Friday, November 30, 2007

"She must be killed by the sword."

Today, in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, over 1,000 Islamists rallied to demand the death of Gillian Gibbons, the British schoolteacher who allowed her class to name a teddy bear Mohammed. The Guardian provides this account of the demonstration:

While many in Khartoum thought the arrest was harsh - the Sudanese blogosphere is awash with derision aimed at the authorities - leaflets were distributed at some mosques calling for protests against Gibbons after Friday prayers.

Some protesters arrived at Khartoum's central mosque on foot, waving knives, clubs and ceremonial swords. Others came on the back of pick-up trucks, covered in printed banners and flags. Initially, the atmosphere was jovial, as the first groups of men moved towards Martyrs Square in front of the president's palace in central Khartoum. Passersby shook their fists in encouragement and motorists honked their horns. But the mood soon darkened as the crowd swelled to more than 1,000.

Organisers shouted encouragement through megaphones. The crowd responded with traditional Islamic chants, extolling Allah, urging the death of anyone who insulted the prophet Muhammad. Newspaper pictures of Gibbons were burned on a makeshift stage at the heart of Martyrs Square. One protester was seen making a stabbing gesture with his sword. A group of men shouted: "She must be killed by the sword."

Men wearing traditional robes and turbans leaned out of car windows waving swords and machete-like blades. Individuals shouted threats at western journalists, shouting: "You must go", and drawing their fingers across their throats.

There was little doubt the protest had been carefully orchestrated. The banners waved by marchers and tied to the front of vehicles had all been pre-printed. Before the verdict, imams across the city also focused on the case in their sermons. One address, broadcast on national radio, accused Gibbons of purposefully comparing the prophet to a bear - an animal that was "alien" to Sudan, he said. "She deserved what she got," he added.

(Emphasis added-DD)

It is hard to comprehend the fanaticism and/or rank stupidity of those who believe that this was a deliberate effort to insult the Prophet Mohammed. It is abundantly clear that this was an innocent mistake by an individual who meant no offense. Ms. Gibbons said as much at her trial. Unforunately, as this analysis from the AP explains, the Sudanese regime has its own reasons for persecuting her:

But the case was caught up in the ideology that President Omar al-Bashir's Islamic regime has long instilled in Sudan, a mix of anti-colonialism, religious fundamentalism and a sense that the West is besieging Islam.

"The escalation is deliberate," said Mariam al-Mahdi, a leader of the main opposition Umma party. "There has been a strong official mobilization in the media and mosques against the so-called imperialists and the crusaders."

She pointed to nationalistic songs often played on state media, including one that proclaims, "For you America, we were trained and for you prophet, we were armed."

Gibbons' defense lawyer, al-Gizouli, said that given the strong religious feeling in Sudan, "if you tell the people that someone has done such and such, they get angry ... without (finding out) what exactly happened, the facts, the reality."

By prosecuting Gibbons, the government may have wanted to raise public anger to bolster its resistance to including Western peacekeepers in the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force that is supposed to deploy in Darfur, al-Gizouli said.

"You take an event like this teacher incident, enlarge it and make a bomb out of it," he told AP. The aim is to show "Muslims in Sudan don't want these people (Westerners) to interfere, we want African troops."

Al-Bashir said in early November that he would not allow Scandinavian countries to join the peacekeeping force because newspapers there published the cartoons that insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

By prosecuting and imprisoning Ms. Gibbons over a thoroughly ridiculous non-incident, the Sudanese regime seeks to burnish its Islamist credentials and foster anti-Western sentiment while still appearing "moderate" in comparison to the true fanatics who want to murder her. This incident is yet another tragic case study in how the combined efforts of authoritarian regimes and Islamist mass movements imperil intellectual freedom in the Muslim world.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blasphemous Teddy Bear Update

Earlier today, a Sudanese court convicted British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons of the "crime" of insulting religion by allowing her class of six and seven year olds to name a teddy bear Mohammed. Ms. Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in prison after which she will be deported from the country. She could have received 40 lashes and six months in prison had she been convicted on all charges.

By the standards of Sudan's genocidal Islamist regime, Ms. Gibbons has gotten off lightly. Still, the absurdity of her ordeal speaks for itself. It is outrageous that anyone should spend 15 minutes in jail because of what someone called a stuffed animal, let alone 15 days. The key question is why the Sudanese authorities chose to engage in such thoroughly ridiculous behavior.

There is little evidence that the regime was responding to a groundswell of popular outrage. According to one of Ms. Gibbons's coworkers, the school had already acted to resolve the situation weeks earlier, when they realized there might be a problem, and none of her students' parents complained anyway. Even after her arrest, a number of students spoke in her defense. Sudanese bloggers, admittedly not the most representative sample of public opinion, have been almost unanimous in condemning the prosecution of Ms. Gibbons. In short, this was a matter that the Sudanese authorities could have easily ignored. So why didn't they?

In a piece for the Guardian's Comment is Free web site, Meera Selva offers one possible explanation. She argues that the Khartoum regime is attempting to show itself standing up to infidel foreigners at a time when it is gradually losing control of the situation in Darfur. There is some truth to this, but in my view the major reason lies elsewhere. In her article, Ms. Selva points out that the Sudanese regime has begun to downplay Islamism in favor of Arabism, and that it was the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, who were vehemently demanding that Ms. Gibbons be punished. Therefore, it is much more likely that the Sudanese regime seized on this thoroughly trivial incident to burnish its Islamist credentials.

A piece from today's Times of London describes how Sudan's pro-regime media joined with the Islamists to try to whip up popular sentiment against Ms. Gibbons:

With little public interest in the English primary school teacher and the teddy bear she had named Mohamed, Ms Gibbons’s colleagues had hoped that the matter would never reach court and that she might be freed without a fuss. Yesterday, however, Sudanese newspapers, radio and television woke to her story and Ms Gibbons was charged later with insulting Islam.

