a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Fucking bullshit FCC rulings

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th March 2006

Jeff Jarvis is defending bullshit– and what’s more, he’s right:

In its latest batch of nannyisms, the FCC declared shit and all its variants, including bullshit, not merely indecent — which is where the case law stood after the Supreme Court washed the seven dirty words out of George Carlin’s mouth in 1978 — but also now profane. Since outmoded broadcast censorship legislation was passed in 1927 — giving the government this constitutionally dubious authority — the FCC had not once found any word to be profane until 2004, when it ruled against Bono’s joyful utterance of “fucking” at the Golden Globes. Now “shit” et al join this devil’s dictionary. And the FCC warns that they are not merely profane but “presumptively profane,” which means that except in “rare” and “unusual circumstances,” to speak these words on the air will guarantee you a penalty.

By declaring them profane, the FCC rules these words are “certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.” Nuisance, in this case, does not mean a dog barking; it means that the community finds this utterance universally disturbing, utterly unacceptable, and even intolerable. The FCC commissioners say that they “reserve that distinction for the most offensive words in the English language.” As I pointed out in an earlier post, even the FCC recognizes the uncomfortable and quite politically incorrect irony that they will not similarly ban racial and religious epithets because they may constitute political speech. Thus, in the offensive view of the FCC, the S-word and F-word are now worse than the N-word and K-word.

(“…nannyisms” link added.) Skimming the March 15 rulings, one thing that’s funny to me is that the FCC uses the euphemisms “F-word” and “S-word” itself throughout the document, although the document does provide verbatim citations of the uses of the words it finds to be worth fining. This way the sacred FCC pronouncements can themselves be broadcast, of course, but there’s a ludicrous “church lady” feeling to it all the same.

Lest anyone think FCC’s “presumptive” objections to “fuck” and “shit” are somehow limited to casually obscene or prurient use of those words, Jarvis cites an exchange between FCC commissioner James Adelstein and NPR’s Bob Garfield:

Garfield: Now, I want to talk to you about the word bullshit. Now this is commonly used to convey skepticism, but the commission found it to be explicitly excretory and therefore indecent, whereas dickhead as an insult is ok. But where I come from, bullshit is pretty much kidstuff and dickhead is pretty darned insulting. All of which is to finally ask how you go about finding standards on this stuff. It seems to be so arbitrary.
Adelstein: Well, are you going to edit that out?
Garfield: It depends. Are you on duty?

— and Jarvis reports the words were bleeped out from the broadcast. Jarvis also notes that “bullshit” survives FCC’s “presumptive profanity” muster for fictional heroic white guys (Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”), but not for actual black musicians (Scorsese’s “The Blues: Godfathers and Sons”).

Another interesting point, I think, is that the rule applies to broadcasts, but not to podcasts, illustrating another consequence of the personal gadget “revolution”: really free speech is fine — as long as you can afford the equipment to hear it. Maybe that wasn’t an intended consequence, but maybe it’s not an unwelcome one, either.

This looks minor compared to Iraq or the NSA scandal or the Katrina aftermath or any of a number of other news items. But freedom of speech is basic, and not letting the government restrict it is basic. While I don’t enjoy shows that use offensive words excessively or pointlessly, I also don’t want to make that decision for others, and I certainly don’t want the government deciding what can and can not be heard on the air. Depending on the community, “personally reviling epithets” like “That lying bastard Bush lied, people died” will “provoke violent resentment” and be “universally disturbing” too. Depending on how fast minds continue to deteriorate at the FCC, such speech could presumably be banned next.

So I’m not just for trying to overturn these FCC actions, but also for trying to roll back the stupid 1978 Supreme Court decision Jarvis refers to. Mr. Jarvis’ refrain is quite right: “I … believe it is a violation of our civil rights worthy of court challenge. […] ” Say it, blog it, podcast it, broadcast it: these rules are fucking bullshit.

