Saturday, December 31, 2005

Change of Plans

I know I announced several weeks ago that today would be my last day of posting. However, I have since changed my mind. I will continue posting through at least the first week of January. No, I simply can't tear myself away. Anyway, further details will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I wish all readers a Very Happy New Year!

2005: A Year of Hard Fought Progress

The war with radical Islamism has two main components: a military and intelligence campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliated jihadist terror organizations; and a long-term struggle against the ideology of Salafist-Jihadism. Both aspects of the conflict will continue for many years. The origins of Jihadism as both a movement and an ideology go back decades if not centuries, so defeating it will likewise require a long, patient, sustained commitment on the part of America and the West. Sadly, we remain in the early phases of this struggle. However, 2005 saw real if uneven progress against the jihadists on both the counterterror and ideological fronts.

In terms of the campaign to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliated terror networks, Dan Darling provides a good overview of the progress made, and the enormous amount of work still to be done. The main danger, as terrorism expert Steve Emerson points out, is the sense of complacency that seems to have developed among many in the U.S. Al Qaeda and its allies remain a dangerous adversary, determined to pursue our destruction for reasons that long predate George W. Bush's election as President.

Jihadist terror networks exist in dozens of countries covering almost every continent, using the Internet to communicate and propagandize, and connected by transnational sources of funding. It will take many years to root them out in detail, and there will sadly be more successful terror attacks in the meantime. The key is to prevent the jihadists from launching catastrophic attacks such as 9/11, let alone using weapons of mass destruction. It is simply not possible to stop every terrorist attack everywhere. However, by relentlessly pressuring and disrupting the Jihadists, we can prevent al Qaeda from fulfilling its pledge to kill 4 million Americans.

As far as defeating jihadism as an ideology, progress has been made in that area as well. For one thing, as notes, al Qaeda's "successes" at murdering innocent Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, and other Arab countries have gone a long way towards turning mainstream Muslim public opinion against the Jihadist movement. Meanwhile, American relief efforts in both Indonesia and Pakistan have proved quite successful at improving public attitudes towards the U.S. in those two crucial Islamic nations. Finally, the U.S. has finally begun to implement information programs designed to counter the constant barrage of anti-American incitement coming from dictatorships, media outlets, and mosques throughout the Muslim world.

Perhaps the most important development of 2005 was the nascent movement towards democracy in much of the Muslim world. 2005 saw historic elections take place in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria forced to release its stranglehold on Lebanon, and the first stirrings of democratic change occur in Egypt. While this progress was very much uneven, Freedom House noted in its annual global freedom survey that "[t]he people of the Arab Middle East experienced a modest but potentially significant increase in political rights and civil liberties in 2005".

The Jihadist movement hates and fears the spread of democracy in the Muslim world, and with good reason. The best way to defeat the ideology of Jihadism lies in offering the Muslim world a credible choice to the totalitarian Salafist vision. Only democracy offers such a hope. The brutal dictatorships and corrupt autocracies currently ruling most of the Middle East are very much part of the problem. These regimes have directly or indirectly enabled the rise of radical Islamist movements, while actively preventing the rise of any liberal alternatives. By encouraging democratic change, we give Arabs and Muslims a choice other than either continued dictatorship or jihadist fanaticism. Democracy will give Muslims hope for a better future; a say in their own lives; empower opponents of the Islamists to speak out; and afford Muslims the opportunity to take responsibility for their own societies instead of blaming all their problems on the "infidels".

Some have argued that trying to foster the spread of democracy in the Middle East is hopeless. However, the distinguished historian Bernard Lewis has pointed out that there is nothing inherently undemocratic about Arab or Muslim political culture, while polling evidence shows that majorities in many Muslim countries do in fact support democracy. Most important, if we allow radical Islamism to remain as the only alternative to the current state of affairs in the Arab Middle East, we all but guarantee that the Jihadist movement will ultimately reshape the Middle East in its own image, with horrific consequences.

While the emerging democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from perfect and have a long way to go, they offer hope that Muslims can enjoy a future free of brutal despots and jihadist fanatics. This is why it is vital that America stay the course in both countries. To be sure, this process will prove long and difficult, and require continued commitment and sacrifice on the part of the United States. Still, if this process continues, then 2005 might well be remembered as a historic year. Democratic change will not end Jihadist terrorism. However, it could well deal a lethal blow to the ideology that fuels it and relegate the Jihadists to the status of a perpetual fringe movement.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Victimized by Success

Writing for National Review Online, Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, as usual, provides some badly needed perspective on the progress we've made in the long war against radical Islamism, and the utter lack of perspective and seriousness displayed by so many in this country. Dr. Hanson points out how the Bush Administration has become a victim of its own success at keeping the jihadists at bay. As a result of the lack of terrorist attacks inside the U.S. since 9/11, many on the left have chosen to embrace the belief that there is no terrorist threat, and that it's the evil Bushitler who is the enemy:

After September 11 national-security-minded Democratic politicians fell over each other, voting for all sorts of tough measures. They passed the Patriot Act, approved the war in Afghanistan, voted to authorize the removal of Saddam Hussein, and nodded when they were briefed about Guantanamo or wiretap intercepts of suspect phone calls to and from the Middle East.

After the anthrax scare, the arrests of dozens of terrorist cells, and a flurry of al Qaeda fatwas, most Americans thought another attack was imminent — and wanted their politicians to think the same. Today's sourpuss, Senator Harry Reid, once was smiling at a photo-op at the signing of the Patriot Act to record to his constituents that he was darn serious about terrorism. So we have forgotten that most of us after 9/11 would never have imagined that the United States would remain untouched for over four years after that awful cloud of ash settled over the crater at the World Trade Center.

Now the horror of 9/11 and the sight of the doomed diving into the street fade. Gone mostly are the flags on the cars, and the orange and red alerts. The Democrats and the Left, in their amnesia, and as beneficiaries of the very policies they suddenly abhor, now mention al Qaeda very little and Islamic fascism hardly at all.

Apparently due to the success of George Bush at keeping the United States secure, he, not Osama bin Laden, can now more often be the target of a relieved Left — deserving of assassination in an Alfred Knopf novel, an overseer of Nazi policies according to a U.S. senator, a buffoon, and rogue in the award-winning film of Michael Moore. Yes, because we did so well against the real enemies, we soon had the leisure to invent new imaginary ones in Bush/Cheney, Halliburton, the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, and Scooter Libby.

The Plague of Success

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Danish Cartoon Update

Last September, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a series of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The paper was motivated to run the cartoons by what its editors perceived as a creeping wave of self-censorship in Europe regarding the issue of Islam, prompted by fear of violent retaliation from radical Islamists. As the newspaper's culture editor, Flemming Rose, told Frontline-World:

It was a provocation, Rose told me. A provocation to artists, writers, translators, actors and comedians who, he believes, are intimidated when it comes to addressing issues that some Muslims might find offensive.

"The point was that we have some people who submit themselves to self-censorship," Rose said. "And they are doing so not out of respect, but out of fear."

Rose listed several recent incidents to illustrate his point. After the 7/7 bombings in London, the city's Tate Gallery canceled plans to exhibit John Latham's "God Is Great," which featured a Koran (along with the Bible and Talmud) for fear of offending Muslims. And the translator of a new book by Dutch politician Aayan Hirsi Ali, a vocal critic of radical Islam, requested anonymity fearing the reaction of militants. (This is perhaps understandable. Ali previously collaborated on a film about Islam with Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam by a young Muslim man who claimed the film was blasphemous).