In a fiery editorial, the pro-Government Akhir Lahza (Last Moment) newspaper demanded that one of Osama bin Laden’s associates give evidence at her trial. It said that Hassan al-Turabi, once seen as the Islamic brain behind the Government and the man who invited bin Laden to live in Khartoum during the 1990s, should be called as an expert witness.

As the rhetoric was ratcheted up, fears rose of mass demonstrations against Ms Gibbons after Friday prayers. Members of a moderate Sufi sect spent the day leafleting Khartoum’s Arab market in front of the city’s Great Mosque, urging the faithful to protest. “What has been done by this infidel lady is considered a matter of contempt and an insult to Muslims’ feelings and also the pollution of children’s mentality as an attempt to wipe their identity,” the leaflet said. It called on a million people to take to the streets after prayers tomorrow.

The article was published before Ms. Gibbons's trial, and ends on a chilling note:

Ms Gibbon’s plight moves to Khartoum’s courts today when she is due to appear before a judge who will decide whether there is a case to answer. As the demonstration on the campus wound down, a group of young men huddled over a sheet of paper drafting an angry statement on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Elsheikh El Nour, a veterinary scientist, summed up their position. “If she made an innocent mistake and did not mean Muhammad the Prophet there is no problem,” he said, sipping sweet tea. “But if she meant Muhammad the Prophet, this is a big problem for Muslims. She must die.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

Considering that the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood has a track record of killing "apostates" and "blasphemers", there are legitimate reasons to fear for Ms. Gibbons's safety. The regime in Khartoum needs to know that there will be consequences if she does not safely return home as soon as possible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Perils of Being an Iranian Blogger

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), an Iranian blogger named Reza Valizadeh has been arrested for reporting that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad purchased bomb sniffing dogs for his security detail. Unfortunately, his arrest is just one example of the Iranian regime's crackdown on free expression, as RFE/RL's report makes clear:

Valizadeh's arrest comes two days after dozens of Iranian journalists and intellectuals issued a statement to protest the jailing of journalists who are critical of the Iranian government.

One of the signatories, journalist Issa Saharkhiz, told Radio Farda on November 26 that a government crackdown on journalists has intensified in recent months. "There are some who are sitting and thinking of ways to fill up Iran's prisons. Unfortunately, we now see this not only in Tehran but also in the provinces," Saharkhiz said.

Saharkhiz added that journalists and media workers have lost their jobs as a result, and society has been limited to a "single voice."

In recent weeks, several journalists have been detained or charged in cities like Ahvaz, Rasht, and Sanandaj.

Iran was ranked 166th of 169 countries in Paris-based Reporters Without Borders' index of world press freedoms, published last month.

Iranian officials, including Ahmadinejad, insist there is freedom of speech in Iran. But journalists are frequently charged with security-related crimes.

Rights groups say the atmosphere for free speech has deteriorated since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

Even exiled Iranian bloggers are not totally safe from the machinations of the regime, as Arash Kamangir, who is attending university in Canada, has found out. In a recent piece for Pajamas Media, Kamangir described what happened when an Iranian official discovered his blog:

My efforts to help the flow of information from the Iranian blogosphere into the English-speaking audience and media has deeply irritated those who want to build a wall of denial to hide their atrocities.

As a result, on October 27th, 2007, Alef, a website known to be owned by a high-ranking conservative Iranian MP, published a piece about my blog. The report referred to my ongoing research on the state-run media’s incomplete quote from the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s speech at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

“He claims that the sentence ‘West must be more concerned with their own arsenal, rather than pointing at Iran and North Korea’ is made up. The blogger mentions that he will follow the story with the Foreign Ministry of Norway”, wrote the author. The piece then followed with mentioning my real name accompanied by two pictures of me and describing me as “a resident of Canada whose blog is frequently referred to by the media and the warmonger neo-con blogs (including Pajamas Media and Gateway Pundit)”.

It followed, “His blog is the number one source of anti-Iran news from the Iranian blogosphere for the neo-con media. The content translated by him, regarding President’s speeches, Iranian missiles, stonings, executions, the social security project, and so on, have been enthusiastically followed by the neo-con blogging networks. During last few months, he has increased his presence in the Persian blogging atmosphere, and also Iranian social networks, in order to direct anti-Iran content.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

In Kamagir's words, the official's publication of his real name and pictures "has jeopardized my safety". Though he states that this was not the first time it happened, it's clear that the Alef piece was a crude attempt to intimidate Kamangir into silence.

Turkish Publisher Under Investigation

Yet another absurd censorship story from Turkey, where, according to the Associated Press, the Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkins' atheist tract The God Delusion is under investigation for incitement to religious hatred.

Publisher Erol Karaaslan said yesterday that he would be questioned by an Istanbul prosecutor as part of an official investigation into The God Delusion, written by the British expert in evolutionary biology.

Karaaslan could go on trial if the prosecutor concludes the book incites religious hatred and insults religious values, and faces up to one year in prison if found guilty, Milliyet newspaper reported.

The prosecutor started the inquiry into the book after one reader complained that passages in the book were an assault on "sacred values", Karaaslan said.

The publisher said he would be questioned today and faces prosecution both as the book's publisher and translator. The book has sold 6,000 copies in Turkey since it was published by his Kuzey publishing house in June.