UPDATE, 3/30: Georgia police take it to the next level: no “I’m tired of all the BUSHIT” — like I said, Georgia police — or “Bush sucks. Dick Cheney too.” bumperstickers, despite a 1991 Georgia Supreme Court ruling striking down an anti-“lewd bumpersticker” statute. Reported by The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild, via Michael Silence (KnoxNews, “No Silence Here”).

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German blogger series: the Mohammed cartoons

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th February 2006

Many German bloggers appear more uncertain, angered or rattled about the cartoon controversy than they have seemed about other topics like the Iraq war or Abu Ghraib. There’s a fair amount of “don’t push us around” attitude even among the usually leftish, moderate sections of the German blogosphere. An unscientific opinion sample:

Jochen Bittner writes for the German weekly Die Zeit, and maintains the blog “Beruf Terrorist [Profession Terrorist] The Enemy of all the World” — Bittner is a knowledgeable reporter on the subject, and the blog name belies what is usually a calm, wry, analytical attitude. Nevertheless, in this case Bittner actually considers the cartoon a “justified provocation,” and is, I think, uncharacteristically dismissive of all Islam itself:

If proof was needed that the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper ‘Jyllands-Posten’ were a justified provocation, then it’s the reactions of broad parts of the Muslim world. […]

And [someone who reacts to cartoons with bomb threats] should — instead of accusing others of intolerance — start to ask oneself if a religion that can’t be laughed about might itself be responsible for a medieval attitude.

Schockwellenreiter, a very popular computers/Internet blogger with leftish/libertarian sensibilities, also dismisses anything but pure free speech concerns:

I actually never agree with Henryk M. Broder, but in the case of the monkey dance around the Mohammed cartoon controversy he’s simply correct: the case is Exhibit A for how a democratic public pulls in its tail before a totalitarian, religiously dressed up sensibility. And presumably only, because they’re afraid about their business with Petrodollars… [Spiegel Online]

Even if the cartoons (I’ve never seen them) presumably weren’t exactly a high point in satirical art, the basic right to freedom of opinion is being sacrificed on the altar of religious insanity. I therefore declare the Mohammed-Karikaturen [Mohammed cartoons] to be the “Google of the Day.”


Sven Scholz, on the other hand, sees needless provocations on both sides. He recommends a Frankfurter Allgemeine article by Nils Minkmar, provides an extensive link list of other blogger reactions, and writes

And it would be nice, if the press here and the mobs there would not let themselves be provoked, manipulated, or instrumentalized by anybody who comes along. Bigotry combined with banalities, regardless in which direction, and with obvious motivations, is really annoying. Tremendously.

Kuechenkabinett‘s (“Kitchen Cabinet”) Stefan (who provides another huge links roundup) writes:

The clash of cultures is warned against, but these days it seems to be an almost unavoidable Self-fulfilling Prophecy. Polemics reign, and moderating voices succumb often enough to the crude demands of Hardliners on both sides.*

The Bembelkandidat writes:

a quarrel about cartoons and freedom of the press became a projection screen for fundamentalist prejudices and aggressions, no holds barred thrashings for everyone, all against all.

In the end it won’t be good sense that wins out, but escalation, which in the West will be driven by the stigmatization of Muslims as seemingly hotblooded fundamentalists and carriers of the Islamic threat. Anti-Western sentiments irresponsibly fanned in the Muslim world help confirm the image of the reckless West.

Ulrich Speck (“Kosmoblog”), another Die Zeit pro-blogger, is more relaxed about it all:

But only a barely measurable, vanishingly small minority of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world have participated in the unrest. This small degree of mobilization, even in countries whose governments are seeking to heat up the situation — such as Iran — can be seen as a clear rejection of a clash of cultures.

On the other hand, hardly any of the commenters for this post agreed with him, “Wachtmeister” for instance: “Even if I don’t like it myself: the Clash of Civilizations is reality. Instead of denying it one should start dealing with it.”

Don Dahlmann:

My feeling is that the cause for the reactions here and there, besides the political motivated ones, is fear. Here the diffuse fear of economic calamities, an unknown religion and behaviors that one isn’t familiar with and can’t avoid, there the fear about one’s own identity and the loss of sovereignty to a superior military presence nearby.

