Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to my handful of loyal readers. If, like me, you won't be out having fun tonight because you are geeky and devoid of a social life, don't despair. As this classic video from Late Night with Conan O'Brien reminds us, there are those far more pathetic than us:

On a different note, in my ceaseless quest to be only 1-2 years behind the times, I give you lolcat@your library (both images courtesy of

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rafiq Tagi to be Freed

At least there is good news for one writer persecuted by Islamists, according to the Associated Press:

Azerbaijan's president issued a decree Friday granting amnesty to 119 prison inmates, including several journalists whose convictions drew protests from international rights groups.

Among those freed by President Ilham Aliev's order were Samir Huseinov, editor of the newspaper Senet, and his reporter Rafiq Tagi. The two were convicted in May of inciting hatred in an article that criticized Islam.

Their convictions were criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main trans-Atlantic security and rights organization, and other rights groups.

The presidential decree also granted amnesty to four other journalists. But several more journalists remain in custody.

(Emphasis added-DD)

I have written at length about Rafiq Tagi. While I am happy to see him and his editor freed, the fact remains that they are still very much in danger. After all, three Iranian clerics issued religious rulings calling for Tagi and his editor to be killed. If they so desire, they and their families should be given asylum in America or Europe, where they can get the protection they need.

Taslima Nasreen Living in "Prison Conditions"

While the world's attention was focused on the Sudanese regime's Kafkaesque persecution of Gillian Gibbons, a woman living in India also found herself under threat from Islamist mobs. Unlike Ms. Gibbons, the victim in this case is all too familiar with such circumstances.

On Wednesday, November 21, Islamist-led demonstrations turned into riots in the Indian city of Calcutta. According to the BBC, 43 people were injured and over 100 arrested. The Islamists were demanding that exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen be expelled from India. A forceful critic of Islam and of the treatment of women and religious minorities in her native country, Nasreen has seen a number of her books banned and been the target of Islamist death threats and intimidation for well over a decade. She has lived in Calcutta for the last three years. Until now, that is.

In the wake of the riots, Nasreen was forced to flee the city, going into hiding in India's capital of Delhi.

In response to this renewed campaign against her, on November 30 Nasreen announcerd that she would edit her biography in order to appease her Islamic critics. According to the Times of London:

Ms Nasreen had claimed that the religious references in Dwikhandito, which means Divided, are sourced from “universally accepted” books on Islamic history.

Today she relented under pressure and said that “controversial lines” relating to Islam from the autobiographical novel would be removed.

“The book was written in 2002, based on my memories of Bangladesh in the 1980s, during which time secularism was removed from the Bangladesh constitution. I wrote the book in support of the people who defended secular values. I had no intention to hurt anybody’s sentiment,” she said today from a secret location.

“I have done what I have never done in my life. I have compromised even in a secular India.” She added that she hoped she would now be able to “live peacefully” in India.

Prashant Mukherjee, her publisher in Calcutta, refused to divulge the exact text or the nature of the sentences that were deemed particularly offensive by Islamic clerics, but said two paragraphs would be deleted.

Unfortunately, Nasreen's hopes that appeasing the Islamists would allow her to "live peacefully" have proven to be predictably futile. This December 3 report from The Guardian explains:

But the offer to remove the paragraphs from new printings of the bestseller was not enough for Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric of New Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, who suggested earlier today that Indian Muslims should "not tolerate the infamous authoress Taslima Nasrin on the Indian soil" unless she offered a written apology for what he called her "anti-Islamic publications".

"The apology must bear her assurance that in future she will desist from repeating such venomous writing that may have any inkling of blasphemy," he said in a statement.

On December 12, the president of the Indian Union Muslim League demanded that Nasreen be deported from India. In an Orwellian inversion of reality, G.M. Banatwala justified his position by stating that it was Nasreen who was engaged in "an assault on the freedom of expression".

While the controversy has continued, Nasreen has remained in Delhi under Indian government protection. According to Agence France Presse, she is being held in a government safe house "under virtual house arrest". Indian officials have been mostly silent about Nasreen's situation, fueling speculation that they would prefer that she left the country.

The Marxist government of West Bengal, where Calcutta is located, has behaved in especially disgraceful fashion. You might think that Marxists would be eager to protect a secular, atheist feminist from religious extremists. In this case, you would be wrong. The West Bengal government, for its own cynical reasons, has openly joined in the verbal attacks on Ms. Nasreen and her writings.

While Indian officials have been reluctant to stand up for Nasreen and her right to free expression, many writers and intellectuals have come to her defense. On December 22, some of India's leading intellectuals staged a demonstration in Calcutta demanding that Nasreen be allowed to return if she wished. Yesterday, a number of Indian writers published a letter to authorities asking that Nasreen be freed from the "prison conditions" in which she is currently being held. Even Gloria Stienem spoke up in defense of Taslima Nasreen during a recent visit to India.

Perhaps in response to such criticism, the Marxist leaders of West Bengal have made noises about allowing Nasreen to return to Calcutta as long as the national government agrees to handle her security. Predictably, local Islamic leaders have threatened even more violent protests if she returns.

India is the world's largest democracy and has made enormous social, economic and political progress during the sixty years of its independence. Unfortunately, it also remains riven with religious and sectarian conflict. Indian authorities have adopted the belief that, if they limit free expression that is potentially offensive to some religious groups, they can alleviate these tensions. This is incorrect. Allowing religious extremists and sectarian grievance mongers to define the limits of free speech is not the solution to sectarian conflict; it only entrenches and perpetuates it.

By effectively allowing Taslima Nasreen to be silenced by mob censorship, India has handed Islamism yet another victory in its global war on intellectual freedom. It has also set a dangerous precedent that could well threaten Indian democracy if allowed to continue unchecked.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Arab Blogs: Are They Making a Difference?

The BBC's Robin Lustig looks at the current state of blogging in the Arab world:

That, at least, is the theory. There are now 70 million blogs in existence; 120,000 new ones spring up every day.

True, most of them are read only by their authors, but some have immense influence - and in the Arab world, some are now much more popular than the traditional print and broadcast media.

But being online does not mean being free of government restrictions.

In Egypt, bloggers can claim some successes: after they posted video images of police torturing detainees in custody, police officers were put on trial and jailed.

But one blogger has himself been jailed for insulting Islam, defaming President Hosni Mubarak, and "spreading information disruptive of the public order". Others face harassment and live in fear of arrest.

So are the "new media" - blogs, websites, chatrooms - now becoming the only truly independent media in the Arab world?

That was the question at the centre of a BBC debate I chaired in Cairo last week - and the response from the audience, despite the restrictions still in place, was overwhelmingly Yes.