No one was available for comment at the prosecutor's office.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A "Blasphemous" Teddy Bear in Sudan

On Sunday, officials in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum arrested a 54 year old British schoolteacher named Gillian Gibbons on charges of blasphemy. Her crime: allowing her class of six and seven year old pupils to name a teddy bear Mohammed. Rob Crilly of Time lays out the Kafkaesque yet terrifying circumstances Ms. Gibbons and her colleagues find themselves in:

Now Gillian Gibbons, 54, is spending her second night in a Sudanese prison, accused of insulting Islam's Prophet. She faces a public lashing or up to six months in prison if found guilty on charges of blasphemy. And Unity High School — one of a number of exclusive British-run schools in the Sudanese capital — has been closed as staff fear reprisals from Islamic extremists. Robert Boulos, the school's director, said the incident had been blown out of all proportion, but added that the school would remain closed until January to let ill feelings blow over.

"This was a completely innocent mistake," he said in an office decorated with sepia photographs dating back to the school's colonial heyday. "Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."

Police raided the school, where Gibbons also lives, on Sunday.

"We tried to reason with them but we felt they were coming under strong pressure from Islamic courts," said Boulus. "There were men with big beards asking where she was and saying they wanted to kill her."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Wanting to murder a 54 year old teacher because of what her students decided to name a stuffed animal. Nothing I write can make the barbarism of radical Islamists any clearer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Being Conservative in a Liberal Profession

Actually, he isn't a conservative so much as a centrist hawk (I'm approaching the same point), but Hollywood screenwriter and blogger Roger L. Simon recently published a highly thoughtful essay on the Pajamas Media web site. In the article, which is an excerpt from an upcoming book, Roger discusses whether his open support for George W. Bush has hurt his career in the film industry. His answer, put simply, is that "to what extent my political switch or supposed switch...hurt my movie career, I simply don’t know."

Voicing right-of-center views in a left-of-center profession is a topic near and dear to my heart. Of course, there are vast differences between Hollywood and librarianship. Still, when I read Roger's description of the stultifying liberal groupthink that permeates the film industry, I couldn't help but relate at least a little:

So I have not lost sleep worrying whether I have been blacklisted. Still I am sure this new form of Blacklist exists, but not nearly to the formalized extent of the original list of the forties and fifties with its Red Channels and dramatic hearings in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, featuring ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ witnesses. Times are different and the system functions in a very different manner. Now it operates through an almost invisible thought control caused by a post-Orwellian “liberal” conformity so pervasive a formal Blacklist is not necessary, indeed would work against itself. In some ways, this new, less overt, list is more ominous than its predecessor, because there is nothing concrete to rebel against, no hearings, no committees, no protest groups pro or con, no secret databases that I know of. There doesn’t need to be. There is no there there, in Gertrude’s immortal words – only the grey haze of a mindless received “liberalism”, the world as last month’s New York Times editorials, half-digested and regurgitated, never questioned or even analyzed, going forth forever with little perceived chance of reform, as if it were the permanent religious text of some strange new orthodoxy.


If you don’t agree with this particular weltanschauung, even if you dissent from its orthodoxy just a tiny bit, you have but three choices: One, you can argue, in which case you are almost certain to be dismissed as a fool, a warmonger or a right wing nut (all three, probably) and therefore have little or no chance at the writing or directing job that brought you there. Two, you can shut up and ignore it (stay in the closet), in which case you feel like a coward and experience (as I have) a dose of existential nausea straight out of Sartre or, three, you can stop going to the meetings altogether, in which case you have blacklisted yourself.

Is there a blacklist in the library profession? No. There is no organized effort to harm the careers of librarians who are right-of-center politically. Not that there aren't a few people who wouldn't like to do something like that. Still, I have never had any problem expressing my opinions, but I attribute that primarily to having the right coworkers and the right work environment.

On the other hand, I have heard from plenty of others who do feel like they will pay a price if they express conservative views around other librarians. For a few examples, see the comments posted in response when my article first appeared. Based on the feedback I received, some conservative librarians genuinely fear professional retaliation if they express their opinions. See also Greg McClay's experiences in SRRT, or John Berry's sputtering rage directed at those librarians who dare to disagree with leftist orthodoxy.

Even though there is not a blacklist in the library profession, just the fact that liberals and leftists are so numerically dominant makes those who don't share their views highly reluctant to say so. This problem is exacerbated, as I noted in the Chronicle and numerous times since, by ALA's de facto functioning as a liberal advocacy organization. It is one thing to disagree with most of your coworkers; but when the major professional body in librarianship passes partisan political resolutions and invites a steady stream of Democratic politicians and liberal pundits to be its keynote speakers, a message is sent that those with opposing views need not apply. This is an important reason why partisan politics should be kept out of ALA and other professional venues.

As I wrote in the Chronicle, the point is not that liberal and leftist librarians should stop being liberals and leftists. Instead, the goal should be to either leave politics out of the work environment, or to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions. As a profession that talks about intellectual freedom, we need to practice what we preach.

A Universal Library Online?

In a November 6 post, Norm Geras quoted this rather alarming passage:

Nobody really knows how much information there is in the world. According to one extremely rough estimate, if you took every book, newspaper, magazine, TV and radio programme, every music album, every handwritten letter, every filed-away document and every other piece of recorded data in existence, and you stored them all on computer hard drives, the amount of disk space you would need would be somewhere in the region of 2,100 exabytes, or 2,100bn gigabytes. If it helps - and it probably doesn't - this is more than 100m times the amount of data that is thought to be stored, in print form, in the bookstacks of the world's largest library, the Library of Congress in Washington.

