Monday, October 31, 2005

A Positive Discussion

Jack Stephens at Conservator has a great post documenting some recent responses on the ALA Council listserv to that body's Iraq resolution. The message that started it all put things far more eloquently than I can:

You have no right to purport to represent me on national political issues that have nothing to do with libraries. I elect other people to do that.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Correcting the Record

Someone called "The Leftist Librarian" took exception to my criticism of ALA Council's Iraq resolution. Beneath the infantile ad hominems, there was at least the shadow of an argument. Since the views expressed by this person seem to be widely held, a detailed fisking is warranted. Let's begin:

We limit ourselves to the facts:

Of course you do. By all means, let's talk facts.

Mission Accomplished?

Talking point number 1. Never have so many made so much out of one banner. In retrospect, the landing on the aircraft carrier wasn't the wisest move. Still, if you actually read the text of Bush's speech aboard the Abraham Lincoln, you soon realize that he never said the phrase "mission accomplished". In fact, he said that "[w]e have difficult work to do in Iraq".


Thankfully, Saddam Hussein probably did not possess biological or chemical weapons as of 2003. The Bush administration was wrong about this, as was the Clinton Administration, along with the British, French, Russians, Germans, Israelis, and just about everyone else.

Of course, the absence of WMD is not the entire story. For one thing, Iraq never fulfilled its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 to provide an "accurate, full, final, and complete disclosure" of its WMD programs. In the words of Dr. David Kay, who has been forthright in acknowledging the overestimation of Saddam's WMD capabilities, "Iraq was in clear and material violation of 1441. They maintained programs and activities, and they certainly had the intentions at a point to resume their program." The Duelfer Report has confirmed that "Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq'’s WMD capability-—which was essentially destroyed in 1991-—after sanctions were removed and Iraq'’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed." The report makes clear that the Iraqi regime was well on its way to achieving the goal of ending sanctions, thanks to its exploitation of the UN Oil-for-Food program. To take just one example, the budget of Iraq's Military Industrialization Commission went from "$7.8 million in 1996 to $350 million in 2002 to $500 million in 2003."

Saddam as part of Al Qaeda? (He was more interested in booty than Allah)

Ah, the notion that Baathist Iraq was some sort of bastion of secularism, one of my favorite myths. As I have documented at length on this blog, Saddam Hussein actively embraced radical Sunni Islam during the last decade and a half of his rule. Among other things, the Baathist regime imposed elements of Islamic Sharia law; built dozens of mosques; frequently employed Islamist discourse, including regular calls for jihad against the US and Israel; and convened an annual series of "popular Islamic conferences" at which Salafists from throughout the Middle East converged on Baghdad to sing the praises of Saddam and call for attacks on American interests. The regime even invited Salafist clerics to take refuge in Iraq. Saddam may have not personally been an Islamist, but his number two man Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri certainly was (and is). Even today, many of the Baathists involved in the terrorist insurgency have adopted an openly Salafist discourse and ideology.

As far as Saddam Hussein's decade long relationship with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard
has documented the facts far more thoroughly than I could. I'll offer just a couple examples. In late 2001, the jihadist group Ansar al-Islam, established a safe haven in Northeastern Iraq for al Qaeda members forced to flee Afghanistan, almost certainly with the cooperation of Iraqi intelligence. In addition, Saddam's regime funneled money to the al Qaeda affiliated Algerian terror group, the GIA. Finally, Iraq's state run media lionized the terrorist exploits of al Qaeda, and even openly celebrated the atrocities of 9/11.

No, Baathist Iraq was not involved in 9/11. Neither did the Third Reich have anything to do with Pearl Harbor. It is clear, however, that Saddam Hussein's regime was a source of moral and material support for al Qaeda and the broader jihadist network.

Civilian and military deaths?

The consequences of war are terrible. Yet there are times when the consequences of not fighting are even worse. A book just published in France, The Black Book of Saddam Hussein, estimates that the Iraqi dictator murdered up to 1,000,000 of his own people. The most credible estimate of civilian deaths since the liberation of Iraq is about 25,000 (please don't waste my time with that ridiculous Lancet study). Of those 25,000 Iraqis who've died, it is safe to say that at least half have been killed by the insurgents, whose barbarism has been documented by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The deaths of American servicemen and women are equally tragic. Their courage and sacrifice, however, have rid the world of a genocidal totalitarian monster, destroyed a major state sponsor of terrorism and source of anti-American incitement, and allowed over 8 million Iraqis to vote in the first free elections of their lives. The way to honor those who have fallen is to see the mission through, not run away. Abandoning Iraq won't end the bloodshed. Those Iraqis who have dared to hope for a better future for their country will be massacred by the Baathists and jihadists, while a resurgent al Qaeda will waste little time finding more Americans to kill in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and right here at home.

Abu Gahrib (and that's just what has come out. . .)?

What happened at Abu Ghraib was inexcusable, and those involved should be punished to the full extent of the law. I find it fascinating, though, how those who are the loudest about the abuses at Abu Ghraib have nothing to say about the torture chambers and slaughter houses run by the jihadists. Nor do they seem to comment on the horrific torture and mass executions that occurred at Abu Ghraib under Saddam.

Don't talk to me about facts my friend.

Don't come to my blog spouting off about facts unless you're willing to actually acquaint yourself with some.

I'm a librarian who chooses to be well informed, not taken in by simple messages of hope and good tidings.

Well informed? Not judging by what you've shown so far.

Oh and, by the way, France was right: America has no history of democracy building cause, you know, you need peacekeepers to build democracy.

Where do I begin? Let's start with France. As the Duelfer Report and just released UN Oil-for-Food report demonstrate, France had been well and truly bought off by Saddam. As far as America having "no history of democracy building", I'm sure that would come as a surprise to the Germans and Japanese. Yes, if only we had "peacekeepers", I'm sure that the beheaders and suicide bombers would have been routed in no time. One need only look at Somalia and Bosnia to see the "effectiveness" of peacekeepers in the face of a ruthless adversary willing to do whatever it takes to impose their will.

Here end of the lesson.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cultural Censorship

Last week, the delegates to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted 148-2 to approve a measure described by the Washington Post as being "designed to protect movies, music and other cultural treasures from foreign competition." The Post further outlined the UNESCO proposal as follows:

Called the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the document approved Thursday declares the rights of countries to "maintain, adopt and implement policies and measures that they deem appropriate for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory."

