“Mourning in America”: A Brilliant Inversion of Reagan’s Classic Campaign Ad

From John Steele Gordon at Commentary comes the helpful suggestion to watch the Great Communicator’s version first.  “Morning in America” is one of the iconic ads that the Reagan re-election campaign deployed against the uninspiring VP of a failed president, en route to winning 49 states.  I voted against Reagan twice, but now believe him to be by far the greatest president of my lifetime.  If you have any fond memories of the man at all, this will help stir them.

Now an apparently new group called Citizens for the Republic — named after Reagan’s political action committee — has adapted Reagan’s message to the current era, as “Mourning in America”:

The more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone is what makes the ad so effective.  It’s astonishing to consider just how much havoc Obama has created in our economy in less than two years.

A recent summation by James Taranto indulges in a bit more anger, but holds out hope for a new morning:

By now it should be clear that the only new idea Obama introduced into American politics was the idea of Obama: Obama the voice of a new generation, Obama the brilliant technocrat, Obama the postracial leader.

The reality of Obama has been quite the opposite. The fresh-faced young leader has governed according to stale old ideas. The dazzling intellect has proved inadequate to basic managerial challenges. We haven’t even been able to enjoy the achievement of having elected a black president, because so many of Obama’s supporters (though not Obama himself, to his credit) won’t shut up about how every criticism of the president and his policies is “racist.”

Yet in America’s current predicament, there is ample reason for optimism. We’d like to think that the failure of Obama’s policies will discredit the bad economic ideas on which they’re based, that his incompetence will discredit the notion that the cognitive elite should run the lives of everyone else, and that the phony charges of racism will discredit the long-outdated assumption of white guilt, at last bringing America close to the ideal of a colorblind society.

This is not to deny that the Obama presidency has been ruinous. But sometimes the costliest mistakes are those from which we learn the most.

Should French Women Wear Burqas at the Ground Zero Mosque?

Which outfit do you find offensive?

Sometimes I blog to share what I think.  Other times I blog to try to decide what I think.

I don’t know what to think about the French Parliament’s vote last week to ban the wearing of the burqa and niqab.  More precisely:

The legislation adopted Tuesday by the Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament, forbids people from concealing their faces in public. It makes no reference to Islam, and includes exceptions for people who need to cover up for work reasons, such as riot police and surgeons.

Despite the “inclusive” language, nobody disputes the obvious fact that the target of the law is the practice among a small minority of French Muslim women of wearing garments that conceal them from head to toe.

I come to this topic via an online debate published today on The Wall Street Journal‘s website.  In an exchange of emails, Journal Editorial Board members Matthew Kaminsky and Bret Stephens stake out opposing positions on whether the French ban is appropriate.  Stephens offers 10 numbered points in support.  They start to become persuasive in the second half:

6) At the core of liberalism is the concept of the individual. Individual choice is important, but ultimately not as important as the individual who makes it. In the public sphere, the individual is defined first by her face; it is the principal way we can recognize her as such. The purpose of the burqa/niqab is not to protect “female modesty,” which in Islam (and, indeed, Judaism) can be practiced by covering one’s hair. Instead, the purpose is to erase the individual. So to allow the burqa/niqab violates the most basic precept of liberal society.

7) Also violated by the burqa/niqab is the fundamental liberal concept of equality. Only female identity is erased here; only the female half of the population effectively disappears from public view. To suggest that women can be separate but equal…. well, I don’t need to spell the rest out.

8 ) Who are we kidding? You can suppose that some of the women wearing the burqa/niqab genuinely want to do so. But you can be sure many of them do so only out of fear of abusive, sometimes murderous, husbands/brothers/fathers. The incidence of honor killings or of husbands mutilating their wives is on the rise throughout Europe, in part because Europe allows Muslim immigrants to get away with enforcing medieval social norms in their urban ghettos. This ought to be discouraged.