The explosion of information in the digital age has fostered hopes that the Internet can become a sort of universal library where all of this data can be organized and preserved for the benefit of future generations. Anthony Grafton explored this notion in an interesting essay for the November 5 New Yorker:

It’s an old and reassuring story: bookish boy or girl enters the cool, dark library and discovers loneliness and freedom. For the past ten years or so, however, the cities of the book have been anything but quiet. The computer and the Internet have transformed reading more dramatically than any technology since the printing press, and for the past five years Google has been at work on an ambitious project, Google Book Search. Google’s self-described aim is to “build a comprehensive index of all the books in the world,” one that would enable readers to search the list of books it contains and to see full texts of those not covered by copyright. Google collaborates with publishers, called Google Publishing Partners—there are more than ten thousand of them around the world—to provide information about books that are still copyright protected, including text samples, to all users of the Web. A second enterprise, the Google Library Project, is digitizing as many books as possible, in collaboration with great libraries in the U.S. and abroad. Among them is Kazin’s beloved New York Public Library, where more than a million books are being scanned.

Google’s projects, together with rival initiatives by Microsoft and Amazon, have elicited millenarian prophecies about the possibilities of digitized knowledge and the end of the book as we know it. Last year, Kevin Kelly, the self-styled “senior maverick” of Wired, predicted, in a piece in the Times, that “all the books in the world” would “become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas.” The user of the electronic library would be able to bring together “all texts—past and present, multilingual—on a particular subject,” and, by doing so, gain “a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do know and don’t know.” Others have evoked even more utopian prospects, such as a universal archive that will contain not only all books and articles but all documents anywhere—the basis for a total history of the human race.

I am extremely skeptical of such predictions. The idea of creating a universal library encompassing all the world's knowledge has been around since the creation of the Alexandrian library. It is just as impractical now as it was then. As noted above, the same technology that has enabled more information to be stored than ever before also allows more to be produced than ever before. Essentially, we are looking at a cycle in which the ability to produce information will almost always exceed the ability to archive all of it in a comprehensive way.

Grafton shares my skepticism about the "universal library", making the case more eloquently than I can:

In fact, the Internet will not bring us a universal library, much less an encyclopedic record of human experience. None of the firms now engaged in digitization projects claim that it will create anything of the kind. The hype and rhetoric make it hard to grasp what Google and Microsoft and their partner libraries are actually doing. We have clearly reached a new point in the history of text production. On many fronts, traditional periodicals and books are making way for blogs and other electronic formats. But magazines and books still sell a lot of copies. The rush to digitize the written record is one of a number of critical moments in the long saga of our drive to accumulate, store, and retrieve information efficiently. It will result not in the infotopia that the prophets conjure up but in one in a long series of new information ecologies, all of them challenging, in which readers, writers, and producers of text have learned to survive.


The supposed universal library, then, will be not a seamless mass of books, easily linked and studied together, but a patchwork of interfaces and databases, some open to anyone with a computer and WiFi, others closed to those without access or money. The real challenge now is how to chart the tectonic plates of information that are crashing into one another and then to learn to navigate the new landscapes they are creating. Over time, as more of this material emerges from copyright protection, we’ll be able to learn things about our culture that we could never have known previously. Soon, the present will become overwhelmingly accessible, but a great deal of older material may never coalesce into a single database. Neither Google nor anyone else will fuse the proprietary databases of early books and the local systems created by individual archives into one accessible store of information. Though the distant past will be more available, in a technical sense, than ever before, once it is captured and preserved as a vast, disjointed mosaic it may recede ever more rapidly from our collective attention.

Grafton's essay is a fascinating read, and well worth reading. He briefly analyzes the history of efforts to preserve information and makes the important point that libraries and archives will continue to be needed as storehouses of physical information. This is due both to the need to study books and documents as physical artifacts, and because the number of volumes and pages that would have to be digitized to make "everything" available online is overwhelming.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Ordeal of Mehrnoushe Solouki

On November 17, a French-Iranian filmmaker named Mehrnoushe Solouki went on trial in Tehran. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), she is accused of "intent to commit propaganda against the Iranian government." Her real crime consists of having stumbled upon the aftermath of one of the Islamic Republic of Iran's most infamous atrocities.

This November 7 article from RFE/RL provides the background to Ms. Solouki's arrest:

It all began in December 2006. Solouki arrived in Iran to film a documentary about the burial traditions of Iran's religious minority communities, such as Armenian Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.

Solouki says the Iranian Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted her a research license. She says the authorities were told in advance of the locations where she wanted to film, and that they were aware that the subject dealt with the cemeteries of Iranian minorities.

The authorities therefore had prior knowledge of her planned activities -- they were not taken by surprise. "The bureau in charge of minorities affairs at the Culture Ministry coordinated all this," Solouki said. "[By that] I mean coordination between the ministry's press office and its minorities bureau."

But while filming, Solouki says she stumbled on an area at the Khavaran Cemetery on Tehran's outskirts that caught her attention. She described it as "totally different" from the other parts she had filmed. Asked whether she was referring to a mass grave of people summarily executed in 1988, she said, "Yes."

(emphasis added-DD)

In 1988, the Islamic Republic launched a campaign of mass executions that claimed the lives of at least 2,800 jailed political prisoners. Human Rights Watch describes this campaign as follows:

In 1988, the Iranian government summarily and extrajudicially executed thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian jails. The government has never acknowledged these executions, or provided any information as to how many prisoners were killed. The majority of those executed were serving prison sentences for their political activities after unfair trials in revolutionary courts. Those who had been sentenced, however, had not been sentenced to death. The deliberate and systematic manner in which these extrajudicial executions took place constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.

As pointed out above, the Iranian regime has still never admitted that the massacres of 1988 took place. Apparently, Ms. Solouki's perceived interest in this matter was enough to spur the authorities into action. On February 17, Solouki was arrested by Iranian police, who, according to RFE/RL, told her that "they had learned that she had filmed the mass graves."

