Sunday, December 27, 2009

What lessons should be taken from Nativity story?

In this morning's Moline Dispatch newspaper columnist Scott Reeder opines that the National Association of Latino Elected Officials must not know the Bible as well as he does. The group is trying to encourage immigrants to participate in the 2010 census and are distributing posters to evangelical churches serving immigrants that say

Joseph and Mary Participated in the Census, Don't be afraid.
Mr. Reeder feels that only someone with knowledge of the Bible inferior to his own would suggest such a thing.

Let's recap the Bible story.

Joseph took a very pregnant Mary on a 120-mile journey to Bethlehem to register for the census because an evil emperor named Caesar Augustus didn't give his subjects a choice. He wanted to count them so he could tax them.

His underling, King Herod, was so angry about Christ's birth that he ordered all the boys under the age of 2 in Bethlehem murdered. Mary and Joesph along with the baby Jesus were forced to flee across the border to Egypt and hide.

And this Bible story is supposed to encourage new immigrants to trust their government and participate in the Census?

Someone needs to brush up on their Bible.

Mr. Reeder seems to think that the only lesson this story offers is that immigrants should fear the government and that participating in the census will put them in danger. But in this story the immigrant child whose parents were participating in the census was kept safe by the forces of good in the world. Most likely almost all the children killed in the Slaughter of the Innocents were not new immigrants but were natives of Bethlehem whose families had been there for generations.

Just who has either not understood this story or twisted its meaning to support political goals -- the group of Latino politicians or Mr. Reeder?

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Mavericky Thanksgiving Day Message

A few days ago I asked my father if he shared my growing suspicion that my generation (those of us born after World War II) had really made a mess of things once we got in charge. My father was born in 1923, was 6 years old when the stock market crashed, grew up during the Great Depression and had just started college when the United States declared war on Japan. People of his generation were running the country until around 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected President. My impression was that life had been steadily getting better for most Americans all during the period his generation was in charge and that trend had started to reverse right around the time my generation took over. Was that, I asked him, how he saw it.

No, he said. What really impressed him about the last 20 years was the progress that had been made in regard to race. His generation, he felt, had been an impediment to progress in many ways in racial issues and apparently had to pass from the scene before fundamental progress could be made toward a truly color-blind society.

So that will be my Thanksgiving Day message. I am not sure where our country is going but we are going there more united, at least in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation, than we ever have been before, and for that we should give thanks.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Imaginary dangers

Apparently another way in which conservatives in this country differ from the rest of us is in what they worry about. Here is Congressman John Shadegg, Republican of Arizona, (who had a few days earlier brought a staffer's 7 month old daughter on the House floor with him to use as a prop for a speech) reacting to New York Mayor Bloomberg:
I saw the Mayor of New York said today, "We're tough. We can do it." Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it's your daughter that's kidnapped at school by a terrorist? How are you going to feel when it's some clerk -- some innocent clerk of the court -- whose daughter or son is kidnapped? Or the jailer's little brother or little sister? This is political correctness run amok. Link

Terrorists kidnapping children as part of a raid to free jailed comrades? It sounds like a movie plot. When has Al Qaeda or any other real-life Muslim terrorist group operated like that? Al Qaeda targets are always ones that have resonance with the victims of American imperialism -- U.S. battleships and embassies, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House or the Capitol. Although most Muslims around the world oppose acts of terrorist violence they do understand and have some sympathy with the message sent by attacking those targets. What message would be sent by targeting children and who would have sympathy with that message? Americans who worry that terrorist will target the Statue of Liberty, football stadiums or the children of mayors or prison wardens are reacting to terrorist they have dreamed up or seen in movies, not the real-life enemies we actually face.

The more clearly we see a potential danger the more effective we can be in preventing it. Worrying about imaginary dangers is total ineffective in keeping us safe, especially if it causes the warning signs of real dangers to be missed. (Remember President Bush blowing off warnings about Al Qaeda before 9/11 or Katrina before it hit.) I am glad we now have leaders on the national level who appear to be knowledgeable realists with their eyes squarely focused on the world as it exists.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Across the Borderline

Here is a video of the late Willy deVille singing Ry Cooder's song "Across the Borderline." (You may have heard other covers of the song by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Freddy Fender or others.)

Listening to the lyrics makes me realize how deeply American it is for someone to cross the Rio Grande seeking a better life. ... How wierd that some of us, rather than identifying with the immigrants, see them as "the other" and a threat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do Conservatives fear the attractiveness of fundamentalist Islam?

Some Conservatives are worried (see here and here) about the world getting a chance to hear what anti-American terrorists have to say. Here is CNN's Wolf Blitzer giving voice to some of those concerns:

One of the arguments against this decision is that it will give these five detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these four others, a platform, if you will. They will express their Jihadist views. In the process, they will be able to recruit more followers.

Why would Conservatives fear the world hearing what these terrorist defendants have to say? It is almost as if these Conservatives find fundamentalist Islam's ideas, commitment, moral certainty and absolutism more attractive in some respects than the traditional American ideals of democracy, freedom, diversity, choice and the rule of law. Why else would they so fear that when the world hears these ideas they will be seduced into anti-American terrorism? They must not believe that demonstrating our commitment to fair trials, rule of law and justice by publicly giving these criminals their day in court will be seen by the world as more attractive and admirable than terrorist rhetoric. I am starting to suspect that some Conservatives really don't like America very much.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The very "serious" David Brooks

David Brooks' column in this morning's New York Times highlights a key difference between Conservatives and Liberals.

When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did that in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn’t want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.

So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.


The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.

It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.

David Brooks sees viewing Marjor Hasan's murderous rampage as part of a global battle between us and Islam as realistic and "serious," but how realistic, serious and mature is that way of viewing the world? It is particularly troubling that he says the struggle is with Islam itself and not "extremist Islam" or "fundamentalist Islam." Furthermore what course of action does the Conservative view suggest? Measures to reduce the psychological stress on our military of multiple deployments, a course of action suggested by the main-stream way of viewing the tragedy, would be a useless diversion from the fundamental problem according to the Conservatives. It is hard to see how anything other than taking military action against someone or something would be effective when the world is seen in David Brooks' "serious" way.

Update An email I just got from a local conservative alerts me that my sentence structure in the above may have been a little convoluted, making my meaning less than clear, at least to some people. I am very anti-war. I think all the troops should be brought home immediately. The problem with the Conservatives like David Brooks and those who think like him is that viewing the killings at Fort Hood as being part of a global struggle against Islam (rather than viewing it as what happens when soldiers are placed under too much stress) leaves them their only option for trying to do something to prevent a reoccurance is attacking someone or something militarily -- which I think is a horrible idea. Is that clearer?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

If that is "political correctness" we need more of it.

I think it may be time for people of good will, who believe in treating people the way that we would like to be treated, to embrace the "political correctness" label.

Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly has taken aim at the Town of Kent [Connecticut] for refusing to grant a local man's wish that a town memorial to his son [paid for with public funds], who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, should read: "Murdered by Muslim Terrorists."

In his evening television program Thursday, O'Reilly said he supported Peter Gadiel's request for such an inscription in the face of refusal by Kent's Town Hall. He labeled as "political correctness" remarks by First Selectman Ruth S. Epstein that such wording would disparage an ethnic group and would be "against everything that we stand for here."

Read entire article

There are millions of American Muslims, most of whom think of their religion as one of peace, and they are sincere about that. They are not the enemy and it would be profoundly misguided to treat them as though they were. It would be a tactical mistake to define as enemies people who otherwise would be our allies -- if you are in a battle you want as many people on your side as possible.

It would also be wrong on moral and ethical grounds. We should treat people the way we would like to be treated. How would you feel if someone disparaged your religion or ethnicity because of the bad actions of a few individuals? We didn't start talking about "Christian terrorists" after any the terrorist attacks carried out by white Americans, such as the anthrax attacks or Oklahoma City bombing.

If it is "political correctness" to treat people the way we would like to be treated and to not define as enemies people who would otherwise be on our side then we should all seek to be more "politically correct."