I think we should be honest with what's going on here. Lots of folks aren't comfortable with the idea of their kids looking at porn (openly, at least) -- it just gives them the willies -- and I can sympathize with that, as far as it goes. There's also a reasonable basis for saying that putting transient restrictions of almost any kind on children is an acceptable form of discrimination since it ways equally on everyone as they pass through the relevant ages. So if people want to make it illegal for kids to buy porn, let 'em do it, I guess, but all we're protecting them from is the occassional boner and if I recall my teen years correctly these laws aren't a very effective way of stopping kids from looking at porn and they certainly don't prevent erections. Perhaps The Teen Sex King has some weighty thoughts on the meaning of all this, but I'd be happy if people would just stop talking about protection.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
Asked at a public meeting in Islamabad last week if there could be a nuclear catastrophe, General Beg, the former Pakistani army chief, said more people died in the Allied bombing of Dresden than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that millions have been killed by small arms fire.A pretty good friend of mine has recently returned to her hometown of Karachi after a lengthy absence in the USA and, to be blunt, I really hope she doesn't get, you know, turned into a pile of atomic rubble, and I find it very troubling that her country's leaders are being so cavalier about this situation. I'd be interested to know if there are any other examples of a much weaker country essentially inviting a much stronger one to destroy it on the theory that, somehow, generating a crisis will provoke intervention form the outside. Pakistan's desire to "internationalize" the Kashmir situation is understandable -- whatever one thinks the disposition of that province ought to be, it's pretty clear that the fact that India has a much larger army shouldn't just be the decisive factor -- but this is brinkmanship of an even more insane kind than what we saw in the Coldwar and that, frankly, is saying quite a lot.
"Look," he said, "I don't know what you're worried about. You can die crossing the street, hit by a car, or you could die in a nuclear war. You've got to die someday anyway."
Morally speaking, if anyone's entitled to basic health coverage at public expense, the case seems clearest when you're talking about children, not old people -- it's hardly a sick six year old's fault if his folks haven't managed to make enough money to get him decent health care. From a pure bang for your buck standpoint children seem like the right place to focus too. They've got a lot more to gain in terms of years of healthy living from getting things treated properly, and giving health care to children can (in some sense) be seen as a public investment in a future worker, taxpayer, and generally productive member of society in a way that giving care to the elderly can't.
I don't want to be seen as knocking senior citizens here, as I say, I would favor a scheme of universal coverage, but as I say that's not in the cards for the immediate future and I think it's wrong of liberals to follow a syllogism that says since everyone should be covered that any plan that would give coverage to anyone should be supported. In the real world where we have (in large part due to Senator Miller) extremely limited public money to spend on social programs, I think it's a liberal's duty to try and see that that money is being spent in the best way possible, and I just don't see how expanding Medicare could be that best way.
Friday, May 31, 2002
The Harvard senior whose class day address was entitled "American Jihad," has finally decided to remove the word "Jihad" from the title of his talk. The text will remain unchanged. How depressing. If that is the right summary of his talk, why shouldn't he have the cojones to use the word in the title? I wasn't sympathetic to those wanting to silence this young man, let alone to those thugs who threatened his life. And not knowing the text, it was impossible to make a judgment about the talk. It's probably multi-cultural uplift of the sort that now passes for wisdom at universities. (Hey, but at least he's not Tony Kushner.) But if he's going to talk, let him talk boldly, in the language he wants, to make the statement he desires. This urge for sensitivity - at the expense of bruising and difficult dialogue - is a sickly sign of our times. No surprise harvard has catered to it again. But sad nonetheless.For one thing, I really think it would've been nice of him to at least link to me in the course of his denouncing me, but more importantly it would have been nice of him to have read the extensive commentary on this subject so at least he would know what he was talking about. One small point is that this is a Commencement address not a Class Day speech, a small difference, but one that a Harvard alum should be familiar with. More important is the fact that the whole concern is precisely that the speech will not be "multicultural uplift" but rather a speech by a supporter of Hamas exhorting the audience to jihad that poses as bland multicultural uplift. To say that a speech that (in my opinion) will amount to advocacy of terrorism is somehow equivalent -- or, as Sullivan would have it, not as bad -- as Tony Kushner being a bit foolish is quite repellant. Having been a longtime reader of Sullivan's site I find it hard to believe that he would be this squishy on this issue had he taken some time to inform himself about it. Sadly, he doesn't seem to have.