While Ms. Solouki was released from prison, Iranian authorities have prevented her from leaving the country. Several human rights activists and organizations are calling for her to be allowed to leave Iran. It is important that the US and French governments join this chorus.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Political Correctness Run Amok: A Case Study

If you haven't already seen it, Charlotte Allen's November 12 cover story for The Weekly Standard is a must read. In fascinating detail, Ms. Allen describes the decline and fall of Antioch College in Ohio. According to her analysis, this situation was caused to a large extent by a campus climate of political correctness that makes the typical Ivy League school look like Hillsdale College:

A July 20 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Ralph Keyes, author of the bestselling Is There Life After High School? and a 1967 graduate of Antioch who moved with his family back to Yellow Springs some 20 years ago, described similar adventures by Antioch students in the intimidation of people who do not share their views. Keyes took pains to reassure the Chronicle's readers that he himself had been proudly "left-wing" as an Antioch student, but he also detailed a once-tolerant campus culture that had deteriorated since his student days into "insults, name-calling, and profanity." As Keyes described it (and others connected to the campus corroborate his observations), Antioch students regularly engaged, both inside and outside their classrooms, in the practice of "calling out" (public humiliation followed by social ostracism) their classmates for even the most trivial violations of an unwritten campus code of ideological propriety. One of the called-out was a Polish exchange student who had made the mistake of using the now-taboo word "Eskimos" instead of "Inuit" in reference to Alaskan aboriginals. Another called-out student had worn Nike sneakers, verboten among the radically sensitive because they are supposedly products of Indonesian sweatshop labor (the Nike-wearer was so demoralized by his treatment that he transferred). Keyes lamented what he called the "crack-house décor" of Antioch's student union, whose second floor features a 30-foot wall of student-painted graffiti with themes and language running the gamut from revolutionary to obscene. The Antioch school "uniform" for many students seems to consist of as many tattoos and piercings as the human dermis can hold (a tattoo parlor in downtown Yellow Springs looks designed to accommodate this student fashion statement).


You might call the current sad state of Antioch College death by political correctness. The rigorous academic programs that fostered Nobel laureates such as Capecchi are no more: Antioch scrapped its 40-odd traditional majors in 1996 in favor of eight vaguely delineated interdisciplinary programs that allow the students themselves to design their courses of study. The civic activism of yore--registering African American voters, starting a proto-Peace Corps--gave way to in-your-face street theater at shopping malls. It has been a long, slow death, and it would be unfair (although certainly tempting) to blame the current crop of students for the pending demise of their alma mater. The blame might be more fairly placed on four decades of decisions made by Antioch College faculty and administrators in the name of keeping Antioch at the forefront of "progressive" academic fashion, which led inexorably to today's campus nearly bereft of students and treasury nearly bereft of funds.

The July 2007 Chronicle piece from Ralph Keyes is available on his web site (link in PDF). It is worth quoting at length to illustrate just how intolerant the campus climate has become:

Compared with students David and I had seen on our college tour, Antiochians now struck me as more bizarre than bohemian. Nor did their campus culture seem as understandable as the one I'd been part of from 1962 to 1967. I remembered Antioch as a lively, demanding institution, full of contentious students and professors. Many, including myself, were ardent left-wingers. Others stood elsewhere on the political spectrum. As we understood it, one's political convictions were beside Antioch's point. Its emphasis was on thinking for one's self and keeping an open mind. "Re-evaluate your basic assumptions in the light of new evidence" was a campus cliché. I felt constantly challenged to justify my points of view. But I didn't assume that reassessing those views would move me left. It might move me to the right, or toward the center, or nowhere at all.

The Antioch Muriel and I returned to did not emphasize that kind of open inquiry. The assumed endpoint was always to one's left. As a result, Antioch's emphasis had gone from searching for the truth to propagating the truth, from asking questions to teaching answers. One alum told me of asking a women's-studies professor at Antioch if she ever assigned Camille Paglia. The professor recoiled, saying "I wouldn't!" Why not? "Because she's the enemy."

In promotional pieces, Antioch billed itself as a "progressive" institution. Accepted applicants were invited to share notes on an online message board called "Radical Chat." Inevitably Antioch's appeal narrowed to an increasingly esoteric group of progressive-alternative students. When a longtime history professor reminded colleagues that Antioch was a college, not a "boot camp for the revolution," students began wearing Boot Camp for the Revolution T-shirts. Eventually this became a campus credo.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Antioch is, in short, a case study of what happens when the principle of free inquiry is replaced by a commitment to radical leftist politics and social activism. Once it became clear that those not sharing such views were no longer welcome on campus, the institution gradually marginalized itself and went into decline. Considering the number of people who want to make radical politics a litmus test for librarianship, this is a lesson that librarians would do well to keep in mind.

Allen's essay was prompted by an announcement that Antioch would cease operations at the end of the 2007-08 academic year. Since then, the school has announced that it will continue offering classes to current students, though this will "require the closing of some facilities, a reduction of faculty and staff, and the curtailment of some student services that are currently offered to give the College the necessary time to address the facilities and curriculum."

While this is good news, it is still a long way from solving the college's problems. Unless Antioch stops being an ideological conveyor belt for the radical left and returns to being an institution devoted to free inquiry, it will continue to be insignificant and marginalized.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Moral Bankruptcy at Columbia

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that more than 100 Columbia faculty signed a letter criticizing the leadership of University President Lee Bollinger (link via Hot Air). Among the concerns expressed in the letter was the issue of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's September visit to campus.

So, are the disgruntled faculty unhappy that their university invited a Holocaust denier who despises the very principle of free inquiry to campus? No, according to the Times, they are upset that President Bollinger chose to point out some of these facts when he introduced Ahmadinejad:

“I think for most people the Ahmadinejad incident was an occasion that brought out a lot of discomfort,” said Wayne Proudfoot, a religion professor. “It seemed clear to me that the language he used in introducing Ahmadinejad was intended to, and had the effect of, placating, appeasing and being a message to conservative critics.”