You can listen to the debate by visiting the BBC web site.

While Lustig notes that his audience may not have been the most representative sample of Arab public opinion, his experience does suggest that blogs are providing a welcome venue for free expression in the Middle East.

The Decline of Reading: An Alternative View

Writing in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Leah Price questions the proposition put forth by the NEA and others that reading is on the decline:

Last year, the N.E.A. responded to the supposed reading crisis with the Big Read, a campaign that offered communities a choice of book to read together. Predictably, one of the selections was Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” I’m not sure what moved me to reread the novel last month: maybe the dystopian N.E.A. report, maybe the release of the Kindle. (Is Amazon suggesting that the books of the world can now go up in flames?) Something puzzled me this time, though: what exactly are Bradbury’s villains trying to get rid of? Sometimes it’s a material object — bound pages get burned without ever being read. At other times, it seems to be high culture, oral as much as written. In a world full of actors “who haven’t acted Pirandello or Shaw or Shakespeare for years,” one character can tell another, “It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books.” Writing in the same decade as Marshall McLuhan, Bradbury never seems certain whether his topic is the medium or the message.

The N.E.A. perpetuates the confusion about what’s “at risk.” Great literature (as opposed to pulp fiction)? Pleasure reading (as opposed to reading to grub grades or grub money)? The reading of books (as opposed to newspaper Web sites, mail-order catalogs and N.E.A. reports)? Reading mediated by some surface that predates the LCD — books, scrolls, tombstones? Bafflingly, the N.E.A.’s time-use charts classify “e-mailing” and “surfing Web sites” as competitors to reading, not subsets of it. Bradbury’s logic was even less consistent: in the future, he predicts, the “rule book” will forbid reading.

The one hypothesis that neither “Fahrenheit 451” nor “To Read or Not to Read” supports is that reading itself stands in any danger. Although Bradbury equates totalitarianism with book burning, his novel never explains how a surveillance state could function without record-keeping. (Every historian knows that police states generate the juiciest archives.) When the hero goes on the lam after being caught reading “Dover Beach,” the alert broadcast on the “televisor” takes an alphabetical form: “‘Montag,’ the TV set said, and lit up. ‘M-O-N-T-A-G.’ The name was spelled out by a voice.” Bradbury can imagine a world without books, but not without bookkeeping. The file, the list, the label, the memo: these are the genres that will keep reading alive. Whatever happens to the novel, we’ll always need a rule book.

While I think Professor Price offers some valid criticisms of the reading in decline thesis, she does miss one important point. The rise of the Internet is changing not just what people read, but how they read and indeed how they think. There is a stark difference between reading as a purely practical function designed to facilitate record-keeping and reading in order to educate oneself and develop one's critical faculties. Practical literacy and critical thinking skills are two distinct phenomena. Our society will always have the former; we sorely need the latter as well.

Video and the Great Firewall

Christopher Griffin offers an interesting look at the threat online video poses to China's "Great Firewall" of Internet censorship. Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Armed Forces Journal, the article is available on the American Enterprise Institute web site:

The Chinese government has never much enjoyed the Internet age. It employs a nationwide bureaucracy, including countless local "Internet cop" branches, to maintain the "Great Firewall of China" and prevent the seepage of information that may harm the interests of one-party rule in Beijing. This effort has allowed the government to monitor most of its citizens' online activities, block politically offensive Web sites and maintain press censorship in defiance of the millenarian predictions about the Internet from just a few years ago.

The challenge facing China's Internet cops is immense. According to official statistics, China has nearly 140 million Internet users, roughly equal to the population of Russia. To make matters more complicated, the government calculates that half of these digital denizens are spending most of their online time on video sites, where the challenge of censorship can be complicated by the scarcity of such easily searchable keywords as "Tiananmen Massacre" or "Taiwan independence," and where the consequences of a rapidly transmitted video can be far more destabilizing than an online petition or still image.

China Tries to Stem the Tide of Critical Online Videos

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fairytale of Censorship?

In a December 19 op-ed for The Guardian, Peter Tatchell summarizes a recent censorship controversy in the UK:

I am both perplexed and angered by the storm of controversy over the sweet Christmas pop song, Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. The furore is not about the use of the word "faggot" in the lyrics, but the fact that BBC Radio 1 decided to bleep out the f-word. Critics decried it as censorship and an attack on free speech.

A BBC online poll asked the public whether the word "faggot" should be deleted. Over 95% said no. They believe that singing the word faggot is acceptable. Faced with this deluge of criticism, Radio 1 caved in and rescinded its bleep-out. This looks like capitulation to mass pressure, rather than a rational, consistent policy decision.

In Tatchell's view, the BBC was entirely within its rights to bleep the term in question. Brendan O'Neill, on the Guardian web site, argues that the BBC was guilty of both censorship and elitism.

In my view, this incident is merely another example of the kind of silly pseudo controversy that arises in free societies due to the lack of genuine threats to free expression. Like the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of a few years' back, it neither poses a dire threat to society, nor does not showing it mark the emergence of police state censorship. It is simply an issue of perceived obscenity and community standards, to hopefully be resolved in accord with the wishes of the community. This sounds like what happened.

Make no mistake, Fairytale of New York is a beautiful song, but it is not your father's Christmas song. What the BBC did in this case is simply what American TV and radio outlets have done for years. Indeed, they still do it, as anyone who watches Red Eye can attest.

In my view, the most shocking element of this story is its confirmation that, by some divine miracle, Shane MacGowan still lives. When I saw him live at Detroit's St. Andrew's Hall in August 1995, I gave him two more years at most. He was an hour late coming on stage, slurred his lyrics, stumbled and staggered on stage and had the gaunt, emaciated look of someone who smokes five packs a day. He only performed for an hour, though he was quite proficient at giving the two finger salute to unhappy members of the audience. When my friend went to see him at the same venue in 1999, MacGowan failed to come on stage, and the event had to be canceled.

In his piece, O'Neill provides this description of the present-day Shane MacGowan:

I once read a book called Is Shane MacGowan still alive? The answer to that question wasn't immediately clear as the man himself staggered on to the stage at Brixton Academy last night. With skin as grey as a cadaver's, and a cackle that sounds spookily like a death rattle, MacGowan looked more "living dead" than fully alive.

Then the music started, and Shane began belting out old Pogues classics like a pub drunk who's had one (or perhaps 10) too many.

What's truly sad and ironic is that while MacGowan continues to stagger on like a Guinness-swilling zombie, Kirsty MacColl died in a tragic boating accident in 2000. Her beautiful voice has been silenced, yet a once brilliant songwriter and musician who chose to drink himself into a permanent stupor lives on. Sometimes, life defies rational explanation.

