Sunday, September 30, 2007

Banned Authors Week: Farag Foda

One name on the numerous list of authors murdered by radical Islamists is that of Egyptian intellectual Farag Foda. An outspoken critic of the Islamists' stealth subjugation of Egyptian society, Foda was killed in 1992 by members of the Islamic Group after being accused of blasphemy.

Ana Belen Soage has written a superb article about Foda and his heroic stand against Islamist totalitarianism. Published in the June 2007 Middle East Review of International Affairs, the article does a terrific job of laying out Foda's critique of the Islamist project. In particular, Foda pointed out that it was the Islamists who are the true enemies of Islam, not secular intellectuals like himself:

However, the growth of Islamism was not just the result of hankering after a glorified past, and Fawda acknowledged the role played by other factors. They included the crushing 1967 defeat at the hands of Israel, which had been interpreted as a punishment from God;[44] economic hardship, especially in some of Cairo's shantytowns, where people are in constant contact with more affluent areas through work or studies but struggle to meet their most basic needs;[45] generous financing of books, magazines, and newspapers by the affluent Islamists;[46] and the political ineffectiveness, when not collusion, alluded to above.

Fawda also stressed the responsibility of liberal intellectuals and urged them to challenge the Islamists.[47] He himself was not afraid of taking controversial stances, such as his denunciation of the fatwa against Rushdie, which, in his opinion, offered the world an image of Islam as a religion unable to confront its critics with anything other than the sword.[48] He personally believed Islam to be a tolerant religion that encouraged rationality and inquiry and felt that he was defending it against those trying to distort its message for their own purposes.[49] Furthermore, he did not think that Islam should be held responsible for the backwardness of the Muslim world any more than Japan's technological prowess should be attributed to Buddhism or Shinto.[50]

(Emphasis added-DD; Ms. Soage tranliterates Farag Foda's name as Faraj Fawda. I've stuck with the former as it is the more popular English transliteration.)

Foda's condemnation of the Rushdie fatwa as showing, in Ms. Soage's words "a religion unable to confront its critics with anything other than the sword" proved to be tragically prescient. His own status as a truth teller had made him a target of threats and slander:

Fawda admitted that he was an irritant even to non-Islamists because, he said, he had chosen the truth over pleasing people.[51] In his writings he occasionally alluded to confrontations with the Islamists. For example, during a conference in Berlin, a youth told him that his blood was halal (i.e. it could lawfully be shed).[52] The Islamist newspaper al-Nur accused him of showing pornographic films to young people at Nawal al-Sa'dawi's NGO, the Arab Women's Solidarity Association.[53] In another incident, following the publication of his book Zawaj al-Mut'a (in which he discussed the different arguments around the contentious issue of "temporary marriage," practiced by the Shi'a, but not accepted by Sunni Muslims), one of the members of Hizb al-Ahrar publicly asked for the hand of his young daughter for a pleasure marriage.[54]

Fawda's detractors orchestrated a vicious character assassination campaign, accusing him of being on the payroll of the Israelis.[55] They also spread rumors that he had married his daughter to the son of the Israeli ambassador to Egypt.[56] Fawda dismissed such attacks as a symptom of the Islamists' inability to respond to his arguments[57] and remained confident that the word was more powerful that the bullet.[58] He believed that, ultimately, those he called "the enemies of history" would be defeated by reason and progress.[59]

Ultimately, the Islamists had no answer for Foda's arguments except for murder:

In 1992, a group of teachers from al-Azhar University formed a council to confront the "helpers of evil," "the secularists known for their enmity towards Islam"[60]--with Faraj Fawda at the head of their list. On June 3, 1992, the council issued a communiqué accusing him of blasphemy. Fawda's supporters would later describe that document as "an incitement to murder."[61] Five days later, two members of the Islamist militant group al-Jama'at al-Islamiyya entered Fawda's office and shot him dead. Fawda's son was seriously injured in the attack, together with several bystanders.

The Islamic Group (al-Jama'at al-Islamiyya), the organization responsible for Foda's murder, committed numerous acts of terrorism in Egypt during the 1990s. Its most vile atrocity was the massacre of 58 foreign tourists and a number of Egyptians at Luxor in 1997, an incident so barbarous that popular revulsion forced the group to declare a ceasefire.

The group's founder, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, known as the "Blind Sheikh", is infamous for his 1989 reaction to Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. Had someone only dealt with Egyptian Nobel Prize winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz, Rahman is reported to have said, Rushdie would never have dared write his book. In 1994, a follower of Rahman's stabbed and seriously wounded Mahfouz.

Today, Rahman is in prison here in the U.S. for his role in instigating a 1995 conspiracy to bomb various New York landmarks. Both Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, regard Rahman as a mentor and regularly demand his release.

Returning to the article, Soage explains how the very Islamist scholars who provided the theological license for Foda's murder by declaring him an apostate reacted to the crime by saying that the victim had it coming:

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ma'mun al-Hudaybi, was among the first to welcome and justify the assassination[62] and, during the trial of the murderers, Azhari scholar and former Muslim Brother Muhammad al-Ghazali testified that when the state fails to punish apostates, somebody else has to do it.[63] In Secularists and Traitors, Muhammad Muru wrote that those who condemned Fawda's assassination should also condemn the execution of French collaborators in the hands of the resistance during the Second World War.[64] For his part, the head of the Azhari ulama council published Who Killed Faraj Fawda?. Its conclusion was that Fawda had brought about his own death.[65]

The most important thing that Soage does is to put the murder of Farag Foda into its broader context. It was far more than the act of a couple fanatics, and represented the culmination of a campaign designed to silence Islamism's critics. Having been permitted to Islamify Egyptian society (pdf) virtually unopposed during the 1980s, the Islamists now felt justified in imposing their version of Sharia law on apostates and blasphemers. Foda's killing was the first time the Islamists had actually carried out one of their threats, and as Mary Anne Weaver has argued in A Portrait of Egypt, it did indeed have a chilling effect on Egyptian intellectual life.

In addition, the Foda murder shows the direct relationship between Islamist censorship by murder and the broader phenomenon of jihadist terrorism. The goal of jihadist terror organizations such as al Qaeda is to create a totalitarian Islamist superstate, and the killing of apostate writers and intellectuals is an integral part of their efforts. Novelists and scholars who commit acts of "blasphemy" or otherwise oppose the Islamist project are just as much targets as Jews, "Crusaders" and officials of "apostate" Muslim regimes. Foda was murdered by just such a jihadist terror organization, one committed to the overthrow of the Egyptian state and led by a mentor of Osama bin Laden. Sadly, he is far from the only such victim.

Finally, there are those who now claim that institutions such as Al Azhar and the Muslim Brotherhood represent "moderate" Islamism, and are opposed to violence and radicalism. Of course, these very same "non-violent" Islamists not only declared Foda an apostate, thus making his murder licit, they actually defended his killers.

The truth is that so-called "moderate" or "non-violent" Islamists are every bit as committed to destroying free expression as are jihadists. It is just that they are willing to be somewhat more subtle or flexible in their methods of censorship. Having made their point by sanctioning the murder of Farag Foda, the Islamist scholars of Al-Azhar University settled for using the courts to deal with further "apostate" authors like Dr. Nasr Abu Zaid.

Farag Foda was a heroic freethinker who gave his life in defense of his ideals. His murder stands as yet more evidence of the central role that crushing intellectual freedom plays in the Islamist project.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

In Their Own Words: Islamists and Intellectual Freedom

Radical Islamism, in both its Sunni and Shia variations, poses a far greater threat to intellectual freedom than any portion of the Patriot Act or any Harry Potter hating parent.