Eric Foner, an American history professor who was one of the most outspoken professors at yesterday’s meeting, read aloud some of Mr. Bollinger’s remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and added, “This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran, and to my mind is completely inaccurate.”

It's one thing to defend Ahmadinejad's appearance on free speech grounds. Even I reluctantly embraced such a position. However, I can not even begin to imagine the depths of moral and intellectual vacuity required to act as his apologist. So, condemning one of the leading figures of a brutal autocratic regime causes Professor Proudfoot "a lot of discomfort"? Perhaps he would like to examine the level of discomfort currently prevailing in Iranian academia. David J. Rusin's piece for Pajamas Media offers a good starting point:

Religious issues alone do not drive academic discrimination in Iran; the freedoms of expression and association are treated with equal contempt. Western institutions commit their own sins in this area, enacting speech codes and other instruments of ideological control. However, outright denials of access based on political views remain thankfully rare in this part of the world. The Islamic Republic is not so gracious toward its nonconformists.

Two blatant examples come to mind. First, students protesting the closure of a reformist newspaper were violently suppressed in July 1999. An unknown number were killed and others were dispatched to the notorious Evin Prison. Second, Iranian higher education has witnessed a rolling purge since the election of 2005. This has included forced retirements, the installation of a cleric at the head of Tehran University, and Ahmadinejad’s call for students to oust secular professors.

Away from the cameras, real or imagined dissidents face an array of more subtle obstacles. An October 2006 HRW backgrounder catalogs seventeen students barred from either completing their degrees or registering for programs to which they had been accepted. Sixteen of them are known activists or members of pro-reform Islamic Student Associations; the other happens to be the daughter of a persecuted intellectual. Dozens more were suspended for up to two semesters by campus disciplinary committees.

The motive underlying these exclusions is made clear by the scores of students who have been allowed to register only after signing a pledge “to observe all ideological, political, and moral regulations within the current legal framework, in particular the university’s disciplinary regulations. I understand that in case of any instance of acting against the terms of this commitment letter, the relevant officials are allowed to cancel my registration and to prevent my further education.”

If Professor Foner would like to know what the "language of warfare" actually sounds like, he might want to start by reading the statements of Ahmadinejad and other leaders of Iran's Islamist autocracy in their country's media. A September 17 analysis from MEMRI provides just a few examples:

Ahmadinejad's recent speeches have also been characterized by statements against the Zionists and against Israel, which he called "Satan's standard-bearer." [21]

At the August 28, 2007 press conference, he said: "[The Zionists] have no religion, for religion means having faith in others and maintaining friendly [relations] with [other] nations. But everywhere they exist there is war. They are responsible for much of the injustice in the world. The Zionists are a minority which numbers no more than a few tens of thousands, but they have formed clandestine organizations, because they do not want peace and friendship to prevail among the nations... They thrive on war and hatred. If peace [ever] prevails in the world, the people of the world will eradicate Zionism. If the [European] nations could have acted [freely], they would have thrown them out of Europe." [22]

Of course, most radical leftists like Proudfoot and Foner could care less about the ideology and actions of Iran's regime. Their only guiding principle is knee jerk opposition to the U.S. government regardless of circumstances. This includes a willingness to apologize for whatever Third World despotism is currently in conflict with the United States. For many on the Left, playing at "speaking truth to power" is far more important than condemning actual dictatorships like Iran.

Saad Eskander on Charlie Rose

Here is the video of Dr. Saad Eskander's appearance on the November 12 Charlie Rose show, courtesy of Google Video and the Charlie Rose web site.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Justice in Sudan (or is it)

Earlier this week, the BBC reported that 10 men were convicted by a Sudanese court for the September 2006 murder of newspaper editor Mohammed Taha. (Not to be confused with Mahmoud Muhammed Taha)

The men convicted of Taha's murder were members of a tribe in Darfur. All 10 of them confessed to participating in the killing. The crime was allegedly motivated by an article Taha wrote questioning the honor of Darfuri women. So justice has now been served. Or has it?

For one thing, the BBC report points out that Amnesty International has raised some genuine concerns about the trial:

Amnesty says the 10 include a boy who was only 15 at the time, and says the defendants were convicted on the basis of confessions obtained by torture.


The police investigation focussed on the Darfuri community in Khartoum.

Amnesty says the police rounded up 72 Darfuris and "reports suggest that nearly all of those arrested were beaten and otherwise tortured to obtain confessions".


All the defendants brought to trial retracted their confessions in court saying they had been extracted under torture.

But attempts by defence lawyers to have their clients examined by doctors for physical evidence of torture were disallowed.

The full Amnesty report can be found here. When read in concert with this March 2007 Amnesty report on three other Darfuri suspects arrested in connection with this crime, it becomes quite clear that the Sudanese investigation of the Taha murder amounted to little more than rounding up the usual suspects.

So, if the Darfuris are innocent, than who did murder Mohammed Taha? The likely answer is radical Islamists who were enraged by his newspaper's publishing an article in 2005 that questioned the genealogy of the Prophet Mohammed. Taha was not simply killed; he was beheaded in a manner that, in the BBC's words, suggested "similarities with brutal killings by al-Qaeda militants in Iraq". In addition, a group claiming affiliation with al Qaeda proudly accepted responsibility for the murder. Many in Sudan took this claim seriously. As the BBC reported in the immediate aftermath of Taha's killing, "(o)ur correspondent says journalists in Sudan are scared, fearing they could be next if they do something to annoy the Islamic fundamentalists."