The response to the cartoons has included widespread condemnation from Muslims, and even death threats. Now the United Nations, European Union, and other international organizations are weighing in on the controversy.

Are these august international bodies investigating the death threats, and the climate of fear, intimidation, and self-censorship that prompted Jyllands-Posten to run the cartoons? Of course not.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has stated that "I regret any statement or act that could express a lack of respect for the religion of others." Incredibly, a representative of Arbour's has since asked the Danish government for an "explanation" of the offending cartoons. The EU has taken a similar position.

Thankfully, the Danish government has refused to yield. Since Denmark is a democracy that protects free speech and a free press, the government has nothing to apologize for. Free expression is meaningless without the freedom to offend. Likewise, Jyllands-Posten has also courageously refused to back down.

If Europeans are unwilling to defend their freedoms in the face of politically correct bureaucrats, craven appeasers, and radical Islamists, they will surely lose them. In the face of EU and UN fecklessness, the stand taken by the Danes is most encouraging.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Writing His Way to Freedom

In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, Tom Nolan tells the intriguing and inspiring story of Cuban mystery author Jose Latour, who was able to escape Fidel's island paradise and pursue his craft unhindered by censorship:

"Such an oppressive life," Mr. Latour recalled. "Can you imagine a writer that for three or four years keeps asking the Ministry of Culture to please sell him a computer? 'I am not asking you to give away a computer. I will pay you $500, $600 for an old computer that's not worth more than 250. I am willing to pay the price.' And they won't sell you a computer. . . . And then everything you say is a crime, and you are constantly under surveillance; and you go to an embassy because they are giving a cocktail [party]-- and there's an olive-green jeep following you all the way. I mean you feel like a bug under a microscope."

He noted: "You write [a novel] here in the United States about corrupt people in the CIA, the FBI, the police, the government . . . nothing happens; it's just fiction, and nobody questions the writer's right. . . . But you do that in Cuba--you're a traitor; you are giving weapons to the enemy."

He Wrote His Way to Freedom

Where to Draw the Line

Writing in the December 20th Daily Star, Ralf Dahrendorf makes the case for erring on the side of free speech even in the face of the Islamist threat. His view on where to draw the line between protected free expression and illegal incitement to violence is exactly right, in my opinion:

Nowadays, we worry about incitement - using free speech to provoke violence. I do not know how many Islamic leaders preach murder and mayhem in mosques and help recruit suicide bombers from among their congregants; but even if it is only a handful, they pose a question that must be answered.

That answer must be given carefully. For free societies to flourish, the boundaries of free speech should always be widened rather than narrowed. In my view, Holocaust denial should not be outlawed, in contrast to the demand for all, or any, Jews to be killed. Similarly, attacks against the West in mosques, however vicious, should not be banned, in contrast to open encouragement to join suicide death squads.

What about the mere praise of "martyrs" who have died while murdering others? The boundary between implicit and explicit incitement is not easily drawn, but, again, it should be wider rather than narrower.

Free speech is immensely precious, and so is the dignity and integrity of humans. Both require active and alert citizens who engage what they do not like rather than calling for the state to clamp down on it. Direct incitement to violence is regarded - as it should be - as an unacceptable abuse of free speech; but much that is disagreeable in David Irving's statements and that of hate preachers does not fall into this category. Their rants should be rejected with argument, not with police and prisons.

The way to protect free speech in the face of Islamist barbarism is not to deny Salafists the right to express their views, no matter how offensive; rather, it lies in preventing Islamists from denying others their right to free expression.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wrapping Up the Little Red Hoax

If you have not already read the New Bedford Standard-Times's account of how the "Little Red Book" story was revealed to be a hoax, please do so. You will find yourself amazed that anyone could have believed this story. Here's a sample:

In Thursday's retelling of the story, the student added several new twists, ones that the professors and journalist had not heard before. The biggest new piece of information was an alleged second visit of Homeland Security agents the previous night, where two agents waited in his living room for two hours with his parents and brother while he drove back from a retreat in western Massachusetts. He said he, the agents, his parents and his uncle all signed confidentiality agreements that the story would never be told.

He revealed the agents' names: one was Nicolai Brushaev or Broshaev, and the other was simply Agent Roberts. He said they were dressed in black suits with thin black ties, "just like the guys in Men in Black."

He had dates and times and places, things he had signed and sent back in order to receive the book. The tale involved his twin brother, who allegedly requested the book for him at UMass Amherst; his uncle, a former FBI attorney who took care of all the paperwork; and his parents, who signed those confidentiality agreements.

But by now, the story had too many holes. Every time there was a fact to be had that would verify the story -- providing a copy of the confidentiality agreements the student and agent signed, for example -- there would be a convenient excuse. The uncle took all the documents home to Puerto Rico, he said.

What was the address of the Homeland Security building in Boston where he and his uncle visited the agency and actually received a copy of the book? It was a brick building, he said, but he couldn't remember where it was, or what was around it.

I understand the desire of the two professors to want to believe their student and stand by him. Still, the question remains: how could they have bought such a ridiculous story without first checking into it themselves? And how could so many so-called "reality based" liberals and leftists do the same? Even Senator Ted Kennedy cited this "incident" in an opinion piece for the Boston Globe.

The only reason I can find that explains the widespread acceptance of this story is the emergence of what William Kristol has called the "Paranoid Style in American Liberalism":

But leading spokesmen for American liberalism-hostile beyond reason to the Bush administration, and ready to believe the worst about American public servants-seem to have concluded that the terror threat is mostly imaginary. It is the threat to civil liberties from George W. Bush that is the real danger.

Among a large part of the left side of the American political spectrum, especially in the echo chamber of academia, an atmosphere of paranoid hysteria has taken hold that puts to shame the black helicopter-militia crowd of the 1990's. Even now, like Professor Juan Cole, many on the left are parroting the fake but accurate line: just because this particular story is false doesn't mean that the evil Bushitler hasn't set up a fascist police state. For numerous liberals and leftists, this belief has become an article of faith, impervious to the actual facts. This attitude definitely exists in the library profession, and has had a substantial impact on how library organizations, and ALA in particular, have framed the debate over the Patriot Act. The widespread adulation of Michael Moore, who has proclaimed that "there is no terrorist threat", is just one example.

As long as many on the left continue to think of the enemy as being Bush and Cheney instead of bin Laden and Zarqawi, stories such as the Little Red Hoax will continue to circulate and be believed.

Uninformed Comment

Professor Juan Cole, who uncritically swallowed the Little Red Hoax as proof of the "Bushist Police State", now proclaims the story to be fake but accurate:

However, it is one of those hoaxes that bespeaks a reality, which is that the level of unwarranted (a pun!) surveillance of Americans and violation of their fourth amendment rights under the Bush administration has skyrocketed to new levels of criminality. And, as I said, I do know of people who have been interviewed when they tried to import Arabic books.

Unlike some bloggers, I am not a law professor, and have no wish to play one on the Internet. Neither is Juan Cole, whose field is Middle Eastern history. I can only rely on the opinions of legal specialists such as Orin Kerr, who has argued at length that the efforts to track al Qaeda communications coming into or from the US do not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, though Kerr does believe it violates FISA.

John Schmidt, who was Associate Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, goes even farther and argues that the Bush Administration's surveillance program is "consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents."

As far as Professor Cole's claim that "I do know of people who have been interviewed when they tried to import Arabic books", that is a far cry from what was alleged in the Little Red Hoax.

Of course, this is hardly the first issue on which Professor Cole has gone racing straight into the fever swamp. Blogs such as Winds of Change and Across the Bay have amply documented his often bizarre and factually challenged rants.