(Edited: 12-27-07, DD. Because if I'm going to write about Shane MacGowan, I should at least spell his name correctly.)

Censorship in Uzbekistan

The BBC takes a look at the alarming extent of censorship in the Central Asian dictatorship of Uzbekistan. Online filtering is a key part of the regime's campaign against intellectual freedom:

Most of the independent and pro-opposition websites are blocked, as are the BBC and Radio Liberty.

In hundreds of internet cafes across the country, the government is keeping a close eye on the behaviour of internet users.

"If you want to copy a file in an internet cafe to your USB stick, you have to ask the manager, who first checks the content and only then copies your file," explained an Uzbek journalist who asked not to be identified.

"Even if you use a search engine and type in Uzbekistan or Islam Karimov, all articles that may have negative comments are blocked - even blogs are inaccessible," she said.

Unfortunately, the Karimov regime's campaign of censorship goes well beyond cyberspace, or even the physical borders of Uzbekistan, as the recent murder of an Uzbek journalist named Alisher Saipov in neighboring Kyrgyzstan shows:

On 24 October at 7pm, as Alisher left his office in Osh, an unidentified gunmen fired two bullets into the back of his head.

Kyrgyz police are still looking for the perpetrators, but according to Paul Quinn Judge, Central Asia director of the International Crisis Group, the murder sent a pretty clear signal.

"You don't criticise the president, you don't criticise his constitutional decisions, and you certainly don't vote against him," said Mr Judge.

"Alisher's murder reinforced that message in a very brutal way, but I suspect very strongly the message of Alisher's murder goes to the overseas opposition rather than the internal Uzbek opposition."

Daniil Kislov said: "It was an execution. A cold-blooded execution designed to tell all of us to shut up."

Uzbekistan was a US ally in the War on Terror from 9/11 until 2005. In May of that year, the regime massacred opponents in the city of Andijon, an event that led to a fracturing of the US-Uzbek relationship. Since then, the Karimov regime has been embraced by Russia and China while intensifying its crackdown on free expression.

The Adversarial Profession

The excellent Minding the Campus blog has a terrific piece by Mark Bauerlein called "The Adversarial Campus". Bauerlein discusses how left-wing academics respond to the overwhelming evidence of left-of-center bias on campus. While many deny the phenomenon and question the evidence, others take a different tack:

The denials go on, and sometimes it's hard to tell whether professors really believe in their own neutrality or whether they just hope to brazen out the attacks. One response, however, stands apart, precisely because it doesn't deny a darn thing in the bias charge. Indeed, it concedes every empirical point - "Yes, left-wing people, left-wing ideas, and left-wing texts dominate," but it adds, "And that's exactly as it should be."

It's a refreshingly straightforward assertion. I heard it at an MLA Convention session awhile back when a young man in the audience talked about getting shot down by his professor when he voiced in class a conservative opinion. One of the panelists replied by telling him to quit complaining, then enlarged the rebuke to all conservative critics. "Look," he grumbled, "conservatives have taken over every where else [this was before the 2006 election], and now they want the campus, too, the one place where liberal values can still prevail."

I'm paraphrasing from memory, but the implication was unmistakable. We need the campus to remain solidly liberal to keep conservatism from swamping the entire present. We might call this the Adversarial Campus Argument. It says that the campus must contest the mainstream, that higher education must critique U.S. culture and society because they have drifted rightward. For the intellectual and moral health of the nation, the professoriate must drift leftward. Kids come into college awash in the three idols that, in the eyes of the teaching liberal, make up the American trinity: God, country, and family. Instruction meets its mind-opening duty by dislodging their acculturation, dismantling the dangerous corollaries of each one, namely, fundamentalism, patriotism, and patriarchy/homophobia.

(Emphasis added-DD)

When I read this piece, the passages I bolded above almost leaped off the screen at me. Because they match almost verbatim some of the responses left-wing librarians have offered to myself and other critics of politicized librarianship. For example, Michael McGrorty responded to my September 2005 Chronicle essay by conceding that leftist politics had permeated the library profession. Where he disagreed with me is that he thought this was a good thing:

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

(Emphasis added-DD)

See also the views of those like John Berry, who has implied that one has to be a politically active leftist in order to be a good librarian. Essentially, just as many academic leftists see themselves as part of what Bauerlein calls the Adversarial Campus, so many left-wing librarians see their role as making librarianship into an Adversarial Profession.

I have argued at length about why having a profession committed to the free exchange of ideas function internally as an ideological echo chamber is a bad thing. I won't repeat those points here. Bauerlein, however, offers a telling critique of the Adversarial Campus that applies equally well to the Adversarial Profession:

Several points against the Adversarial Campus Argumetn spring to mind, but a single question explodes it. If Democrats won the White House in 08 and enlarged their majorities in Congress, and if a liberal replaced Scalia on the Supreme Court, would adversarial professors adjust their turf accordingly? Would Hillary in the White House bring Bill Kristol a professorship or Larry Summers a presidency again?

Hardly, and it goes to show that the Adversarial Campus Argument isn't really an argument. It's an attitude. And attitudes aren't overcome by evidence, especially when they do so much for people who bear them. For, think of what the Adversarial Campus does for professors. It flatters the ego, ennobling teachers into dissidents and gadflies. They feel underpaid and overworked, mentally superior but underappreciated, and any notion that compensates is attractive. It gives their isolation from zones of power, money, and fame a functional value. Yes, they're marginal, but that's because they impart threatening ideas. The powerlessness they feel rises into a meaningful political condition.

These points are dead on. To borrow Bauerlein's analogy, is Greg McClay more likely to be elected to ALA Council now that Democrats control both houses of Congress? Somehow, I think not. Similarly, how many librarians overcome their unhappiness over low pay and long hours by believing that they're part of a profession that pushes for "social change" and is the only thing preventing the FBI from fulfilling its nefarious objective of monitoring people's reading habits? Quite a few, I suspect.

To borrow again from Bauerlein, it is clear that for many left-wing librarians, their political persona is indistinguishable from their professional identity. This is why efforts to depoliticize ALA and other professional forums are contested so bitterly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Real War on Christmas Revisited

As she did two years ago, the Hudson Institute's Nina Shea has written a piece for National Review Online documenting where the real "war on Christmas" is taking place:

In the two millennia since the child’s birth in a humble manger in Bethlehem, the good news of Christianity has spread to every continent, inspiring more followers than any other religion today. But the lands that once were the cradle of Christianity have turned distinctively inhospitable to the faith. Fiercely intolerant variants of Islam are taking hold in the region, many of them fueled with ideology and funds from Saudi and Iranian extremists.

