Saturday, November 14, 2009

I rue the day you learned to type

Another day, another tragic massacre of Americans, and, since the massacre-er was non-white, that must mean it's time for another edition of Pat Buchanan's Crazy Talk.

Pat starts by reminding us of the brilliant insight that in war, people have to choose sides.

"Let none but Americans stand guard tonight," said Washington at Valley Forge. Irish Catholics deserted the Union army to fight beside Mexican Catholics in the San Patricio battalion against what they thought was American aggression. Honored today by Mexico, the San Patricios were hanged when captured by Winfield Scott's army.

In Scott's march to Mexico City was Robert E. Lee. The hero of Buena Vista was Col. Jefferson Davis, who had married the daughter of his commanding officer, future President Zachary Taylor. Davis went on to serve in the Cabinet of Franklin Pierce and the U.S. Senate.

Yet, in 1861, Davis and Lee would depart the service of their country to wage war against the United States on behalf of their new nation and the kinfolk to whom they belonged and whom they believed had a right to be free of the Union. Were they traitors – or patriots?

Isn't the honest answer "both?" Or maybe "Neither?" Or even the always reliable "It depends who you ask?"

This is not to compare the deeds of the San Patricios, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, all of whom declared themselves openly and fought heroically and honorably, with the crimes of Maj. Hasan.

Oh good. Wait, then why did you bring it up?

But it is to raise the issue of conflicting loyalties in the hearts of men in a nation that has declared religious, racial and ethnic diversity to be not only a national good but a national goal.

Whence came this idea? No previous generation believed this.

How are you defining "previous generation?" Which decades are we looking at? Also, if you're trying to suggest that the Founders thought that all Americans should be white Christians, you might be right (kind of-- they weren't all as uniformly Christian as some people like to claim), but so what? Sixty years ago we didn't think blacks were entitled to vote. The fact that an earlier generation may not have thought of something or thought something was good doesn't invalidate it.

In World War I, Wilson feared that if he went to war, German-Americans might march on Washington. FDR was so fearful that the blood ties of Japanese citizens and residents would trump their loyalty to the United States he ordered 110,000 transferred from California to detention camps for the duration of the war.

So the fact that two US Presidents were paranoid AND xenophobic means multiculturalism is bad and suggests that internment was justified (despite there never being a single proven case of disloyalty from Japanese-Americans during the war). There's quite a lot of crap stuffed into that sausage, Pat. By the way, take a good look at that last line in bold. Ok, stare at it, memorize it, no, don't show your card to me, you just remember it, ok? It'll be important later.

In Arkansas last year, a Muslim opposed to the U.S. wars shot two soldiers at a recruitment center, killing one. In Kuwait, before the invasion of Iraq, a Muslim soldier threw a grenade into the tent of his commanding officer, killing two and wounding 14.

So? No one's arguing Jihad is a good thing, Pat, but those cases were never connected with a conspiracy larger than one. The bigger issue should be how is the military screening recruits and then how is it keeping an eye on the "well-being" (very broadly defined for these purposes) of its people, both for their safety and the safety of those around them.

This is not to suggest that all American Muslims or Arabs should be citizens under suspicion. Muslims have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, as German-Americans died fighting against Germany in two world wars. But it is to say this:

America is unraveling. No longer are we one nation and one people. Tens of millions have come and tens of millions are coming whose first loyalty is to the kinfolk and country they left behind, and to the faith they carry in their hearts. And if, in our long war against "Islamofascism," we are seen as trampling on their nation, faith or kinsmen, they will see us, as Hasan came to see us, as the enemy of their sacred identity.

Pat assumes that everyone thinks like him, that everyone puts ethnic identity first, that no one is capable or interested in having multiple, simultaneous or interactive identities (but Pat, how can you be Catholic and identify as a Southerner?), and that essentially everyone just wants to exist in their own box. There are certainly plenty of box-people in the world, including, apparently, Pat himself. But to categorically write off the patriotism of millions of immigrants (as well as millions of future immigrants) really just shows how little regard Pat has for reality outside his own head. I'd love to see any evidence backing up Pat's implication that there are potential cells of would-be militants all over the US who could turn on us should the government decide to pursue the wrong foreign policy against their motherland. Of course, it'd be easier to check into this were Pat interested enough in specifics to mention a single immigrant group so his readers who don't live in hypothetical-rhetoric-land could actually look into his ramblings. Help me out here, Pat. Are we talking disgruntled Norweigians, or suspicious Bangladeshis? Quakers? Ba'hai? Amish? Who exactly do we need to be on our guard against? Everyone?

There is no American Melting Pot anymore. It was discarded by our elites as an instrument of cultural genocide. Now we celebrate America as the most multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural country on earth

No Pat, the reality is that there never was a melting pot in the first place. It was a flawed model based on biased assumptions about what American culture was or should be. If the idea of America being multiracial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural makes you mad, all I can say is the idea that the only legitimate America is one populated by white Christians (and they'd better speak English, dammit) makes me pretty mad, too. The difference is that I don't try to ascribe every crime committed before 1965 to the Melting-Pot, whereas you seem incapable of watching the news without connecting every bad thing with multiculturalism and prophesying imminent race wars.

Eisenhower's America was a nation of 160 million with a Euro-Christian core and a culture all its own. We were a people then. And when we have become, in 2050, a stew of 435 million, of every creed, culture, color and country of Earth, what holds us together then?

Um, Pat, Eisenhower was President in the 1950s. At that time the total population was approximately 150 million. This included 15 million African-Americans, 380,000 Native Americans, and 320,000 Asian-Americans. Out of around 135 million whites, 5 million were Jewish, and at least 2 and a half million were Latino. Clearly, 127 million white Christians is still a majority, but it takes a lot of balls to willfully whitewash 23 million people out of American history because they contradict your fairy tale that 1950s America was something out of a Lincoln Rockwell painting. Also, you're living in a fantasy land if you don't think that "American culture all its own" wasn't affected by white Christians interacting with different kinds of people.

Now, think back to Pat's earlier comments. You know, the ones about Wilson and FDR worrying about German and Japanese Americans and foreign nationals. Funny thing, Pat, according to my calculations, these messy moments in multiculturalism relations happened BEFORE Eisenhower was President. How could Eisenhower have been President of White-landia when just ten years earlier FDR was interning Japanese-Americans?

Truth time: there have always been different races in America. African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619. There were Chinese men in California as early as the 1820s. Indians were in the US in the early 1800s. Native Americans were here long before the US was formed and didn't disappear just because we stopped thinking about them. Some of Pat's German ancestors didn't immigrate until the 1830s. Who is he to write off anyone else as not being American enough?

There are other races and cultures whose presence in America predate Pat Buchanan's family, but because they were denied the opportunity to identify as Americans, Pat assumes that they never have considered themselves American. He thinks being an American is synonymous with being a white Christian. Never mind the historical record or the experiences of millions of Americans that says otherwise.

Maj. Hasan may have been a wacko. He may have been a terrorist. He may have been both. Ft. Hood may signify that there is something very dangerous happening within the military, or perhaps within American society itself. But it is not the fact that we welcome people here or encourage ethnic diversity (What is the alternative, exactly? Refuse to allow anyone into the army but white people? Step on down, Pat, and sign up.) America has benefited when it has expanded its vision of who to let into its cultural tent, and when we have persecuted each other for our national origins, as we did with Germans during WWI, and Japanese during WWII, we have come to regret it.