Cultural expressions are defined as including music, art, language and ideas as well as "cultural activities, goods and services."

The United States and Israel cast the only two no votes.

In essence, the measure is a thinly veiled effort to allow countries to keep out American books, movies and other items. As Neil Hrab has pointed out, Canada and France were at the forefront of this measure. Both countries have long sought to erect barriers against American cultural products. In Canada's case, the use of "cultural content" laws has forced Canadian radio and television stations to play a large perecentage of Canadian-made programming, regardless of the wishes of the audience.

Of course, as Hrab also notes, the measure was supported by the likes of Iran and Zimbabwe, and not surprisingly. After all, the resolution gives dictatorial regimes a virtual license to keep out unwanted books, films, and ideas. The next time Fidel Castro wants to confiscate and burn books, he can simply point to this document and say he is protecting the cultural diversity of Cuban literature from being overrun by corporate Yankee imperialism.

No one forces people to watch American movies or read American books. If you're like me and can't stand the majority of what Hollywood produces, then don't go see it. If you want to protect your own local film industry, try encouraging them to make movies that people will want to watch. Limiting people's access to products and ideas is simply another form of censorship.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Al Qaeda's War of Extermination

Greg McClay has published the list of those on ALA Council who voted last June to demand that the US withdraw from Iraq. I have already made my disgust with this resolution abundantly clear, and will continue to do so in future. In the meantime, I will merely quote Bahraini journalist Mr. Omran Salman, who understands the reality that the majority on ALA Council simply refuse to grasp:

"The war being waged by the Al-Qaeda organization and the terrorists against the Shi'ites in Iraq is among the acts of collective extermination, which is rare in modern history. There has been no case in the past in which somebody has declared a similar war against a race or a group as a whole, except [for the case of] Nazi Germany against the Jews...

Al Qaeda and its local allies are determined to turn Iraq into a genocidal totalitarian dictatorship that will export terrorism and instability throughout the Middle East, just as it was under Saddam Hussein. Spending money on libraries, no matter how laudable, won't stop them.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

National Guard: Week 1

Well, my first weekend as a citizen-soldier is now complete. For any readers who might be interested, here's a brief recap:

To begin with, I should explain that my training was part of something called the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP). This is for new and recent enlistees in the Guard who have not yet completed all of their required training. You do not get to join your assigned unit until you complete basic training as well as Advanced Individual Training (AIT). The purpose of RSP training is to prepare you for basic and AIT.

Saturday began with a physical training (PT) session. When you first go to basic training, you have to pass a PT test in order to proceed from the reception area and begin your training. Men are required to do 13 pushups in a minute, 17 situps, and run a mile in 8 and a half minutes. The purpose of yesterday's PT was to see if us first-timers were up to this standard.

In my case, I can happily report that my 38 year old body is indeed ready. I managed to do 26 pushups and 28 situps. The highlight was the mile run, which I did in 6 minutes and 49 seconds, beating out most of my much younger comrades. The rest of the day consisted of classes and practicing drill. I still need some work on my drill techniques, but I have time to get those in order.

Today was paintball day. They took us to a paintball range and had us go at it in the woods. This was a new experience for me, and it was pretty fun. It was also a good training opportunity, teaching some basic principles of tactical maneuver and how to employ cover, lessons I learned the hard way.

Overall, the weekend was a good experience. It was interesting and fun, and I learned a lot. I am the oldest non-NCO there, but I never really felt uncomfortable. I got along quite well with recruits and sergeants alike. I still have two more weekend sessions before I leave for basic and advanced individual training in January. As noted above, I'm not really worried about the physical requirements, as I've busted my read end the last several months getting in shape. It's more the various aspects of learning how to be a soldier that concern me, having to master all the details of an entirely new skill set. I'm confident that I can do it, though, and looking forward to the challenge.

Friday, October 21, 2005

First Weekend of Drill

Tomorrow and Sunday mark my first official drills as a member of the North Carolina National Guard. It should be interesting. At the risk of being overly narcissistic, I'll post a wrapup on Sunday night. Until then, I don't know how much blogging I'll be able to do.

I don't actually ship for basic training until January, but in the meantime, here's a story that gives me hope:

As a mom, a grandmother and an owner of a construction company, Pfc. Terrill Stewart wears many hats. Now one of them just happens to be a beret.

Stewart graduated basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Oct. 14. At 40 years old, she not only graduated, she was selected as the "Soldier of the Cycle"’ for her company. Her son, Spc. Garret Good -- a driver for the command sergeant major of 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team -- was able to be on hand at her graduation.

(Link courtesy of CounterColumn)

Iraq: Not With a Bang...

As usual, I recommend to you Victor Davis Hanson's weekly column. In the world of the sound byte, short attention span, and superficial, overhyped news coverage, Dr. Hanson's historically aware analysis comes as a breath of fresh air:

The Western media was relatively quiet about the quite amazing news from the recent trifecta in Iraq: very little violence on election day, Sunni participation, and approval of the constitution. Those who forecasted that either the Sunnis would boycott, or that the constitution would be -— and should be - rejected, stayed mum.

But how odd that in the face of threats, a higher percentage of Iraqis in this nascent democracy voted in a referendum than did we Americans during our most recent presidential election - we who have grown so weary of Iraq's experiment.

Something must be going on when the cable-news outlets could not whet their appetite for carnival-like violence and pyrotechnics in Iraq, and so diverted their attention to Toledo, where live streams of American looting and arson seemed to be more like Iraq than Iraq.

There have been three great challenges with the Iraqi reconstruction that would determine its success or failure - once the spectacular three-week invasion both falsely raised public perceptions of perfection in war, and posed the problem of how to rebuild an entire society whose pathological elements were never really defeated, much less humiliated during the actual conventional war.

With a Whimper

How to Blog (Sort of)

It's Friday, and I'm in the mood for a change of pace. What better than a link to satirical blogger extraordinaire Iowahawk. In this post, Iowahawk lays out the basics of blogging. Follow them at your own risk (caution for PG-13 language):

In the introduction to the powerful BloggoNetrix™ system, we covered all the basics you will need to get your blog up and running. At this point, many blogging “newbies” think this is somehow their cue to start pasting up ads and PayPal buttons and tip jars and pledge drives and so forth. Not so fast there, lil’ tenderfoots! Don’t put your cart before the chickens: the first step to building fabulous blog wealth starts with attracting and retaining a loyal group of readers. Once you have amassed and nurtured your herd of “cash cows,” then you can begin thinking about driving your herd to the lucrative packing plant of advertising revenue. Until then leave the tip jars, like the one on the left, to us in the seasoned professional blogging community.

