Thursday, December 16, 2010
Abu Dhabi erects $11m Christmas tree
Abu Dhabi is of course a Muslim country so this should squash claims by the ACLU and others that Christmas trees "offend" Muslims
CHRISTMAS came in extravagant fashion to the Muslim desert emirate of Abu Dhabi as a glitzy hotel unveiled a bejeweled Christmas tree valued at more than $11 million. It is the "most expensive Christmas tree ever", said Hans Olbertz, general manager of Emirates Palace hotel, at its inauguration.
The 13m faux evergreen, located in the gold leaf-bedecked rotunda of the hotel, is decorated with silver and gold bows, ball-shaped ornaments and small white lights.
But the necklaces, earrings and other jewelery draped around the tree's branches are what give it a record value. The tree holds a total of 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones, said Khalifa Khouri, owner of Style Gallery, which provided the jewellery.
"The tree itself is about $US10,000 (AU$10,100)," Mr Olbertz said. "The jewellery has a value of over $US11 million - I think $US11.4, $US11.5."
"Probably, this will be another" Dubai entry into the Guinness book of world records, Mr Olbertz said, adding that Emirates Palace planned to contact the organisation about the tree which is to stay until the end of the year.
Asked if the tree might offend religious sensibilities in the United Arab Emirates, where the vast majority of the local population is Muslim, Mr Olbertz said he did not think it would. "It's a very liberal country," he said.
Like other hotels in the United Arab Emirates, it has had a Christmas tree up in previous years. But this year, "we said we have to do something different" and the hotel's marketing team hatched the plan, said Mr Olbertz.
The ACLU's Not So Holy Trinity
The ACLU seems unusually active right now. What gives? Maybe it's the Christmas season, which always seems to spring the ACLU into high gear, more miserable than usual.
I tried to ignore the latest round of ACLU legal challenges against religious Americans, but they became too much. The surge has been remarkably ecumenical, not singling out Protestant or Catholic interests.
First, I got an email from Mat Staver's group, Liberty Counsel, highlighting a bunch of ACLU lawsuits. Then I read a page-one, top-of-the-fold headline in the National Catholic Register, "Catholic Hospitals Under New Attack by ACLU," regarding an ACLU request to compel Catholic hospitals to do abortions. Next was an email from a colleague at Coral Ridge Ministries, forwarding a Washington Times article. Then came another email from yet another Christian group on lawsuits somewhere in Florida. And on and on.
That was just a sampling of this year's Christmas cheer, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union. At least the ACLU always finds a way to unite Protestants and Catholics.
In the interest of faith and charity, I'd like to add my own ecumenical offering—a history lesson. It concerns some fascinating material I recently published on the ACLU's early founders, especially three core figures: Roger Baldwin, Harry Ward, and Corliss Lamont. I can only provide a snapshot here, but you'll get the picture.
First, Roger Baldwin: Baldwin was the founder of the ACLU, so far to the left that he was hounded by the Justice Department of the progressive's progressive, Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps it was a faith thing. Wilson was a progressive, but he was also a devout Christian, and Roger Baldwin was anything but that.
Baldwin was an atheist. He was also a onetime communist, who, among other ignoble gestures, wrote a horrible 1928 book called Liberty Under the Soviets. Notably, he was smart enough not to join Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Other early officials of the ACLU, which was founded almost exactly the same time as the American Communist Party, included major party members like William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Louis Budenz (who later broke with the party). Communists used the ACLU to deflect questions from the U.S. government over whether they were loyal to the USSR, were serving Joe Stalin in some capacity, and were committed to the overthrow of the American system.
That whole "overthrow-the-government" thing is something our universities tell us is baloney, a bunch of anti-communist, McCarthyite tripe. In fact, it took me mere minutes of digging into the Comintern Archives on CPUSA to find actual fliers and formal proclamations from the American Communist Party publicly advocating precisely that objective. (Click here to view some of the documents.) I also found the ACLU rife throughout those archives.
So bad had been the ACLU in aiding and abetting American communists that various legislative committees, federal and state, considered whether it was a communist front. The 1943 California Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities reported that the ACLU "may be definitely classed as a communist front." The committee added that "at least 90 percent of its [the ACLU's] efforts are expended on behalf of communists who come into conflict with the law." That 90-percent figure was consistent with a major report produced by Congress a decade earlier, January 17, 1931.
Note the consistency: Defending communists secretly committed to Stalin's Russia had been a central component of the ACLU's work since its inception.
In my research, I also found constant approving references to the ACLU in CPUSA's flagship publication, the Daily Worker. The Daily Worker loved the ACLU. Moreover, I was struck by how early the ACLU had been challenging not just Christians but their most joyous holiday, with the Daily Worker's eager approval.
To cite just one example, Christmas 1946, one of the first for returning troops from World War II, the ACLU initiated legal action to stop the singing of Christmas carols in California public schools. For that, the communists were most grateful to Baldwin and the boys.
Aside from Roger Baldwin, there were two other especially influential figures comprising this not-so-holy ACLU trinity. They were Corliss Lamont and Harry F. Ward. Covering these two adequately here is impossible. I've devoted probably about 10,000 words to Lamont alone in my book, Dupes—both men were precisely that: dupes. The ways in which Lamont and Ward were rolled by communists is astounding, with Lamont granted a special Potemkin village tour of the USSR in 1932, guided by Soviet handlers, where he swallowed the most outrageous propaganda hook, line, and sinker.
Lamont was most inspired by the Bolsheviks' militant atheism, especially the churches they converted into wicked atheist museums. Lamont had already written his atheist classic, The Illusion of Immortality, which had been his dissertation at Columbia University under John Dewey, godfather to American public education, who himself had made a Potemkin village tour of the USSR (1928).
Given his leftist atheism, Lamont was at home with the ACLU. Harry Ward, however, was a Methodist minister, and a professor at Union Theological Seminary. How could he possibly support the ACLU?
That's what made Harry Ward an even bigger dupe. More than supporting the ACLU, Ward was chairman as Baldwin served as director.
Imagine: a Christian was a founder of the ACLU. That's Harry Ward.
When it came to sheer manipulation by communists, Ward was arguably the single greatest dupe in the entire history of the American Religious Left. Tellingly, a major Congressional report (July 1953) on communist activities in the New York City area featured more references to Ward than any other figure—twice as many as the next most-cited figure, Earl Browder, longtime face of American communism.
I found documents in the Soviet archives where communist officials in Moscow and New York deliberately targeted Ward to help push their propaganda. In one, a December 1920 letter, Ward is listed by Comintern officials as a source to get their materials on the shelves at the seminary library.
It wasn't atheistic communism that concerned the Rev. Ward. No, it was anti-communism. Writing in Protestant Digest in January 1940, long before Senator McCarthy arrived on the scene, Ward admonished the faithful of the perils of "anti-communism," which was being employed "under the leadership of [Congressman Martin] Dies in a new red hunt," one "more ruthless than that of [former Attorney General] Mitchell Palmer." (Both Dies and Palmer were Democrats.)
Alas, Christian charity compels me to concede a key fact, particularly at Christmas time. Among this not-so-holy trinity of Baldwin-Lamont-Ward, there was a measure of redemption for Baldwin at least. Baldwin eventually, after the Red Terror, after the Great Purge, after the Ukrainian famine, after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, after millions of rotting corpses, after the gulag, after the communists had violated every imaginable civil liberty, awakened to the stench of the Soviet system. He finally saw communism, and communists, as a genuine concern.
By the early 1950s, Baldwin began insisting that ACLU officers take a non-communist oath. Call Baldwin crazy, but he figured that any ACLU member who held allegiance to "totalitarian dictatorship" was not truly serious about civil liberties. Perhaps they were publicly exploiting American civil liberties to privately support a nation (the USSR) that had no civil liberties? Good thought. Who could argue with that?
Well, Corliss Lamont could—as could I. F. Stone (who the latest evidence suggests was an actual Soviet agent), several editors at the Nation, several professors from Columbia, the New York Times, and other usual suspects. Finding a purge they could finally condemn, they objected to this ACLU "purge." Lamont resigned.
So, yes, Roger Baldwin's ACLU backed away from its communist leanings.
Sadly, however, Roger Baldwin's ACLU never seems to have shirked from its atheist leanings, which haunt us still today.
Could it be that the ACLU's alleged onetime commitment to defending communism has shifted to an apparent commitment to defending atheism? It certainly seems like it, especially this time of year. And if the ACLU doesn't like that perception, it should do something to change it.
Ruling Elites Wage War on Morality in the Courts
As the nation lurches back toward well-founded suspicion of big government, the ruling elites are putting the pedal to the metal against the moral foundations.
In a matter of months, three liberal federal judges struck down California’s constitutional marriage amendment, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the military’s law barring homosexuality. Why mess around with legislators when federal judges can create havoc with the stroke of a pen?
Sometimes just the threat of a wacko liberal ruling is enough to drive policy. That seems to be the reasoning behind Defense Secretary Robert Gates warning Congress to homosexualize the military before the courts do it. He said it would be disruptive if a court acts, so Congress should order up the lavender tanks instead.
I don’t recall a single reporter asking Gates why, if ending the policy by court order would harm the military, it would be less disruptive if done by the lame-duck Congress? Gates himself hinted at the answer: training (i.e. brainwashing) could begin earlier. Think about that. Troops drawn from America’s heartland will be “trained” to appreciate sodomy—or else. Wonder if they’ll break out those little Maoist dunce caps while they’re at it?
The military keeps ducking bullets in the Senate. A procedural vote on the policy failed to overcome a Republican filibuster on December 9—just barely. But Harry Reid, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman seem determined to jam it through in a separate bill.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs warned before the vote: “Either Congress is going to solve this legislatively, or the courts are going to solve this. The policy is going to come to an end.” Who cares if the Pentagon’s recent survey showed that Army and Marine combat troops overwhelmingly oppose lifting the policy?
Despite the treachery still being hatched in the Senate, most of the dirty work to redefine morality as bigotry has been initiated in the courts.
It was a California federal judge, Virginia Philips, who struck down the military’s law in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America (could any case be more aptly titled?). She then issued a dictum to the entire armed forces here and abroad to make bases gay-friendly. Before the Ninth Circuit issued a temporary halt to her order, Obama’s Pentagon suspended the policy, then made it more difficult to enforce.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 6, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the challenge to California’s Prop 8 marriage amendment. A ruling is expected within three to 12 months. The case will then go to the full Ninth Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In November 2008, more than seven million Californians voted for Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. From the beginning, it was clear that California’s ruling elites were working to destroy marriage. Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger violated their oaths of office by refusing to defend Prop. 8.
The case mysteriously keeps winding up before leftwing activist judges. Openly gay U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker used it as a platform to promote homosexuality and disparage traditional religious beliefs. He equated biblical morality with prejudice, and struck Prop 8 down.
The case then went to the Ninth’s three-judge panel with two Democratic and one Republican appointees. One of them, Jimmy Carter appointee Stephen Reinhardt, is married to Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU. That’s the group that took a lead role in opposing Prop 8, counseled plaintiffs, and filed an amicus brief.
Addressing this blatant conflict of interest, Reinhardt brushed it aside, saying, “I will be able to rule impartially.” Sure he will, like he did in the 2002 case in which he decided to strike the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Reinhardt is the poster boy for loony left federal jurists.
The ruling elites are, by hook or by crook, trying to make over America in their own corrupt image. The American people should be outraged by this pattern of legal activism that flouts the U.S. and state constitutions, the will of the people and basic rules of court conduct.
In his dissent in Romer v. Evans (1996), in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s Amendment 2, a popularly-approved law that barred misapplying civil rights status to “sexual orientation,” Justice Antonin Scalia pinpointed the problem:
“This court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality … is evil. I vigorously dissent.”
Later, in his dissent in Lawrence v Texas (2003), in which the court cited international opinion in overturning the Texas sodomy law, Scalia wrote:
“Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”
Well, to accomplish that, they’re going to have to burn all the Bibles, suspend the workings of biology and scrub the history books clean of 5,000 years of the universal understanding that sex belongs between men and women in marriage. And they’re going to have to wipe out the First Amendment while they’re at it.
That’s no small feat, even for Masters of the Universe like Judge Reinhardt, Barack Obama and Robert Gates.
The Feminist Deception
Making the rounds on YouTube these days is a film of a group of manly looking women preparing for and conducting a "flash dance" in a Philadelphia food store. The crew of ladies, dressed in tight black clothes and sequined accessories, arrives at The Fresh Grocer supermarket, breaks into a preplanned chant ordering shoppers not to buy Sabra and Tribe hummus and telling them to oppose Israeli "apartheid" and support "Palestine."
From their attire and attitude, it is fairly clear that the participants in the video would congratulate themselves on their commitment to the downtrodden, the wretched of the earth suffering under the jackboot of the powerful. They would likely all also describe themselves as feminists.
But if being a human rights activist means attacking the only country in the Middle East that defends human rights, then that means that at the very basic level, the term "human rights activist" is at best an empty term. And if being a feminist means attacking the only country in the Middle East where women enjoy freedom and equal rights, then feminism too, has become at best, a meaningless term. Indeed, if these anti-Israel female protesters are feminists, then feminism is dead.
In 1995, then first lady Hillary Clinton spoke at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. There Clinton seemed to embrace the role of championing the rights of women and human rights worldwide when she proclaimed, "It is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights...If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all."
Yet as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton - like her fellow self-described feminists - has chosen to single Israel out for opprobrium while keeping nearly mum on the institutionalized, structural oppression of women and girls throughout the Muslim world. In so acting, Clinton is of course, loyally representing the views of the Obama administration she serves. She is also representing the views of the ideological Left in which Clinton, US President Barack Obama, the human rights and feminist movements are all deeply rooted.
Since the height of the feminist movement in the late 1960s, non-leftist women in the West and Israel have been hard-pressed to answer the question of whether or not we are feminists. Non-leftist women are opposed to the oppression of women. Certainly, we are no less opposed to the oppression of women than leftist women are.
But at its most basic level, the feminist label has never been solely or even predominantly about preventing and ending oppression or discrimination of women. It has been about advancing the Left's social and political agenda against Western societies. It has been about castigating societies where women enjoy legal rights and protections as "structurally" discriminatory against women in order to weaken the legal, moral and social foundations of those societies.
That is, rather than being about advancing the cause of women, to a large extent, the feminist movement has used the language of women's rights to advance a social and political agenda that has nothing to do with women. So to a large degree, the feminist movement itself is a deception.
The deception at the heart of the feminist movement is nowhere more apparent than in the silence with which self-professed feminists and feminist movements ignore the inhumane treatment of women who live under Islamic law. If feminism weren't a hollow term, then prominent feminists would be the leaders of the anti-jihad movement. Gloria Steinem and her sisters would be leading the call for the overthrow of the anti-female mullocracy in Iran and the end of gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia.
Instead, in 2008 Ms. Magazine, which Steinem founded and which has served as the mouthpiece of the American feminist movement, refused to run an ad featuring then foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and then speaker of the Knesset Dalia Itzik that ran under the headline, "This is Israel." It was too partisan, the magazine claimed.
Leading feminist voices in the US and Europe remain unforgivably silent on the unspeakable oppression of women and girls in Islamic societies. And this cannot simply be attributed to a lack of interest in international affairs. Islamic subjugation and oppression of women happens in Western countries as well. Genital mutilation, forced marriage and other forms of abuse are widespread.
For instance, every year hundreds of Muslim women and girls in Western countries are brutally murdered by their male relatives in so-called "honor killings." Pamela Geller, the intrepid blogger at Atlas Shrugs website has steadfastly documented every case she has found. This year she ran an ad campaign on public buses and taxis in major US cities to raise public awareness of their plight. And for her singular efforts in championing the right to life of Muslim women and girls, she has been reviled by the Left as an anti-Islamic bigot.
Former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali was forced to flee Holland and live surrounded by bodyguards for the past six years because she has made an issue of Islamic oppression of women and girls. The Left - including the feminist movement - has treated this remarkable former Muslim and champion of women's rights as a leper.
If all the feminist community's policy of ignoring Islamic oppression of women did was keep it out of the headlines it would still be unforgivable. But the fact is that by not speaking of the central challenge to women's rights in our times, the organized feminist movement, and the Left it is a part of, are abetting Islam's unspeakable crimes against women and girls. It does so in two ways.
Tyranny unchallenged is tyranny abetted. And the first way that the organized feminist movement and the Left abet the oppression of women by Islamic authorities is by signaling to those authorities that they can get away with it. This truth is laid bare by the responses of Islamic authorities in the rare cases where their oppression of women has received Western attention.
For instance, in 2006, an Iranian Islamic court found Mohammadi-Ashtiani guilty of adultery and sentenced the ethnic Azeri kindergarten teacher and mother of two to death by stoning. She was later also found guilty of murdering her husband. Ashtiani's confessions in both cases were extracted under torture. She has already received 99 lashes for her reputed initial crime. Not a Farsi or Arabic speaker, when her adultery trial ended, Ashtiani didn't even know she was convicted or what her sentence was.
In recent years, Ashtiani's children assisted by Iranian émigré and non-leftist human rights groups launched a courageous campaign to save her life. Over the past year, the campaign was covered in the Western media and garnered the support of notables such as the French and Canadian prime ministers' wives as well as international film stars like Lindsay Lohan, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Robert Redford and Juliette Binoche.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International got on board this past summer and decried her treatment. Clinton herself gave a half sentence condemnation of Ashtiani's persecution in August. Indeed, the international attention focused on Ashtiani may have been the reason the Obama administration belatedly voiced opposition to Iran's election to the new UN women's rights council. Iran was elected by acclamation in April, but later defeated by India when a roll call vote was called.
Reeling from this criticism, Iranian authorities began backtracking. First they claimed Ashtiani's death sentence would be cancelled. Then they said she would be hanged rather than stoned. Today her fate remains unclear and her life is still in grave danger. But if pressure on Iranian authorities keeps up, there is a reasonable chance that Ashtiani's long ordeal will end in life, rather than death.
Ashtiani's case is proof that when the West makes the barbaric abuse of women an issue, the Islamic world attenuates its abuse of women. Pressure works. In contrast, an absence of pressure empowers the oppressors.
The second way that the feminists and the Left they are a part of abet Islamic oppression of women is through their animosity towards Israel. When the Shariah- besotted leaders of the Muslim world see the Western Left devote its energies to attacking Israel - the only human rights and women's rights protecting country in the Middle East - they see there is no reason for them to reconsider their willingness to tyrannize their women and girls.
Take Indonesia for example. In 2003, then Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri agreed that as part of a ceasefire agreement, the separatist Aceh province was allowed to institute Shariah law as the law of the province. In 2009, the Aceh parliament passed a law making adultery punishable by stoning. On the central squares of the province that is home to 4 million, people are routinely publicly whipped for offenses against Islam.
For example, just last Friday Anis Saputra, 24, and Kiki Hanafilia, 17 each received eight lashes in a public ceremony outside a local mosque for being caught kissing in October. The two are reportedly married to other people and they apparently were given lashes rather than stoned to death because they had yet to consummate their alleged romance.
Last year the province also forbade women and girls from wearing pants. A France 24 investigation of Shariah in Aceh showed a traumatized 14 year old girl who was beset by Islamic police on her way home from school. They cut her jeans off in the middle of the street.
Yet rather than criticize Indonesia for these appalling developments, last month Obama visited Jakarta and waxed poetic about Islamic tolerance of differences and applauded Indonesia for its commitment to democracy. And while ignoring Indonesia's repressive Shariah-ruled province where Islamic oppression is the rule not the exception, Obama devoted his criticism to attacking Israel for allowing Jews to build homes in Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that attitudes that discriminate against women exist today in Western countries as well as in Israel. Women in the free world have unique challenges to overcome because of our gender. But a sense of proportion is required here. These challenges are not overwhelming, systemic or in most cases life-threatening.
On the other hand, hundreds of millions of women and girls throughout the Islamic world are daily terrorized by everyone from their families to their judges. They have no reason to believe that if challenged their rights - even their right to life - will be protected.
The fact that the ladies in Philadelphia decided to take their stand against Israel and that that Clinton and Obama attack Israel for building homes for Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria while they all ignore the suffering of the women of Islam speaks volumes about the degradation of the West under the Left's social and political leadership. It also tells non-leftist women in the West that being pro-women's rights and being a feminist are increasingly mutually exclusive.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.