No, Islamists are not the only ones who use violence and intimidation as tools of censorship. However, there are two factors that make radical Islamism such a unique and comprehensive threat to intellectual freedom. One is the movement's global scope. A major factor in facilitating the spread of extremist ideology in the Muslim world has been the ability of Islamists to silence moderate and reformist Muslims. Even in Europe and the United States, just the threat of Islamist violence has had a chilling effect on public discussion of issues related to Islam.

The second factor lies in Islamist ideology. Many governments and political movements seek to censor critics as part of their drive to acquire or retain power. Radical Islamism's war on intellectual freedom, however, transcends such purely practical considerations. Islamists ban "un-Islamic" views, writing, art, and other forms of expression in order to fulfill an ideological and religious imperative; it is an integral part of their campaign to ultimately impose their totalitarian vision of Islamic Sharia law throughout the world.

Nothing makes Islamism's threat to intellectual freedom clearer than reading the words of its ideologues and adherents:

1. Intellectual Freedom under Islamism

For example, as soon as the Ummah of Islam seizes state power, it will outlaw all forms of business transacted on the basis of usury or interest; it will not permit gambling; it will curb all forms of business and financial dealings which contravene Islamic Law; it will shut down all brothels and other dens of vice; it will make it obligatory for non-Muslim women to observe the minimum standards of modesty in dress as required by Islamic Law, and forbid them to go about displaying their beauty as in the Days of Ignorance; it will impose censorship on the film industry. With a view to ensuring the general welfare of the public and for reasons of self defence, the Islamic government will not permit such cultural activities as may be permissible in non-Muslim systems but which Islam regards as detrimental and even fatal to moral fibre.

Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, Jihad in Islam, quoted in Michael A. Palmer, The Last Crusade: Americanism and the Islamic Reformation, Potomac Books, Washington, D.C., 2007, p. 186-7.

The Western ways of thought and all the sciences started on the foundation of these poisonous influences with an enmity toward all religion, and in particular with greater hostility toward Islam. This enmity toward Islam is especially pronounced and many times is the result of a well-thought-out scheme, the object of which is first to shake the foundations of Islamic beliefs and then gradually to demolish the structure of Muslim society.

If, in spite of knowing this, we rely on Western ways of thought, even in teaching the Islamic sciences, it will be an unforgiveable blindness on our part. Indeed, it becomes incumbent on us, while learning purely scientific or technological subjects for which we have no other sources except Western sources, to remain on guard and keep these sciences away from philosophical speculations, as these philosophical speculations are generally against religion and in particular against Islam. A slight influence from them can pollute the clear spring of Islam.

Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, 1964.

...An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, August 1979, quoted in Amir Taheri, The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, Adler & Adler, 1986, p.259.

Radio and television are allowed if they are used for the broadcasting of news or sermons, for the spreading of good educational material for publicizing the products and curiosities of the planet; but they must prohibit singing, music, anti-Islamic laws, the lauding of tyrants, mendacious words, and broadcasts which spread doubt and undermine virtue.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sayings of the Ayatollah Khomeini: Political, Philosophical, Social, and Religious. Bantam, 1980.

2. Murdering Apostates and Blasphemers

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

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

In Addition, anyone who has access to the author of the book, but does not have the power to execute him, should refer him to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God's blessing be on you all. Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.'

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, quoted in "War of the Word", The Observer, February 19, 1989.

...Before Mahfouz's stabbing, a journalist had interviewed Rahman about another matter entirely, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Rahman told Weaver he told the reporter that if "we had punished Naguib Mahfouz for what he wrote in Children of Gebelaawi," Rushdie would "never have dared to write that book."

Weaver asked, "How should Mahfouz have been punished?" Rahman explained that Mahfouz would be brought before a committee of religious scholars who would judge whether his novel had abandoned Islamic beliefs. Mahfouz could have presented a defense. If the scholars judged him guilty, he would be given a chance to repent.

"And if he doesn't?"

"Then he will be executed."

Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, quoted in Lorraine Anderson, "Terrorism and the English Language", Washington Monthly, September 2002. Republished on Alternet.

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

Mohammed Bouyeri, murderer of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, quoted in “Van Gogh Killer Jailed for Life”, The Times, London, July 26, 2005.

"If any Muslim had carried out the fatwa of Imam Khomeini against the apostate Salman Rushdie, those despicable people would not have dared to insult the Prophet Muhammad - not in Denmark, not in Norway, and not in France.

"What is this solidarity campaign all about? We are supposed to summon the ambassador, and that's it? We are supposed to boycott Danish goods, and that's it? No. I call upon the Muslim jurisprudents, the Muslim religious scholars, the leaders of the Islamic movements, the leaders of the Islamic countries, and all the Muslims to take a decisive stand. If we tolerate this now, only God knows what they will do later - just like the tolerance practiced with Salman Rushdie, and the carrying out of the fatwa.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, "Hizbullah Leader Nasrallah: Implementing Khomeini's Fatwa against Salman Rushdie Would Have Prevented Current Insults to Prophet Muhammad; Great French Philosopher Garaudy Proved Holocaust a Myth", Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), February 7, 2006.

"To the entire Islamic nation...: This speech comes to further urge you and prompt you to [come to] the aid of the Prophet and punish those responsible for the vile crime being committed by some journalists from amongst the Crusaders and the apostate heretics, who have insulted the Prophet Muhammad…

"Imam Ahmad [3] said: 'Whoever reviles the Prophet or belittles him, be he Muslim or infidel, should be killed.' The freethinkers and heretics who defame Islam, and mock and scorn our noble Prophet - their case and the law concerning them have been clearly expounded by Imam Ibn Qayyim [Al-Jawziyya]. [4] He made it clear that the crime committed by a freethinker is the worst of crimes, that the damage caused by his staying alive among the Muslims is of the worst kind of damage, that he is to be killed, and that his repentance is not to be accepted...

"Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya said, commenting on [Koran 9:12]: 'Whoever defames our religion is a leader of disbelief.' Many are the leaders of disbelief in our days in the lands of Islam, and many are the followers of Ka'b ibn Al-Ashraf in the Arabian Peninsula. [5] Many of them are writers in newspapers, and many of them are actors and broadcasters in the media. We warn here that a Muslim is not allowed to listen to any program that includes discussion with heretics, or any show that makes fun of Islam and of religious Muslims, for this is one of the greatest sins.

Osama bin Laden, "Arab Reformists Under Threat by Islamists: Bin Laden Urges Killing of ‘Freethinkers’", Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), May 3, 2006.

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.

Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Fazel Lankarani, "Death ruling for the insulters of Holy Prophet (pbuh) in Senat newspaper", November 11, 2006.

"Is this your civilization? This old, decrepit government of England should know that the days of its imperialistic aspirations are gone, and today it is considered America's branded slave. They must also know that the wave of Islamic revival in the world has begun, whether they like it or not. Under these circumstances, awarding England's highest honor to a wretched man, who lacks any talent whatsoever... He is not considered a prominent novelist or author. They awarded him this medal only because he cursed the Prophet. Under these circumstances, awarding a medal to such a man entails a conflict with one and a half billion Muslims throughout the world, and you will gain nothing from this. The one thing that will happen is that you will see the Islamic world roaring together. In Islamic Iran, this revolutionary fatwa of Imam Khomeini still exists. It is unchangeable and with God's grace, it must be carried out."

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, “Ahmad Khatami From the Iranian Assembly of Experts in a Tehran Friday Sermon: Fatwa Against Rushdie Must Be Carried Out, Fatah Staged a Coup d'Etat Against Hamas”, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), June 27, 2007.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Banned Authors Week

ALA's official Banned Books Week kicks off tomorrow. As usual, I will be commemorating this event in my own way here on this blog. Starting Sunday, I will be doing a period of programming called Banned Authors Week.

When I say "banned authors", I don't mean in the ALA sense of having had someone ask their local library not to carry your book. Rather, Banned Authors Week will be devoted to the all too numerous list of writers and other intellectuals who have been threatened with death, or in many cases were actually murdered, by Islamists because of their writings.