In summary, it appears likely that the Sudanese regime, in its rush to close the case and discredit its Darfuri enemies, has allowed the real murderers of Mohammed Taha to escape justice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Now everything is available"

Last night, Dr. Saad Eskander, the Director of the Iraqi National Library, appeared on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS. The interview isn't yet available on the Charlie Rose web site; I'll provide a link once it gets posted. In the meantime, here are a few highlights as I remember them:

-Five of Dr. Eskander's staff have been murdered during the post-Saddam violence, along with two of the library's drivers. About 180 library staff have received death threats, forcing many of them to flee their homes and, in some cases, even the country.

-On a more optimistic note, Dr. Eskander confirmed that there has been a substantial reduction of violence in Baghdad over the last three months. According to him, both Sunni and Shia residents of the city are turning against the Islamist thugs in their midst.

Dr. Eskander is currently in North America on a two week speaking tour. David Mehegan of the Boston Globe had the opportunity to interview him, and wrote an excellent profile that makes clear just how amazing Dr. Eskander's achievements are:

"Every person has a cause to fight for," Eskander said in an interview during a visit to Boston this week. "This was my cause. If every one of us leaves the country, who will win? The forces of darkness, the extremists, the ignorant. It was important to stay and fight, and my sphere was culture."

Since the library was looted and all but destroyed in the aftermath of the March 2003 invasion, Eskander has reopened the main reading room, created a conservation lab and modern computer systems, put much of the catalog online, and opened the library to all students and scholars. He also built a new 300-person staff of men and women spanning ethnic and religious groups and created a democratic structure of internal decision-making. Meanwhile violence reigned outside, which Eskander documented on a widely read online diary.

Of particular interest are some additional comments from Dr. Eskander that Mehegan posted on his blog. These are worth quoting at length:

Q. What do you hope for, from the West?
A. People or governments?

Q. Both.
A. For people, my message is that cultural heritage is not just Iraqi; it is the world's cultural heritage. What has happened in Iraq does not only represent a disaster to Iraq; it was a disaster for everybody in the West, because we are a part of something called humankind. We all go back to the same civilizations, so what happens to Iraq affects you directly. The destruction of our culture is the destruction of your cultural heritage as well.

For governments, that you cannot use guns to defeat terrorism, and the forces of extremism. You need to invest in culture, and in helping cultural institutions in the Third World, I mean secular educational institutions, to fight terror. So you need to fight it first with ideas, with culture, with books, before you fight it with arms.

On the one hand, Dr. Eskander is right that radical Islamism must be fought with ideas. It is essential that Muslim freethinkers and reformers be empowered to challenge the dogmatism and intolerance of the Islamists. Unfortunately, against a movement with a long track record of murdering "apostates" and burning their books, ideas are not enough. Yes, libraries are essential to countering Islamism, but not if the books are destroyed and librarians murdered. Just as force was necessary to defeat German National Socialism and Soviet Communism, so it is required to rid the world of Salafist-jihadism.

For all the horrors and hardships of the last five years, Dr. Eskander explains why his efforts and those of his staff do matter:

Q. But what about the library users?
A. They are very grateful. They always come to me to thank me for this transition because they used the library during Saddam's time, when there were security agents inside the library, there was censorship, they couldn't read certain books and publications. Now everything is available.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Another Buddha destroyed, and the world answers with silence"

The article by Vishakha N. Desai concerning the recent destruction of the Swat Buddha is available via Middle East Transparent. Dr. Desai points out that there are numerous additional Buddhist cultural resources under threat from Taliban desecration:

There are vast numbers of important Buddhist sites in Swat and other areas of northwest Pakistan. At this point, all of them are under threat of destruction, thanks to the influential voice of the Islamist leader Mullah Fazlullah, whose father-in-law, Sufi Mohammad, founded one of the extremist orders.

This order was responsible for bringing more than 10,000 jihadi fighters to Afghanistan to fight alongside Taliban soldiers against the United States in 2001. While Mohammad is believed to be languishing in a regional jail, Mullah Fazlullah operates with impunity, using the radio to spread a message of hatred and intolerance. It is time that the world community not only registers its outrage against such destruction of cultural treasures, but also joins those Pakistanis who are desperately trying to pressure their government to preserve - for their sake and ours - their pre-Islamic cultural heritage. If the world does not act this time, we risk losing one of the most precious legacies of early Buddhist history.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

In honor of my father: PFC Charles B. Durant, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, United States Army. Deployed in the Pacific from May 1945 to September 1946.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bamiyan: The Sequel

In March 2001, Afghanistan's Taliban shocked the civilized world when they destroyed the historic Buddhas of Bamiyan. This act of cultural vandalism has come to epitomize Islamism's intolerance the same way that the May 1933 book burnings symbolized that of the Nazis.

Today, having been driven from most of Afghanistan, the Taliban have carved out de facto control of a large part of northwestern Pakistan, where they have imposed the same draconian strictures that existed in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. This passage from a May 22, 2007 Time article describes the situation:

The residents of Dara Adam Khel, a gunsmiths' village 30 miles south of Peshawar, Pakistan, awoke one morning last month to find their streets littered with pamphlets demanding that they observe Islamic law. Women were instructed to wear all-enveloping burqas and men to grow their beards. Music and television were banned. Then the jihadists really got serious. These days, dawn is often accompanied by the wailing of women as another beheaded corpse is found by the side of the road, a note pinned to the chest claiming that the victim was a spy for either the Americans or the Pakistani government. Beheadings are recorded and sold on DVD in the area's bazaars. "It's the knife that terrifies me," says Hafizullah, 40, a local arms smith. "Before they kill you, they sharpen the knife in front of you. They are worse than butchers."

Not content with this barbarous form of social control, the Taliban are once more engaging in cultural desecration. A November 8 article from Der Spiegel provides the details:

Islamists inspired by the Taliban recently destroyed an important Buddhist sculpture 40 meters (131 feet) tall and about 1,300 years old in the north-western part of the Swat Valley, reports Vishaka N. Desai, the director of the US-based Asia Society.


In her article, which appeared in the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper on Tuesday, Buddhism expert Desai reports that the Islamists were able to act without any interference from the local administration -- in broad daylight. Their first destruction attempt left the sculpture undamaged; the second damaged the Buddha's face, shoulders and feet. The culprits had used large machines to drill shafts into the historic monument. They then filled the shafts with explosives and detonated them.

Desai, who is Indian, also reports that while Pakistani newspapers criticized the desecration extensively, the international press hardly took notice of the incident. And yet it was not the first of its kind. As recently as September of this year, gunshots were fired at a rock effigy of Buddha in the same region.

Sadly, as with the Bamiyan Buddhas, the destruction of the Swat Buddha is merely one manifestation of the Taliban movement's hatred of any form of art or culture deemed "un-Islamic":

Mullah Maulana Fazlullah is currently the strong man in the Swat region, notwithstanding his youth: He is only 28 years old. He thinks of himself as part of the Taliban movement and accepts only one authority: Mullah Omar. He has even proclaimed an "Islamic emirate" in his area of influence, and he commands a militia estimated to comprise some 4,500 men.

But Buddhist artefacts are not the only thorn in the Islamist's side. He also emulates the Taliban's religious and moral terror in other respects. For example, he threatened members of the Christian minority in the region -- about 1,000 people -- with death if they do not convert to Islam, Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported recently. And a Christian girls' school was forced to close and only allowed to open again on condition that all the girls wear a burka.


British daily The Guardian reports that the religious warriors operating under Fazlullah's control also set fire to several stores selling Indian and Western films and destroyed barber's shops that were known to shave men. Fazlullah even prevented the implementation of a polio vaccination program supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the New York Times reports. Fazlullah claimed the vaccinations would make men impotent.

While the Pakistani regime of Pervez Musharraf focuses on repressing opposition politicians and civil society activists, the Taliban are turning northwest Pakistan into a model of Islamist totalitarianism.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Koran Distributor Arrested in Afghanistan

The BBC reported on Sunday that Mr. Ghows Zalmay, the spokesman for Afghanistan's Attorney General, was arrested. The reason: distributing an allegedly "un-Islamic" version of the Koran:

Religious scholars are outraged at the new edition of the Muslim holy book.

They say that it is un-Islamic, that it misinterprets verses about alcohol, begging, homosexuality and adultery.

They also complain that it does not contain the original version in Arabic as a parallel text for comparison.

Both houses of the Afghan parliament have held emergency debates.

Senators have called for Mr Zalmay and the translator, himself a mullah, to be punished.

One said Mr Zalmay was "worse than Salman Rushdie", whose book, The Satanic Verses, caused widespread outrage in the Islamic world.

At least in ths case, it appears that Afghanistan's democratically elected legislators are more interested in imitating the Taliban than in fighting them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chavez's Useful Idiots

Writing for Slate, Anne Applebaum rightly excoriates the privileged celebrities like Naomi Campbell who have chosen to prostrate themselves before Venezuela's aspiring tyrant Hugo Chavez:

Exhibit A is, of course, Campbell. Though better known for her taste in shoes than her opinions about Latin American economics, she nevertheless pitched up in Caracas last week, gushing about the "love and encouragement" President Chávez pours into his welfare programs. Wearing what a Venezuelan newspaper called "a revolutionary and exquisite white dress from the prestigious Fendi fashion house," she praised the country for its "large waterfalls." Of course, Campbell did not mention the anti-Chávez demonstrations held in Caracas the week before her visit, proposed constitutional changes designed to let Chávez remain in power indefinitely, or Chávez's record of harassing opposition leaders or the media.

But then, that wasn't the point of her visit, just as it wasn't when actor Sean Penn, a self-conscious "radical" and avowed enemy of the American president, spent a whole day with President Chávez. Together, the two of them toured the countryside. "I came here looking for a great country. I found a great country," Penn declared. But of course he found a great country! Penn wanted a country where he would win adulation for his views about U.S. politics, and the Venezuelan president happily provided it.

In fact, for the malcontents of Hollywood, academia, and the catwalks, Chávez is an ideal ally. Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called "useful idiots" once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention, and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration John Reed once felt—the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law. For all his brilliance, Reed could not bring socialism to America. For all his wealth, fame, media access, and Hollywood power, Sean Penn cannot oust George W. Bush. But by showing up in the company of Chávez, he can at least get a lot more attention for his opinions.

Sean Penn has implied that George W. Bush is bringing fascism to America. How pathetic is it that he embraces a ruler who really is implementing something akin to fascism?

“All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.”

Please visit this must read post from Michael Yon, which includes an amazing and potentially iconic image.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Continuing the Debate

Please accept my apologies for the recent lack of posts. I was otherwise occupied for all of last week. Something like regular posting will resume this week, so be forewarned. In the meantime, my post on the validity of the term "Islamofascism" has sparked a bit of interesting discussion.

Just to keep things going, here are two interesting articles that discuss Islamism and help explain why I feel it's the best term to use for our adversary:

Terror, Islam, and Democracy
-A great essay from the April 2002 issue of the Journal of Democracy that describes Islamism and traces its origins to "Leninism, fascism, and other strains of twentieth-century thought that exalt totalitarian violence."

Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?
-A typically good analysis from scholar Martin Kramer on the evolution of the term "Islamism" and of some of the alternative concepts that have been offered in its place.