Friday, June 29, 2007

ALA Wrap-Up

Some final thoughts on ALA before I move on to other topics:

-Freadom has a brief report with pictures on Saturday's Cuban library protest.

-To echo a point Steven Bell made on the Library Journal web site two years ago, does every guest speaker have to go on about how librarians are the most wonderful people ever? I'm not even talking in this instance about the political aspect, just the non-stop pandering about the virtues of librarians and librarianship. Perhaps I'm as cynical as I am alienated, but it just got really tiresome. Affirmation and recognition are nice, but are we really that insecure as a profession that we need to be groveled to?

-Allow me to express my thanks to the Cato Institute for an excellent open house on Sunday evening. There were refreshments, and a chance to listen to P.J. O'Rourke make some brief remarks. After sitting through 75 minutes of RFK Jr., O'Rourke's wit and common sense came as a much needed relief. The event culminated with a free book signing featuring O'Rourke and four other CATO authors. Again, a highly enjoyable event.

-Speaking of RFK Jr., you can read the Cognotes summary of his speech here (link in PDF). In my summary, I forgot to mention his closing comment. Here is how Cognotes describes it:

He brought the audience to their feet by concluding, “We cannot let this gang of thugs take [our ideals] away from us and our children.”

No, in case you're wondering, the "gang of thugs" in question is not the leadership of al Qaeda or Iran, but rather the duly elected administration of the United States.

-Contrarian raises a question regarding my criticizing ALA President Leslie Burger for inviting Kennedy to speak:

Did Leslie Burger choose Kennedy or was it a committee who chose him? Either way it sounds like a bad speech, but I'm not sure the President of ALA chooses the speakers.

A fair question. However, I think I'm justified in holding Leslie Burger responsible for the decision to invite Kennedy. For one thing, the speech was billed as the "ALA President's Program". ALA's own event description invites the reader to "(j)oin ALA President Leslie Burger as she welcomes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr." Finally, Burger did in fact introduce Kennedy at the speech. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that Ms. Burger had at least some role in selecting Kennedy as the conference keynote speaker.

Finally, I want to thank Greg McClay for linking to my updates and encouraging his readers to come visit.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Irshad Manji Report

Going to see Irshad Manji on Monday was definitely the highlight of my ALA experience. Ironically, it was in the same auditorium where I endured Robert F. Kennedy, Jr the day before. Sadly, it was only about half full for Irshad, as opposed to being packed to the rafters for RFK Jr. Those who were there responded well to Irshad's message and gave her a good ovation at the end.

Irshad is an incredibly relaxed and natural speaker. She spoke for about an hour, and devoted her talk to the events and experiences that led her to become a self-described "Muslim dissident". Most of the ground Irshad covered is described in her excellent book, The Trouble with Islam Today. Here is a brief summary of her speech:

-Irshad began with her main point: that it is time for Muslims to stop blaming others for their own problems. She stressed the importance of personal responsibility, and of the necessity of speaking out when one sees injustice. As she put it: "courage is not the absence of fear", but rather the sense that some things are important enough to risk your life for.

-Irshad's journey towards dissent began as a teenager in the Vancouver area. She was open minded and inquisitive, qualities that would see her get kicked out of the local madrassa (Islamic religious school). After this happened, she decided to teach herself about Islam, which she did by taking advantage of her local public library (yes, this was a major applause line). What Irshad found in her studies was an Islam far different from the doctrinaire intolerance she was taught in the madrassa. This is the basis of her belief that Islam, for all its problems, is both reformable and compatible with the modern world.

-This experience shows the absolute importance of people being free to ask questions. Irshad made an important point on the distinction between faith and dogma. Faith can survive having questions asked of it; dogma can't.

-Irshad's decision to write her book was inspired both by 9/11 and by her investigation of the brutal treatment of women in much of the Muslim world.

-She feared that writing the book and speaking out would make her a target, and it has. Like so many others, she has received numerous death threats from Islamists. At first, they emanated from the Middle East, but then they started to come from places like Scandinavia and the UK. She even receives threats from North America. In fact, a recent one was traced to an Internet cafe in downtown Toronto.

-Despite these threats, Irshad no longer retains the services of a bodyguard. As she explained it, she can't expect other Muslims to heed her call to speak out against the extremists when she can afford a bodyguard and they can't. Courageously, she has decided to lead by example, though she wisely takes other security precautions.

-The most encouraging reaction to her book has been among young Muslims, many of whom have read it and embraced Irshad's proposals for debate and reform. The free Arabic version of the book has been downloaded over 200,000 times from Irshad's web site in the last year, and is being printed out and circulated in places such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, in a manner reminiscent of Soviet Samizdat. Irshad has also made downloadable PDF copies available in Urdu, the major language in Pakistan, and Farsi, the main language of Iran. Irshad's book is, of course, banned in the latter country.

-Unfortunately, these burgeoning Muslim dissidents are dwarfed by the far greater number of Muslims who feel threatened by Irshad's ideas. This negative reaction isn't only from Islamists; many self-described "moderate Muslims" have condemned her and sent her hate mail as well. Irshad's own mother had to sit through a mosque sermon where the Mufti called her daughter a "bigger criminal than Osama bin Laden", because she sowed fitna (discord) in the Muslim community.

-Irshad quoted the advice that Sir Salman Rushdie gave her when she asked for his advice on why she should publish her book: "Because a book is more important than a life". He elaborated by saying that once a thought has been put to paper, it can never be un-thought. This is why the the most insidious form of censorship is self-censorship; because this is the only way to prevent that thought from being uttered or written in the first place.

-Irshad encouraged librarians to speak out against the Islamist intolerance that occurs in places like Iran. She ended by mentioning that even her mother, who is a pious, traditional Muslim, has encouraged her efforts and is opening her mind to at least some of Irshad's ideas.

After Irshad ended her remarks, there was a half-hour Q & A session. One woman from Iran asked her about the issue of stoning, which Irshad had said still occurs in that country. The woman said that pressure from Iranian dissidents had brought a de facto end to the practice. Irshad agreed that the practice has been drastically curtailed in recent years, but said that it does still happen on occasion. (With Ahmadinejad determined to take Iran back to the "glories" of the Khomeini era, I would not be surprised to see this barbarous practice make a comeback.)

I asked Irshad a question about how she deals with the doctrine of apostasy, which is one of the main ideological tools Islamists use to silence dissidents and freethinkers. She said that she ignores it. Irshad did mention the 2005 Amman Declaration, a ruling by leading Islamic clerics that no Muslim can declare another Muslim to be an apostate. In terms of her own situation, Irshad pointed out that she regularly reminds the Islamists that if they kill her, they simply ensure that her ideas will circulate even more widely than before.

Overall, it was a great session, and refreshing to see ALA have a speaker discuss the threat radical Islamism poses to intellectual freedom. If you're interested, I strongly encourage you to visit Irshad's web site, Muslim Refusenik. Her book, The Trouble with Islam Today, is a great read, and would make a good choice for Banned Books Week.