From Morocco to the Persian Gulf, we are seeing the rapid erosion of Christian populations, thought to now number no more than 15 million. These are the communities that have disproportionately been the region’s modernizers, the mediators bridging east and west, its educators and academics, as the Lebanese Catholic scholar Habib Malik observes. For empirical evidence he has to look no further than his own father, a principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The loss of Middle Eastern Christianity has profound meaning for the Church. But it should not be a matter of concern to Christians only. These Christian communities, along with a handful of other non-Muslim minority groups, such as the Bahais, Mandeans, Yizidis, Jews, together with the anti-Islamist Muslims, are the front-line in the terrible worldwide struggle taking place today between Islamist totalitarianism and individual rights and freedoms. The extinction of these ancient church communities will lead to ever more extremism within the region and polarization from the non-Muslim world. This will hurt us all.

Please read the rest:

A Creche Without Christians

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays!

It's time again for me to experience the joys of holiday travel. I may post a little bit this weekend but that is not for sure. I will definitely be posting between Christmas and New Year's, so stay tuned for that. Until then, it's time for that Heretical Librarian tradition:

The Star Wars Holiday Special

In two glorious parts, courtesy of

(Please note that the proprietor of this site (me) bears no responsibility whatsoever for any physical or emotional trauma that might ensue from viewing either of these clips. The user assumes all risk)

Merry Christmas all!

Internet Cafe Crackdown in Iran

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports on the latest front in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "Cultural Revolution" against "un-Islamic" thought and expression:

Police in Tehran have raided more than 430 Internet cafes and other shops during the first days of the latest campaign against what they say is inappropriate and un-Islamic conduct.

Iranian state media quote the police as saying that in the past few days, they have closed down 25 Internet cafes and given warnings to 170 cafe owners for "using immoral computer games and storing obscene photos," and for the presence of women without "proper hijab" on the premises.

At least 23 people -- including several women -- have been detained for similar reasons.

The owner of one of the Tehran Internet cafes that was inspected and temporarily closed down by police, who gave his name as Hessam, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that police started questioning him when they found some family photos -- with a female member of the family among them -- on a computer.

"We had a few family photos in our system. They asked, 'Who is this girl that is sitting close to you?'" Hessam said. "Just because of those private photos, they closed this place for three or four days. [The police pressure] has reached that level! It has become a headache, a problem for everybody. We don't know what to do."

The Decline of Reading

Caleb Crain has written a thoughtful, disturbing essay for the December 24 New Yorker on the decline of reading in American society and its implications:

In 1937, twenty-nine per cent of American adults told the pollster George Gallup that they were reading a book. In 1955, only seventeen per cent said they were. Pollsters began asking the question with more latitude. In 1978, a survey found that fifty-five per cent of respondents had read a book in the previous six months. The question was even looser in 1998 and 2002, when the General Social Survey found that roughly seventy per cent of Americans had read a novel, a short story, a poem, or a play in the preceding twelve months. And, this August, seventy-three per cent of respondents to another poll said that they had read a book of some kind, not excluding those read for work or school, in the past year. If you didn’t read the fine print, you might think that reading was on the rise.

You wouldn’t think so, however, if you consulted the Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts, who, since 1982, have asked thousands of Americans questions about reading that are not only detailed but consistent. The results, first reported by the N.E.A. in 2004, are dispiriting. In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”

The NEA report can be found here.

Unfortunately, as Crain points out in his essay, it is unlikely that very much can be done to reverse this disquieting trend.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Real War on Christmas

Claims that there is a "War on Christmas" in America are as ridiculous as claims that George Bush is taking us on the road to fascism. Two years ago, Nina Shea wrote a great article pointing out what a real "War on Christmas" looks like. I linked it back then, but with many evangelical Christians so caught up in the notion that Christmas is under assault that they're willing to foist the fundamentalist version of Jimmy Carter on our country, it is more timely than ever:

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

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

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

Politically correct silliness like "holiday trees" or stores where the employees say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" may be annoying, but it does not come close to religious persecution.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sudan Update

Gillian Gibbons is free, but Sudan's Islamist regime continues to attack intellectual freedom in that country. Courtesy of the MEMRI Blog, here are two recent examples:

-On December 6, a Sudanese newspaper reported that five journalists held a press conference to announce that one of them had received a death threat:

The journalist who received the phone call said that the individual, who was calling from Chad, told him that elements in Sudan had offered him $22,000 to assassinate him, and that the assassination had been ordered by elements outside Sudan because of the journalists' opposition to the government and their support for intervention by foreign forces in Darfur.

-While anti-government journalists are getting death threats, individuals who sell controversial books are sent to prison:

A Khartoum criminal court yesterday, December 16, sentenced two Egyptian nationals to six months in prison for harming the religion by marketing books at the Khartoum book fair condemning 'Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

In a December 8 piece for Pajamas Media, Sudanese blogger Drima offered his thoughts on the absurd teddy bear "blasphemy". His comments stand as a damning indictment of what the Islamists have done to his country:

Those we watched angrily protesting love to highlight the supposed immorality of the West – the bars, bare women and “corrupting” freedoms. We pride ourselves on living in a country that is supposedly more moral and therefore automatically better. It’s a false pride, one propagated and encouraged by the propaganda of Sudanese Islamists.

Certainly we have a lot to be proud of as a people with a rich history and culture. The Nubian Civilization, hailed by many experts as one of the greatest that ever existed, is but only one aspect of that. True Sudanese values of generosity and hospitality – ones slowly but surely withering away as oppression tears us – are trademarks we’re well known for. There is, however, nothing for us to be proud of as citizens of a country ruled by a gang of morally bankrupt butchers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Google and its Enemies...

is the title of a interesting Jonathan Last essay that was the cover story in the December 10 Weekly Standard. Last makes a good case against the Google book digitization project. His arguments, though, are ultimately unconvincing.

Last makes copyright the centerpiece of his critique. It is a lengthy essay, but the following passages give a sense of his objections:

Blake Field sued Google for copying and caching 51 works from his website. The court ruled in Google's favor, citing in particular the ease of Google's "opt out" feature, but the decision was based in part on dubious grounds. The court said that Field had "invited" Google's spiders--web robots which crawl through the Internet cataloguing and indexing pages for a search engine--by not including code on his website which discouraged them. In other words, by not telling Google to stay away, Field was asking to have his copyright violated. It's the intellectual property version of "She wore a red dress to the bar on Saturday night."


