Saturday, February 11, 2006

From torture to impeachment

In a fiery (and, in my view, wholly justifiable) post directed largely against the National Journal's Stuart Taylor, Brad DeLong calls for the impeachments of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

President Dennis Hastert, anyone?

No? How about President Ted Stevens?

Still no? Well, it gets worse -- see here.

(This is not in any way an argument against impeachment. I'm just saying.)

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Israel and anti-Semitism

Jesus' General has an excellent post in response to the charge, common on the right, that criticism of Israel of any kind amounts to anti-Semitism. (Thanks to my friend Mike of Crooks and Liars for pointing this one out to me.)

Check it out.

(I would generally define myself as pro-Israel, but I'm highly critical of Israel's right-wing hardliners, just as I am of Palestinian hard-liners. Neither side encourages peace or does anything to promote it. But surely it's possible to be critical of Israeli policy without being anti-Israel? Surely it's possible to be a friendly critic?)

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Bush's malfeasance: The politicization of intelligence and the fabricated case for war in Iraq

We now know, from the mouth of Scooter Libby and the pen of Murray Waas, that Vice President Cheney and other top White House officials authorized the leaking of classified information in order to defend the Bush Administration's fabricated case for war in Iraq.

But what really went on before the war, before all those desperate leaks? How did the Bush Administration fabricate a case for war?

In an important piece in Foreign Affairs, Paul R. Pillar* argues that "the Bush administration disregarded the [intelligence] community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case".

In other words: "The Bush administration deviated from the professional standard not only in using policy to drive intelligence, but also in aggressively using intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war. This meant selectively adducing data -- 'cherry-picking' -- rather than using the intelligence community's own analytic judgments. In fact, key portions of the administration's case explicitly rejected those judgments."

Pillar's piece is quite long, and much of it focuses in a rather detached, wonkish way on "the intelligence-policy relationship," but it's one of those must-reads that shouldn't be missed. I highly recommend it.

(See also Steve Clemons at The Washington Note.)


*Who is Paul R. Pillar? Well: "PAUL R. PILLAR is on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. Concluding a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency, he served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005."

Which means that he knows a hell of a lot more about all this than I do.

Yes, he reveals what many of us have long suspected, or known about from other sources -- yes, he may have some personal and/or institutional ax to grind -- and, no, those on the other side, those who preach Bush's ultimate infallibility, whether they themselves actually believe in it or not, won't be persuaded, won't admit that the case for war was built on the politicization of intelligence, the manipulation of evidence, at least not publicly -- but his argument and the evidence he provides to support it serve to remind us of, and indeed to prove, Bush's ultimate malfeasance as president and commander-in-chief.

Bush sent American men and women to Iraq to kill and to die for what amounted to a fabricated cause, a cause build around false pretenses. I do not bemoan Saddam's removal from power, nor do I necessarily reject efforts to spread democracy to the far corners of the globe, but can those ends, real or elusive, possibly justify so many thousands of deaths? Is it right to ask someone to kill or to die for a lie? Is it right to ask someone to kill or to die for a fabricated cause?

War, the Iraq War or any other, may or may not be justifiable, may or may not be necessary, if not desired. But the American people need to know the truth before their elected leaders, their representatives, the embodiments of their political will, send them off to fight some foreign war. Bush could have made an honest case and presented it to the American people for their consideration. He could even have done so persuasively. That would have been real democratic leadership. Instead, he lied and dodged and manipulated and started a war that no one outside his cadre of inner-circle loyalists really know anything about.

And so it continues...

Will Bush ever be held accountable? I refer not necessarily to impeachment, but to the history books. Surely future historians will write the truth. Surely future generations of Americans will come to learn of Bush's malfeasance.

Or will they only ever know the spin, the partisan lies that are told to prop up Bush's catastrophic presidency?

It isn't too late. The truth may yet win out.

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Bob Barr, my hero

I had a friend in high school named Bob Barr. Nice guy.

This isn't the same one, of course, and the former Congressman from Georgia, one of Bill Clinton's most vociferous opponents in the House, isn't really my hero. But it's nice to see at least one self-professed conservative speaking out against the profoundly un-conservative presidency of George W. Bush, a presidency with decidedly imperial ambitions -- unbridled executive power at home, preemptive warmongering abroad.