There may indeed be some American Muslims who use multiculturalism as a screen to protect their true intentions. I still say it's worth it. Multiculturalism may not be a perfect system, but it is far more benign an approach to American identity than aggressively enforcing a pan-whiteness on millions of people who have earned the right to live however the hell they please. And at least it's based on the reality of America being composed of many different people and cultures, as opposed to the revisionist whitewashing of history that Buchanan uses to try to show how far we've fallen. We've always been multicultural, Pat. People like you just never wanted to see it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The End of a Diaspora

Like many, I was horrified to read about the brutal murder last year of Moshe Ya'ish al-Nahari, a man whose only crime was being Jewish in Yemen and being a member of a prominent family in that community. Even more disturbing, however, was what happened at his killer's trial. The judges opted to believe the killer's insanity defense and ordered him merely to pay a fine. The sad irony that under Shaaria, the usual penalty for murder is death only reinforced the idea that the blood of Muslims this redder than that of Jews. Even more pathetic was the fact that the family of the gunman, in addition to continually threatening the Nahari family during the trial and saying they would wipe out the community, had the chutzpah to even protest the fine itself, saying that it was "against Sharia" to try Muslims for killing Jews. When I read about the Nahari family being threatened with death at the damn trial of their son's killer, only one thought ran through my head: "Wow, they really want to kill us." (I had the same thought when I read about similar crap happening at the Halimi trial in France around the same time.)

The government had promised to protect its Jews. Their solution was to relocate them into a "protected area," effectively ghettoizing the community and admitting that they were unwilling to challenge violent extremists in Yemen. Things have gotten so bad even outside agencies are criticizing the government for its basic incompetence in protecting its citizens from attacks. It wound up being a moot point; the government hasn't followed through with their plan and so the Jews who have stayed there are still vulnerable. Even though Nahari's killer was re-tried and sentenced to death in June, many Yemenite Jews seem to be contemplating immigrating. Some seem like they'd like to stay in their country-- their home, after all--, but simply don't feel safe anymore. And so trickles of Yemenite families have been leaving, bit by bit, since the trial. And now this month, from the Wall Street Journal:

There, they met U.S. State Department officials conducting a clandestine operation to bring some of Yemen's last remaining Jews to America to escape rising anti-Semitic violence in his country.

In all, about 60 Yemeni Jews have resettled in the U.S. since July; officials say another 100 could still come. There were an estimated 350 in Yemen before the operation began. Some of the remainder may go to Israel and some will stay behind, most in a government enclave.

In the 1800s, there were 30,000 Jews in Yemen. In 1948, close to 50,000, most of whom were evacuated to Israel. Now, after thousands of years, almost none, and almost certainly no more to come.

There are two reasons for this being rightly considered a tragedy. One is the fact that despite all the promises and aspirations towards equality so often repeated through the 20th (and 21st) centuries, there are still plenty of places in the world where Jews (among others) are not welcome, and have to live in physical fear of their lives. As an advocate for a close Israel-Diaspora relationship based on mutual standing, and one who gets pretty irritated at the suggestion that the Diaspora is irrelevant if not dead, it pains me to see a diaspora community disintegrating in front of our eyes. I believe that the Jewish world is continually enriched by the cultural contributions from all our outposts, even the small ones.

The other reason for this being a tragedy is that it underscores the damage that Jewish leaders and activists do to the Diaspora as a whole when they actively work to encourage aliyah as supposed to encouraging viable Jewish communities abroad. Think of the Bnei Menasche in India. Or the long-dead community in Kaifeng. Amazingly, after god-knows-how-many generations, a few descendants of the Kaifeng Jews in China have become interested in Judaism and the Jewish people. Michael Freund's response? "Quick, send 'em to Israel."

The group from Kaifeng, in eastern China, was taken to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the north, where they will attend Hebrew enrichment (ulpan) classes.

Thought: does Israel really need seven new random kibbutzniks? No. But the Diaspora and global Jewish culture certainly does need vibrant Jewish communities around the world. Obviously, it's far from easy to be an Orthodox Jew in China. But if nothing else, we should at least spend as much energy, effort and money helping these communities re-establish themselves as much as some do treating them like Olim farms to be harvested at every opportunity.

I can see how it may not be optimal to be a Jew in China right now. But I imagine it's a lot better than Yemen. Every Diaspora community lost is a tragedy. If we can support small communities that CAN be viable, whose members don't have to live in fear of their lives and actually are interested in staying within their home countries and strengthening themselves, I think we owe it to future generations to do so.