During the next week, I will provide links about and post lists of as many of these authors as possible. In particular I will try to move beyond the famous cases (Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, etc.) and cover some of the less well known (to Western audiences) victims of Islamist intimidation and violence. Look also for some posts that deal with the broader context of intellectual freedom in the Muslim world.

Just to kick things off early, I refer you to a petition on the newly revamped web site of Irshad Manji. After Irshad and 11 other well known Muslim and former Muslim intellectuals released a manifesto in early 2006 condemning the totalitarian nature of Islamism, they received a death threat on a UK-based Islamist web site. Irshad then posted an online petition on her site where anyone who cares about intellectual freedom can sign their name and express their solidarity. I know I've linked to it before, but please visit Irshad's site and sign the petition if you haven't already.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Examining Weblogistan

I'm afraid I'll have to be away from this blog for the next several days. The topics I'll be covering upon my return include: Ahmadinejad at Columbia; the latest Scandinavian Mohammed cartoon controversy; and some special alternative programming for Banned Books Week.

In the meantime, I leave you with a link to a fascinating article from the June 2007 Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) on the development of the Iranian blogosphere or, as the author calls it, Weblogistan:

When three students--Salman Jariri, Hossein Derakhshan, and Nima Afshar Naderi--published the first three Iranian weblogs (or blogs) in late 2001, they were not aware that this was actually the birth of Weblogistan. Two years later, in 2003, Iranian Weblogistan was the fastest growing cyber-sphere in the Middle East, and it became a prominent feature in defining the new global phenomenon of online communities. Estimates for 2006 rank Iran ninth in the world for the number of weblogs, and Persian is among the top ten languages in terms of posting volume.[1] The Persian Weblog Service Provider (WSP) reports hosting over 180,000 registered weblogs, and the WSP Blogfa records traffic of over two million visitors a day.[2] According to Mahdi Boutorabi, managing director of PersianBlog, their service hosts the largest Iranian online community, with over 670,000 listed users.[3]

This paper tracks major characteristics of Iranian Weblogistan, points to the challenges it has posed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and assesses ways in which the authorities have confronted them thus far.[4] It is important to note that from the outset, the bulk of internet challenges the Islamic Republic is facing (cyber-crimes, sedition, disinformation and imbalanced reporting, harassment, defamatory, hateful, obscene and immoral content, and other aspects to be discussed further) are not at all unique to the Iranian case and could apply to other countries as well. In setting up an advanced telecommunications infrastructure, each state chooses its own strategy for managing new information and communications technology. Yet the loss of the stranglehold over the flow of information reaching its populace and the emergence of an uncontrolled public sphere, such as Weblogistan, pose additional challenges for regimes in China, Egypt, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, and Iran--which all appear on the Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) list of the "15 enemies of the Internet."[5]


Monday, September 24, 2007

Shoring Up the Great Firewall

The Christian Science Monitor reports that China is intensifying its censorship of the Internet:

The new censorship wave appears linked to next month's 17th Communist Party Congress, a key political gathering that will set China's course for the coming five years. Party leaders generally prefer to meet undisturbed by criticism.

Censors and Web-hosting firms always keep an eye out for unapproved views on sensitive subjects, often deleting them.

But this campaign seems more indiscriminate. In recent weeks, police nationally have been shutting down Internet data centers (IDCs), the physical computers that private firms rent – from state-owned or private companies – to host websites offering interactive features, say industry insiders. "With the approach of the Party Congress, the government wants the Internet sphere silent, to keep people from discussing social problems," says Isaac Mao, one of China's first bloggers, who is now organizing a censorship monitoring project. "Shutting down IDCs is a quick and effective way of shutting down interactive sites."

To avoid being blocked, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in China and individual websites have been disabling chatrooms, forums, and other interactive features that might provide a platform for viewpoints unacceptable to the authorities.

"We don't want to get shut down so we shut down anything that could be offensive," says one foreign ISP employee. "Our upstream provider [the company that owns the servers] told us verbally there should be no commentary, no blogs, no bulletin board services, because the government is going bananas."

Altogether, according to the article, the Chinese regime has blocked access to 18,401 web sites since April.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Choudhury In Court

Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury appeared in court today to face charges including treason and blasphemy. Courtesy of Richard Benkin's pro-Choudhury site Interfaith Strength, here is the latest on his situation:

From Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury on the Sept. 23 court appearance: "30th Court Appearance since released on bail on April 30th 2005. On tomorrow,23rd September 2007 at 10:00 am [Bangladesh Time] Despite repeated assurances from the Government and Resolution in the US Congress, European Parliament, & Australian Parliament,the false sedition, treason and blasphemy charges still hang on my head. As per statistics maintained by one of my lawyers, I have spent more than 210 hours in attending court, since my release. This is a serious stain on members of my family and me, both financial and mental. All such expenses are borne from the income Of Blitz Printers & Blitz Publications." BUT, THE BANGLADESHI GOVERNMENT HAS DECIDED TO INCREASE THE HARRASSMENT BY MAKING THE COURT DATES MORE FREQUENT SHOAIB SENT THIS AFTER BEING IN COURT: "On Sunday, 23rd of September 2007, I went to the court at 10:00 am Bangladesh Time, and the judge after keeping me on the dock for 5 hours set the next date for 30th of September 2007. My lawyer appealed to the court for fixing the next date After Eid, as it is extremely painful for anyone to be in the Court during the months of Ramadan [I am fasting of course]. The judge declined his prayers and asked me to appear before the court on 30th September 2007 when the trial will resume. The judge has instructed his staffs in the court to issue summon on the witnesses to appear before the court on the specified date. This will be my 31st appearance in the court since getting released on bail."

The government's continued outrage--it's decision to side with injustice--seems a clear message that perhaps we must now again clearly express our outrage. So far, we have been successful in preventing the nation of Bangladesh, which prefers the company of terrorists to justice, from winning any trade benefits. It should know, however, that its continued outrages place its economic relations with us in serious jeopardy. I don't know about anyone else, but I do not want to purchase garments made in a country that oppresses my brother without cause. I suggest others check the labels BEFORE buying a garment. And there is more action, as the Bangladeshi government has a great deal of exposure. I previously offered myself as an intermediary to negotiate and resolve the issue amicably, but evidently this government prefers the path of confrontation. If that is their choice, so be it. Expect more in the coming weeks.

Ahmadinejad Comes to Columbia

Wow, this post turned out to be weirdly prescient. As you've probably heard by now, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak at Columbia University on Monday. The Iranian leader will be appearing as part of an event called the World Leaders Forum.

Meanwhile, a plan to reinvite Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist to speak on campus has fallen through. Apparently, he was only allowed to appear in a debate format alongside one of the leaders of the mob that stormed the stage during his previous appearance. Not surprisingly, this person refused to participate, thus prompting the cancellation.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger has issued a statement defending Ahmadinejad's appearance. Here is the key passage:

I would also like to invoke a major theme in the development of freedom of speech as a central value in our society. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas, or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.

Stirring words, and I certainly agree with them in principle. However, in practice, Columbia has a long and ignominious history of actions that help "make vigorous debate impossible". The Gilchrist case is just one example.

Another instance concerns Columbia's lack of an ROTC program. Columbia has banned ROTC from campus because of the military's congressionally mandated "don't ask, don't tell" ban on homosexual conduct. However, in Ahmadinejad, Columbia will host the representative of a regime that imposes the death penalty for such behavior. So, an institution that bars open homesexuals is not acceptable on campus, but the president of an autocracy that hangs people for engaging in gay sex is? Glad we've cleared that up.