“But Dave,” I hear many young bloggers ask, “while I certainly love your irresistable new tip jar button on the left, just how do I build a personal reader base to secure my own financial freedom?” The answer is not nearly as complicated as it seems! Scientific studies have shown that the key to bagging your elusive online prey is, surprisingly, style. A dynamic, unique style can be the "sizzle" that keeps readers bellying up to the trough for another helping of your ideas, no matter how stupid and repulsive they might be. And, when it comes to modern online punditry, effective style can be characterized along the five positive blog dimensions: Pith, Persistence, Anger, Snark, and Sexiness. Let's review these dimensions and think about how they can be put to work.

(link courtesy of LGF)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

This Sounds Familiar

Columnist John Tierney recently wondered why academia is so strongly left of center. The responses he received sound eerily like some of the arguments voiced in response to my article about librarianship:

I am in debt to liberal scholars across America. After I wrote about the leftward tilt on campus, they sent me treatises explaining that the shortage of conservatives on faculties is not a result of bias. Professors helpfully offered other theories why conservatives do not grace the halls of academe:

1 Conservatives do not value knowledge for its own sake.

2 Conservatives do not care about the social good.

3 Conservatives are too greedy to work for professors' wages.

4 Conservatives are too dumb to get tenure.

I've studied these theories as best I could (for a conservative), but somehow I can't shake the notion that there just might be some bias on campus.

(link courtesy of Powerline)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Turkey, The EU, and Intellectual Freedom

Writing in the Times of London, Salman Rushdie notes the plight of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk:

On September 1, 2005, Pamuk was indicted by a district prosecutor for having “blatantly belittled Turkishness” by his remarks. If convicted, he faces up to three years in jail. Article 301/1 of the Turkish penal code, under which Pamuk is to be tried, states that “a person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years . . . Where insulting being a Turk is committed by a Turkish citizen in a foreign country, the penalty shall be increased by one third.” So, if Pamuk is found guilty, he faces an additional penalty for having made the statement abroad.

You would think that the Turkish authorities might have avoided so blatant an assault on their most celebrated writer’s fundamental freedoms at the very moment that their application for full membership of the European Union — an extremely unpopular application in many EU countries — was being considered at the EU summit. However, in spite of being a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, Turkey continues to have and to enforce a penal code that is clearly contrary to these very same principles, and, in spite of widespread global protests, has set the date for Pamuk’s trial. It will begin, unless there is a change of heart, on December 16.

That Pamuk is criticised by Turkish Islamists and radical nationalists is no surprise. That the attackers frequently disparage his works as obscure and self-absorbed, accusing him of having sold out to the West, is no surprise either. It is, however, disappointing to read intellectuals such as Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations and a newspaper columnist, criticising “those, especially in the West, who would use the indictment against Pamuk to denigrate Turkey’s progress toward greater civil rights — and toward European Union membership”.

Ozel wants the charges against Pamuk thrown out at the trial in December, and accepts that they represent an “affront” to free speech, but prefers to stress “the distance that the country has covered in the past decade”. This seems altogether too weak. The number of convictions and prison sentences under the laws that penalise free speech in Turkey has indeed declined in the past decade, but International PEN’s records show that more than 50 writers, journalists and publishers currently face trials. Turkish journalists continue to protest against the (revised) penal code. The International Publishers Association, in a deposition to the UN, has described this revised code as being “deeply flawed”.

As Rushdie correctly points out, allowing Turkey to join the EU under these circumstances would make a mockery of the European Union's commitment to free speech and expression. It is time for Turkey to amend its laws and respect intellectual freedom.

Monday, October 17, 2005

ALA's Castro Lobby

In the fourth and final installment of his series on ALA and Cuba, Walter Skold discusses the clique of radical leftists on ALA Council who have prevented that body from forcefully condemning Fidel Castro's suppression of intellectual freedom:

It is understandable when leading Cuban librarians obediently sing the praises of their island’s owner; it is reprehensible when American librarians, living in freedom, do the same thing.

Castro's Library Pass, Part IV

In particular, the article provides some useful background information on my new friend Mark Rosenzweig. Walter exposes in far more detail than I could just how bad things have become in ALA.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Iraq the "Debacle"?

On the eve of Saturday's historic constitutional referendum in Iraq, Victor Davis Hanson yet again provides some desperately needed perspective. In this week's column for National Review Online, Dr. Hanson addresses the "quagmire" arguments put forth by Bush critics such as Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Such gloom seems to be the fashion of the day. Iraq is now routinely dismissed as a quagmire or “lost.” Osama bin laden is assumed to be still active, while we are beginning the fifth year of the war that is “longer than World War II.” Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo purportedly are proof of our brutality and have lost us hearts and minds, while gas prices spiral out of control. The U.S. military is supposedly “overextended” if not “wrecked” by Iraq, while the war in Afghanistan “drags on.” Meanwhile, it is “only a matter of time” until we are hit with another terrorist strike of the magnitude of September 11. To cap it off, the United States is now “disliked” abroad, by those who abhor our “unilateralism” and “preemptive” war.

All that is a fair summation of the current glumness.

But how accurate are such charges? If one were to assess them from the view of the Islamic fundamentalists, they would hardly resemble reality.

Many of al-Zarqawi or Dr. Zawahiri’s intercepted letters and communiqués reveal paranoid fears that Iraq is indeed becoming lost — but to the terrorists. The enemy speaks of constantly shifting tactics — try beheading contractors; no, turn to slaughtering Shiites; no, butcher teachers and school kids; no, go back to try to blow up American convoys. In contrast, we are consistent in our strategy — go after jihadists, train Iraqi security forces, promote consensual government so Iraq becomes an autonomous republic free to determine its own future. We will leave anytime the elected government of Iraq asks us to; the terrorists won’t cease until they have rammed, Taliban-style, an 8th-century theocracy down the throats of unwilling Iraqis.


The war against the terrorists may be entering the fifth year, but despite over 2,000 combat fatalities, we have still only lost a little over 2/3s of those killed on the very first day of the war, almost 50 months ago — quite a contrast with the over 400,000 American dead at the end of World War II. And a wrecked Japan and Germany were not on a secure path to democracy until six years after America entered the war, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan that were defeated without killing millions and already have held plebiscites on new constitutions.

An American “Debacle”?

Cuba and ALA: Part III

Part III of Walter Skold's four part series on ALA's tepid reaction to the Cuban regime's crackdown on independent libraries is available at Frontpage Magazine:

After he was released from jail under Batista, the young Fidel Castro wrote that "In prison, there were no rifles for training, no stone fortresses from which to shoot. Behind those walls, our rifles were books. And through study, stone by stone we built our fortress, the only one that is invincible: the fortress of ideas."

Castro later told author David Caute that he read voraciously from St. Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Knox, Milton, Rousseau, Tom Paine— anything he could get his hands on.

By 1971, eleven years after “liberation,” he was pointing that ridiculous but dangerous finger of his at a convention of “culture” workers and declaring "Sometimes certain books have been published, the number does not matter. But as a matter of principle not a single book of such kind should be printed, not a single chapter, not a single page, not a single letter!"

In a speech that could have been given last week, he railed against Cuba’s critics by saying “And they think that this nation's problems can be the problems of two or three stray sheep which may have some problems with the revolution because they are not given the right to continue to sow poison, insidiousness, and intrigue in the revolution.”

Castro's Library Pass (Part III)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Castro's Book Burning: Part II

Today, FrontPage Magazine published Part II of Walter Skold's four part series on ALA's indifferent response to the repression of intellectual freedom in Cuba:

On June 27th, the esteemed author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradury, was the keynote speaker at the ALA’s annual convention in Chicago. As a vocal advocate for reading and intellectual freedom, the ALA is usually able to present several nationally-acclaimed authors at their conventions, and it was a coup for them to have Bradury. On the day he spoke he made a forceful statement regarding book-burning in Cuba, but ALA membership never heard about that from their leaders.

Not wanting to enter into the internal politics of the ALA, and desiring to speak only for himself, Bradbury released his statement to famed civil-libertarian, Nat Hentoff, later that day. In the story I wrote for World Net Daily the 28th, I discussed what the literary icon said:

“I stand against any library or any librarian anywhere in the world being imprisoned or punished in any way for the books they circulate," Bradbury said. "I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison, and to send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people."

You would think such a strong statement from the man whose name is synonymous with book-burning would have inspired his ALA hosts to support his principled stand, but then you wouldn’t know how the ALA nomenklatura thinks about Cuba. When I called and asked for a comment from the leading intellectual freedom officials there, they could not be found for two days and all I got was a press office e-mail which reiterated a January 2004 policy report, which, I was reminded, was crafted as a "result of almost a year of discussion and investigation."

Castro's Library Pass (Part II)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Maximum Book Burner

Few issues better illustrate how elements in ALA have subordinated the principles of librarianship to a nakedly political agenda than the question of Cuba. Many of those in the association and on ALA Council who are most adamant in their opposition to the PATRIOT Act seem all too understanding of Fidel Castro's need to prevent his people from reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, at FrontPage Magazine, Walter Skold has a devastating expose of ALA's hypocrisy on the Cuba issue:

Another annual Banned Books Week (BBW) ended just over a week ago, and some readers may have read news accounts about how the valiant efforts of librarians are saving our social fabric from rabid groups of theocratic, homophobic monsters just waiting to emerge from church basements and Conservative foundations to torch any book from any library that doesn’t meet their rigid doctrinal standards. The nationwide marketing campaign is promoted each year by a coalition of publishers, booksellers, and the American Library Association (ALA), and it usually gets heavy coverage in the press. Some of the rhetoric connected with the celebration is shrill, or hysterical, while in other cases librarians and writers are indeed trying to focus attention on ill-advised, unconstitutional and serious challenges to intellectual freedom and First Amendment freedoms in the United States, from left, right and center.

But amidst all the press releases and speeches and warnings about censorship and the threats to our freedoms to read under an authoritarian King George Bush, II, there is a troubling little matter that top ALA officials seemingly have no qualms about censoring. Now I happen to agree with many of my “liberal” or far-left library colleagues that there are very real potential threats to our liberties that increased secrecy and authority in government policies and capabilities represent, yet American should be asking why various leaders of the ALA are so timid, if not supportive, of a current squashing of liberties that is far more draconian than anything John Ashcroft has ever dreamed of.

Castro's Library Pass (Part I)

Today's piece by Walter is merely the first of a four part series, so you'll want to stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The South Asian Earthquake

The death toll from last weekend's earthquake in India and Pakistan has reached a staggering 40,000. If you want to help, but aren't sure what you can do, Confederate Yankee has a good list of links to charity and relief organizations (via Instapundit).

Islamism and Intellectual Freedom

I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book 'The Satanic Verses', which has been compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet and the koran, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death.

I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they may find them, so that no one will dare to insult the Muslim sanctions. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded a martyr, God willing.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, February 14, 1989. Quoted in The Observer, February 19, 1989.

I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet.

Mohammed Bouyeri, confessing to the November 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, July 2005.

In light of the recent commemoration of Banned Books Week, it is important to remember that there are threats to intellectual freedom far graver than parents who challenge the latest Harry Potter book. In particular, radical Islamists have made their hatred and contempt for free thought and the freedom to read abundantly clear. Any book or creative work that offends or contradicts their totalitarian distortion of Islam is to be banned, and those who produced and distributed it are to be subject to punishment. Islamists have not only burned books, they have frequently murdered those who write and publish them.

The most notorious example of the threat posed by Islamism to intellectual freedom is the Rushdie affair. In late 1988, author Salman Rushdie published his controversial novel The Satanic Verses. Many Muslims regarded the novel as blasphemous, and in February 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini issued his infamous fatwa calling for Rushdie's death.

This was a shocking and unprecedented act even by the dismal standards of censorship. The ruler of Iran had seen fit to order the murder of a British citizen over a book published in the UK. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding. Justifiably so, for it has recently emerged that a 21 year old Lebanese man blew himself up in London in August 1989, almost certainly while making a bomb intended for the British author.

Unfortunately, Iranian security forces did enjoy some successes in carrying out Khomeini's edict. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was murdered, as were two Muslim leaders in Belgium who spoke out against the fatwa. The book's Italian translator and Norwegian publisher were both wounded in assassination attempts. There was violence even here in the US, as two California bookstores that carried The Satanic Verses were firebombed.

Seeking the murder of an author was nothing new for Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1947, he arranged the killing of Iranian writer and intellectual Ahmad Kasravi. However, simply having Kasravi murdered was not enough for Khomeini. According to Iranian journalist Amir Taheri, after the Ayatollah seized power in 1979, "Kasravi's book were dug out of libraries and private collections and burned and his tomb ransacked by Khomeinist thugs."

Khomeini, of course, was the father of the Shia version of radical Islamism. The majority of Islamists are Sunni, as are the majority of Muslims in general. Despite their sectarian differences, Sunni and Shia Islamists agree on many issues. Sadly, this includes a shared hatred of intellectual freedom.

Even before Khomeini had issued his fatwa against The Satanic Verses, radical Sunni Muslims had gathered in the British cities of Bolton and Bradford to burn copies of the book. Numerous British Muslim leaders joined in the call for Rushdie's death.

The Rushdie case merely represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of violent Islamist efforts to crush intellectual freedom. To quote the preface to 1998's Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Religious Grounds:

Egyptian intellectual Farag Fouda and Algerian novelist and journalist Tahar Djaout, among scores of Algerian intellectuals, were murdered during the 1990s by fundamentalist terrorists. In 1994, the Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed and seriously wounded. Other writers, such as Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh, have been driven into exile by death threats or, like Egyptian novelist Alaa Hamed, sentenced to prison for blasphemy. The writing of feminists such as Nasrin, Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt and Fatima Mernissi of Morocco, who challenge interpretations of Islamic dogma that restrict women, has particularly angered both governments and Islamist fundamentalists.

Even al Qaeda has joined the war against intellectual freedom. This July, according to Stephen Ulph of the Jamestown Foundation, al Qaeda in Iraq took a break from its campaign of suicide bombing to call for the death of "Egyptian author Dr. Sayyid Mahmud al-Qimny, famous for his historical and anthropological works examining critically the origins of Islam." The terrorists "gave the author a week" to repudiate his writings, which he apparently did. As Ulph points out, calls for the murder of writers are commonplace on jihadist web sites. In fact, "(t)he targeting of authors was explicitly suggested as an option" in a recent al Qaeda strategy document.

The most horrific example of the jihadists' willingness to destroy free thought is the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Van Gogh had made a controversial short film condemning the treatment of women in much of the Muslim world. On November 2nd, 2004, Mohammed Bouyeri, a member of a jihadist terror cell, walked up to Van Gogh on the streets of Amsterdam and shot him numerous times before cutting his throat. After completing his grisly task, Bouyeri then pinned a note to the body threatening the life of Van Gogh's collaborator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bouyeri was utterly unrepentant at his trial. As far as he was concerned, his actions were completely justified. After all, according to his radical Islamist worldview, he was obligated to kill anyone who "insults Allah and his prophet".

Based on their long and ignominious record of book burning, censorship, and even murder, it is no exaggeration to state that radical Islamists pose the greatest threat to intellectual freedom in the world today. There are those who would argue that this is not our problem, that what happens to writers and intellectuals in the Muslim world is none of our business. This attitude is profoundly mistaken, even ignoring the morally shameful aspect of seeking to buy our own peace at the expense of others.

Radical Islamists do not merely seek to destroy free thought and expression in predominantly Muslim societies. As the Rushdie and Van Gogh cases make clear, they reserve the right, and possess the ability, to engage in blood-stained acts of censorship anywhere in the world. If groups like al Qaeda are allowed to control the future of the Middle East, the effect on intellectual freedom will be felt not just in Baghdad and Cairo, but ultimately in London and New York as well.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Recommended E-Journal

The folks at Unite Against Terror recently e-mailed me with word of a new e-journal called Democratiya:

Democratiya is a free bi-monthly online review of books. Our interests will range over war, peace, just war, and humanitarian interventionism; human rights, genocide, crimes against humanity and the responsibility to protect and rescue; the United Nations, international law and the doctrine of the international community; as well as democratisation, social and labour movements, 'global civil society', 'global social democracy', and Sennian development-as-freedom.

Democratiya aims to contribute to a renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism by providing a forum for serious analysis and debate. We will strive to be non-sectarian and ecumenical, and our pages are open to a wide range of political views, a commitment to pluralism reflected in our advisory editorial board.

Democratiya believes that in a radically changed world parts of the left have backed themselves into an incoherent and negativist 'anti-imperialist' corner, losing touch with long-held democratic, egalitarian and humane values. In some quarters, the complexity of the post-cold-war world, and of US foreign policy as it has developed since 9/11, has been reduced to another 'Great Contest': 'The Resistance' (or 'Multitude') against 'Imperialism' (or 'Empire'). This world-view has ushered back in some of the worst habits of mind that dominated parts of the left in the Stalinist period: manicheanism, reductionism, apologia, denial, cynicism. Grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, not least the disastrous belief that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' are once again leading to the abandonment of democrats, workers, women and gays who get on the wrong side of 'anti-imperialists' (who are considered 'progressive' simply because they anti-American).

I've looked at the first issue and found it to be quite interesting. Please visit the site for yourself.

Wahhabist Soccer Bashing

I always thought Americans had cornered the market on soccer bashing. However, the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) brings word that extremist clerics in Saudi Arabia have denounced the sport as a "infidel" institution and encouraged players to abandon the game and go kill "infidels and apostates" in Iraq instead. MEMRI quotes one such fatwa as follows:

"1. Don't play soccer with four lines [surrounding the field], since this is the way of the non-believers, and the international soccer rules require drawing [these lines] before playing.

"2. One should not use the terminology established by the non-believers and the polytheists, like: 'foul,' 'penalty kick,' 'corner kick,' 'goal,' and 'out of bounds.' Whoever pronounces these terms should be punished, reprimanded, kicked out of the game, and should even be told in public: 'You have come to resemble the non-believers and the polytheists, and this has been forbidden.'

"3. If one of you falls during the game and breaks his hand or his foot, or if the ball hits his hand, he shall not say 'foul' and shall not stop playing because of his injury. The one who caused his injury shall not receive a yellow or a red card, but rather the case shall be judged according to Muslim law in the case of a broken bone or an injury. The injured player shall exercise his rights according to the shari'a, as [is stated] in the Koran, and you must testify together with him that so-and-so tripped him up intentionally.

"4. Do not set the number [of players] according to the number of players used by the non-believers, the Jews, the Christians, and especially the vile America. In other words, 11 players shall not play together. Make it a larger or a smaller number.

Okay, let me make sure I've got this straight: no lines on the field; no use of "infidel" terminology"; Sharia law instead of a referee; and no 11 players a side. Sounds like fun, we'll have to try this at our next pickup game. Or not.

As MEMRI points out, these fatwas are so ridiculous that most Saudis have rejected them. Still, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the worldview of radical Islamists.

Saving the Internet from the UN

Adam Thierer and Wayne Crews have a good op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal on the UN's efforts to seize control of the Internet:

The implications for online commerce are profound. The moment one puts up a Web site, one has "gone global"--perhaps even automatically subjected oneself to the laws of every country on the planet.

A global Internet regulatory state could mean that We Are the World--on speech and libel laws, sales taxes, privacy policies, antitrust statutes and intellectual property. How then would a Web site operator or even a blogger know how to act or do business? Compliance with some 190 legal codes would be confusing, costly and technically possible for all but the most well-heeled firms. The safest option would be to conform online speech or commercial activities to the most restrictive laws to ensure global compliance. If you like the idea of Robert Mugabe setting legal standards for everyone, then WSIS is for you.

The World Wide Web (of Bureaucrats?)

One need only look at the UN Human Rights Commission, whose membership includes such serial rights violators as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, to see that giving the UN authority over the web would be a disaster for free speech and expression.

Slighting the Troops

Former assistant secretary of defense Bing West, author of a great book on the battle of Fallujah, has a terrific column in today's Washington Post. Mr. West makes some good points on the media's obsession with reporting allegations of abuse by our soldiers at the expense of their numerous acts of heroism:

Not to take anything away from The Greatest Generation, but the behavior of our soldiers today will stand scrutiny when compared to the performance of those in any past war. The focus of the press on abuse is not due to any relaxation in military discipline or social mores. Why was valor considered front-page news in 1945 and abuse considered front-page news in 2005?

Poor conduct, like shipwrecks, makes news. On the other hand, saving a ship should also make news. For saving a Marine in what is called "the house from hell" in Fallujah, Sgt. Kasal has passed into Marine legend. Yet Fallujah Redux as a front-page story is based on allegations of bad conduct, not of heroism. If a story about louts two years ago merits the front page today, then stories of heroes merit equal attention today and tomorrow.

Many say they oppose the war but support the troops, meaning that policy can go awry but the nation needs its guardians. As a nation, we'd best be careful about what we choose to accentuate about ourselves. This is not a plea for cheerleading; it is an argument for balance.

Slighting This Greatest Generation
(link courtesy of LGF)

I could speculate on the reasons for the unbalanced nature of the media's coverage, but I won't. I will just say that there's something very wrong indeed when Lynndie England is a household name and Paul R. Smith isn't.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Belated Thanks

I just wanted to extend a very belated thank you to everyone who has taken the time to e-mail me with your comments regarding my piece in the Chronicle. Reading through your messages has been quite gratifying. While I've only been able to respond to a few people so far, please rest assured that I have read and appreciated all the feedback I've received.

Advertising for Terror

In an October 4 Wall Street Journal piece, reproduced by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Mark Dobowitz and Roberta Bonazzi point out that certain corporations continue to purchase advertising on a Middle Eastern satellite TV channel called al-Manar. The problem with this is that the al-Manar network is run by a charming Lebanon-based organization called Hezbollah:

Al-Manar routinely runs videos encouraging children to become suicide bombers, calls for terrorists to attack coalition soldiers in Iraq, and promises that "martyrs" will be rewarded in the afterlife.

Hezbollah established al-Manar in 1991 as an operational weapon to incite hatred and violence and recruit children and adults as terrorists. According to al-Manar officials interviewed by Hezbollah expert Avi Jorisch for his book "Beacon of Hatred," the station's programming is meant to "help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission." Viewers are told: "The path to becoming a priest in Islam is through jihad," as Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on March 23, 2002. Every day al-Manar reaches millions of Arabic speakers in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.

While most corporations withdrew their advertising from al-Manar several years ago, a few western companies still choose to subsidize the network:

Within the past few months, al-Manar broadcast ads for products from the following companies: Nissan, the Japanese car manufacturer; LG, the Korean electronics maker; Tefal, a producer of home cooking products and subsidiary of France-based Groupe SEB; Jovial, a manufacturer of Swiss watches; and Cellis-Alpha, a cellular SIM card provider owned by Fal Dete Telecommunications, a Saudi-German consortium majority-owned by Detecon, which in turn is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

We contacted the companies but their explanations were not very satisfactory. A spokesman for Tefal denied that its products were ever advertised on al-Manar. A spokesman for Nissan said the company was unaware that its ads were running on al-Manar; after investigating the matter he said the spots were placed by a local dealer, and that the ads would stop at year's end. The head of the LG liaison office in Lebanon said the ads were placed by a local agent and only during the recent Lebanese elections because al-Manar attracted a particularly large number of viewers during that time. He said he favored not advertising on al-Manar again but said that he had to first discuss it with LG's regional headquarters in Dubai. A spokesman for Jovial was not able to comment and did not provide further details on the company's position. Fal-Dete-Telecommunications also said they were not aware of the situation and that they are taking the matter seriously. They are currently inquiring with their partners in Lebanon. They also pointed out that they are not the owner of the Alfa network but they are managing it on behalf of the Republic of Lebanon for a period of four years.

It is disgraceful that any western company would choose to support Hezbollah and its anti-Semitic, pro-terror propaganda. Sadly, as also happened during the Cold War, some corporations are willing to put short-term profits ahead of their country's long-range interests.

Debating the PATRIOT Act

Courtesy of Instapundit, here is a really good online debate on the PATRIOT Act featuring University of Chicago legal scholars Geoffrey Stone and Richard Posner. Section 215 (the so-called "library act") is one of the major topics of discussion.

In this debate, I am definitely on the side of Judge Posner, who makes a valuable point about the need to balance civil liberties with protecting the safety of the public:

Whether section 215 of the act is justifiable depends not only, as you imply, on the consequences for civil liberties but also on the magnitude of the terrorist threat and on the contribution that the provision is likely to make to reducing that threat. I do not find in your posting or in your other writings an effort to assess the current terrorist threat and evaluate countermeasures. (I would be very interested in your assessment.) Civil liberties represent an effort to strike a balance between liberty and safety, and so vary in scope as the balance shifts. The balance at any given moment cannot be struck unless due weight is given to both values at stake; to ignore one of the competing values is the equivalent of a bird's trying to fly with only wing. I am sure that at some level you agree that civil liberties are ultimately a matter of balancing liberty and safety—you agree for example that a measure of censorship may be justified in wartime that would not be justified in peacetime. Do you consider the trial and execution of the German saboteurs who landed by submarine on Long Island in 1942 an overreaction to war fears? What makes you think that the current terrorist threat is not great enough to justify a reexamination of the expansive scope of civil liberties that is a legacy of the extraordinary judicial activism of the years in which Earl Warren was Chief Justice of the United States?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Today's Bush Speech

As a supporter of the Bush Administration and a firm believer in the necessity of defeating radical Islamism, I have often been frustrated by the administration's inability to rally public opinion and make the case for victory. In his speech this morning before the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush finally laid out in sufficient detail the true nature of our adversary and why they must be defeated. Most importantly, he identified the enemy as something more than amorphous "terrorists":

The images and experience of September the 11th are unique for Americans. Yet the evil of that morning has reappeared on other days, in other places -- in Mombasa, and Casablanca, and Riyadh, and Jakarta, and Istanbul, and Madrid, and Beslan, and Taba, and Netanya, and Baghdad, and elsewhere. In the past few months, we've seen a new terror offensive with attacks on London, and Sharm el-Sheikh, and a deadly bombing in Bali once again. All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness; innocent men and women and children have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building, or checked into the wrong hotel. Yet while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.

Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus -- and also against Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.

The entire speech is superb, but the following passage is worth excerpting at length:

The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet, in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century. Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses. Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims, quote, "what is good for them and what is not." And what this man who grew up in wealth and privilege considers good for poor Muslims is that they become killers and suicide bombers. He assures them that his -- that this is the road to paradise -- though he never offers to go along for the ride.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision. And this explains their cold-blooded contempt for human life. We've seen it in the murders of Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Margaret Hassan, and many others. In a courtroom in the Netherlands, the killer of Theo Van Gogh turned to the victim's grieving mother and said, "I do not feel your pain -- because I believe you are an infidel." And in spite of this veneer of religious rhetoric, most of the victims claimed by the militants are fellow Muslims.

When 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their school, or hospital workers are killed caring for the wounded, this is murder, pure and simple -- the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion. These militants are not just the enemies of America, or the enemies of Iraq, they are the enemies of Islam and the enemies of humanity. (Applause.) We have seen this kind of shameless cruelty before, in the heartless zealotry that led to the gulags, and the Cultural Revolution, and the killing fields.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy pursues totalitarian aims. Its leaders pretend to be an aggrieved party, representing the powerless against imperial enemies. In truth they have endless ambitions of imperial domination, and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves. Under their rule, they have banned books, and desecrated historical monuments, and brutalized women. They seek to end dissent in every form, and to control every aspect of life, and to rule the soul, itself. While promising a future of justice and holiness, the terrorists are preparing for a future of oppression and misery.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy is dismissive of free peoples, claiming that men and women who live in liberty are weak and decadent. Zarqawi has said that Americans are, quote, "the most cowardly of God's creatures." But let's be clear: It is cowardice that seeks to kill children and the elderly with car bombs, and cuts the throat of a bound captive, and targets worshipers leaving a mosque. It is courage that liberated more than 50 million people. It is courage that keeps an untiring vigil against the enemies of a rising democracy. And it is courage in the cause of freedom that once again will destroy the enemies of freedom. (Applause.)

I just wish this speech had been given at least a year ago, and in primetime.

The Case for ALA

Greg McClay of SHUSH makes the case for staying and fighting within ALA. It's definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Uniting Against Terror: Part II

After the July subway bombings in London, I posted a link to a wonderful web site called Unite Against Terror. The site offers a superbly worded statement condemning radical Islamist terrorism, that has been signed by individuals from across the political spectrum. In the wake of this past weekend's terrorist atrocities in Bali, Indonesia, I again offer a link:

We remember the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 and in Madrid on March 11, 2004. But we know that al Qaeda and groups that are inspired by Bin-Ladenism have carried out atrocities in France, Pakistan, Israel, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, North Osetia and many other countries.

The vast majority of the victims of al Qaeda's violence have been Muslims. Those who have suffered at the hands of violent Islamic Fundamentalist movements in Iran and Algeria have also been ordinary Muslims.

This terrorist violence is not a response by 'Muslims' to the injustices perpetrated upon them by 'the west'. Western democracies have been responsible for some of the ills of this world but not for the terrorist murders of these deluded Bin-Ladenists.

Please visit the site and consider adding your signature to the statement:

Unite Against Terror

The Threat to Free Speech on the Internet

For all its flaws, the Internet has proven to be a powerful tool for free speech and expression. Unfortunately, as Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky & Joseph Barillari recently noted for National Review Online, a number of authoritarian regimes are trying to change this by having the UN take over responsibility for cyberspace:

The Internet is decentralized by design, having grown from the U.S. government's efforts to build a computer network that could survive catastrophic failures. Some elements, however, must be centrally administered to guarantee the Internet's orderly operation. The U.N. has its sights set on the most important of these, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN, a nonprofit contractor for the U.S. Department of Commerce, ensures that top-level domain names (.com, .edu, .uk), specific domain names (,, and IP addresses (, the numeric address for, do not conflict. An Internet without ICANN would be like a telephone network in which everyone picked his own telephone number. ICANN delegates much of its work to a mix of regional organizations and commercial registries. This system has served the Internet well.

Nevertheless, a 2003 WSIS meeting asked U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to convene a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) to develop proposals to internationalize control of the Internet. Composed of representatives from the private sector, NGOs, and governments, including those of Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, Iran, and a number of supranationally inclined European states, the 41-member body delivered its final report this July. WGIG's proposals include shifting control of ICANN to an "International Internet Council," entrusted with an additional murky mandate over Internet-related "international public policy."

At the forefront of these efforts is China, whose Leninist dictatorship has taken a pioneering role in creating a model of a censored Internet. Ramos-Mrosovsky and Barillari aptly summarize why Beijing and other dictatorial regimes would benefit from UN control over the web:

Only dictators, and, perhaps, the doctrinaire internationalists who so often abet them, stand to gain from placing the Internet under "international" control. If, for example, the U.N. were to control domain names, its component tyrannies would find it much easier to censor and repress. After all, "internet public policy" is subject to interpretation, and it is hard to imagine international bureaucrats resisting — as ICANN and the U.S. largely have — the temptation to politicize their task. At first, this could even seem reasonable: E.U. officials might seek to eliminate neo-Nazi domains. Inevitably, however, dictatorships would seek to extinguish undesirable foreign web content at the source. Given the U.N.'s penchant for condemning good causes, it is easy to imagine Tehran pushing to suppress "racist" (i.e. "Zionist") websites, or steady pressure from Beijing to eliminate Taiwan's ".tw" domain. (One China, one top-level domain.)