From the Post, Dana Milbank offers this sketch of Barr. Looks like conservatives don't much like him anymore: "The former Clinton impeachment manager is the skunk at CPAC's party this year. He says President Bush is breaking the law by eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without warrants. And fellow conservatives, for the most part, don't want to hear it."

Of course they don't. They've abandoned principle for partisanship, and, living in a world of almost complete delusion, they actually think that Bush is America's saviour.

Keep talking, Mr. Barr. Some of us are listening to you, even if your fellow conservatives aren't. There is still a great divide between us, to be sure, but your efforts to defend the law in a time of presidential lawlessness are truly appreciated.

(See also Gleen Greenwald at Crooks and Liars.)

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Leaking for war: Cheney, Libby, and the politicization of intelligence

At National Journal, Murray Waas has this rather interesting item:

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.

Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.

So, you see, this whole thing is only superficially about the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity and the criminal case against Libby. What it's really about is how the Bush Administration made the case for war -- the lies, the leaks, and the misleading of the American people, the marketing of a case for war at all costs.

If the media (and that includes the blogosphere) do their job, more and more of this is going to come out. And, more and more, the truth will trump the culture of misinformation that characterizes the Bush presidency.

(Make sure to read the whole Waas piece.)


For more, see The Carpetbagger Report, Shakespeare's Sister, The Left Coaster, Booman Tribune, The Mahablog, TalkLeft, The Next Hurrah, Taylor Marsh, AMERICAblog, King of Zembla, Obsidian Wings, Stygius,

And here's Andrew Sullivan: "So some intelligence matters are so important that the administration will not divulge them even to critical members of Congress. But others are leaked to journalists to win a political war. This is a pointed reminder that when the administration says it is withholding information to protect national security, a hefty dose of skepticism is in order. The same goes for their assurance that their wire-tapping has never been abused. Remind me again: at this point, why should we trust them?"

It's simple. We shouldn't.

There you go.

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It's global warming, stupid!

It's been unseasonably warm in Toronto this winter. At least it was until earlier this week, when a snowstorm swept through Southern Ontario and the temperatures plummeted down to normal levels again.

What is it now? -7 celsius (-13 with the wind chill). That's cold.

So is it global warming? The BBC is reporting this:

In the late 20th Century, the northern hemisphere experienced its most widespread warmth for 1,200 years, according to the journal Science.

The findings support evidence pointing to unprecedented recent warming of the climate linked to greenhouse emissions.

What's more, the BBC reports here, "Current levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the past 650,000 years".

See also here, here, here, and here for more.

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Gretzky the Great Gambling One

No, there's no evidence that Wayne Gretzky was directly involved in fellow Phoenix Coyotes coach and former NHLer Rich Tocchet's recently exposed gambling ring, but wiretap evidence (presumably not acquired in circumvention of FISA, that is, in blatant disregard for the law, but you never know) shows that he knew about his wife Janet's involvement in it and tried to find a way to prevent her from being implicated.

(The Toronto Star reports here, ESPN here.)

Oops. So much of Gretzky's non-denial denial on Wednesday.

And what of Janet Jones's, uh, problem? It is being reported that she bet $75,000 on last weekend's Super Bowl alone -- big money even for someone married to The Great One.

As a Canadian, I'm more or less required to like Gretzky. He's an icon, an institution, the saviour of hockey. But this looks pretty bad, does it not?

Not that I'm rushing to judgement or anything.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lost in translation: Cartoons, cultures, and the language of art

There has been a lot of excellent commentary on the whole cartoon fiasco in recent days, but I'd like to single out two:

1) Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post: In "A Cartoon's Portrait of America," Applebaum, in her characteristically moderate way, examines the reaction to the cartoon controversy in the U.S., focusing specifically on a) Schadenfreude; b) the hypocrisy of the cultural left; and c) the hypocrisy of the right-wing blogosphere.

All on the mark, and it ends, rather pessimistically, like this: "Gradually, the Islamic world is learning that we don't respect religion in the same manner they do. Slowly, we are learning that they feel differently about the printed word, and the printed picture, from us. And somehow, I've got a feeling that this new knowledge will be not the beginning of understanding but the inspiration for more violence."

2) Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times: In "A Startling New Lesson in the Power of Imagery," Kimmelman examines the cartoons from the perspective of modern art and the culture wars. A few key passages:

-- "They're callous and feeble cartoons, cooked up as a provocation by a conservative newspaper exploiting the general Muslim prohibition on images of the Prophet Muhammad to score cheap points about freedom of expression."

-- "The newspaper was banking on the fact that unlike the West — where Max Ernst's painting of Mary spanking the infant Jesus didn't raise an eyebrow when recently shown at the Metropolitan Museum — the Muslim world has no tradition of, or tolerance for, religious irony in its art."

-- "Educated secular Westerners reared on modernism, with its inclination toward abstraction, its gamesmanship and its knee-jerk baiting of traditional authority, can miss the real force behind certain visual images, particularly religious ones. Trained to see pictures formally, as designs or concepts, we can often overlook the way images may not just symbolize but actually 'partake of what they represent,' as the art historian David Freedberg has put it."


That last point is important. This may not rise to the level of some hyperbolic clash of civilizations, but we and they are speaking almost completely different languages in terms of our appreciation of visual art. Generally speaking and allowing for diversity where there appears to be unity, what is free political speech to us is blasphemy to them. We emphasize the primacy of individual expression, they emphasize the primacy of religious obedience. We allow for irony and sarcasm and for complex, multi-layered meaning, they tend to view art literally, fundamentally. We have fallen into postmodern detachment, they remain engaged in a struggle that we, ever eyeing the end of history in The Motley Cow of our material contentment, would like to think we've put behind us for good.

The Danish cartoons reflect insensitivity and ignorance, but the violent reaction in certain parts of the Muslim world -- which, of course, should not taint the Muslim world as a whole -- has been entirely predictable.

As I've said before, that violent reaction should not and must not be condoned. And, indeed, it has no doubt in part been stirred up by extremist demagogues who are all too happy to deepen the fissures that separate the Muslim world from the secular West. I wonder how many of the protesters even know what they're protesting against, how many understand the concept of free political speech and the ironic detachment of the Western secularists they so loathe.

But I wonder, too, whether we have any clue ourselves. We and they seem to be speaking radically different languages, but shouldn't we at least make a greater effort to understand theirs? We may demand the same of them, of course, but it seems to me that we must assume the burden of bringing freedom to the unfree and of explaining our way of life to those who simply don't understand it, let alone admire or long for it.

A provocative cartoon depiction of Muhammad isn't the best place to start.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bolton for the Nobel?

Surely this is a joke, right?

Alas... no.

(Bolton was nominated for the award by former Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Per Ahlmark. Who knew a Swede could be so utterly misguided? Sure, Ahlmark's long been a critic of totalitarianism and anti-Semitism from his perch on Sweden's right, but how can anyone in his or her right mind think that Bolton deserves to win any award associated with peace (especially the big one)?! Clearly, Ahlmark isn't in his right mind. -- A few of my old posts on Bolton are here, here, and here.)

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Bush's cruel, cruel conservatism

Still think Bush is some sort of compassionate conservative? Then tell me what's so compassionate about this:

President Bush's budget calls for elimination of a $255 lump-sum death payment that has been part of Social Security for more than 50 years and urges Congress to cut off monthly survivor benefits to 16- and 17-year-old high school dropouts.

If approved, the two proposals would save a combined $3.4 billion over the next decade, according to administration estimates.

Oh, sure, both cuts can be spun to look good, and the spinning has already begun in earnest, but put that $3.4 billion figure next to the enormity of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy or of the ongoing costs of the Iraq War. Are the cuts worth it? Or are they not rather cruel?

Atrios and Josh Marshall want to know which Republican Congressmen support this plan to cut Social Security. Absolutely. Let's get them on the record. Let's find out who buys into Bush's cruel, cruel conservatism.

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Generation gap: Why America will pay for the sins of the son

As far as I'm concerned, E.J. Dionne's columns in The Washington Post are absolute must-reads, which is why, for fear of repeating his name over and over again, I don't often comment on them here (even as they inform my thinking). But his most recent column, which you can find here, deserves our attention today, for it pits one Bush against another, the father against the son, 41 against 43.