Columbia student and Marine Corps reservist Matt Sanchez has described the campus atmosphere of hatred and intolerance directed towards him and other members of the military. The same military that is under attack from Iranian supplied weapons in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an October 2006 piece, Columbia alumnus Ross Kaminsky noted that there is an ingrained environment of intolerance at the university going back for decades:

Around 1960, Ayn Rand was invited to speak at Columbia. My father went to hear her. She was shouted down and, unable to address the crowd, left the podium after properly scolding the students for their bad manners. The protesters spent much of their time railing against the evils of capitalism and liberty.

In about 1985, there were protests and scuffles as students barricaded Hamilton Hall to demand the University divest itself of investments in companies which did business in South Africa. The protesters spent much of their time railing against the evils of capitalism and liberty, with somewhat more physical violence than had been seen 25 years earlier.

And now, 20 years after those protests, I see Columbia students act aggressively, irresponsibly, and disgustingly, trying to silence another invited speaker.


Throughout all the years that my family and friends have attended Columbia, it has repeatedly represented itself as a truly illiberal institution, in a way that only the most "liberal" institutions can. The students live in a world which would make Orwell shudder: speech can justify violence, economic conservatives are called "fascists," and any talk the students disagree with is labeled "hate speech."

The final absurdity, of course, is that Ahmadinejad is presiding over a systematic campaign to crush academic freedom and turn Iranian universities into ideological indoctrination centers. Just this weekend, three Iranian students went on trial for the crime of, according to RFE/RL, "publishing anti-Islamic images in a student newspaper". In this regard, it is both ironic and frightening that the same campus leftists who physically disrupted Gilchrist's speech last fall also condemned Columbia for withdrawing a speaking invitation to Ahmadinejad at about the same time. Perhaps they recognize a kindred spirit when they see one.

It is not the invitation to Ahmadinejad that bothers me so much, as loathsome and vile a fanatic as he is. Rather, it is the double standard involved, the idea that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is permitted to express his views at Columbia while the American military and many conservatives are not. If Lee Bollinger wants to create a campus where free expression truly exists, he should start by ensuring that all opinions can be voiced without fear of intimidation or disruption. Restoring the campus ROTC program would also be a positive step. President Bollinger should stop focusing on theoretical defenses of free speech and instead work to build a university that actually practices it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bangladeshi Cartoon Update

Animesh Roul has an excellent post at the Counterterrorism Blog on the Bangladeshi cartoon controversy. Roul's post includes both the image and text of the cartoon in question.

Blogging and Empowerment in Jordan

Writing at Pajamas Media, Jordanian journalist Natasha Tynes explains how the advent of blogging has empowered her country's citizens to defy censorship and begin holding government bureaucrats accountable:

I grew up in Amman in the early 1980’s, an era characterized by a notable lack of democratic processes or any form of freedom of expression.

As a child and young adult, I regularly heard about tragic incidents that happened to family members and friends on a regular basis: mistreatment at hospitals, embezzlement, discrimination, unchecked domestic abuse, corrupt government employees, basic human rights violations - you name it.

We Jordanians would hear about such events, get distressed, and do absolutely nothing, swallowing our pride and moving on regardless of the scars left behind. It was our survival mechanism. We had no choice but to move on since no one would listen and we were always worried about the harsh repercussions of speaking up.

Times have changed. I was thrilled and excited recently to see a group of Jordanians speaking up and rallying for a cause in an organized manner that yielded tangible results.

The campaign took place on the Internet, a medium which is having an impact in developing countries with mediocre democratic records, where speaking up online (using an alias in most cases) helps reduce or eliminate possible repercussions like jail time or a hefty fine.

The Jordanian Blogosphere Comes of Age

Empowering ordinary citizens to speak out is essential to ultimately transforming the authoritarian political culture that fosters Islamist extremism.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cartoon Jihad in Bangladesh

On Sunday, Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury returns to court to face charges including blasphemy, sedition and treason, charges that carry the death penalty. Mr. Choudhury's "crimes" consist of praising Israel and condemning Islamist extremism. There had been some hope that Bangladesh's new government, which is less beholden to Islamists than its predecessor, would drop the charges. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.

One recent event in particular offers a very bad omen for Choudhury. On Thursday, Bangladeshi authorities arrested a newspaper cartoonist named Arifur Rahman and arbitrarily sentenced him to 30 days in prison for drawing a cartoon deemed defamatory of the Prophet Mohammed. The BBC describes the "offending" cartoon:

Police arrested Mr Rahman following complaints by the head cleric of Dhaka's main mosque.

The cartoon featured a conversation between a mullah and a child and ended with a joke about the Prophet Mohammed's name.

Mr Rahman was jailed under Bangladesh's emergency laws.

These give the authorities powers to hold people without charge if they are deemed to threaten national security.

The government's information minister said the cartoons were part of a conspiracy to throw the country in chaos, but a senior editor of the newspaper said the cartoons had been published by mistake.

The newspaper in question, Prothom Alo, has fired Rahman and apologized for the cartoon. As usual, the Islamists remain unsatisfied. To begin with, the cartoonist, editor and publisher involved are being sued by an Islamic university. Many Islamists, however, aren't content with legal responses to this "offense".

Today, in an echo of the 1994 protests demanding the death of author Taslima Nasreen, Islamist protestors in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka demanded that Rahman's editor be killed. Agence France Presse describes the scene:

Demonstrators chanted slogans demanding the execution of newspaper editor Matiur Rahman and burned effigies of him and copies of the Bengali-language daily.

"More than 9,000 people protested against the cartoon in front of the national mosque and tried to march to the Prothom Alo office," said a police official speaking on condition of anonymity.

A doctor at the city's main hospital said that five people had been treated for "very minor" injuries.

The cartoon appeared in Prothom Alo's weekly satirical magazine Alpin. Its cartoonist, Arisur Rahman, 23, was detained earlier this week and later remanded in custody by a court.

Matiur Rahman Thursday apologized for the cartoon, which showed a small boy adding the name Mohammed to the name of a cat.

In addition to the arrest of Arifur Rahman, AFP also reports that "Bangladesh's military-backed emergency government seized copies of another magazine for allegedly insulting Islam":

"The government has banned the Eid issue of the Bengali language weekly magazine Shaptahik 2000 for publishing an autobiographical article where the writer desecrated the holy shrine Mecca," said Shahenur Mia, senior information officer at the home affairs ministry.

Mia declined to elaborate, but the Daily Inqilab newspaper said that the author, Daud Haider, who has lived in Germany for 30 years, compared Mecca to a brothel in India.

"The government has ordered the seizure of all copies of this issue of the magazine," added Mia.

The events in Bangladesh show that Islamists do not have to hold power in order to censor that which they deem "un-Islamic". Just the threat of Islamist anger is enough to persuade many Muslim governments to crack down on expression that offends the extremists. However, instead of placating them, such appeasement merely emboldens the Islamists.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

YouTube Banned in Turkey (Again)

For the second time, a Turkish court has banned access to YouTube. Agence France Presse has the details:

The decision followed a complaint by a resident in the eastern city of Sivas that the site hosted videos containing insults against Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the army, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The court ruling has been forwarded to the state regulatory body, the Telecommunications Board, to be put into effect, the agency said.

YouTube said in a written statement, carried by Anatolia, that it was ready to cooperate with Turkish authorities to resolve the dispute.

This decision comes on the heels of a court ruling last month blocking access to Wordpress and its one million blogs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Bankruptcy of Moral Relativism

Judea Pearl, the mother of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, has written a must-read piece for the Guardian's web site. Ms. Pearl writes of her concerns over the recent movie made about her son's 2002 murder, A Mighty Heart:

At the same time, I am worried that the film falls into a trap Russell would have recognised: the paradox of moral equivalence, of seeking to extend the logic of tolerance a step too far. You can see traces of this logic in the film's comparison of Danny's abduction with Guantánamo (it opens with pictures from the prison) and of al-Qaida militants with CIA agents. You can also see it in the comments of the movie's director, Michael Winterbottom, who wrote in the Washington Post that A Mighty Heart and his previous film, The Road to Guantanamo, were very similar: "There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."

