Muslim polygamy: Taboo topic sparks critical debate in Canada
In the month since the Star published its investigation into the secret world of polygamy in our community, reporter Noor Javed has braved a firestorm of criticism. So too has the Star itself, with several complaints about Javed's groundbreaking articles about polygamy within the Muslim community in the GTA coming to the public editor's office. I've spent considerable time looking into these concerns and I think that the Star's reporting on this was accurate, fair and balanced.
I also believe it was a courageous act of journalism for Javed, a Muslim woman who has written illuminating articles for the Star in the past about her spiritual journey to Mecca to fulfill the holy Muslim pilgrimage called the hajj, and also about her choice to wear the Muslim head scarf, the hijab. As a journalist and a "visible" Muslim who chose to expose evidence of polygamy within the GTA's Muslim community, Javed well knew she would come under fire. But she also believed that reporting on this controversial, "taboo" issue, which is clearly illegal in Canadian law, could spark critical debate among Canadians.
I, however, was surprised by the personal attacks against her. Javed's commitment to her faith has been questioned by other Muslims and some have even suggested it was improper for a Muslim reporter to report on this. One "open letter" that came to my office, the Star's letters page, and is now circulating in the online blogosphere, accuses Javed of demonizing Islam itself. "If your intention was to spark debate on polygamy in the community then the Toronto Star was not the forum for it," the letter states. "There is already ample anti-Islamic sentiment in the world and it is not befitting for a Muslim to add to it. "As a Muslim woman, you had an Islamic obligation, to defend this aspect of your faith, not to deliver a further blow to an already bruised community."
While many North American Muslims have widely, and sometimes justly, criticized the media for anti-Islamic bias in the days since 9/11, I don't think the Star's reporting on polygamy was either anti-Islamic or unfair. Javed spent several months investigating this, talking to dozens of people including four local Muslim women who believe they have been victimized by polygamy. This has not been about "airing dirty laundry," as some have accused Javed of doing, but of airing these concerns.
Javed's reporting put the issue into context, explaining the perspective on polygamy of both the Muslim faith and Canadian law. She wrote that while polygamy is generally among the "last taboos" in Western society, it's practised in more than 850 societies worldwide, including within the fundamentalist Mormon community in Bountiful, B.C. She also spoke to several legal experts who believe polygamy will soon be forced to face a constitutional challenge.
But as Star columnist and editor emeritus Haroon Siddiqui also pointed out in a follow-up column to Javed's articles, those practising polygamy in Canada are breaking the law as it now stands: "Muslims are obliged to obey the law of the land where they live" he wrote.
Aly Hindy, the iman of Saluhuddin Islamic Centre who openly told Javed that he has "blessed" numerous polygamous unions, now accuses the Star of bias against the Muslim community. In an email to several hundred people, now posted online, Hindy's son, Ibrahim, states that the Star has an "agenda" to "caricature" the Muslim community and Hindy as "backwards, as anti-women and even anarchist ..."
Last week, Hindy submitted a lengthy opinion article suggesting that Javed had quoted him out of context and was inaccurate in her reporting. In fully investigating this, including listening to Javed's tape-recorded interviews with Hindy, I found these charges to be without merit. The Star declined to publish Hindy's article. We did tell him that the Star would publish a letter to the editor to clarify his perspective. He has thus far declined to submit a letter.
Despite this controversy, Javed's reporting on polygamy has done what it was intended to do - instigate critical debate. Whether it was in mosques across the GTA, at dinner tables, or on radio and television, these Star articles have sparked heated and necessary discussion about polygamy and the legislation around it. For me, that fulfils the highest purpose of great journalism.
Offensive thoughts now vie with offensive words
Beyond the rude words, which now cause the merest frisson of surprise, there are areas which, by a more subtle process than legislation, have, over time, become out of bounds. In an age when taking offence has become a cultural pastime, a process of gentle, fuzzy self-censorship has become established. It is no longer swear words that have the power to offend, but inappropriate thoughts.
For example, when did someone last dare to suggest in open debate that feelings - the feelings of ordinary people - are often completely irrelevant when it comes to public policy? Ever since the British discovered the dangerous pleasures of shared, public emotion, reason has become suspect. Politicians, obliged to show their soft and caring side, now play down the very strengths which any decent leader should possess - the ability to think coolly and rationally. You are as likely to hear a minister or shadow minister dismissing emotion and arguing for judgement and reason as you were in the 1970s to hear one of George Carlin's dirty words on Last Of The Summer Wine. Sentimentality rules, and anyone who disagrees is a cold-hearted rationalist.
There are more specific no-go areas. Thanks to a careful rewriting of recent history, the invasion of Iraq is now treated as if it was foisted on the British people by the brutal and ruthless Blair government. In fact, it was rather widely supported at the time, although it suits us to forget the fact. Soldiers are still dying today but the debate is over; it is as if only a tiny handful of people believe in the Iraqi cause any more, and they happen to be running the country. For their part, the media are too bored or embarrassed to address the issue. The war has become a non-subject.
Television reflects back at us our deepest confusions and anxieties, most obviously in matters of race. Is the colour of a person's skin important? In the reporting of gang behaviour, it is not. When one contestant on a reality show addresses another as "nigger", she is expelled from the show amid an orgy of hand-wringing. On the other hand, an entire episode of South Park whose plotline revolves around the same word can be broadcast without the slightest worry.
Occasionally, as in the recent appointment of Paul Ince as manager of Blackburn Rovers Football Club, the awkwardness which surrounds the subject of race becomes evident. The first black manager of a Premiership team is, on the face of it, a worthwhile story but, because colour should no longer be an issue for serious people, there was a sense of uneasiness in the television reports, an embarrassment that such a thing had to be covered at all. There are other more obvious problem areas. No writer or director who wishes to remain employed will include a scene in which a character lights a cigarette, inhales contentedly and sighs, "Ah, that's better." Yet other addictions are actively and cheerfully encouraged.
A group mindset extends into the most trivial of areas. Why have newsreaders become so grand, with Sir Trevor McDonald or Huw Edwards taking on the rather peculiar role of father figures to the nation? Who was it that decided that Dame Judi Dench is the greatest actress of her generation, or that Stephen Fry is the most brilliant man to appear on television, or that Dawn French is hilariously and endearingly funny?
The group wisdom about such things, and the way certain topics and points of view become inappropriate, are part of the same faintly sinister process. The obscenity law may be marginally more relaxed than it was in George Carlin's heyday, but self-imposed controls and constraints exert a firm, suffocating grip.
The revenge of the Ku Klux Klan
When I heard the secular jihadists at Americans United for Separation of Church and State had filed a lawsuit trying to block South Carolina from issuing vanity license plates that say "I Believe," it reminded me of the Ku Klux Klan. Why would the actions of the self-proclaimed "progressives" at Americans United for Separation of Church and State make me think of the racist bigots from a bygone era? It's very simple, really. You probably don't know that today's radical secular agenda promoting absolute separation of church and state was a movement actually birthed by the Klan.
It's one of many interesting insights I gleaned from reading a new book, "Who Killed the Constitution?" by Thomas E. Woods and Kevin R.C. Gutzman - by the way, perhaps the best book I have ever read on the betrayal of our American heritage. "The 'Klansman's Creed' included a statement that 'I believe in the eternal Separation of Church and State," write the authors. Between 1915 and 1926, the Klan had a major revival, largely due to increased Irish immigration that the organization exploited into anti-Catholic bigotry and fear-mongering.
It was the Klan that spawned Justice Hugo Black of Alabama. He officially joined the group in 1923 and used his activism in it to launch a successful campaign for the Senate. In 1937, the Senate confirmed his nomination to the Supreme Court. Throughout his tenure on the Supreme Court, Black pushed the separation of church and state line in his opinions, setting the stage, as the authors put it, for the landmark Engel v Vitale case in 1962.
"The facts of the case were simple: New York state had a policy of encouraging local public school districts to adopt prayers to be recited each morning by those students who chose to participate," they write. "New Hyde Park, New York, had adopted an anodyne prayer: 'Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.' The plaintiffs asserted that this practice violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause - as Justice Black put it in his majority opinion, that it 'breache[d] the wall of separation between Church and State.'"
Might it surprise our friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State to know who made the bed in which they now sleep? It wasn't Thomas Jefferson. It was a red-necked bully and coward in a hood and white robes. Later, one of those racist hate mongers traded in his white robes for the black robes of a Supreme Court justice and carried on his bigoted agenda in a powerful new venue.
President Franklin Roosevelt acknowledged in correspondence to a friend that he suspected Black was a Klansman before he named him to the court. And, today, Black's racist roots have been glossed over by historians, largely because of his rulings in cases like Engle v Vitale.
As one biography of Black puts it: "He was often regarded as a member of the liberal wing of the Court, together with (Earl) Warren, William O. Douglas, William Brennan, and Arthur Goldberg." So, apparently there is little distinction between the Ku Klux Klan and the progressive movement when their agendas overlap.
The movement for so-called "separation of church and state" in America began in earnest as an anti-Catholic extremist effort directed by the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was successful at getting one of its own on the Supreme Court at a critical time in history. It was Hugo Black's important swing vote that established the notion that reciting a simple, inoffensive, non-sectarian prayer in school was tantamount to establishing an official state religion.
That's the ancestry of today's radical secularist jihad to chase any vestige of faith from the public square. Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947, right after one of Hugo Black's landmark opinion in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township - a decade after the Klansman made the transition to honored justice.
I don't suggest Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, shares the Klan's racist, hateful ideals. But I do need to point out they represent the heritage of his ideals.
Antisemitic slur from Time magazine columnist
Accusing Jews of "divided loyalties" is an ancient antisemitic slur
Time magazine political columnist and blogger Joe Klein has posted his reaction to a column today by David Brooks of the New York Times.
Brooks credits President Bush for his decision, in the face of enormous political pressures, to embrace the so-called surge strategy in Iraq. Klein chalks this up not to President Bush's knowledge of tactics or strategy but to Bush's stubbornness - while Klein, who presents himself as a man in possession of enormous knowledge and sophistication about counterinsurgency doctrine, merely happened to be wrong in his fierce opposition to it. In any event, Klein admits he was wrong in opposing the surge and has proper praise for General Petraeus, which is admirable.
But then Klein goes on to say this:
The notion that we could just waltz in and inject democracy into an extremely complicated, devout and ancient culture smacked-still smacks-of neocolonialist legerdemain. The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives-people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary-plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.
Put aside the fact that Klein himself, swept up in the success of democratic elections in Iraq in 2005, was quite sympathetic to what he now refers to as "neocolonialist legerdemain." The "divided loyalties" charge is an ugly smear, one that ignores, among other things, the vast non-Jewish and non-neoconservative support for the Iraq war. (For example, the use of force resolution passed with 77 votes in the Senate - the overwhelming majority of which were cast by non-Jews and non-neoconservatives).
And on the matter of Iran: isn't it reasonable to assume that if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon it will pose an enormous threat not simply to Israel but to the region (including other Arab states) and the interests of America? And doesn't it matter that Israel is among our closest allies, a nation of extraordinary achievements and virtues, and one with whom we have security agreements? This doesn't necessarily lead one to support U.S. military strikes against Iran in order to prevent Ahmadinejad, Khamenei, & Company from possessing a nuclear weapon. If Klein is against that, fine; he should make the argument on prudential and policy grounds. But arguing that those who favor using military force against Iran and happen to be Jewish are driven by "divided loyalties" is despicable and libelous.
Joe Klein appears to be a man who cannot control his anger and even hatred toward those with whom he has policy disagreements. It is a sad thing to witness. And those who care for Klein should do him a favor and urge him to give up blogging, which allows his unfiltered rage to make its way into print and embarrass him and the magazine for which he writes.
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.
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