Res Ipsa Loquitur…

Following are excerpts from an interview with Abbas Zaki, member of the Fatah Central Committee, which aired on the Al-Jazeera network on September 23, 2011.

Abbas Zaki: The settlement should be based upon the borders of June 4, 1967. When we say that the settlement should be based upon these borders, President [Abbas] understands, we understand, and everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go.

If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall – what will become of Israel? It will come to an end.

[...]

Who is nervous, upset, and angry now? Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Obama… All those scumbags. Why even get into this? We should be happy to see Israel upset.

[...]

If we say that we want to wipe Israel out… C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself.

 

On Hamas Flotilla Nonsense

Kudos to Greece. It momentarily stopped the latest Gaza flotilla nonsense, for now.  That is responsible and real.

Greece announced a ban last week on vessels headed to Gaza and arrested the captain of an American ship for leaving port without permission over the weekend.

The “Gaza flotilla” has always been a publicity stunt – never about “humanitarian aid.” The murderous Hamas gets pretty much whatever it wants through the sieve of the Egyptian border, and elsewhere. And by the way, the Gazan population is better off than it has been for decades, thanks to the influx of all manner of aid – including through Israeli borders.

But Hamas won’t miss an opportunity to make Israel look bad. And so while its minions lob missiles into Israel hoping they kill Jews, it also orchestrates “flotillas” for “freedom” – ostensibly to “break the blockade” that “prevents humanitarian aid getting to Gaza.” And that is how profoundly stupid Hamas believes we are. And by the way, we are.

Hasna El Maroudi, 26, can be described as a “Dutch pro-Palestinian activist/journalist of Moroccan descent.” She had planned to join other activists aboard a Dutch ship to Gaza, until she learned that she would be going on a secret Hamas-organized mission, and cancelled her participation.

Read the rest.

The two-state solution – the solution – turns on marginalizing Hamas. Hamas-orchestrated flotilla stunts empower Hamas and push a Palestinian state further and further away.

Obama-Osama-Bush-Hussein-Nixon-China

Conservatives have rightly applauded President Obama for the successful operation that finally ended the murderous ambitions of Osama bin Laden. How could we not? Any American with any misgiving about Osama’s status as Public Enemy #1 probably needs to find a more arid residential zone.

But there’s “rightly applauded” — and there’s “Rightly applauded, with carping.” President Obama’s speech announcing the successful operation, according to some commentators, was entirely too self-aggrandizing, taking too much personal credit, making fat with the first-person singular.

Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online, in a well-written carp about Senator and candidate Obama’s (then) opposition to all the policies that made the final operation against Osama possible, catalogued all of the president’s first-person references:

“Tonight, I can report … And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta … I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden … I met repeatedly with my national security team … I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. … Today, at my direction … I’ve made clear … Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear … Tonight, I called President Zardari … and my team has also spoken. … These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . … Finally, let me say to the families … I know that it has, at times, frayed…”

Other commentators take it a step further and contrast President Obama’s speech with President Bush’s speech upon the capture of Saddam Hussein. The speech was a gem. “All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side. The goals of our coalition are the same as your goals — sovereignty for your country, dignity for your great culture, and for every Iraqi citizen, the opportunity for a better life.” The president was gracious in his praise of others, sparing in the first-person singular.

But the contrast is unfair.

Republicans and Democrats have different things to prove to the American people. As to their military bona fides, their commitment to American security, their willingness to take controversial measures to save American lives, Democrats have much to prove — and naturally trumpet every initiative assisting that proof.

The corollary, the great maxim of world politics: liberals can do great conservative things, and conservatives can do great liberal things. Conservative Likudnik Menachim Begin could give away half of what was then Israel in exchange for peace with Egypt. No Labor prime minister could have done that. Labor prime minister Tony Blair could make a case for cleaning out the Middle Eastern cesspools of tyranny and oppression. No Tory prime minister could have done that.

That is why American wars have historically been prosecuted by Democrats. (Who can forget vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole’s snarling reference to “Democrat wars” in the 1976 vice presidential debate?) George W. Bush was a 21st-century Republican exception because of the shock of 9-11 and the seriousness with which America finally took its enemy. But Bush had no bona fides to prove. He could well afford to be (indeed, was well-advised to be) gracious and self-effacing at the moments of triumph.