I've seen The Road to Guantanamo. It's the story of the so called "Tipton Three": three British Muslims who were captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban and ended up in Guantanamo for two years. They claimed to be innocent of any ties to jihadists and said that they wound up with the Taliban through an incredible series of coincidences. They also allege to have been brutally abused by their American captors.

Winterbottom's film is a thoroughly uncritical version of the Tipton Three's account. Frankly, it requires the viewer to believe that the protagonists are the three biggest morons in recorded human history in order to accept their story. Talk about suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately for Winterbottom, in July one of the Tipton Three admitted on British television that he trained in a jihadist camp while in Afghanistan. You would think an admission of having lied about what they were doing would cause people to question other parts of their story as well. However, this inconvenient bit of evidence seems to have been dutifully ignored.

Unfortunately, Winterbottom and his films are merely a symptom of a broader moral and intellectual vacuity. It is little wonder that, as Ms. Pearl points out, jihadists welcome the efforts to put them on the same moral plane as those who fight them:

Drawing a comparison between Danny's murder and the detention of suspects in Guantánamo is precisely what the killers wanted, as expressed in both their emails and the murder video. Indeed, following an advance screening of A Mighty Heart in Los Angeles, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said: "We need to end the culture of bombs, torture, occupation, and violence. This is the message to take from the film."

Yet the message that angry youngsters are hearing from such blanket generalisation is predictable: all forms of violence are equally evil; therefore, as long as one persists, others should not be ruled out. This is precisely the logic used by Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the London suicide bombers, in his video. "Your democratically elected government," he told his fellow Britons, "continues to perpetrate atrocities against my people ... [We] will not stop."

That such empty headed moral relativism does indeed enable the jihadists is confirmed by former Islamist Hassan Butt. In a July 1 piece for The Observer, he wrote the following:

When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the 'Blair's bombs' line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.

(Emphasis added-DD)

America and its allies are far from perfect, and certainly not above criticism. However, to argue that the U.S. is morally equivalent to al Qaeda is the height of moral and intellectual bankruptcy. America under FDR did things that make the alleged wrongs of the Bush Administration look like a school picnic. We firebombed cities, and used our overwhelming battlefield firepower with precious little regard for civilian casualties. At home, we practiced Jim Crow, and wrongfully imprisoned over 100,000 people because of their ethnicity. Despite all this, no credible person would argue that America was the moral equivalent of the Third Reich or Japanese Empire. Yet today, much of the chattering class both here and in Europe delights in equating America with a murderous totalitarian movement that would destroy all the freedoms they allegedly hold dear.

Ms. Pearl wraps things up far more eloquently than I:

Danny's tragedy demands an end to this logic. There can be no comparison between those who take pride in the killing of an unarmed journalist and those who vow to end such acts. Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31 2002.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Taliban Tolerance Watch

Last week, the South Korean missionaries held hostage for more than a month by the Taliban revealed details of their captivity in a press conference. It comes as no surprise that the Taliban were typically barbarous in their behavior. According to the former hostages, some of their guards even threatened to kill them if they didn't convert to Islam. The BBC has the details:

The former hostages said they feared for their lives at times when their captors turned violent.

"We were beaten with a tree branch or kicked around. Some kidnappers threatened us with death at gunpoint to force us to follow them in chanting their Islamic prayer for conversion," said Jae Chang-hee.

"I was beaten many times. They pointed a rifle and bayonet at me and tried to force me to convert."

He said the group "lived like slaves. We had to level the ground for motorbikes, and get water and make a fire".

Another of the group, Yu Jung-hwa, described how she thought she was going to die.

"The most difficult moment, when I had a big fear of death, was when the Taleban shot [a] video.

"All 23 of us leaned against a wall and armed Taleban aimed their guns at us, and a pit was before me.

"They said they will save us if we believe in Islam. I almost fainted at the time and I still cannot look at cameras," she said.

(Emphasis added-DD; Agence France Presse has more on this story)

Cracks in the Great Firewall

According to a recent study, China's system of Internet filtering, dubbed the Great Firewall, is far from 100% effective. The BBC has the details:

Carried out by US researchers outside China, it found that the firewall often failed to block what the Chinese government finds objectionable.

The firewall was least effective when lots of Chinese web users were online.

Often, said the study, the idea of the firewall was more effective than the technology at discouraging talk about banned subjects.

This is just one example of how even China's thoroughgoing system of online censorship has its weaknesses. Nir Boms hinted at this in an interesting August 21 piece for the Jerusalem Post:

But the forces of freedom are also making their way on the Internet and, on occasion, one can glimpse interesting examples of a world that may yet be.

In a rare statement on the issue, a Chinese official admitted recently that his country is beginning to lose its tight control over its own virtual space. Wang Guoqing, a deputy minister at the Ministry of Information, was quoted by the state-run China Daily newspaper as saying that "it has been repeatedly proved that information blocking is like walking into a dead end."

CHINA, WHICH is a leading developer and provider of an Internet filtering system - with a respectable client list such as Iran and Syria - appears to admit that there is even a limit to what a powerful government may seek to hide.

Ultimately, the Great Firewall, like all forms of censorship, is bound to fail. The sooner this happens, the better off the world will be.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iran's Cultural Revolution on Campus

Back in April, New York Magazine ran a fawning profile of the radical leftist students who last October stormed the stage during Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist's speech at Columbia University (Sentence edited for clarity: DD, 9-22-07). Apparently, one of the reasons the trust fund totalitarians were so angry was that another speaker had recently been unable to come to campus:

The incident also exposed what left-wing students saw as corporate hypocrisy on the university’s part. Two weeks before Minuteman, Columbia stopped plans for a speech on campus by Iran’s notorious president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, citing security concerns and “logistics.” Ahmadinejad had been invited by the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs; at a time of international tension, the speech would undoubtedly have been important. Whose free speech counted? Bollinger’s critics said he had deferred to big donors out of concern for his legacy: Columbia’s planned campus in West Harlem. And now Columbia was standing up for the rights of a right-wing fringe group, the Minutemen—“a hate group—as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” David Judd said on the front page of the Spectator.

(Emphasis added-DD)

So the Minutemen are "a hate group", but a Holocaust denier and anti-American fanatic who is pursuing nuclear weapons is okay with Columbia's New New Left. Good to know. BTW, Ahmadinejad may not have been able to come to campus, but Iran's UN ambassador did speak at Columbia last December. In case you're wondering, his speech was not interrupted by a mob.

Anyway, I wonder if Columbia's heroic radical dissidents have ever inquired about the status of academic freedom in Iran? If they were interested, they would have found that by last December, according to the BBC, there was "a second cultural revolution under way in the universities with scores of professors forcibly retired and politically active students being threatened with expulsion":

According to student activists 181 students have received letters warning them not to get involved in politics, while 47 student publications and 28 student organisations have been closed in the last year.

"They threatened me that if I talked to the media it might make things much worse for me," says Mehdi Aminzadeh, who has been banned from doing a masters in political science because he has been too active in politics.

"But if we keep silent it's easier for them to do the same things to other people," he says.

By June, the crackdown had only intensified:

Iranian students and professors say an unprecedented number of disciplinary cases have been brought against students in the last month.

They say 29 have been arrested in the last two months for political activism and 207 were taken before disciplinary committees in the last 40 days alone.

By comparison, just four students were disciplined a month on average under the last government.

University professors who criticise the government are also losing their jobs.

In a recent column, journalist Amir Taheri reports that such purges represent more than mere crushing of dissent. Rather, they are an integral part of Ahmadinejad's effort to turn Iranian universities into totalitarian conveyor belts of Islamist ideology:

What are the duties of a true believer on the first night of his burial? How did Ayatollah Dast-Ghayb achieve martyrdom? What was the name of the lion who cried over Imam Hussein's martyred corpse in the desert of Karbala?