I'd also note that no one was trying to "silence" Yasin. As I've repeatedly argued this is distinctly not a question of free speech. One and only one undergraduate is permitted to speak in English at the Commencement ceremony so we obviously can't just say "well let's let all voices be heard" it's a dynamic that calls for the exercise of judgment and judging that any particular individual is not a good choice for the role is by no means equivalent to a desire to silence that person. I, after all, won't be delivering a Commencement oration, but as anyone who's reading this site can tell I've certainly not been silenced by anyone.
UPDATE: Reader B.B. points out that that's not actually what the story I linked to says. I got, via e-mail, what appeared to be a more current version of the same AP story that says there will be a condemnation of the 9/11 attacks, but I'm not finding it online anywhere. Either way, the issue was never -- to my mind -- the title or September 11 but rather the Holy Land Foundation and Hamas and there's no change on that front.
As risks change, we who care about civil liberties need to realign balances between security and freedom. It is a wrenching, odious task, but we liberals need to learn from 9/11 just as much as the F.B.I. does.Nevertheless, this isn't really what he means at all if you read the column, the essence of which is a call for liberals to admit that racial (really ethnic) profiling is an effective means of preventing terrorist attacks. The whole point of ethnic profiling, however, from this perspective is precisely that it allows us to avoid needing to reduce our freedom in order to enhance our security. After all, there's nothing stopping airport security from conducting incredibly invasive searches of everyone other than the fact that doing so would reduce our freedom by (a) putting us all through an enormous pain in the ass search process, and (b) forcing us to pay for it.
The beauty of ethnic profiling of Arab and Muslim fliers is that it allows us to not conduct invasive searches of everyone while at the same time affording us (approximately) the same level of security. The balance, in other words, isn't between freedom and security, it's between fairness and security.
I, for one, tend to be a bit skeptical about the ability of ethnic profiling to be an effective counter-terrorism measure since Muslims do come in all shapes and sizes and, presumably, so do militant Muslims as well. Even if we accept that somehow we only need to worry about Arabs rather than all kinds of Muslims, I'm not really sure how good we'd be at identifying Arabs as such if they had a strong interest in avoiding being labeled as Arabs. Are we going to ask the white people to form one line, the black people another, the Asians a third, and then give all the brown folks a Spanish language test to separate the Latinos out from the Arabs.
Leaving this aside, though, I come back to the point about fairness. It's perfectly reasonable to restrict the domain of liberty for the purpose of enhancing liberty in the long run by winning the war on militant Islam. It's really another thing entirely to say that we should enhance our liberty and our security by unfairly penalizing a whole bunch of people for physically resembling some other people. I'd have to see a really compelling case that ethnic profiling was the only (not just the cheapest or the least annoying to white people) way to achieve security before I'd be willing to accept something like that.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
I've run out of patience with Bush?s policy toward Saudi Arabia. Is there any reason to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one? Has there been any evidence that points to a reversal in decades? worth of cushy oil-biz relationships, ambassadors who don't speak Arabic, and opportunistic backing of shameful despots? Bush has had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seize the moral high ground, convince friends and enemies alike that there was a principle worth fighting for after the Sept. 11 massacre -- but between his Saudi-coddling and domestic-industry protection, I'm afraid that moral capital is being squandered. The United States is, and should be, more than a nation-state that uses its power to maximize short-term national self-interest.He recommends some Chris Hitchens piece but I think the Welcher just about says it all.