But President Obama, being a Democrat who did in fact vocally embrace an ideological “humanist”/pacifist line in opposition to tribunals, renditions, Guantanamo, preventive detention, Predator-drone attacks, the Iraq War, wiretaps, and intercepts, yes, he had something to prove to Americans. And, wow, did he. One number: 180. And for gravy, on his own, without the advice or consent of Congress, he launched a military assault on Libya, with a NATO directive to kill the Qaddafi family. Now this is a president who timely figured out “whose ass to kick.”

The left isn’t calling him Hitler, as they did with the frankly kinder, gentler Bush, and the right is obliged to harrumph and say, okay, um, yes, well done. Most excellent 2012 plan.

So was there a bit of gloating, a tad too much self-aggrandizement in the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death? Yes, but that’s because a liberal was doing a great conservative thing.

Remember the shocker of the early 70s — President Nixon’s outreach to the Communist enemy China, still then governed tyrannically by the butcher Mao? The conservative Nixon was doing a great liberal thing. He was pretty proud of it.

Here’s how he announced it on July 15, 1971 — and if ever a thing spoke for itself, side-by-side with President Obama’s Osama speech, this Nixon speech surely does:

I have requested this television time tonight to announce a major development in our efforts to build a lasting peace in the world.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions over the past three years, there can be no stable and enduring peace without the participation of the People’s Republic of China and its 750 million people.

That is why I have undertaken initiatives in several areas to open the door for more normal relations between our two countries.

In pursuance of that goal, I sent Dr. Kissinger, my Assistant for National Security Affairs, to Peking during his recent world trip for the purpose of having talks with Premier Chou En-lai.

The announcement I shall now read is being issued simultaneously in Peking and in the United States:

******

Premier Chou En-lai and Dr. Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, held talks in Peking from July 9 to 11, 1971.

Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.

The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.

******

In anticipation of the inevitable speculation which will follow this announcement, I want to put our policy in the clearest possible context.

Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends.

It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation’s enemy.

I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

It is in this spirit that I will undertake what I deeply hope will become a journey for peace, not just for our generation but for future generations on this earth we share together.

Of course, there are huge teams behind the “I” of presidential politics — but the “I” is nowhere more conspicuous than when presidents do things that should please their most virulent opposition.

On the blizzard of Osama bin Laden death narratives

Surpassing strange, the conflicting narratives of Osama’s demise — strange, but strangely comforting in an odd way. If the awesome United States government can’t even control the core narrative of its signature military success — can’t even keep the conflicting narratives down to two or three — then we are destined always to be ruled by men and women of middling incompetence who cannot properly be suspected of sinister designs.

In other words, embarrassing reality rules out intelligent conspiracy. Much like someone forgot to script the aftermath of Bush’s ill-fated “Mission Accomplished” banner, someone forgot to script the aftermath of Obama’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement. These are not nefarious people, these well-paid federal strategists who got excited about the death of Osama bin Laden and forgot to nail down what actually happened.

Was it a kill or capture mission? Was Osama armed or not? Did he resist or not? Did he use a woman as a human shield or not? We’ve heard it all.

The bungling of the narrative matters at many levels. This was a mission many months in the planning, and it was executed, so far as we know, supremely well. With all that planning, was no thought given to confirming what actually happened and being able to report what actually happened accurately? Was this really a mission planned with stupendous Navy SEAL excellence up to — and not a moment after — the death of Osama bin Laden?

Divided government? Were the Navy SEALS in charge of getting Osama bin Laden, and the clowns in charge of everything that happened thereafter? Is it really possible that our highest levels of federal government still haven’t grasped the importance of aftermath planning? Doh! [Head bonk.]

As I said, take some comfort in incompetence. It means, at a minimum, really scary smart people are not designing sinister manipulations of the American people. The folks in power are pretty much just like us.

UPDATE (May 11, 2011): Over at The Dividist blog, they don’t necessarily concur with my point, but they get it — with two pretty perfect quotes (that I wish I’d used):

The Dividist thinks that Kendrick is grasping for Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” or the more succinct Bernard Ingham English version, “Cock-up before conspiracy.

