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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Friday, May 31, 2002  
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RACE AND CULTURE. This weekend's opening of The Sum of All Fears presents us with the perfect opportunity to discuss a phenomenon that has overtaken American society, hampered the effectiveness of the War on Terror and often dampened our ability to critique and oppose truly evil practices around the world. I'm talking about the conflation of race, religion and culture.

The Sum of All Fears is based on a Tom Clancy book of the same name. In the book, Islamic terrorists find a damaged Israeli nuclear bomb (the bomb slipped off the rails of an Israeli aircraft during the Yom Kippur war), repair it and -- with the help of disgruntled East German Communists and a Sioux Indian -- detonate the bomb at the Super Bowl. In the movie, the Islamic terrorists are replaced by (of course) Neo-Nazis, the one villain Hollywood has no qualms about demonizing.

In recent days, both Slate Magazine and the Weekly Standard have discussed how Hollywood, as a point of principle, is refusing to "stereotype" Arabs by casting them as terrorists or villains. The Slate article relates how both Harrison Ford (originally cast as the leading man in The Sum of All Fears) and Ben Affleck (the star of the movie) supported the move away from Islamic terrorists and towards the ubiquitous Neo-Nazi whipping boys. Affleck justified the move by stating "the Arab terrorist thing has been done a million times in the movies." The director of the movie even went so far as to write a letter to the Council on American-Islamic Relations ("CAIR") telling them: "I hope you will be reassured that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs, and I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination."

Side note: Can you imagine a Hollywood director writing a letter to Focus on the Family or other prominent Christian group saying that he has "no intention of promoting negative stereotypes of evangelical or fundamentalist Christians?" But that's a post for a different day . . .

To Hollywood -- and to many cultural liberals -- certain cultural or religious critiques are as improper, as hateful, as a racial critique. In other words, any statement that deviates from the current party line that Islam is a "religion of peace" is considered discriminatory. The observation that Muslims are disproportionately likely to commit terrorist acts against the United States leads inevitably to condemnations of "racial profiling."

It is high time that we get over this aversion to confronting, head-on, the cultural and religious challenge of modern Islam and the modern Middle East. The costs of avoiding such a confrontation -- the costs of political correctness -- are simply too high. As Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist (and prominent liberal) observed:

"As we [Kristof's fellow liberals] gather around F.B.I. headquarters sharpening our machetes and watching the buzzards circle overhead, let's be frank: There's a whiff of hypocrisy in the air.

One reason aggressive agents were restrained as they tried to go after Zacarias Moussaoui is that liberals like myself — and the news media caldron in which I toil and trouble — have regularly excoriated law enforcement authorities for taking shortcuts and engaging in racial profiling. As long as we're pointing fingers, we should peer into the mirror."

What are some of the things that we know about contemporary Middle Eastern Muslim culture? We know -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that many millions of Middle Eastern Muslims despise Jews and eagerly read books and magazines that contain the worst kinds of anti-Semitic slander. We know that in many cities, Middle Eastern Muslims spontaneously spilled into the streets to celebrate the September 11 attacks. We know that radical Islam has infected much of the Middle East; and we know that this form of Islam celebrates terror and violence against Jews. We know that -- thus far -- all but one of the 20 most violent and deadly terror attacks against Americans have been carried out by Muslim terrorists.

Given these facts, it strikes me as grossly irresponsible to not only give special scrutiny to Middle Eastern Muslims who otherwise fit various terrorist profiles (young, male, known associations with various radical mosques or imams, etc.) but also to fully engage and critique the culture that spawned these terrorists. We sometimes act as if culture or religion are immutable characteristics, like race, and therefore cannot be criticized. Cultures (thankfully) change. The German national culture is now nothing like it was in 1939. The French culture has undergone radical changes in the last 200 years. The Japanese culture of today is significantly different from the Japanese culture that existed before American occupation. Even our own nation has hardly been culturally stable -- hence the existence of a "culture war."

We must work to not only prevent terrorist attacks but also to change the culture -- and yes, even the religion -- that spawns the terror. We are engaged in a battle of ideas as much as we are a battle with bullets and smart bombs. For generations, many millions of Americans have worked diligently to transform a culture that previously denigrated and enslaved African-Americans. One product of that work is the current universal acceptance that a Neo-Nazi (or white supremacist) is a uniquely diabolical villain. Nazis and Klansmen have been unable to win the battle of ideas and have thus been pushed to the fringes of national (and international) society.

We must have the courage to tell Islamo-fascists that they do not serve God -- that they servants instead of the author of lies, hate and violence. We must show the world that Islamo-fascism and Muslim anti-Semitism are despicable and shameful. One of the most effective ways to do just that is to use mass media to accurately portray both the nature of the terrorist threat and the depravity of the terrorist mindset. I grew up watching movies that showed white racism in all its disgusting detail (just watch "Mississippi Burning," for example) and knew that I did not want this country to ever again embrace that hate. Americans need to understand who and what we're fighting. We need the factual and rhetorical ammunition to say to the Muslim Middle East that something about your culture is broken. We need our eyes opened so that we can vigilantly guard against the products of that broken culture.

These cultural and religious critiques have nothing to do with race, and you should not be silenced by those who tell you that your criticism is racist. However, we must take care not to make racial generalizations based on culture. Simplistic, ignorant or hateful people can -- and do -- look at brown skin and dark hair and think "potential terrorist." Or they look at the mass of Middle Eastern Arabs and write them off as beyond education -- as only good for defeat and subjugation. That is racism. Instead, Middle Eastern Muslims -- like Japanese followers of the the Bushido code or German fascists -- are fully capable of transforming their culture. We should not be afraid to tell them that they need to try.

8:48 AM

Thursday, May 30, 2002  
SCHOOL VOUCHERS. The Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of private school vouchers is expected literally at any moment. As I will explain in more detail when the ruling is actually issued, the Court's decision in the voucher case will be enormously significant. Not only will the Court decide the validity of the most revolutionary educational reform since the advent of universal public schooling, but it also has an opportunity to clarify the status of religious speech and expression in this country. Currently, religious speech is less protected -- less free -- than non-religious speech. A favorable ruling on vouchers would go a long way towards lifting the government's thumb off the scales of expression and establishing a truly neutral posture towards private speech -- religious and non-religious.

In the meantime, read this article defending vouchers from common critiques by defenders of the status quo. If vouchers are declared constitutional -- and I expect that they will be -- then we need to be prepared to combat voucher opponents state-by-state.

One of the common attacks on vouchers is that they'll re-create segregation -- as whites head to white-run private schools and African-Americans travel to black-run private schools. Casey Lartigue combats this argument by pointing that segregation is actually -- by some measures -- worse in public schools:

"Segregation? Schools divided by skin color? A separate but unequal system? That certainly sounds like the public-school system. The Civil Rights Project at Harvard's Graduate School of Education has found that 70 percent of the nation's black students now attend predominately minority public schools, with 36 percent of the nation's black students attending schools with a minority enrollment of 90-100 percent. Researcher Jay Greene found in a national study that 55 percent of children in public schools attended classes where 90 percent of students came from a single ethnic group. In comparison, 41 percent of private-school students attended schools with similar conditions. The alleged "resegregation" caused by school choice is occurring in places where vouchers are still just a rumor."

Read the entire article. It's worth your time.

5:46 AM

INDIA/PAKISTAN UPDATE. As the Pentagon draws up contingency plans for an airlift of American citizens from Pakistan and India -- an airlift that would dwarf in magnitude the American evacuations from Vietnam -- the New York Time's William Safire explains that Al Qaeda may be playing a role in this crisis.

While Safire downplays the possibility of nuclear war, his scenario for conventional war is chilling enough: "What if the prospect of mutual destruction acts as a deterrent to going nuclear, but conventional war breaks out instead? India would start to win again, and Pakistan would prevail on its closest ally, China — India's strategic rival — to open a second front. To counter that mass of troops, India might then turn to Russia."

With war talk swirling in the air, news comes that terrorists have struck again. Asia teeters on the brink . . .

5:26 AM

Wednesday, May 29, 2002  
THE FUTILITY OF NEGOTIATION. Read this quote from Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister, on negotiating with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority:

"They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as 'the truth'."

Here's my question: If the truth is meaningless to the Palestinian leadership, can we ever rely on any peace agreement they've signed? I remember hearing one conservative commentator describe the "land-for-peace" idea as a proposal to swap something permanent (land) for something temporary (a promise not to engage in violence). If the promise is meaningless, then the "bargain" is even worse. It becomes a pure gift of land -- of the geographic depth Israel needs to defend itself -- for nothing in return.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for noticing Barak's observation.

7:03 AM

MANDATORY ABORTION TRAINING. The New York City public hospital system is making abortion training mandatory for all obstetrics and gynecology residents. The New York system trains one-seventh of the nation's doctors. Previously, the training was voluntary and students had to "opt-in" to the program. Now, abortion training is mandatory unless a student states a moral or religious objection. In the words of Olivia Gans of the National Right to Life Committee, "You put the onus on a young doctor to be brave enough to stand out from the pack."

The plan was instituted to help ease a perceived "shortage" of abortion doctors, and abortion rights advocates hope that the New York model spreads across the country. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that a majority of American counties do not contain either an abortion clinic or any other health care facility that performs abortions. "If the program thrives, we'll have changed the face of abortion provision in this country," said Christina Page of the New York branch of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "It's going to make other programs question how they're delivering this care."

Throughout the Clinton years, the Democrats repeated again and again that they wanted to make abortion "safe, legal and rare." Imagine for a moment that you're a gun rights advocate, and you lobby for i) a gun shop in every county; ii) government initiatives to increase the number of qualified gun salesmen; iii) an absolute right for children to own guns -- even without parental permission; and iv) state subsidies for any poor or disadvantaged individual who wants a gun but can't afford one, do you think for one minute that any liberal would believe that you wanted gun ownership to be "rare?" And yet liberals expect to be taken at face value when they say that they only advocate choice, not abortion.

6:46 AM

Tuesday, May 28, 2002  
MORE BAD NEWS FROM CHRISTENDOM. As if the drumbeat of reports on the Catholic pedophilia scandal weren't bad enough, today's Wall Street Journal contains this report about Christians who are snapping pictures of women seeking abortions then posting those pictures on the web -- along with as much personal information about the women as the protestors can find.

Here's how the article begins:

"As soon as he saw the blue minivan turning into the parking lot of Planned Parenthood’s small abortion clinic here, Kenneth Scott grabbed his digital camera, clambered up his rickety metal ladder and started snapping pictures. “You’ll have nightmares about this day the rest of your life,” he bellowed, photographing the blond woman gingerly leaving the minivan. Then he turned his camera to her escort. “Your sin won’t be hidden or forgotten,” he screamed."

Short of physical violence against these women, I can think of few worse and more inaccurate expressions of the Gospel message. Ironically, this very protestor was described later in the article as a devout "Grace Christian." While the article does explain that only a few dozen protestors nationwide are engaged in this reprehensible activity, the damage is still done. Once more, the media has confirmed that Christians are full of irrational hate. Once more, Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League is able to sputter with righteous indignation; and once more, our nation's lawmakers can feel justified as they crack down on even legitimate pro-life protests.

While I agree with those readers who would say that the media pays inordinate attention to the pro-life movement's lunatic fringe -- at the same time that they ignore or minimize leftist extremists -- I'm not going to waste this post on yet another rant against the media. Regardless of the media's bias, the fact remains that these self-described Christians are behaving reprehensibly and sullying all our names.

Given the recent legacy of Christian scandal -- from the Swaggart and Bakker debacles, to the abortion shootings of the mid-Nineties, to the Catholic sex scandals and now to this latest excess from radical pro-life activists -- I think it is high time that Christians started holding fellow believers more accountable for their behavior. Although American Christendom is vast and decentralized, we do have enough unity to gather tens of thousands for Promise Keeper rallies, galvanize hundreds of thousands behind leaders like James Dobson, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and motivate millions to vote in vast blocs. With this new-found unity, our leaders need not be afraid to act against the extremists and miscreants in our midst.

I find it interesting how we find it so easy to rail against the immorality of the wider world yet so often resort to self-justifying minimization when the plank is in our own eye. "Yes, but the rest of the movement isn't like that . . . Yes, but pedophile priests are still a tiny minority . . . Yes, but don't paint us all with that brush . . ." Instead, let's have the courage to be honest -- to tell the media and our friends that Kenneth Scott is wrong, and his methods are outrageous. Even more, we need to have the courage to take the step of directly confronting Kenneth Scott and his ilk. Legitimate pro-life protestors should approach him and demand that he stop. They should be willing to hold up signs disavowing him and his message. He should be expelled from any legitimate organizations to which he belongs.

When tens of millions of Americans identify themselves as Christians, you will always find a few that are simply hateful, violent or irrational. However, through confrontation and honesty, I believe we can minimize their cultural impact and push them firmly to the fringe where they belong. At one time, the Klan was publicly perceived as a Christian organization. Through a generation of sustained Christian effort, the Klan is now seen for what it is: an organization of bigots who twist Christianity beyond all recognition. We need to undertake this same effort against the Kenneth Scotts of the world.

Wouldn't it be nice if one day Kate Michelman didn't have violence or hate to rail against but instead had to defend abortion -- the voluntary destruction and dismemberment of a distinct human life -- on the merits? I think America would be amazed at how little she has to say.

1:22 PM

THE CATHOLIC PEDOPHILIA SCANDAL hits home. Just when you think the worst is over . . . or just when you think the scandal is concentrated elsewhere, the tsunami hits your own shores. More than 90 Kentucky men have come forward with accusations against Louisville priests, and the Louisville Archdiocese is in disarray. The stories are familiar to anyone who's been following the national scandal -- abused boys shamed into silence, pedophile priests shuffled from parish to parish, a dismal failure to protect the flock -- and the body of Christ is wounded again.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about this scandal, and I don't have much of substance to add (for those readers who are interested in the scandal, it has been covered in excruciating detail at the National Review). However, as an evangelical protestant (and member of an Assemblies of God church), I am reminded of the Pentecostal nightmare of the late Eighties and early Nineties -- when the Assemblies' two most prominent ministers, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, destroyed themselves and did incalculable harm to the cause of Christ. Although the scandals are vastly different, I do think that they share a similar theme: they exposed the fundamental, worldly flaws at the heart of the respective Christian movements.

For the Pentecostal Christian, the Swaggart and Bakker implosions demonstrated the hollowness and futility of the cult of personality that sometimes sweeps charismatic Christianity. Literally millions of people followed Bakker and Swaggart -- read their books, watched their shows, gave them money -- and looked at them as particularly "anointed" or inspired by God. For these millions, Swaggart and Bakker were more prominent than (and sometimes replaced) their own pastors. They amassed enormous wealth and influence. They identified themselves completely with the cause of Christ on Earth and viewed personal attacks as the equivalent of an attack on God. I know of very few individuals who can receive such adulation without being corrupted. Not even Billy Graham -- perhaps America's most famous Christian -- attempted to amass the fortune or take on the spiritual responsibility that Swaggart and Bakker did. Inevitably -- no human can take the messiah role from Christ -- they fell. And when they fell, the dragged with them the reputation and credibility of an entire spiritual movement.

For the Catholic Church, it seems that the scandal is exposing (once again) the spiritual bankruptcy that is at the heart of the institutional loyalty, inertia and instinct for self-protection that seems to periodically plague Catholicism over the ages. I am not Catholic, and I don't pretend to understand the workings of even the local diocese. However, it is not difficult to discern that -- in many instances -- the Catholic church's reflexive response to horrific accusations was first to protect the Church, second to protect the Priest and last (if at all) to protect the child. The question asked was not what would Christ do if he received word that one of his followers was harming children but instead what can we do to save (for now) the reputation of the Church?

The hard-learned lesson for protestants and Catholics: Take your institutional, collective or individual focus away from Christ, and you will fall -- you will bring shame to Christianity.

6:37 AM

WAR CREEPS CLOSER. President Musharraf took to the Pakistani airwaves in an attempt to defuse the boiling tensions on the India/Pakistan border. He failed. His speech -- described as sometimes defiant -- only infuriated India. The Washington Post account of Musharraf's speech ends with this observation from Brahma Chellaney, the head of strategic affairs at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi: "He [Musharraf] is perceived right now as a man who is only engaged in talk but no action," Chellaney said. "This speech was like waving a red flag at a bull."

The Pentagon estimates that a full-scale nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would kill twelve million, and the two sides are not backing down. I still don't believe that conventional war is imminent -- or that nuclear war is likely -- but I grow more worried by the day.

5:53 AM

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