Telegehirn (“Telebrain”), on the other hand, more or less says “bring it on,” and wants to start a “DU BIST DIE MEINUNGSFREIHEIT!” (“You are freedom of opinion”) campaign echoing the somewhat notorious “Du bist Deutschland” campaign. He writes:

Our times are not always perfect. No one denies that. Maybe the Islamists stand before Your newspaper building or the embassy of Your country is set on fire by fanatics. But we have kicked out the fires of total tyranny once before. Europe has enough free people who raise their voices against religious totalitarianism. You just have to open Your mouth.*

We have enough voices to drown out the chorus of fanatics. We are 425 million. You are the voice. Let’s use it. You are Europe.


Politically Incorrect (“Achtung! Pro-US blog!”) is a new one to me, but has apparently seen its readership climb to the top of the German charts lately. It seems to be a kind of LGF-lite, but they’re working on it. Showing a photo of a victim of an Abu Sayyaf attack in Philippines side by side with one of the Danish cartoons, it asks:

Only one of these two pictures provoked Muslims to hysteria, fiery demonstrations, boycotts and death threats against the perpetrators. Do you know Islam well enough to figure out which picture that was?

Hinterding prefers a kind of scientific approach:

hello. this is a survey for Muslims who believe it is sinful to attempt to draw the Prophet Muhammad. in your opinion, at what point do these images start to become sinful?

Seems a fair question.

Of course many German blogs have reacted sparingly, if at all. Jens Scholz observes that “burning down embassies is a form of expression too, if you look at it that way.” Andreas Schaefer simply links to a cartoon showing Muslims running out of stuff to burn and opting for Legos. Praschl et al at le sofa blog seem not to have mentioned the topic at all. — a kind of MediaMatters focused on the single German tabloid Bild, and the most visited German blog — has apparently found nothing in that paper worth mentioning about the cartoon story.

Still, on the whole, the shoe seems to be on the other foot here compared to two and four years ago: it seems easier to run across German bloggers who see their own rights endangered, if not their safety, in a way that was not as salient to them in the past. The riots in France last year may also have contributed to some of the palpably greater unease, “Schnauze” (lip), and belligerence on display.

Whether sadly, deservedly, tragically, or some combination thereof, it’s my (again, quite unscientific) impression that the picture of an undifferentiated and dangerous “Muslim enemy” is developing in Germany, just as it has in the U.S. in many quarters.

If so, that country’s allegiance to the rule of law and equal protection under the law of its own Muslim minorities may soon be tested. So far, German courts have seemed to be equal to the task of facing down pressures to cut corners in the “clash of cultures”; the question is whether that will continue when that pressure comes from Berlin, not Washington, DC. As the question suggests, it’s not like our country has shown the way of late.

* TRANSLATION NOTES: “Medieval”: voraufklaererisch, lit. pre-Enlightenment. The Kuechenkabinett writer used and capitalized the English phrases “Self fulfilling Prophecy” and “Hardliners.” Telegehirn’s “Your”s are capitalized to follow his/her use of the capitalized “Deine” in mid-sentence, signaling a slightly archaic, if not to say Voelkisch kind of polemic. Finally, I’ve taken the liberty of translating some sentences to a more active voice from the passive voice used by the German writer.
NOTE: German blogger series tag link.
EDIT, 2/12: “that pressure comes” for “the pressure not to is”.

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Every week is Banned Books Week

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th October 2005

…but I missed the American Library Association’s official Banned Books Week, which was the last week of September this year, as in every year since 1982.

You can get the official story there, with lots of informative links. In 2004, Robert Cormier’s “The Chocolate War” topped the list of most-frequently challenged books (for sexual content and allegedly offensive language).

In keeping with the times, a number of other books seem to have been challenged for not depicting gay people and couples as monsters. Over the last decade, J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” series fame is among the authors most frequently challenged (for treating witchcraft as entertaining fiction), along with … Maurice Sendak! (apparently for admitting that human beings don’t always have their clothes on).

Alternatively, check out “Paperback Girl,” where student librarian Iris is quietly (of course) compiling an excellent blog detailing incident after incident of library censorship around the country.