Actually, it's more of a juxtaposition of two presidents and their fiscal policies. One Bush, the one that dislikes broccoli, saw fit to break a campaign promise and raise taxes for the sake of fiscal sanity. The other, the one that avoided Vietnam and launched the U.S. into a muddled war in the Middle East, has repeatedly kowtowed to the low-tax ideologues in his own party and in the process plunged the country into fiscal insanity.

In our own everyday lives, such fiscal insanity would have our creditors knocking down our doors, removing our possessions, and sending us into bankruptcy. In Bush's world of warmongering and business-friendly big government, it merely shuffles the burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of future generations. Such an un-Burkean thing to do -- but, then, Bush really isn't a conservative. Nor is he a liberal. He's a front for neocon idealism and corporate largesse. In other words, his presidency has amounted to waging war while cutting taxes for the wealthy and deregulating industry for the purpose of increasing the wealth of the already wealthy.

All else be damned.

While I respect 41 for putting together a coalition to remove Iraq from Kuwait and for working for compromise on the budget, that is, for acting responsibly both at home and abroad, I have no such respect for 43, his presidential descendent who has acted irresponsibly both at home and abroad.

Dionne: "Bush 41 may have made campaign promises on taxes that he couldn't keep. But when it came down to it, he held to what now seems like the antiquated view that government should try to keep some balance between what it spends and what it raises in taxes. That may not have been the best idea since sliced bread or the elimination of broccoli, but it is still a good idea."

Makes sense to me, but: Like father... not like son. It's the rebellion of 43 against 41. With dire consequences.

In this case, I'm afraid, America will pay for the sins of the son.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I wish I were a Wingnut...

My new friend The Psychotic Patriot contends that it's "so much easier to be a Wingnut":

To wake up in the morning and find my thoughts and opinions for the day emailed to me, then repeated on the WSJ editorial page, then blasted from any number of talk radio outposts, making me warmly and fuzzily connected with, you know, the right thing to do and say and think and feel.

It's a great post. Check it out.

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The Gonzales gaffe

In my last post (see below or click here), I suggested that Alberto Gonzales may be a fool... or stupid... or a partisan hack... or a Bush crony...

Or, more likely, all of the above.

To be fair, I've given him some slack for being such a hack, and he's certainly more crony than phony, both a fool and a tool -- but how to explain this gaffe, truly one of the stupidest things ever uttered by such a high-ranking official?

Okay, it's easy to write this off as a one-off gaffe, but isn't there more to it? Doesn't it reflect the Bush Administration's utter desperation to find any excuse it can for its illegal domestic eavesdropping program? It doesn't have the law on its side, but defending the indefensible is a difficult task. So what to do?

Well, pull a Rove. Attack the other side, the Democrats, for being soft on terrorism, for having a pre-9/11 mindset. Forget the details of the eavesdropping program. Defend it by spinning it, by addressing the larger, vaguer issue of terrorism. Instead of arguing the merits of the program, the program becomes a stand-in for the war on terror itself. And so it becomes: If you object to the eavesdropping program, you object to the war on terror -- worse, you're against "us". The Bush Administration is good at this. It did it after 9/11 and it's what got Bush re-elected in '04.

But this isn't really working anymore. There's too much doubt. Sure, Americans are more or less split 50/50 on the program, but that's only because the Bush Administration has done such a good job spinning it -- because Americans don't want to appear to be soft on terrorism, a seemingly more immediate threat, especially when magnified for political purposes, than the loss of civil liberties, which many simply take for granted.

But Bush doesn't have the sort of command he had in the aftermath of 9/11. Hence the desperation. Hence Gonzales's gaffe. The Bush Administration is looking for any excuse it can find, any excuse it can make up... And so we get this: Washington and Lincoln did it, and they were the greatest Americans ever. But, no, they didn't do it, not like this, and it's unfair to defend present practices through historical comparison. Washington also owned slaves. Does that mean Bush should open up his own plantation?

Yes, it was a gaffe -- a pretty bad one. It may show Gonzales to be a fool, but, at another level entirely, it reflects Bush's utter weakness, a failed presidency gone horribly awry.