In particular, Professor Cole is known for his vicious attacks on the state of Israel. Alexander Joffe has documented some of the most egregious of these in a piece for Middle East Quarterly. That Cole is now officially President of the Middle East Studies Association should tell you all you need to know about the sorry state of affairs in that field.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Little Red Hoax

Well, I spend Christmas weekend away from the Internet, and come back to find that the UMass-Dartmouth "Little Red Book" story has indeed officially been proven a hoax. Jack Stephens at Conservator has a good roundup of links.

Update: See also the posts by Brian Ulrich and Walter Skold.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Little Red Update

Several sources have directed my attention to the fact that ALA's web site now has a brief article on the "Little Red Book" controversy. The main highlight of the ALA piece is the following:

Williams told American Libraries, “The student told me that the book was on a watch list, and that the books on this list had changing status. Mao was on the list at the time, hence the visit, which was also related to his time abroad.”

It seems that every time something is published about this story, the details change. Now it's a rotating watch list of books. So Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung was on the alleged watch list in October, but not now? That's very convenient. How would the student know the workings of such a list, assuming it existed? Did the DHS or FBI or whoever-they-were agents lay out the details for him during his alleged interrogation?

The ALA article also mentions that the student "requested the book by phone from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst". This raises another question: why didn't the student simply order Quotations via UMass-Dartmouth's ILL service, as the first report of this story indicated? The student could also have used the Virtual Catalogs feature to order Quotations from another Massachusetts library. So why would he try to file an ILL request with UMass-Amherst, whose service appears to be limited to Amherst students, faculty, and staff only? If he simply called Amherst's library to ask about the availability of their copy of the book, would they not have advised him to order the item through his own institution or the Virtual Catalogs? Finally, the claim that the alleged request with Amherst was filed by phone would also make the existence of a record trail less likely, and thus harder to conclusively disprove the story.

Today's other bit of information comes courtesy of Wizbang. This item from the Boston Herald features a comment from the FBI:

Complicating matters has been the student, who so far has refused to talk. Boston FBI spokeswoman Gail A. Marcinkiewicz said she has been unable to find evidence that FBI agents visited the student.

“We don’t have interest in what people read,” she added.

The more this story has been investigated, the more it falls apart.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Real War on Christmas

Nina Shea, writing at National Review Online, provides a badly needed reminder that there are far greater threats to the free practice of Christianity than stores that say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas":

Over Christmas 2000 in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country and one traditionally renowned for its religious toleration, terrorists bombed churches in 18 cities, killing scores and wounding hundreds. At Wednesday's forum, Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver observed that "violence against the Christian minority has steadily continued over the past decade." As an example, he cited the beheadings of three Christian teenage girls in Sulawesi in late October. International Christian Concern's Jeff King brought photos of the incident; the girls' heads were left at a church, each with a note that vowed, "We will murder 100 more Christian teenagers and their heads will be presented as presents."

Last Christmas in Iraq, St. John's Church near Mosul was attacked. Assyrian cultural expert Eden Naby described the scene: "The Mass begins. It is cold inside the stone church. Suddenly you hear automatic fire. The doors fly open. The Christian guards are shot, and in march armed Kurdish Peshmarga who shoot up the church, beat up the priest and drive the parishioners cowering home." In prior months, other churches in southern Iraq had been bombed by Islamic militants, some during worship services. Though the terror came from two different sources, in each case the purpose was the same — to intimidate and force out the ancient Chaldo Assyrian Christian community.

In Saudi Arabia, Christians, a large percentage of the foreign workers making up a quarter of the population, will not be able to find any churches whatsoever to worship in this Christmas — churches are forbidden. Dozens of those who pray together in private houses were arrested and jailed earlier this year. This fanatically intolerant kingdom even forbids Muslims, under threat of death, to wish a Christian "Happy Holidays," much less "Merry Christmas."

Please read the rest:

The Real War on Christmas

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fun at Freadom

Walter Skold at the Freadom blog has posted his own reactions to the "Little Red Book" story. If anything, he's even more sceptical than I am. He also notes a hilarious episode from his days teaching in China, and reminds you to "Buy Mao".

More on the "Little Red Book" Controversy

Some new information has come to light since my first post on the UMass-Dartmouth "Little Red Book" saga (most links courtesy of Brian Ulrich):

-This story from Inside Higher Ed offers a little bit more detail:

Shortly after the student filed his request — providing his name, address and phone number — two agents arrived at his parent’s house, where he lives. They asked him to prove why he wanted the book, which they indicated was on a “watch list,” and inquired about his travels to South America. The officials brought a copy of the book with them to his parent’s residence, but said he couldn’t have it.

Ultimately, the student chose to travel to an FBI office about an hour from the university to further defend himself. The student is currently finishing his paper, and it is unknown at this point if the Department of Homeland Security plans to take action against him. Several calls to the department on Monday went unreturned.

-The South Coast Today, which published the original story, has an update posted today. The upshot is that the student allegedly filed his ILL request not at UMass-Dartmouth, but at UMass-Amherst. Amherst does in fact own the 1966 Peking edition of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, but their copy is currently missing (cue conspiracy theorists). UMass-Amherst has said that they can't comment due to the strictures imposed by the Patriot Act.

-The left-wing Progressive has a piece in which one of the two professors vouches for the student's credibility and now says that the agency in question "may" have been the FBI.

-UMass-Darmouth has released a statement confirming that their library was in no way involved in any part of this process.

-In commenting on my previous post, "Brian" says that:

I've also been told from sources in the field that Williams is considered a conservative, so the "student dupes leftist professor" angle just isn't washing.

Looking back on my previous post, I was probably a little too snarky in tone, and the new information that's come to light answers a couple questions. If events unfolded just as the student has claimed, then this is a serious breach of the right of privacy, one that I wholeheartedly condemn. However, I remain deeply skeptical of this story, for the following reasons:

-Was it DHS or the FBI that conducted the alleged interview? If it was DHS, which component agency were the agents from, and why did the student go to the FBI to protest his innocence instead of to the agency that questioned him? Is there any record of his having visited the FBI office? In addition, a DHS spokesperson pointed out in today's South Coast Times piece that DHS is not an investigative agency: it is the FBI that handles counterterrorism field investigations. Finally, how would DHS have been able, legally and technologically, to obtain copies of the student's library transactions? After all, only the FBI and Department of Justice can request records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the so-called "library section".

-If it was the FBI, this makes the story somewhat more plausible, but still raises plenty of questions. How did the agents allegedly obtain a record of the student's ILL request, especially since he didn't file it at his own institution? How did they get the book, and why wouldn't they allow the student to have it?

-I stand by my analysis of the legal, bureaucratic, political, and technical impediments to any sort of "watch list" of books or ILL monitoring system.

-I especially want to reiterate the point that the 1966 Peking edition of Quotations is available at nearly 400 libraries in the U.S., including 14 other libraries in Massachusetts besides Amherst. As commenters at other sites have noted, it can also be found on the web. How could federal authorities possibly think they could prevent someone from obtaining access to it?

-The student's pattern of travel to South America was a major factor in the alleged interview. This makes me wonder if the whole book question isn't just a side issue at best. If such a visit did occur, it may have had nothing to do with Quotations.

-Finally, the question that most puzzles me is this: Assuming that federal agents did track down this student as a result of a super-secret program for monitoring library transactions, why would they be stupid enough to tell the object of their investigation about it?