Most recently, Iris got my attention with a post about the Limestone County, Alabama school board taking it to the next level: not just banning the book “Whale Talk” — but its author as well:

One week before banned author Chris Crutcher was scheduled to speak to students at Limestone County’s Clements Junior & Senior High Schools, board members once again chose to censor his work — this time a G-rated assembly about what it means to be a writer. […]

Crutcher was not surprised. “When you think you can keep kids safe by keeping them ignorant,” he said, “you’ll go to almost any extremes. This isn’t about Whale Talk; it’s about any book that has the potential to offend someone, which is any book. I wish some of these school board members knew more about child and adolescent development, or had the information most teachers and school librarians are required to have before they are allowed a voice in education. I mean, kids who might die in Iraq in a few short years are being ‘protected’ from the language that has the power only to offend someone’s sensibilities?”

On the bright side, at least I have the beginnings of a Christmas shopping list.

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Freedom of speech in Ole Virginny

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th October 2005

Perhaps based on the premise that he was in the United States, Pakistani-American and former Air Force service member Tariq Khan decided to test the proposition that he could safely protest against Pentagon recruiters at George Mason University. He taped a small sign to his chest with words to the effect “Recruiters Lie,” and stood next to a recruiting table. I hope that even pro-war advocates will agree that what followed was dangerous and shameful:

A JC operations representative arrived on the scene to tell Tariq that as a student, he had no right to voice his opinion without a permit, and that he must leave. Tariq defended his right to stand there, peaceably, and the operations staff-member called campus police. While waiting for their arrival, the ROTC guy returned to rip Tariq’s sign off of his person and throw it in the trash.

Witnesses report that the responding police officer physically assaulted Tariq next to the stage in the JC, putting him in a headlock, choking him, and then proceeding to throw him against the stage. The entire time, Tariq announced, and witnesses concur, that he was being non-violent and not resisting. Eventually he was put in cuffs and taken away by two Mason police officers.

Via Facing South. I have a certain sympathy for Khan’s belief that he shouldn’t require a permit to peaceably speak his mind at the most useful location to do so.

Additional details appear to demonstrate racism and a general lack of clarity by some ROTC and police personnel about what it is that they’re supposed to defend. (Hint: not a recruiting table.) George Mason University’s President Merten’s office can be reached at 703-993-8700, and the university provides a comment form with which visitors can share their thoughts about the contemptible institution it is.

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Folk songs OK, but for really free speech you’ll need a permit

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st September 2005

Cindy Sheehan in Union Square. Photo
courtesy of Mike Fleming, via

The New York Times Shadi Rahimi reports (“An Antiwar speech in Union Square Is Stopped by Police Citing Paperwork Rules“):

An antiwar speech by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, was cut short yesterday after the organizer of the event was arrested and police officers confiscated his audio equipment.

The claps and cheers that had greeted Ms. Sheehan’s arrival at the rally in Union Square quickly turned to furious chants of ‘Let her speak!’ as officers ushered away the organizer, Paul Zulkowitz, who the police said lacked audio permits for the event.

Angry activists followed officers as they led Mr. Zulkowitz away, waving their fists and shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.” Ms. Sheehan, who was visiting New York on the last leg of a bus tour across the country, was nearing the end of her speech when the police officers arrested Mr. Zulkowitz. She was whisked to a car by two supporters just before the police officers seized the microphone. Mr. Zulkowitz was arrested because he did not have a permit, said the commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, Inspector Michael J. McEnroy.

Via Steve Gilliard, who comments “Cindy Sheehan was protected by the Crawford sheriff. She was silenced by the NYPD.” The Village Voice’s Sarah Ferguson points out:

Yet for all their fussing over sound permits, the police evidently weren’t troubled the young folkie who set up his own mic and portable amp shortly after Sheehan and her entourage had left, then launched into a round of Dylanesque protest songs.