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Senatorial skepticism meets partisan hackery

Shall I comment on the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on Bush's domestic eavesdropping program -- snoopgate, spygate, call it what you will?

No, not now, but I'll have more in the days to come.

Isn't it enough to say that Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales is a fool? Or is he not quite that stupid? Perhaps he really believes in the legality of Bush's illegal program? Or has he merely been put out there to defend the indefensible? I mean, he's a partisan hack, isn't he? A long-time Bush crony? Isn't that how he's risen up the food chain?

Whatever. I'm not just skeptical. I'm really, really pissed off. And Arlen Specter's lame investigation will no doubt get us nowhere.

The Washington Post has a recap of today's events here.


But let me leave you with a bit of Digby:

I've been digesting this morning's hearings and I am dumbstruck by the totality of the Republicans' abdication of their duty. These men who spent years running on Madisonian principles ("The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse") now argue without any sense of irony or embarrassment that Republican Senators are nothing more than eunuchs in President Bush's political harem. They have voluntarily rendered the congress of the United States impotent to his power.

I've watched this invertebrate GOP caucus since 2000 as they submitted themselves to this lawless administration again and again, shredding every bit of self respect, every figment of institutional pride, every duty to the constitution. The look in their eyes, which is somehow interpreted as strong and defiant by the equally servile media, is actually a window to empty little men who have given up their manhood to oblige their master. The only reward they seek is unfettered access to the taxpayers money for their own use.

We are looking at fifty-five of the most powerful people in the country. Collectively the Republican Senators represent almost a hundred and fifty million citizens. And they have allowed a callow little boy like George W. Bush along with his grey eminences Karl Rove and Dick Cheney to strip them of their consciences, their principles and their constitutional obligations. What sad little creatures, cowardly and subservient, unctuously bowing and scraping before Karl Rove the man who holds their (purse) strings and dances them around the halls of congress singing tributes to their own irrelevance at the top of their lungs. How pathetic they are.

Have a nice day. See you later.

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Chaos in Costa Rica

Well, not really. In my effort to bring you more world news, I was just going for some alliteration.

Actually, Costa Rica's presidential election -- the BBC has the story here -- proceeded peacefully "amid wide disillusionment with politics after a string of corruption scandals". Voter turnout was the lowest in the country's history.

If not chaos, however, then closeness: "With more than 86% of votes counted, ex-President Oscar Arias had 40.5%, compared with 40.2% for Otton Solis -- a difference of fewer than 5,000 votes." Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, is seen as "a politician untainted by the recent scandals". He supports ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Solis, who wants CAFTA to be renegotiated, is "hoping to ride the left-wing wave sweeping through some Latin American countries" -- such as Chile and Bolivia.

Interesting stuff -- seriously.

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The Harper hypocrisy

I knew it would happen eventually, but I always thought it would be later rather than sooner.

As I said on January 25th, for those who thought that Stephen Harper's Conservatives will swoop in and clean up [the government] -- think again. It's frightening how quickly the new Prime Minister has shown his true colours.

Of course, I speak of the new Cabinet appointments, which include Liberal defector David Emerson, who is now Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, and the unelected Michael Fortier (who has been, just now, appointed to the Senate by Harper), who takes the Public Works portfolio.

I find it extremely interesting that the Conservatives would welcome David Emerson with open arms, considering that they harshly condemned Belinda Stronach for doing precisely the same thing in May 2005, shortly before the budget vote. CalgaryGrit offers quotes from various Tory members, including Harper, on the topic.

As Bart Ramson mentions on his blog, at the very least, Stronach sat with the Conservatives for a year. In this election, she was re-elected, so she received her mandate and validation from her constituents -- no one can complain about that anymore. But a mere two weeks after the election has passed, Emerson switches his allegiance. It's nothing but pure ambition on his part, and pure hypocrisy on that of the Tories.

Even worse was the appointment of an unelected minister. Now, as Prime Minister, it was completely within Stephen Harper's power to do what he did. However, from the standpoint that he was elected under his campaign promises of bringing in more transparency, fixing the democratic deficit, and, most importantly, greater government accountability, this is unacceptable.

