Sunday, June 29, 2008

The MEMRI Widget

Just an administrative note; in order to keep this site useful after I stop posting, I have added the official MEMRI Widget to the right side menu:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"The ones who harm the Prophet"

MEMRI recently compiled a must-read collection of comments by Arab and Muslim reformers on the question of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammed. The three individuals quoted courageously point out that Islamist fanatics are the ones who truly denigrate Islam:

In an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, titled "Muslims Against Islam," Kuwaiti liberal Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi wrote: "In most countries around the world, Muslims broke into Danish Embassies, setting fire to them, and called for a ban on Danish imports... They have also launched a satellite TV channel and organized various committees and institutions, with the sole purpose of defending the Prophet [Muhammad] and the Islamic religion... Have the Muslims ever taken account of the tremendous iniquities they themselves have committed and are still committing against Islam [within and outside] the Islamic countries?

"Let us examine the following problems, which I will briefly outline below:

"How many prisoners are locked up in Muslim prisons for their opinions, ideas, and cultural identity? Is it in the spirit of Islam that Muslims are fleeing their homeland for 'heretical' countries in order to attain security and live in dignity?... Is it in the spirit of Islam to be silent in the face of the tyranny of rulers? Is it in the spirit of Islam that one family should rule over an entire people? Is it in the spirit of Islam that some Muslim countries abound in magnificent palaces while 60% of their population is illiterate? Is it in the spirit of Islam to turn a blind eye to a billionaire's several profligate satellite channels, whose programs make a mockery of religion and morality, only because [this billionaire] has [also] launched a religious channel?... The truth is that the biggest enemy of Islam is the Muslims themselves, because they have relinquished all decency in dealing with others, as well as the courage to oppose oppression..." [1]


In an article on the liberal website, Egyptian writer Ahmad Al-Aswani set out the crimes committed by the Muslim world that he believed have harmed the Prophet Muhammad and discredited the spirit of Islam: "I do not think that cartoons, books, or films can harm a religion or affect the faith of those who adhere to it out of conviction.

"The ones who harm the Prophet are those who butcher and bomb innocents all over the world, from New York to Madrid, London, Bali, Riyadh and Cairo, Kabul and Baghdad - while invoking Allah and the Prophet under the banner of Islamic jihad...


"The ones who harm the Prophet are those who call on the world to pass a resolution against disparaging religion, while they themselves denigrate other religions in each prayer in the mosques, as well as in their schools and on their satellite channels - and especially [the religion] of Christians and Jews, whom they curse in every prayer. When Muslim countries submitted a draft of this resolution to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Saudi Shura Council raised objections, since reviling other religions is one of Islam's central precepts.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Please read the rest:

Arab Columnists: Islam Has Been Harmed More By Muslims than By the West

Friday, June 27, 2008

Other Rushdies

On Wednesday, Sir Salman Rushdie officially received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. The announcement of the award just over a year ago drew the usual round of threats from Islamists. Thankfully, they did not deter the Queen from bestowing this well deserved honor. Sir Salman has shown great courage in speaking out against the Islamist war on free expression. Especially since, contrary to some reports, the 1989 Khomeini fatwa calling for his murder is still in effect.

Sir Salman Rushdie was the first well publicized instance of someone threatened with death by radical Islamists for his views. Sadly, there have been all too many since. As Koenraad Elst has noted, for every Rushdie or Ayaan Hirsi Ali whose situation is publicized, there are dozens if not hundreds of little known Muslim freethinkers who find themselves in a similar plight, without the support of Western governments or public opinion. While we honor Sir Salman, we should also try to raise awareness of these other courageous men and women.

Here are three such individuals:

-The MEMRI Blog reported on June 20 that a jihadist web site has called for the murder of an Algerian singer named Oulahlou:

The call was a response to an article in the Algerian daily El-Shorouq El-Yawmi, which reported that the singer's recent album "Love and Liberty" contained songs insulting to Islam.

According to the article, one of the songs said that the Islamic hijab should only be put on sheep, and another used terms associated with divinity to describe a romantic relationship.

The Arab liberal website Aafaq reports that due to the threats Oulahlou was forced to leave Algeria.

If true, these threats should absolutely be taken seriously. Algerian Islamists have a horrific history of murdering "apostate" intellectuals.

-On June 18, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to death for the crime of "blasphemy". Reuters has the details:

Convictions for blasphemy are fairly common in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, with most cases involving members of religious minorities, but death sentences have never been carried out usually because convictions are thrown out on a lack of evidence.

The convicted man, Mohammad Shafeeq, a Muslim in his early 20s, was arrested in 2006 in a village near the eastern city of Sialkot where the trial was held in the court of Justice Shoaib Ahmad Roomi.