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Osama bin Laden

I passed a momentous day in silence. Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew). It was also the day America celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden.

Both are fitting reminders that there is such a thing as evil, that human beings can still do horrific things to other human beings, that a true conscience can never rest.

It was a day foremost of sadness. Sadness that we are still here. Sadness that we are still a species who wantonly kill our own, who slaughter for politics and power.

Genocide on the scale of the Holocaust may be truly past — but the genocidal impulse is shamefully alive in the human breast.

The death of Osama bin Laden is closure. Nothing more, nothing less. The man orchestrated a great evil. He did so, moreover, with perverted distortion of a great religion. He proudly killed innocents, and he sought to kill the humanity of Islam, to conscript the religion into a program of hatred, hostility and murder.

He failed to convert Islam into Islamism — but we still fight because his ideology of murderous hatred did not die with him. The horror of 9-11 now becomes an ever so slightly more bearable thing because its mastermind is dead. But evil is not dead.

If evil could die, it would have died when the light shone on the death camps after World War II. It did not.

That is why we must always remember.

UPDATE (May 9, 2011): To the proposition that evil did not die with the death of Osama bin Laden, Charles Krauthammer fittingly adds that “Evil does not die of natural causes.”

Arab Spring, Democracy Fall?

Way back then, when the world was neatly divided between Cold War capitalists and communists, the Middle East was a minor battleground in that narrative. It mattered most whether the autocracies signaled allegiance to the capitalists or the communists. It mattered little whether their regimes acknowledged rudimentary human rights.

Given the unanimity of Arab police states, it was easy to conclude, mistakenly as it develops, that Arabs were somehow naturally disposed to police states, that democracy was alien to their sensibility. “Islam” somehow had something to do with this — it being, allegedly, a religion grounded in conquest and imposition of some misdirected notion of rigid Sharia law (though most of the regimes were secular).

But listen to this statesman at his best:

Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This “cultural condescension,” as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would “never work.” Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, “most uncertain at best” — he made that claim in 1957. …

It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries — in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.

That was George W. Bush in November 2003, in remarks on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. At the time, there was the Bush administration’s abiding faith, but little direct evidence, to contradict the “cultural condescension.” How times have changed.

It turns out that Arabs are no more disposed to police states than any other people. We’re witnessing that common Arab distaste for dictatorship in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, with perhaps more to come.

But here’s the kicker: in not a single one of these countries is democracy, as we understand that term, yet a given, even assuming the overthrow of tyranny that has already happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. We just don’t know. We know there are brave citizens in each of these countries committed to the rule of law, religious and speech freedom, the end of secret police repressions, and democratic reforms. We just don’t yet know whether they will prevail.

People power doesn’t always win. In 1956, Hungary people power was brutally crushed by Red Army tanks. In 1989, Chinese people power was brutally crushed in Tiananmen Square. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was brutally crushed by the Basij. Sometimes the bad guys win decisively.

Sometimes, even when the Bad Guy gets deposed, other very bad guys sometimes win the day — as with the French and Russian Revolutions. If, as Brent Scowcroft has suggested, the Arab Spring uprisings are about a “yearning for dignity,” then perhaps dignity is served by something short of democratic freedoms. The brutality of the dignity-yearning French Jacobins and the Russian Bolsheviks is instructive. Their ideological heirs may yet prevail in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Our Western eyes are best riveted on core democratic values, whether or not they look “Western” in the execution. Democracy, by definition, reflects the attitudes of the people, and if those popular Arab attitudes are, as they appear to be, overwhelmingly hostile to America, Israel, Jews, Christians, basic women’s rights, basic gay rights, and basic religious freedoms, then the new regimes may look disturbing in some ways. President Bush spoke in 2003 to this reality as well:

As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not, and should not, look like us. Democratic nations may be constitutional monarchies, federal republics, or parliamentary systems. And working democracies always need time to develop — as did our own. We’ve taken a 200-year journey toward inclusion and justice — and this makes us patient and understanding as other nations are at different stages of this journey.

There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military — so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions — for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty — the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people.

It behooves us, as we watch the unfolding of the Arab Spring, to stay focused on, and encourage with every tool at our disposal, these “essential principles common to every successful society.”

Conspiracy Theories Again? Not If We’re a Serious People

Conspiracy theories are back in the news. Donald Trump has “operatives” finding out “amazing things” about President Obama’s birth. It’s vaguely respectable again to entertain the Birther nonsense. (And there, by the way, is the limit of money: it frequently buys notoriety, sometimes buys vague respectability, even more rarely buys legitimacy, and never buys integrity or authenticity.)

Possible Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who might have been an attractive African-American counterpoint to Barack Obama, floated his own conspiracy theory when he was asked whether he would be comfortable appointing a Muslim to his cabinet or as a federal judge: “No, I would not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they’ve got a social problem that they don’t know what to do with hardly.”

Truther Jesse Ventura (Minnesota, what were you thinking?) now promotes, with a book, the preposterous notion that 9-11 was an “inside job.” Which, by the way, the jihadists abroad love. Thanks much Jesse.

Conspiracy theorists, fascists, jihadists, rightwingnuts, leftwingnuts, all have something in common. They thrive on sinister narratives. They all love whatever encourages abortion of thought and embrace of evil design. Oh my goodness now I get it, thank you for explaining so I never have to think again. Thank heavens the world isn’t complicated after all. It’s actually simple, “they” manipulate us.

I’ve always been impatient with conspiracy theories, because, basically, I’m a Pollyanna guy who refuses to see how diabolical people can truly be — especially when they team up and hatch really, off-the-chart nasty plots (which, make no mistake, they’re doing as we breathe this moment).

Also, I think it exceedingly rare that three or more people could ever truly collude to achieve some nefarious purpose without the thing unraveling — based upon the very mistrust that fuels conspiracy theories. If you think about it, conspirators have abundant reason to distrust their co-conspirators. By definition, as an evil conspirator, all of my co-conspirators are evil, meaning I sort of have to assume the worst about them, and I sort of have to assume that they’ll play self-protective three-dimensional chess (see Wild Things), meaning my very best Prisoner’s Dilemma option is probably cooperating with the authorities. No picnic for the Illuminati there.

Also, I’ve never minded too much not being in on the joke, which seems to bother many people greatly.

Because that’s what we really fear, right? Being taken as dupes? Being manipulated, notwithstanding all of our high-school civics rhetoric about democracy and freedom and self-determination? The wealthy and powerful obviously do something with all that wealth and power — so why not collude to make fools of all of us? And we’ll have none of that. By dang.

Anthropologists Todd Sanders and Harry G. West observe “that a broad cross section of Americans today … gives credence to at least some conspiracy theories.” Oh my.

Given the enormous policy challenges our country currently confronts, the single greatest threat to our viable democracy, in my opinion, is the embrace of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are narratives for people who no longer wish to think. And we are at a crossroads that desperately demands thinking.

Conspiracy theories are to thinking what prostitutes are to a man’s sex drive. It gets satisfied and shut down, embarrassingly.

UPDATE (Sat., Apr. 23, 2011): Politico published an article on Birtherism shortly after this post. It’s worth the read. Interestingly, and I did not know this, the actual origin of the Birther conspiracy theory was an anonymous email circulated by Hillary Clinton supporters in the spring of 2008. Those racist Clintons.

UPDATE (Sat., Apr, 23, 2011): From the Volokh Conspiracy today — these numbers are really troubling:

“Belief in political conspiracy theories is widespread on both sides of the political spectrum. Some 45% of Republicans believe that Obama is not a native-born citizen and (presumably) that the Democrats have gotten away with covering up that fact. Similarly, 35% of Democrats believe that George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 attack in advance, but let it happen anyway. About a quarter of all Americans, including 32% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans, believe that “the Jews” are to blame for the financial crisis of 2008.”

Koran Burning, Afghanistan Killing, and What Should Be Unnecessary Defense of the First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

–First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted December 15, 1791

The First Amendment’s muscular protection of free speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition is a singular American contribution to political philosophy. Still, over two centuries after enactment of the First Amendment, its core values get little more than lip service in countries governing the substantial majority of the world’s population. Over 70% of people live in countries that do not protect basic religious freedoms.