Sheehan’s mic wasn’t that much louder, leaving one to wonder whether the cops’ hasty halt to the speakout was perhaps motivated more by the crowd she drew and the radical posturing voiced by some of the speakers leading up to her—including Dustin Langley of the Troops Out Now coalition, who urged the anti-warriors milling in the bright sun to “open a new front of resistance right here. Bring Falluja to New York and shut it down!”

Right, that’s a sound bite that’s really going to work wonders. But it’s speech, it’s political speech, and he’s free to say what he said. More importantly, so is Ms. Sheehan. The authorities seem to have confused their speech — and someday yours and mine — with noise.

UPDATE/EDIT, 9/22: Photo added, courtesy of Mike Fleming. Via Joel Moore — possibly the “young folkie” in the Village Voice story — who comments:

She was saying her last few words of thanks for our support when the police came up from behind and grabbed Zool(Paul Zolkowitz) the event organizer. He was arrested and held for about 8 hours for operating an amplifier without a permit. If the cops would have waited even 2 seconds longer the whole thing could have been avoided.

There’s also some video of the incident at Moore’s web site.

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My 9/11 Freedom Perp Walk

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th September 2005

Reporting on the “Freedom Walk” yesterday from the Pentagon to the Mall, the New York Times’ Glen Justice and John Files noticed a few notes of discord. One lady had her anti-war sign taken away, and a protester along the march route held up a “Bush is a liar” sign, to be met by “USA” chants — coached by Allison Barber, a Rumsfeld aide. And there was also this:

One man who registered for the walk was detained by a Pentagon police officer after he slipped a black hood over his head and produced a sign that read, ‘Freedom?’

The other side said:

For Them, For Us, For Our Troops: Never Again
Support the McCain and Levin Amendments

I know, because that’s the side I displayed first. Just as I had done at the inauguration, I was wearing a black poncho along with the hood the reporter noticed, an allusion to the infamous Abu Ghraib photo. My single alteration was to cut a couple of eyeholes in the pillowcase, a decision for safety over verisimilitude — I wanted to be able to maybe avoid a punch.

I had registered for the march soon after noticing it, but was frankly apprehensive about the whole thing. I gathered my equipment — poncho, file clips and twine for the sign — in the hood and carried it on my shoulder into the staging area for the march, the south parking lot of the Pentagon, arriving around 9 AM. While my bag was searched, there was obviously nothing of concern in it.

The scene that greeted me was fairly strange. A prominent sign declared “Signs and banners prohibited” — which may or may not have seemed like a non sequitur to the other “freedom walkers,” but I didn’t talk with any of the walkers to find out. Everyone was issued a “Freedom Walk” t-shirt and required to wear it — a signal, along with a tape wristband, that one had been processed and deemed safe. Along with people bearing large organizational signs — “AOL,” “HUD,” “Justice,” and so forth, so groups could find to each other — the whole thing looked homogeneous, hyperorganized and somehow infantilized. I found myself thinking of the old TV series “The Prisoner.” On a small stage, an Air Force band played tunes, with a pretty good female vocalist singing country and other favorites, in dress blues.

I went over to a booth describing the Pentagon 9/11 memorial, which does look like it will be quite nice. There was an inscription book, where after a bit of thought I wrote “The best memorial to the 9/11 victims will be an America that preserves its freedoms.” (In case anyone is ever bored enough to check, this may not be the precise wording, but it’s close — I jotted down some notes on that and other things, but eventually lost that scrap of paper).

As the start time approached, a pastor in uniform (I think, I wasn’t close enough to the stage) led the crowd in prayer, which I did not join. Then Undersecretary of Defense Gordon Something gave a brief speech, in which he recalled Bush’s first visit to the Pentagon, and the (perforce) unforgettable moment when Bush looked at all the generals in the room and said “Never forget.” This was presumably inspirational.

A large gateway had been built, with “Freedom Walk” painted on the arch, under which walkers were to file out of the parking lot and on to the walk. Barricades to either side of the gateway funneled the walkers under the gate. Out of some concern for my safety from gung-ho types, I decided to stand behind those barricades and wait until the march had just begun to don my costume and hold up my sign. It didn’t hurt that it was near a photographer and a TV man, and within a short distance of some uniformed police officers.