"Judge Roomi sentenced him to death for defiling the Holy Koran and using derogatory language against the Prophet," said Shezada Hassan Ali, a senior official at the jail where Shafeeq has been kept.

"He can appeal the court decision."

Pakistan's blasphemy law was enacted in 1986. According to Human Rights Watch, the statute "makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy". While Reuters notes that no one has yet been executed under the statute, the IHEU wrote in 2004 that "(m)any victims of the Pakistani blasphemy laws have failed to survive prison, and a number of those tried and acquitted have been murdered following their release."

-In neighboring Afghanistan, the Italian news site AKI reported that former Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai called for an Afghan journalist who distributed a reformist translation of the Koran to be put to death. The journalist, Ghows Zalmay, was arrested last November and reportedly remains in prison:

Muslim scholars in Afghanistan reportedly said that the new version of the Koran misinterpreted verses about alcohol, begging, homosexuality and adultery. They also complained that this version was not accompanied by the original version of the Koran in Arabic.

Ghows, 50, is reportedy in jail after being accused of blasphemy and his lawyers say he risks the death penalty. He is expected to face charges in an Afghan court within the next week.

"This is all an American conspiracy to deviate Afghans from their faith," said Al-Hajj Farooq Hussaini, the leader of a Muslim prayer association in the western city of Herat in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

"They want us to be converted Christians or simply atheists. This American occupation of Afghanistan is worse than the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets," he said.

Another Afghan journalist, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by an Afghan court in January.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Absence Explained

Sorry for the lack of recent posting. I've just been busy with other responsibilities, which explains why I'm giving this up in a few days. To make up for my absence, I will throw in a few days of free bonus blogging. Posting will now continue through July 5.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

9/11 Denial at the UN Human Rights Council

In March of this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) appointed Dr. Richard Falk to be its "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967". Those familiar with the UNHCR's record will not be surprised to learn that Falk is a radical leftist who is pathologically hostile to Israel and the United States. In an article written last July, he described Israel's policy as leading to "a Palestinian holocaust in the making". His mandate from the UNHCR is to investigate alleged Israeli violations of international law while ignoring Palestinian actions.

Sadly, Falk's interests go well beyond slandering Israel and apologizing for Hamas. As Fox News reports, he has taken the final step into the fevered swamp by embracing 9/11 "trutherism":

But the former Princeton professor would also like to investigate whether "some sort of controlled explosion from within" destroyed the Twin Towers, he told

"I do think there are questions that haven't been answered, questions about the way the buildings collapsed and the failure to heed a variety of signals that there was danger coming," Falk said.

"I think [his beliefs are] fruitcake city, but among many delegations to the U.N. it's probably the conventional wisdom," said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. known for his straight talk on U.N. hypocrisy.

But Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization that monitors the U.N., wants Falk removed from his job.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Neuer and others are absolutely correct to demand that Falk be fired. Unfortunately, the UNHCR's willingness to employ a fanatically anti-Israel 9/11 denier as a "human rights" representative is merely symptomatic of a broader problem with that body.

Among the council's list of member countries are flagrant human rights abusers such as Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Islamic countries have been increasingly successful in using the UNHCR as a forum for the idea that criticism of Islam should be censored on a global scale. As long as regimes hostile to intellectual and other forms of freedom comprise a majority of the council's members, the UNHCR will continue to make a mockery of its mandate to promote "universal
respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all".

Banning Worldwide "Islamophobia"

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Mark Dubowitz takes note of a disturbing new trend: the willingness of many Islamic states to use international bodies like the UN to globalize the censorship of free expression:

Welcome to a world where criticism of militant Islam could land you in court or worse. In Vancouver, Canada's venerable Maclean's magazine awaits a hate-speech verdict from a human-rights tribunal for publishing a chapter from syndicated columnist Mark Steyn's best-selling book "America Alone." The accusers charge the author and publisher with "Islamophobia."

Last week, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), warned a gathering in Kuala Lumpur that "mere condemnation or distancing from the acts of the perpetrators of Islamophobia" would not suffice. He recommended that Western countries restrict freedom of expression and demanded that the media stop publishing "hate material" like the Danish cartoons. "It is now high time for concrete actions to stem the rot before it aggravates any further," he said.

Islamic countries already scored a victory on this front back in March. They pushed through a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council urging a global ban on the public defamation of religion -- read Islam.

These are examples of a growing campaign to use judicial power to silence critics of militant Islam. In the U.N. Durban Review Conference, scheduled for April 20-24, 2009 in Geneva, it appears that the OIC and its cohorts have identified the perfect platform to further their agenda.