The Internet has become, like the 17th-century printing press, incapable of observing copyrights. In the same way the printing press encouraged the mass production of books and magazines and newspapers, the Internet cries out for the distribution of all information--everything from blog entries to pictures to books. And as it distributes all of this information, it exerts a leveling force that diminishes the value of everything it touches. There is no reason that the Internet, unlike the printing press before it, should be exempt from the same protections of creative value. Yet, this is what Google's defense would achieve.

As you can tell, Last is a bit of a traditionalist. His piece oozes with disdain for this new fangled Internet thing. Personally, I find his account of the Field case didactic if not downright Luddite. What he finds to be "dubious grounds", I call simple common sense. If Field didn't want anyone to be able to copy his images, then why did he post them online to begin with? Plus, as the court pointed out, all he had to do was put "robots.txt" on his web site to make it Google-proof. It's certainly a lot cheaper and easier than filing a lawsuit.

Last also misses an important distinction: Google's policy of caching online materials is about providing access to works produced by others; it is not the same thing as republishing something without permission in a print environment. The argument that the Internet is "incapable of observing copyrights" is also spurious. Numerous publishers have built subscription firewalls into their web sites. Yes, you can find their articles via Google; but you have to pay if you want the full text and aren't already a subscriber.

Should Google or other search engines really have to send letters to the owners of every single web site asking express permission to index and/or cache their materials? No, this would be ridiculous, especially when such sites can make themselves unavailable to search engines with just a little bit of coding. Whatever its flaws as a resource and a company, the good Google does by making online information more accessible far outweighs the negative aspects that Last chooses to emphasize.

Last is on a bit firmer ground in his critique of Google's library digitization project. After all, in this case Google is actively digitizing print content, not simply providing access to what others have posted:

Yet even if Google finds a way to realize its dreams, it's unclear exactly how useful the Book Search would ever be for the average user. Is there value in seeing "snippets" of this or that text? The only way the project could really achieve its goal of disseminating knowledge to the masses would be by ignoring copyrights and putting all texts into the public domain. Which is, of course, what the logic of the Internet ultimately wants. "Information wants to be free," according to one of the web's founding mantras.

If Google was a different company, with a different set of motivating principles, it might well have constructed its Library project along the lines of Apple's iTunes model--that is, it would have spent time and money not perfecting a mass scanning operation designed to gobble up as many pages as possible per hour, but in securing the rights to a large catalogue of books which it could then sell as downloads. After all, it's not as though the current delivery mechanism for books is in any way optimal.

But this concept is beyond its ken. Google's corporate philosophy is based on the model which brought them success: organizing and giving away other people's content, creating space for advertisements in the process. The enormous success Google found with that model in the search engine business spurred it to try and impose it in every arena. In the Google worldview, content is individually valueless. No one page is more important than the next; the value lies in the page view. And a page view is a page view, regardless of whether the page in question has a picture of a cat, a single link to another site, or the full text of Freakonomics. When all you're selling is ad space, the value shifts from the content to the viewer. And ultimately the content is valued at nothing. And here, finally, is the larger problem posed by Google's actions. Books are not in any important sense user-centric. Whether or not a book has readers matters little. Books stand on their own, over time, as ideas and creations. In the world of books, it is the ideas and the authors that matter most, not the readers. That is why the copyright exists in the first place, to protect the value of these created works, a value which Google is trying mightily to deny.

Again, despite a few good points, Last has oversimplified things. Yes, people prefer full text when they're online. However, his notion that "the logic of the Internet" will lead inevitably to everything being fully available online is less than realistic. In a way, it's a mirror image of the belief that the Internet will become the long sought after "universal library". Even if every item that Google has digitized is made full text,it would still be a small percentage of everything that has ever been published.

It's also simplistic to suggest that the "only way" Google's book search would be useful is if it's all full text. By that standard, online library catalogs are not helpful either. Google Book Search is a very useful resource for finding books on a topic, even more so than most library catalogs because Google refers you to specific pages that contain your search terms. If the book looks relevant, the user can either purchase a copy or get it from their local library.

Last complains that Google is "organizing and giving away other people's content". As I noted earlier, this is absurd. Google is a tool to find what's available on the web. Using the same standard, Last could equally accuse libraries of "giving away other people's content". In terms of Google Book Search, copyrighted content is not being given away. The user can only retrieve a few pages at most. Last argues elsewhere that Google is still making money off of scanned copyrighted books through advertising revenue. This is likely true. However, this could easily be remedied by a revenue sharing arrangement with publishers.

Last's final paragraph makes it clear that his opposition to Google and its digitization project transcends such mundane concerns as copyright infringement and revenue. I personally love books, or else I wouldn't be in the profession I'm in. Last, however, objectifies them. In his view, books "stand on their own, over time, as ideas and creations". Implicit in his essay is an attitude that the very act of digitizing a book is a form of desecration, turning it into just another valueless page view.

Last is right that the online environment transforms how users find and perceive information. This does not, however, validate his argument. In fact, it directly contradicts his case that a print standard of copyright should be applied in the digital environment. It also ignores that people are usually content to settle for what they can easily find on the web when doing research. Unfortunately, for many users, it's not a question of either using a page of Freakonomics found online or using the print version. They're going to go online and use what they find in Google regardless. Wouldn't you prefer that those search results include references to books?

The Internet has dramatically changed how people find and use information and has greatly complicated the application of copyright law. Even assuming that Last's negative depiction of Google is correct, the company is merely a symptom of these broader trends. Users need some way to find information on the web; by meeting that need Google has done far more good than harm. Yes, there is definitely a "buyer beware" quality to much of what is posted online. This is why the user needs to exercise critical thinking skills when using the web. Sadly this requirement is often honored in the breach.

Halting Google's library digitization project will not change this situation. In fact, by decreasing online users' access to and awareness of books it is likely to exacerbate it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"An infidel is an infidel"

MEMRI has published some chilling excerpts from an Al Arabiya TV interview with an al Qaeda veteran of Iraq. The following passage in particular offers insight into the barbarous worldview of the jihadists:

Interviewer: "Did you participate in operations?"

Jawhar: "Yes."

Interviewer: "What kind of operations?"

Jawhar: "Regular things. We used to attack the Americans. We used to carry out operations against the American bases in Iraq. We also used to set ambushes and attack American posts."


Interviewer: "You say 'against the Americans,' but did you target only the Americans?"

Jawhar: "Everybody was targeted, but the Americans took precedence."

Interviewer: "Who is 'everybody'?"

Jawhar: "Whoever fights against 'there is no god but Allah.' Is there anyone who defends the Americans any better than them? The infidels are one and the same. An infidel is an infidel - whether he is a Palestinian, a Jew, or an Argentinean. The infidels are one and the same, while an American Muslim is a Muslim. So what's the problem? What, an Iraqi who is an apostate and who helps the Americans should be treated like a VIP? He is worse than the Americans."