This kind of deviousness is not, frankly, the forte of democratic countries in general and the United States in particular. A lot of people both in Europe and at home get annoyed at the American tendency toward (often somewhat hypocritical) moralizing in international affairs, a moralizing that's often tinged with a strange naivte (we woke up on Sept. 12 and were shocked, shocked, to learn that somehow a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists had gotten control of Afghanistan), but for better or for worse, that's the American way. People need to be told what the hell is going on. If we're going to go to war with Iraq, Bush should say so and he should say why and he should tell me (and everyone else) what he wants us to do -- chances are, we'll do it. If not, not. Lying to everyone and hoping to trick the other guy into doing what we want is certainly a lot less simplisme than the good old American tactic of being clear and bombing the shit out of them, but frankly the closest the US has ever come to being able to pursue that kind of a strategy succesfully was under Nixon and that was more or less an unmitigated disaster.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
That said, I do hope that Bush's wobbliness opens up some space for a bold Democrat to get to Bush's "right" on foreign policy. A war against a group of people who, financed by the oil industry, seek to impose a theocratic government around that world that would be incredibly oppressive of women and religious minorities has always struck me as the kind of war that should suit liberals rather well.
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
UPDATE: TAPPED refers to "Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel." I hate to be pedantic (well, actually I don't, but that's another story) but while Prof. Sandel's politics are often admirable his philosophizing tends to come up short, so it's important to keep in mind that he's actually a political scientist when looking at his work.
I was going to let it pass, or possibly write a well-reasoned rebuttal to Leon Wieseltier. Now, I think, all I want to say is: "You're an idiot." I actually want to say, "You're a fucking idiot," but I'm being polite.I quite agree. What worries me is not only the vehemence and genocidal inclinations of the anti-semitism we're hearing from the Arab press, but also the attitude which we anti-jihadis here at Harvard seem to be running up against that, sure, terrorism is a terrible thing but terrorism directed against Jews is another matter altogether. I don't think that these people are being anti-semitic per se, or that they would put their position in those terms, but they're attitude is exactly the one that allows monumental catastrophes to take place. There are always bad people in the world and their existence is surely a necessary condition for the perpetration of horrendous acts, but ultimately they can always be stopped as long as the will is there. I worry, however, that it is currently lacking.
Monday, May 27, 2002
As a judge of the Commencement Orations Committee, I write to reassure concerned members of the extended Harvard community about the provocative title of the Undergraduate English Oration entitled "American Jihad."Some key points: Perhaps if what I was really concerned about was the title of the speech, rather than its content, this would be an appropriate response. As things stand, however, it is not. Moreover, please note that a "personal 'struggle' for selfhood" is not at all incompatible with terrorism and, indeed, terrorists doubtless feel that this is exactly what they are doing. This is even clearer in the idea that the call for "jihad" will be a call for "justice." Everyone thinks they're fighting for justice -- the problem is that when Zayed Yasin speaks of fighting for justice that fight does not include the fight against terrorism.
The senior who will deliver the oration is both a Muslim and an American citizen from Scituate, Mass. In his thoughtful oration, he defines
"jihad" properly as a personal "struggle" for selfhood, something he has done at Harvard and something he rightly reminds us that we all do in our lives. His "jihad," like ours, is to promote justice and understanding in ourselves and in our society. The audience will find his oration, as did all the Harvard judges, a light of hope and reason in a world often darkened by distrust and conflict.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has said that Islam teaches peace and harmony, but the West is trying to depict a distorted image of the religion.So it's a good thing we have English-language Islamic papers like Dawn and the Arab News to clear up these misunderstandings or else some might think that Pakistan is heading deeper into Islamic fundamentalism at the same time as its government and people are determined to start a war that can have no result other than the utter destruction of their nation and millions of its inhabitants.
UPDATE: Atrios reveals that the Green candidate is an anti-semite to boot. Fantastic. OK, well that's not quite what it reveals, he's not necessarily an anti-semite but I don't think I'm alone in being unhappy with these sorts of statements.
Sunday, May 26, 2002
Harvard has many Jewish graduates this year, and some of them are offended or concerned by the choice of Yasin as a commencement speaker. This is not, as he claims, a matter of anti-Muslim bias. It is simply a decent response to what is obviously an insult to their ethnicity, compounded by an insult to their intelligence.I suppose the analogy doesn't quite work since as far as I know "cross burning" isn't a contested term after the manner of "jihad," but I still think this is more or less spot on. The only unfortunate thing is that Chafets doesn't include any information about what it is those upset by the situation can do about it, like signing the petition. Or, say, mentioning yours truly. Nevertheless....
Imagine a Harvard senior invited to deliver a commencement speech on "American Cross Burning." Imagine that this student had in the past raised money for a suspected Ku Klux Klan front group. Imagine further that the KKK was engaged in blowing up hundreds of African-Americans in a campaign -- one called "cross burning" -- aimed at ethnically cleansing the country.
From one member of the Faculty Committee that selected Yasin I have heard that the speech will be "apolitical" even though a speech on the subject of jihad at a time when the United States is at war with those who would wage war against us in the name of jihad is inherently political. From another Committee member I have heard that Yasin's history of support for a Hamas front organization is not relevant because Hamas is not a black and white issue. I disagree. Hamas is an organization committed to the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of its population. How support for such an organization could be "irrelevant" to assessing a speech about jihad is, frankly, beyond me. The fact that yet a third member of the Committee is a signer of the odious Chomsky-sponsored petition that sought to punish Israel for attempting to combat brutal attacks on its population is, to say the least, disturbing.
Beyond the members of the committee, however, I have found the reaction of the bulk of the student body to be one of apathy, equivocation, and denial. This, too, is disturbing. It stems not, I think, from student support for terrorism, but rather from a yearning by well-meaning intelligent people to find spokespeople for a moderate brand of Islam that could live in peace with people of all races, religions, and nationalities. We all know that practitioners of such a brand exist, and we all wish that their voices would be louder in these troubled times. The inclination to judge the characters of others generously, to see the good and to think well of our fellow man, to choose optimism even in dark hours, is, in many ways, an admirable one, and it is one that seems to be present in many of my fellow students.
It is also, however, a naive and dangerous inclination in dangerous times. As those of us who've seen the wreckage of the World Trade Center, watched the film of Daniel Pearl's murder, and seen the corpses pulled from the rubble from Jerusalem to Kashmir know, the enemy is real and evil does walk the earth. If Yasin delivers his speech it will not be the end of the world, it is not the worst thing that could happen, indeed it will no doubt not be the worst thing that happens on that very day. Nevertheless it will be distressing that it has occured not because it could not be prevented or because the truth was not known, but rather because, when presented with the truth, good people failed to act.
Perhaps the apathy and denial are simply a manifestation of the snobbery for which Harvard has gained a reputation. Perhaps people simply cannot see -- despite the evidence cannot bring themselves to believe -- the truth about Zayed Yasin. He is, after all, one of us. A member of a small and carefully chosen elite. How could his character and his moral judgment come into question? Might we disagree with his politics? Of course. A community of thousands simply could not exist without political disagreement, and seeking speakers whose views will command a consensus would be an exercize in futility. Nevertheless, some things are beyond the pale, and this is one of them. Harvard selects for intelligence, ambition, and hard work, but none of these things is a guarantor against gross immorality. Far from it.
Not for the first time I am disappointed in many of my fellow students, in many of our professors, and in the conduct of our administration.
I hope that somehow I am wrong. That somehow Yasin's failure to include a condemnation of terrorism in his speech was an oversight. That Dean Shinagel's refusal to ask for the inclusion of one was genuinely motivated by a misguided doctrine of literary criticism rather than a desire to prevent the speech from including one. That Yasin's repeated statements over a period of many months that he supports the HLF are, in fact, motivated by a sincere belief that contrary to all the evidence they are not a front for Hamas, and that he hasn't said that this is the reason for his support because for some reason it never occured to him to do so. I hope, in other words, that this is a comedy of errors, rather than the tragedy that all the evidence indicates it is. I hope all this, but I am quite sure it is not so.
Nevertheless, this is but one small incident in a much larger struggle and though I doubt that the right thing will be done here, I have every confidence that in the end the forces of light and freedom will triumph. Eh bien, continuons....