Americans of all political stripes take justifiable pride in our First Amendment tradition. Even when we wince at the newest cringe-inducing “free” expression — because sometimes freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose — Americans understand at the core of our civic beings that these liberties are our bedrock as a nation, the basis upon which a people of unprecedented diversity share and celebrate a political culture. It’s part of our political dance.

Yes, I’m taking some time with the civics cheerleading, because I want to get you fully prepped for these disturbing reactions by United States Senators to the Koran-burning silliness in Florida:

Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill): “I understand … the First Amendment. But I want to tell you, this pastor with his publicity stunt with the Koran unfortunately endangers the lives of our troops and the citizens of this country and a lot of innocent people.”

And worse. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could do if it inspired the enemy.”

“I understand the First Amendment, but…”?         “Free speech is a great idea, but…”?

No. This bare sufferance of the First Amendment is constitutionally tone-deaf — a frank embarrassment coming from our United States Senate. It is “First Amendment, and…” not “First Amendment, but…”

It is incontestable, as I’ve written, that the Koran-burning was stupid and bigoted, and incontestable that the murderous Afghani riots are worse than stupid and bigoted — they are killing innocent people. It is also fair to say, through a chain of causation including President Karzai, that the Koran-burning “caused” protests — but not that the Koran burning “caused” murder. The murderers made that extreme and abominable decision all on their own, as free moral agents.

And that is the very essence of First Amendment freedom. We do not question the basic liberty when some react extremely. To the contrary, we stay focused: we condemn the particular exercise of the liberty where it warrants, and we condemn the overreaction to it without questioning the liberty value itself. We do not question free speech liberty or suggest an overriding danger or a spurious “moral equivalency” based upon abominable or murderous reactions to stupid speech. If a danger exceeding the stupidity of the speech arises, it is because free moral agents deliberately choose to create the danger — and perhaps it is best we see that choice and call it what it is.

Several innocent people are dead in Afghanistan. Not merely guilty of stupid speech. Dead. If we shy away from the difference, if we labor to focus overmuch on the costs of free speech, then we shy away from our core values.

On Koran burning and Afghanistan killing

Let us take great care with recent events, so that we are true to our best American traditions. A small church in Florida symbolically burned a Koran. Thousands of protesters in Afghanistan, ginned up by three mullahs angry about the Koran burning, stormed a UN compound and killed at least 12 people.

To be sure, words and symbolic actions have consequences. But our response to the words, the consequences, and the conclusions we draw, tests mightily how we as Americans think about speech, bigotry, religion and murder.

First, the fairly incontestable conclusions.

1. Burning a Koran, the Muslim holy scripture, is indefensible bigotry. It is a hateful condemnation of an entire religion, of many millions of people who draw inspiration, guidance and daily grounding from their holy scripture. It is a grotesque failure to appreciate the range of Islam and an ignorant obsession with a few high-profile extremists who push one violent interpretation of the Koran.

2. Violence — never mind murder — in the name of, or based upon a perceived slight against, Islam, is indefensible. What the Afghani mullahs promoted and what the protesters committed was a horrible crime. People in Afghanistan to help Afghanistan lost their lives because of irrational and indefensible rage.

This much is clear — and the rest of the more difficult conversation can only happen with people who acknowledge that this much is clear. To any who hesitate as to one or the other above conclusions, you are part of the problem, and no longer part of the dialogue. Please consider rejoining.

For the rest of us, seeking to build bridges rather than borders, I want to suggest additional fair conclusions.

1. The Koran burning “caused” the Afghanistan protests. It did not cause the violence and it did not cause the murders. Committing violence against, or killing, someone, particularly an innocent person, is an act of moral agency entirely independent from whatever prompted the anger. One may feel insulted and react passionately. Violence against innocents, and most certainly murder, is a plainly indefensible overreaction — an independent immoral decision that must be universally condemned without regard to what prompted the anger.

2. Muslim communities need to be as forthright as possible about the proper response to insult. Part of the suspicion problem in America and abroad is the notion that Islam gets a pass from what every other world religion routinely endures. Christians and Jews in America, for example, are well accustomed to frequent and repugnant insults against their beliefs, their scriptures, their icons– and the reaction is frequently passionate, but not violent, and certainly not murderous. The vast majority of Muslim-Americans embrace exactly the same calibration of protest without violence — and they need to say it.