In the absence of additional details and supporting evidence, this story simply has far too many logical gaps and inconsistencies for me to accept as credible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cuban Libraries Update

Friends of Cuban Libraries has the latest news concerning that country's independent librarians and their struggle in defense of intellectual freedom.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Patriot Act Paranoia

This story from an obscure Massachusetts newspaper has become the latest cause celebre among librarians. The wide, uncritical acceptance this story has gained is yet another example of how the exaggerated, over the top opposition to the Patriot Act has resulted in a suspension of the critical thinking skills on which our profession prides itself:

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

Let me clarify a couple points before we proceed any farther. For one thing, the official title is Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, 312 pages, published orginally in 1966. Interlibrary loan, for my non-librarian readers, is a service that allows libraries to borrow copies of books they don't own from other institutions that do have it. Anyway, let's delve further into this story:

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Where do I begin? One, how exactly would federal authorities monitor interlibrary loan requests? After all, according to one study, in Fiscal Year 2000 academic libraries alone filled 9.5 million ILL requests. The FBI doesn't even have a computer system capable of monitoring domestic terror threats, yet somehow the federal government can track the millions of annual ILL transactions?

Second, this story is based on the premise that the same federal government that has proven deeply reluctant to use Section 215 of the Patriot Act, somehow is willing to illegally track millions of library transactions a year. Remember just a few days ago, when the big thing on library listservs was the "radical, militant librarians" quote that has already been slated for use on t-shirts? That comment came from an FBI agent who was deeply frustrated by the unwillingness of the Justice Department to employ the provisions of Section 215. If the government is that reluctant to use the powers the law currently grants it, what makes you think they would pursue an initiative like the one described in the article? If the FBI didn't utilize Section 215 in the celebrated Whatcom County, Washington case, then why would the government use vastly greater and more controversial powers over Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book"?

This is undoubtedly the point where someone will object by pointing to the recent revelation about efforts to intercept calls involving al Qaeda operatives talking to individuals here in the U.S. Of course, this was a limited program enacted with the full awareness of Congress, the relevant courts, and the Justice Department, and it still wound up being leaked and revealed on the front page of the New York Times. Do you really think that such a blatantly illegal program as general monitoring of ILL transactions, if it existed, would not have met a similar fate?

Also, the alleged interview was conducted not by the FBI, but by Department of Homeland Security representatives. This is yet another detail that does not make sense. After all, it is the FBI, in concert with local law enforcement, that does the bulk of domestic counterterrorism field investigations. If you look at the component agencies of DHS, none of them are designed or organized to conduct field investigations except in very specific circumstances.

Professor Juan Cole, in a post entitled "The Bushist Police State and Interlibrary Loan" (link via Brian Ulrich), cites an example of DHS reacting to books that were stopped at customs. There's just one problem with using that argument here: according to the WorldCat database, nearly 400 American libraries own the 1966 Peking first edition of Mao's Quotations including 15 libraries in the state of Massachusetts. So why would the book have had to go through customs (i.e. come from outside the country), when it could readily have been obtained from inside the same state?

Back to the article:

Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times.

In other words, as Jack Stephens has noted, this whole story is nothing but hearsay. It is understandable though. After all, if the student in question speaks out, he's sure to be bundled into a black helicopter and end up in Guantanamo.

In the real world, of course, the student would become a celebrity and get a prominent role in Michael Moore's next movie. Assuming that his story is credible.

The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.

So the DHS guys actually showed up with the book, but wouldn't even leave it? What, did they stand there saying "nyah, nyah, nyah, you can't have it"?

Also, just how did the alleged DHS guys get the book? How did they know when it arrived? Are you telling me that the library staff at UMass-Dartmouth just let the feds take the book and walk off with it? Where did UMass-Dartmouth get the ILL copy from, and has it been returned to that institution?

Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.

"I shudder to think of all the students I've had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that," he said. "Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless."

Mao is "completely harmless"? Try telling that to the 40 million people he killed. To be fair, though, the professor has a point. We're at war with radical Islamism; why would the government care about a 40 year old collection of quotes from a long-dead Communist despot, instead of say a book by Qutb or Mawdudi? This is yet another reason why this story makes no logical sense.

To address Dr. Williams' other point: if the government is going to investigate everyone who's ever monitored jihadist web sites, it's going to be a long time before they get to his students.

In short, there are two alternate explanations here. One, the story is true. In this case, one has to believe that the same federal government that can't keep a secret and has been reluctant to use its lawful investigative powers to the full extent possible, is somehow successfully operating a top secret program to monitor who's been reading a collection of quotes from a Communist dictator who's been dead for thirty years.

The other possibility, of course, is that, for all the reasons outlined above, this story is false. In this case, the most likely explanation is that the student was required to obtain a copy of Mao's Quotations for his research, and for whatever reason simply failed to do so. When asked by his professor why he couldn't get the book, he resorted to a postmodern, paranoid, Moorewellian variant on "the dog ate my homework": it's all the Bushitler's fault. Considering the intellectual climate in contemporary academia, this was not at all a bad approach to try.

I will leave it to the reader to determine which of these two possibilities is more plausible.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cuba's Ladies in White

In today's Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O'Grady tells the story of some courageous Cuban women who have risked all on behalf of the independent librarians and other pro-freedom advocates currently imprisoned in Fidel Castro's Gulag:

When Fidel Castro ordered the lockup of 75 journalists, librarians and democracy advocates in March 2003, he made a calculation that despite an outcry from abroad at the time, his captives, sentenced to prison terms as long as 28 years, would soon enough be forgotten.

International silence has been Fidel's best friend over five decades of state terror. At home he counted on the manner of the 2003 crackdown--a terrifying wave of jackboot repression--to weaken his critics, who were growing far too brazen for his taste.

What he didn't anticipate was the bravery and persistence of the Ladies in White--a band composed of mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of his prisoners--and the voice they would find, both at home and abroad, without weapons or resources.

This week, Cuba's Ladies in White were awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize honoring freedom of thought, making them the international symbol of the Cuban cry for help. They share the prize with Reporters Without Borders, which fights for press freedom around the world, and Hauwa Ibrahim, a Nigerian human-rights advocate. Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who won the Sakharov Prize in 2002, summed up the accomplishment of the women: "They have publicly denied the fear of repression that is felt by so many."

Ladies in White

Just don't look for the Ladies in White to be honored by ALA Council anytime soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Taking Stock

In the wake of Iraq's historic elections, Dr. Victor Davis Hanson sums up in rather unpleasant medical terms the ugly but necessary developments of recent years:

For the last three years we have seen a carbuncle swell as the old Vietnam War opposition rematerialized, with Michael Moore, the Hollywood elite, and Cindy Sheehan scaring the daylights out of the Democratic establishment that either pandered to or triangulated around their crazy rhetoric. The size of the Islamicist/Baathist insurrection caught the United States for a time off guard, as was true also of the sudden vehement slurs from our erstwhile allies in Europe, Canada, and Asia. Few anticipated that the turmoil in Iraq would force the Syrians out of Lebanon, the Libyans to give up their WMDs, and the Egyptians to hold elections — and that all the killing, acrimony, and furor over these developments would begin to engulf the Middle East and threaten the old order.

In the face of that growing ulcer of discontent, we quietly kept on killing terrorists, promoting elections in Iraq, pressuring Arab autocracies to democratize, and growing the economy. All that is finally lancing the boil, here and abroad — and what was in there all along is now slowly oozing out, making the cure seem almost as gross as the malady.

Lancing the Boil

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Today's Iraqi Elections

Today's elections in Iraq were enormously successful, as an estimated 10 million voters went to the polls. For the third time this year, millions of ordinary Iraqis defied al Qaeda and its jihadist allies in order to exercise their right to determine their own future. Most importantly, Iraq's Sunni Arab community went to the polls en masse for the first time. Even al-Qaeda's erstwhile insurgent allies warned them against interfering with the voting.