I was shaking a bit as I put on the poncho and hood and slung the sign around my neck. I first showed the “For them, for us…” side. Within maybe 15 or 20 seconds, an officer approached and told me that I would need to go to a designated protest area. I flipped the sign around at that point and said I didn’t see why, I had a right to say what I was saying. Without further ado, I was handcuffed and marched off. The vocalist was actually singing the refrain “freedom” to some syrupy song at that moment. The crowd of walkers cheered for the police.

I was treated professionally by the Pentagon police. Frisked, put in a car, watch your head, latched behind a safety belt, out of the car, pockets emptied, transfer to a van, drive to a holding facility in a nondescript warehouse near the Pentagon City Metro stop, 13th and Fern or so if I recall correctly. Stood around for a while there — they weren’t sure which door was the entrance — and once inside, there was more standing around. Finally some more officers appeared. We sat down at a table, and they began doing the paperwork for the arrest. It was hot, and one of the fellows at the table asked for a portable fan to be pointed more directly at them. “You sure? It’s going to blow the papers all over the place.” “Yeah.” Papers blew all over the place.

I was eventually read my rights, and then the arresting officer got on the phone with a DA to see whether to add a charge because of the hood — I learned that wearing a mask is potentially a “class 6 felony.” But they decided not to press that charge.

Instead, I was cited for “failure to obey a lawful order,” and will have a court date in early January in Alexandria. I was fingerprinted, photographed, and then, finally, released. It was around noon.

I did this to to remind people of the wrongs that have been committed in this so-called war on terror, to counter an organized, regimented official demonstration with a real demonstration of my own, and basically to rain on Rumsfeld’s little parade in my own small way.

I do not at all disrespect the impulse to memorialize the victims of 9/11. I do object to using that impulse as a blatant political rallying tool by people who have botched so very much of the response to that attack, abused that attack to start another war to botch, and brought so much dishonor on this country in the process. I don’t feel especially noble about my protest, and I was distressed about the possible felony charge. But not so much that I would have regretted anything.

NOTE: In the interests of complete disclosure, I should say that I also added a small “” to the “For them” side of the sign. I wouldn’t do that again, since I’m not affiliated with the group and didn’t discuss this with them, let alone get their approval. It was a blogger’s impulse: give onlookers a place to look stuff up.

For more of my own discussion of the McCain and Levin amendments, see Three Senate detainee abuse debates , Torture commission, detainee treatment votes expected soon, Independent torture commission vote expected soon. See also Look pretty similar to me (re the Durbin flap this summer). If you would like to read even more of my incomparable discussions of Abu Ghraib and the wider topic of prisoner abuse and torture at Baghram, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, use the search box at the upper [right] of this page.

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Children don’t even know what tolerance means

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th May 2005

…and we’d better keep it that way, says one North Carolina congressman. Iris, who does most of the writing over at “Interfaith Nunnery,” noticed Rep. Walter Jones’ (R-NC) introduction of the “School Library Busybody Act of 2005,” excuse me, “Parental Empowerment Act of 2005” (HR 2295), in the House. Her summary:

This legislation would create parent-based advisory boards to review at the local level material eyed for school libraries and classrooms. It would let parents, in blocks of five to 15, decide whether the country’s youngest children are ready for controversial themes.

Jones’ proposal would restrict federal education funds for states that fail to adopt guidelines for elementary-school book purchases.

This is the result of a constituent’s complaint about the controversial book King&King, about two princes who meet and fall in love.

Iris provides links to the news item and the bill. From the North Carolina Kinston Free Press:

But it’s families and the ‘moral future of America,’ Jones said, that this legislation strives to protect.

‘Children don’t even know what tolerance means,’ he said. ‘Parents who bring children into the world should not feel there’s a social agenda in their schools.

Looks like you get a social agenda either way; some grownups don’t know what tolerance means, either. There’s your moral future of America.

You’d think there would be countless better issues for the elected and unelected busybodies of the world to focus on. But I guess the Iraq war, chemical plant security, bird flu virus, HIV, Darfur, North Korean WMD development, global warming and the Patriot Act are all taken care of.