These are some of the questions that young Iranians must answer before gaining admission to higher education.

The new interview system is part of a project designed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "cleanse" Iranian higher education from what he regards as "the polluting influence of the Infidel".

He says he wants to create "a truly Islamic university."


The radical president refers to his "academic cleansing" policy as " The Second Islamic Cultural Revolution."

This "Second Islamic Cultural Revolution" will not be a happy experience if Taheri's account of the first one is to be believed:

The committee purged over 6000 university professors and lecturers, virtually destroying the Iranian academia. Dozens of academics were executed as hundreds fled into exile. The committee also expelled thousands of students on charges of monarchist or Marxist tendencies. It also censored or totally re-wrote dozens of textbooks to conform to the Khomeinist ideology.

When the universities were reopened two years later, the committee tried to fill them with students and teachers sympathetic to Khomeinism. The trick was to allocate special places for members of The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and children of families believed to be loyal to the regime.

Of course, censorship and book banning are a common thread in both cultural revolutions:

Further, it established a black list of authors and writings that has since become longer each year, reminding one of the worst days of the Inquisition in medieval Europe. The madness of censorship, supervised by the so-called Ministry of Islamic Orientation and Culture, reached a new peak this week when a new volume of Rafsanjai's memoirs was banned! The lesson is simple: if you ban someone, someone will ban you! (I must acknowledge a personal interest: my name and all my books are on the black list!)

After describing at length how Ahmadinejad's cultural revolution on campus is unfolding, Taheri ends on a cautiously optimistic note:

Hadad-Adel says the Islamic Republic must prevent "dangerous thoughts and ideas".

But, who decides what is dangerous?

In fact, the central role of the university is to allow dangerous thoughts and ideas to be expressed and measured against other thoughts and ideas. The imposition of a uniform mode of thought and prefabricated ideas is better suited to a concentration camp than a university campus.

The first "Islamic Cultural Revolution" failed to subject generations of Iranians to mass brainwashing in the name of education. The second one will also fail. One national characteristic of Iranians is curiosity, and a taste for different and dangerous thoughts and ideas.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Taheri is right in the long run. The Islamist project, like all other totalitarian efforts to reshape society and create a "new man", is ultimately destined to fail. The only question is how much damage it can inflict in the meantime. Communism managed to conquer one sixth of the earth's surface and murder up to 100 million people before finally collapsing of its own dead weight. If given the chance, the Islamists might one day manage to rival these numbers.

Taheri's point about universities is absolutely correct. I just wonder what would happen if he ever tried to express that opinion at Columbia?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Man Bites Dog in Academia

Recently, the University of California, Irvine hired Dr. Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of its new law school. Incredibly, UCI then fired him a few days later due to concerns over his political views. What makes this story unique is that UCI allegedly worried that Dr. Chemerinsky is too liberal. No, I am not making this up.

Since then, this story has taken an even more bizarre twist, as UCI has apparently changed its mind and offered to rehire Dr. Chemerinsky. I understand that administrators are different from teaching faculty, and are considered representatives of the university in a way that the latter are not. Still, I think firing someone for their political views is ridiculous, especially in academia of all places. I hope Dr. Chemerinsky does get the job back, assuming he still wants it.

(All links via Instapundit, who has much more on this case)

Censorship in Prison

On Monday, the New York Times reported that federal prison libraries are removing numerous books about religious topics from their collections:

Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.

The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.

Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau’s actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The reason for this policy is concern about the presence of radical Islamist literature in prison libraries and its role in radicalizing inmates. This concern is well founded. Islamists have made a systematic effort to proselytize in prisons and convert inmates to their brand of extremism. Among their successes is Richard Reid, the December 2001 shoe bomber.

In a piece for the Weekly Standard web site, Stephen Schwartz documents the prevalence of Saudi-supplied Islamist works in prison library collections:

In assisting the Shia prisoners with their complaint, I examined a catalogue of the Islamic literature held in a New York state prison library. I found that the facility held many copies of the "classic" by the founder of Wahhabi movement, Muhammad Ibn abd al-Wahhab, the Book of Monotheism, which is merely a guidebook for persecution of alleged heretics. In addition, the library included multiple volumes by the 13th century fundamentalist Muslim jurist Ibn Taymiyya, considered the inspirer of Ibn abd al-Wahhab. Both figures are recognized as the progenitors of al Qaeda's ideology. Finally, American prisons had become known as a place where the Wahhabi version of the Koran, printed in Saudi Arabia in English, was widely distributed (see "Rewriting the Koran"). But no classics of mainstream, moderate Islam, or of Sufi spirituality, or even of Shia theology, were available to the convicts.

So yes, the policy implemented by the Bureau of Prisons is motivated by a legitimate concern. You don't really want violent criminals reading The Neglected Duty, any more than you want them reading The Turner Diaries. Unfortunately, the BOP is not engaged in a careful filtering of extremist hate literature. Rather, as the Times notes, they are engaged in an across the board weeding of religious volumes that defies both common sense and legitimate concerns about radical ideologies:

“Otisville had a very extensive library of Jewish religious books, many of them donated,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. “It was decimated. Three-quarters of the Jewish books were taken off the shelves.”

Mr. Zwiebel asked, “Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?”

The Times points out that several prisoners have filed a lawsuit against the BOP over this policy, and quotes a legal scholar whose conclusion seems dead on:

The lawsuit raises serious First Amendment concerns, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, but he added that it was not a slam-dunk case.

“Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons,” Mr. Laycock said. “But once they say, ‘We’re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and that’s all you get,’ the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. They’re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government can’t do that without a compelling justification. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so they’re going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

The threat of Islamist recruitment and proselytizing in prison needs to be taken seriously. However, conducting a wholesale removal of religious books from prison libraries is idiotic and wrong, and does nothing to address that threat.

Ideology as a Professional Norm

Conservative academic Mark Bauerlein has written an interesting essay, available via both FrontPage Magazine and Minding the Campus, on how ideological conformity is imposed in the classroom. The piece is worth quoting at length:

With such vast disparities between the threat professors envision and the actual security they enjoy, one would think that more people would recognize the problem of ideological bias on campus. But they don't, and the reason lies in a campus advent that has nothing to do with psychology. Instead, it's a sweeping sleight-of-hand that liberal professors have executed in their discipline. We see it operating in this very essay in Academe, and in the sentences I just quoted. Did you spot it? Professor Kilmer worries that a student who "is resistant to feminist theories and ideas" may sit in her class as a "plant," someone to incriminate her and send her upstairs for punishment. That's how she interprets uncongenial students, and it's an astounding conversion. In her class, any student who contests feminist notions falls under a cloud of suspicion. The ordinary run of skeptics, obstructionists, gadflies, wiseacres, and sulkers that show up in almost every undergraduate classroom is recast as an ideological cadre. If a student in a marketing class were to dispute the morality of the whole endeavor, no doubt liberal professors would salute him as a noble dissenter. But when he criticizes feminism, he violates a trust. He doesn't just pose intellectual disagreement. He transgresses classroom protocol.

Behold the transformation. An ideology has become a measure of responsibility. A partisan belief is professional etiquette. A controversial outlook is an academic norm. Political bias suffuses the principles of scattered disciplines. Advocacy stands as normal and proper pedagogy. That's the sleight-of-hand, and it activates in far too many decisions in curriculum, grading, hiring, and promotion. I remember a committee meeting to discuss hiring a 19th-century literature specialist when one person announced, "We can only consider people who do race." For her, "doing race" wasn't a political or ideological preference. It was a disciplinary prerequisite.