Monday, June 25, 2007

An Irshad Manji Preview

Irshad Manji speaks today at 1:30 in the convention center. I'll post a summary sometime tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, I leave you with her recent comments on Rushdie Affair 2.0:

As a Muslim, you better believe I am offended – by these absurd reactions.

I am offended that it is not the first time honours from the West have met with vitriol and violence. In 1979, Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam became the first Muslim to win the Nobel Prize in science. He began his acceptance speech with a verse from the Quran.

Salam’s country ought to have celebrated him. Instead, rioters tried to prevent him from re-entering the country. Parliament even declared him a “non-Muslim” because he belonged to a religious minority. His name continues to be controversial, invoked by state authorities in hushed tones.

I am offended that every year, there are more women killed in Pakistan for allegedly violating their family’s honour than there are detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Muslims have rightly denounced the mistreatment of Guantanamo prisoners. But where is our outrage over the murder of many more Muslims at the hands of our own?

Please read the rest.

ALA: Day 2

Today was a very eventful day at ALA. I attended several useful and interesting sessions. The "highlight", if you want to call it that, was Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s keynote address. When I went, I knew I would be witnessing an intellectual train wreck; a hysterical, dishonest orgy of Bush hatred. Still, I went expecting to be entertained, as befits someone who enjoys bad movies and reruns of Cops. Well, as the old cliche goes, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

Before I go any farther, I need to immediately and unreservedly apologize to Senator Bill Bradley for all criticisms I made of his remarks from Saturday. I have now seen what the standard for unhinged partisan attacks is, and Senator Bradley didn't even come within the same zip code.

Kennedy was supposed to address the topic of "why good environmental policy is good business policy, good economic policy, and good policy for posterity." Unfortunately, he said virtually nothing about libraries or how they can engage in sound environmental policies. Instead, the American Library Association's keynote speaker went off on a 75 minute rant against the Bush Administration, arguing that they are gleefully destroying the environment at the behest of moneyed corporate interests.

It is impossible to overstate just how unhinged Kennedy's comments were. I have not read his 2004 book Crimes Against Nature, but Walter Olson reviewed it for the New York Post. His review applies equally well to Kennedy's speech today:

There's a rich market for Bush-bashing books these days, but Kennedy's jackhammer style leaves one yearning for Michael Moore's suavity, Molly Ivins' balance and Paul Krugman's lightness of touch. If you find it novel and illuminating to compare today's highly placed Texans with Hitler and Mussolini, then RFK Jr.'s your man.

Here are just a few of the highlights from Kennedy's rant (all quotes are paraphrased as accurately as possible from my memory):

-George W. Bush is "the most environmentally destructive president ever".

-The media consists overwhelmingly of either "corporate" outlets obsessed with celebrity, or evil right wing propagandists. As you would expect, Fox News and talk radio were prominent on Kennedy's list of villains. In the bizarre alternate universe he inhabits, MSNBC is a "right wing" outlet, and there is no liberal counter to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. Do the names Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann ring a bell? Kennedy's universe is also a place where the same journalists who donate to Democrats by a 9-1 margin somehow slant their coverage to favor Republicans. Likewise, his complaint about the media's culture of celebrity rings exceedingly hollow coming from someone with the last name Kennedy. As Olson put it, "Kennedy's entire career, is nothing if not an artifact of that culture".

-Kennedy's speech was laden with thinly veiled contempt for the stupid rubes who vote Republican. At one point, he said that 80% of Republican voters would vote Democrat if only they knew the facts that evil Fox News and talk radio are hiding from them. In Kennedy's view, being a well informed citizen means that you believe exactly what he does. See this May 2005 piece by Jonathan Adler for more on this topic.

-As far as those "facts" that Kennedy cites, Olson and Adler have debunked a number of them. One topic that Kennedy did not go into today is his hysterical fear mongering over childhood vaccines. This was probably for the best, since his arguments have been refuted numerous times. Most disappointing, however, was Kennedy's refusal to repeat his 2002 claim that large hog farms are a greater threat to America than al Qaeda.

-My favorite laugh out loud moments came when Kennedy claimed that "I am not a partisan", and "there is no greater defender of free market capitalism than me".

-Kennedy's definition of fascism is thoroughly in keeping with his kindergarten worldview: "the dominance of government by business". Such an infantile definition would be laughed out of any freshman history class, let alone one taught by Walter Laqueur or Robert Paxton. However, it does suit Kennedy's goal of implying that the Bush Administration is fascist.

-One item Kennedy forgot to mention is his opposition to a plan to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. This despite the fact that most environmental organizations have endorsed the project. Of course, those organizations don't own Nantucket vacation houses whose beautiful vistas would be marred by those unsightly windmills. Such sacrifices are strictly for the little people.

As outrageous as all of this was, it was Kennedy's conclusion that most infuriated me. I knew something was up when Kennedy said "this next part might not be fair". Coming from someone who had just devoted the last 70 minutes to arguing that the Bush Administration is made up of corporate criminals and fascists, this was clearly a bad sign. No sooner did I think this than Kennedy unleashed the chickenhawk canard.

Now, I do not like to play the Absolute Moral Authority game. However, in the face of such a morally and intellectually repugnant argument as the chickenhawk slur, I think it's warranted. Just 15 months ago, I was busting my 38 year old ass in Basic Training. Now I have to listen to a spoiled rich boy and hypocritical environmental ambulance chaser who never spent a day in the military blast other people for not having served? I'll leave it to the reader's imagination as to what I think Mr. Kennedy can do with his chickenhawk argument.

BTW, George W. Bush did, in fact serve. Had he wanted merely to avoid Vietnam, there were far easier ways to do it than by flying the F-102 Delta Dagger, a plane with a less than stellar safety record.

Kennedy then ended his speech with a typically juvenile argument about how the entire world loved us before the days of the horrible Bushitler, and no wartime president ever did anything bad prior to the current conflict. At this point, I'll merely ask the reader to read what serious scholars of anti-Americanism such as the late Jean-Francois Revel have to say, and suggest that they look up Civil War prison camps and strategic bombing in World War II, among other topics.

The saddest part, though not surprising, was the reaction of the audience. The groupthink in the auditorium was too thick to cut with a knife; it would have required a chainsaw to penetrate. There were numerous applause lines, many in response to Kennedy's contemptuous slurs about Red Staters. Particularly disturbing was the reaction to Kennedy's bemoaning the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. When he declared that there would be no Rush Limbaugh or Fox News if the Fairness Doctrine was still in effect, there was enthusiastic applause. Yes, people who claim to support intellectual freedom and oppose censorship expressed delight at the thought of government being used to limit the spread of ideas they disagree with. The willingness of many of those in attendance to subordinate professional principles to partisan politics could not have been clearer. Of course, the end of Kennedy's rant was greeted by a standing ovation accompanied by whooping and hollering.

My decision to attend ALA Annual was predicated on a belief that there was at least the possibility of change in the association. I see now the absurdity of any such hopes. Leslie Burger chose to respond to the concerns expressed over the politicization of ALA by booking a leftist ideologue keynote speaker who makes Michael Moore look nuanced and sophisticated. Make no mistake: this was an upraised middle finger directed at everyone who wants partisan politics kept out of ALA.