Isn’t the idea of a library to be a place where you can learn new things, and get exposed to new ideas? If you’re so petrified they’ll get the wrong idea — read with them, and set aside the book if it bothers you so much. Please don’t inflict your phobias on the rest of us.

For more on the library busybody phenomenon (but also more on the joys of libraries), check by “Interfaith Nunnery.” The one downside to Iris’ job as a children’s librarian seems to be putting up with endless attempts to protect children’s fragile little brains from one kind of “dangerous” concept or another.

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On fascism

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th December 2004

Nicely put by Jim Henley:

Fascism doesn’t just want ‘the people’ to shut up and do what you’re told. Fascism wants ‘the people’ to get into it, to ‘shut up and do what you’re told’ at the top of their lungs. Fascism is also about energizing the base against enemies, internal and/or external, and using the violence of the State to shut the labelled enemies the hell up. […]

…[T]he Dixie Chick brouhaha is a useful example. The Dixie Chicks were not ‘censored.’ They were not arrested, denied work or killed by the government. But the freelance demonization campaign against them was nevertheless a fascist impulse in action.

He loses me elsewhere in the post, to be sure, by calling rescuing a kidnap victim “state violence,” but I’m told not everyone agrees with me about that incident.

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Jesus didn’t turn people away

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th December 2004

Neither does the United Church of Christ: “No matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? I finally saw the ad tonight — Josh Marshall has been writing about the controversy it’s sparked all week.

It’s really a beautiful ad, a tremendously good thing, especially now somehow. I almost wanted to join them myself. I’ve gotten a little too used to thinking very poorly indeed of American Christianity lately. May God bless them, they have certainly restored a little of my faith.

And may the rest of us question and heap scorn on the shriveled executives of Viacom* and NBC for refusing to air this decent statement of acceptance for such transparent, pathetic, cowardly reasons as these:

Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations,” reads an explanation from CBS, “and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.”

A dead center response by Reverend Robert Chase, the UCC director of communication ministry:

We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church’s loving welcome of committed gay couples, that’s where they draw the line.

Yep, can’t have that. The banner phrase of the United Church of Christ campaign is interesting in its own right: “God is still speaking,” punctuated with a comma, not a period — i.e., “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word,” in the earnest church version, or the more down-to-earth “Never place a period where God has placed a comma,” by comedienne Gracie Allen. A welcome antidote to preening, hateful “moral values” elsewhere.

* Viacom owns the CBS and UPN networks.
UPDATE, 6/19/09: UCC links corrected or changed, where possible, to ones currently illustrating the theme.

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A fistful of fact-checking: Martens vs. Pipes on Tariq Ramadan

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd September 2004

Daniel Pipes, the director of Middle East Forum and a well-known writer on Middle Eastern affairs, recently wrote an article for the New York Post, “Why Revoke Tariq Ramadan’s U.S. Visa?,” welcoming that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision. Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss national who is also a devout Muslim and religious scholar. But in his seemingly authoritative, link-rich article, Mr. Pipes strongly implies that Ramadan supports Islamist terrorism.

One Scott Martens of A Fistful of Euros took the time to “factcheck his ass,” as the nice warblogger expression goes, in a lengthy article titled “Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters.” Even discounting for Martens’ freely given acknowledgment that he thought little of Pipes in the first place, the result is an absolutely devastating blow to Daniel Pipes’ credibility.

Martens shows that Pipes relied on the fact that most New York Post readers are not going to be able to read the French articles he cited even if they followed his links to them online. Pipes then proceeded to twist one Tariq Ramadan quote or factoid after the other beyond recognition.

In one of the most egregious examples, Pipes states, “Along with nearly all Islamists, Mr. Ramadan has denied that there is “any certain proof” that Bin Laden was behind 9/11.” Martens translates Ramadan’s actual statement as follows:

A: So far, investigators have not put forward any clear or definitive proof of his guilt. The likelihood is very great, but some questions remain unanswered: the difference between the extreme sophistication in the build-up to the attack and the accumulation of mistakes afterwards is impressive. Why leave so many tracks and never claim responsibility for the attacks? There are still too many incoherent things about it to be able to definitively designate who is responsible. But whoever it is, bin Laden or someone else, we need to find them and prosecute them. (emphasis added)

But the kicker is that Ramadan made this statement to Swiss journalist Nicolas Geinoz on September 22, 2001 — a scant 11 days after the attack! Even the White House took a couple of days to express confidence it was Bin Laden’s doing. And at any rate, Ramadan called for finding and prosecuting whoever did the attacks.

Another example is Pipes’ claim that Ramadan “publicly refers to the Islamist atrocities of 9/11, Bali, and Madrid as “interventions,” minimizing them to the point of near-endorsement.” But again, translating the French “Le Point” article involved yields a different impression. Martens provides the full statement involved:

[Ramadan]: From the suburbs of France to Muslim society, you will find no support, except for some miniscule amount, for the actions in New York, Bali or Madrid. We must not confuse the Iraqi and Palestinan resistance movements with pro-bin Laden acts.

Martens asserts that the French word intervention can be best translated as “action” in the above context. But even if you used the English word “intervention,” Ramadan’s statement appears to be nothing at all like a ‘near-endorsement’ of the 9/11, Bali, and Madrid terror attacks: there’s “no support” for them either way. Ramadan has since published his own rebuttal to Pipes in the Chicago Tribune; he says the word ‘intervention’ was used first by the French journalists interviewing him.

Pipes most politically substantive point — although insufficient to revoke a visa, I would think — is that Ramadan “has praised the brutal Islamist policies of the Sudanese politician Hassan Al-Turabi.” In his Tribune piece, Ramadan responds:

Nothing of what I said about al-Turabi’s policies is remotely favorable. After visiting Sudan in 1994, I wrote: “Nonetheless, one must clearly say that the present regime does not offer minimal guarantees for political pluralism, that opposition parties are muzzled and that cronyism is the rule. Muslims are called to remain vigilant, for the opposition of the United States and Israel is not enough to support the `Islamic’ character of a project.”

On rereading Pipes’ article, I suppose careful New York Post readers might have sensed a pattern of innuendo anyway: “Intelligence agencies suspect… “; “Osama Bin Laden studied with Tariq Ramadan’s father in Geneva...” (Well, there you have it. What more evidence would we need, even if it were true — which according to Ramadan is not the case.) But while there’s just enough faux scholarship to make the casual reader nod and say “yup,” Pipes’ evidence proves either weak or nonexistent on further examination. As Mr. Martens puts it:

Daniel Pipes thinks we’re all either to stupid or too scared to actually question the nonsense he passes off as scholarship. He relies on an American audience that is unable to check his sources, because when they do, they find out that Daniel Pipes is an empty suit.

If, as Lee Smith writes in the American Prospect, Tariq Ramadan “believes Islam will replace Judaism and Christianity,” then as a secularist I find that mildly distasteful, but no more so than I feel about similar sentiments by, say, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the eventual triumph of Christianity. That comparison is actually pretty unfair to Ramadan, whose language is apparently rarely if ever as overbearing as Robertson’s or Falwell’s.

Meanwhile, needful to say, the kind of bad-faith, trumped-up charges and innuendoes Pipes makes against Ramadan are wrong. Someone who both concocts smears like this one, and has a presidential appointment to the “United States Institute of Peace” should and must be denounced. Shame on him.

And if these kinds of charges are indeed why the DHS revoked Ramadan’s visa, then Pipes isn’t the half of it: shame on the DHS as well.


MORE: Aziz Poonawalla has a several posts up about Ramadan, all worth reading. Glenn Reynolds thinks “Unless there’s more to this story than we know so far, I’d say that it’s not a good idea.” Martens and Reynolds both point to separate Volokh posts about Ramadan; Volokh says that the government is right to bar aliens “simply on suspicion of connections with terrorists,” and should not have to obtain “proof in court of criminal conduct” to do so — and thus illustrates the power of the Pipes smear.

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