Kaminsky counters with religious freedom:

But the real issue here is one of principle. A state—a majority Christian state, to boot—is mandating how members of a minority religion should go about practicing theirs. I am troubled by the headscarf ban, but at least that applied only in public schools. Here the police will have the right to pull a piece of clothing off you in the middle of the street. Islam is the target: they’re not saying the Krishnas should stop wearing those “revealing” outfits or Orthodox Jewish women can’t wear wigs that, to some eyes, conceal their identity. What next, laws on mandating skirts be this long or this short?

Can't tell the oppressive headgear without a program

You’ll say it’s different. That the full Islamofemme getup is a tool of oppression. Sure, maybe on cultural grounds, as seen by your eyes. But to some of them it is about free speech and their religion and their right to honor their culture, however distasteful to our eyes. Who are you to say what it is and isn’t?

Still I am no less a feminist than Bret is. By all means, let’s do all we can to liberate Muslim women. In Europe’s Muslim communities that comes down to schooling, jobs and law enforcement. Leave the fashion police to Saudi Arabia. We get into serious trouble if we say, “oh the headscarf is ok, but the burqa ain’t”. Imagine if such a proposal even came up in the US (inshallah, it won’t): it would — for now — be laughed off the public square.

Yes, on this topic at least, America is more progressive than France.

The discussion brings to mind the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque.  It’s not immediately clear whether the similarities or the differences are more compelling.

Similarities: Both controversies involve religious freedom — although a case can be made that burqas are a cultural invention, not a religious one, as the burqa apparently has no basis in the Qu’ran.  Both involve some degree of mistrust and anxiety about Muslims.  Both involve lopsided majorities — 70% opposition to the Ground Zero mosque in America, a vote of 246-1 in favor of the burqa ban in the French Parliament.

But there’s one huge difference.  In France, the state itself is imposing the burqa ban.  In America, the Ground Zero mosque is opposed not by the government, but by citizens exercising their freedom of speech.

As has happened in the past, the process of researching and writing a blog post is helping me decide what I think.

Neither issue is a slam dunk. Both arguments require careful parsing.  In Lower Manhattan, I oppose the building of a $100 million Islamic trophy on the site of a building damaged by falling debris on 9/11.  But I applaud the fact that Muslims are welcome to gather in prayer in a Pentagon chapel less than 100 feet from where that plane crashed.  There’s some tension between these positions, but I’m comfortable with both.

I sympathize with the French opposition to the burqa.  As a lifelong proponent of equal rights and opportunities for women, I find the very concept of the burqa repugnant, and I will never believe that women wear it as a matter of “choice” in any meaningful sense of the term.

But I think France goes a step too far in imposing a governmental ban.  That 246-1 vote reflects the fact that most of the opposition Socialists abstained in the vote.  The Journal reports: “Many Socialist Party lawmakers have said that they oppose the full-body veils, but that they would prefer to do so through dialogue and other means, not through legislation.”

I never thought I would say this, but here goes:  I’m with the French Socialists on this one.

In “Let’s Roll,” Neil Young Channels His Inner Neocon

This blog has a new theme song.

As quasi-obsessive as I am about 9/11, I can’t understand how Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll” escaped my notice from November 2001, when he first released the single, until today.  Thanks to Facebook friend Meg Marlowe for posting a YouTube link to the live version a few hours ago. [Note: the live version got deleted, the link now points to a music video.]

I love every syllable of the lyrics, but here’s the passage that qualifies the song as an anthem for All That Is Necessary:

No one has the answer
But one thing is true
You’ve gotta turn on evil
When it’s coming after you

You gotta face it down
And when it tries to hide
You gotta go in after it
And never be denied

I actually prefer the studio version, which you can also hear in its entirety via iLike.com.  (Mr. Young, I don’t know whether this post or any of the links violate your copyright, but FWIW, I just bought the song on iTunes.)

I’ve always loved Neil Young’s music, and in my youth I loved his politics as well.  I’m thinking particularly about  “Ohio,” the haunting Vietnam-era rally cry with its semi-explicit call to revolution (“gotta get down to it… should have been done long ago.”) In the three-plus decades since then, Young clearly hasn’t traveled as far down the neocon path as I have — in 2006 he released “Let’s Impeach the President,” which I won’t be buying.  But it’s amazing to me that the man who wrote “Let’s Impeach” and “Ohio” could also produce, in “Let’s Roll,” a clear-eyed clarion call without the slightest whiff of anti-American sentiment.  As Meg said on Facebook, “we all grow, right?”

Never Forget

This annual post was first published two years ago.  It is dedicated to the men and women of the United States armed forces, and to every firefighter who has ever run into a burning building — 343 of them in particular.

The name of this blog comes from something that English statesman Edmund Burke apparently did not actually say, so I’ve felt free to modernize the language:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Regardless of who said it first, that sentence is the purest possible distillation of my worldview, and today is a powerful annual reminder of why I regard it as an enduring truth.

The events of 9/11 were the legacy of more than two decades of doing nothing, or next to nothing, in response to attacks from fascists in Islamic guise.

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

Only after 9/11 did America, led by a President who despite his substantial flaws was resolute enough to call evil by its name, finally mount a sustained response and take the battle to the enemy. And no, Saddam was not behind the 9/11 attacks — but liberating Iraq and planting a (still-fragile) democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East is an essential part of the broader war.

All of this is why, despite profound disagreements with the Republican Party on social issues, despite voting for Bill Clinton three times (including 2000), I can no longer vote for Democrats for President. Not until the party has a standard-bearer who understands the cost of meekness in the face of fascism, and who is prepared to stay on the offensive against people for whom “death to America” is not a metaphor.

Time Magazine Jumps Through the Anti-Semitic Looking Glass

Just ahead of the high holy days, Time magazine turns reality on its head with an astonishingly offensive cover story.

Inside a Star of David constructed of white peace daisies on a blue background borrowed from the Israeli flag, the headline reads “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”

Yes, that’s right, Time says it’s Israel dragging its feet on the peace process.  As Daniel Gordis says in a savagely efficient takedown on the Commentary website:

Here we are in the middle of peace negotiations that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted upon, and to which the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, had to be dragged, and Time writes about “why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” Is there no limit to the Israel-bashing that now passes for serious conversion in polite society?

But wait, there’s more.  What would Time have us believe about why Israel doesn’t care about peace?  Turns out it’s because the Jews are busy making money.  You can’t make this stuff up.

My thoughts about the Jewish state are best summed up by a blog post titled “I Stand With Israel.”  L’shana tova to my Jewish brothers and sisters on Rosh Hashanah — may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Park51 Would Be the Most Expensive Islamic Center in North America

Artist rendering of Park51

One of the first thoughts that occurred to me when I began writing about the planned 13-story, 100,000 square foot, $100 million Islamic center near Ground Zero is, “surely this would be the biggest Islamic facility in the country?” To me, the trophy-building scale of the project is what makes it objectionable at that site.

But despite the zillions of words that have been written about the controversy, and despite the time-honored journalistic tendency to identify the biggest this and the tallest that, I’ve looked in vain for anything providing that bit of context.

It turns out that such comparisons are not easily made.  But after surveying the competition, I believe that if it is built, Park51 arguably will be the largest and tallest, and certainly will be the most expensive, Islamic center in North America.

Islamic Center of America, Dearborn, Michigan

If you Google “largest mosque in America,” the first result is the Islamic Center of America, which according to its website is a 70,000-square-foot complex in Dearborn, Michigan.  It includes a mosque that will accommodate 1,000 worshipers at a time (700 men downstairs, 300 women upstairs, just to remind you who is considered important), as well as a full-service banquet facility and a school.  This represents the first two of four planned phases of construction, with an auditorium and more educational facilities still to come.  “When all four phases are complete, the Islamic Center of America will be the largest in North America,” the website says.

The website gives the cost of the mosque as $14 million.  It’s not clear whether that is the final cost or just the phases built so far, but in either event it clearly won’t approach the $100 million pricetag of Park 51.  The dome in Dearborn is listed as 150 feet high, and the two minarets are said to be “10 stories tall”.  I’ve not been able to find a height for Park51 expressed in feet, but 13 stories implies about 150-160 feet.

Islamic Center of Washington

The Islamic Center of Washington, where George Bush removed his shoes on September 17, 2001, and declared that “Islam is peace,” was opened in 1957, and I could not find any estimates of its cost or square footage.   A Washington Post article refers to the “distinctive 160-foot minaret,” but the main building is only 2 or 3 stories tall.

Islamic Cultural Center of New York

The current largest Islamic facility in New York is the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, at 3rd Avenue and 97th Street in Manhattan, eight miles uptown from Ground Zero.  The Imam there on 9/11, Muhammad Gemeaha, opined that “only the Jews” were capable of destroying the World Trade Center and added that ”if it became known to the American people, they would have done to Jews what Hitler did.”  Charming.  To be fair, the current imam, Mohammad Shamsi Ali, apparently is working hard to build stronger ties with the city’s Jewish community.

The center boasts a 130-foot minaret, and was opened in 1991 at a cost of $17 million.  Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, that cost translates to about $27 million in today’s dollars.  In light of the concerns about foreign funding of Park51, it’s interesting to note that the Islamic Cultural Center of New York “depended on support from 46 Islamic countries,” primarily Kuwait.

Masjid al-Haram, Mecca

The biggest mosque in the world, of course, is the one toward which Muslims face for their daily prayers:  Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, which dates from 638.  No info on cost, but the Saudis have clearly sunk some bucks in it over the years.  It will accommodate up to 4 million worshipers during the annual hajj.

No infidels allowed.

(All photos from Wikipedia)

A Symposium on Moderate Islam — and Why the Ground Zero Imam Doesn’t Qualify

Feisal Abdul Rauf

Two useful features today in the Wall Street Journal.  First, a symposium titled “What is Moderate Islam?“, in which six scholars and thought leaders explore the topic that represents the world’s best hope for peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West.

Second, “Letters from the Imam,” in which the man behind a controversial proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan pointedly refuses an opportunity to portray himself as a moderate in the nation’s largest newspaper.

You really should read the whole thing, but I know you won’t (I can tell from my traffic software when someone clicks a link in one of my posts), so here are highlights from the symposium.

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s opposition leader:

Yet Muslims must do more than just talk about their great intellectual and cultural heritage. We must be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism. And our activism must not end there. The tyrants and oppressive regimes that have been the real impediment to peace and progress in the Muslim world must hear our unanimous condemnation. The ball is in our court.

Former Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis:

For the moment, there does not seem to be much prospect of a moderate Islam in the Muslim world. This is partly because in the prevailing atmosphere the expression of moderate ideas can be dangerous—even life-threatening. Radical groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, the likes of which in earlier times were at most minor and marginal, have acquired a powerful and even a dominant position.

But for Muslims who seek it, the roots are there, both in the theory and practice of their faith and in their early sacred history.

The Islamist author Ed Husain:

The Prophet Muhammad warned us against ghuluw, or extremism, in religion. The Quran reinforces the need for qist, or balance. For me, Islam at its essence is the middle way in all matters. This is normative Islam, adhered to by a billion normal Muslims across the globe.

Normative Islam is inherently pluralist. It is supported by 1,000 years of Muslim history in which religious freedom was cherished. The claim, made today by the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, that they represent God’s will expressed through their version of oppressive Shariah law is a modern innovation.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, senior fellow at the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

That is the essence of moderation in any faith: the willingness to exist peacefully, if not exuberantly, alongside nonbelievers who hold repellent views on many sacred subjects.

It is a dispensation that comes fairly easily to ordinary Muslims who have left their homelands to live among nonbelievers in Western democracies. It is harder for Muslims surrounded by their own kind, unaccustomed by politics and culture to giving up too much ground.

Tawfik Hamid, former member of the Islamic radical group Jamma Islamiya:

Moderate Islam must not be passive. It needs to actively reinterpret the violent parts of the religious text rather than simply cherry-picking the peaceful ones. Ignoring, rather than confronting or contextualizing, the violent texts leaves young Muslims vulnerable to such teachings at a later stage in their lives. …

Moderate Islam must be honest enough to admit that Islam has been used in a violent manner at several stages in history to seek domination over others. Insisting that all acts in Islamic history and all current Shariah teachings are peaceful is a form of deception that makes things worse by failing to acknowledge the existence of the problem.

And Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University:

Clearly, the use of the term moderate here is meant as a compliment. But the application of the term creates more problems than it solves. The term is heavy with value judgment, smacking of “good guy” versus “bad guy” categories. And it implies that while a minority of Muslims are moderate, the rest are not. …

[He proposes other categories.] The modernist is proud of Islam and yet able to live comfortably in, and contribute to, Western society. … The literalists believe that Muslim behavior must approximate that of the Prophet in seventh-century Arabia. Their belief that Islam is under attack forces many of them to adopt a defensive posture. And while not all literalists advocate violence, many do. Movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Taliban belong to this category.

I must say I have mixed feelings about the first paragraph I quoted from Professor Ahmed, immediately above.  (I am, however, confident he and I could discuss it without anybody’s throat getting cut.)  I’m OK with the fact that the term moderate “is heavy with value judgment, smacking of ‘good guy’ versus ‘bad guy’ categories.”  There are good guys and bad guys, and differentiating between them is an essential first step toward achieving peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West.

I accept the professor’s point, however, that the term can imply that moderate Muslims are a minority — which they most certainly are not (or else we’re all hosed).  But here the laws of large numbers come into play.  There are more than a billion Muslims on the planet.  Let’s say Ahmed’s “literalists” are confined to .01% (one hundredth of one percent) of all Muslims.  That implies more than 100,000 dangerous jihadis around the world.

Which brings us to Feisel Abdul Rauf, the man behind the “Ground Zero mosque.” (Yes, I know it’s not just a mosque, and I know it’s not “at” Ground Zero.  It’s at a site chosen for its proximity to Ground Zero.)  The Journal found a couple of letters to the editor from Rauf in the New York Times from the late 1970s, in which:

Imam Rauf seems to be saying that Muslims should understand Sadat’s olive branch … as a short-term respite leading to ultimate conquest.  To drive that point home, he added in the same letter that “In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure. . . . In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.”

Two years later, the imam weighed in on the Iranian revolution. In a February 27, 1979 letter, in which he scores Americans for failing to apologize to Iran for past misdeeds, he wrote, “The revolution in Iran was inspired by the very principles of individual rights and freedom that Americans ardently believe in.”

At the time, Iran’s revolution hadn’t revealed all of its violent, messianic character. Thirty years later it has, yet Mr. Rauf’s views seem little changed. Following Iran’s sham presidential election last year and the crackdown that followed, the imam urged President Obama to “say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly said lots of stupid things in the late 1970s. (I was in college.)  But the Journal offered the imam a golden opportunity to clarify his views and paint himself as a moderate:

We asked Imam Rauf if his views had changed since the 1970s. His complete response: “It is amusing that journalists are combing through letters-to-the-editor that I wrote more than 30 years ago, when I was a young man, for clues to my evolution. As I re-read those letters now, I see that they express the same concerns—a desire for peaceful solutions in Israel, and for a humane understanding of Iran—that I have maintained, and worked hard on, in the years since those letters were published.”

Contrast this dismissive brushoff with the thoughtful, conciliatory comments of Messrs. Ibrahim, Husain, Hamid and Ahmed above.  For a man who claims to want to build bridges between the faiths, Imam Rauf sure does seem contemptuous of the misgivings shared by 70 percent of Americans.  He also sounds like an apologist for Iran, the world’s foremost state instigator of terrorism.