(Emphasis added-DD)

This is merely the continuation of a campaign that the OIC has been waging for the last several years, one based on ignoring the brutal intolerance that exists in much of the Islamic world while bitterly complaining of "Islamophobia" in the West. As Dubowitz points out, restricting freedom of expression is an essential part of this effort:

If the leaders of these countries have it their way, writing op-eds criticizing Islamic radicalism, or speaking out against Muslim terrorists or, of course, publishing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, are soon to be considered criminal examples of racism.

During the most recent Durban II preparatory meetings in April and May, OIC members from Iran to Indonesia all insisted that freedom of expression is what causes Islamophobia. "The most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia," noted the Pakistani representative to the U.N., Marghoob Saleem Butt, on behalf of the OIC. "While it is expressed in the form of defamation of religion, it takes cover behind the freedom of expression and opinion." Voicing the demands of the Muslim bloc and its many authoritarian leaders, Mr. Butt requested that the Durban process "devise normative standards that provide adequate guarantees" against the intolerance of Muslims promoted by these freedoms.

(Emphasis added-DD)

One wonders if librarians here in America will spend as much time combating this attempt to impose global standards of censorship as they did reacting to the school librarians who felt uncomfortable selecting The Higher Power of Lucky.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Banning a Book-Banner

In a piece for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Aslan Doukaev notes a truly ironic development: One of the works of the late mass murdering book banning despot Ayatollah Khomeini is itself being banned, in Russia. Khomeini's most infamous act of censorship was, of course, his 1989 call for the murder of Satanic Verses' author Salman Rushdie. The regime he founded continues to ban books till this day:

This month, in an ironic twist that came on the 19th anniversary of the ayatollah's death on June 3, the late Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini's "Testament" was found subversive and banned in Russia. According to Russia's Islamic Committee, two young court experts concluded that the work, "addressed almost 30 years ago by a dying leader to the Iranian people" and translated into many languages and studied by Iranians and Iran specialists around the world, amounts to "an incitement to violence and reprisals, dangerous now for Russian citizens." On the basis of that ruling, "Testament" was added to the federal list of publications considered extremist and illegal under Russian law.

Leaving aside the quirks of fate, the ban is likely to infuriate many in Iran. The figure of Ayatollah Khomeini still commands respect across a wide spectrum of Iranian society. But more crucially, perhaps, the banning of "Testament" -- alongside some 150 other publications -- speaks volumes about the Russian state today. For years, the Kremlin has been accused of backsliding on democracy, resorting to indiscriminate violence in its domestic conflicts, rolling back the fundamental human rights of the Russian people. The list of banned materials is more tangible and irrefutable evidence of Russia's increasing encroachment on fundamental principles of democracy.

The growing list, moreover, reveals the innate fears and insecurity of the present leadership in Russia. Truly free and democratic states don't resort easily to restrictions on expression, however distasteful the material might seem to certain individuals, young or old, expert or layman.

Doukaev weakens his case by arguing that banning Khomeini's Testament is "likely to infuriate many in Iran". Frankly, so what. Those most likely to be infuriated are Islamist fanatics who are themselves censors and book banners. Plus, I think he exaggerates the degree to which Khomeini "still commands respect across a wide spectrum of Iranian society", considering the number of Iranians who wish to rid themselves of the Islamist autocracy he created. However, Doukaev is completely correct about both the futility of book banning and the dangerously authoritarian direction Russia is taking. You do not defeat censorship with more censorship.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Literature and Self-Liberation

Claudia Anderson has written an excellent essay for the June 23 Weekly Standard comparing the lives of two outspoken and courageous advocates for freedom: Frederick Douglass and Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

Born a little over 150 years apart, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born 1969) both had the experience, on the threshold of adulthood--he was 20, she 22--of fleeing the culture they'd grown up in and entering another. For both, it was a run toward freedom. In each case, a short train ride and a name change to foil pursuers were the fateful turning points in a remarkable life they would recount in bestselling memoirs.

Both, growing up, were subjected to various forms of violence and family disruption, and frequently witnessed the degrading treatment of others. Both found in books intimations of a different way of life. Both claimed their inner freedom in a climactic act of self-assertion. For Douglass, this came several years before his escape, when, in a two-hour struggle, he fought off an attempt by the "Negro breaker" Edward Covey to tie him up and flog him. For Hirsi Ali, it came months after her flight, when she quietly faced down a council of ten Somali tribal elders who had found her in Holland and had come to return her to the fold.

Both were eventually thrust onto a wider stage when they spoke up extemporaneously in a public meeting. Gifted with intelligence and unusually handsome physique, each would become a sought-after speaker--he a leading abolitionist and one of the great orators of the 19th century, she an agitator for the rights of Muslim women in Europe and a sharp critic of Islam. Yet however prominent, both would long remain in physical danger--she in mortal danger--and would more than once cross the Atlantic in search of safety.

In particular, it was their encounters with books that would set both Douglass and Hirsi Ali on the path to self-liberation:

Books, of course, were not supposed to play a part in the life of any slave. But the young Frederick Bailey--the name he carried until his escape from slavery--learned to read. Sent from the plantation to Baltimore when he was eight to live with relatives of his owner and look after their young son, he was welcomed by his new mistress, Sophia Auld, who had never before had a slave. She treated him kindly, read him Bible stories, and taught him hymns. When he asked her to teach him to read, she did. Proudly showing off Frederick's accomplishment to her husband, she was smartly informed of the error of her ways.

In phrases that became a touchstone for Frederick, Hugh Auld explained to his wife that to teach a slave to read would "unfit him for slavery." The formal lessons ended, but the child already had the rudiments. Over the ensuing years, unobserved in his loft above the kitchen, he practiced reading and taught himself to write, studying Webster's speller and copying between the lines of his young charge's old exercise notebooks from school.

When he was 12, with 50 cents saved from polishing shoes, Frederick bought a copy of one of the most widely used school anthologies of the day, The Columbian Orator, first published in 1797. This book became his entire curriculum. He studied it, he later recalled, every chance he got. It could hardly have been better designed to prepare him for his calling.


For Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it was not one book, but rather a kind of book--Western fiction, both high and low--that stirred her aspirations beyond the horizons of a typical Somali woman. At school, she read 1984, Huckleberry Finn, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Wuthering Heights, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Cry, the Beloved Country. She read Jane Austen and Charlotte Brönte and "Russian novels with their strange patronymics and snowy vistas." And after hours, there were "the sexy books" that circulated among her school friends, by Barbara Cartland and Danielle Steel. Both the classics and the romances, as she tells in her memoir, exposed her to a world of "freedom, struggle, and adventure." In these books, individuals wrestled with moral dilemmas, women were independent actors, mutual attraction preceded union, and the man and woman who chose each other often were shown achieving shared satisfaction in love and in partnership for life.

During these teenage years, Ayaan's peers were dropping out of school one by one, to be married to men chosen by their fathers--sometimes men whom they had never met. The Somali girls, who had undergone the customary clitoral excision, described to her wedding nights that were scenes of fear and pain, as their new husbands forced open their scars. Somali women were taught that submission to their husbands, as to Allah, and unquestioning service to family and clan were their lot in life.

Please read the rest:

Parallel Lives

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blogger Arrests Increase in 2007

The BBC summarizes a new report showing that the number of bloggers arrested worldwide increased substantially last year:

Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report.

In its press release, the University of Washington notes that things are probably worse than these numbers indicate:

But these arrests are probably just the tip of the iceberg, Howard said. "The real number of arrested bloggers is probably much higher, since many arrests in China, Zimbabwe, and Iran go unreported in the international media."

Altogether around the world, bloggers have served 940 months of jail time in the last five years, the researchers found. During those years, the average prison term for citizen journalists was 15 months. "Many countries have political bloggers, and many persecute journalists," Howard said. "More and more citizens are expressing themselves online, and being punished for it."

Jail sentences varied from blogger to blogger, the least amount a few hours and the longest eight years. Nine of Egypt's 14 known blogger arrests occurred in 2007, an election year. In 2005, Iranian blogger Mojtaba Saminejad was arrested for writing about the arrests of other bloggers. "Some people blog about their arrests as soon as they get out of jail," Howard said.

Click here to access the detailed findings on repression of bloggers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Has the Internet Changed How We Read?

Courtesy of Max Boot at Commentary, I came across a truly provocative essay from the July/August 2008 Atlantic Monthly. According to author Nicholas Carr, the Internet is literally changing not only the way that we read, but also the way we think:

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

In linking to this essay, Max Boot argues in defense of the Internet as a research tool:

For my part, I haven’t noticed my attention flagging because of the Internet. What I have noticed is that the Internet makes it much easier to produce longer pieces of writing. Google, especially, is invaluable, and not only because it enables anyone to look up obscure facts with a few keystrokes. Another function of Google is less famous but growing in importance for those of us in the book-writing biz — namely its “book” search function. Google has digitized thousands of volumes, allowing researchers to easily find obscure tomes. While no preview is available of many recently published books, and others offer only a “snippet view,” growing numbers of books whose copyright have lapsed are available in “full” search mode, meaning that you can, if you so desire, read the entire book online — or, more likely, print it out.

I have found this to be in invaluable resource while researching my new history of guerrilla warfare. It used to take me a long time to get books via interlibrary loan, and then the 19th century volumes usually arrived in very poor conditions. Now for nothing more than the cost of the paper and ink I can get printer-fresh copies of General Phil Sheridan’s memoirs, George Macaulay Trevelyan’s classic volumes on Garibaldi, or the Rev. James Gordon’s “History of the Rebellion in Ireland in the Year 1798.” Moreover, if necessary, I can use Google to search for keywords inside the books.

Boot is certainly correct that the Internet has made it much easier to find a wider variety of sources and streamlined the research process. This is especially true of research involving non-copyrighted materials. Carr does not dispute this point. However, I do think Carr is right to argue that the advent of online information sources has fostered a culture of skimming versus reading. I'm not necessarily sure that this is due to our brains being rewired as it is to more mundane factors. While it is quite possible that the Internet is subtly altering how we think, the real issue is that the ability to retrieve large amounts of information almost instantaneously is making us impatient and frankly lazy.

The Web is an invaluable research tool when used properly. However, it can easily lead to intellectual laziness and superficial reasoning. Instead of using the Internet in conjunction with traditional print sources, many people, especially the young, now often use it as a substitute for them. This has led to the twin fallacies that "everything is online" and print resources are not worth using. If you can't find it through Google, then it must not exist. In addition, both the quantity of information available and the nature of reading off a computer screen discourage people from wanting to read large blocks of text.

One recent example is this blog post at Jewcy about "Neoconservatism". Basically, the author of the post, Daniel Koffler, defines "Neoconservatism" as simply being whatever he doesn't like. When challenged by a commenter, Koffler responds by saying that "15 minutes max with google will tell you everything you could ever want to know" about how "Neoconservatives" view issues such as torture and diplomacy. The mix of arrogance and laziness contained in that statement is mind boggling. Sadly, it is now all too typical.

Admittedly blogging is not exactly conducive to in-depth scholarly analysis. This is as true of my writings as of those found on any other blog. "Googling" sources is an essential part of blogging: both because it is fairly quick and because it allows your readers to easily explore your sources for themselves. However, the majority of the human record, especially that portion covered by copyright, remains unavailable online. While a Google book preview can be useful for finding a quick fact or supporting a relatively brief argument, for in-depth research there is no substitute for having the entire text available.

In short, while I think Carr makes a very interesting case, the main impact of the Internet on how we read and think has been behavioral, not biological.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"I was the right person in the right place."

Courtesy of Martin Kramer's site, here is an interesting interview with Iraqi National Library Director Dr. Saad Eskander from the Guardian. The article has a slight anti-American spin, which is to be expected from the Guardian, but it is still very much worth reading:

In 2003, Saad Eskander had just finished his PhD at the London School of Economics when he decided to return to Baghdad. Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime had been overthrown and the dictator was in hiding. Thirteen years after seeking asylum in Britain, the former teenage Kurdish fighter was going home to help rebuild his country. "In London, I was part of a group of Iraqi painters and writers who decided to visit Baghdad to see what we could do in the sphere of cultural education," he recalls.

It sounds, I suggest, a wildly utopian project to undertake in the middle of a city seething with foreign troops, sectarian militias, gunfire and car bombs. "It is," says Eskander, looking over his glasses at me with a slight smile, "extremely important. Without cultural education, we cannot emerge from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship properly. Without it, we cannot resist the ideas of religious fundamentalism." But still, it is an almost hopeless and insanely dangerous thing to try to attempt. "All my friends went back to London," he concedes. "But I decided to stay."

Five years on, Eskander, who was born in Baghdad, still works in the Iraqi capital, and continues to insist that cultural education is one of the most important means to reconstruct the Iraqi homeland about which he has come to feel patriotic. "One month after I arrived, I was told there was a job and asked if I'd be interested in applying." The job turned out to be director general of the Iraq national library and archives. "Under Saddam Hussein, this was an arm of the dictatorship. The [new] minister of culture wanted to ensure it was not a Ba'athist director. He needed someone who could modernise the library, and he knew of my background - fighting with the Kurdish Resistance Movement in northern Iraq, and studying history in London. I was the right person in the right place."

Monday, June 09, 2008

"The academic world that I entered is gone."

Alan Charles Kors, a conservative intellectual historian at Penn, has written a terrific essay on the decline of academia. He describes how the campus has evolved from a place that welcomed intellectual diversity and open debate in the 1970s to one trapped in the stultifying ideological conformity of today. Dr. Kors makes abundantly clear that simply hiring a few professors of "Conservative Studies" will not do much to alter this environment:

What has changed? In terms of the university in loco parentis, which has been restored and expanded with a vengeance, the revolution has been breathtaking. For students from "the '60s" who moved into the world apart from the academy, there were adjustments to the reality principles and values of a free, dynamic and decent society. The activists of the 1960s who stayed on campus, however—in original bodies or in spirit imparted to new bodies—expected students to take them always as political and moral gurus. Students did not do so. They had the gall first to like disco, and then to like Reagan. Such students had to be saved from the false consciousness that America somehow had given them.

Thus, under the heirs of the academic '60s, we moved on campus after campus from their Free Speech Movement to their politically correct speech codes; from their abolition of mandatory chapel to their imposition of Orwellian mandatory sensitivity and multicultural training; from their freedom to smoke pot unmolested to their war today against the kegs and spirits—literal and metaphorical—of today's students; from their acquisition of young adult status to their infantilization of "kids" who lack their insight; from their self-proclaimed dreams of racial and sexual integration to their ever more balkanized campuses organized on principles of group characteristics and group responsibility; from their right to define themselves as individuals—a foundational right—to their official, imposed and politically orthodox notions of identity. American college students became the victims of a generational swindle of truly epic proportions. If that part of the faculty not complicit in this did not know that it was happening, it was by choice or willful blindness.

In the academic university—the curriculum and classroom, and the hiring that underlies them—it all varies by where one looks. To understand why and to understand one of the few vulnerabilities of universities to actual accountability and reform, one must understand the hierarchy that predicts academic institutional behavior: sexuality (in their language, "sexual preference") trumps neutrality; race properly conceived easily trumps sexuality; sex properly conceived (or, in their language, "gender") easily trumps race; and careerism categorically trumps everything. From that perspective, the careerists who run our campuses have made a Faustian bargain (though they differ on which is the devil's portion).

Please read the rest:

On the Sadness of Higher Education

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"Conservative Studies" at Colorado

Via this post by Neo-Neocon, I learned that the University of Colorado has announced plans to endow a chair in "Conservative Studies" in order to foster intellectual diversity on campus. An article from the May 13 Wall Street Journal offers some details. These quotes from two CU students help explain why the university administration is pursuing such a course:

Jack Roldan, vice chair of the College Republicans, has felt the lopsided politics keenly during his four years studying international affairs. He longed for a conservative mentor, and says he graduated last week with many questions left unanswered: When is military intervention necessary? Why does the GOP focus so much on economic policy? And what's up with the neo-cons?

"There's a lot more about what I'm about that I'd like to know," Mr. Roldan says.

Other students don't have much sympathy. They love Boulder precisely because of its liberal swagger.

Sophomore Marissa Malouff sees the campus as a sort of re-education camp. Sheltered rich kids from out-of-state might come for the snowboarding, but while they're here they get dunked in a simmering pot of left-wing idealism. And that, in her view, is how it should be.

"They need to learn about social problems and poverty and the type of things liberal professors are likely to talk about," says Ms. Malouff, a Democrat.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Talking about social problems and poverty is all well and good. As long as that discussion also includes critiques of "liberal" approaches to those issues and students are allowed to study both sides and reach their own conclusions. Unfortunately, I doubt that is what Ms. Malouff had in mind.

This gets at the heart of the problem. It is not just that ultraliberals and leftists overwhelmingly dominate academic faculty positions on most campuses: it is that they have exploited this situation in order to turn their campuses into ideological boot camps. CU professor Crispin Sartwell, who is not a conservative, described the consequences in a May 29 piece for the Los Angeles Times. Conservative librarians will find many of his points familiar:

Academic consensus is a particularly irritating variety of groupthink. First of all, the fact that everyone agrees and everyone has a doctorate leads to the occasionally explicit idea that all intelligent people think the same thing -- that no one could disagree with, say, Obama-ism, without being an idiot. This attitude is continually expressed, for example, in attacks on presidents Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, not for their political positions but for their grades and IQs.

That the American professoriate is near-unanimous for Barack Obama is a problem on many levels, but certainly pedagogically. Ideological uniformity does a disservice to students and makes a mockery of the pious commitment of these professors simply to convey knowledge. Also, the claims of the professoriate to intellectual independence and academic freedom, supposedly nurtured by tenure, are thrown into question by the unanimity. Professors are as herd-like in their opinions as other groups that demographers like to identify -- "working-class white men," for example. Indeed, surely more so.

That's partly just a result of the charming human tendency to nod along with whomever is sitting next to you. But it's also the predictable result of the fact that a professor has been educated, often for a decade or more, by the very institutions that harbor this unanimity. Every new generation of professors has been steeped in an atmosphere in which the authorities all agree and in which they associate agreement with intelligence -- and with degrees, jobs, tenure and so on. If you've been taught that conservatives are evil idiots, then conservatism itself justifies a decision not to hire or tenure one. Every new leftist minted by graduate programs is an act of self-praise, a confirmation of the intelligence of the professors.

That this smog of consensus is incompatible with the supposedly high-minded educational mission of colleges and universities is obvious. Yet higher education is at least as dedicated to the reproduction of Obama-ism as it is to conveying information. But academics are massively self-deceived about this, which makes it all the more disgusting and effective.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Thus, as Neo-Neocon pointed out in her comments, does the Left's stranglehold on academia become a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Just as the leftist domination of librarianship has likewise begun to perpetuate itself.

As far as the proposal for a "Conservative Studies" chair, I agree with the critics who say that it smacks of tokenism. Frankly, such a move is a mere gesture that will do little to change the underlying environment of ideological conformity at CU.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Site Update

As previously promised, an update on the future of this blog. Posting will continue until June 30. After then, this blog will no longer be active.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Marketing a Mass Murderer

In a piece from the June 1 Los Angeles Times, Ben Ehrenreich looks at the enduring popularity of terrorist mass murderer Ernesto "Che" Guevara:

Snapped in March 1960, Alberto Korda's iconic image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara is possibly -- who's counting? -- the most-reproduced photograph in the world. Some version of it has been painted, printed, digitized, embroidered, tattooed, silk-screened, sculpted or sketched on nearly every surface imaginable. Brick and mortar city walls. Poster board waved high above a crowd. Gisele Bündchen's bikini.

And though he never went away -- except in the strictly mortal sense -- Che is suddenly everywhere again. In October, an Iranian student militia organized a "Che Like Chamran" conference, attempting to enlist the martyred Marxist in the Islamic revolution. (They made the mistake of inviting his daughter, who pointed out that her dad did not believe in God.) Hollywood is at it as well: Steven Soderbergh's long-anticipated, two-part Che biopic ("The Argentine" and "Guerrilla") premiered May 21 at Cannes, with Benicio Del Toro playing the legendary Argentine-doctor-cum-internationalist-revolutionary. And "Chevolution," Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez's documentary on the mass dissemination of the Korda image, is now making the film festival rounds.

(link via Hot Air)

You may be wondering if Soderbergh's "long-anticipated" films will include the part in 1959 where Guevara oversaw the execution of hundreds of prisoners who were convicted before kangaroo courts without the benefit of habeas corpus and due process? Sadly, no. According to Variety, Soderbergh appears to have left out that part of the Che Guevara story. (link via Libertas)

However, cinematic hagiographies are merely one part of the cult of Che. As Ehrenreich points out, the Guevara brand name is used to sell all manner of products:

"You think it's funny," the Clash once sang, "turning rebellion into money." Maybe not funny but quite a trick: There's Che beer, Che cola, Che cigarettes, the inevitable Cherry Guevara ice cream. Online at, you'll find Che's face on hoodies, beanies, berets, backpacks, bandannas, belt buckles, wallets, wall clocks, Zippo lighters, pocket flasks and of course, T-shirts. La La Ling in Los Feliz sells Che onesies for the wee 'uns. I bought my 3-year-old niece a plush Che doll one Christmas. She abandoned him for Dora the Explorer.

Online I found a T-shirt for sale depicting Homer Simpson sporting an arm tattoo of Che, and then there is the famous New Yorker cartoon featuring Che wearing a T-shirt depicting Bart Simpson (and now a T-shirt itself). What could it possibly mean? Only that the Che tee has itself become a symbol, shorthand for posture drained of ideology, rebelliousness as fashion statement. Other notable wearers of Che tees: Kyle from "South Park," Prince Harry, Jay-Z, who rapped on "The Black Album," "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on," which is about as likely as Che the jihadi, but never mind.

Actually, I'm not sure that "Che the jihadi" would be all that unlikely. He certainly had the murderous fanaticism down pat. Besides, according to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, "after taking the city of Sancti Spiritus, Guevara unsuccessfully tried to impose a kind of sharia, regulating relations between men and women, the use of alcohol, and informal gambling—a puritanism that did not exactly characterize his own way of life."

Anyway, I'm curious if any of the empty headed individuals who sport Guevara t-shirts have ever given a thought to his victims? Probably not. After all, none of the hundreds murdered by Che ever posed for cool, iconic photographs.

But despite that, and despite the selling and sampling and all the multilayered appropriations, Ziff maintains that Che's image still means something, even if it's something as generic as protest, nonconformity, a wish for change. "It's diluted," Ziff says, but "I don't think it's ever lost its edge."

Allow me to submit my own thoughts on what the popularity of Guevara and his image mean: that our society has grown so morally and intellectually bankrupt that many will cheerfully sport the image of a totalitarian butcher while being oblivious to his actual record. Obviously this does not bode well for the future. I can hardly wait for when in 20 or 30 years the first Abu Musab Al Zarqawi merchandise starts hitting stores. I'm sure the plastic beheading knives will be especially popular with the kids.

If you want to read about the real Che Guevara, see the articles written by Paul Berman and Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Beheading for Swearing?

The Los Angeles Times reports on a Turkish barber named Sabri Bogday, who faces possible execution in Saudi Arabia just because he swore using God's name during an argument:

Press reports say Bogday cursed during an argument with a neighbor, who later complained to police. This nation is ruled by a strict Wahhabi brand of Islamic justice that doles out lashings and public beheadings for crimes including murder, rape and heresy.

Bogday has been in jail for 13 months. Turkish President Abdullah Gul has asked Saudi King Abdullah to spare the barber. But the Arab News daily reported that there could be complications hinging on arcane interpretations of religious law by fundamentalist judges.

The newspaper quoted a lawyer as saying: "Some judges consider it heresy and infidelity, and say that the accused cannot repent and so faces the death penalty. Others consider the statement to be disbelief, thus allow the accused to retract what he has said and repent and then set him free. . . . Sentences in these cases are limited and considered rare, because the judgment is not based on something that is written."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bible Burning in Israel

In mid-May, Uzi Aharon, the deputy mayor of an Israeli town called Or Yehuda, found out that "messianic Jews" (Jews who believe in Jesus) had dropped off some New Testaments in his community. His response was to organize a group of yeshiva students who collected several hundred of the books and burned them in a public bonfire.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Aharon denied wanting the bibles to be burned. However, the Post noted that his story changed quite dramatically over the course of May 20, the day that news of the book burning became public:

Aharon had a very busy Tuesday. In the morning, Ma'ariv ran a story on how he organized to retrieve and burn hundreds of New Testaments given to Ethiopian Jews in his city by local messianic Jews. By 9 a.m. he was on an Army Radio news-talk show defending his actions, which he called "purging the evil among us."

At 10:30 he was on Channel 2's morning news show saying that Ethiopian immigrants in Or Yehuda were being encouraged to go against Judaism by messianic Jews. "We need to stop being ashamed of our Jewishness and to fight those who are breaking the law by missionizing against us," he said.

But by the early afternoon he had already been interviewed by Russian, Italian and French TV, explaining to their highly offended audiences back home how he had not meant for the Bibles to be burned, and trying to undo the damage caused by the news [and photographs] of Jews burning New Testaments.

But then he also told The Associated Press that he didn't condemn the Bible burning, calling it a "commandment."

Both the Israeli government and the Anti-Defamation League have condemned the book burning.

This was a disgraceful act, regardless of how much Aharon and other residents of Or Yehuda were offended by the distribution of New Testaments. Mass book burnings display a fanatical intolerance worthy of Hamas or Hezbollah, not the citizens of a democracy that guarantees religious freedom.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Racial Harassment by Reading

In March, I blogged about Keith John Sampson, a janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Last November, a university official found him guilty of racial harassment because he read a book about the Ku Klux Klan in front of African-American coworkers. The fact that the book, Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, is very much anti-Klan was considered immaterial.

On May 9, Mr. Sampson published a piece in the New York Post describing the utter absurdity of the situation he found himself in. Thankfully, it has a somewhat happy ending:

They didn't want to hear the truth. The office ruled that my "repeatedly reading the book . . . constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers."

A friend reacted to the finding with, "That's impossible!" He's right. You can't commit racial harassment by reading an anti-Klan history.

For months, I felt isolated and dejected. Yet I knew that most of the faculty, staff and students at Indiana University were good people. The campus is a growing, thriving part of Indy, where people of all colors and religions come to study.

But the $106,000-a-year affirmative-action officer who declared me guilty of "racial harassment" never spoke to me or examined the book. My own union - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - sent an obtuse shop steward to stifle my freedom to read. He told me, "You could be fired," that reading the book was "like bringing pornography to work."

Shame on the affirmative-action people and my union for displaying their ignorance and incompetence. Their pusillanimous actions, in trying to ban Tucker's anti-Klan history book, played into the hands of the hateful KKK.

After months of stonewalling, the university withdrew the charge, thanks to pressure from the press, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.

My 'Racial Harassment' Nightmare

(Link via Instapundit)