(Emphasis added-DD)

In other words, anyone who does not accept al Qaeda's murderous, totalitarian version of Islam is an infidel who deserves death.

Jawhar claims to have been the "Emir of Training" in Haditha, in Anbar province. He does a fair amount of bragging about al Qaeda's successes and how they controlled the local area. Al Qaeda may have controlled that area once, but not anymore. Of course, that may explain why Jawhar is now giving TV interviews in Lebanon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happy Birthday National Guard!

America's oldest fighting force turned 371 today.

The National Guard Bureau has a great summary of the Guard's history on its web site. Please give it a look, and spare a thought for those Guard soldiers currently in harm's way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Crying Wolf

One of the frustrating things about blogging is that the list of topics I'd like to write about far exceeds the amount of time I have to blog. One example of an item that slipped through the cracks was this hysterical screed by author Naomi Wolf, which was linked by LISNews at the end of October:

Jim Spencer, a former columnist for the Denver Post who has been critical of the Bush administration, told me today that I could use his name: he is on the watch list. An attorney contacts me to say that she told her colleagues at the Justice Department not to torture a detainee; she says she then faced a criminal investigation, a professional referral, saw her emails deleted — and now she is on the watch list. I was told last night that a leader of Code Pink, the anti-war women’s action group, was refused entry to Canada. I hear from a tech guy who works for the airlines — again, probably a Republican — that once you are on the list you never get off. Someone else says that his friend opened his luggage to find a letter from the TSA saying that they did not appreciate his reading material. Before I go into the security lines, I find myself editing my possessions. In New York’s LaGuardia, I reluctantly foudd myself putting a hardcover copy of Tara McKelvey’s excellent Monstering, an expose of CIA interrogation practices, in a garbage can before I get in the security line; it is based on classified information. This morning at my hotel, before going to the sirport, I threw away a very nice black T-shirt that said “We Will Not be Silenced” — with an Arabic translation — that someone had given me, along with a copy of poems written by detainees at Guantanamo.

In my America we are not scared to get in line at the airport. In my America, we will not be silenced.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Where do I begin with such nonsense? First of all, I'd like to salute Ms. Wolf for her courage and ingenuity in having this piece smuggled out of the Halliburton-run labor camp where she is currently being held. Oh wait, she's actually on a speaking tour promoting her new book, which warns of the incipient fascism being imposed by the Bush Administration. Ms Wolf and many others have spent the last few years raising the alarm about Bush's fascist repression. Yet none of them ever actually wind up being repressed.

Ms. Wolf may not know this, but Canada actually has its own government that determines who gets into their country. As for the Justice Department lawyer being punished for standing up against "torture", this is absurd. Jack Goldsmith, the most prominent Justice Department lawyer to have had issues with enhanced interrogation, has been so cowed into silence that he wrote a widely cited book about his experiences.

As for airport security, I've carried books about terrorism and radical Islam aboard a number of flights without incident. Nor have I seen anyone else have an issue. This is purely anecdotal evidence, of course. Then again, that's all that Wolf is offering.

I wrote a piece a few months ago debunking the hysterical paranoia of Wolf and others who argue that America is somehow becoming a police state under the Bush Administration. So why am I revisiting this topic now, and addressing a two month old opinion piece? Because of this video clip that I came across a couple days ago, courtesy of Hot Air:

"I don't have an opinion about 9/11". "There hasn't been a real investigation". "Boxer Rebellion"?????? Ms. Wolf, with this nauseating flirtation with 9/11 Trutherism, has now forfeited any residual credibility she had.

Lest you think I'm being a bit harsh, please note that Ms. Wolf has appeared on the radio show of conspiracy nutcase supremo Alex Jones.

Naomi Wolf has now all but completed the journey from moderately influential liberal feminist to conspiracy obsessed Bush hating crackpot. In other words, the odds are good that she'll be a featured speaker at ALA 2008 in Anaheim.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Marching for Cambio

Val Prieto, in a December 10 piece for Pajamas Media, describes what the Cuban dissidents who planned to protest on International Human Rights Day were up against:

Imagine you tried to leave your home this morning, only to find two or three dozen very angry people at your front door, yelling all kinds of epithets and physically preventing you from going anywhere. Imagine your government considering you a “social danger,” arresting you for “dangerousness” and then extraditing you to somewhere out in the boonies, without allowing you to return to your hometown. Imagine you somehow manage to take to the streets to protest something you consider wrong and your government dispatches a rapid response brigade, which in turn berates you verbally and assails you and your fellow protesters while beating you with rocks, sticks and fists.

Those are just three examples of repression in Cuba. Three examples of what dissidents – those who oppose the Castro regime’s systematical violation of human rights and their system of apartheid – face every time they try to call attention to their plight via a peaceful march or protest. There are many other examples of the Castro regime’s repressive machinery. For those you need only go here, here and here.

Despite all the oppressive tactics, however, today, International Human Rights Day, many of these Cuban dissidents are attempting to take to the streets at 11 AM, in a peaceful march demanding CAMBIO – CHANGE. They want an end to the violation of their human rights. They want an end to their repression. They want an end to the apartheid.

According to the BBC, the Castro regime yesterday pledged to sign two major UN human rights agreements. Fulfilling these commitments would involve "allowing freedom of expression and association and the right to travel abroad, among other things." If the regime actually follows through on this, it would be welcome indeed.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of room for skepticism. The same article notes that while Cuba's foreign minister was announcing these plans the regime's thugs responded to the human rights demonstration just as Prieto predicted:

But as he spoke, just a few streets from the foreign ministry a small group of opposition activists were mobbed and shouted down by government supporters, as they tried to hold a march.

Dissidents reported that police also picked up several key march organisers in the hours before the event, apparently in an attempt to prevent it taking place.

The treatment of the protesters, the BBC's Michael Voss reports from Havana, was a reminder that old approaches continue.

"It was as if I had become a child molester"

When I wrote my now infamous September 2005 Chronicle essay on the politicization of the library profession, I began by stating that:

Much has been made of the left's domination of college and university faculties. Yet in terms of political composition, the library profession makes your typical Ivy League faculty look like the Heritage Foundation. Had the 2004 election been confined to librarians, I firmly believe that the presidential race would not have been between Kerry and Bush, but between Kerry and Nader.

According to an essay by Villanova professor Robert Maranto in Sunday's Washington Post, I may have given Ivy League faculties too much credit:

At a Harvard symposium in October, former Harvard president and Clinton Treasury secretary Larry Summers argued that among liberal arts and social science professors at elite graduate universities, Republicans are "the third group," far behind Democrats and even Ralph Nader supporters. Summers mused that in Washington he was "the right half of the left," while at Harvard he found himself "on the right half of the right."

Maranto's description of life as a moderately conservative academic will strike a chord with many right of center librarians, especially those of us who are also part of academia:

I know how he feels. I spent four years in the 1990s working at the centrist Brookings Institution and for the Clinton administration and felt right at home ideologically. Yet during much of my two decades in academia, I've been on the "far right" as one who thinks that welfare reform helped the poor, that the United States was right to fight and win the Cold War, and that environmental regulations should be balanced against property rights.

All these views -- commonplace in American society and among the political class -- are practically verboten in much of academia. At many of the colleges I've taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinced me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-center view portrayed in a positive light.

A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused "a sensation" at his university. "It was as if I had become a child molester," he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because "you don't want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts."

I think my political views hurt my career some years back when I was interviewing for a job at a prestigious research university. Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently "fit" better than I did. At least that's what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school. (A friend at the same university later told me he didn't believe that particular department would ever hire a Republican.)

Please read it all.

(Link courtesy of Instapundit)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cuba "Celebrates" International Human Rights Day

Today is International Human Rights Day. In noting this occasion, Reporters Sans Frontieres points out which regimes have imprisoned the most journalists:

China, with 33 journalists in prison and Cuba, with 24, have for the past four years been the two biggest prisons in the world for journalists. Governments in Beijing and Havana release journalists little by little, often only a few months before the end of their sentences. And others almost immediately take their place.

I'm sure the Castro regime is disappointed at having to settle for the number two spot. However, when you look at journalists imprisoned per capita, Cuba comes out way ahead. So Fidel has that going for him.

On a serious note, the Castro regime has recently intensified its efforts to crackdown on Cuban dissdents. In one particularly outrageous incident, security forces stormed into a church in order to beat and arrest a small group of demonstrators.

According to the BBC, the arrested dissidents have since been released and the regime has actually apologized to the local Catholic archbishop. Still, the message was sent.

The same article notes that the recent crackdown seems designed to prevent any demonstrations from taking place today and thus embarrassing the regime:

The number of political prisoners in Cuba has fallen since Raul Castro, brother of President Fidel Castro, took over as acting president on 31 July 2006, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation.

But the group, illegal but tolerated by the authorities, says there has been a marked increase in police activity in recent weeks.

Its head, Elizardo Sanchez, said the authorities were using a new tactic which he called "preventative repression".

"For example, if a group is going to meet in a house or park, they will detain people so they can't get there," Mr Sanchez said.

"Before, it wasn't so subtle, just pure hard repression, straight to prison. Now the authorities are being more careful."

While it is a relief that there are fewer political prisoners in Cuba, it appears that the regime has merely become smarter about how it crushes dissent.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Agitprop Revisited

New York Times art critic Ken Johnson offers his thoughts on the NYPL's print exhibit featuring a gratuitously dishonest portfolio of anti-Bush Administration works:

It is at first mildly shocking to come upon such bluntly partisan artwork on a New York Public Library wall. Biting political satire is deeply a part of printmaking history — see Goya, James Gillray and Daumier — but handmade prints are no longer a significant form of political communication, and we don’t expect anything so brazenly tendentious in the public library context.

Seen elsewhere, the prints would not be so provocative. As a commenter on one blog pointed out, Ligorano/Reese’s work would hardly raise an eyebrow, much less get a laugh, were it shown on “Real Time With Bill Maher” or on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” So the news media squall it has precipitated seems overblown.

That said, Ligorano/Reese’s piece does pose a challenge to the rest of the exhibition, which looks quiescent by comparison, even taking into consideration that the show is not meant to focus on political work. Organized by the library’s curator of prints, Roberta Waddell, the display is intended to present the range of contemporary printmaking styles that the library has collected during the last 10 years.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Mr Johnson is right that the prints in question would not be an issue if shown elsewhere. After all, they are nothing more than a heavy handed and unimaginative expression of a belief that most urban ultra-liberals take as gospel. He misses the whole point about the controversy being overblown, though. It is seeing something "so brazenly tendentious in the public library context" that is exactly what is at issue.

Again, I think Mr. Johnson's reaction reinforces my view that no one at NYPL could imagine that these prints would be considered controversial.

Of Teddy Bears and Totalitarianism

With Gillian Gibbons now safely back in England, the Sudanese Teddy Bear crisis is ready to take its rightful place among the Danish Mohammed Cartoon controversy, Salman Rushdie affair and the numerous other radical Islamist assaults on free speech and expression. In a December 5 piece for the Weekly Standard web site, Joseph Loconte begins the task of putting this incident into its broader context:

Perhaps most significantly, calling it an "inappropriate" application of Sudan's religious law to threaten a school teacher with torture and execution misses the point. It is, rather, the predictable result of an Islamist theocracy and the culture of hatred, paranoia, and violence it generates. Under Article 125 of the Sudanese constitution, Ms. Gibbons was convicted of "insulting Islam" and "inciting hatred"--catch-all provisions that assuredly create exactly what they pretend to prohibit. (It was, in fact, an aggrieved Muslim ex-employee of the school who complained to education officials.) It's no surprise that this radical shari'a mindset provoked a civil war in Sudan that killed millions. Nor should it shock anyone that al-Bashir's teddy bear brigades are fueling the ethnic cleansing and butchery in Darfur. This is the social mayhem that Islamist regimes threaten to produce wherever they exist--in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and beyond.

Indeed, the pattern is depressingly familiar. Militant Islamic states not only criminalize vast realms of ordinary human activity. As scholar Paul Marshall describes it, virtually all areas of civic and political life--the judicial system, the role of women, educational systems, the media, religious freedom--are forced into the imagined model of seventh-century Arabia. It is an environment made ripe for terrorist recruits. "The adoption of extreme shari'a by a state should be viewed as inimical to American foreign policy interests. It is the most serious ideological challenge of our time," writes Marshall in Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law. "Nevertheless, the phenomenon of the rise of extreme shari'a states is widely ignored in the West."

The disease of jihadi Islam is becoming harder to ignore with each passing outbreak. Two years ago the publication of Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad sparked global protests, riots, and lethal violence. A speech last year by Pope Benedict critical of Islamic militancy led to more protests and dozens of deaths. When a London policy group published a study into hate speech being peddled by British mosques, the Muslim Council of Britain instigated a backlash of vitriol and charges of Islamophobia.

