voltairish thing to do.
In fact, banning a religious garment is counter to the spirit of the Enlightenment. What these authoritarians forget is that the Enlightenment sprang from a defence of religious liberty. The Enlightenment has its origins, not in any attempt to censor certain minority religious symbols, but in a belief that minority religions, even ones we consider ‘heretical’, should be protected from state intervention, censorship and oppression.
So in calling for the state to restrict a certain form of religious expression, these pseudo-Enlightened censors are doing something that the original men of the Enlightenment would have considered pretty outrageous.
Here is what I, Jay Rosen, New York Jew, liberal Democrat, and professional student of the press think... Given its existing codes NPR was in an untenable position from the moment Juan Williams started working for Fox, where his job is to be a liberal foil for the conservative alternative in news. There was no way he could abide by NPR’s rules–which insist on viewlessness as a guarantor of trust–and appear on Fox, where the clash of views is basic to what the network does to generate audience, and where Williams relished the give and take with outsized personalities like Bill O’Reilly.
NPR recognized the problem but tried to finesse it by re-classifying Williams as an “analyst.” Big mistake. The job of analyst, as NPR defines it, is so tightly constrained that it excludes almost everything Williams was doing for Fox. So why didn’t NPR simply get rid of Williams years ago when he began to generate view-from-somewhere controversies with his appearances on Fox? The likely reason was identified by Farai Chideya, who used to work at NPR: a diversity problem. NPR had almost no black men on the air.
Jay Rosen is right, but I'm also convinced that the focus on the 'whys' of the Juan Williams episode is convenient because it puts the essential question on the back-burner and that question is what does it mean to be a journalist in America. There are a lot of bad and discomforting answers to that question, but no sustainable attempts to provide thoughtful answers.
Quote of the day from Glenn Greenwald about the firing of Juan Williams from NPR for expressing his fears over 'Muslims' 'who look Muslims' in certain situations:
The principal reason the Williams firing resonated so much and provoked so much fury is that it threatens the preservation of one of the most important American mythologies: that Muslims are a Serious Threat to America and Americans.
I have to say that the whole thing makes me more than uncomfortable. America has entered an age where free speech is about content precisely because it is no longer possible for Americans to have a dialogue about issues. The goal of political or social discussions is to shut up the opposition and to make the argument that it is either simply or solely bigoted or dumb. Where there is a prevalent notion in a society that people have to be careful about what they say, it is in general because there also exists the prevalent and uncomfortable one that people can't change, that people are their vilest thought, and that education and dialogue don't matter.
Fascinating stuff from the Economist's Democracy in America's blog:
In 1942, before Americans came to see the Soviets as their mortal enemy, the ideas of "Strong, immediate limitations on national sovereignty" and "International control of all armies and navies" could seem an enlightened path to the abolition of war. But by the war's end, it quickly became apparent that this sort of thing would amount to an impracticable power-sharing agreement with communist regimes. And as Americans became more and more likely to believe that only a more thoroughly Christian nation could save the world from godless communist tyranny, the principled, cosmopolitan globalism of the Federal Council of Churches swiftly came to seem a dangerous absurdity and practically communist itself. Anyway, that's what I think happened to the Federal Council of Churches' 1942 platform. Of course, it's now been a good while since we were haunted by the spectre of communism. Yet America's oddly religion-soaked politics remains in many ways the creature of its mid-century anti-communist reaction. Isn't it a bit depressing to think that American national political and religious life has yet to recover from the red scare?
I'm wondering whether we aren't in a similar period in American history where the Islamist scare this time is increasing the religionization of American politics with potentially more dire consequences.
I don't agree totally agree with Mehdi Hasan on this, but the fact that I can't say he is just wrong, shows that he has a point:
On Thursday the US president said Pastor Jones's plans to burn the Qur'an would be a "recruiting bonanza" for al-Qaida. Yet he fails to recognise how the west's war in Afghanistan provides a similar boost to extremists – on both sides. The "enemy" in Afghanistan, concluded the IISS report released on Tuesday, is "incentivised by the presence of foreign forces". And inside the US the likes of Jones and rightwing Republican bigots, frothing at the mouth over the "Ground Zero mosque" take their cue from aggressive leaders like Blair, Bush and Obama – who send more and more troops to fight and die abroad, in faraway Muslim countries, while denying any link between Islamic militancy and western foreign policies.
Brilliant stuff from Ilya Somin on the "Ground Zero" mosque:
I lost half a dozen relatives in the Holocaust. But I don’t see any inherent problem with having a German cultural center near the site of a former Nazi death camp. So long as the center does not interfere with the operations of the memorial established at the camp, does not promote anti-Semitism, and doesn’t advocate the sort of virulent nationalism that helped cause the Holocaust, it should be unobjectionable. As Krauthammer notes, Germans as a group are not to blame for the Holocaust. And German culture is not reducible to Nazism and anti-Semitism. A center promoting elements of German culture that are not implicated in those phenomena does not somehow offend against the memory of Holocaust victims. A German cultural center that actually condemns Nazism and extreme nationalism while celebrating positive elements of German culture could actually make a useful contribution to reducing prejudice and honoring the victims.
I recognize, of course, that some Jews might still be offended, and avoiding such offense might be a pragmatic justification for not building the center. But the issue is whether the offense-taking would be justified. No one has a moral obligation to change their plans merely because others take unjustified offense.
The same points apply to the proposed Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero. Islam is not reducible to terrorism and oppression. A Muslim center near Ground Zero that promotes positive aspects of the Muslim tradition is unobjectionable. One that also denounces terrorism and radical Islamism would be a positive good.
It is difficult to say, but this controversy is just another proof that in America, it is increasingly becoming difficult to have serious conversations because too many are persuaded to have either "god" or "the truth" on their side and those who oppose them are just stupid or simply evil. The alarming thing is that the POTUS, the decider chose to avoid the debate even though he has always described himself as a man who isn't afraid of doing the right thing even if it means losing. Bush used to talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations, in Obama's case, I think we should talk about the flashy arrogance of great expectations.
I'm probably late to the game, but I was impressed by Obama's speech on Friday on the controversy over the construction of a Mosque near Ground Zero. I heard about it in the Cab that was taking me from JFK to Manhattan for I spent Friday in two airports and in a plane. My first thought was to say "at last, the Potus does something impressive that isn't solely self-serving." I thought the speech was on point and unlike the other flashy speeches Obama gives, I believed that it had meaning.
So was I disappointed by the fact that Obama "retreated" from his comment the next day? No and I wasn't even surprised. I expected him to do it for two reasons. The first is that Obama is a great politician and that as all great politicians of our era, he knows that it is difficult to educate the electorate or to lead on a issue when the real issues are fear and resentment. Obama said what was in his heart on Friday, but then had to clarify it because he did the math and realized that once again, being himself, saying what he meant wasn't going to be good for him politically in the short term.
The second reason why I expected Obama to kill the greatness of his Friday's speech with clarifications is that he isn't an ideologue in the good sense of the word. There are few things Obama is willing to die, politically, for, I would write that there is nothing, but I have decided to be nice because I'm still infected by the Parisian atmosphere.
Obama knows that he has to get reelected for his presidency to become meaningful and to be something more than a symbol of what America wanted to be when it elected him without of course having to work for it. I always thought to Obama was an attempt by a symbolically out of shape America to put itself back in shape by having surgery instead of course of exercising and deciding to have better eating habits.
I have never thought that Obama was too good for America, to the contrary, I have always thought that America didn't have enough faith in itself, in its ability to repair the wounds of its early and recent history (Bush's eight years) for it to choose Obama blindly knowing full well the odds of a rookie quarterback doing well without years of training are slim. But again, America loves believing in the improbable and it is also one of the reasons why it is a country to I love passionately.
The sugary excerpt for this Sunday is from Roger Ebert's excellent entry in his journal about Christopher Hitchens, life,religion and what happens when even though you couldn't wait for death, she stops for you, even though she doesn't do it kindly as she did for Emily Dickinson:
Deathbed conversions have always seemed to me like a Hail Mary Pass, proving nothing about religion and much about desperation.
Gideon Rachman who was in South Africa for the World Cup on how pathetic it is to seen grown men cry over a game:
I am sick of seeing grown men cry. Asamoah Gyan of Ghana was in floods, after missing that crucial penalty against Uruguay. Last night, it was Cardozo of Paraguay who missed a vital spot-kick and then left the field, blubbing. Really chaps - it’s only a game.
My take on the whole thing is that football has stopped being a game long ago to become the last 'hope' or rather the new opiate of the masses especially in countries where politics seem to lead to a dead end and economics is about everything but merit and effort.
Sugary excerpt from a Guardian article on Christopher Hitchens:
To say that Hitchens is stirred – even obsessed – by the question of courage would be to state the obvious. It seems therefore highly likely that his longing for the great Orwellian test – the momentous moral challenge to match the 1930s – might tempt him to overstate the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. "Do I ask myself," he replies, "do I think our civilisation is superior to theirs? Yes, I do. Do I think it's worth fighting for? Most certainly."
That wasn't really the question.
"Well, I know how to correct atavism in myself, yes, I do," he retorts. As evidence, he offers the fact that after 9/11 he voted against his Washington apartment block flying the American flag. "So I was pleased to find out I wasn't in the mob majority in that way." But then he adds, bizarrely, "The other thing is, what happens when this ebbs, and the flag gets tatty? And you start seeing cabs with flags worn to rags, making the flag look crappy."
I 'm convinced that Christopher Hitchens is going to end up becoming one of the type of people that he hates the most, that is a man who is so religious about everything that he likes that he stops thinking to descent to believe in his own grandeur just as any evangelical preacher who is convinced that he is a prophet who is always right.
I think when you know people have died in violence over some piece of thoughtlessness, it is the height of irresponsibility to repeat it for no good reason.
I agree with Cole's sentiment, but disagrees with his conclusion. It's always better to live i a society where thoughtlessness, even when it is bigoted and can produce violence, can be expressed because it reminds us that the civility and the education necessary to maintain a liberal and open society are never a given
Once in a while Nick Kristof gets things right:
In rural parts of Congo Republic, the other Congo to the north, we found that even when people had heard of contraception, they often regarded it as unaffordable.
Most appalling, all the clinics and hospitals we visited in Congo Republic said that they would sell contraceptives only to women who brought their husbands in with them to prove that the husband accepted birth control.
Condoms are somewhat easier to obtain, but many men resist them. More broadly, many men seem to feel that more children are a proud sign of more virility.
So the pill, 50 years old this month in the United States, has yet to reach parts of Africa. And condoms and other forms of birth control and AIDS prevention are still far too difficult to obtain in some areas.
One of the most appalling facts about the limited use of contraception isn't used in Congo and other African countries is the role that American evangelism plays in strengthening old beliefs that women are breeders and not contraception isn't just bad, but evil. The point isn't here that the problem has been imported or is being created by American evangelists, thus making the issue one of identity or one of eternal victimization but rather that that imported fanaticism is making an already catastrophic situation worst by convincing well intentioned, but limited people that ignorance, poverty, and anti-intellectualism are not just bliss, but also close to Godliness.
Oliver Roy on the similarities between Salafism and American Protestant Fundamentalism :
It is a mistake to think that the phenomena of religious radicalism (Salafism) and political radicalism (Al Qaeda) are mere imports of the cultures and conflicts of the Middle East. It is above all a consequence of the globalization and Westernization of Islam. Today's religious revival is first and foremost marked by the uncoupling of culture and religion, whatever the religion may be. This explains the affinities between American Protestant fundamentalism and Islamic Salafism: both reject culture, philosophy, and even theology in favour of a scriptural reading of the sacred texts and an immediate understanding of truth through individual faith, to the detriment of educational and religious institutions.
Roy's comparison is appropriate in my view because it emphasizes the fact that globalization has a lot to do with the rise of religious extremism. It is striking to realize that the less people feel in control, the more they are likely to turn to a vengeful God requiring them to be pure and to purify their world to make it more to their liking.
Islamists seek to replace the rule of law with that of commanding right and forbidding wrong. With over a billion and a half people calling Muhammad their moral guide, it is imperative that we examine the consequences of his guidance, starting with the notion that those who depict his image or criticize his teachings should be punished.
In "South Park," this tyrannical rule is cleverly needled when Tom Cruise asks the question: How come Muhammad is the only celebrity protected from ridicule? Now we know why.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is right. I'm only wondering whether the whole cycle of shock, awe, screams of cultural insensitivity, apologies or a refusal to back down lead anywhere, but down the ground. It is true that backing down is dangerous when an essential value such as free speech, which includes the right to make fun of gods and prophets is challenged there must never be a surrender to fear and to threats. The most difficult question to me isn't about fighting extremism and refusing to accept that in the name of religion or whatever else some forms of speech are forbidden, the capital question is what happens afterward standing the confrontation.