Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Proving my point

Remember when I talked about the role xenophobia was playing it causing some folks to reject Obama and protest the Park51 project? Big thanks (or not) to resident yutz Jonathan Mark at the Jewish Week for being a great example.

Mark had two articles a week ago hammering home the point that Obama was, "at least technically" a Muslim. I can't decide if my favorite part is Mark's total disengenuousness (you can almost hear the Glenn Beck in him shrugging, "I'm just saying, is all,") or the way he uses Obama's parentage to bash Reform Jews on patrilineal descent, which is super-relevant to the discussion because... he decided so?

As an Orthodox Jew, I believe that membership in a religion is not casual but legal, something like American citizenship (if you support the good people of Arizona). You can't just cross the Rio Grande and vote in Phoenix. There is a rigerous citizenship process, a conversion process, or there is Judaism's singular qualification -- being born to a Jewish mother.
But according to my non-Orthodox "Progressive" friends, religion is as religion does, you are what you feel, what you seem, and to the left of Conservative Jews (though surely soon for Conservative Jews, too), you are Jewish if your father was. Intermarried people, technically non-Jews, who never converted, are allowed to participate in the Sabbath services of many liberal synagogues. The Jewish people are filling up with "illegal aliens" given amnesty. Non-Jews claim Jewish credentials by virtue of how they act, not what they actually are.
Wow. Do you work hard to come up with these ridiculous comparisons? Or do they just come naturally after poking your brain with a stick a few times?
There are always stories in the papers about soldiers who've been killed while serving in the Israeli army but who can't be buried in Jewish cemetaries because these tragic soldiers are not Jewish, and therefore must can only be buried in non--Jewish cemetaries. There always follows an uproar from non-halachic Jews -- how dare we not bury them in the cemetaries where they want to be buried after what these soldiers did for the Jewish State!
Boy, are the Orthodox mean. Don't they know that religion has nothing to do with being Jewish?
Boy, your strawman sure is boring. Also, predictable.
By those modern and widespread standards in the Jewish community, where someone's religion is not judged by legality but by feelings and sympathy, then I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that Obama is a Muslim. Sure, he is technically a Christian, I know, he spent more than 20 years in Trinity Church in the pews of his spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the crude anti-Semitic and anti-American friend of Louis Farrkahn. You can't choose your family but yes, you can choose your mentors.
I know, Obama is a Christian by virtue of his maternal family, his mother was a Christian. 
And yet, by the modern Jewish standards of patrilinial descent, no questions asked, no-fault religion, Obama is a Muslim.
Except, not, because patrilineal (actually bilineal) descent in the Reform movement is actually predicated on involvement with the Jewish community. As opposed to traditional Orthodox matrilineal descent, which declares anyone with a Jewish mother Jewish until they convert. But, you know, details aren't really important here, because you're really not interested in them.
He is Muslim by patrilineal descent and what seems to be Islamic halacha.
As an op-ed contributor wrote in The New York Times in 2008, "In Islam, however, there is no such thing as a half-Muslim. Like all monotheistic religions, Islam is an exclusive faith. As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother's Christian background is irrelevant."
There is no provision in Judaism to renounce your religion, either.
Mazel Tov, so we get to include such great guys as Karl Marx, Torquemada, St. Paul and Zola Levitt back in the tribe. Yay?
So Obama is a Muslim because of his father -- patrilineal descent -- is one legitimate "halachic" position, although the topic has become so politicized it has rarely been seriously explored in most newspapers, Jewish or otherwise. 
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it's also irrelevant to his presidency? I mean, isn't doing an investigative report on Obama's "Islamic halacha" status sort of like trying to research what the Houston Astros thought of Bush's ownership style? At best, it's trivia. At worst, it's fodder for a hatchet job. If you think it's so significant, and it's not just about poisoning the well, make the case for why we should care. If you can't, there goes your argument.
The idea that Obama might be a Muslim was so quickly branded a slur by the left and the Obama camp, in particular
Again, no. The right has turned Islam and Muslim identity into a slur. Obama has stood by his position that he does not share his father's religion (which, again, the elder Obama renounced during his life). How is that branding it a slur?
and protecting Obama had become uppermost in the minds of so many journalists, that most Americans haven't been exposed to an intelligent "comparative religion" discussion about this.
What's to discuss? According to you, the facts are clear-cut. You claim that under Islamic law, he is Muslim. He says he does not consider himself Muslim or practice Islam. To date, no one has refuted this. You're suggesting there's some deeper layer going on here. I just don't see it. It would be one thing if he had grown up as a practicing Muslim and then converted, but this is like grilling Abraham Foxman on his Catholic connections based on his childhood experiences in hiding during WWII. Sorry Jon, but there's no "there" there.
The topic is often handled with a schoollyard brush-off, even in usually serious newspapers, by usually serious people: "He's not a Muslim, and you're stupid for saying so."
Let's break this down. If you insist on claiming Muslim connections in absence of evidence as a political cudgel to beat him with, you're not stupid, you're slimy. It IS stupid, however, to continue to beat a story that has no new developments. If he practices Christianity, not Islam, and there's no indication this has changed in the last twenty-plus years, in what way has the story changed? Was he a Muslim last week? Did he sneak into a mosque yesterday when no one was looking?
Yet, for those of us who like our religion discussed at length and with seriousness
Yeah, re-read your hatched job of The Rebbe again and say this with a straight face. I dare you.
what about the assertions in the Times' paragraph? Maybe if the topic was dealt with intelligently and properly -- not politically -- it wouldn't still be an issue going the wrong way in the polls for Obama a full two years later.
What am I missing here? Is there some magical information gap that you're holding out for, some smoking gun that would let you conclusively decide this one way or the other? Or is it that you're waiting for some upstanding journalist to "intelligently" analyze this non-story and make the call for you so you can finally cross it off your to-do list?
And what of the "non-halachic" point of view?
If service in the IDF, or working and living among the Jewish people, is the criteria, Obama had for years lived and studied and prayed among Muslims as a youth in Indonesia. 
Yeah, everyone knows that any praying you do in first grade defines you for life. Duh! Oh wait, three of those four years were in a Catholic school? Hmm. And the last one was an Indonesian public school that gave kids a free period for religious instruction once a week, not a fundamentalist madrassa, as has been claimed? Well... um... quick, look into my Hypno-coin!