It is a less than auspicious sign that Tunisia, which is slated to host the UN's November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), has itself just blocked access to a dissident web site. Fortunately, so far the US is holding firm against the UN proposal. The current arrangements regarding the Internet may not be perfect, but they are far preferable to the proposed alternative.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What to do About ALA?

One fair criticism of my piece in the Chronicle regards my decision to avoid having anything to do with the American Library Association. Judging by the responses I've received, there are plenty of conservative, moderate, and even liberal librarians who feel as I do. Greg McClay, among others, takes issue with this approach:

People we're never really going to know if ALA is completely closed to conservatives unless we actually start speaking out. Heretical Librarian has a great article but please HL and all you commenters there, dropping out of ALA isn't going to help the situation.

Even if we get the real political stuff out there are still actual library issues that can sway in either political direction. We have to fight for them on conservative grounds.

Greg makes a fair point: by quietly dropping out of ALA, we are in effect ceding the organization to the radical left. When I decided that I no longer wanted to be a member of ALA, it was because I was tired of paying $155.00 a year to an organization that openly embraced political positions with which I disagreed. (No, I don't believe it is ALA's place to espouse political views that I agree with, either.) As I wrote in the article, I felt cynical and disillusioned, and didn't really believe that change was possible.

The dozens of responses I've received have caused me to begin to reconsider this approach. There are plenty of people in this profession opposed to the politicization of ALA. Whether it's enough to make a difference remains to be seen. The main question is, can ALA be saved, or would any such effort be futile? Should those of us fed up with the current nature of the association make a last-ditch effort to reform it, or should we pursue some kind of alternative organization? I honestly don't know what the answer is, I'm just raising the issue for discussion.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Response to a Critic

Judging by the Chronicle forum and what's gotten back to me from library listservs, there has been no shortage of criticism of my recent article. Jack Stephens of Conservator links to this example from Michael McGrorty:

I assume there will be some discussion of this, but I'd like to observe that Mr. Durant is correct. What he is missing or chooses to ignore is that members of other political persuasions are perfectly free to run for Council. That they don't, or aren't commonly elected, reveals that the left-wing bent of the Council is a mirror of the membership's views-- or at least that portion who bother to vote.

That's true, which is a point I actually made in my article. Mr McGrorty is also correct when he notes that the most politically committed exercise a disproportionate amount of influence within ALA. The majority of ALA members, regardless of their political beliefs, tend not to be active within the organization.

It is equally true that the American public have twice elected George Bush, a conservative Republican, to the Presidency. He and the conservative majorities in the Congress run the country. We of the Left have our tiny fiefdom here in ALA. I'd be willing to trade control of ALA for the government of the nation if a deal could be stuck. The way it works around these parts is that you have your elections and suck up the results. My advice for Mr. Durant is that he decide whether he wants to complain about one of the last remaining islands of opposition to Bush doctrines, or rest happy in the knowledge that his folks control the country.

This attitude seems to be a common one among critics of my article. So what if ALA is run by the left? You conservatives run the country, so shut up and quit complaining. This seems a rather odd attitude for a profession dedicated to the proposition that people should be able to "speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment". Still, my critics are entitled to make whatever arguments they wish.

However, there's one other problem with this argument. It ignores the fact that the American Library Association is not supposed to be a bulwark of "opposition to Bush doctrines". Nor for that matter, is it there to support conservative causes. The object of ALA's existence, according to Article II, Section 1 of the ALA Constitution, is "to promote library service and librarianship." Period. There is nothing in ALA's Constitution about being anyone's little political fiefdom.

Contrary to Mr. McGrorty's assertion, there is no shortage of "islands of opposition to Bush doctrines", and he has every right to support any of these groups and their causes. If Mr. McGrorty is unhappy with the current residents of the White House and the Capitol, he should do everything in his power as a private citizen to replace them with people more to his liking, not settle for politicizing a nonpartisan, professional organization.

Apart from that, I think he should make a run for Council. This would give him the chance to express his views, perhaps convert some of his opponents, and either win office or head home a martyr to his cause. Besides, I'd like to see him give a stirring speech to the rest of us about the benefits of the Patriot Act to libraries.

I'm sure that the spectacle of me speaking before an ALA audience would be extremely entertaining. As to running for ALA Council, I'm afraid I'm going to have to decline Mr. McGrorty's nomination of my candidacy. As strongly as I feel about the politicization of American librarianship, there are other things I feel even more strongly about. This is why I recently joined an organization called the North Carolina Army National Guard, and as you can imagine, this commitment will take up a substantial amount of my time. Besides, I've already expressed my views, and will continue to do so in future. However, even before my article, Greg McClay announced his candidacy for ALA Council. Greg is running on a platform I wholeheartedly endorse, and will certainly make a far better ALA Councilor than I would.

As far as extolling "the benefits of the Patriot Act to libraries", Jack Stephens offered a good response at his site. I will just add that our patrons have every right to read what they want and have their privacy respected. They also have the right not to be blown up by suicide bombers. Finding the right balance between these two imperatives is what is at issue.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Murder in Bali

This weekend brought a horrifying reminder of the global nature of the jihadist threat with Saturday's bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali. Three suicide terrorists detonated their explosives in crowded cafes and restaurants, killing nearly 20 people and wounding over 60. Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah, is believed responsible. The goal of JI is to unite all of Southeast Asia's Muslims into a single theocratic state, to eventually become part of al Qaeda's grand Islamist caliphate.

These attacks came almost on the third anniversary of JI's most spectacular atrocity, which also took place on Bali. On October 12, 2002, a car bomb exploded in the Kuta Beach nightclub district, killing 202 people, many of them Australian tourists.

Dan Darling at Winds of Change has some good analysis of JI and these most recent bombings, as does Zachary Abuza at the Counterterror Blog. Suffice it to say that in Indonesia, as elsewhere, Islamist radicalism has had years to develop and overcoming it will not be easy. It is vital that the Indonesian authorities get serious about confronting JI.