Today's events were clearly yet another defeat for the Safafist-Jihadists and their totalitarian ideology, and mark one more milestone on their road to isolation and eventual defeat. Al Qaeda and its allies regard democracy as anathema, and fear the impact of its spread in the Muslim world. Seeing a nascent democratic state arise in the heart of the Middle East is the jihadists' worst nightmare. For all their atrocities, they appear increasingly unable to stop it.

However, the struggle with radical Islamism, both in Iraq and elsewhere, is far from over. As Patrick Clawson notes, the elections are just a single step in a long and difficult process, one that will require sustained commitment and, sadly, further sacrifice.

Above all, we should remember the men and women of our armed forces, whose courage, skill, and determination have given the Iraqi people this opportunity. W. Thomas Smith offers some first-hand accounts of today's festivities from our troops on the ground. Through their efforts, they have made possible the creation of a new Middle East, based on freedom and hope. Getting there will be neither quick nor easy, but it is a necessity if the totalitarian ideology of Salafist-Jihadism is to be defeated.

Books for Iraq

Courtesy of Harry's Place, here's a wonderful initiative called Books to Iraq:

Books to Iraq has been created by Iraqi and UK pharmacists in order to help raise funds for the supply of new academic textbooks to the eight Schools of Pharmacy within Iraq. We wish to help support Iraqi Pharmacy educators and students, and by their efforts the nation of Iraq.

Iraq has given the world a great legacy of pharmaceutical and medical knowledge and the world can, in return, help them rebuild their knowledge and infrastructure. Your donation can help replenish the knowledge that Iraq held for humanity in the past.

Signing Up

In today's Wall Street Journal, 31 year old reporter Matt Pottinger explains his decision to give up journalism for the Marine Corps. While the following passage is only a brief part of his explanation, it struck home with me as it helps describe why I'm shipping for Basic Training in a month:

A year ago, I was at my sister's house using her husband's laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let's just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn't. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.

Please read the rest:

Mightier Than the Pen

Iraqi Election Coverage

Pajamas Media is offering special coverage of today's historic Iraqi elections from bloggers throughout Iraq. In the meantime, Duncan Currie has a great article at the Weekly Standard web site, explaining why the process of building democracy in Iraq is so important:

But what if U.S. intervention did create "a new Arab world," as Walid Jumblatt claimed? What if it did vanquish the Middle Eastern "Berlin Wall"? And what if it saved untold Americans--and Arabs--from far deadlier wars in the future? While we mourn each and every U.S. casualty, we must never lose sight of what the American military has accomplished. Despite all the setbacks, Iraq's budding democracy continues to move ahead. So does the training of Iraq's fledgling security forces, a prerequisite for any significant withdrawal of U.S. troops.

As for the Bush Doctrine's loftier goal--to reform Arab politics and drain the swamp from which Islamic terrorism draws its chief ideological firepower--that no longer seems a fool's errand. Even the most determined naysayer must acknowledge what American policy--coupled with felicitous circumstances--has wrought. George W. Bush deposed Saddam to remove a dangerous tyranny and promote U.S. interests in a vital region. He may wind up creating the first Arab democracy and changing the political culture of the Middle East--which would deal a severe blow to the forces of militant Islam.

Possible ALA Speaker

Instapundit quotes the following comments from one Professor Cary Tennis, who seems to be bidding for an invitation to speak at ALA's Annual Conference:

At a certain point in the near future, if the current oligarchy cannot be removed via the ballot, direct political action may become an urgent and compelling mission. It may then be necessary for many people in many walks of life to put their bodies on the line. For the moment, however, although pressing and profound questions have arisen about whether the current government is even legitimate, i.e., properly elected, there still remains a chance to remove this government peacefully in the 2008 election. (Or am I living in a dream world?)

I do think this regime's removal is the most urgent matter before the country today. . . . This is all terrible and rather fantastic to contemplate. But what assurances have we that it is not all quite plausible? Having discarded the principles that Jefferson & Co. espoused, the current regime seems capable of anything. I know that my imagination is a feverish instrument. But are we not living in feverish times, in times of the unthinkable?

Sadly, such "feverish" attitudes are all too common in the left-wing echo chamber of academia. I'm reminded of the famous quote from George Orwell:

One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Of Wahhabism and Salafism

Recently, a reader e-mailed me asking about the difference between Wahhabism and Salafism. To put it simply, Salafism is the form of Islam that believes that society needs to be structured exactly as it was in the 7th Century, during the reign of the Prophet Mohammed and his immediate successors. The ideal Salafist state is one governed solely by a narrow and literal application of Islamic law (sharia). Militant Salafism is the ideology of al Qaeda and the jihadist movement. Wahhabism is the Saudi form of Salafism, dating back to the 18th century.

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey has a terrific piece at National Review Online on the long-term threat posed by Salafist ideology, and its Wahhabist variant in particular:

Recently President Bush addressed a number of the ideological aspects of this long war in which we are now engaged. As he has put it now on two occasions, "Islamofascism" is one plausible characterization of our enemy. Although this is a major step forward beyond designating "terror" as the enemy (we're certainly at war with more than a tactic, albeit a terrible one) there was still a major element missing in his presentation. The elephant in the Middle East living room is Wahhabism. Over the long run, this movement is in many ways the most dangerous of the ideological enemies we face.

Within Sunni Islam, along with several more moderate schools, there are two varieties of theocratic totalitarianism. Both of these are Salafists, believing that only a literal version of the model of rule implemented in the seventh century in Islam has ultimate legitimacy. Both have the objective of rule by a unified mosque and state; for some this theocracy is personified by the caliph. Different individuals in these movements emphasize different aspects, but generally the common objective is to unify first the Arab world under theocratic rule, then the Muslim world, then those regions that were once Muslim (e.g. Spain), then the rest of the world.

Such totalitarian visions seem crazy to most of us; we thus tend to underestimate their potency. Yet the Salafists' theocratic totalitarian dream has some features in common with the secular totalitarian dreams of the twentieth century, e.g., the Nazis' Thousand Year Reich, or the Communists' World Communism. The latter two movements produced tens of millions of deaths in the 20th century in part because, at least in their early stages, they engendered "fire in the minds of men" in Germany, Russia, and China and were able to establish national bases. Salafists had such a national base for the better part of a decade in Afghanistan and have had one controlling the Arabian Peninsula for some eight decades. They haven't attained the Nazis' and Communists' death totals yet, but this is only due to lack of power, not to less murderous or less totalitarian objectives.

The Elephant in the Middle East Living Room

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Priority Crimes" and Free Speech

Mark Steyn addresses the gradual demise of free speech in the UK in his column for the Daily Telegraph:

So what is a "priority crime"? Well, the other day, the author Lynette Burrows went on a BBC Five Live show to talk about the government's new "civil partnerships" and expressed her opinion - politely, no intemperate words - that the adoption of children by homosexuals was "a risk". The following day, Fulham police contacted her to discuss the "homophobic incident".

The entire piece is worth reading, but Steyn's conclusion cannot be put any better:

"Freedom from harm" is all very well, "freedom from being offended" is extremely dangerous - a way of extending the already harmful media phenomenon of "libel chill" to every noisy lobby group. If Sir Iqbal Sacranie and co get their way on "religious hatred", every BBC Five Live discussion on Islam will be followed by a call from an aggrieved listener and a visit from the Fulham police. And, for every Lynette Burrows, insisting she'll continue to exercise her right to free speech, there'll be a hundred more who keep their heads down and opt for a quiet life.

Hollywood stars are forever complaining about the "crushing of dissent" in Bush's America, by which they mean Tim Robbins having a photo-op at the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelled because he's become an anti-war bore. But, thanks to the First Amendment, he can say anything he likes without the forces of the state coming round to grill him. It's in Britain and Europe where dissent is being crushed. Following the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, film directors and museum curators and all the other "brave" "transgressive" artists usually so eager to "challenge" society are voting for self-censorship: "I don't want a knife in my chest," explained Albert Ter Heerdt, announcing his decision to "postpone" a sequel to his hit multicultural comedy Shouf Shouf Habibi!

But who needs to knife him when across Europe the authorities are so eager to criminalise him? No society with an eye to long-term survival should make opinion a subversive activity. Here's a thought: we should be able to discuss homosexuality, Islam and pretty much everything else in the same carefree way Guardian columnists damn Bush's America as "neo-fascist".

(link courtesy of Watch)

Happy Birthday to the Guard

Today marks the 369th birthday of America's oldest fighting force, the Army National Guard. Thanks to all the citizen-soldiers who have served this country. Hopefully, I will prove worthy of a place among them.

Remembering the Victims of Communism

Courtesy of Greg McClay at Shush comes a link to an interesting article from National Review Online. The piece, by John J. Miller, discusses the effort to create a memorial to the victims of Communism, to be built in Washington, DC. If all goes well, the site will be dedicated next November, around the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I definitely plan to donate to this worthy cause, and encourage all of you to do the same. We have already, justifiably, built an entire museum in DC dedicated to the memory of the 11 million victims of Nazi barbarism. Surely the countless tens of millions murdered by Communist totalitarianism deserve to be remembered as well.

The Democrats' "Alternative" for the Middle East

Blogger Lebanon Profile has produced a brilliant guest post at Michael Totten's site on the Democratic Party's "alternative" approach to fostering democracy in the Middle East, or lack thereof:

The Democratic Party critics of the President and Arab critics of American policy have a lot in common.

They love to go on the attack against people taking action, but offer no alternative. They snipe at President Bush and the oh-so-evil neo-cons, but offer few alternatives.

And when they do offer alternatives, the two groups sound exactly alike: "let the people choose their government; it should not be imposed from above," "Muslims should have a government culturally sensitive to their religion," "you must understand that America cannot support democracy because it has supported so many heinous regimes in the past," "America must first deal with Israeli aggression, and then everything will fall into place in the Arab world."

Where is the alternative in those statements?

On Democrats and Arabs

Far too many in the Democratic Party and its liberal base are more interested in opposing whatever the Bush Administration does than they are in aiding the nascent wave of democratic change occurring in the Arab world. They have so invested themselves in the idea that the administration's policies have to fail that they are incapable of offering constructive suggestions or alternatives.

The Final Word on Coulter and UConn

Callimachus at Winds of Change has written the perfect post on the Ann Coulter-UConn incident. His assessment of both Coulter and those who shouted her down is dead on. Please give it a read.

Monday, December 12, 2005

From the Finland Library

The FREADOM blog has broken the story that my fan Mark Rosenzweig has quit as Communist Party USA archivist. Apparently, the loss of Soviet subsidies has finally caught up to the CPUSA, and the Reference Center for Marxist Studies is a luxury the Party can no longer afford.

Anyway, FREADOM has the text of Rosenzweig's resignation letter, as well as an earlier unsuccessful appeal written by several far left librarians. I particularly commend them to you young people, as examples of the kind of authentic communist gibberish you simply don't see anymore in this day and age. I thought I was bad about run-on sentences.

Defending Dissidents vs. Hating Bush

Amir Taheri's latest column is a highly entertaining read, and even features a guest appearance by Bianca Jagger. Taheri, however, makes two very serious points. One is to note Iran's deplorable imprisonment of journalist Akbar Ganji. The second concerns how numerous western leftists are far more interested in opposing the Bush Administration no matter what than they are in consistently supporting human rights:

Together with several colleagues, I had been trying for months to persuade the Western media to take an interest in Ganji, a former Khomeinist revolutionary who is now campaigning for human rights and democracy. But we never got anywhere because of one small hitch: President Bush had spoken publicly in support of Ganji and called for his immediate release.

And that, as far as a good part of the Western media is concerned, amounts to a kiss of death. How could newspapers that portray Bush as the world's biggest "violator of human rights" endorse his call in favor of Ganji?

To overcome that difficulty, some of Ganji's friends had tried to persuade him to make a few anti-American, more specifically anti-Bush, pronouncements so that the Western media could adopt him as a "hero-martyr." Two years ago, similar advice had been given to Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was made to understand one stark fact of contemporary life: You will not be accepted as a champion of human rights unless you attack the United States.

(emphasis in original-DD)

Bianca the Torture Expert

The attitudes described by Taheri are eerily reminiscent of those expressed by some in ALA during the debate over Cuba's independent libraries. Even in a profession that is supposed to stand for intellectual freedom, there are those who believe that opposing the Bush Administration trumps all other principles.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How the Patriot Act isn't Being Used

An article in today's New York Times contains some fascinating insights into how the Justice Department is, or rather isn't, using the USA Patriot Act:

Some agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been frustrated by what they see as the Justice Department's reluctance to let them demand records and to use other far-ranging investigative measures in terrorism cases, newly disclosed e-mail messages and internal documents show.

Publicly, the debate over the law known as the USA Patriot Act has focused on concerns from civil rights advocates that the F.B.I. has gained too much power to use expanded investigative tools to go on what could amount to fishing expeditions.

But the newly disclosed e-mail messages offer a competing view, showing that, privately, some F.B.I. agents have felt hamstrung by their inability to get approval for using new powers under the Patriot Act, which was passed weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Yes, this includes Section 215, the so-called "library section":

One internal F.B.I. message, sent in October 2003, criticized the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Justice Department, which reviews and approves terrorist warrants, as regularly blocking requests from the F.B.I. to use a section of the antiterrorism law that gave the bureau broader authority to demand records from institutions like banks, Internet providers and libraries.

"While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR's failure to let us use the tools given to us," read the e-mail message, which was sent by an unidentified F.B.I. official. "This should be an OIPR priority!!!"

The following passage shows how difficult it is for FBI agents to actually get a Section 215 warrant approved:

But officials at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. said they were unaware of any such change in procedure and that all bureau requests for business record were still reviewed and approved by the Justice Department.

A separate e-mail message, sent in May 2004 with the subject header "Miracles," mockingly celebrated the fact that the Justice Department had approved an F.B.I. request for records under the so-called library provision.

(emphasis added-DD)

Finally, the article points out that the FBI has used Section 215 to obtain business records 35 times, but never once in a library or bookstore setting. In other words, the idea that the FBI is secretly rummaging through library records on a regular basis has no basis in fact. The Patriot Act renewal bill that Congress is currently mulling over will only make it even more difficult for the FBI to do so.

Some may scoff at this. However, in an era where CIA covert operations regularly appear on the front pages of the Times and the Washington Post, it is highly unlikely that the Justice Dapartment could lie about this matter without having the truth leak out.

Media Bias: A Textbook Example

A December 8th Associated Press article posted on the ABC News web site offers a textbook example of media bias in action. The article summarizes an interview with the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki bin al-Faisal. The second paragraph quotes Prince Turki as follows.

Asked whether the war in Iraq made the world less safe, Turki said even if the United States had not invaded, global terrorism would have continued. "Going into Iraq may have accentuated or accelerated that process, but I don't think it is the reason why we are having bombs in London or in Saudi Arabia or wherever," he said.

(emphasis added-DD)

So, basically, Prince Turki believes that the Iraq war has not been an important factor in fostering the spread of terrorism, and that the terrorists would be attacking us anyway.

Now, how did AP/ABC choose to spin his comments? The headline says it all:

Saudi Official: War in Iraq Sparked Terror

Considering that AP clearly had their mind already made up, one wonders why they actually bothered doing the interview at all.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The World Cup Draw

Today, the 32 teams that will compete at next year's World Cup in Germany were drawn into their 8 first round groups, and the USA certainly did not get any breaks. Bruce Arena's squad will be in Group E, along with perennial power Italy, a very good Czech Republic side, and Africa's top qualifier, the Black Stars of Ghana.

Grant Wahl of offers a good breakdown of the group. Many are calling Group E this tournament's version of the "group of death", and that could well be the case. On paper, things don't look favorable, but as the cliche goes, the game isn't played on paper. You need to keep in mind that the US wasn't supposed to get out of its first round group in Korea in 2002, and yet we went all the way to the quarterfinals. A lot can change between now and June, in terms of injuries and loss of form.

For more on next year's field, see and ESPN Soccernet.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Threats and Perspective

Writing at the Counterterrorism Blog, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross notes this "puzzling response" to his superb article on the Islamist threat to intellectual freedom:

And in the same week that a whistle-blowing civil-servant was legally gagged for spilling the beans that Bush was planning to silence the free and independent TV station, Al Jazeera.

Yes, I'm sure Bush was seriously planning to bomb Al Jazeera, just as Ronald Reagan was only five minutes from unleashing a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.

By the way, this is the same "free and independent" Al Jazeera whose news managers were bought and paid for by Saddam Hussein. Anyway, Amir Taheri has shown just how absurd the "bomb Al Jazeera" notion really is.

However, it is Mr. Garteenstein-Ross who points out the fundamental flaw in his critic's position:

Thus, Murray's argument aspires to be a logical fallacy, but falls short even of that. Instead, his position seems to be that because the Bush Administration allegedly strangled speech, I cannot criticize Islamists for threatening free speech with death. In his incoherent response, Murray typifies many Westerners' sadly tepid response to these threats from Islamists. He is so absorbed with his hatred of the Bush administration that he cannot bring himself to acknowledge, let alone stand up to, the Islamist assault on free speech.

(emphasis added-DD)

This is exactly the attitude that I tried to discuss in the Patriot Act portion of my article for the Chronicle, when I criticized the often exaggerated obsession with Section 215 among many librarians. As I wrote then, "I believe that the primary threats to our freedom are named bin Laden and Zarqawi, not Ashcroft and Gonzales."

Debate over where to strike the balance between patron privacy and public safety is entirely normal and proper. Yet there is a bigger picture that some choose to overlook. America is at war with an enemy who would gleefully destroy the vast majority of our library materials, and murder those who produced, published and distributed them. Many librarians, however, act as if the greatest threat to intellectual freedom is the possibility of FBI agents with a FISA warrant. Personally, I choose to regard beheadings and book burnings as a far more serious threat to our liberties than subpoenas.

Suppressing Free Speech at UConn

I am not a fan of Ann Coulter. I believe she is an over the top bombthrower who detracts from the national discourse rather than adding to it. Still, I regard incidents like this one as inexcusable:

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter cut short a speech at the University of Connecticut amid boos and jeers, and decided to hold a question-and-answer session instead.

Keep in mind this was at a university, whose very raison d'etre is the free exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, such incidents are not uncommon when right of center speakers come to academia. A part of the academic left in this country is just as intolerant as they claim Ms. Coulter and others are. This quote from a UConn demonstrator is a case in point:

"We encourage diverse opinion at UConn, but this is blatant hate speech," said Eric Knudsen, a 19-year-old sophomore journalism and social welfare major who heads campus group Students Against Hate.

Translation: We stand for tolerance and diversity, and shut the hell up if you disagree with us.

There are numerous options when confronted with a speaker with whom you disagree. You can exercise your right to ignore them. You can challenge their ideas by asking tough but fair questions. You can picket outside the building, as some people did here. What you should not do is to deny that person the right to express their views, and deny others the right to listen to them, by acting like an infantile buffoon.

Birds of Baghdad

Michael Yon, the journalist/blogger whose brilliant first-hand reporting from the Iraqi city of Mosul has been so invaluable, has a wonderfully written post on some of the responses he's received. It is a very long post, but well worth reading:

I don't recall seeing many types of birds that I hadn't also seen in America . Speaking of America, by that time, the emails were flooding in so fast that I no longer could even open them all. That bothered me, but it was often a matter of going on a mission or reading messages. Missions almost always won the toss, but sometimes I would dive in and read messages.

I got emails from commanders and from grandmothers who hadn't heard from grandchildren serving in Iraq. I heard from wounded veterans, and new soldiers nervously asking for information prior to deploying. Kids, Australians, Italians, name it. Compressed in between were more than a few important business emails that I somehow had missed. When the first wave of publicity hit, I wasn't prepared for the undertow. I felt bad for not answering everything, wondering if I'd left a lot of people thinking I was being rude. There was little I could do.

Birds of Baghdad

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Upcoming Hiatus

I had my third National Guard drill session this past weekend. Nothing too major, mostly marching/hiking mixed in with classes about what to expect in basic training. I did pass the physical fitness test, 25 pushups and 28 situps in one minute each, and I ran a mile in 7:40. My mile time was a bit slower than before, but all three results are good enough to qualify for entry into basic.

Which leads me to my announcement: I will be shipping for basic training and advanced individual training in mid-January. In basic, I will be without Internet access (and a lot of other things), so that obviously means no blogging. Therefore, as much as it pains me to have to walk away from my new-found infamy, I am declaring that this site will go into indefinite hiatus as of December 31, 2005.

Now before my many fans in the Progressive Librarians' Guild get too excited, know that I will resume blogging as soon as I once again have regular Internet access. That might be in April, however it might not be until July. In the meantime, the site will still be here.

Further details will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Clarifying My Position on Free Speech

Ed Merwin responds as follows to my post on when free speech can be limited:

Dave I applaud you for trying to clarify some limits of free speech. But, correct me if I am wrong, but your "when can free speech be limited" seems to endorse, generally speaking, campus speech codes. These PC efforts have done much to discourage free intelectual discussion on campuses.

If someone as astute as Ed believes that I would endorse campus speech codes, then I have clearly done a poor job of articulating my views. I regard speech codes in academia to be ridiculous monuments to political correctness that fly in the face of what colleges and universities are supposed to be about.

Just to clarify my position, I oppose banning free expression just because it may offend some people. The main circumstances under which, in my view, speech should not be protected is when it is used to directly threaten or incite violence. Telling someone you don't like them is an acceptable if unpleasant form of free speech. Telling someone you want to kill them is not.

There are also the issues of obscenity and what is appropriate to say in the workplace, but I prefer to leave those cans of worms unopened for now. Generally, I choose to err on the side of enabling free expression, not limiting it. Unfortunately, campus speech codes have tended to prohibit speech that merely offends, which is why I strenuously oppose them.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Pajamas Media's Great Internet Debate

The Pajamas Media (formerly Open Source Media) web site is featuring an interesting debate over the implications of possible UN control of the Internet. It's well worth a look.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Facts About Saddam

I've previously referenced a recent French book called The Black Book of Saddam Hussein. Now, Rebecca Weisser has published an excellent and informative review of this work in the December 3rd Australian:

WITH the trial of Saddam Hussein under way, those in the God-damn-America camp find themselves uncomfortably wedged. Should they justify their opposition to the war by downplaying Saddam's crimes while sheeting home blame for the present turmoil to the US and its allies? Or do they opt for the defence of moral equivalence, conceding that Saddam was indeed a monster but those US presidents who once backed his regime, including George H.W. Bush, are the real monsters.

The best riposte to this warped analysis is a scholarly and sober 700-page volume recently published in France, of all places. Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein (The Black Book of Saddam Hussein) is a robust denunciation of Saddam's regime that does not fall into the trap of viewing everything in Iraq through a US-centric prism. The writers - Arabs, Americans, Germans, French and Iranian - have produced the most comprehensive work to date on the former Iraqi president's war crimes, assembling a mass of evidence that makes the anti-intervention arguments redundant.

"The first weapon of mass destruction was Saddam Hussein," writes Bernard Kouchner, who has been observing atrocities in Iraq since he led the first Medecins Sans Frontieres mission there in 1974. "Preserving the memory of the arbitrary arrests that Saddam's police conducted every morning, the horrible and humiliating torture, the organised rapes, the arbitrary executions and the prisons full of innocent people is not just a duty. Without that one cannot understand either what Saddam's dictatorship was or the urgent necessity to remove him."

Overall, the book estimates that Saddam murdered as many as 1,000,000 of his own people, in addition to those killed in his wars. For all the problems and tragedies of life in post-Saddam Iraq, it is clear that both the Iraqi people and the world are better off with this genocidal monster in prison instead of in power.

(Link courtesy of LGF. See also Harry's Place and Normblog.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

When Can Free Speech be Limited?

In response to my previous post, Andy Wheeler asks the following excellent question:

Hello - I enjoyed your post but how do reconcile free speech with sexual harassment laws, or lying to cause a panic (yelling fire in a crowded theatre)?

This is the key issue that those far more knowledgeable than myself have been wrestling with for decades. I do believe that in a free society people have the right to express their views, no matter how offensive they might be. Yet free speech, like any other right, is not an absolute. In the examples you cite, the speech in question ceases to be the expression of an opinion and becomes a malevolent assault on the rights of others. That, in my view, is when speech ceases to be protected.

I do believe that Islamists should be allowed to preach their views in Western societies, no matter how hate-filled and anti-Semitic their remarks often are. The place where I would draw the line is when that speech turns into an open incitement to violence and terrorism. A radical Salafist preacher praising the 9/11 atrocities, as vile and disgusting as decent people find such sentiments, should be tolerated. If that same preacher encourages his followers to go stage a 9/11 of their own, then he has crossed the line.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it best in his dissent in the 1949 decision Terminiello v. City of Chicago:

This Court has gone far toward accepting the doctrine that civil liberty means the removal of all restraints from these crowds and that all local attempts to maintain order are impairments of the liberty of the citizen. The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.

Unfortunately, there will always be gray areas, no matter where the line is drawn. That's why we have courts. Still, I would draw the distinction between speech that merely expresses an opinion, and that intended to deny the rights of others, through either harassment, instigating physical harm, or inciting violence.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Free Speech under Threat in Europe

Historian Timothy Garton Ash has a brilliant editorial piece in today's Guardian on the threat to free expression posed by radical Islamists and other fanatics:

People are trying to kill her just for saying what she thinks. Last year, he was actually killed simply because he made a provocative work of art. Welcome to our brave new Europe, three centuries after the Enlightenment.

She is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalian-Dutch politician and writer, who wrote the script for the film Submission. He was Theo van Gogh, the Dutch director of that film, who as a result was murdered on an Amsterdam street just over a year ago. After slitting Van Gogh's throat, the murderer pinned a letter to his chest with a butcher's knife. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali," it said, "you will break yourself to pieces on Islam." "You, oh Europe, will go down ... " this rant concluded, "you, oh Netherlands, will go down ... You, oh Hirsi Ali, will go down."


This right to free speech, which is to an open society what oxygen is to human life, is under direct threat from people whose position is very simple: if you say that, we will kill you. And not just in the case of Islam. Remember that violent protests and death threats from extremists in Britain's Sikh community forced the playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti into hiding, and her play Behzti off the stage in Birmingham.

Garton Ash also points out the troubling fact that the British government has actually contributed to this climate in some ways, through its proposal for a law banning expressions of "hatred" against religious groups:

How does our government react? By extending police protection to threatened individuals, to be sure, as it did for Salman Rushdie. By making the right noises about tolerance, peaceful protest and free speech. But also - shamefully, stupidly, cravenly - by itself proposing to restrict that right, in an ill-considered, ill-drafted bill to bar "incitement to religious hatred". Among the motives behind the reintroduction of this already once rejected bill in Labour's last election manifesto were appeasement of some self-appointed spokespersons of the Muslim community in Britain and transparent political opportunism - as the distinguished human-rights lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer Anthony Lester observes in an excellent book prepared by English PEN (Free Expression is No Offence, edited by Lisa Appignanesi); he says that the bill was introduced as "a targeted bid to woo British Muslim support for New Labour in marginal constituencies where hostility to the illegal invasion of Iraq had alienated many Muslim and other potential voters from Labour to the Liberal Democrats".

Free speech protections need to apply to hateful viewpoints as well, even those of the Islamists. The way to safeguard free expression is not by preventing Salafists and other extremists from voicing their opinions: rather, it is by making sure that the Islamists cannot deny others the same right.

The Expanding World of Books

To end tonight's posting on a happier note, please take a look at this highly entertaining post from Norm Geras on the ever increasing number and availability of books. If you feel bad about all the books you've wanted to read but haven't been able to, don't, because you're not alone.

Rossett on the UN and the Web

Investigative journalist Claudia Rossett, who has done an incredible job of exposing the corruption inherent in the UN Oil-for-Food program, has now taken on the UN over the issue of the Internet. In a piece for Pajamas Media (formerly Open Source Media), Ms. Rossett explains why the question of who will control the web is still far from settled:

Greetings, and a quick tip: Anyone in favor of censorship and internet taxes can skip the rest of this column.

OK. For those still with me, who probably agree it is not a good idea to have Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe editing your blog and then charging you for it, it’s time to talk about the great UN internet grab. Thanks to the U.S. just saying no, the UN bid to get its hands on our keyboards failed this month at the United Nations Internet conclave in Tunis. But don’t drop your guard. The UN will be back. The pickings are potentially too rich, and the stakes too high, for them to resist. In case anyone has any doubts, Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself (about whom you can read more by googling his name together with “Oil-for-Food,” “Rape-by-Peacekeepers” and “Bribes-for-Procurement”) appeared in Tunis to proclaim that while the U.S. had blocked a UN takeover of the internet this time, “I think you also acknowledge the need for more international participation in discussions of Internet governance issues. So let those discussions continue.” Then came Annan’s scariest line: “We in the United Nations will support this process in every way we can.”

You can bet your laptop they will. Any institution brazen enough to hold a “World Summit on the Information Society” in internet-censoring journalist-jailing Tunisia is obviously ready to try anything to get hold of the net. This initiative has been bubbling along since Tunisia first proposed it in 1998, and by now there have been enough conferences, theme papers, working groups and planning sessions so that this UN campaign has put down roots. The WSIS website is already an empire unto itself, packed with stocktaking questionnaires, press releases, a photo library and the outpourings of the Preparatory Committee, abbreviated UN-style as the Prepcom, which sounds like something out of George Orwell, because it is.

Whose Internet is it Anyway?