And I love the assumption that "serving" one of your constituent groups is the same thing as being a member of that group. That makes sense, just ask House Representative Steve Cohen from Memphis, TN.
By every halacha-be-damned modern Jewish colloquial standard of who is a "member of the tribe," Obama is a Muslim, every bit as much as he is a Christian. 
Uh, except for the whole self-identification thing, which is kind of... what's the word? Paramount.
Two religions are OK in most modern Jewish homes, with Christmas trees and menorahs sharing the same living room, and Obama's childhood living room was both Islamic and Christian. He rejected neither, though Islam became politically inconvenient, which is why he didn't use his middle name Hussein publically until he was safely elected and inaugurated as "Barack Hussein Obama." And that is why the centerpiece of his foreign policy became outreach to the Islamic world while threatening Israel if they so much as built an apartment house in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, while Obama made zero demands on the Palestinian Abbas.
Yawn. Yeah, we know you hate intermarriage, Jon. But even though your paragraph is dripping with that special zesty mix of scorn and bitterness, it still doesn't mean that Obama's a Muslim-- particularly not by Reform standards. Sorry. Using your legal middle name does not mean you're suddenly embracing your heritage. And it seems to me like the actual centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy has been fighting major wars in two Muslim countries. I know you're writing for the Jewish Week and you've got some blinders on when it comes to Israel's significance but come on, man, read the news and have a little perspective. Israel has not been Obama's number 1 priority, positive or negative.
I'm not the only one who sees this. An increasingly number of Americans do, as well. WIth the end of legalistic standards of identification within almost all ethnic and religious groups, Americans are figuing, yeah, this guy sure seems like a Muslim.
Especially when they can say stupid crap like "seems like a Muslim" without any need to justify their remarks or define their terms. By the way, Jon, did I mention you "sure seem" like a slice of toast? I mean, you're both brittle, pockmarked, high-in-fiber...
Americans are a practical people. If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck...
But spent 4th grade in a special school that gave it two hours of platypus instruction a week, and it hasn't called for platypus genocide yet, and its middle name is "Beaver-like tail", it must be a damn platypus sleeper agent. Clever bastard.
...Sixty percent of those who say Obama is a Muslim said they came to that conclusion through the media, the overwhelmingly liberal media.
Wait, the same liberal media that has banned all discussion of the topic and surrounded Obama with a "ring of propaganda"? You're a journalist and you don't see any contradiction here? Wow. Look, either the propaganda media is criminally incompetent or the public believe what they want and make up rationales later.
The people see and hear Obama in action, with 11 percent being more specific, saying it is not the media as intermediary but they figure Obama is a Muslim from his own "words and behavior," reports Pew.
Yay, more cryptic allusions. What behavior would that be, incidentally? All his praying to Mecca, perhaps? His demand that the White House only serve halal food? No? Oh, the fact that he's perceived as tough on Israel. Oh-Kay. Didn't realize George H.W. Bush was a Muslim. That explains a lot. Or, then again, not.
Are Americans really as stupid as some politicians, Jewish leaders and journalists would have you believe? How is it that the more Americans know about Obama, the more Americans think he is Muslim?
I'm going to say the old-timey winning formula of xenophobia, ignorance, fear, and manipulation by bullshit artists? Also, consider the counter-argument: by your reasoning, the only way the 20% can be right is if the other 80% is wrong. So who's calling who stupid?
Many Americans grew up with the old Lenny Bruce routine on "Jewish and Goyish."...By Lenny Bruce standards, we can say that Obama is as Islamish as lime jello is goyish.
You can SAY whatever you want, Marky. If you're going to claim you have proof, though, you kind of need to show your work. Right now you've got a middle name, a year in a school in Indonesia, an ex-Muslim atheist absentee father, an apathetic Muslim step-father, and a coolness towards Israel (read: settlements). Hardly a slam dunk.
Of course, as a Jew who respects halacha and the legal codes of other religions, I know full well that Obama is a Christian by matrilineal descent, that he was raised in a two-religion home to understand and love both Islam and Christianity. He probably tilts toward Islam now because perhaps he resents how for so many years, fighting to reach the top, he could only admit to Christianity, forced by politics or (a lack of a courage) to deny his father. Now he is a free to be as he chooses.
Oh good, you've gotten your telepathy implant. Guess what I'm thinking of your argument right now. Hint: It rhymes with "wool-schmidt".
My non-Orthodox friends who have drummed it into my head that a Jew is anyone who sort of seems like it, halacha and technicalities be damned, so I'm increasingly of the belief that, yes, Obama is a Muslim -- actually, like many children of intermarried parents, he is both Christian and Muslim. There have been numerous articles in Jewish papers regarding Chelsea Clinton's marriage to a Jew, and how Jewish that child might be, even if that child is officially a Methodist.
In a very real sense, Obama is that child. Like Chelsea's child, the father looms. 
Except, in a more, actually real sense, Obama is not a child, but a grown man, who has chosen his own identity. You happen to not like it because it interferes with your political narrative, so you're portraying him as a Muslim converso. It's an entertaining narrative-- in a kind of Tom Clancy meets Dan Brown meets Glenn Beck sort of way-- but you're basically combining the barest of facts with the laziest attempts at psychology. You might as well write a column-- hell, make it a book-- about how Teddy Roosevelt was "totally" a zoophile (the pieces all fall into place!). I mean, have fun and all, but don't act like you're proven some profound point.
OK, OK, Obama's a Christian, please don't waterboard me, I'll confess. I'm not saying Obama prays to Allah, eats Halal, or is in any way a religious Muslim. Hardly. But I've been taught by my Reform, Secular and intermarried friends that a Jew doesn't have to believe in God, or daven, or eat kosher, or be in any way observant, or even have a Jewish mother to be Jewish.
First of all, I call BS on these alleged non-Orthodox friends. Something tells me you made them up. Second, you're conflating several different groups and their different criteria to be Jewish. In all cases, the primary issue is self-identification. That doesn't exist here, except in your mind

Despite sounding tremendously satisfied with his lack of hard work, Mark must have still been a little worried that he hadn't convinced all his readers. So the next day, he brought out the big guns: historical comparisons! With that most famous quasi-Jew, Benjamin Disraeli!
Benjamin Disraeli was born of a Jewish father but was baptized and had a Christian upbringing, joining the Church as an adult. The prime minister didn't practice Judaism.
Barack Obama was born of an Islamic father but, after some grade-school Islamic education, had a Christian upbringing, joining the Church as an adult. The president doesn't practice Islam.
...Benjamin Disraeli has an entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica. Why? How is he a Jew? Why is he so often spoken of as a Jew? Yet no one is called "stupid" for calling Disraeli a Jew. People are called "stupid" for calling Obama a Moslem.
Never mind that AFAIK Disraeli embraced his Jewish roots, whereas Obama has framed his Islamic heritage as part of a larger multicultural narrative, or that in Disraeli's time Jews were unpopular but not being actively accused of being a traitorous fifth column to the British commonwealth in the way that plenty of people (including mainstream folks in positions of power and prestige) are doing that exact thing to Muslims. Mark can't be this stupid, which means he's trying to be coy.
Obama is no less a Christian than Disraeli was a Christian.
On the other hand, how is Obama less a Muslim than Disraeli was a Jew? Why is it a crime to think of Obama that way when we speak of Disraeli that way?
Who said it was a crime? Oh right, no one. The issue is that Obama's enemies are using "Muslim" as a way of poisoning the well and painting him as a foreign agent who wants to destroy the country. They have turned it into a slur,not unlike "Communist" during the Red Scare. How are you framing the question? Who's asking, and in what context? Those are the real issues. Why are you so invested in proving Obama's Muslim-ness?

And again, why should how we talk about Disraeli be the prime criteria we use with Obama? Who's to say Disraeli would have wanted to be as fetishized as he has been by the Jewish community anyway, considering he lived his life as an Anglican? Why use one example of lazy labeling to justify another?

Sorry Jonathan. Try again. This time, preferably using your brain.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's Hard to be Even-Handed

Always-welcome reader and commenter Conservative Apikoros was skeptical regarding the part in my Park51 post where I said that "There are fair arguments and fair-minded people on both sides."

CA wanted to know exactly what "fair argument" I thought the opponents had.

What I was trying to articulate with that line was that I think the fear and moral outrage that opponents have over the site (specifically as to the motives of the people involved and what the site will wind up being used for and viewed as representing) are real. Not that they're logical, or necessarily fair, but that the opponents are primarily motivated by that fear/outrage, not specially xenophobia. I don't think that all the people against Park51 are anti-Muslim per se as much as they are worked up over the idea of what the media has sold the site as being. In other words, I think they're misquided, not necessarily bigoted (though some appear to be).

Leave it to the lug-nuts to open their mouths and spoil my attempt to be fair.

William Federer uses everyone's favorite lazy teaching trick, the timeline, to cherry-pick examples from Islamic history to support his argument that Park51 is "a sign of conquest." A few highlights:
In 630, Muhammad led 10,000 Muslim soldiers into Mecca and turned the pagans' most prominent spot, the Ka'aba, into the Masjid al-Haram Mosque.
In 634, Rightly Guided Caliph Umar conquered Syria and turned the Christians' most prominent spot, the Church of Job, famous for being visited by Saint Silva in the fourth century, into the Mosque of Job.
In 637, Caliph Umar conquered Hebron and turned the second-most prominent spot in Judaism, the Cave of the Patriarchs, into the Ibrahimi Mosque. (This was repeated by Saladin in 1188.)
In 638, Muslim generals Amr ibn al-As and Khalid ibn al-Walid conquered Gaza and turned the prominent fifth-century Byzantine church into the Great Mosque of Gaza.
In 638, Caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem. In 691, Caliph Al-Malik ordered the Dome of the Rock built on the most prominent spot in Judaism, the Temple Mount, followed by Caliph Al-Walid building the Al-Aqsa Mosque there in 705.
In 651, Muslims conquered Persia and turned Zoroastrian temples in Bukhara and Istakhr into mosques.
...From 1519-1858, Muslim Mughal rulers gained control of India and turned over 2,000 Hindu temples into mosques, including demolishing the Temple of Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, and replacing it with the Babri Mosque.
Wow, if Federer's column was your only resource, you'd think Muslims never built a single mosque from scratch! Incidentally, I see one problem with his "argument," such as it is: Ground Zero is not a church. It is not a shrine. Neither, incidentally, is the building Imam Rauf wants to build on. Even the fluffy "holy ground" idea comes up short when the rubber hits the road. The meaning of that day and the attack is located in the neighborhood, the city, and the nation's collective memory, it is not an essence housed within every building within a 10-block radius. If you follow Federer's implication to its logical conclusion, you'd have to declare downtown Manhattan a permanent mausoleum to 9/11 and prevent any construction, new buildings, etc. Either the neighborhood is a monument, or it's not? Oh no, it's not? Well then.

By the way, this is not a "point":
On Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim terrorists attacked the most prominent spot in America, the World Trade Center. In less than 10 years, the number of mosques in New York City has skyrocketed to over 140.
My god! And the number of churches has reached almost 6000. And synagogues, 1000. And 2400 Chinese restaurants. Those tricky MSG-peddling bastards!

You know, Will, an increase in mosques probably has more to do with an increase in Muslim population as opposed to a dastardly plot to infiltrate the city and turn all its famous buildings into mosques to show how awesome Islam is. Just saying.

Next Joseph Farah uses his Jedi mind tricks to tell us what the mosque "really represents": an erasure of authentic 9/11 history. You see, to Farah, there is deep significance in the fact that the Park51 site, the much ridiculed "holy ground" Burlington Coat Factory, was damaged on 9/11.
The World Trade Center towers were toppled. But the Burlington Coat Factory, while shuttered, remains standing. It should either be repaired and declared a historic landmark or be replaced by something other than a mosque.
The unacceptable symbolism of replacing the Burlington Coat Factory with a mosque is even more compelling than the idea of building a mosque at the former site of the World Trade Center.
In effect, by tearing down this building to make way for a mosque constructed with foreign Islamic money and leadership linked to Islamic extremism, Americans would be consenting to the completion of the audacious and insidious attack of Sept. 11, 2001.
I must give credit to a friend and colleague of mine, the best radio producer in America, Franklin Raff of the "G. Gordon Liddy Show," for noticing this oversight even among those dead-set against the idea of the Ground Zero mosque.
The World Trade Center is gone. The Burlington Coat Factory is still standing.
Wouldn't Islamists around the world love to see the devastating attack of 9/11 result in even more destruction a decade later with the bulldozing of a landmark building only damaged on that date and replaced with a trophy mosque?
I'm sure BCF will be happy to know you've decided they're an iconic symbol of American patriotism, Joe, but the rest of us are confused. Incidentally, I'm surprised that you say this "landmark building" should be preserved on the one hand, and then say you'd be fine with replacing it as long as it's not with an Islamic center. What would be ok to put there? Another gentlemen's club?
...it wasn't the proximity of the Burlington Coat Factory building to the World Trade Center that made it appealing, it was the fact that it was actually damaged in the attack that made it the ideal site for a mosque.
Robert Spencer...an opponent of the mosque, agrees that's why the site was chosen.
"The idea here that will be widely understood is that this mosque is another triumphal mosque, another victory mosque [like] the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on the site of the Temple Mount and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus," Spencer told WND.
"The reason for the interest in this property in particular is its iconic status in relation to the 9/11 attacks. This is something Imam Rauf has said himself. It's not something I'm attributing to him," Spencer explained. "In his own words he said, 'New York is the capital of the world and this location close to 9/11 is iconic.' He was happy that his mosque would be at the site of the building [where] the wreckage fell on 9/11."
Rauf calls it "iconic."
I call it "completing the attack."
OK... given the fact that the Imam comes from an interfaith dialogue background, isn't it just as likely that when he said "iconic," he meant iconic because putting a cultural peace center at the site of a terror attack would be a powerful message and a way of combating the ideology that led to 9/11 in the first place? I mean, sure, it's possible it's going to be used as a terrorist training center or Hezbollah public access hook-up or something, but if you were going to have one of those in NY, isn't this a pretty terrible spot to do it? Don't you think terrorist masterminds are slightly more intelligent than that? Building a  monument on the site of an attack does not mean you are celebrating that incident. If someone builds a peace center on Rwandan killing fields, does that mean they're celebrating the genocide?

Last, there's Dennis. Poor, brain-numbing Dennis. He claims the right is being pilloried and persecuted by the left for their opposition to Park51. He says this is because a fundamental characteristic of the left is demonizing your opponent.
I have not come across a mainstream leftist description of opponents of the mosque/Islamic center being built near Ground Zero that has not ascribed hate-filled, intolerant, bigoted, "Islamophobic" or xenophobic motives to those who oppose the mosque. Contrast this with how mainstream opponents of the mosque describe the proponents of the mosque and you will see an immense divide between right and left in the way they talk about each other.
Seems fair, ok, let's do it! A nice easy compare and contrast, should be no trouble.

... Wait a minute... where are the quotes from the "mainstram opponents?" All I see here is...

Goddammit, Dennis.

Yes, dear ol' Dennis regales us with lots of lefty firebrand quotes, but fails to provide us with any examples from the "mainstream" right he holds up as so much more superior. Presumably this is because by now his readers have been well-trained to just trust him and not ask questions or look for evidence.
Why does the left attribute only nefarious motives to those who believe that the Islamic center does not belong near ground zero?
Because leftism holds these beliefs:
  1. Those who hold leftist positions are, by definition, better people than their opponents. 
  2. Those who hold leftist positions have, by definition, pure motives; therefore, the motives of their opponents must be impure.
I conclude with this: I believe that a wiser man than the present imam would have decided to avoid precisely what he has inspired – intense division in America – and would have immediately retracted his decision to erect an Islamic center and mosque right by the slaughterhouse of 9/11, which happened to have been caused by his co-religionists.
But I also believe that there are good arguments and good people on both sides of this issue.
I can say that, however, for one reason.
I am not on the left.
Yeah, sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you over the calls of "traitors" and "terrorists". Can you speak up? Or, you know, pay attention to the news?

That's right, Dennis is SO moral and fair-minded that he can spend a whole column bashing the left for bashing the right and then claim the high road as a non-basher. And if you understood that, your brain has probably blown up already.

You know, guys, it's challenging enough to try to see multiple perspectives on this one, I really don't need you all running around crying about how grievously your feelings have been hurt or trying to uncover the "hidden symbolism" of holy clothing stores.

Let's make a deal: I won't try to understand your point of view again, and you'll never speak or write in public again.

And... go.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Obama as Other

The last few days, as I've been musing over the downturn in Obama's popularity, there have been a few different threads running through my head.

First is the sheer loudness, anger and nastiness of the opposition. I'm not claiming that there wasn't plenty of this during the Bush years, or even Clinton, but my impression is that it seems to be going to new levels. Of course there are always conspiracy theorists during any administration, but it seems like they're getting more of a platform and are being taken seriously by a wider range of people on the populist spectrum. The angry populist crowd also seems to be more organized than in previous years. Whether that's due to new media formats or popular/charismatic figures at the helm, who can say.

Second is the fact that Obama has not had much success in convincing so-called "neutrals" to give him a fair shake. The honeymoon is over, his mandate is gone, and without much to show for it, people who may have been on the fence about him are gravitating toward the anti-administration crowd. But more than issues of policy, there seem to be lots of personal grievances the populists have with Obama.

This leads us to the third point. Obama is an outsider. He ran on this as part of his image, that he was a multicultural candidate who "transcended" race. And clearly, that narrative was appealing to enough voters to get him elected. But even during the campaign, there were people who were using this other-ness against him, accusing him of being a Jihadist sleeper agent, a non-eligible non-citizen, a radical, and so on. This last point is what, ultimately, strikes me as being so different about this era's political opposition. The rhetoric seems to go beyond mere hyperbole-- people have actually become convinced that Obama is not just not the right kind of American (vis-a-vis politics), but un-American and anti-American. That's the real significance of the poll (and the punditry) showing that almost 20% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, and only 34% think he's a Christian. That's the subtext of all the talk of Obama's birth certificate and his "radical connections". That Obama is not a real American, and therefore illegitimate.

Looking at conservative analysis of the poll, the same talking points pop up again and again. What has Obama done to make people "doubt" his faith? Things like:

- Spending several years as a student in an allegedly "Muslim school" in Indonesia (debunked here).

- Reaching out to Muslims in America and around the world and downplaying the narrative that America is exclusively Judeo-Christian.

What I see in all this is that these arguments are based on perceptions and biases, not factual information. There's also a total refusal on the part of the right to admit the role that media has played in casting doubts on Obama's background. There may be some gaps in Obama's history, but his real problem is that he's being held to an unfair standard and that his opponents have so ruthlessly poisoned the well. Any supposed inconsistency, any alleged "newly revealed fact" must be true, regardless of the source. And of course, anything Obama does or says that counters the narrative is deception.
It's conceivable, says Morse, that the president never truly left Islam at all, but professes faith in Christ as a cover for his true beliefs – an allowable offense for Muslims in certain circumstances.
The "Islamic-sanctioned deception," says Morse, remains the only explanation to escaping such punishment.
"The other possibility is that President Obama is engaging in a Taqiyya, which is a lie that is spoken in the greater interest of Islam," says Morse. "There are several quotes in the Quran and the Hadith, the Islamic holy books, that set the conditions under which it is permissible for the Muslim to lie regarding his identity and his intentions when dealing with non-Muslims and the non-Muslim world. Lying is allowed, even encouraged, by the Muslim according to Shariah law, if the lie in some way furthers the agenda of Islam.
"If Obama is indeed a secret-believing Muslim, as opposed to an apostate, the effects on public policy and on American society would be profound," adds Morse. "Whether Muslim or Christian, Barack Obama is the first 'Muslim president' in the same way that Bill Clinton was the first 'black president.'"
What's so frustrating about this dynamic is the subtext that being Muslim is an automatic disqualifier for being American, patriotic, loyal, or competent. When the right accuses Obama of being Muslim, they are declaring that being Muslim is a inexcusable cultural sin. That is why people are accusing them of Islamophobia, bigotry and disingenuousness.

Of particular concern to me is the role that American Jews seem to be playing in this New Nativism, either as producers or consumers of the narrative. Shaul Magid wonders whether this new focus on "global" (read: Muslim) antisemitism has essentially replaced previous decades' obsession with the Holocaust (and, more broadly, persecution) as a focal point for Jewish life, experience and identity:
The Holocaust served to define a Judaism threatened, a Judaism that required vigilant protection from an Other. That looming threat has not disappeared with the slow ebb of the Holocaust from everyday Jewish life. Instead, it has been replaced.
...Antisemitism in the Arab/Muslim world surely exists and is a problem, not only for Jews but also for Muslims. But using that as a new way to construct what I would call a “negative Judaism” is hardly a sign of health for American Jewry.
My point is not to denigrate or delegitimize the study of Arab Antisemitism, in America or abroad. This is a phenomenon that merits our attention. However, I think we should also be studying Islamophobia in America as a “replacement” for antisemitism. And we should be examining why American Jews may be using Islamophobia to push a different agenda.
This is not only happening with Muslims. Atheists, illegal immigrants, advocates for same-sex marriage, all of them are being tarred as the scary Other as well. Which means that the more Obama reaches out to these ostracized groups, the scarier he becomes.

Over the last year, I traveled across the country seeking the sources of right-wing outrage and anger in the Obama era... I discovered...fear -- some of it innate and much of it whipped up by high-def hucksters on TV and in talk radio and even in the corridors of political power in America. Much of that fear centered on one simple fact: That America is increasingly becoming a non-white-dominated country. While many Americans take no issue with that, the prospect of an America with an increasingly non-Caucasian face is a deeply disturbing one to millions of people -- people for whom a unified and traditional culture is a source of solidarity and comfort, even -- according to some sociologists -- a bulkhead of immortality.
...the bottom line was that for many, reports that whites will be a minority of Americans by the year 2050 carried the shill ring of an alarm bell. But this concern about the submersion of a dominant white culture in America spiked prematurely in 2008 with the political rise of Obama. In researching the book, I spoke with many conservative voters who talked of their "discomfort" the first time they watched Obama speak on television, who said that in particular they were alarmed at the future president's use of the specific word "transformation."
...by mid-2009 I was hearing from the leader of the anti-Obama group the Delaware 9-12 Patriots that the 44th president of the United States "is absolutely not American" while his neighbors were screaming at town hall meetings: "I don't want this flag to change. I want my country back!" These rank-and-file citizens were often echoing what they heard in a 24/7 right-wing media bubble of ratings-driven irresponsibility -- outlandish neo-McCarthyite allegations that Obama had Commies and Maoists working in the West Wing, Glenn Beck's notorious claim that the president has "a deep-seated hatred of white people" and, perhaps more tellingly, of "white culture," and most recently radio's Rush Limbaugh's bizarre charge that Obama is probably the "best anti-American president the country's ever had."
...Once the Pandora's box of emotion and rage against "the Other" has been opened so wide, it is almost impossible to close.
Implicit in the charge of being Other is the concept that Other is not only different, it is wrong, and furthermore, is incompatible with "Authentic" American-ism or American values. That is where the discourse becomes unacceptable, and that is why I find it so unsettling.

The bottom line is that when basic identity terms like "Muslim", "Gay", "Foreigner" or even "Socialist" become a code for being un-American or a traitor, you have a problem. When your political strategy involves the demonization and delegitimization of whole swaths of people and then linking them to politicians you dislike to destroy both, you have a problem. (I realize this happens on the left as well.)

The right should fight Obama and the Muslim community on their merits, or de-merits. By stooping to these tactics, they are revealing their true colors. And they are ugly.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Truth versus Marketing

While online I tend to come off as harsh at times, it's likely because in person I'm usually very accommodating. The truth of the matter is that I realized a long time ago that the truth is usually fairly relative, and that humans are fallible enough that most people tend to not have all the answers. Hence the need for collaboration, compromise, and yes, dialogue.

My brother Deacon Yid is not like this. He believes in, and practices, what A.J. Jacobs once described as "radical honesty". In most circumstances (unless he can get something out of you), Deacon will say exactly what he thinks, to whomever he pleases. Most people, including me, tend to interpret this as being rude, mean, or sometimes just plain uncompassionate. But to Deacon, he's telling it like it is. He once told me that he felt sorry for me because I let people walk all over me. As far as he was concerned, asking him to hold his tongue or walk away from an argument (or perceived slight or insult) was like asking him to lie, to compromise his ethics.

I bring this up today because it really helps explain Tzvi Fishman.

Tzvi is stuck. On the one hand he has a cause-- encouraging aliyah to Israel. On the other hand, he's an ideologue. Like Deacon, he's also a binary thinker. Either you're telling the truth or telling a lie, either you're an authentic Jew or you're not. If the truth hurts, so be it.

But let me explain something. For every Jew you may convince with columns like this, you easily turn off five.

Can anyone imagine a Puerto Rican kid not speaking Spanish? Or a Japanese kid not speaking Japanese? Of course not. This is the natural, healthy, common-sense order of life.
But when it comes to the Jews, something gets very screwed up. You would think that, like in the above examples, every Jewish kid should know how to speak Hebrew. Just the way Spanish is the language of Puerto Ricans, and Japanese is the language of the Japanese, Hebrew is the language of the Jews.
Nothing could be simpler, right?
That’s the way it is in Israel. That’s the way it should be. Jewish children grow up speaking Hebrew. They also may know Yiddish, or English, or French, but they all speak Hebrew fluently.
But in the Diaspora, things get screwed. In the Diaspora, there are millions of Jews who don’t know Hebrew at all! Instead of speaking their own language, they speak an assortment of foreign tongues that are totally alien to their souls and their brains.
This alone should make everyone realize how damaging, mind warping, and insidious Diaspora life is for a Jew.
Tzvi is right that language is deeply rooted to community and identity. But he essentializes language to the point that you'd think it was the primary element. In Diaspora cultures particularly, where people become dispersed over a wide area and need to adapt to wherever they end up, this is simply not true. Jews have been struggling over Hebrew as far back as the days of the Talmud. But to Tzvi, this diversity of language is shameful, because it indicates a break with continuity, an aberration in a nation's "normal history." Rather than positively promote learning Hebrew as a way to engage with the holy books of Judaism, connect with the richness of Jewish tradition, or cultivate relations with other Jews around the world, Tzvi instead focuses on the negative approach: Jews should speak Hebrew. In Israel they do. Elsewhere, they don't, because the Diaspora is evil. The Diaspora "warps" Jewish minds by making them speak foreign languages "alien to their souls."
Sure, the wise and saintly Yosef, and members of the Sanhedrin, knew 70 languages. No problem with that. But Hebrew should come first.
So if you don’t know Hebrew yet, start learning. It’s your language. It’s who you are. It may say on your passport that you are a Canadian, or Frenchman, of Englishman, or American, but that’s only a piece a paper. You are really a Jew. So start speaking Hebrew and be who you really are. Why live a life imitating others when you can be yourself?

Here Tzvi relies on rhetorical devices that are clearly subjective. He dismisses a national identity as "only a piece of paper", saying that speaking Hebrew turns you into "who you really are." What tremendous power! Never mind that for generations, while most Jews knew Hebrew, it was not spoken as their first language (particularly women, who tended not to have as much educational options). Good to know that all those famous Jewish figures, rabbis, etc were doing it wrong all those years.

Tzvi is not a salesman. He is an ideologue. To him, he's telling it like it is, and the only alternative is to lie. But what that means in practical terms is that rather than inspiring, he criticizes. The only motivation is to avoid guilt and shame. And most people will not respond to messages like that. Several years ago, I read a book exploring different aspects of the American Jewish experience. One woman in her 40s, explaining why she was so ambivalent about Jewish practice, said that to her, "Judaism was an old man saying no."
No one likes being told what to do, or harshly criticized. And many Jews tend to be rebellious by nature. The Zionist pioneers rejected the status quo of their day, as did the Zionist rabbis. Tzvi, too, rejected the status quo of his own day.

But these days, Israel is its own status quo in the global Jewish community. And while some Jews will choose to immigrate by rebelling against their elders who tell them "no", it is highly unlikely that any fence-sitters will decide to go to Israel based on Tzvi Fishman dumping on their Jewishness.

Nefesh B'Nefesh
has done some amazing things. But, for the most part, it is probably in spite of guilt-trippers like Fishman, not thanks to them. To a binary thinker, any moderation is a surrender. But it's sad to think that Tzvi doesn't realize that every time he writes his column, he's likely working against his goals, not for them.

Taking Stock

It's been two years since Obama's election. And what can I say, it's been depressing. I am becoming more and more convinced he may wind up being a one-term president. His eloquence before taking office seems to have either disappeared or is no longer effective at reaching people, and on policy he has generally not been able to deliver on his promises. Not always his fault, granted, but it's happening on his watch.

Obama, who was supposed to be so smart, so tactical, so, if need be, ruthless, seems to have, through a number of factors, just wound up being out-matched by circumstances. Granted, he has inherited some truly dire problems. But the bigger issue has been his inability to communicate or get things done. Without communication, he can't buy any more time or slack from opponents. And without accomplishments, he makes it very hard for supporters to keep sticking up for him. Obama has shown that he does not know how to, A, deal with the daily work of getting things done in Washington, or B, how to combat the constant bombardment of criticism from conservative politicians, media, and the rising populist anger represented by the Tea Partiers.

The irony is that despite the rantings of the right, I don't believe that Obama is all that extreme in his politics (particularly when it comes to some of the crazier conspiracy theories that he's out to either hand us over to Jihadists or remake America into the Fourth Reich). When it comes down to it, I think Obama is a lefty, but less an ideologue than a pragmatist. I think at the end of the day he would probably be happy to do whatever will get results-- at least I hope so. But I question the strategy and ideology presently at work in his administration. There are nothing but tough problems and essentially all the good will he had earned through the election has been squandered fighting the Health Care fight, which may, as that bonehead said way back when, become his Waterloo.

It really comes down to trust and confidence. Obama can't point to anything concrete and say, "Look, I fixed it." Granted, that's not specifically his fault since there are a ton of problems he's trying to fix. But the lack of any real victory to rally the troops behind is definitely hurting him (the fact that Health Care was finally happened is tempered by it taking so damn long to get there and that it will be years until we see effects). And I think the fact that the opposition is so loud, so extreme, and so downright nasty, is resulting in a double-whammy: First, Obama's supporters feel overwhelmed and plain old tired. Second, Obama feels like his back is in a corner and so his only options are to fight back or to carry on, seemingly ignoring opposition. But wait, weren't accountability and transparency some of the biggest and most alienating issues with the Bush White House? The truth is we don't need Obama to fight back against Fox, we need him to work on convincing whoever he can to get on board-- and, yes, to maybe be a little more transparent to critics if only to shut them up.

I don't know how different things might have been under a different President-- I doubt Hillary, for instance, would have gotten a cakewalk from the right. But I also thing Obama, by representing the other, in so many convenient ways, has become the gold standard for anyone that could have said "no" to say it-- and then maybe even go a few steps beyond. In the age we live in people aren't just angry, they're scared. And there are forces that are cynically manipulating this and capitalizing off of it. Obama has proven repeatedly that he is spectacularly inept when wading into the fray of talk-media and weighing in on issues of the day. If he tries to be decisive, he comes off as imperial. If he changes his mind, he's a flip-flopper. When he tries to please everyone, he impresses no one. He really can't win.

When it comes to my President, I'm disappointed. But when it comes to my party, I'm downright disgusted. The Democratic Congress was elected because of the sheer corruption, inefficiency, and obscene partisanship represented by the Republican party. With that mandate, they pledged to be bipartisan and transparent-- just as Obama did. This has not happened. Dems have squandered their mandate and shown that they can be opportunist, corrupt, and partisan, too. I will not be surprised when we lose one or both houses of Congress in November-- and the fact that no one wants Obama to campaign for them is a great indicator of how terrible things are.

Am I too naive? I want a government that's responsible, functional, reasonable and sane. I want a government that keeps us safe, tries creative solutions, works together, stays honest and is actually interested in solving problems (national and global), not putting band-aids over them. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, because these were some of the key issues Obama appealed to during his campaign and which people voted him into office on.

I also have core social issues I won't budge on, and that's why I can't in good conscience be an independent-- because there are some beliefs that I'm not negotiable on (though I also think that compromise, civility and respect would go a long way towards resolving some of the emotional components of these political divisions-- but then people wouldn't be as fired up about supporting their media hacks or donating money to their politicians, so good luck getting them on board). But on economics, on foreign policy, on energy... I think I'm flexible. Let's find ideas that work, are feasible, and which let us sleep at night. Presumably this should not be an impossible criteria. Presumably Americans agree on more issues than they disagree. If not, why not?

Here's my dirty secret: beyond all the crazy BS of the Tea Party movement, I think they do have their finger on the pulse of the country when they point out how far removed Washington seems to be from the people. In some cases it's deliberate. In other cases it's the nature of the beast. But there has to be a better way. There has to be a way to move forward. I have to believe that, or I have nothing to hope for.

But I don't know if this President or this Congress can get us there. The sad thing is I'm all-but-certain that the Republicans can't, or won't, do it, either.

What now?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why no one will win over Park51

Reading about the pro- and counter-tests happening over the Park51 site, it's becoming clear to me that there is no upside to this battle. There are fair arguments and fair-minded people on both sides. Yes, it is about sensitivity-- but that cuts both ways.

There is no question that there are Islamists in the world-- including America-- who will see the mosque as a victory. At the same time, there is a very disturbing drumbeat coming out of the anti-mosque rhetoric which seems to tar all Muslims with the same brush-- and it's not terrorism, specifically, but rather of "extremism" and hatred or contempt of so-called "mainstream" Americans. There is a scary rhetorical sleight of hand happening here, rewriting people who support the mosque into becoming supporters of terrorism or Islamic supremacy over America.

Rather than addressing the facts about who Imam Rauf is, he is instead cast as the all-purpose Muslim bogeyman. He is not a person, he is a Muslim, and therefore "one of them"-- whoever "they" are. If there are issues with the Imam, his ideology, or his organization, then people should deal with those realities. But conflating a mosque with the worst elements of Islam because of where they are building it (or making your case for Rauf's extremism through an alleged lack of action  as opposed to evaluating what he actually has said or done) is simply not a fair or honest way of pursuing an argument.

And that's unfortunate, because I think that the emotions behind the mosque protesters are valid. I understand that the WTC site still contains a lot of real pain for New Yorkers and those who lost loved ones that day (not sure about other Americans around the country, though, many of whom seem to have just remembered that they're still mad about 9/11). I think their argument about showing sensitivity has a point, though I disagree with it. And I think it's only fair to acknowledge that they, too, have been unfairly demonized as hysterical hicks on the fringe (which, if nothing else, is ironic given the polls showing that the fringe is the majority). However, I do think that there's a categorical difference between being portrayed as intolerant and being accused of being anti-American or supporters of terrorism or Sharia. I personally think the first is far easier to shrug off, but maybe that's just me.

Honest people can disagree about whether the center should be built. But there's a way to do it respectfully, and there's the way of the mob. Right now, both groups are whipping themselves up, to no particular purpose. (If I seem overly alarmed by what I'm hearing from mosque opponents, maybe it's just because they seem a lot angrier.) The sad thing is that what's happening right now is just entrenching both sides, making them feel like their backs are against the wall and that they have no other options but to go for the jugular. People calling for compromise, such as David Patterson and Howard Dean, are getting nowhere. Why? Because now people seem to want a fight. A showdown.

Those against the mosque are comforted by their knowledge that they are a majority (and it's interesting that this issue has become nationalized, as if it were something that should have a referendum). By playing up the populism argument, they are trying to force Rauf & co to back down. Mosque supporters, on the other hand, know that the law is on their side and that no one has the power or authority to keep them from building. At this point no one will back down because now it's about principles. If the mosque gets built, opponents will claim it as a slap in the face against America and the will of the people, while supporters will cheer the accomplishments of tolerance and the rule of law. If the mosque doesn't get built, or gets moved, supporters will say it is a victory for fear, xenophobia and jingoism, while opponents will congratulate themselves on "standing up" to Islam.

Here's what I do know: far too many people are capitalizing off of this situation by appealing to people's anger, emotions, prejudices, and sense of entitlement (for the record, there is plenty of "PC" exploitation happening on both side of this issue). On even such basic issues as what the building should properly be called (who's biased? who's accurate?) or what Rauf was referring to by his use of Cordoba, there has been an adamant refusal to give "the other" any benefit of the doubt or to rise above the attack politics of the day. It's not quite Red State vs. Blue State, but it's about as nasty. And upsetting.

Whatever happens with the mosque, the real lessons here are about how a local issue has been manipulated by media, politicians and bloggers into a national shouting match pitting people against each other.

Which, honestly, is damned pathetic given Rauf's expressed intent: a community center.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Dose of Stupid

Wow, that's a few hours I'll never get back...

I feel bad. Mostly for myself, but also for the readers of one of WND's newest baby conservatives, the painfully named Chrissy Slatterfield. While looking for new material, I stumbled upon one of her columns. As so often happens with car wrecks, I couldn't look away. I'm not going to get on my high horse and say something silly like, "I don't understand how anyone under thirty can be a conservative Republican." I respect that there are younger folks who are just as committed to their beliefs as folks on the left are. However, I do find Chrissy's lectures-- particularly those where she targets fellow young folks-- rather tiresome.

For instance, Chrissy really doesn't like criminals. Fair enough, I suppose. Except that she then uses any defense of "criminals" as a link to bludgeon her political opponents over the head.

Tony Papa, a communications specialist, whatever that is, finds it troubling that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Really? I find it troubling that you spent years in the big house for what you claim to be a "first-time nonviolent offense." I'll bet there's more to your simpleton story than you claim. Don't blame the War on Drugs for your mistake; you look like a crybaby. Are we supposed to just let people break the law? Hey, you want to smoke some crack in the library? Go right ahead! What kind of country would this be if that were the case? What about thieves and rapists? Isn't incarceration a violation of their human rights as well? It's only fair that we allow everyone to live their life however they choose, right? Or do you want to light up so badly, without fear of arrest, that your judgment has been clouded?
So... someone who was incarcerated for a first-time drug offense must: A- be lying about why they were sent to jail, B, is a pussy, C, therefore thinks that all drugs should be done anytime, anywhere, and D, is apparently a drug addict. Nothing like some fun character assassination to start your day.

Wow, that's some slippery slope you've got there, Chrissy. I guess it's kind of like how since Dick Cheney supports same-sex marriage, he must therefore also support gay orgies in front of schoolkids. In a church. On Easter Sunday. Why not.

Another example? What luck, I found one!

Everyone is chattering about the new Arizona law that was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23. The law is so controversial that even Meghan McCain and "Saturday Night Live" shelled out their "legal expertise" on the matter.
This law makes illegal immigration, without proper registration documents, a crime. Many people are shocked by this law, but shocked at what? Oh Em Gee, illegal immigration is a crime!
...Bottom line, anyone living in the United States illegally should be deported. It's not a race thing, it's a criminal thing. Arizona has decided to take action against a heinous crime that is raping our nation of its right to flourish safely. Do I think all illegal immigrants are criminals? Yes! To a certain extent, they all are criminals, hence the "illegal" part.

Oy. So not only should all illegals be deported immediately, they're also rapists. I guess this is what you get when you put your "transportation analysis" degree to good use writing political commentary.

And if you disagree with her? Well the answer's obvious, isn't it?
For those who do not support Arizona's efforts, riddle me this …Why are you against punishing criminals? Should we allow burglars to wander the streets? Yes, I am comparing illegal immigrants to burglars because a crime is a crime is a crime.
Now see, it's interesting, because while in theory Miss "Tough on Crime" Chrissy would want to lock up or deport all criminals (Download music? That'll be 15 to Life), she seems to be flexible as long as they share her belief system. Imagine that.
Never would I encourage vandalism, but in this case I think I'll let it slide. Atheists have been vandalizing my beliefs for years, so it's about time the shoe was on the other foot. When asked about the vandalism, William Warren, the spokesman for Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics, said, "It was done by one or two people off on their own who decided their only recourse was vandalism rather than having a conversation." Hmm. That's interesting, because the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics felt its only recourse was to deliberately insult those who understand the importance of "Under God." They probably figured that because the Bible teaches Christians to turn the other cheek, we'll just take their abuse forever. We will only take so much before we stand up against our oppressors. Besides, I can't count how many times an atheist and I have had a "conversation." They're not as calm and passive as Warren suggests.
...What did this group think would happen? They placed this controversial message on a billboard that just so happens to be on a street named after Rev. Billy Graham. Did they expect the response to be positive? The group claimed that the billboard was not meant to disrespect Rev. Graham, but for some reason I don't trust them. This billboard campaign was a calculated insult to Christians, and the atheists thought it was appropriate. That shows you how spiteful this organization is. They took an American celebration and made it about them.
Got that? So anyone that engages in a crime-- any crime-- is a heartless scumbag... but if all you're doing is messing with atheists, it's totally justified, because they're mean and they had it coming. I mean, the street was named after a preacher, for God's sake!

Chrissy later backtracked from this, claiming she agreed with the vandals' message, not their methods. Yeah, I can see how readers would be confused after reading this:
I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the man or woman responsible for this vandalism. I appreciate the action you took. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not alone. It took a lot of guts to do what you did – and the fact that you haven't stepped forward to take credit makes you a hero. It shows everyone that you are more devoted to the message than you are to the spotlight. I encourage you to keep your cover. Don't give the secular world a reason to call your name; instead, let them call for our God.
I also need to extend a thank-you to some people in Sacramento and Detroit. In February, 10 atheist billboards were defaced in the Golden State and a slew of atheist bus ads were vandalized in Detroit. My dose of honesty this week: I am not happy that vandalism seems to be the only way to get an atheist's attention. I'm happy that I can count on other Christians to stand up for themselves and for Christians everywhere. It gives me hope.
Also confusing is the fact that the "but you made conservatives mad!" argument seems to come up in other columns, as well.

For instance, in 2007 a restaurant owner pissed off a veteran by flying two flags above his restaurant. The issue: the Mexican flag was above the American one. This, as Chrissy laments, is unfortunately not against the law (darn, there goes her trump card!)
There are strict protocols for flying Old Glory, but they apparently are only optional and hold no consequences for disrespecting the Red, White and Blue.
Uh yeah, because we're not in the military? Hence millions of people doing disrespectful, anti-patriotic things like daring to fly the flag at night. Too bad we can't jail or deport them like the rest of the criminals, right?

Anyway, the veteran went to the restaurant and cut down the two flags, then stole the US flag and took it with him. He's alternately been condemned as a vigilante and praised as a hero. Chrissy, of course, is trying to have it both ways again:
Let me be perfectly clear: I do not support the actions of Mr. Brossard; I do, however, understand his reasons. The restaurant owner might as well have given the U.S. the finger. Hey buddy, if you'd like to fly the Mexican flag over the American flag, move to Mexico.
… why do people come here, become citizens and then disgrace all that we as a nation stand for? It pains me that some people applauded the restaurant owner as though he'd done some great act. He said he was "flying the flag as a mark of solidarity with the Hispanic community." Don't fool yourself into thinking it was for some "greater cause," because it wasn't. He wanted to make a point and show his disrespect for this great land of ours. You know what really sucker-punched me? The fact that he is a citizen. Yikes!
... I don't believe all immigrants or naturalized citizens want to disrespect this country or the American flag. I do believe, however, that if you're going to come here for that better life, maybe you should be a little more appreciative; maybe you should be shaking the hand of that veteran and every other man and woman in uniform.
...Legally, the restaurant owner is a citizen of the United States, but should he be? Anyone who thinks it's OK to fly Mexico's flag or Canada's flag or the Confederate flag or any other flag above the American flag should be escorted out and sent packing back to the country they still have feelings for.
Here's my question: does all the spleen-venting over flags only happen if the US flag is underneath another one? What if he had only been flying the Mexican flag? Is that also grounds for having your citizenship or patriotism questioned? Also, where would you propose deporting Confederate flag wavers? Brazil?
Being an American citizen is a privilege, not a right. You shouldn't be able to call yourself an American just because you were born here or because you took a citizenship test. There's so much more to it than that. We need to show our loyalty to this country by treating her with respect. We need to prove our devotion by lifting America up. It's not too much to ask.
Especially not when you're purposefully as vague as possible. I like how we've decided, incidentally, that this guy absolutely despises every single thing about America based on which flag was on top of his flagpole.

By the way, if you're a celebrity who disagrees with Chrissy, I hope you've steeled yourselves with a bite gag and some good whiskey, because she considers you... gasp... "Celebutards." I know, try to work through the pain.

The biggest Celebutard of the moment is apparently Lady Gaga. And the reason? Being upset about Arizona's immigration law. Her biggest crime, according to Chrissy? Citing a human example of people the law was going to affect. That bitch!
It was reported, "During Saturday's concert, Lady Gaga told the crowd about a boy she met earlier in the day whose home was raided over 'a parking ticket or something,' and whose brother was deported to Mexico." I like the "or something" part. It allows liberal dingbats to glaze over important details, while at the same time leaving their opinions full of holes. Gaga has no hard evidence that this family was torn apart over a parking ticket. It tells me that a) this boy probably doesn't exist; b) if he does exist, she obviously wasn't paying attention to his story; and c) she doesn't care to know the whole truth. Again, because she has a microphone in her hand she thinks her story is automatically valid. You should get your facts straight before you put Arizona on blast, Gaga.
What I love is that Chrissy, while blasting Gaga for not getting her facts straight, does not apparently seem interested in finding the facts out for herself, either. As with the Anthony Papa story before, she just decides the story is false because she disagrees with the politics behind it, and goes from there. Which, funnily enough, is the mirror image of the same intellectual shallowness she accuses liberals (and the Celebutarded) of suffering from. Two words, Chrissy: Google. Search. You can still question the accuracy of the story's details, but I think you'd at least have to concede the kid exists. By the way, not only is he undocumented, he's also gay. Just think, if you hadn't been so invested in claiming he was imaginary, you could have had two bones to pick with him.

More on Chrissy, the Patron Saint of Fact-Optional Self-Righteousness, next time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mama Grizzlies vs Mama Ewoks? I say shoot them both

I know that nothing gets under liberal feminists' skin like conservatives like Sarah Palin accusing them of not being real Americans, real feminists, or real women. I also know that conservative bloggers want to use this silly video to show the shallowness of liberal feminists trying to counter Sarah Palin.

But honestly, all I can think of at this point is, "This is how demented the political process has gotten. One jackass is using a utterly stupid neologism to draw her political lines of legitimacy in the sand and elevate her as a tough mom who's also a savvy political fighter. At the same time, her opponents seem to be getting distracted from the actual issues and instead are trying to counter her on rhetoric, not substance." It's like when the photographer uses a stuffed bird to distract the infant from the camera.

Truly, a golden age for politics. Thank god no one had this idea during T.R.'s last election.

Cordoba: For the Record...

Some conservative Christians are trying to read a lot into the name of the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.

For instance:
The project has long been referred to (by its promoters) as The Cordoba Initiative. Many Americans, who find history boring, have hardly noticed the designation. Possibly it makes them think of dad’s old car, that Chrysler with the “rich Corinthian leather” touted by the late Ricardo Monteban. But really, there is something else going on.
And it’s hiding in plain sight.
You see, Cordoba is an important name to Islamist supremacists because it refers to the caliphate established more than 1,200 years ago in Spain. The Muslims triumphed there over the “infidel” Christians and built a great mosque on the foundation of a Christian cathedral. They were all about symbolism even back then. The proximity of the proposed mosque to Ground Zero has nothing to do with co-existence or bridge building.
Cordoba is code for conquest.
And also this twit, who has a knack for "borrowing" both from the above writer as well as Newt Gingrich:
You say Cordoba, I say Muslim conquest. The storm surrounding the Cordoba mosque in New York City is growing larger. It has many Americans fearful of what our future holds if a Muslim mosque is built two blocks from Ground Zero. Before I really dug deep to research this controversy I was conflicted. On one hand I felt disrespected, as most Americans feel; on the other I felt everyone has the religious right to build where they want to build. However, we aren't talking about a peace-loving religion like Buddhism. We're talking about the very religion that caused our country enormous heartache. It's like putting a Nazi support group next to Auschwitz.
...Don't be fooled into thinking this is a peaceful mosque. If the people pushing for this cause were so peaceful and loving, they would respect our country and respect the Americans who lost their lives on Sept. 11. Why are they pushing so hard to build this mosque when it is clearly causing turmoil? This is a big country, plenty of space to build anywhere you like. But they chose two blocks from Ground Zero? On top of that, they want to call it Cordoba.
Let us wander into history for a moment. The first Cordoba mosque in Spain was built after the Moors, a Muslim people, conquered the Spanish city of Cordoba, which was under the Roman Empire at the time. Now, it seems suspicious that Muslims would like to build a mosque near Ground Zero and call it Cordoba, which symbolizes conquest. It's not a coincidence. This appears to be a well-calculated show put on by those who support this mosque, and it is destructive to the core.
There's only one problem with this argument: when Jews think of Cordoba, as Tablet's Marc Tracy points out, they think of the Golden Age of Spain.
Though it is now to be called Park51—a reference to its address, 45-51 Park Place—its initial name was Cordoba House, and the nonprofit behind it remains the Cordoba Initiative. It’s a reference to the city of Córdoba. But what does southern Spain have to do with southern Manhattan?
Córdoba was the capital of the Islamic caliphate that controlled the Iberian peninsula during the Middle Ages. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who runs the Cordoba Initiative with his wife, named his project “after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain, and its name reminds us that Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth,” he wrote in his 2004 book What’s Right With Islam. Rauf is seeking to align himself with those who see the period as the “Golden Age of Spain,” or what’s called the convivencia—“the coexistence”—when members of the three Abrahamic faiths lived side-by-side in peace, prosperity, and astonishing cultural and intellectual creativity.
Tracy goes on to illustrate how Jewish conceptions of Spain have, not surprisingly, usually distorted the actual history to fit their ideology. However there's no question that the popular Jewish vision of the Golden Age, while not perfect, is usually positive.

I don't know much about Imam Rauf. I honestly don't know what his agenda is. (Though I do think it's interesting that people are accusing a Sufi imam of being a jihadist ideologue given that Sufis are about as well-liked by Sunni fundamentalists as Jews.) But to act like the mere use of "Cordoba" is a smoking gun for jihadism just illustrates who really doesn't know their history.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rotem and Identity

There are lots of things I don't like about the recent Rotem bill brou-ha-ha in Israel. And yes, there's plenty of blame to go around.

First, as always, the elephant in the room, is Israel's lack of a civil marriage option. Supposedly, this is the very issue that bothers Rotem's party, Yisrael Beiteinu, so much, given that much of their Russian constituency are not halakhic Jews as per the Chief Rabbinate. Some folks with allegedly insider information have said that Rotem is actually trying to pass two bills, one trying to make conversion easier (at least in this instance), and one pushing for a civil marriage law. Unfortunately, in order to get the Haredi parties on board (particularly Shas), Rotem had to amend his bill to reinforce the present status quo, i.e., that the Chief Rabbinate gets final say over all conversions. Cue American Jewish outrage, angry letters, and likely a fair amount of high mucky-muck conversations with Israeli politicians. Next step was Bibi Netanyahu stepping in and tabling the whole matter for a good six months.

This brings us to the second dilemma: what is the appropriate level of American Jewish involvement in Israeli affairs? Some Israelis would say very little-- who are Americans to tell Israelis how to be Jewish? The problem here is that Israel is not just a sovereign nation, but also "the Jewish state," i.e., the state of the Jews. With Diaspora demographics declining, Israel is becoming (somewhat) more justified in viewing itself as the center of Jewishness. So the question then becomes, is Israeli Judaism the new standard? Whatever your opinion on this, it's unquestionable that Israel views itself as the center of the Jewish world. Which means, among other things, that decisions of its Rabbinate have (or at least have the potential to have) global consequences. The sovereign nation argument is ultimately a strawman, because Israel's identity or consciousness is not exclusively localized within the boundaries of land. I don't care what Nepal thinks about me. It doesn't affect me in the slightest. Israel, on the other hand, has constructed its national identity on the twin pillars of Israeli-ness and Jewish-ness, and the later is something I lay claim to. If Israel's rabbis and government declare heterodox rabbis, or their converts, illegitimate, this becomes a very personal thing. As the Jewish state, Israel claims a connection with Jews around the world, and has consciously cultivated this relationship since before the founding of the state. Sometimes Israel uses that connection to ask the Diaspora for help. Part of the question here seems to center around what the acceptable boundaries are when it comes to the Diaspora flipping the script and asking for something from Israel, namely, recognition of heterodox movements and either liberalizing the rabbinate or decreasing its influence.

Last point: I understand the argument that if heterodox movements want equal rights in Israel, they should put their money where their mouths are and move there. Here are some responses:

First, part of an western democracy's job is to protect the rights of minorities. There shouldn't be a minimum threshold you need to pass in order to be counted. There is only one Jew left in Afghanistan, does that mean he's forfeited any rights as a citizen?

Second, Israel's privileging of Orthodoxy (and simultaneous disenfranchisement of heterodoxy) means that heterodox Jews are caught in a catch-22. On the one hand defenders of the status-quo say the onus is on them to immigrate, build up their communities, and thereby "earn" (maybe) the right to be treated as equals. The problem here is that you are basically demanding that, before they're even allowed to be part of the conversation, these folks must relocate to a country that on the civic and government level, has shown itself to be hostile to them. What's the motivation here, exactly? A Reform rabbi may spend time in Israel and fall in love with it. They may want to move there to strengthen the heterodox community and support the country. But I imagine that knowing that every time they want to practice their Judaism it is going to be an uphill battle can't make it a very easy choice.

Third, last I checked there were still plenty of Orthodox Jews in America as well. They seem to feel no qualms interjecting their opinions on Israeli matters. Nor do I see many of them calling on their community members to stop because, as non-Israelis, they don't really have the right to have an opinion, much less work to make it happen. The only time I see American Jews getting up in arms about "interference" with Israeli policy is when they happen to agree with the status-quo! The accusations that American Jews are selfish or backstabbing Israel over hurt feelings is a way of side-stepping the fact that Israel (and the Orthodox) appeal to Jewish unity and identity when it serves their purpose, but get "outraged" when heterodox Jews point out that it's awfully hard to feel affectionate towards a country that claims to be your "home" while not recognizing your rabbis, converts or marriages. This isn't about "feelings" as much as it is respect and consistency. Israel can't tell the Diaspora that all Jews are family, etc when they want something and then act outraged when the Diaspora asks back. If Israel wants to claim to be the universal Jewish home, then it should act like it. If not, don't be surprised or self-righteous when heterodox Jews start getting alienated.

One blogger cited this article from the Jerusalem Post, in which the author says,
The way America’s Reform and Conservative movements see it, the battle over conversion in Israel is between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy. Well it isn’t. Rather, it’s between ultra-Orthodoxy and modern Orthodoxy, and to join this battle, American Jewry must set aside its longer-term agendas and help Israel’s modern-Orthodoxy win this battle. 
The problem with this call to arms is that you are asking American Jews to voluntarily disenfranchise themselves and their counterparts, under the hope that the lesser of two evils will eventually grant them equality. If the heads of the Modern Orthodox community were all like Seth Farber, that would be one thing. But when one of the Chief Rabbis, a supposed "moderate" among the MO known for trying to liberalize the rabbinate goes to the press and repeatedly bashes heterodox Jews, let's just say it makes the prospect of an alliance a whole lot less palatable.

This is what Rabbi Amar said at the beginning of August:
Israeli laws should be determined by residents of Israel who defend its security and bear its burdens. If our Jewish brethren immigrate to Israel, we will welcome them with great joy, and then they would be entitled, as citizens, to struggle for the adoption of their perspective.
Ok, Israelis should determine Israeli policy. I can understand the argument. Except then there was this a mere week later:
And it’s no secret that our spiritual state is low and demeaned, be it in the relations between people or in the increasing violence and cruelty, even murder, which has reached the lowliest state, God save us. And also in the other commandments that bind us, the levels of modesty and morality have decreased exponentially, and the most difficult plague is that of hitbolleloot [abandoning the Jewish law and adopting a western way of life] that everywhere plagues our holy and pure people, as is the case in other countries in which the dilution has reached terrible ends, so is it now in our holy land, this ill is everywhere and nobody pays attention.
And those who call themselves liberals and Reform, and their friends and supporters, they are responsible for this terrible crime, they support it openly and without shame.
And now they dig their claws into the people who live in Zion, and they try to dictate to us a lifestyle, that Israel should be like all other nations, God forbid, and they terrorize us in various ways, and they formed legions of warriors inside the land of Israel whose sole purpose is to rip the Torah out of Israel and defile the religious courts and everything that’s holy, and they’ll use whatever ways and means they can, by threatening and exerting influence on ministers and members of Knesset and by appealing to the courts. Things are getting worse and worse.
Presumably, this rant includes Israeli heterodox Jews. So much for them being entitled to "struggle for their perspective."

If this is from a so-called moderate, then what's the point? When the Chief Rabbi accuses other movements of being criminals and terrorists, that seems to suggest a major disconnect. Who are the heterodox supposed to talk to? What is there left to talk about?

The bottom-line seems to be that Israel doesn't want to give heterodox movements equal status basically because it doesn't feel like it. And ditto for civil marriage. At the end of the day the answer to American Jews is that the Orthodox refuse to deviate from their worldview, and the seculars seem not to give a damn. Claims that by separating Rotem's bill from the Law of Return "avoid the issue" are missing the point. Most American Jews aren't upset because they personally will be shafted if their children or converts make aliyah. They're angry because by maintaining the status quo, Rotem and his supporters indicate that they don't care about heterodox Jews-- especially the vast majority of American Jews. The problem is the slap to the face, not whether they'll actually be turned away at the door.

Are the Orthodox entitled to have their "perspective?" Of course. But asking that American Jews not care is a pipe dream. Damn right we care. We should care. (And actually, it's good for Israel that we care, because it shows that we still care about-- and identify with-- Israel.) And if supposed liberalizers like Rotem were smart, they would reach out to us rather than leave us to their political opponents (Kadima) to rile up.

Ditto for the Americans. While both sides are talking past each other, American Jews are being used as a boogey-man for Israelis bemoaning the loss of the Rotem bill. The American community would have a much better leg to stand on if they showed some damn consistency. If you're going to exert pressure for a cause, then actually do it and communicate-- to the rank and file-- why it's important, don't just call the Prime Minister in a hissy fit every few years when you remember that, oh yeah, the Rabbinate still has an Orthodox monopoly on the state. Israelis aren't going to care about this issue just because American Jews care. We have to get the Israelis to care. Going above their heads by using our Bibi hotline gets us nowhere.

If the Modern Orthodox want help liberalizing the rabbinate, I don't see the harm in allying with them-- BUT the heterodox community actually has to stand on its principles and stay true to its ultimate goals of making Israel a more open society that heterodox Jews can feel just as comfortable and proud of as their Orthodox counterparts. Otherwise it really does just come off as petty.