"For almost two decades we've allowed the message of political Islam to breed unchallenged within the British Muslim community, preaching separation and confrontation," writes Shiraz Maher, a former member of the militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir, in the Sunday Times. "Our indifference has allowed Islamism to become the dominant political discourse among young British Muslims."

In an interview with The Observer, Ms.Gibbons unfortunately chose to blame herself for the incident:

Does she blame anyone for what she went through? She pauses. 'I blame myself because I shouldn't have done it,' she says finally. 'Ignorance of the law is no defence.'

Contrary to her statement, it is not Ms. Gibbons who is to blame for what happened: it is the totalitarian fanatics who regard naming a teddy bear as a punishable offense who bear full responsibility for Ms. Gibbons' ordeal.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Agitprop @Your Library

The New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library is currently hosting an exhibition titled "Multiple Interpretations: Contemporary Prints in Portfolio at The New York Public Library". According to an NYPL press release, this exhibition contains "(p)rints by some of the most intriguing and compelling artists active today".

The NYPL web site describes one of the exhibit portfolios as follows:

Nora Ligorano (American, born 1956) and
Marshall Reese (American, born 1955)
Line Up
Portfolio of eight digital prints with colophon and DVD
Brooklyn: Madness of Art Editions, 2006
Harper #4

For more than twenty years, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese have used art to address political and social issues. In Line Up, present and former high-ranking government officials, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and Karl Rove (Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz are not on view here), appear in a series of fake mug shots. They hold slates inscribed with numbers that refer to specific dates when the “suspects” made “incriminatory” statements about Iraq. President Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, reported, “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa…. He clearly has much to hide.” On January 25, 2002, Alberto Gonzales reported to President Bush, “[t]his new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” In an accompanying DVD, these and other officials are heard making their assertions; the pop of a flashbulb is then followed by the mug shot of the speaker, growing progressively larger until it more than fills the screen. The screen goes dark, and a metallic clunk, presumably the sound of a prison door slamming shut, ends each sequence.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Wow, if this kind of infantile, dishonest agitprop is what "the most intriguing and compelling artists active today" are doing, then I'd really hate to see what the crappy and unimaginative artists are up to. Even in a heavily Democratic city like New York, this particular portfolio has been a source of some controversy. However, Fox News reports that the NYPL denies any political intent:

"This exhibition has no political agenda," the library said in a statement issued Thursday. "The work described in the media has been presented out of context and is not a complete or fair representation of the entire exhibition — which showcases 23 different contemporary printmakers from around the world, featuring a range of subject matters."

The library also said that nothing in the exhibit is reflective of the views of the institution.

"Portions of this exhibition ... should not be viewed as a political statement by the library," it said.

Maybe not. However, readers who believe that the portfolio in question does not reflect the views of most NYPL librarians and staff are invited to submit bids on my sizable holdings of prime beachfront property. Just supply your account information to my associates in Nigeria.

Seriously, this is a prime example of the groupthink I described two years ago in the Chronicle. Did no one at NYPL realize that some people might be offended by a publicly funded display of blatant agitprop? In all probability, no, because the portfolio in question undoubtedly reflects a viewpoint that almost everyone at NYPL takes for granted as true. Frankly, I suspect that they couldn't conceive of the prints as being controversial, because "everyone" knows that "Bush lied" about Saddam and WMD.

It's also worth remembering that three years ago NYPL thought that selling Che Guevara watches in its gift shop was a good idea.

According to the New York Daily News, a pair of angry exhibit goers plan to return and set up a similar display of Democrats. We'll see if they're allowed to do it, or if NYPL denies them on the grounds that they are not "some of the most intriguing and compelling artists active today".

Personally, I believe that if NYPL really wants to do an edgy, controversial exhibit, they should do one debunking the widely held canard that concern over Iraq's WMD programs was deliberately fabricated by the Bush Administration. The exhibit could include some images of Halabja; information on Operation Desert Fox; video of some of President Clinton's remarks on Saddam and WMD; a copy of the Butler Report; and finally, it could include a copy of former Clinton official Kenneth Pollack's influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. This last item should be quite easy to obtain, considering that the NYPL system owns six copies of it.

Now that would be intriguing and compelling.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gillian Gibbons Freed in the Sudan

As you have probably already heard, British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons was freed by Sudanese authorities on Monday. This is good news in more ways than one. Beyond the fact that Ms. Gibbons is now safely returning home, this news reflects the utter failure of the Khartoum regime and its Islamist supporters to turn this incident into a major civilizational controversy similar to the Danish Mohammed Cartoons.

In the words of an astute BBC analyst:

If Khartoum was hoping to turn the teddy bear into a rallying point for Muslims across the Middle East it was quickly disappointed.

Condemnation of the British teacher's detention came in from around the world and from all religions - leaving the government looking for an escape strategy.

To their credit, British Muslims were almost unanimous in criticizing Khartoum's actions. In fact, it was a delegation of two British Muslim MPs who helped persuade the Sudanese regime to free Ms. Gibbons.

It also appears that many Sudanese Muslims were just as offended as their British co-religionists by the prosecution of Ms. Gibbons. At first glance, this might seem a strange argument to make. After all, just last Friday, about 1,000 Islamists demonstrated in Khartoum, demanding that Ms. Gibbons be killed for her "offense". However, while this provided Sudanese Islamists ample opportunity to display their intolerance and fanaticism, it also showed their unpopularity. The New York Times' account of the demonstration explains:

Despite the display of outrage, witnesses said that many of the protesters were government employees ordered to demonstrate, and that aside from a large gathering outside the presidential palace, most of Khartoum was quiet. Imams across the city brought up the case in sermons after Friday Prayer, but few of them urged violence.

In fact, there is little evidence that the majority of Sudanese were ever really bothered by Ms. Gibbons' alleged insult. As the BBC's Amber Henshaw points out, there were many who felt "deeply upset by what has happened to Mrs Gibbons." The actions of one man in particular stand out:

At court on Thursday before the verdict, one man approached me and asked whether I was the teacher.

I said no but he continued in broken English that he had just wanted to apologise to Mrs Gibbons for the ordeal that she was being put through.

Let this be the epitaph for this absurd yet sad incident.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another Cuban Crackdown

The AP reports that the Castro regime is preparing for International Human Rights Day in its own inimitable fashion:

Cuban police have detained 29 anti-government activists in less than two weeks and seven remain jailed, including a man who called for the communist-run island to tolerate independent universities, a human rights leader said Monday.

Independent education activist Rolando Rodriguez was arrested last week after announcing that 5,000 signatures had been collected in support of autonomous universities in Cuba, said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

A regime that cannot tolerate independent libraries certainly won't allow independent universities.