The reason professors can declare such biases so blithely is precisely because they have acquired a disciplinary sheen, the mantle of professional criteria. In the subsequent essay in Academe, "Impassioned Teaching," women's studies professor Pamela L. Caughie of Loyola University (Chicago) asserts, "In teaching students its [feminism's] history, its forms, and its impact, I am teaching them to think and write as feminists." So much for the vaunted critical thinking professors prize, and the injunction that they question orthodoxy and convention. Caughie aims to produce versions of herself. And it's more than an ego trip - it's a professional duty: "I feel I am doing my job well when students become practitioners of feminist analysis and committed to feminist politics" (emphasis added).

We end up with indoctrination passing as proper teaching. When Kilmer states, "What happens to the feminist classroom when students challenge feminist principle?" we might respond, "An energetic discussion follows." But for Kilmer, it means disruption and intimidation. By her own admission, she can no longer distinguish honest disagreement from insubordinate conduct. That's what happens when disciplines admit ideology into their grounds. Accept the ideology and you're sure to advance. You're okay. Decline it, and you're not okay. You're not only wrong - you're illegitimate.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The details differ somewhat, but the overall picture painted above sounds painfully familiar if you're a librarian. Our major professional association books ultraliberal partisans for its keynote speakers; it has given the radical left its own round table to use as its ideological plaything; the members of that ALA funded body then define the term "socially responsible" to mean being a leftist ideologue, and make a point of letting others know that alternative definitions are most definitely not welcome; prominent figures in our profession like John Berry essentially state that you must be a politically committed leftist to be a good librarian; finally, leading radicals even mull over the idea of censuring children's librarians who have the gall to wonder if a particular book is appropriate for their collections.

Unfortunately, in librarianship as in academia, partisan belief has indeed become professional etiquette.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beheading Britney?

According to WorldNetDaily, radical Palestinian Islamists are less than enamored with the likes of Britney Spears and Madonna:

"If I meet these whores I will have the honor – I repeat, I will have the honor – to be the first one to cut the heads off Madonna and Britney Spears if they will keep spreading their satanic culture against Islam," said Muhammad Abdel-Al, spokesman and senior leader of the Popular Resistance Committees terror organization.

I'm not exactly the biggest Britney Spears fan, but this does seem a bit much. As the article points out, though, the views expressed by Abdel-Al to WND's Aaron Klein are indeed shared by others:

"Unfortunately, I heard the names of Madonna and Spears on [Arab] television when parents complain that their children neglect their studies and their values because they are influenced by your cheap American music that you call culture," explained Sheikh Abu Saqer, a founder of the Sword of Islam terror group.

The Sword of Islam has taken responsibility in Gaza for bombings of Internet cafes, pool halls and secular music stores, and is suspected of attacking a United Nations–funded school in Gaza accused of allowing girls and boys to play sports together.

Abu Abdullah, a senior member of Hamas' so-called "military wing" is quoted in "Schmoozing" describing what his group would do with Madonna and Spears if jihad groups took over the U.S.:

"At the beginning, we will try to convince Madonna and Britney Spears to follow Allah's way. But I honestly don't think they will follow. If they persist with their whoring music, we will prevent them by force. I don't think that I can be in the same place with these singers. They might be killed if they do not respect our laws."

It's easy to dismiss such over the top Islamist rhetoric as silly, especially when uttered in regards to an utterly frivolous person like Ms. Spears. Unfortunately, there is nothing funny about threats by radical Islamists to behead women they accuse of immorality. Just last week, the Taliban beheaded two women in northwest Pakistan whom they accused of being prostitutes. According to the BBC, a note was left with the bodies stating that "(w)e have started doing this to end obscenity in the area." In Iraq, under the supposedly secular Saddam Hussein, the Fedayeen Saddam militia publicly beheaded over 200 women accused of prostitution.

Anytime Islamists express their desire to murder someone they believe to be immoral or "un-Islamic", the evidence suggests that they mean it. However improbable the odds that Ms. Spears would meet such a horrific fate, there are numerous other women who likely will.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Destruction of Karachi's Statues

With an estimated population of 18 million, the city of Karachi is the largest in Pakistan and the second largest metropolitan area in the world. You would expect that such a huge, sprawling city would have numerous examples of public art to display, and at one time it did. Unfortunately, as Agence France Presse reported on September 2, the decades long Islamization of Pakistani society has resulted in the destruction of most of this heritage:

"What the Taliban have done to the ancient Buddha's statue in Bamiyan a few years ago, fanatics and ruthless government functionaries did to Karachi's statues long ago," says Shahid Rassam, lamenting the dearth of public artworks in Pakistan's biggest city.

Rassam is one of a handful of local artists working to revive Karachi's public art, which flourished under the British Raj in India and survived for a couple of decades until the early years of military dictator Zia ul-Haq.

But public art crumbled under Zia, as culture became an early casualty of a regime that nurtured religious fanaticism.

The rot had set in under Zia's predecessor, Abub Khan, the first in a long line of military rulers, who held power from 1958-1969.

"The religious extremists launched the first campaign against beautiful statues in Karachi during Ayub Khan's rule when the city was stripped of most of its street artifacts," says former city official Saifur Rehman Grami.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The article lays out at great length the campaign of vandalism directed against Karachi's once numerous statues. As noted above, a courageous group of individuals is trying to reclaim this important part of the city's cultural heritage. However, AFP makes clear just how difficult a challenge they face:

A Karachi city hall official says those who ruined Karachi's sculptures did so on the pretext that the art of sculpture was "un-Islamic".

"They stripped the whole city of its beautiful art on such pretexts," said the official on condition of anonymity.

"And their terror is still reigning so supreme that most artists and authorities seldom dare think about a revival."

(Emphasis added-DD)

It is incredible to think that the second largest city in the world is virtually devoid of public art. Sadly, though, the fanatical hatred of Islamists for any form of "un-Islamic" expression is not to be underestimated.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9/11

Today is the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Click here to remember why this is not just another day.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Reading Chomsky in Waziristan

As you may have heard by now, the text of a new videotape message from Osama bin Laden was released today. The speech contains an eclectic mix of Salafist fanaticism and left-wing anti-Americanism. At times, bin Laden sounds more interested in applying for a tenured job in the Ivy League than waging jihad. He rants about "neocons", decries global warming, and claims that John F. Kennedy was murdered by a corporate conspiracy. The Emir of al Qaeda even praises the writings of a certain MIT linguist:

This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice. The entire world came out in unprecedented demonstrations to warn against waging the war and describe its true nature in eloquent terms like "no to spilling red blood for black oil," yet he paid them no heed. It is time for humankind to know that talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Of course, it's highly unlikely that bin Laden has been sitting around reading Chomsky's collected works. Rather, his remarks are part of an effort to gain useful idiots among the American left by convincing them that he shares their anti-corporate agenda. It is probably California native and al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn ("Azzam the American") who has suggested this approach and done the requisite research.

Anyway, why is it that the likes of bin Laden and Hugo Chavez recommend Chomsky's writings? In reviewing Chomsky's latest work for last Sunday's Washington Post, Jonathan Rauch offers a possible explanation:

To be sure, Chomsky's trademark barbs and provocations are here, but so are his flights to a separate reality. In Chomsky's universe, the 2001 U.S. attack on Afghanistan's Taliban "was undertaken with the expectation that it might drive several million people over the edge of starvation." And North Korea's counterfeiting racket may actually be a CIA operation. And the Clinton administration intervened militarily in Kosovo not in order to prevent ethnic cleansing but to impose Washington's neoliberal economic agenda. And President Bush -- the first and only U.S. president to declare formal American support for a Palestinian state -- is the obstacle to a two-state solution that Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are all prepared to accept. (I am not making that up.)

(Link via Harry's Place)

In short, Chomsky approaches every issue with a single predetermined narrative: America and its friends always act from the darkest motives, and are always the source of the problem. The nature of our adversaries and their actions is unimportant. Their questionable behavior is either explained away, dismissed out of hand, or blamed on the US and its allies. Thus has Chomsky framed matters ever since Vietnam. As Rauch puts it in his review, "the reader gets the sneaking suspicion that the author has not felt the need to adjust an opinion in 30 or so years." Is it really a surprise that America's enemies would recommend the adoption of such a viewpoint?

One wonders if Chomsky is ever bothered when being approvingly cited by bin Laden or Chavez. Somehow, I doubt it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bomb Threats on Campus

ABC News' The Blotter reports a disquieting trend to begin the academic year:

At least 13 U.S. universities, including Princeton, MIT and Carnegie Mellon, have been targeted for anonymous e-mail bomb threats as students return to classes, federal and local law enforcement authorities tell the Blotter on

One of the schools, Clemson University, in Clemson, S.C., was targeted again today and an evacuation was ordered, ABC News has learned.

"We have had three in the last 10 days," Clemson University spokeswoman Robin Denny said of the bomb threats. She said the university has been sending out e-mail alerts to students, faculty and other personnel, saying evacuations were in progress after each threat.

The FBI, regional authorities and university police are investigating the spate of threats that include a set of difficult-to-track threats that use Internet remailer services to eliminate the sender address and render the threat anonymous and more difficult to trace, the FBI confirmed.

"The FBI is aware of the spate of bomb threats," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told "Working with university police and our field offices, we are investigating."

The threats, timed to the resumption of classes at schools around the nation, may simply be the work of pranksters, but officials are taking no chances.

The Persecution of Taslima Nasreen

Adrian Morgan has written a detailed, chilling account of the 15 years of death threats, intimidation, and official harassment endured by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. I strongly encourage you to read Morgan's article. In the meantime, allow me to quote his flawless conclusion:

The life of Taslima should be protected. If India fails to protect her and panders to its Muslim community by not punishing imams who incite hate, then Islamist bigotry and intolerance will have destroyed its secular ideals as surely as they have already destroyed those of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Secularism should allow religious freedom for all its citizens – including those who criticize religion. Unfortunately, the government and police in India appear to allow Islamists to bully and destroy their secular ideals. This form of appeasement is pernicious – it erodes the constitution, and acts as a cancer in the body politic. No person in any society should be above the law. Bangladesh, which began with independent and secular ideals, has allowed Islamists to turn it into a failed state. Pakistan too is on the brink of being a failed state. India should assert its constitutional and secular values and imprison those who incite murder. If it fails to protect this brave woman from the outrageous threats of Muslim fanatics, then India will have embarked upon the same route that has destroyed the democracies of its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Maybe the last words here should be those of Taslima Nasreen. These are not empty words – they are as real as her life: "Come what may, I will continue my fight for equality and justice without any compromise until my death. Come what may, I will never be silenced."

Taslima Nasreen - A Woman of Moral Substance

Idolizing a Murderer

Tuesday's Guardian reports on a disturbing trend in Latin America: a growing tendency to idolize the murderous totalitarian fanatic known as Che Guevara:

Bolivia's peasants spurned Che's rebellion, leaving the Bolivian army and the CIA to capture him on October 8 1967, kill him the following day, and rid South America of Cuba's revolutionary spirit. The soldiers reportedly drew straws to determine who would have the honour of shooting Che.

"And so he is dead," wrote the Guardian's Richard Gott, one of the few journalists at the scene that day. "As they pumped preservative into his half-naked, dirty body and as the crowd shouted to be allowed to see, it was difficult to recall that this man had once been one of the great figures of Latin America."

It was difficult to feel his ideas would die with him, Gott added. He was right. Forty years later the anniversary of the death is looming and the scene is transformed: the Cubans are back, socialism is back, and Che is officially a hero.

An elaborate ceremony in Vallegrande, the town where his corpse was displayed, will be just one of many government-backed rallies across the Andes and the Caribbean.

"Che is greater and more present than ever," said Oswaldo "Chato" Peredo, a Bolivian former guerrilla whose brother, Roberto, was executed alongside the communist icon.

The Richard Gott who wrote so poetically about the martyred Che is a strident leftist who was the Guardian's longtime literary editor. He resigned in 1994 after it was reported that he accepted funds from the KGB.

As for the object of Gott's affections, Nat Hentoff relates an anecdote about Che's "commitment" to democracy:

That reminded me of what Che Guevara told me at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations when I asked him if he could foresee a time — however distant — when there would be free elections in Cuba.

Guevara, who, in charge of a Havana prison, shot and killed many prisoners of conscience, didn't wait for the interpreter to finish before he burst into laughter and said to me, "Free elections — in Cuba?"

(Emphasis added-DD)

In a September 2004 piece for Slate, Paul Berman ably summarized the Guevara record:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Che Guevara was not a heroic freedom fighter; he was a Latin Zarqawi. That he has become an object of hero worship is a dangerous manifestation of historical ignorance and moral blindness.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Importance of Free Expression

Harry's Place links to an interesting interview with Canadian-Pakistani novelist Tahir Aslam Gora. According to the interview, Gora translated Irshad Manji's The Trouble with Islam Today into Urdu, and "is currently translating Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel." Gora is a strong advocate of an Islam built on freedom and tolerance, a stance which resulted in his having to flee Pakistan in the face of death threats.

Having himself been subjected to Islamist threats and intimidation, Mr. Gora has consistently stressed the importance of free expression to the process of reforming Islam. He expands on this point in the interview:

There are many challenges on the path of reforming Islam. Liberal, reformist Muslims have to deal with those challenges at each and every step. Liberal Muslims are not only silenced by literalist Muslims, but also by those non-Muslims who have developed the hollow pattern of being ‘fair’ and ‘tolerant’ to every religion. The existence of ‘political fairness’ among large circles of non-Muslim activists is actually a much bigger obstacle than extremist Muslims because those non-Muslim activists dominate the media outlets across the world and often ignore genuinely liberal Muslim voices. Here I would like to include an extract from my column from the Hamilton Spectator, which addresses the issue:

Even some Westerners suggest that the stance of the West regarding Salman Rushdie is a defining line between Islam and the West. But they don’t advise what the West was supposed to do in response to a death fatwa by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. Would they hand Rushdie over to Iran for the sake of harmony with Islam? More to the point, was there any such harmony before the Rushdie issue? From my perspective, the answer is no. The West was viewed as an infidel and sinful world long before this controversy. Muslims may argue it was because of the West’s support for Israel. But, looking further back, they may also cite colonialism as a cause of bad relations. They contend that much of today’s tension could be avoided if the West condemned acts such as caricaturing the Prophet of Islam, or if Rushdie were not awarded a knighthood. In arguing such delicate issues, though, we take in the whole course of history, but ignore its evolutionary aspect, which comprises a few fundamental human values. Freedom of expression is, perhaps, the most basic one.

Again, the same people claim there must be limits to free expression. And they don’t mind redefining those limits, especially in the context of increasingly multicultural societies in their own homelands. The emerging multiculturalism is threatening to give rise to even more conflicts between West and Islam. Such conflict has already been predicted by Samuel Huntington in his book, The Clash of Civilizations. Another famous intellectual, Noam Chomsky, doesn’t agree with Huntington’s formulation. Rather, he blames the United States and Britain’s political hegemony for all the miseries of today’s relationship. But neither Chomsky nor Huntington suggests how to retain such values as freedom of expression - values which are the pillars of liberal democracies and open societies. Snubbing Rushdie or condemning any caricaturist is not the remedy for this conflict. These intellectuals are forgetting the fact that supporting free expression was as difficult in the West about a century ago as it seems in the Muslim world today.

(Emphasis added-DD; both Gora links via the interview)

As Mr. Gora notes, defending and fostering free expression in both the Islamic world and the West is essential to defeating radical Islamism over the long-term.