At least one way of measuring the freedom of any society is the amount of comedy that is permitted, and clearly a healthy society permits more satirical comment than a repressive, so that if comedy is to function in some way as a safety release then it must obviously deal with these taboo areas.  This is part of the responsibility we accord our licensed jesters, that nothing be excused the searching light of comedy.  If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.  –Eric Idle, comedian, actor, and author

I tire of having to listen to the left’s incessant, public ranting of how Mr Sadek’s puerile trailer depicting Mohammed as a lecherous incompetent, in the words of a September 12, 2012 New York Times editorial “did true damage to the interests of the United States and its core principle of respecting all faiths.”  True, the purported denizens of free speech all gave the obligatory lip-service-condemnation of the savage murders in Libya, the simultaneous attacks on other United States embassies around the world, and the public burnings of American and Israeli flags.  However the juxtaposition of the two “wrongs” in the same breathe clearly implies some degree of empathy or understanding for the Islamic Neanderthals, even though the Times would never agree – at least openly – that two wrongs may have made a right.

Anyone with an intelligence quotient north of double digits who tried to view this trailer – I could only make it through around nine of its fourteen minutes before my brain waves started to flat line – would know instantly that it was not possible for any sentient human to be offended by this banal production.  Thus any purported outrage over this clip was simply a pretext to carry out the murders and terrorism that we now know had been planned for September 11th last.  This trailer is too trivial, too ridiculous to be able to rise to the level of being condemned.  I have seen better acting and better make-up in my children’s kindergarten plays.  The risible computer animation would, in comparison, make the “killer bunny” on a string in Monty Python and the Holy Grail appear to be worthy an Academy Award for special effects. 

The hypocrisy of the left’s double-standard political correctness is almost palpable.  Compare for example the New York Times’ support in its October 2, 1999 editorial of the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to display Chris Ofil’s painting entitled Holy Virgin Mary.  If you are unfamiliar with this vile but proper exercise of freedom of speech, the description of it from Artnet is as follows:

“A very black woman cloaked in a stippled, Prussian-blue robe hovers over an intricate golden ground of enamel dots and glitter. Her mantle is open to reveal a black breast made of elephant dung and festooned with pins. The painting rests on two clumps of dung; one is decorated with the word Virgin, the other with the word Mary.

The figure is surrounded by 100 cutouts of female genitalia and buns. At first these variously colored bottoms look like little putti, a celestial choir; it’s only when you get close to the painting that these flickering cherubs turn rude.  Ofili loves to mix the sacred and the profane — the image of the spirit with the stuff of the earth.  Absurdity and humor mingle with something intensely penetrating and rise off Ofili’s image like a dank perfume.

Here was the New York Times’ view of this exhibition:  “…[A] Daily News poll shows that the majority of New Yorkers support the museum over Mayor Giuliani by a ratio of two to one. Those numbers show a broad-based support for New York’s role as the nation’s cultural capital. The people understand intuitively what Mr. Giuliani ignores for political gain.  A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time.”

So where is the outrage at this “painting’s” violating America’s “core principle of respecting all faiths”?  Is Roman Catholicism entitled to less respect that Islam?  Is it a second class religion?

Take also the Monty Python films The Life of Brian, which closes with a dancing “kick line” of crucifixions, or The Meaning of Life, where Catholics are skewered for their rejection of birth control in one vignette which shows a poor Catholic family with what seems like a hundred children and the mother unceremoniously dropping yet another baby from her womb as she continues to clean her house.

What would the Times have said if Italians murdered the American Ambassador to Italy in protest to any of these?  What would the Times have said if instead of the Virgin Mary, Ofil’s painting had been of Mohamed similarly depicted?

Obviously, no Roman Catholic ever considered engaging in any of the rabid responses as did the Islamic fundamentalists, no matter how they were offended, because they understood that such a response had no place in any civilized society, because they understood that freedom of speech meant that we must also suffer the utterances of fools who wished to make asinine and hurtful statements, and because they are a decent people, respectful of life and property.

So why is it that the left is offended by gross insults to Mohamed but not when made about the Virgin Mary?  Are they saying that they are only offended if the targeted group engages in extreme violence?  Are they saying that we know it is offensive only because it incited violence; indeed, if that be the case, are they not giving the Islamic fundamentalists an incentive to riot?

The fact is that, according to the left’s political correctness policy, Islam is a protected class, whereas the Catholic Church is not (perhaps due to its opposition to another sacred totem of the left, namely abortion).  According to that theory, cultural relativism requires that we Westerners engage in yet another affirmative action policy, and abase ourselves by being more sensitive to the mores of another culture and that not criticize it merely because its customs are not ours.

I contend that that dogma is obscene.  There are fundamental norms of all civilized societies which are universally true.  This therefore means that there are practices which are universally unacceptable as being reflective of a barbarous, uncivilized people.  The generally accepted practice in certain societies of clitoral circumcision is but one example.

But that is beside my point.  For these terrorists have, it appears, successfully brainwashed the liberal elite into sacrificing their otherwise stalwart defense of Freedom of Speech so as to be thought “tolerant” of what is in reality merely a barbaric sect. 

Neville Chamberlain in his well-intended, foolish politically correct belief that Hitler was a reasonable man who could be bargained with, allowed Europe to be plunged into our most destructive war yet rather than mobilizing to stop the entrenchment and spread of fanaticism.  Only time will tell if we intend to make the same mistake.

© Richard L Wise and 2012tten permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The President’s Metal

August 28, 2012

Summer has tarried late in my native New England.  We find ourselves still in the placidity of sun and sweat despite September’s arrival in a few days.  A blessed few more moments to allow our thoughts to drift with the soft breezes, to look back at where we have come, and to reflect quietly on differences between what we believed past actions would yield and the reality which resulted.

Newspapers are not the judgment of history.  Time and perspective are necessary allies in our efforts to judge accurately what has occurred.  Even so, with important decisions that have to be made whose deadlines cannot be postponed, we must do the best we can to extrapolate the past into the future.  And in this halcyon moment before the clanging din that will undoubtedly erupt when the political campaigns move into full attack in a few days, we may have the emotional calm to cast aside ideology and party tribalism and ask ourselves, most honestly, what has worked and what has not.

In judging Mr Obama, as we must, we his judgments fall into two areas of policy:  the domestic and the foreign.  I choose here to examine his foreign policy.  It is simpler, more straight forward and primarily within the sole control of the executive branch.  As the president’s stage, the effects of his actions redound to his credit or detriment.  This cannot be so clearly ascribed in the case of domestic policy where congress and opposing parties and constituencies must be accorded and accommodated.

 In his Farewell Address, President Washington warned Americans to beware of foreign entanglements.  I have never viewed this advice to be reflective of a policy of isolationism on Washington’s part, but rather of an understanding that because the culture and values of our county were so fundamentally different from those of Europe, we would be at a decided disadvantage in our dealings with them.  People tend to judge others as they are themselves; hence we would naturally and naively presume that others are motivated by the same things that motivate us.  Washington recognized that this was not the case, and hence cautioned the adoption of a healthy skepticism, especially until we had acquired through experience a level of sophistication sufficient to allow us adequately to protect our interests.  Thus in seventeenth century Europe, war was still an alternative type of diplomacy; to Americans, it was a fight for liberty.  America was a formed as a “republic of reason” whereas the fundamental premise of monarchies is that men are governed in accordance with the naked preferences of the sovereign.  America’s culture is enabling:  everything is permitted unless specifically prohibited.  Europe’s is restrictive:  men live “by the leave” of the sovereign and thus everything is prohibited unless it is specifically permitted.  Many of these cultural and value differences still persist to this day.

It was for this reason, that the greatest question that plagued the Obama candidacy in 2008 was his lack of experience.  Yet a majority of the electorate lightly esteemed this credential, believing that Mr Obama’s native intelligence would more than make up for any lack of real-life training.  Irrespective of whom we voted for, we were all hopeful.  Indeed, at first he received high marks for his bold move in visiting Egypt in the initial days of his presidency where he delivered his famous and conciliatory Cairo Address.   I recall how personally moved I and my colleagues were, one of whom told me he had to pull over while listening to the speech in his car as his eyes were tearing over.

With the election now a little more than two months away, what can we say about how Mr Obama’s actions have played out?

Take the Middle East.  The Cairo Address seems now forgotten, as America’s stature within the Muslim world has fallen to an all-time low.  His strong-arming of Israel to adopt a permanent settlement freeze has failed and has emboldened Israel’s enemies.  His efforts to get China and Russia to adopt even a symbolic condemnation of Syria’s brutal dictator has failed.  Iran has gotten much stronger, even in the face of the weak economic sanctions that even the United Nations regularly violates.  Indeed, the annual meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement is being hosted in Iran this year and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be ignoring Mr Obama’s plea that he not go.  Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has become Iran’s latest friend.  The president’s efforts in 2009 and 2012 to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran were summarily rebuffed.

Other fronts reflect no better on the president’s initiatives.  His personal plan to orchestrate a climate-change agreement in 2009 at Copenhagen ended in failure.  His initiative to reset relations with Russia ended in failure.  He failed in his attempt to make a settlement with the Taliban, and his diplomatic entreaties to North Korea ended in embarrassment.  He tried to involve himself in Europe’s recent economic crisis and was summarily dismissed, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble suggesting that “Herr Obama should above all deal with the reduction of the American deficit.”  Despite his grandstanding initiative, he was even incapable of bringing the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.

Hardly an impressive record.

So what went wrong?  I submit that there are three causes.  First, as Washington warned, Mr Obama’s lack of sophistication and experience make his policies cannon fodder for wily foreigners.  Second, he operated under the assumption that his personal magnetism and charisma that had worked so well within the American environment could be exported successfully to the rest of the world.  In short, he believed that if they liked him personally, they would respect him the next morning.  The direct antithesis of Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Third, and perhaps most damning, is the fact that while Americans marveled at his glib sound bites, the rest of the world laughed at the lack of substance.  And when one is seen as uttering pretty phrases that are meaningless, one’s basic weakness becomes obvious and one’s credibility vaporizes like the dew on a summer’s morn.  Let me use just one powerful excerpt from Mr Obama’s Cairo Address as illustrative of this point.  In its opening, the president said:

“I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, ‘The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.’ And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library.”

Very pretty words indeed, but wholly without a shred of substance or truth.   Take each historical allegation point-by-point:

1.       Moroccan recognition:  It is true that Sultan Muhammad II included America in a list of countries to which Morocco’s ports were open.   This was not an Islamic statement however, but a political-economic one and one not shared by the rest of Islam at that time.  In any event Morocco has always been on the fringe of the Islamic club, being a staunch supporter of the US (remember Casablanca) and a country that has a zero tolerance policy towards Al Qaeda.  Moreover, this recognition was not formalized until the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship in 1786, nine years later.

2.      Treaty of Tripoli:  Mr Obama is really reaching here.  First, this was a routine treaty of little consequence.  It gained recognition only because of a provision in the English translation that contained the following clause about religion:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Unfortunately, not only did the president did not quote it correctly, but what it stood for was a statement to the world that Americans view all religions as equal, not that we admired Islam.  Further, Adams did not write it; his diplomats did and he signed it.

3.      Moslems fought in our wars:  I am sure they were not draft dodgers.  Do they want credit for doing what they should have done and what every other American did?  Moreover one may probably assume that they were in our armed forces NOT as Moslem-Americans, but as Americans who also happened to be Moslems. 

4.      Moslems in Government:  I am sure they took government jobs.  So what?  As for politics,  even Mr Obama points out that we have only had one Moslem who has ever gotten elected.  This is a poor record.

5.      Stood for civil rights:  I assume that he is talking about such luminaries as Malcolm X (who was Christian but took on the militant side of Islam), Farrakhan, and the like.  They are a disgrace and not part of American culture.  Indeed, they rejected it and promoted hate.

6.      Started Businesses:  Give me a break.  Do I even have to comment on this?  By the way, Islamic businessmen are also overwhelmingly (80%+) Republicans.

7.      Taught in our universities:  What’s the point here?  That they took high-paying teaching jobs? 

8.      Excelled in our sports arenas:  Oh come on.  We are only taking about 6 boxers who converted like the admirable Mike Tyson, ten basketball players who converted (most notably Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace and Larry Johnson), 9 football players, all of whom converted and only one, Ahmad Rashad, who was really good, and three other minor ones.  Hell, even the Jews have a longer list. 

9.      Nobel Laureates:  There have only been ten Muslim winners of this prize (unless you add Mr Obama), only one of whom, Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian by birth who became a citizen after going to college here, won the prize for chemistry in 1999.

10.Built our tallest building:  Well, as we now know, “he didn’t build that.”  In any event, I assume that Mr Obama was referring to Fazlur Kahn, a Bangali architect considered the father of tubular design who was paid a well-deserved fortune to design the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).  Obviously, he is neither an American nor did he build anything; Sears built it.

11.Lit the Olympic torch:  An obvious reference to Mohammed Ali, but this was no accomplishment, it was simply giving Ali a lifetime achievement award.  More importantly, Ali is not a Moslem; he became a Black Muslim, a denomination that is not recognized by either the Shiites or the Sunnis, and even had been prohibited from going to Mecca.

12.A Muslim used Thomas Jefferson’s Quran to take an oath:  Is there a point here?

While I apologize for the lengthy analysis above, but it is symptomatic of the fundamental hollowness of Mr Obama’s knowledge and analytical skills and which have resulted in the failures of foreign policy that have characterized his administration.  So why is it that so  many democrats still cling to the view of Mr Obama as being the gold standard of presidents?  Why is there a perception that Mr Romney, on the other hand, is “unlikable”? I believe the answer lies simply in Mark Twain’s sad observation:

Gold in its native state is but dull, unornamental stuff, and only lowborn metals excite the admiration of the ignorant with an ostentatious glitter.  However, like the rest of the world, I still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica.

© Richard L Wise and 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.