And the electorate traded Paul Martin in for THIS?

Other major appointments included Peter McKay as Minister of Foreign Affairs (at least it wasn't Stockwell Day, right?) and Stockwell Day as Minister of Public Safety (AAAAAAAAAAH!).

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The cartoon controversy

Battlepanda has a good round-up of reaction to the whole Danish cartoon controversy -- see here.

I agree with my friend Angelica that the right is way off on this one, not least because of its rather simplistic worldview and susceptibility to absolutism. On the whole, neither side is fully in the right -- although, clearly, the burning of embassies does not constitute an equal and opposite reaction to the publishing of insensitive and ignorant cartoons, and should not in any way be condoned.


By the way, there's an interesting discussion/debate going on in response to Grace's post on the cartoon controversy -- see here (and feel free to have your say!).

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Toxic dust and the aftermath of 9/11

I've been meaning to link to this for a few days. Here's another good post from State of the Day on a Bush Administration lie in connection with the aftermath of 9/11.

Check it out.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

The "Specter" of illegality

The illegality of Bush's domestic espionage program, that warrantless eavesdropping, that is.

From The New York Times, Specter speaks out: "The Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee said [yesterday] that he believed the Bush administration had violated the law with its warrantless surveillance program and that its legal justifications for the program were 'strained and unrealistic.' The program 'is in flat violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,' said the chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who will open committee hearings on Monday."

Read on. It's great.

(And what if the Bush Administration really has broken the law? Doesn't the buck stop in the Oval Office? Shouldn't Bush himself be held accountable? And so... what? What then? I'm sure you know where I'm going with this.)

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Al Qaeda's (not-so-)great escape

From The New York Times: "A man convicted of masterminding the attack on the American destroyer Cole in 2000 escaped a Yemeni jail through a tunnel with 22 other prisoners, the international police organization, Interpol, said [yesterday]... The Interpol statement said that 12 of the prisoners who escaped through the tunnel with Mr. Badawi were convicted members of Al Qaeda."

Not good.

Way to go, Yemen.

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Insensitivity and ignorance in Denmark

Yesterday, our contributor Grace wrote a post on those Danish editorial cartoons that have unleashed such violence from the offended (see here).

I go back and forth on this one. I value free speech too much to condemn the cartoons (and those who published them) outright, but at best they seem to reflect insensitivity and ignorance (at worst, xenophobia and religious/cultural hatred).

In addition to Grace's post, I recommend one by Middle East expert Juan Cole at Informed Comment. Key passage:

Westerners cannot feel the pain of Muslims in this instance. First, Westerners mostly live in secular societies where religious sentiments have themselves been marginalized. Second, the Muslims honor Moses and Jesus, so there is no symmetry between Christian attacks on Muhammad and Muslim critiques of the West. No Muslim cartoonist would ever lampoon the Jewish and Christian holy figures in sacred history, since Muslims believe in them, too, even if they see them all as human prophets. Third, Westerners have the security of being the first world, with their culture coded as "universal," and widely respected and imitated. Cultures like that of the Muslims in the global South receive far less respect. Finally, societies in the global South are less policed and have less security than in Western Europe or North America, allowing greater space to violent vigilateism, which would just be stopped if it were tried in the industrialized democracies. (Even wearing a t-shirt with the wrong message can get you arrested over here.)

Look, I'm not saying that we need to place sensitivity over and above all other values. I'm no great fan of political correctness. But what was the point of these cartoons? Were they necessary? Could the same point have been made without resorting to such insensitivity?

Well, perhaps not. Perhaps ignorance trumped insensitivity. Perhaps the Danes who drew and published these cartoons are too ignorant to know what's insensitive. Perhaps they truly believe that Islam is fundamentally a religion of violence. Perhaps their political expression (which they must be free to make, of course) reflects not just ignorance of Islam but a wider xenophobia, fear and loathing of Europe's Muslim immigrant communities.

Yes, many of those who are now outraged are hypocrites. And many don't understand the West. Perhaps they don't realize that such expression is not necessarily sanctioned by our political leaders (or by "the people"). Perhaps they don't understand just what freedom of expression means, what diversity means.

In a free society, such as Denmark, news media should indeed be free to editorialize and to express their own points of view. I certainly don't want to see censorship, or the triumph of sensitivity over diversity.

But insensitivity and ignorance of this kind should simply not be excused.

Unfortunately, these cartoons make us all look bad. Precisely at a time when we need to be building bridges to the Muslim world, not stereotyping it.


Joe Gandelman has more reaction over at The Moderate Voice.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl XL: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10


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Blogger, Koufax, etc.

As some of you may know, Blogger was down for much of yesterday, and, if you tried to view The Reaction, you may have encountered one of those nasty unavailable/forbidden messages. For some reason, this blog was indeed unavailable at least until late last night.

These things happen, I suppose, but, thankfully, everything seems to be back up and running today. I'll start posting again soon (so keep checking back) -- although, as a long-time and extraordinarily enthusiastic Steelers fan, I obviously have certain other things on my mind today. On that note, I hope you all have a happy and safe Super Bowl Sunday (whether you're a football fan or not, whether you intend to watch the game or not).

For those of you who are new, or relatively new, to The Reaction -- welcome. I generally write 2-8 posts a day on a wide range of topics/issues, and the last two weeks of posts are available here on the front page. So I encourage you to scroll down and/or to check out the links to past posts on the right sidebar, including the archives and my Signs of the Apocalypse series.

This blog has been nominated so far for two Koufax Awards (hosted by Wampum) -- Best New Blog and Most Deserving of Wider Recognition -- and I'd like to congratulate my all my fellow nominees, thank those who nominated me, and say that, win or lose, it's wonderful to be part of such a friendly and supportive community of bloggers. I've met some great people out here in the blogosphere, readers and fellow bloggers alike, some who have become good friends, some whom I've had the pleasure of getting to know only recently, and I look forward to meeting more of you.

More posts are coming -- indeed, I see that my co-blogger Grace has just written a great one on the Danish editorial cartoon scandal. (It's right below this one.)

See you soon.

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Cartoon violence

It started with twelve editorial cartoons in a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten. Twelve cartoons which violated holy Islamic law that stated that no images of the Prophet Muhammad could be made, good or bad, for fear that it would lead to idolatry.

All of the cartoons were offensive, the worst being an image of the prophet wearing a turban that resembled a bomb.

The result was violence, which erupted in countries with high Muslim populations. Yesterday, the Embassy of Denmark was set ablaze in Syria, and today the same occurred in Beirut. People have taken to the streets in protest, burning Danish flags and hurling stones. Arab diplomats told the Danish government, as well as those of other European states which printed the images, that all it would have taken to quell the uprisings were apologies; however, Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen "insisted he cannot apologize on behalf of his country's independent press".

Unsurprisingly, the editor of Jyllands-Posten is also unapologetic. Why did he request the cartoons? Because he believed that the press was practicing "self-censorship" in regards to Muslim issues.

There are good reasons for the so-called "self-censorship" for the time being -- the most obvious is that this topic is extremely sensitive. The second reason, and most blatant in this case, is pure ignorance of the culture. It is clear that all of these cartoonists, and the editor themselves, know nothing of Islam, publishing a superficial perception, which is inexcusable. They are journalists, and they have a duty and responsibility to investigate and research before they go to print, and yes, practise "self-censorship" when what they are presenting is needlessly offensive.

Even the Vatican has spoken out, saying that religious intolerance is unacceptable and that there must be mutual respect for all cultures.

Several other European newspapers picked up and printed these images, even though they knew these cartoons were controversial and insulting. This is indicative of a larger issue at hand: racial tension and discrimination, especially towards the Muslim community. In France, there was a vote to ban headscarves in classrooms and workplaces, which eventually passed -- a law very pointedly aimed at Muslim women, who wear the scarves for religious reasons. Most recently (and famously), there were race riots which began in Paris and spread across the rest of the country.

So far, France has made no effort to accommodate or open a dialogue with these groups. Instead, the authorities have deported those who were involved. Instead of effectively dealing with the root cause, they're sweeping everything under the rug, and looking at this in a very shallow manner.

There is terrible xenophobia and a culture of intolerance which is quickly rising to the surface. It looks as though Europe's dirty laundry is being now being aired in public.

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