3. Americans need to stop thinking about “Islam” and “Muslims” and the “Koran” and “sharia law” as uniform and codified “things” about which one can speak generally. Before any person presumes to speak a negative word about Islam, Muslims, the Koran, or sharia law, he or she better have a thorough understanding of each. Otherwise, confine yourself to criticisms of what you perceive to be objectionable interpretations of Islam. Then dialogue happens.

4. We have an uncommon First Amendment tradition in America. We permit the American flag to be burned, we permit a crucifix to be placed in a jar of urine and deemed “art” called “Piss Christ,” we permit atheists to accuse organized religion of all manner of vile historical and current atrocity (see #2 and #3 above). We accept these instances of sacrilege, in the American tradition, because we know that religious dispute must always be handled with words, even angry words, but never with violence. We can never return to the bygone age of settling religious dispute with violence. Every American, of every religious, non-religious, and irreligious stripe, benefits from that American commitment to freedom to be religious, in whatever way, or anti-religious, in whatever way.

5. I count Muslim-Americans — and this may be controversial abroad — as a special class of Muslims, a class of Muslims who have thrived because of American religious freedom, who are not a victim class but a success story, precisely because America respectfully lets religions be themselves. This is our shared greatness. This is how we talk with each other — on the basis of shared American values. This is how the vast majority of Muslim-Americans blend appreciatively into being Americans. And more Americans need to appreciate that.

There is a high-profile discussion now about Islamist extremism. I am hopeful that more Muslim-Americans step up and speak forthrightly in opposition to extremism and violence and in defense of both American and Islamic values. And I am hopeful that more non-Muslim Americans join that discussion respectfully, and come to see Muslim-Americans as their partners in preserving what makes this country great.

UPDATE: Cross-posted at CiF Watch — with some lively and mostly hostile commentary.

Marco Rubio Is Pitch Perfect on Libya and Birthers

Freshman Florida Senator Marco Rubio is young, inexperienced, and, so far, very impressive. The resemblance to the president is striking, and for many of the same reasons I said in 2007 that I might support an Obama candidacy — in 20 years — Rubio is not properly a candidate for president of the United States in 2012. Thankfully, despite the media’s adolescent obsession with treating American politics like American Idol, Rubio has the presence of mind to disavow any presidential ambitions in 2012.

Meanwhile, Rubio is demonstrating a remarkably refreshing leadership style for a guy currently occupying a Senate basement office. On two matters, Rubio is articulate and forthright on issues yielding too much squishiness:

  • On Libya, Rubio says straightforwardly Qaddafi must go, and we must ensure it — in conspicuous contrast to the president’s “hmmm, Qaddafi must go, but we’re not about ‘regime change,’ like that regrettable Iraq thing we did, so as we ‘hand off’ this exercise to NATO (!), whatever happens happens, and we have deniability, but not really, since I authorized secret CIA missions in Libya, so the world knows what we’re up to, but we’re not doing a war thing…”

In fact, Rubio has sent a rather bold letter to Senate leadership staking out a very clear position about American interests in ensuring Qaddafi is taken down. President Obama tells us repeatedly, not without some sympathy from me, the issues are complex. But however complex the issues, superpower leadership (well, any leadership) is about articulating a goal and doing the work to achieve it. There’s no leadership percentage in pretending to stand by hoping that “a goal” (“not ours”) gets done, and secretly (but not) pursuing that goal (not ours) so that everybody ultimately knows either somebody else succeeds or we fail.

  • On the president’s birth and religion, thank you Senator Rubio. Please continue to be instantly dismissive of this cringe-inducing distraction.

Barely was his ABC interviewer’s question out than Rubio insisted, “that’s a waste of time.” “He says he’s a Christian. He’s a Christian. And I do believe he was born in the United States. And I don’t think any of those things are the reason why America’s in trouble.”

Amen. Never mind the mind-boggling meritlessness of the birther nonsense. So what if it were true? Would it have anything whatever to do with the range of challenges facing this country today? Not a whit. That’s admirable focus by the junior senator from Florida.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers