Friday, September 21, 2007

WaPo ties itself in knots to avoid the obvious

In "5 Myths About Terrorism" in the Washington Post (thanks to Steve), Alan B. Krueger provides a sterling example of the politically correct myopia that prevents an accurate analysis of the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. And he does so in such a clumsy way that it is remarkable that no one at the paper caught this before it was printed:
4. Terrorism is mainly perpetrated by Muslims.

Wrong. No religion has a monopoly on terrorism. Every major religious faith has had followers involved in terrorism. (Sri Lanka, for instance, has grappled for decades with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group that pioneered suicide bombing as a terrorist tactic and hopes to create a homeland for the country's mostly Tamil minority, who are largely Hindu.) Although radical Islamic terrorists are the worry du jour because of 9/11 and Iraq, the data show pretty clearly that the predominant religion of a country is not a good predictor of whether its people will become involved in terrorism.

After all, it was not long ago that homegrown villains such as Timothy McVeigh and the so-called Unabomber were the most notorious terrorists. That makes sense; the vast majority of terrorist incidents are local, motivated by local concerns and carried out by natives. Even international terrorist events tend to be local affairs, most frequently carried out by local militants who target foreigners who happen to be in their country. (Just think of last week's foiled plot to attack U.S. targets in Germany.) This suggests that the likelihood of attack by homegrown terrorists is far greater than the threat of another 9/11-style attack by foreigners.
Did you catch that? Terrorism isn't "mainly perpetrated by Muslims" because "no religion has a monopoly on terrorism." This doesn't even establish what Krueger wants it to establish, because the fact that people of all religions have committed terrorist acts doesn't disprove the contention that terrorism is mainly perpetrated by Muslims. If one group is responsible for something, say, 80% of the time, it is mainly responsible for it: you can't point to the existence of the other 20% as if it were proof that the 80% group is not mainly responsible.

Also, it should be obviously absurd to everyone at this point, but of course it isn't, to drag out poor old McVeigh, and the Unabomber to boot, and stack them up as equivalent to the plethora of armed Islamic organizations that can be found all over the planet, and the more the 9,000 terror attacks committed in the name of Islam since 9/11. But of course since the overwhelming majority of those have not been reported by Krueger's friends with any significant mention or exploration of the Islamic texts and teachings that the perpetrators used to justify them, most Americans don't realize that they have anything to do with Islam in the first place -- while every schoolchild knows that McVeigh was a Christian (he wasn't).

Finally, it is in no way relevant to a discussion of terrorism in general, much less Islamic jihad terrorism in particular, to assert that "every major religious faith has had followers involved in terrorism." It's a shame that such superficial analysis is so dominant these days. While the statement may be broadly true, it brushes by the central question: does Islamic theology and tradition contain any elements that encourage its followers to be involved in terrorism? Do other religions? This is a central consideration of my book Religion of Peace?, and it is a question media and policymakers should be asking. They don't, of course, because CAIR and others have mau-maued them into thinking that even to ask such questions promotes "bigotry" and "intolerance," as well as that trumped-up concept "Islamophobia." It never occurs to them that such discussions would actually aid the moderate Muslims they profess to support, being a necessary step toward the self-criticism that would have to be an essential component of any genuine Islamic reform.


Quebec shows some backbone -- so far

As religious prescriptions for living lately have come to be infused into daily life in novel and provocative ways, the question is often posed: Has the presence of Islam changed the face of social relations in the West? The question has especially animated Canada's bilingual Quebec province - a political entity that seeks to apply the rule of law to all its residents, without exception. This is a debate we'd do well to consider, as voices raised to implement and to protest exceptions to the law become more frequent, more strident, and more divisive.

In the beginning was the town of Herouxville (motto: Carpe Diem), whose municipal council unanimously adopted a code (in English and in French) of "societal norms" in January. These applied to the town's 1,300 residents, but concerned future resident immigrants, especially. Most noted was language condemning public stoning of women and genital excision. The point? The fact that "men and women have the same value." And that from this derives
"a woman's right to drive an automobile, vote her conscience, sign checks, dance, and decide for herself."
The town's normative code also remarks that Quebeckers are wont to decorate Christmas trees and patronize physicians of either gender, that cuts of pork and beef may very well mingle on the butcher's table, and that girls and boys do swim together. This being, the charter continues,
"we consider it unacceptable to stone women to death in the public square, or to burn them alive, disfigure them with acid, or subject them to genital mutilation."
It also requires residents to expose their faces, at all times, in public, for purposes of identification (All Hallow's Eve excepted).

The Herouxville code was inflammatory by design, and resembles the resolution, passed unanimously by Quebec's National Assembly in May 2005, that opposed the creation of Islamic tribunals in the province (and across the nation, they hoped). This resolution was the product of disputes that had gripped Ontario over the reasonableness of Islamic arbitration, and made Quebec the first province to expressly forbid Islamic (sharia) law. After the vote, the Premier noted:
"It's important to send a very clear message that there's one rule of law in Quebec." "In our case, we are very much an inclusive society, but a society that will govern itself by one set of rules."
Quebeckers largely agreed, and 80% of those surveyed in February claimed to support the elimination of religious accommodations across the province.

Finally, the Herouxville "norms" raised such a chahut (ruckus) across the province that Quebec Premier Jean Charest felt impelled to charter a special commission to examine the lengths to which the province ought to "accommodate" religious minorities. And in a surprising turnaround two weeks later -- on the heels of a visit from a Muslim women's delegation, and threats of action by the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Canadian Muslim Forum -- "genital excision" and "public stoning of women" were dropped from the code for reason of perceived anti-Muslim bias.

And yet, Quebeckers did not abandon the discussion of religious concessions; the Herouxville code served to ferment the debate, which has exploded into view since the Premier's commission began its work this month. Since January-and in the last weeks, expecially-the number of articles published on the subject of "reasonable accommodations," and the commission's own charter, has become difficult to ignore.

Montreal's La Presse recently complained of "reasonable accommodations" throughout the province, including prenatal courses forbidden to men (for purposes of gender segregation), and steps taken to respect the "cultural and religious specificity" of hospital guests. These include allowing male relations to supervise medical examinations of women. Concessions like these were conceived to satisfy a number of Quebec's Muslims, who objected to unsupervised, intimate contact between a woman and her physician. Complaints against concessions made to Quebec's Jewish and Sikh communities also feature prominently, but it's clear by the language employed by the Herouxville councilors, media types, and members of the political establishment, that demands from within and about Quebec's Muslims are driving the agenda.

Reflecting on Quebec's present discussion, I wonder what it will take to provoke a debate on "reasonable accommodations" in the United States. And when will we conclude that accommodation of religious practice cannot come without conditions? H,rouxville represents a symbolic (if Quixotic) gesture by an almost entirely homogeneous provincial settlement, which hopes to denounce offences presumably covered by Canada's criminal code. The point for these Quebeckers was not to break ground for new law, but to make clear that the ideas that contribute to certain religious practice are in and of themselves reprehensible. "Appalling," not "different."

Quebeckers don't want to argue with God; and they have taken steps to guarantee that refusal to debate God's mind does not require one to endorse others' eccentric or cruel customs for harmony's sake -- or to keep the peace. Quebec, the "most godless province in the West," by one count or another, nonetheless seeks to impose a single legal framework within her boundaries. She will not be a province under God, but she will demand liberty and (a single) justice for all-whether one is of mass or minority opinion.

Whatever occurs, Quebec's public hearings on "reasonable accommodations" for religious minorities have now begun, and will continue throughout November, in 17 communities across the province. Recommendations will be read to the provincial government and the public in March 2008.

I hope that Quebec will shrug off allegations of "Islamophobia," and choose instead to endorse equality before the law. In so doing, the province will have presented a model for public discussion, and may suggest answers to our own, whispered questions. Quebec will be well worth watching in the coming year.

How the commission's recommendations will square with Quebeckers' ideas on the subject of accommodation-and whether the commission's position will be taken as evidence of dread aplatventrisme (prostrate surrender), we can't be sure. Aplatventrisme or "reasonable accommodation"? For many Quebeckers, it's become a tomayto/tomahto sort of thing.


The Unbound West

Some thoughts from the very incorrect Fred Reed -- who lives in Mexico these days

Today, thunderous matters of cosmic import: why has the West dominated scientific and technological advance practically forever? This has certainly been the truth for many years. From—take your pick: 1500 on?—the West has produced both the scientific giants and the fields in which they flourished. Many of the towering figures are unknown today, but they towered. The modern world is almost totally a Western invention. This is not a politically correct view, but it is undeniable. Name any field of note—genetics, electronics, computers, anything. The West invented it.

Now, we—I am assuming a mostly white European readership—could think that, well, we pale folk are just smarter than those mere wogs—though of course we are too kind to say so. The problem is that, on the evidence, the wogs often seem to be smarter than we are. On a great thicket of IQ tests, East Asians come in with IQs ahead of those of whites. At Harvard, roughly a quarter of the students are Asian.

Then why has the West regularly out-invented them? It isn’t an inability to handle technology. Spend an afternoon in downtown Bangkok, and you will see a city that seems as modern as any. The Skytrain (the elevated subway) is efficient, clean, and in no way inferior to Washington’s Metro. Phones work, broadband is taken for granted. But it was all invented by Euro-civilization. Other places just borrow it well or, often, not very well.

Ponder the Chinese. Hong Kong is New York City with slanted eyes—as smart, hard-nosed, and go-for-the-throat as Manhattan. The Chinese can play in that league. Taiwan is a major high-tech power for its almost nonexistent size. Ask a round-eye kid at Berkeley what it is like to compete with the Asian students. But the engineering, math, and so on were developed in the West. The Japanese are geniuses at engineering. I don’t drive a Toyota or shoot with a Canon SLR because they don’t work. The Japanese can take a Western invention, improve on it, and manufacture it cheaper than Westerners can. No, it isn’t a matter of lower wages. My Corolla was built in California. The Japanese are just plain good.

But cars and cameras, the Internet, integrated circuitry, radar, the double-helix, and so on for five times the length of this magazine were invented or discovered in the West. Read the history of mathematics. It is littered with massively gifted men of a type who seldom appeared elsewhere: Galois, Gauss, Newton, Lagrange, Euclid, Archimedes, and so on for pages. Only in the West. Why?

I can only guess, but I suspect that folk wisdom explains it well. There is an Asian saying, “The nail that stands up is beaten down.” Then there is the Johnny Paycheck song “Take this Job and Shove It.” Which culture will produce the student who drops out of college because he would rather wing it and try to start a business? (For example, a fellow named Gates. Or Dell.) Western culture appears to embrace a salubrious anarchy. Westerners do not seem as bound by tradition or as acquiescent to society’s expectations. A powerful individualism keeps breaking out. It may change, but so far it hasn’t.

When I lived in the alleys of Taiwan, children sat on wooden boxes in front of dirt-poor houses and studied. (This was in 1976. Today Taiwan is no longer poor.) They were bright and disciplined and in any competition would have eaten American kids alive. But it was rote. The orderliness and discipline were, I thought, a sort of prison. Recently, my wife Violeta taught Spanish to foreigners. Her Asian students, she says, were smart and studious, but would never question the teacher. My ex-wife, a harpsichordist out of the Indiana School of Music, studied for a while at Peabody Institute in Baltimore with Asian students. She described them as technically perfect and practiced to death but … it wasn’t quite musical. (Her standards are high, granted.)

In Taipei, I used to go to the national museum, which housed priceless art that Chiang Kai-shek, thank God, rescued from the communists. It was lovely, subtle, just plain wonderful. But, but… Take the painting. Generation after generation, artists treated the same themes in the same manner. Compare this static quality to the progression in Western painting from Neoclassicism through Impressionism, Cubism, Modigliani, Hopper, what have you. All good, but stylistically from different planets. The difference is between “this is how you are supposed to do it” and “this is how I am going to do it.”

Call it bullheadedness, self-indulgence, disdain for authority, or independence of mind. Westerners seem disposed to try anything they can think of and see whether it works. Often it does. A salubrious anarchy.


Australian Leftist commentators bubbling over with deluded hatred

LIKE those inexperienced footballers who attempt to dispose of the ball before they have it, Australia's standing army of Howard-haters has gone beyond predicting a Labor victory at the forthcoming federal election. They are now explaining, and claiming ownership of, that victory. Writing on this page last month, Phillip Adams put John Howard's looming defeat down to the fact the Prime Minister's "wedging, vote-buying and sundry pork-barrelling has confirmed the electorate's worst suspicions about his deviousness". Any evidence those suspicions are widespread outside the echo-chamber of Late Night Live, Phil?

Adams continued: "Honest John is now seen to be as tricky as Dicky. Our increasingly Nixonian PM is focusing on his worst attributes and sinking into deeper do-do and disrepute." Apparently, after years of ignoring the prophets of the cultural Left, the electorate has woken up to the truth of what they have been saying all along: that Howard is evil incarnate.

Reading Adams, I was reminded of a comment made to me recently by a Left-leaning friend who works in one of the arts industries: that Australians are about to ditch the Government because of its abandonment of the anti-Semitic terrorism-supporter David Hicks.

But if a kind of Rip Van Winkle theory of the electorate was merely hinted at by Adams, it was outlined in great detail last weekend by Hugh Mackay, the social researcher and Fairfax columnist whom Tim Blair recently dubbed "Australia's most boring human". The key point about the election, wrote Mackay, will be its "retrospective character". This will be an election "about the past - the Government's and ours - catching up with us".

The poll will demonstrate the electorate awakening from a "dreamy period" during which it has disgracefully prioritised material satisfactions over principled politics. And can you guess whose pet peeves will be legitimised in this catch-up? "Many Australians who have felt powerless will want to punish this Government for sins long past," Mackay says. "Those who once marched in support of Aboriginal reconciliation, for instance, will decide it was not good enough, after all, to simply push that idea off the agenda. "Those who were ashamed of our treatment of asylum-seekers, but let themselves become anaesthetised by propaganda, will decide it was wrong to capitulate. Those who took the easy path of prejudice against ethnic or religious groups will decide they are capable of nobler responses than that. "Those who were too dozy to react to their gut instinct that told them the anti-terrorism laws went too far will think again."

But why, Hugh? Why would voters who rejected the reasons put forward by the cultural Left to ditch Howard in 1998, 2001 and 2004 suddenly accept those as the best reasons to ditch him now?

Similar threads were apparent in an extraordinary opinion article by Catherine Deveny in The Age yesterday. "If I were John Howard, I'd be praying for a terrorist attack," wrote Deveny, revealing a level of bloody-mindedness I wouldn't have expected even from the worst of the Howard and Bush-haters. Deveny looks forward to an election-night party that will deliver her and her crowd their long-delayed revenge. "The angry and disillusioned (I take it she means the green and the Left) are hoping for a grudge match come election night," she writes. "It's not enough for the Howard administration to be voted out. People want to see blood. They want to see Howard cockily strutting into the election claiming smugly, 'We are the underdog' ... only for it to go horribly wrong as the votes come in. "It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it."

And I bet it gives Howard goose bumps just reading about it. Do Mackay and Deveny even realise what utter poison it is to Labor's cause if voters in outer-suburban seats get a sniff of the looming triumphalism of those who seek to turn politics into either a moral crusade ("nobler responses") or a blood sport?

Anyway, do we really need such abstruse and self-serving theories as these to explain the predicament of the Howard Government? Here's a simpler account, based on the universal logic of the use-by date. The electorate is considering a change of government for the same reason I just traded in my old Commodore: as any unit ages, it becomes less reliable. While voters have, in fact, been toying with a political upgrade for some time, Labor has previously failed to satisfy one of the basic criteria: sound leadership. Voters thought Mark Latham was too volatile, Kim Beazley too soft. But in Rudd they are prepared to embrace a leader every bit as conservative, temperamentally cautious and safe-handed as Howard.

A disclaimer: the above theory is not original. It was unrolled before me by Rudd himself, five months ago, in the bookshop at Sydney Airport, as we stood leafing through Anne Applebaum's superb new study of the Soviet gulag and pondering whether to buy it. (I did; he didn't.)

Let me say that, as a swinging voter, I don't invest anything like Deveny's emotional energy in the outcome of the election. Rather, I celebrate the convergence of the main parties, which testifies to the contemporary Australian settlement in favour of markets as the fairest mechanism for distributing scarce resources, and the US alliance as the foundation of our foreign relations.

That said, if the Government falls, will I be discomfited by the crowing of the Howard-haters, against whom I have spent most of the past 15 years at war? Well, OK, yes. But even as I cringe under that cacophonous onslaught, I will be anticipating a more familiar and comforting sound: their howls of disappointment, as Rudd reveals he is no more a victim of their prejudices than Howard.



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 is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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