Hat-tip: Failed Messiah.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Birthright gets another F

I was already annoyed at Birthright over their latest attempt to show that, just like Masa and whoever their other competitors are over at "Zionist Youth Programs R Us," they are totally, 100% not all that fond of intermarriage, which they demonstrated by releasing a study (which they funded) showing that 50-60% of their non-Orthodox alumni were marrying Jews. "Huzzah!" They said. "Cowardly yutzes," I thought. Birthright knows its main financial support comes from middle-aged to elderly rich Jews whose biggest concern is the eeeevils of intermarriage. Rather than admit this upfront, they instead hide behind a convenient "study" (whose methodology appears questionable) which shows that Birthright is a successful tool against assimilation and intermarriage, without actually needing to take a stand on the issue and risk alienating the young people they supposedly serve.

Behold, Shlomo Lifshitz's revenge. You remember Shlomo and his righteous indignation, right?

"I'm very proud to hear that Birthright finally says what I said all along, that intermarriage is the big issue," said Shlomo "Momo" Lifshitz, whose organization, Oranim, used to provide trips for Birthright, but split this summer because he says he was forbidden from telling participants to "make Jewish babies."

"I'm happy that Birthright understands that this program - if run correctly - can really have an impact on preventing assimilation. Unfortunately, they are using this [study] to raise money," he added, lamenting that while Birthright now reaps the praise for preventing intermarriage, he wasn't allow to freely spread this message.

Yeah, what a shame. Not being allowed to harass teenagers about where they should decide to live or who to date. The nerve! I mean, what did they think, that they were just getting a free trip with no strings attached? Of course there are strings! It's like going on a timeshare info-cation! After all, clearly the only reason to go to Israel is to nail hot fellow-members of the tribe. And, if someone should get preggers in the process, well at least that's another little Jew, right?

Anyway, I needn't have gotten overly annoyed at the sneaky-anti-intermarriage stuff because there's now a whole new reason to dislike Birthright. A whole week later and now people are pissy because Birthright invited Gordon Robertson, famed giant-eared spawn of Pat "Insert favorite horrible quote here" Robertson, to be their keynote speaker at a conference.

Many people are mad because Gordie supports Messianic Judaism. I think there's a bigger issue here-- namely, what's wrong with Birthright?

Just by looking at the title of the conference you can tell that the organizers are more interested in provoking emotional, rather than thoughtful, responses and discussion:

"Are Evangelical Christians More Fervent Zionists than American Jews?"
This suggests that the most important thing about Zionism is how much you care, not how much you think, not how informed you are about Israel, its history, culture, politics, what your motives are, etc. Only who is more "fervent," and, presumably, who donates more time and money to Israeli causes. A far more useful discussion would be about what the different kinds/streams of Zionism are, and which are more productive and beneficial, and to whom. (Of course, the main speaker there probably wouldn't be a fringe evangelical leader.)
Birthright has apparently already decided that the best kind of Zionism is an uncritical kind. If that's your answer then there's no one better to give a chat than good ol' Gordie, whose family business is infamous for speaking from their hearts/guts/souls and rarely their brains.

Gordon and his followers can claim to believe in and support Israel with all their hearts, because the reason for the support is totally superficial: God said so, Gordon doesn't think twice about obeying God, so he supports Israel. And then Jewish and Israeli leaders, who apparently are equally intellectually superficial, decide that Christians weird them out but their money is still green, and so accept their support and donations while snickering behind their backs. And we're all supposed to accept this as ok because Jesus isn't really coming back, so the joke is on folks like Robertson. As if the Jewish/Israeli community prostituting themselves out to wackos doesn't pose some sort of ethical or integrity problem.

Wow, it sure is a good think Birthright is setting this up; heaven forbid our kids have to think a little before pledging (or accepting) undying support to a cause.
Looking at the various forms of institutional manipulation, all I can conclude is that Birthright seems to be afraid to let Jews think for themselves, lest they decide on the "wrong" answers. Wow, where do I sign up?
Several hat-tips to Failed Messiah.