When will I consider renewing my ALA membership? When hell freezes over.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

ALA: Day 1

Just wanted to post my thoughts on Saturday's doings at ALA. To be honest, I didn't do a lot of conference-related stuff, but there were a couple highlights.

I did go to the membership meeting on non-library issues. The discussion only lasted 35 minutes. Michael Gorman gave some brief remarks in support of addressing other issues, Steve Matthews spoke against. Members of the audience were then invited to offer their opinions. In case you're wondering, no, I didn't get up. There were enough speakers to fill the allotted half hour, plus 5 extra minutes. I'd say about 5-6 people spoke on each side of the issue. The points made were the same ones that come up every time this question is discussed. The atmosphere was polite and cordial, but I took away the feeling that this was a bit of a pro forma exercise.

I also went to the Opening General Session, featuring Bill Bradley. There was actually about an hour's worth of awards, other speakers, and the usual boilerplate before Senator Bradley took the stage. I actually liked the first part of his speech, a tribute to the innate goodness of the American people, and was even thinking how wonderfully non-partisan it was. I should have known better. Practically the very next line was (and I'm paraphrasing) "Don't you wish we had a government that reflected the natural goodness of the American people?".

Yes, damn that Bushitler and Darth Cheney. Of course, I happen to think fighting to protect 50 million people from being enslaved by the forces of Islamist barbarism reflects the natural goodness of the American people. But I guess that's just me.

Senator Bradley went on to list some of the things he found inspiring about America, which included seeing the troops go off to fight wars where "we are truly threatened". Apparently, Senator Bradley is thoroughly uninspired by the courage and sacrifice of those who served in The War of 1812, Mexican War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, World War I, European Theater of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Balkans.

Anyway, Senator Bradley then listed some problems such as taxes (they need to be raised), savings, and energy independence. If only we see the "truth" of each of these issues, then the answer will be self-evident. For example, he proposed that automobile mileage standards be raised to European levels (about 40 mpg). Sounds good, except for the fact that, even with better mileage, Europeans still pay almost twice as much for a gallon of gas as we do.

He also proposed we force SUV owners to pay a special surcharge while giving tax breaks to those who drive fuel efficient cars. Wonderful, more nanny-statism designed to exploit the pathological liberal obsession with SUVs as the source of all evil (For the record, I drive a Ford Fusion). Unfortunately, Senator Bradley's truth on this issue isn't nearly as self-evident as he seems to think. While reducing our dependence on foreign oil would be a good thing, matters are far more complicated than he seems to allow.

Of course, Senator Bradley's list of problems contained no mention of our war with radical Islamism. He referenced neither al Qaeda and Salafist-jihadism, nor Iran's soon to be nuclear armed Islamist autocracy. I guess that pesky war thing will just magically go away once we cut and run from Iraq and start sticking it to the SUV owners.

To be fair, the Senator's speech wasn't too partisan in tone. He did argue that the Red/Blue divide has been oversold, and that solutions need to incorporate both the Democratic emphasis on collective action and the Republican emphasis on personal responsibility. In particular, he made a good point about how the prevalence of electorally safe, gerrymandered districts has made most congressmen more responsive to their bases instead of to swing voters, thus helping further polarize politics.

Senator Bradley ended by encouraging the audience to be informed citizens and find ways to serve the community. Thoroughly unobjectionable, except when he implied that ALA was the place to have such debates.

Overall, not too bad a speech, but still the latest chapter in ALA's long history of inviting only liberal political figures to speak before the organization (Yes, I know about Colin Powell, and no, Laura Bush is not a political figure). Sunday evening brings Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaking on the environment. I suspect that by the time he finishes Senator Bradley will, in retrospect, sound like Rush Limbaugh .

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cuba Protest

There will be a protest of ALA's inaction on the issue of Cuban librarians Saturday morning. Freadom has the details.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

ALA Annual

I think I've already mentioned this, but believe it or not I will be attending ALA Annual in DC this weekend. There are several reasons why I'm going: proximity; some of the programs look interesting, especially Irshad Manji's appearance on Monday; and it's a good opportunity to see former co-workers and friends from library school, or at least the ones still willing to be seen in public with me. The main reason I'm attending, though, is because there have been some encouraging signs of change within ALA over the last year. The speakers' schedule is still packed with much of the usual liberal orthodoxy, but the idea that political stands are best left to the individual seems to be gaining some traction. I haven't rejoined, and don't plan to, but at least I'll be able to get a sense for whether things are really getting better.

As both Annoyed Librarian and Greg McClay point out, ALA's actually having a membership forum Saturday on the question of whether or not to address non-library issues. Unfortunately, neither of them is very optimistic about how the discussion will go, but just the fact that the issue is being raised is a positive development.

Both of their posts are worth reading, along with the user comments. I think Annoyed Librarian makes a good point when she differentiates between the Iraq war, on the one hand, and the Patriot Act. I have certainly criticized ALA Council's Iraq resolution based on its content. However, even in some bizarre alternate universe where most of council agreed with my views on Iraq, I still don't think this is an issue appropriate for a non-political professional organization.

On the other hand, I do not begrudge ALA for taking a position on the Patriot Act. It is directly relevant to libraries and intellectual freedom. My problem is that ALA's position on this legislation is unrealistic and absolutist, rooted in a worldview that treats the US government as the adversary while mostly ignoring the very real threat of jihadist terrorism.

Overall, I think the following quote Greg uses best reflects my position:

“If it isn’t something I would bring up at a staff meeting, a trustees meeting, or a town hall meeting when speaking for my library then its not something that should be brought up at ALA.”

My expectations are relatively low, but I'm still hoping that what I see this weekend will let me reexamine my view of ALA.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Eve of Battle

This week, US forces launched a major offensive in Iraq's Diyala Province, located northeast of Baghdad. Bill Roggio has a good overview of the operation, and his site is an excellent source for further updates.

Independent journalist and blogger Michael Yon is on the ground with the troops in Diyala, and he has posted an amazing essay he wrote just before the battle. I'm not in 100% agreement with his analysis, but it's such an incredible example of straightforward, unvarnished war reporting that I can't help but recommend it:

The enemy will try to herd us into their traps, and likely many of us will be killed before it ends. Already, they have been blowing up bridges, apparently to restrict our movements. Entire buildings are rigged with explosives. They have rockets, mortars, and bombs hidden in places they know we are likely to cross, or places we might seek cover. They will use human shields and force people to drive bombs at us. They will use cameras and make it look like we are ravaging the city and that they are defeating us. By the time you read this, we will be inside Baquba, and we will be killing them. No secrets are spilling here.

Our jets will drop bombs and we will use rockets. Helicopters will cover us, and medevac our wounded and killed. By the time you read this, our artillery will be firing, and our tanks moving in. And Humvees. And Strykers. And other vehicles. Our people will capture key terrain and cutoff escape routes. The idea this time is not to chase al Qaeda out, but to trap and kill them head-on, or in ambushes, or while they sleep. When they are wounded, they will be unable to go to hospitals without being captured, and so their wounds will fester and they will die painfully sometimes. It will be horrible for al Qaeda. Horror and terrorism is what they sow, and tonight they will reap their harvest. They will get no rest. They can only fight and die, or run and try to get away. Nobody is asking for surrender, but if they surrender, they will be taken.

We will go in on foot and fight from house to house if needed. We will shoot rockets into their hiding spaces, and our snipers will shoot them in their heads and chests. This is where all that talk of cancer and big ideas of what should be or could be done will smash head on against the searing reality of combat.

These words flow on the eve of a great battle, but are on hold until the attack is well underway. Nothing is certain. I am here and have been all year. We are in trouble, but we have a great General. The only one, I have long believed, who can lead the way out of this morass. Iraq is not hopeless. Iraq can stand again but first it must cast off these demons. And some of the demons must be killed.

Please read it all:

Be Not Afraid

Rose on Rushdie

Just in time for Rushdie Affair 2.0, Pajamas Media has added Mr. Flemming Rose to its list of contributors. As culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, Mr. Rose was the driving force behind the decision to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons. Like Sir Salman, Rose has been on the receiving end of Islamist threats and intimidation. This is what makes his column on the Rushdie situation very much worth reading:

Again: insult, blasphemy, respect for religion, those words are being repeated over and over again as justification for violent attacks and death threats. By the Iranian government, by the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain, and by leading politicians and opinion makers in the West.

And they have made their way into the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, the highest ranking international body with the mission of protecting human rights. On March 30 it passed a scandalous resolution condoning state punishment of speech that governments deems as insulting for religion.

“The resolution is based in the expectation that it will compel the international community to acknowledge and address the disturbing phenomenon of the defamation of religions, especially Islam,” said Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

What does this mean? Well, it means that the UN is encouraging every dictatorship to pass laws that make criticism of Islam a crime. The UN Human Rights Council legitimizes the criminal persecution of sir Salman Rushdie for having insulted people’s religious sensibilities. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act is justified"

This weekend, Queen Elizabeth II awarded a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie is best known for his controversial 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. British Islamists publicly burned the book, while Iran's theocratic ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a February 1989 fatwa calling for the murder of Rushdie and everyone involved in its publication. The Rushdie affair marked a major escalation in radical Islamism's war on intellectual freedom.

Thus, the reaction of Islamists to the news of Rushdie's knighthood was sadly predictable. The Times of London provides an overview:

Hardliners in Iran revived calls for his murder yesterday. Mehdi Kuchakzadeh, a Tehran MP, declared: “Rushdie died the moment the late Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] issued the fatwa.”

The Organisation to Commemorate Martyrs of the Muslim World, a fringe hardline group, offered a reward of $150,000 (£75,000) to any successful assassin.

Forouz Rajaefar, the group’s secretary general, said: “The British and the supporters of the anti-Islam Salman Rushdie could rest assured that the writer’s nightmare will not end until the moment of his death and we will bestow kisses on the hands of whomsoever is able to execute this apostate.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

The response of the Iranian regime itself was, needless to say, less than enthusiastic. Agence France Presse has the details:

"Knighting one of the most hated figures in the Islamic world is a clear sign of Islamophobia among high-ranking British officials," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters.

"Honoring a hated apostate will definitely put the British statesmen against the Islamic community and hurts their feelings once again," he said of the novelist, who was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II Saturday.

"Insulting Islamic religious sanctities is not accidental, but organized, and is taking place with the support and direction of some Western countries.

Personally, my feelings are hurt when despotic regimes claim the right to murder people for exercising their right of free expression. Not to mention anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and crushing the right of students and faculty to intellectual freedom. However, I doubt Mr. Hosseini or his superiors really care about my feelings.

An even more outrageous response came from Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister, Ejaz-ul-Haq. According to the BBC:

Mr ul-Haq was speaking during a session of Pakistan's National Assembly in which it unanimously condemned Britain's award of a knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie and demanded it be withdrawn.

His comments in the Urdu language caused uproar.

"If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act is justified," he said, according to the translation by the Reuters news agency.

"If Britain doesn't withdraw the award, all Muslim countries should break off diplomatic relations."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Ul-Haq later claimed that he was not endorsing suicide bombing, just warning of potential consequences stemming from this "insult". However, according to the BBC article cited above, he "is a well known Islamic hardliner". I hope the reader will forgive me if I take Ul-Haq's attempted clarification with a major grain of salt.

The AP reports that, elsewhere in Pakistan, "hard-line Muslim students burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie. About 100 students carrying banners condemning the author also chanted, "Kill him! Kill him!""

In short, the Islamists' response to Rushdie's knighthood amply displayed their deep-seated hatred of intellectual freedom.

Queen Elizabeth's decision to honor Rushdie serves as an eloquent defense of free expression in the face of ideologically-sanctioned censorship and murder. I congratulate Sir Salman on his award.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Are Books Still Necessary?

Courtesy of Pajamas Media, a provocative piece by Zach Sims discussing the fate of books in the digital age. Here's a snippet:

At this stage, the future of books remains to be seen. While society is seeing a large transformation from the physical written word to the intangible word, we’re seeing an increased output. Today, the web doesn’t just make it easier to read, it makes it easier to write. The millions of blogs on the Internet no doubt have spurned a new generation of readers and writers. Those that write, seeking to find readers for their content, peruse other blogs as well. As previously mentioned, newspapers like the New York Times finally see increased value in the Internet. The majority of their content is online, and an easy to use newspaper-like interface, for those who prefer it, is available. Zinio Reader also makes it easy for users to download magazines, or have them pushed, to their desktops for easy reading. While it might be difficult to read from a computer screen, it’s occupying more and more of our time.

That’s not a bad thing. It has, however, changed the way we focus our attention, and the way we perceive a piece of writing. The nature of the Internet lends itself to shorter entries, not lengthy text entries. While the previously mentioned Zinio Reader helps to mimic the feel of a real magazine on a computer, and Sony’s Reader is rather similar to a book, consumers won’t see something as easy to read as a physical book or a magazine for years to come. Wired Magazine covered the “snack culture” in a previous issue, explaining that society has come to expect short snippets of text and entertainment, as opposed to the lengthier features we find in commercial productions like feature films and books.

Obviously, I am the last person who should criticize blogs. The Internet has become a remarkable tool for disseminating ideas and information, and a source of empowerment for many who would otherwise go unheard. However, I hope I'm not alone in finding the second paragraph troubling.

If Sims is correct, then the tendency of all too many students to settle for what they can find online when doing research is symptomatic of a broader societal trend. Yes, short snippets are nice, and no one likes to read long blocks of text online. Unfortunately, the result of this is a culture built on shallow, superficial thinking and miniscule attention spans, where the majority of people are simply too lazy to explore ideas and concepts in depth.

Just in case the above passage isn't enough, Sims' next two paragraphs are sure to provoke a response from almost all librarians who read them:

For those still interested in reading books, however, the web has made that easier as well. Sites like LibraryThing and Shelfari give users an unprecedented set of tools to use in their quest for the perfect book. Now, with a single click, users can access reviews, analysis, book information, and more. In addition, they can talk about the book with friends and other website participants, making the necessity of proximity a thing of the past for those looking to form book groups. The new services also seek to replace librarians. Along with Amazon’s backend for book recommendations, the two new services hope to provide suggestions to users on books they might like by utilizing the books they list in their profile. Do librarians know of every book you’ve liked and disliked? I doubt it.

The change has already been initiated. Thousands of individuals rarely pick up books anymore, trading the heavy, physical medium for something accessible everywhere and any time: the Internet. Those without experience on the Internet will protest the day when readers banish books to a dark corner of their rooms, but I, for one, will applaud that day, for it will herald the arrival of a new era; one where people both contribute their literary works and read the works of others with a higher frequency than ever before.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Wow, where do I begin? To start with, I think it's pretty clear where Mr. Sims stands on the whole patron privacy issue. Frankly, as a librarian, I neither want nor need to know "every book you’ve liked and disliked". My job is to help you find the books and other resources that will best meet your information needs. Some may be surprised to hear this, but I don't actually deliver print outs of patron circulation records to my nearest FBI field office on a weekly basis. Except under extraordinary circumstances, knowing a user's individual reading habits is not information librarians need to have.

As for the second paragraph, I have plenty of experience on the Internet, but I will vehemently "protest the day when readers banish books to a dark corner of their rooms". I've already explained why. I just hope that technology such as print on demand ensures that books remain an important means of education and entertainment.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan

Recently, I read a superb essay by Paul Berman in the June 4 issue of The New Republic. Berman provides a lengthy, thoughtful look at an individual named Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan is a Western-educated Muslim intellectual living in Switzerland. He is also the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna.

Many Western intellectuals have embraced Ramadan as being the proponent of a moderate, Euro-friendly brand of Islamism. Unfortunately, as Berman shows in detail, such hopes are probably misplaced.

One of the main topics Berman discusses is the question of "authenticity". Analyzing an online debate between a number of European intellectuals, he points out how those who have tended to embrace Ramadan have derided reformist or dissident Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali as being "inauthentic" or "unrepresentative" of Muslims as a whole. Timothy Garton Ash has even dismissed Hirsi Ali as "an enlightenment fundamentalist".As Berman notes, shunning those Muslim thinkers who embrace Western enlightenment ideals helps make this interpretation into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This attitude of politically correct multiculturalism only reinforces the impact of the Islamist campaign of violence and intimidation against Muslim freethinkers.

Berman explains how in the following passage (Edited: DD, 6-18-07):

When I met Hirsi Ali at a conference in Sweden last year, she was protected by no less than five bodyguards. Even in the United States she is protected by bodyguards. But this is no longer unusual. Buruma himself mentions in Murder in Amsterdam that the Dutch Social Democratic politician Ahmed Aboutaleb requires full-time bodyguards. At that same Swedish conference I happened to meet the British writer of immigrant background who has been obliged to adopt the pseudonym Ibn Warraq, out of fear that, in his case because of his Bertrand Russell influenced philosophical convictions, he might be singled out for assassination. I happened to attend a different conference in Italy a few days earlier and met the very brave Egyptian-Italian journalist Magdi Allam, who writes scathing criticisms of the new totalitarian wave in Il Corriere della Sera--and I discovered that Allam, too, was traveling with a full complement of five bodyguards. The Italian journalist Fiamma Nierenstein, because of her well-known sympathies for Israel, was accompanied by her own bodyguards. Caroline Fourest, the author of the most important extended criticism of Ramadan, had to go under police protection for a while. The French philosophy professor Robert Redeker has had to go into hiding. I have no idea what security precautions have been taken by Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the Muhammad cartoons. And van Gogh....

So Salman Rushdie has metastasized into an entire social class, a subset of the European intelligentsia--its Muslim wing especially--who survive only because of their bodyguards and their own precautions. This is unprecedented in Western Europe during the last sixty years. And yet if someone like Pascal Bruckner mumbles a few words about the need for courage under these circumstances, the sneers begin--"Now where have we heard that kind of thing before?"--and onward to the litany about fascism. In the Times magazine, Buruma held back even from hinting obliquely about the fascist influences on Ramadan's grandfather, the founder of the modern cult of artistic death. Yet Bruckner, the liberal--here is somebody on the brink of fascism!

And this, too, is something new. Eighteen years ago, when Rushdie came under threat, and one of his translators was killed and another was knifed and a couple of Norwegian bookstores were bombed and a British hotel was attacked by a suicide bomber, not to mention the more than fifty people killed in anti-Rushdie rioting around the world--at that terrible moment, when the dangers were obvious, a good many intellectuals in Western countries, people without any sort of Arab or Muslim background, rallied instinctively in Rushdie's defense. A good many reached out to their endangered Arab and Muslim counterparts and colleagues, and celebrated the courage of everyone who declined to be intimidated. My glance happens to rest just now on a dusty volume on my bookshelf, brought out in the course of the Rushdie affair, in 1993, by the French publishing house La Découverte, which contains statements of support for Rushdie by a solid one hundred Arab and Muslim intellectuals: a moving display of fraternal solidarity by the publisher and the contributors both. Leafing through, I stumble on the contribution of Orhan Pamuk, who nowadays goes about with his own detail of bodyguards, though in his case the danger comes from Turkish nationalists, not from Islamists. And here is the contribution of Antoine Sfeir, the Lebanese historian who criticized Tariq Ramadan some years ago in France and found himself facing a lawsuit (which, at least, he won).

Sfeir, in his 1993 essay, recalled that in Egypt the intellectual Farag Foda had recently been assassinated, and Naguib Mahfouz had been brutally assaulted, as part of the same wave of Islamist violence that was threatening Rushdie and his associates. Sfeir declared, "We will never say it enough: to attack the Islamists, to denounce their actions and their lies, is not to attack Islam. To attack the Islamists is, on the contrary, to defend the Muslims themselves, the first though not the only victims of the Islamists." How times have changed! The Rushdies of today find themselves under criticism, compared unfavorably in the press with the Islamist philosopher who writes prefaces for the collected fatwas of Sheik al-Qaradawi, the theologian of the human bomb. Today the menace to society is declared to be Hirsi Ali and people of similar minds, of whom there are quite a few: John Stuart Mill's Muslim admirers, who are said to be just as fanatical as the fanatics. During the Rushdie affair, courage was saluted. Today it is likened to fascism.

How did this happen? The equanimity on the part of some well-known intellectuals and journalists in the face of Islamist death threats so numerous as to constitute a campaign; the equanimity in regard to stoning women to death; the journalistic inability even to acknowledge that women's rights have been at stake in the debates over Islamism; the inability to recall the problems faced by Muslim women in European hospitals; the inability to acknowledge how large has been the role of a revived anti-Semitism; the striking number of errors of understanding and even of fact that have entered into the journalistic presentations of Tariq Ramadan and his ideas; the refusal to discuss with any frankness the role of Ramadan's family over the years; the accidental endorsement in the Guardian of the great-uncle who finds something admirable in the September 11 attacks--what can possibly account for this string of bumbles, timidities, gaffes, omissions, miscomprehensions, and slanders?

Two developments account for it. The first development is the unimaginable rise of Islamism since the time of the Rushdie fatwa. The second is terrorism.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Martin Kramer has kindly posted a freely accessible version of Berman's essay online. It is extremely long and in-depth. However, If you have the time and interest, I highly recommend giving it a read.


Greg McClay brings word that Safe Libraries co-founder Mark Decker was killed in a car accident. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fatwa Cleric Dies

Iranian Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Fazel Lankarani, one of that country's most senior clerics, has died. CNN has a brief obituary from Reuters.

Lankarani was the most senior of the three Iranian clerics who called for the murder of Azeri writer Rafiq Tagi and his editor, Samir Sadaqatoglu. Here is Lankarani's actual fatwa on Tagi:

Such a person is an apostate in view of his confessions, if he is a Muslim. If he had been an unbeliever (Kafir), he is considered as someone who has insulted the Prophet and in any case, given his confessions, it is necessary for every individual who has an access to him to kill him. The person in charge of the said newspaper, who published such thoughts and beliefs consciously and knowingly, should be dealt with in the same manner. We pray to Almighty Allah to grant Muslims and Islam protection from the evils of their enemies.

This was not the first time Lamkarani advocated the death of "someone who has insulted the Prophet". In 1998, he reaffirmed the validity of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Ironically, Lankarani's death came the day after Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. I'll leave it to the reader to determine if this is symbolic in any way.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jihadist Literature Still Banned in Australia

Australian newspaper The Age reports that an Australian court has upheld that country's ban on two of the seminal works of jihadist ideology. The books in question, Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan, were written by Abdullah Azzam, the mentor of Osama bin Laden:

The Classifications Review Board banned their sale last July after concluding both books "promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence".

But the civil libertarians took issue with that conclusion, also arguing the two decisions involved errors in law.

The books originally were allowed for sale, but were banned after the federal attorney-general asked for a review of the December 2005 Classification Board decision.

In linking to this article, Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer says the following:

Of course, Join the Caravan is readily available online, but nonetheless, this is a good principle to uphold. Would these "civil libertarians" have fought for the right to circulate Mein Kampf among Germans in the U.S. during World War II?

I find myself surprised that a writer who has justifiably condemned the banning of his own works would advocate banning someone else's, no matter how odious the ideas they contain. To answer Mr. Spencer's question, yes, I would have fought for the right for anyone in the U.S. to read Mein Kampf during World War II. How better to truly understand the full extent of the threat posed by the Third Reich than to read the bizarre rantings of its leader. In fact, not only was Mein Kampf not banned in America during the war, the U.S. government actually profited from its sales by virtue of having seized the book's copyright.

Mr. Spencer fervently believes, as I do, in the necessity of confronting the dangers posed by Azzam's legacy. How can we enable people to comprehend that threat if we deny them the ability to study the ideas that underlie it?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Late last month, there was a rare victory for online free expression in China, when that country's bloggers were informed that they would not have to register with the government after all. Unfortunately, however, Chinese cyberspace remains permeated by censorship.

At the end of May, Reporters Sans Frontieres announced that it took Chinese authorities no more than 8 hours to find and block the new location of RSF's Chinese language news portal. Just today, Yahoo announced that China is blocking certain images on Flickr. At least some of the images in question are from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

These are just two examples of how China is controlling its population's access to online news and information. In fact, according to Amnesty International, China's model for Internet censorship has set the standard for dictatorships around the world. The BBC explains:

"The Chinese model of an internet that allows economic growth but not free speech or privacy is growing in popularity, from a handful of countries five years ago to dozens of governments today who block sites and arrest bloggers," said Tim Hancock, Amnesty's campaign director.

"Unless we act on this issue, the internet could change beyond all recognition in the years to come.

More and more governments are realising the utility of controlling what people see online and major internet companies, in an attempt to expand their markets, are colluding in these attempts," he said.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The rapid spread of state censorship of the Internet is one of the major challenges to intellectual freedom in the world today.

Holocaust Affirmation in Indonesia

I've noted the negative developments in Indonesia; thankfully, this week has brought a positive and heartening one, as reported by Agence France Presse:

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, Tuesday hosted a conference aiming to promote religious tolerance and affirming the reality of the Holocaust.

The event on the resort island of Bali - attended by rabbis, Holocaust witnesses, and Muslim leaders - styled itself as an "anti-conference of Tehran," where a December 2006 meet cast doubt on the genocide of Jews during World War II, triggering worldwide condemnation.

Chairing the discreetly-organized conference is former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, a moderate Islamic leader known to take courageous positions in Indonesia.

"Although I am a good friend of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I have to say he is wrong," Gus Dur told the conference, referring to the Iranian president's dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth. "He falsified history ... I believe the Holocaust happened."

The former president has been a member of the Tel Aviv-based Shimon Peres Peace Institute since 1984 and has drawn fire for his support for direct trade relations between Indonesia and Israel.

Mr. Wahid has been an outspoken opponent of the spread of radical Islamism in Indonesia. In an April 2007 Wall Street Journal piece, Bret Stephens called him "easily the most important ally the West has in the ideological struggle against Islamic radicalism."

On Tuesday, Mr. Wahid published his own co-authored piece in the Journal (partial full text here), in which he rightly denounces Holocaust denial as both an evil in itself and a symptom of a broader danger:

Yet even as we recognize the threat that Holocaust denial poses to Jews everywhere, we must also be cognizant of the peril it represents to people of all faith traditions. Nations or governments that historically have given free rein to Jew-hatred -- whether in Medieval Europe or Inquisition-era Spain or 1930s Germany -- have invariably done lasting damage to themselves as well.

Today, the countries in which Holocaust denial is most rampant also tend to be the ones that are most economically backward and politically repressive. This should not be surprising: Dishonest when it comes to the truth of the past, these countries are hardly in a position to reckon honestly with the problems of the present. Yes, the short-term purposes of unscrupulous rulers can always be served by whipping up mass hysteria and duping their people with lurid conspiracy theories. In the long term, however, truth is the essential ingredient in all competent policy making. Those who tell big lies about the Holocaust are bound to tell smaller lies about nearly everything else.

Holocaust denial is thus the most visible symptom of an underlying disease -- partly political, partly psychological, but mainly spiritual -- which is the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the humanity of others. In fighting this disease, religious leaders have an essential role to play. Armed with the knowledge that God created religion to serve as rahmatan lil 'alamin, or a blessing for all creation, we must guard against efforts to demonize or belittle followers of other faiths.

Reflections on Communism

On Tuesday, the Victims of Communism Memorial was dedicated in Washington, DC. Communism was the 20th century's most murderous totalitarian ideology, claiming the lives of at least 70 million people (The Black Book of Communism estimates the total number of victims as 100 million). Thankfully, it is today all but a memory, surviving only in Cuba and North Korea. China, while retaining a Leninist political regime, cannot really be considered Communist in terms of its socio-economic structure.

In a recent article for the New Statesman, distinguished historian Robert Service reminds us what all Communist regimes had in common:

In doing the research for my book Comrades: A World History of Communism, I tried to find whether there was a basic pattern to the regimes that resulted. The conclusion was a stark one. In all cases of durable state communism, there was some approximation to the Soviet "model". A single party kept itself in power without concern for electoral mandate. A nomenklatura system of personnel appointment was introduced. Religion was harassed. National traditions were emasculated. The rule of law was flouted. The political police was ubiquitous and ruthless; labour camps were established. Foreign travel permits were made hard to come by. Radio and TV broadcasts from abroad were banned. A prim public culture was installed.

This was the pattern despite the many national differences. Popular music in Cuba remained lively and beautiful even though its exponents could not take themselves and their instruments to other countries. In Poland, the Catholic Church was allowed to function in the open. In China, there was some pride - except during the cultural revolution of the late 1960s - in those emperors who had governed a unified nation.

For pointing this out in his recent book, Mr. Service has been dubbed a "neocon" by certain left-wing British commenters. Apparently, "neocon" has now replaced "fascist" as the left's favorite meaningless catch-all term of abuse. Service responds to his critics in the New Statesman essay, by reminding them that it was freedom, especially free expression, that enabled the West to consign the Soviet empire to the ash heap of history where it belonged:

The reasons for this have long been obvious. Liberal democracies, despite all their faults, have lots of advantages. They have a pluralist culture and free media. They have an independent judiciary. They allow competition among political parties. Such features provide mechanisms for the correction of abuse that were largely absent under communist rule. The result is that such democracies have possessed more orderly societies than communist ones. Work discipline was generally poor under communism. Apathy about politics was widespread. Bureaucratic ineffectiveness was rampant.

What is more, it was no coincidence that durable communist states maintained a heavy load of repression. Millions of citizens always wanted things that incurred official disapproval. They hated the disrespect for national traditions, culture and religion; they were attracted by non-communist ideologies. In order to hold on to power, the communists used the secret police and labour camps. Some leaderships were more brutal than others. Life was different under Brezhnev and Andropov from what it had been under Stalin. And Cuba has held a smaller number of political prisoners as a proportion of its population than was true of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, all communist states were dictatorial, and it was no coincidence that they practised radio and TV jamming and made it difficult for their peoples to travel abroad.

The proof of the pudding came in 1989-91 in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The old cultural and political controls were loosened. Free public discussion and organisation were permitted, and in country after country there emerged a challenge to the ruling nomenklatura. Wherever contestable elections were held, the state order of communism fell apart.

In short, intellectual freedom is anathema to totalitarian Communist regimes. This is why the Cuban dictatorship feels compelled to imprison independent librarians and other dissidents. Once the Castro regime loses its monopoly on the free expression of ideas, it too is doomed.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people."

On May 31st, the New York Times published an analysis of the rise of radical jihadist groups in the Palestinian territories. As I have noted before, radical Islamists in the Gaza Strip have waged a brutal campaign against any activity or form of expression they deem "un-Islamic". In fact, the Times article begins with an account of one of the Islamists' dozens of attacks on Internet cafes:

It was 2 a.m. when masked gunmen raided Al Wafa Net in the Khan Yunis camp in Gaza where 17 young men were surfing the Internet.

“The gunmen tied their hands, then forced them to stand at the stairs while they broke all the screens, and then the server and the television and the photocopier,” said the owner, Hamad, of the attack a few months ago. “Then they burned all 36 computers.”

In recent months in Gaza, there have been similar attacks on music and video shops and pharmacies accused of selling Viagra, as well as on American and United Nations schools.

Ironically, on June 1, just one day after the Times article appeared, the radical Islamists launched their newest morality campaign: they threatened to murder female Palestinian television anchors unless they start wearing full veils. The June 2 Jerusalem Post has the details:

A leaflet distributed by the Righteous Swords of Islam specifically referred to the women who appear on Palestine TV. "The saying these days is that the enemy has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip and so have our morals," it read. "It's indeed disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms."

Referring to the fact that most of the female presenters were not wearing the niqab, a veil covering the face of Muslim women as a part of hijab, the leaflet asked: "Where are the decision-makers in this regard? Have we lost our conscience? Have the brothers, fathers and husbands stopped caring about their women?"

The group warned that its members would strike with an "iron fist and swords" against the women who are refusing to cover their faces. "We will destroy their homes," it announced. "We will blow up their working places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements."

The leaflet concluded by threatening to "slaughter" the women for allegedly spreading corruption in Palestinian society by appearing on the screen with their faces uncovered.

"The administration and workers at Palestine TV should know that we are much closer to them than they think," it added. "If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people."

(Emphasis added-DD)

To their credit, Palestinian anchorwomen staged two days of protests in response, while less radical Palestinian groups condemned the threats. Still, on top of everything else that is wrong in Gaza, the overall trend is disturbing. As one Palestinian official told the Post, "(t)he day will come when we will miss Hamas. These are extremely dangerous groups that are trying to take Palestinian society back to the Dark Ages."

Librarian Neglect

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh asks the following question at his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy:

A question for law students who wrote law review pieces while in school: When you were doing your research, did you ask your school library's research librarians for help, either on (1) specific matters (e.g., how can I track down this unpublished document?) or on (2) big-picture items (e.g., can you give me some advice about my research plan?)?

If not, why not? If yes, what good advice did they give you? I'm trying to come up with good advice to give to law students about taking advantage (in the best possible sense of the term) of their reference librarians. Thanks!

Most of the responses are, from a librarian perspective, disappointing yet sadly predictable. They range from making limited use of librarians to "I didn't know there were research librarians." A couple respondents even admitted to using Westlaw's 1-800 number instead of asking librarians for help because, as one put it, "I didn't think they could help me in actual research".

While Volokh's thread involves legal research and law libraries, these comments are indicative of the broader problem besetting librarians in general. Many of our users think that everything they need is available via Google, or at least in full-text article databases. If I had a dollar for every time a student told me, "I'm a senior, and this is my first time in the library", I'd need a Swiss bank account by now. Many graduate students and faculty, like those quoted above, think they know all they need to know about research, and don't realize that librarians are there to do more than check out books.

The Internet has not made librarians obsolete. If anything, our skills at finding relevant information and evaluating sources for credibility are more valuable than ever.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Authoritarian Approval Plans

From Josef Stalin to Saddam Hussein, dictators turned aspiring authors have long given the phrase "captive audience" a whole new meaning. Sadly, the practice of authoritarian rulers foisting their barely readable books on a defenseless populace continues to this day, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports from Uzbekistan:

As graduation-exam season approaches in Uzbek universities, books authored by President Islam Karimov are in high demand in libraries and bookstores. That's because Uzbek graduates are required to past tests on the president's books before receiving their diplomas.

A Tashkent librarian, who did not want to give his name, tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that at this time of the year, Karimov's books -- including their new CD versions -- are popular with Uzbek students.

"We have electronic versions of the books in 11 volumes," he says. "Mostly students use them. Older customers who ask for those books are usually people who want to do research for their work."

"Less than 6 million copies of Lenin's works were published in Uzbekistan. We have 31 million copies of [Karimov's] books."

Uzbek high-school graduates who want to attend university also have to pass exams about President Karimov's books.

Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, has authored dozens of books on Uzbekistan's domestic and foreign policies, history, economy, and culture.

In one of his books, "The Uzbek People Will Never Depend On Anyone," Karimov gives his own detailed account of the bloody Andijon events in May 2005.

(Emphasis added-DD)

As is usually the case, Karimov's literary megalomania is just a symptom of the despotic nature of his rule. More objective accounts of the Andijon massacre reveal the true face of his regime.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Playing the "Islamophobia" Card

In an essay for National Review Online, Fred Gedrich points out the tendency of Muslim governments to complain about "Islamophobia" instead of addressing the real problems facing the Islamic world:

Foreign ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) recently held a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, where they declared, “Islamophobia is the world’s gravest terrorist threat.” The term connotes an irrational fear or prejudice toward Muslims and the Islamic religion.

While a legitimate concern for many Muslims, Islamophobia pales in comparison to the long-standing problems within OIC member countries. Thirty-eight years after the organization’s founding, a large number of Muslims suffer still from oppression, poverty, illiteracy, genocide, and locally bred terrorism. The principals most responsible for perpetuating these conditions are an assortment of authoritarian rulers and Islamic extremists.

This was the same conference where OIC ministers decried alleged intolerance of Islam in the West, yet ignored the Taliban's threats against a small Christian community just a couple hundred miles away.

There is some bigotry and intolerance directed against Muslims in Europe and the United States. However, it pales in comparison to the intolerance shown to Christians, Jews, Hindus, other faiths, and even reformist or heterodox Muslims in much of the Islamic world. Recent developments in heretofore tolerant Malaysia and Indonesia, are just examples of a broader and alarming trend. Saudi Arabia, notorious for its religious intolerance, forbids public practice of any religion other than Islam. In Iraq, Al Qaeda is openly persecuting and terrorizing Christians. In Egypt, the Coptic Christian community is subjected to violence and discrimination. In fact, the rise of radical Islamism has imperiled Christians throughout the Middle East.

As Mr. Gedrich notes, "Islamophobia" is the least of the Islamic world's problems. Rather it is the latter's lack of freedom, especially intellectual freedom, that is of much greater concern. Muslims are far more threatened by intolerance within Muslim nations and communities, especially that of the Islamists, than they are by non-Muslims.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Danger of Hate Crime Laws

John Leo explains on the City Journal web site:

For several years now, an effort has been under way to carve out exceptions to free-speech protections on behalf of minorities and other selected groups. Hate-crime laws, as part of this effort, raise serious First Amendment issues. So far, the most dramatic success of this campaign was the two-to-one Ninth Circuit decision involving a student wearing a religious, anti-gay T-shirt to a public high school in Poway, California. In response to a school-sponsored “Day of Silence” on behalf of homosexuals, the student argued that he had a right to wear his shirt as a Christian rebuttal. In denying a preliminary injunction sought by the student, the court upheld the school’s right to ban T-shirt messages that strike at a “core identifying characteristic” of minority group members.

In other words, shirts featuring the Danish anti-Muslim cartoons could be banned, but not equivalent anti-Christian shirts, since Christians are a majority in America and Muslims are not. “Sorry. Your viewpoint is excluded from First Amendment protection,” read the first line of a blog commentary by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh about the Ninth Circuit decision. The Supreme Court vacated the decision on the temporary injunction, but the main part of the case is still pending. The Ninth Circuit ruling shows that ideological positions in the culture war—in this case, that some groups deserve more protection than others—often pose as abstract legal decisions.

Another school-based free speech case involves a student in Juneau, Alaska, who unfurled an arcane pro-drug banner saying BONG HITS 4 JESUS. Though the student was not on school property—he positioned himself across the street—his banner was confiscated and destroyed. The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The student will lose if the court applies a 1988 decision (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier) that gives principals and school boards the power to censor any student speech contrary to the “basic educational mission of the school.” This would allow school officials to ban student opinion that they consider wrong or inappropriate, such as criticism of abortion, homosexuality, or evolution. Religious and conservative groups have joined the ACLU and Feminists for Free Expression in defending the Juneau student. In the struggle for free expression, the Left and Right both have much at stake.

Indonesia's Culture War Continues

The latest incident featured an Islamist mob attacking a Christian church on the island of Java. Agence France Presse has the details:

Reverend Robby Elisa, who heads the church, said around 100 hardliners attacked while Sunday school was in session. He said his wife was beaten and that at least four stained glass depictions of Jesus were smashed.

"They came and forced their way into the church," he said. "The attackers claimed to be from the Anti-Apostate Movement Alliance. The same group had already attacked the church in 2005."

The secretary of the church's headquarters in Jakarta, Reverend Budi Setiawan, said that the attack had been reported to the Indonesian Church Association.

West Java, where Islam is strong, has seen a series of attacks on churches to force their closure.

The Jakarta Post newspaper said that more than 30 churches have had to close their door in West Java since 2004 because of attacks by Muslim hardliners. Dozens of churches have also been forced to close in other provinces, it said.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 is Not About Censorship

So Ray Bradbury recently told LA Weekly in an interview:

Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: “factoids.” He says this while sitting in a room dominated by a gigantic flat-panel television broadcasting the Fox News Channel, muted, factoids crawling across the bottom of the screen.

His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day’s L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.

According to the interview, Fahrenheit's world without books is not the product of an all-powerful state, but rather of political correctness and victim culture run amok:

He says the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as “walls” and its actors as “family,” a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends.

The book’s story centers on Guy Montag, a California fireman who begins to question why he burns books for a living. Montag eventually rejects his authoritarian culture to join a community of individuals who memorize entire books so they will endure until society once again is willing to read.

Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns against books: Whites reject Uncle Tom’s Cabin and blacks disapprove of Little Black Sambo. He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were “minorities.” He wrote that at first they condensed the books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately all that remained were footnotes, which hardly anyone read. Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.

(Link via Pajamas Media)

You can see a video clip of Ray Bradbury discussing his views on censorship and television at his web site. He notes that "we've never had censorship in this country", and offers some simple, common sense tips for librarians dealing with challenges to his books.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Libraries vs. Islamists

A brief but hopeful Associated Press item discusses one way in which libraries can help defeat Islamist extremism:

Jordan has launched a US-funded library book program in its public primary schools to encourage critical thinking in an effort to more away from rote education.

More than 2 million books belonging to the "My Arabic Library" collection are being used in 2,000 public schools in Jordan, said Fatenah Amawi, Jordan's representative for the New York-based publisher Scholastic Corp.

"My Arabic Library" includes novels and science books that have been translated into Arabic for students in grades one to six in the Middle East.

Fostering the growth of critical thinking is exactly what is needed to break down the atmosphere of intolerance and xenophobia that fosters radical Islamism. Which is exactly why Al Qaeda fears such "interference in the education curricula and information media of the Islamic world".

This is the kind of project that American librarians could, indeed should, support.