Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What's More Important: Blue Jeans or Being Blown Up?

It's hard to satirize a lot of media coverage about Israel and the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. The truly dreadful stuff is in the details, the small stories and big assumptions on which they are based, rather than in any "scoops" or blockbuster articles. There are basically two types of such articles. In one, the author's basic and extreme political bias comes out clearly. The writer is consciously determined to slam Israel. This happens more often in large elements of the European press and in Reuters.

A Reuters reporter called me and told me that they were writing a story on how Israel destroyed the Palestinian economy. I suggested that perhaps they should do an article about the problems of the Palestinian economy rather than assume the answer. When the story came out, my short quote was represented fairly, but the rest of the article was totally biased, trying to prove a thesis, and even misquoted a World Bank report. In the article, the report blamed Israel for the problems but the actual text--available online--said the opposite.

Another personal experience. Australian Broadcasting Company, that country's main and official television network interviewed me on the main events of the Middle East in 2007. I said that the most important single thing was Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, an action which set back the chances for peace by many years, even decades. When the story was broadcast it had been edited so that I appeared to be saying that Israel policy had set back the chances for peace by many years, even decades.

I filed an official complaint and in the end they came down on my side, sort of. The decision was that the piece had been carelessly edited or something like that. In the online correction, however, they didn't even say that but merely that I had asked that an explanation be added to make clear my point was not about Israeli policy. Of course, the reporter had done it on purpose.

But most silliness, especially in the U.S. media, is based on the blindness of assumption: of course Hamas could become moderate, of course the Palestinians want peace, of course Fatah is moderate, of course Israel treats them unfairly. So we get AP items like Laurie Copans, "Israeli-Palestinian Trade Suffers," March 28. Oh dear, suffering trade. That's bad. Wouldn't more trade be good for everyone?

The article is very long for AP, 22 paragraphs. It tells us a touching story about how--due to the fact that "the Palestinian driver did not have a permit through an Israeli military checkpoint and the X-ray machine at a crossing was broken," a shipment of blue jeans for the Israeli market "arrived 8 1/2 hours later." Silly me. I expected the reporter would then compare a delayed shipment of blue jeans with the danger of dozens of Israeli civilians being murdered. Nope. Let me explain: this is wartime, safeguarding lives is more important than expediting clothing. If the Palestinians are not happy with the delays let them crack down on terrorism so that roadblocks aren't needed.

Does the article make this point? Hardly, and even then only in a derisive way. Here is paragraph four. Note how it tells you about the real story in a way that says it is totally unimportant: "Israel agreed this week to issue more permits for Palestinian laborers and merchants, but has yet to take down any of the hundreds of West Bank checkpoints it says are necessary to stop suicide bombers. With little real progress on the peace front and violence persisting, Israeli-Palestinian business ties are discouraged."

Now is it so unproved, a mere Israeli assertion, that checkpoints are necessary to stop suicide bombers, not to mention other forms of terrorism? It is well established that past terrorists have come through checkpoints yet this is treated as some possibly wild or at least unproven Israeli allegation.

Are Israelis quoted for balance after all the quotes from Palestinians toeing the party line? Sure, but only if the Israelis say what the author wants: "`Israel has an interest in not having hungry neighbors,' [economist Ephraim] Kleiman said. `Israel has a vested interest in the economic well-being of the Palestinians. It's much more important than any moral obligation.'" Not Kleiman's fault. What he said is right in context. But the reporter didn't put it into context. Instead the message is: Trade is vital for peace and human needs. The Palestinians are hungry, if the Israelis hold up the jean deliveries it verges on being a crime against humanity, and security is either an illusory factor or an outright excuse.

Oh, and there is also the big ending. Here it is: "A harrowing incident made [Israeli designer Irit] Levzohar...thankful for the Israeli security. "Once, when she made the trip to the West Bank herself, she discovered a stack of guns after she pulled her bags of clothing out of a Palestinian driver's truck. "`I began to shake all over and I dropped the bags,'" Levzohar said. "`All I could think about was my children.'" "She confronted her Palestinian supplier, who promised never to work with that driver again, and reported the incident to the Israeli military. Now Levzohar says she only picks up clothes at authorized crossings. "`You can't gamble for business,'" Levzohar said."

Yeah, that seems a relevant consideration, doesn't it? Perhaps it isn't just an Israeli claim about the need for roadblocks to stop terrorists and weapons from getting into Israel. But that's stuck in at the end (the part most likely, as AP editors know, to be cut by newspapers to make a piece fit) rather than made part of the lead. And probably it got in only because it was a colorful anecdote that spiced up the article.

In many cases, pieces like this don't even have that ending but stick to the usual framework. Trade is good; Palestinians are hungry; Israel is bad. The key elements involved here--terrorism is central, extremism among Palestinian leaders incites and organizes it, Israel wants piece while Palestinian groups don't--is absent from most of the articles written on these issues.

No wonder so many in the West find the Middle East incomprehensible. A lot of the coverage makes it seem that way precisely because the reporting ensures that viewers don't understand what is going on or how things work. Reminds me of what a very cynical Washington Post reporter once told me: "That's why they're called stories"


Rehabilitating Communism

Wednesday the California Senate Education Committee held a hearing on SB 1322, which allows members of the Communist Party USA to teach and hold meetings in California's public schools. This measure, authored by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a southern California Democrat, has left many puzzled.

The Sacramento Bee endorsed the bill and mocked those who regarded the prospect of Communists in the classroom as a cause for concern. On one level, it isn't. The Communist Party USA is pretty much a dead parrot, and few people outside American university faculties, theological seminaries, insane asylums, and homeless shelters actually believe in Communism. Unfortunately, the bill is historically misleading.

It implies that the Communist Party USA was just like other parties. It wasn't, despite ad copy to the contrary. The CPUSA was an anti-American hate group and wholly owned subsidiary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. During the Stalin Era and beyond, the CPUSA served the USSR as an alibi armory, defending a murderous regime at the nadir of its brutality.

Whatever they said for the record, members of the CPUSA did not believe in democracy, the Constitution, or due process under American law. They were not liberals or freethinkers and the Party persecuted members who deviated from the politically correct line. Neither were they idealists who hoped only for a better world. They knew full well the record of mass death, poverty and misery, but remained slavish totalitarians, and that holds true even if they are someone's beloved relative or friend. That they tricked out Communism in populist pieties only adds to the indictment against them.

Communism itself has not exactly been swept into the ashcan of history where it belongs. A Communist regime still exists in the planet's most populous nation, China, which operates espionage rings in this country. (See "Sentence issued in military data case," Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2008.) A Stalinist with nuclear weapons holds sway in North Korea. Cubans must endure a hereditary Communist dictatorship which, by 2010, will allow them to purchase an electric toaster.

In America, meanwhile, Communists, Fascists, Nazis, Ku Kluckers and the like enjoy full rights to believe what they want and associate with those who believe likewise. They have no right, however, to a captive audience in California schools, use of public-school facilities, nor a salary from the public purse. Senator Lowenthal would do better to craft a more diverse bill aimed at those with proven terrorist and totalitarian associations. Otherwise his SB 1322 amounts to nothing more than a Communist Rehabilitation and Revisionism Act.

History is something to be studied, not created after the fact. The push is on to portray CPUSA members as misunderstood but essentially noble idealists, persecuted by evil capitalist America. California law should not be an accessory to that enterprise. Sen. Lowenthal's bill, however, does have value. It confirms that California needs to do a better job teaching about the major mass movement of our time.

To teach this subject better, the emphasis should be on historical accuracy, not political correctness. The reading list should include books such as Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History, also The Great Terror, The God That Failed, and The Black Book of Communism, which estimates the global victims of Communism at 100 million. "They are dead, you are alive," Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote. "The world must know all about it." SB 1322 is part of the evidence that the world doesn't yet know all about it. That knowledge gap needs to be filled, sooner rather than later.

As George Santayana said, "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." And now abides revisionism, political correctness, and ignorance, but the greatest of these is ignorance.


Harvard races to embrace Islam

Harvard embraced Nazism in the 1930s so I suppose they are consistent

The symbolism could not be more striking: Harvard College, an institution founded for men by men has, for the first time in its history, banned men. For six hours every week, only women will be allowed in one of the university's three major gyms--a new policy implemented in response to a request by female Muslim students, who were uncomfortable exercising around men.

Since announcing the new policy, the university has been besieged by vitriolic criticism, with some commentators characterizing the decision as "appeasement" and "capitulation" to the demands of "radical Islam." One blogger, in a post entitled "Slouching toward Constantinople," compared the decision to the Turkish conquest of that city in 1453. One commentator called it Harvard's "Islamofascist gym." Even Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan lamented the onslaught of "Sharia at Harvard."

Though these reactions are clearly alarmist, the decision raises significant questions about how far universities must bend to accommodate religious observance, and the extent to which political correctness is beginning to overshadow other liberal values on American campuses.

One of the most surprising aspects of this story is how detached Harvard's Islamic community was from a decision for which it is being castigated. The impetus came from Howard Georgi, the master of one of Harvard's residential houses, who told me via e-mail that he was approached by one of the house administrators--he couldn't remember which--who had been contacted by "some of the Muslim women in the House." He then sent an e-mail to Susan B. Marine, the Director of the Harvard College Women's Center, asking her to look into the policy. Ola Aljawhary, the student Marine asked to confirm the interest on behalf of the Muslim community, told me that she casually consulted with friends "who certainly didn't mind the idea"--which administrators took as sufficient demand to adopt the policy. Neither Georgi nor Marine spoke directly to the women who requested the policy in the first place. The Harvard Islamic Society--the active campus organization for undergraduate Islamic affairs--did not know about the change until it was being formalized and in its final stages, according to the society's president. This clearly wasn't Harvard "capitulating" to Islam, considering how minimally Muslim students were involved in the decision.

But the decision put Harvard in the awkward position of having to arbitrate what constitutes legitimate religious practice. Marine claims there was a "moral and ethical responsibility" for the administration to act on this request, telling the Associated Press last month that "it's a pretty big breach of their moral and religious code ... and it's just not possible for them to be in a mixed environment." But according to Aljawhary, "It's not like we can't work out when men are around." In fact, "we were not 'demanding' women-only hours," Aljawhary said. If the administration had said no, she said, "it would have been okay."

Universities are often forced to alter their policies to accommodate the religious views of students--such as changing test dates on religious holidays or accommodating special dietary restrictions. But what happens when students hold a relatively extreme version of religious practice? And perhaps more importantly, what happens when that practice comes into conflict with other values important to the university?

Yale faced this question in 1997 when five Orthodox Jewish students filed a lawsuit against the university for not exempting them from Yale's rule requiring freshmen and sophomores to live in dormitories. Yale refused, claiming the on-campus requirement was essential to the college experience, and the students eventually lost their case. The incident's most striking aspect was the university's confidence in asserting its own imperatives. Dick Brodhead, then Dean of Yale College, wrote a letter to The New York Times declaring, "Yale College has its own rules and requirements, which we insist on because they embody our values and beliefs."

In the Harvard case, as in the Yale case, religious observance clashes with another important value: equality. Since when is a subjective criterion of "discomfort" surrounding an issue that is not essential to a student's academic experience a good enough reason to exclude a large part of the undergraduate population from common space? A private institution like Harvard should certainly respect religious differences and take reasonable steps to accommodate religious needs. In fact, as Harvard tried to justify this decision, it cited the precedent of prayer rooms for Hindu and Muslim students, and dining halls that serve kosher and halal food. But the obvious difference between these policies and the gym ban on men is that anyone can take part in a Hindu prayer or eat a Kosher meal. They do not exclude.

Even if Harvard decided this were a necessary accommodation, there are certainly better ways for it to have been executed. MIT, for example, recently implemented single-gender swim lanes for two hours each week--women on Tuesdays, men on Thursdays. Though women requested the policy, men-only hours were also included in the interests of equality. Additionally, though Muslim women initially requested the policy, the university involved several religious communities in the decision, including Muslim, Jewish, and Christian groups. "I didn't register any opposition here," said MIT chaplain Robert M. Randolph--a sharp contrast to the way Harvard's decision was regarded on campus.

In what seems to be a hasty nod to political correctness, Harvard missed an opportunity to implement a gender-sensitive interfaith initiative that might have been welcomed on campus. Furthermore, the resulting media frenzy has put the Muslim community at Harvard in an unnecessarily bad position. According to Shaheer Rizvi, the president of the Harvard Islamic Society, the group's initial positive reception of the arrangement eventually gave way to the "shocking realization that the media would pounce on these issues and turn it into a picture of Harvard buckling under Muslim pressure." "I'm tired of having to justify myself," Aljhawary says.

When even the people who were supposed to benefit from the change in gym rules are unhappy, it's clear that Harvard has handled itself poorly. The policy will be subject to a reassessment in April. The school should give serious consideration to overturning it.


Fighting Anthropologists Anger Lefties

Fighting anthropologists ... the idea seems laughable, but there are indeed anthropologists in Iraq, helping protect our troops. And that ticks of the left. As the leftist news compiler AlterNet explains it, their work sounds like a good thing:
The Human Terrain Systems (HTS) program, in operation for several years, was significantly expanded by the United States military last September. It has recruited anthropologists to be embedded with U.S. troops at brigade and division level in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... [T]he program takes anthropologists, some of whom are not experts in the relevant cultures, and charges them with advising commanders to prevent them from misreading local actions and -- potentially violent -- situations. The idea is to reduce casualties.

The New York Times reported on 5 October 2007 on an anthropologists' contingent involved in a major operation meant to reduce attacks against U.S. and Afghan troops. The anthropologists identified many widows in the target area and surmised that their young male relatives would be under pressure to support them and would be likely to join the attackers out of economic necessity. A job-training program for the widows led to a reduction in attacks.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it; an elegant approach to diminishing the violence against not just our troops but also the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly one would think that understanding the enemy is better than just killing them. But the left doesn't share the view.First, there's the technical issue:
The anthropological profession has a code of ethics which, like the Hippocratic oath, mandates no harm to people who are studied, and requires their informed consent in participation in research. This is impossible under combat conditions, where there is no opportunity for embedded anthropologists to identify themselves with ordinary people.
So the left apparently would be happier if the military just shot up the young sons of the widows rather than breaking the obligation to inform subjects of "research." The word is in quotes because by no stretch of the imagination can this work be defined as research; its intent is not to crunch data and publish papers, but to make quick decisions to help save lives. Then there's the whole leftist aversion to spying:
And the work looks enough like intelligence work to cause people to view anthropologists as spies (even under ordinary conditions), inhibiting their scientific mission.
First of all, their mission isn't scientific here; it's humanitarian and military, but really, looks enough like spying? Spying doesn't look like something; it is something; it has a definition, and this program isn't it. "Observing" is different from snooping, eavesdropping or taking on assumed identities in order to get information. So guess what the anti-war anthropologists named their new little group? The Network of Concerned Anthropologists. How creative of them to use "network" instead of "union." Their pledge: Not to participate in counter-insurgency. Isn't that pretty much the same thing as supporting insurgency? What makes insurgency acceptable and counter-insurgency not?

Now the peaceniks do have a good idea:
She advocated the establishment of a large research program leading to a socio-cultural knowledge database, recruitment of young cultural analysts into government service and establishment of a clearing house for cultural knowledge. None of these would be a problem.
They wouldn't for me either -- in fact, I wish we had done this before Iraq so we would have understood this whole tribal dynamic a bit more. The problem, though, is that Saddam would have killed them all before they finished their research, which kind of makes it a better idea to team up the anthropologists with the soldiers, where they can actually do good and save lives. Unfortunately, "saving lives" apparently also means "helping the US," so the ivory tower dwellers in our formerly great bastions of higher education must take up arms ... pens ... against the few, the sensible, the good members of their profession.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: