a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A 9/11 visit to my friend’s mosque

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th September 2010

I visited my friend Fatou’s mosque today — that of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area, or ISWA for short.  Fatou is a dear friend of our family — she’s one of my wife and my best friends, she’s taught my daughter French and other subjects, her daughter and mine went to elementary school and now middle school together. She’s also a practicing Muslim from West Africa who holds an anthropology doctorate from a major European university.

Fatou and me in her mosque
Fatou and me in her mosque, 9/11/2010

Visiting the mosque with her was my idea, but one she was immediately enthusiastic about.  The 9/11 date was important to me — I wanted to show a little solidarity with her and other Muslims here in the U.S., after what I think was a notably ugly, disgraceful summer of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country.

This summer has been a season that nearly culminated in Koran-burnings in Gainesville — and that still might.  It is still a season that threatens to pressure Muslims wishing to build an Islamic community center near the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers into waiving their equal rights, their freedom of speech, and their freedom of association and religion, all just to appease the unfounded, bigoted sensitivities of far too many Americans.

And far too many more Americans are trying to have it both ways, essentially saying “I’m not for bigotry, but so many others are against the ‘mosque at Ground Zero’ that, well… those Park51 people ought to back down.”*  Don’t people understand how fast this could get dangerous, I’ve wondered  — sure, it’s not 1 minute to an anti-Muslim Kristallnacht midnight, not yet, but it’s 20 minutes or so too close, and people like Jones and Gingrich are doing their best to get us to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

So I got in touch with Fatou.  It was too late to try to organize some of my more extravagant initial ideas — interfaith service, local political leaders, press releases, whatever could be done.

But the visit I had was better than that.

Fatou and me in her mosque

It let me see a mosque on a quiet day — the way it probably usually is.  It let me realize many of my own concerns about what was OK and what wasn’t were overblown — sure, I could take some pictures; sure, I could sit in back while they prayed; sure, I was welcome even as an agnostic nonbeliever.

It let me realize how ordinary mosques can be — balloons hanging from the rafters to celebrate the latest holiday, instant coffee, sugar, and a hot water urn at a table, posters for a special “Muslim-American Day” (or something like that) at a nearby Six Flags theme park, people setting tables and preparing food in the kitchen for a memorial service, announcements posted in the foyer.  In most ways, it was like any local church I’ve ever walked into.

One of those evocative, wavering calls to prayer happened while I was there.  Some men were already in the room with the muezzin who had performed the call, others filed in shortly after; Fatou went to the women’s prayer room.  Learning I could sit in the back and observe the prayers, I did.  And I found it actually helped me to be in a quiet room, with alternating chants by a prayer leader alternating with the row of five or six congregants kneeling, prostrating, standing, silently praying or quietly echoing the prayer leader’s words — I’ve gotten into somewhat tense exchanges with friends and family about Park51 and related issues, and I’ve been a little upset by them.

I met the imam on our way out — a very nice man named Faizul Khan who asked us back inside.  He took me to his office. “People ask why Muslims didn’t condemn the attacks, ” he said.  “We did.”  He pointed to a framed Washington Times op-ed, dated early October 2001:**

In the midst of the catastrophic events that have hit America, questions have been raised as to how such [terrorist] acts are judged and interpreted by Islamic shariah [law]. Any calamity that affects humans has its ruling in Islamic shariah.

Killing the weak, infants, women and the elderly and destroying property are considered serious crimes in Islam. Acts of corruption and even laying waste to the land are forbidden by God and by His prophet. Viewing on the TV networks what happened to the Word Trade Center and the Pentagon was like watching Doomsday.

Those who commit such crimes are the worst people. Anyone who thinks that any Islamic scholar will condone such acts is totally wrong. Aggression, injustice and gloating over the kind of crime that we have seen, are totally unacceptable, and forbidden in Islam.

Mr. Khan did the same thing again last year when Nidal Hasan committed his murder rampage at Fort Hood, writing,

Since September 11, 2001, the peaceful community [of] American Muslims has been subject to all kinds of accusations and persecutions. This is happening despite the fact that — since 9/11 — Muslims have organized more than 3,500 interfaith forums denouncing terrorism and loudly condemning groups such as Al-Qaeda. I condemn the actions allegedly taken by the Muslim soldier at Fort Hood and would condemn any action by any Muslim who uses violence in the name of Islam. Perhaps the best investment at this time is to engage in projects and programs that are people oriented and that will project the humanitarian faith of Islam. (emphasis added)

Just as the mosque seemed very much like any church I’d ever been to, Imam Khan — in manner if not dress — seemed to have arrived straight from Central Casting for a pastor or priest: soft spoken, friendly, a little harried by his schedule. His congregation is lucky to have him, I think; you need a good man with patience of Job for patiently, repeatedly explaining, year after year, that he condemns violence in the name of his religion.

* The biggest disappointment in this regard: Howard Dean.
** I can’t locate the October 2001 op-ed online yet [UPDATE, EDIT, 10/28: not the Washington Post — the Washington Times; link and excerpt added], but have found other examples of Mr. Khan condemning extremist violence here and here.

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Pact with the devil? Hmm.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th January 2010

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Haiti Earthquake Reactions
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

My “favorite” part of the infamous Pat Robertson outburst on the terrible earthquake in Haiti was what’s her name next to him — pact with the devil!? how’m I supposed to react to that!? umm… disapproving little “hmm”, little concerned frown.

Her reaction wasn’t “oh my gosh a PACT with SATAN? we’ve got to DO something.” It was more like she she’d just heard from Heather that the Haitians hang out with the wrong crowd at her high school — so they should DIE.

And she half agrees, but she also half thinks maybe people are right and she’s teamed up with a nut.  But a nut who pays her salary. So: “hmm.”

= = =

Enough about Elmer Gantry and his sidekick.  We’ve given a couple hundred for Haiti now, I hope you’ll dig as deep as you can.  Lots of good groups out there, but one that keeps coming up is Partners in Health; see, for example, an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times by Tracy Kidder (“Strength in What Remains”) mentioning them.  Also good, of course: Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross, and others.

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Love them while you can: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st August 2009

I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

— from “Gilead,” by Marilynne Robinson

“Gilead” is that all too rare thing — a beautifully written, absorbing work of fiction written in the voice of a genuinely and believably good man.  The narrator is John Ames, a preacher in the town of Gilead, Iowa, in the late 1950s; though nearing seventy, he has married late and has one young child, to whom he dedicates a journal of what he suspects are his final months of life.

As the passage above suggests, Ames’s writings are also more than that: a vessel for reflection on what matters in life.  The “balm of Gilead” is a biblical reference that even I’m aware of, but it isn’t necessary to be immersed in Christian lore per se, or even to be a casual believer, to be moved to reflection and emotion by Robinson’s writing and Ames’s character.

I write “per se” above because this nation’s own particular “Troy Tale”, the Civil War, also looms throughout the memoir, (many of Ames’s recollections revolve around the John Brown-like figure of his grandfather, who fights in Kansas and later loses an eye in the war itself), and I join writers from Noll to Lincoln in locating an American theology derived from that.  The narrator explains and frames his father’s views here:

My father said when he walked into his father’s church after they came back from the army the first thing he saw was a piece of needlework hanging on the wall above the communion table.  It was very beautifully done, flowers and flames surrounding the words “The Lord Our God Is a Purifying Fire.”  I suppose that’s why I always think of my grandfather’s church as the one struck by lightning.  As in fact it was.

My father said it was that banner that had sent him off to sit with the Quakers.  He said the very last word he would have applied to war, once he had had a good look at it, was “purifying,” and the thought that those women could believe the world was in any way purer for the loss of their own sons and husbands was appalling to him.  He stood there looking at it, visibly displeased by it, apparently, because one of the women said to him, “It’s just a bit of Scripture.”

He said, “I beg your pardon, ma’am.  No that is not Scripture.”

“Well,” she said, “then it certainly ought to be.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th August 2008

I’m not especially well-informed about the history of the Catholic Church, the Reformation, and the Counterreformation. I therefore simply direct readers to an interesting set of posts by Mick Arran:

Arran argues that there are instructive historical parallels between the great shipwreck of the Catholic Church on the rocks of the Reformation and today’s American political scene. In a nutshell, by failing to root out and punish corruption in its midst, the American political establishment of the late 20th and early 21st centuries strongly resembles the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, and is inviting a similar period of steady decline.

Arran points to Ford’s pardon of Nixon for and Bush’s pardon of Weinberger as akin to the Catholic Church “General Council” failures to end abuses like selling “benefices” and self-enrichment:

…not once, but twice, American presidential administrations have defamed and trampled on some of the most serious and solemn provisions of the Constitution of the United States WITHOUT LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF ANY KIND FOR ANYONE INVOLVED. But most especially there was no action whatever taken against those at the top levels of govt who had ordered those violations: the president and the vice president. Is it any wonder that the Bush Administration felt free to do whatever it wished, to violate US law, the Constitution, and Congressional orders lawfully given? To do its business entirely in secret, refusing even to let the Congress itself know what it was doing? The lesson they had learned and learned well was that a president could ignore laws, the Constitution, Congress, the judicial branch, and the people themselves WITHOUT FEAR THAT THEY WOULD EVER HAVE TO PAY A PRICE FOR THEIR CRIMES.

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Drum can’t read his (golden) compass

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th November 2007

Kevin Drum holds forth on Philip Pullman’s “Golden Compass” series, arguing that Christian right has a point in worrying about the effects of the upcoming movie:

I’m sure the movie itself will indeed be harmless, but the books are every conservative Christian’s nightmare of what the secular left’s real agenda is — assuming you get past the first two volumes, that is. Pullman’s attack on Christianity is foreshadowed in those books, but in the third it’s laid bare with no attempt at even unsubtle Narnia-esque analogies. The Amber Spyglass is the story of how God (yes, the God of Abraham, the one in the Bible) has ruled despotically and malevolently over the Earth for 30,000 years and the forces of good and decency are finally going to kill him. And they do.

Other than the “every conservative Christian’s nightmare” part — and even that is speculative — there’s very little that’s really accurate or helpful about this kind of drive-by analysis of Pullman’s fine “Dark Materials” series. Trouble is, it’s close enough for government and blogging work.

Having argued that Drum actually doesn’t publish spoilers in the above, I’ll try not to as well. I’ll simply note that the God (or “Ancient One”) finally encountered in this story has not ruled at all for most of the time period Drum claims he has, that he is not killed by the “forces of good and decency,” and that He is in fact rather relieved to make his exit when it happens.

But the key fallacy, I think, is that everything depends on what Drum and other Pullman critics mean by “Christianity.” Pullman’s books are in part an attack on organized religion — on the worldly power it wields when it takes a bureaucratized, theocratized, Catholic Church-like form. True, they go further, arguing essentially that if such organized religions are truly representative of God… well, then there’s a problem with God, too. But much more importantly, they are a discussion of the consequences of a focus on eternal life after death rather than on a productive life before it. And they are a discussion of what it means to grow up and understand that. Indeed, Pullman is more ally than antagonist to Christians (and other believers) in one very important way: he doesn’t dispute the notion of a “soul” — rather, he extends and elaborates on it with the daemons accompanying humans in the alternate universe he describes.

Re Drum’s idea that the books are an “attack on Christianity,” there’s arguably an even more important point about Pullman’s books: there is no mention whatsoever of Jesus in any of his discussions of either the Church or its ethereal counterpart, the Authority. Indeed (or instead), the chief protagonists Lyra and Will play a Christ-like role when they make a great but utterly necessary sacrifice at the end of “Amber Spyglass” — moreover, after essentially “re-harrowing” Hell, admittedly with a decidedly different goal in mind than Jesus had in the New Testament.

To me, Pullman’s books are ultimately not so much an attack on religion as an alternative vision of spirituality: sentience and adult choice are the great goods of the universe, to be cherished, husbanded, and multiplied. That, it seems to me, is not such an awful vision for a Christian — even for a conservative Christian — to contemplate.

I also take issue with the whole notion — one Drum doesn’t really contest — that children are necessarily helpless victims of books like these. Earlier this year, I read the “Dark Materials” series to Maddie. She was enthralled, and loved to say that the book would soon be a “major motion picture” in a review she wrote for a summer camp magazine. When we got to the delicately handled (and largely implied) love scene between Will and Lyra, she knew it was a good thing, even if it embarrassed her a little bit.

But when we got to the end, and she saw where things were headed, she let me know she didn’t like how this story was ending at all — and she called a halt to the whole enterprise. We have thus completed 2.995 out of 3 books of the “Dark Materials” series — and it’s likely to stay that way for a while.

And that’s fine with me. When or if she’s ever ready to read the rest, that will be the right time. Meanwhile, we’ve talked about the scary parts, the God parts, the mildly smoochy parts. If Christian spokespersons want to sell believing parents and kids short by claiming they can’t handle this stuff, that’s their business.

But I find it passing strange that the normally sensible Kevin Drum should agree with them, writing “And if I were a mucky-muck in the Southern Baptist Convention, I’d be warning parents away from it too.” Whatever for? A book that’s about, among other things, soul, eternal life, love, growing up, and religion — even if it’s critical of it — ought to be a perfect challenge for those inclined to defend their faith. There’s really nothing to be afraid of — they’re just interesting, challenging works of fiction. Kind of like… well, I’ve said enough.

PREVIOUSLY: 2004/03/18: Missions from God – intro to series; 2004/05/02: A good conversation …between Pullman and Anglican archbishop Rowan Williams; 2007/07/14: Weekend quiz section – my daemon is …drumroll… a mouse. Or maybe a tiger.

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th March 2007

  • Boerish (HTML Mencken, “Sadly, No!”) — the wonderfully pseudonymed ‘Mencken’ collects statements by pro-war enthusiasts Max Boot, Josh Trevino, Glenn Reynolds and others seeking inspiration for American strategy in Iraq in the Boer War — paraphrasing, “sure, there were concentration camps and scorched earth, but the Brits won” — and sets them against an assessment of that debacle by mid 20th century historian AJP Taylor. Eerie similarities surface between politics here and now and politics then and there. Mencken:

    The ground conditions SNAFU and the politician schemers realized they hadn’t thought things through, hadn’t considered contingencies. Check. Policies and practices which scandalized world opinion. Check. Depraved policies and practices that make a mockery of one’s country’s ideals. Check and mate.

    Taylor, emphasis Mencken’s:

    Fifty years afterwards, it is clear that victory has gone to the worst elements on both sides. Milner got his war without achieving his vision; the Boers lost their independence without being won for progress and civilization […] The mining houses and the most narrow-minded Boers, Johannesburg and Pretoria, have joined hands to oppress and exploit the native peoples who are the overwhelming majority of the population[…]

    (PS: In case you’ve never read this, either, by Liberal/Radical John Morley, in an 1899 Manchester speech: “You may make thousands of women widows and thousands of children fatherless. It will be wrong. You may add a new province to your empire. It will still be wrong. You may increase the shares of Mr Rhodes and his Chartereds beyond the dreams of avarice. Yea, and it will still be wrong!”)

  • What Went Wrong? (Bjorn Staerk) — As Staerk acknowledges, he once considered himself among the original post-9/11 “warbloggers.” Like me, he came to support the Iraq war; like me, he came to regret that:

    When I look around me at the world we got, the world we created after 2001, that’s the question I keep coming back to: What went wrong? The question nags me all the more because I was part of it, swept along with all the currents that took us from the ruins of the World Trace center through the shameful years that followed. Iraq, the war on terror, the new European culture war. […]

    And by “us” I don’t mean that everyone thought alike, I mean that there was an identity based on an unspoken agreement about who were “ok” and who weren’t. And – God help me – I was ok. I haven’t been for a while now, but it’s only recently I’ve realized just how little there’s left of what I believed five years ago. Our worldview had three major focus points – Iraq, terrorism and Islam – and we were wrong about all of them.

    I dodged the anti-idiotarian bit he talks about, at least, and I know I parted ways with the LGF crowd fairly early on as it became clear that the racist hatred on display there was a feature, not a bug. But none of that made me immune to many of the same mistakes Staerk describes himself making — despite not being the teenager Staerk was. Staerk’s post clearly didn’t satisfy many readers at the sites taking note of it, to put it mildly — one commenter at Crooked Timber wrote “Is this idiot going to crawl on his bare hands and knees over broken glass“* — but it will speak to many of the rest of us who’ve had to look in the mirror and wonder how we let ourselves go so badly astray. Or rather, shake our heads and see how hubris and naivete can get the better of oneself, too, not just of people in history books or works of fiction.

  • Liberating Iraq (Hilzoy, “Obsidian Wings”) — Hilzoy might have been responding to Staerk, but instead this piece is a reply to Peter Beinart‘s mea culpa in The New Republic. Her essay is liable to be remembered mainly for this crystalline paragraph:

    Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

    But it’s more than that, and should be read carefully by everyone. Perhaps especially Mr. Staerk and myself. Staerk may have been ironic in speaking of “the moral courage to want to change the world by force” early in his essay, or he may have simply been describing a mindset he now rejects. Hilzoy continues:

    And another was this: liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse?

    Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse. […]

    When you use force to liberate a country, like Kuwait, that has only been occupied for a short time, you can hope that its people will accept their previous government, and that whatever made that government function in the past will have survived. But when you liberate a country like Iraq, a country whose people have been brutalized, you risk loosing Hobbes’ “war of all against all” on its people. You remove the sovereign who has kept that war in check, without thereby creating any of the political virtues that allow alternate forms of government, like democracy, to function.

    I think some of her argument suffers from the India vs. South Africa example she uses to introduce her ideas; South Africans faced a far more determined and violent foe in the 1980s than Indians did in the late 1940s, and the very partition Hilzoy alludes to shows that Gandhian methods didn’t forestall extreme violence in that country once the liberation/independence was achieved. Of course, that wasn’t Gandhi’s fault. But the South African women of whom Hilzoy wrote might well have said at that rate, who knows what will come, we will stand up regardless.

    But that was how South Africans might justifiably feel about liberating their own country. The aspirations of many Americans to liberate Iraq are not in the same class — as the widespread buyer’s remorse demonstrates. That’s not to say other aims were much more sensible: I thought WMD or advanced programs for them were there, and that Saddam was not deterrable. They weren’t, he was, and I might have guessed that from the lack of evidence for WMD and the shifting rationales Bush et al presented for the war. And while Americans might feel differently about the price they’re paying for Bush’s decision if there actually had been an Iraqi WMD program to nip in the bud, Iraqis would have been just as stuck with the results either way.

  • Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching, (Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books) — Eagleton, a professor of English literature at Manchester University, takes on the straw man version of religion in Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion:

    Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. […]

    Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms.

    Eagleton’s a funny writer, but he makes points more seriously as well, including that Dawkins and many others conflate the intolerant fundamentalists in religion with everyone else who believes in the same God. Here Dawkins et al have a straightforward answer, though: you nice, thoughtful religious folk seem to let the fundamentalist ones represent you everywhere, so to all intents and purposes they’re the religionists the rest of us have to deal with. I hope Mr. Eagleton can be persuaded to wield his entertainingly sharp pen at, say, Jerry Falwell’s or Pope Benedict’s or the Ayatollah Khamenei’s expense sometime soon.

* See also a paragraph by paragraph rebuttal by Grand Moff Texan — and Staerk’s reply.

NOTES: Boerish via Roy Edroso (“alicublog”). Staerk via Mona (one of the new co-bloggers at “Unqualified Offerings”) and John Quiggin (“Crooked Timber”). “Liberating Iraq” via many, including Patrick Nielsen Hayden, where interesting comments about the post may be found. Including Hilzoy’s, who re-summarizes: “you can create a democracy when you invade for other reasons, but if that’s the point of invading, it will almost certainly fail.” Eagleton v. Dawkins via Teresa Nielsen Hayden‘s sidebar.
EDIT, 3/14: aspirations “are”, not “is.” Sheesh.

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Why don’t we hear Muslims condemning terrorism more often?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th September 2006

Because we keep them out of the country:

The United States government has denied a visa to Oxford University Professor Tariq Ramadan despite dropping its previous allegation that he endorsed terrorism, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

The ACLU, American Academy of Religion, American Association of University Professors, New York Civil Liberties Union and PEN American Center sued the government for preventing their members from meeting with Ramadan and hearing constitutionally protected speech. The lawsuit came after the government invoked the Patriot Act’s “ideological exclusion” provision to prevent Ramadan from accepting a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in 2004. The provision applies to those who have “endorsed or espoused” terrorism, but government attorneys failed to produce any evidence showing that Ramadan had done so. […]

This week, after more than two years of investigating Ramadan and faced with a deadline imposed by the court, the State Department offered a new pretext for excluding Professor Ramadan: that he had donated about 600 Euros to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians-information Ramadan voluntarily provided to the State Department months ago. Although the organizations are legitimate charities in France, the Bush administration contends that the groups gave funds to Hamas and has invoked a law known as the “material support” law, which allows the government to exclude individuals whom it believes have supported terrorism.

600 Euros, six degrees of separation — sounds like a regular kingpin financier of terror. This is who we’ve narrowly prevented from sullying American minds:

…as United States District Judge Paul A. Crotty noted, Ramadan has been a consistent and vocal critic of terrorism. In fact, Ramadan was appointed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a United Kingdom government taskforce to combat terrorism and was recognized by Time magazine as one of 100 “innovators” of the 21st century.

Ramadan has faced a long and patently dishonest smear campaign by Daniel Pipes and others desperate to vilify never-quite-moderate-enough Muslims like him. It’s an outrage that campaign appears to have succeeded. This country is the poorer and the more pathetic for our idiot government’s continuing refusal to let us hear what men like Mr. Ramadan have to say.

This development may go generally unnoticed, but it’s of a piece with other news in what looks like a dark week for America. I take little comfort in knowing that at least we’re safe from Tariq Ramadan.

UPDATE, 9/27: Now that “material support” against the US or a co-belligerent is about to be enough to qualify one as an “unlawful combatant” I wonder if Ramadan was lucky to just get his visa denied. Beats getting disappeared to a few years of “long time standing.” Of course, this administration has snatched people overseas as well, so Mr. Ramadan might want to watch his back. (2nd update: Yes, I suspect Israel isn’t technically a “co-belligerent” — but just wait until the next draft of the McCain/Warner/Graham monstrosity.)

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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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A conspiracy so vast

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th October 2005

DeLay Queries Go To Thatcher’s Office, Washington Post, 10/4:

Staff members for Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former prime minister, have been questioned in a probe of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who is charged with criminal conspiracy regarding corporate political donations, her office said.

“An approach was made to her office to clarify certain points regarding a meeting with Congressman DeLay,” said her spokesman, Mark Worthington.

Well, heck, now I’m wondering if DeLay ever met with the pope. We might be able to roll up the whole operation.

Via Charles Kuffner, whose post may deserve title of the year: Reindicted and it feels so good.

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"The wrath of God struck New Orleans, and it spared us"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th September 2005

Mayor Ronnie Harris of Gretna, Louisiana — may its name live in infamy — actually spoke with Dr. Rob Loftis, a philosophy professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

Dr. Loftis maintains the blog “Big Monkey, Helpy Chalk” (his baby girl’s description of him, if I understand correctly), and shared the notes of his remarkably illuminating — and remarkably civil, on his part — conversation in “skynyrd did what they could do.” The mayor is unapologetic and even proud of what he did. Excerpts:

  • It was never our intent to call New Orleans and ask “how can I help you.”
  • And the incident on the bridge, what was it, it was civil disobedience. Where they were, the convention center was as safe as safe can be…except for the criminals. And I’m not saying they were all looters.
  • I see from these emails people are saying lives were lost because of what we did. That’s bullshit. No one died on that bridge. If people died it was because of the city of New Orleans.
  • No one died in my community.
  • Not a life was lost on the bridge. And the officer who fired the one shot was Black. And that shotgun blast set them straight. You do whatever is necessary to get these criminals in line. And they aren’t all criminals.
  • The wrath of God struck New Orleans, and it spared us.

Loftis concludes, “I can see quite clearly where he is coming from: He thinks he did the right thing, because he protected his people. His problem is that he has too small a view of who his people are.”

And/or too small a view of what his responsibilities and duties are. If I have nothing to share, I suppose I could claim to be protecting my family if I were to wave desperate survivors of some catastrophe away from my doorstep. But I can’t claim that lets me keep those survivors from escaping that catastrophe on my street — and forcing them, at gunpoint, back into the danger zone they’re trying to escape.

Loftis notes that Harris said “they aren’t all criminals” frequently during the conversation. Commenter ‘bellatrys’ notes that Harris is almost certainly mistaken about “one shot” by a black officer, according to eyewitness accounts she transcribed.* And his talk of God’s wrath striking New Orleans and sparing Gretna is especially contemptible and — dare I say it — unChristian.

Via Lindsay Beyerstein (“Majikthise”), who is fast moving up my list of most admired bloggers for her writing from the disaster areas. Along with Mr. Loftis.

*Bellatrys transcribed Lorrie Beth Slonsky’s and Denise Bradshaw’s account of the Gretna story, as told to “This American Life” at her blog “Nothing New Under The Sun.” You can link to her transcript, the audio clip, and other segments of the broadcast “After the flood” via “Recording Katrina.” I think Mayor Harris would benefit from a recording of that TAL program.
NOTE: “unchristian” Leviticus 19:33-34 verse citation via Patrick Nielsen Hayden. See also Matthew 25: 31-46, quoted in full by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Note in both cases the absence of “void when darker skinned people across the river are involved.”

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