Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Worst Fear at All

I find it entirely unsurprising that the announcement of renewed peace talks between Israel and Palestine has thrown COSATU foreign relations secretary and pro-Palestinian activist noted hate speaker Bongani Masuku into a fit of apoplexy:
“ This march also takes place at a time when the imperialists have imposed upon the Palestinian people, negotiations under the barrel of a gun, which have been designed to serve the interests of forcing the Palestinians to succumb to the bully tactics of the US and Israel.

“ The terms of negotiation, the terrain of struggle has been made to favour the occupying force through several brutal incursions and continued destabilisation of Palestine by the Israeli forces.

Hence, COSATU is looking to undermine these negotiations at all costs, by joining with Iranian-backed groups and pushing for a renewed wave of anti-Israel activism designed to torpedo, once again, the chance for peaceful co-existence. Because if you're not struggling, you're surrendering. And if Palestinians aren't chafing under occupation, if Jews aren't cowering under Masuku and his brethren's barrage of hate and incitement -- well, what would he do with his life?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Tip of the Iceberg

I feel like, of all the various repulsive things Glenn Beck has said, focusing on whether he actually held George Washington's inaugural address is kind of small potatoes.

Victory Mosque Removal

In The New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi has a heartfelt letter addressed to "his friend" Imam Rauf. The objective behind the letter is twofold: first, to establish that he does consider Rauf to be an important figure in interfaith dialogue ("If you are not a worthy dialogue partner for the Jewish community, then there is almost no one in Islam with whom we can speak."), and second, to urge the Imam to change the plans for the Park 51 center. Instead of turning it into a Muslim community center:
Instead, I urge you to consider turning the site into a center for interfaith encounter. Build the mosque—but do so together with a church and a synagogue and a center for common reflection for all three faiths and for those with no faith. Do this, Imam Feisal, not to surrender to your critics but to honor their pain, and, in the process, to honor Islam.

In the abstract, such a center would be a wonderful idea. Is it "better" (from the standpoint of interfaith healing? From the a general social utility view?) than the current blueprints? It's hard to say, though I suspect that, under whatever standard that labels such a center superior to Park 51, that same center would be a "better" usage for nearly any parcel of land publicly or privately developed in New York City (those strip clubs spring immediately to mind). And I maintain that, if the purpose of the community center is to serve the Muslim community in Southern Manhattan, it kind of misses the point to relocate the center to the other end of the borough Staten Island Queens.

But even if such an idea was meritorious, it can't happen anymore. The stakes have changed. We've moved beyond that.

One of the more ridiculous memes surrounding the Park 51 center is that it constitutes a "victory Mosque". The center organizers certainly never cast it that way, so we're forced to speculate that Islamists world-wide are slapping high-fives over the creation of a Islamic center headed by a man who has said he is a "supporter of Israel", and who gave such a stirring sermon on the occasion of Daniel Pearls brutal murder by those same Islamic extremists. The "victory Mosque" supposition stretches beyond implausible -- it is the stuff of pure paranoid bigoted fantasy.

On the other hand, we need no speculation to know who would claim victory at forcing the abandonment of the Park 51 plan. Changing the Park 51 plans -- moving it one inch, changing its mandate one iota -- would hand a victory to Pam Geller and her crowd of fascists who are responsible for ginning up this controversy and have never minced any bones about their objectives. They absolutely would declare victory. And they'd be right.

This is why, even granting the most "nuanced" interpretation of their position on this controversy, I still find the ADL's stance to be an outrageous capitulation of their core agenda. The arguments being put forth by Pam Geller and her bandmates represent a dire threat to the entire American constitutional vision. Their principles are toxic to the ideals of religious liberty that the ADL had sworn to protect. That was the critical issue that the Park 51 controversy raised. Everything else is a sideshow. The ADL either didn't recognize that, or it didn't have its priorities in order. Either way, it's no longer worth the time of folks genuinely concerned with preserving freedom in this nation.

America has seen these moments before. We had the Know-Nothings. We had Father Coughlin. We had the John Birch Society. All of these repellent groups counted hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans, among their adherents. But that did not render these movements American, and ultimately, we the people were faced with a choice. To affirm American values of religious freedom, of pluralism, of tolerance; or to cede ground to the nativists, the ultra-nationalists, the reactionary purveyors of hatred. Today, we have Pam Geller. She is a representative of an ancient evil, one that slumbers but seemingly is never killed. And we have that same choice faced by our predecessors. The time for clever midway solutions is over. You're either on the side of American values, or you're with Pam Geller. No more middle ground.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Give Him More Rope, Part III

Yes, the honesty is refreshing, but Haley Barbour is like a sick parody:
But I will know this: if I run for President, what you see is what you get, and I am from Mississippi, I do have a southern accent. I was a lobbyist and a pretty damned good one. And I'm very proud -- we were talking before the show came on -- I am happy about my life. I've got a great marriage. I've got great family, and I've had a great career. Wouldn't do anything differently."

"And I will tell you this -- the next President of the United States on January 21, 2013 - - is going to start lobbying. He's going to be lobbying Congress, he's going to be lobbying other countries. He's going to be lobbying the business community. He's going to be lobbying the labor unions, the governors, because that's what Presidents do, and I feel like it's an advantage for me to have the chance to do that."

Please oh please nominate this man. Nominate the man who wants to brag about his time as a lobbyist.

Ring Up Another One

I just completed a long overdue reorganization of "Racism as Subjectification." And, coincidentally, I also found that Racism as Subjectification, though not yet published, in fact was heavily cited in a recent journal chapter: Denise Egéa-Kuehne, "Subjectification": Biesta’s Strong Link to Education, 2009 Phil. Educ. 363.

Unfortunately, this reorganization means that all the pagination in Professor Egéa-Kuehne's article is about to be wrong, as soon as I get around to updating SSRN. That's the peril of citing unpublished works -- usually, the author is still trying to render them publishable. Still, it's a nice vote of confidence. And unlike the folks who have cited my blog, Professor Egéa-Kuehne decided to go totally wild and even include my name. So, big day for me.

Outlet Pass

So opponents of peace between Israel and Palestine have launched a full-court press to derail talks between Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas has promised a wave of attacks. Iran is sponsoring rallies calling for the demise of Israel. Settlers are swearing to renew construction throughout the West Bank.

Here's a thought: How about we not give them what they want? I know the idea of not giving into the demands of radicals is all novel and bleeding-heart, but maybe it's worth a try? Just saying.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Of Interests and Lobbies

As someone who found The Israel Lobby thesis to be profoundly misguided, it really shouldn't be any surprise that I find its new counterpart, The Arab Lobby, to be pretty silly as well. Hussein Ibish reviews the latter here, though I wish he had provided more specific examples about where he thinks the authors go off the rails, the broad points are sound.

In general, the problem with these sorts of arguments is twofold. First, they nearly always have an insanely reductionist account of "American Interests", creating an implicit baseline of what the U.S. "would" be doing were it not for the "lobby", and then measuring the lobby's influence based on how far it can get us to deviate from our basic interests. But that's not the way interests work--we don't just have interests in the abstract; we're interested in various principles, resources, and situations, all of which are open to political and democratic contestation, and lobbies usually try and convince policymakers to adopt one constellation of interests over another. So yes, if the U.S. really didn't care about democracy (adopting a pure W&M-style neo-realist framework that only cared about defensive security) our position regarding Israel would probably change; if the U.S. really did care about democracy our position regarding Egypt would change. We blend lots of interests together, in a variety of cocktails. And that's okay.

Second, they usually collapse many different perspectives under a single heading. Ibish claims that The Arab Lobby does this by creating blanket groupings of organizations as either "pro-Israel" or "pro-Arab", we know Mearsheimer did this with his wretched list of good and bad Jews. I agree in principle that we can characterize groups ranging from J Street to ZOA as "pro-Israel" in some sense or another, but it seems very bizarre to characterize them as being part of a cohesive "Lobby".

And this, in turn, gets at the fundamental problem with these comparisons between the power of the "Israel Lobby" and the "Arab Lobby"? When you define the Israel Lobby as broadly as do Walt and Mearsheimer, encompassing everyone from the ZOA to J Street, the only thing they have in common is that they don't want Israel to die. Is the sentiment amongst US policymakers that Israel shouldn't be destroyed stronger than their sentiment that, say Saudi Arabia shouldn't be destroyed? I guess, but (unlike with Israel) the potential destruction of Saudi Arabia isn't really on the geopolitical table. In terms of more specific policy initiatives where "the Israel Lobby" is internally divided, it becomes more difficult to sustain claims of unique power. Israel gets lots of American weaponry and aid; so does Egypt and Saudi Arabia. America has security guarantees with Israel, but it likewise has them for Arab neighbors.

Given the unstable nature of concepts like "interests", the widespread disagreement over what it would mean to "support" Israel or Arab "interests", the differing geopolitical contexts which mediate what each group has to request and how much pushback their is against their demands, the question of whose Lobby is bigger is effectively meaningless. These questions are nearly always used as a smokescreen (author protests notwithstanding) to act like somebody is subverting the true needs of the American nation, and I find it aggravating.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Master of Money Roundup

Anybody on Law Review will tell you -- nobody knows economics like I do.

* * *

Glenn Beck: Not really comparable to Malcolm X. At all.

Four Israeli settlers shot dead by Palestinian terrorists. Hamas has claimed responsibility; the PA condemned the attack.

A neat piece on Justice Ginsburg's role as a feminist pioneer. This older bit from the Legal Times is also interesting.

A CNN profile on a Baha'i woman imprisoned by Iran. Apparently, charges of espionage for Israel are the preferred method Iran takes for suppressing its religious minorities (surprise, surprise).

It's a shame that the housing market is so dismal right now. If only there were masses of people desperate to come to America and find a place to live.
It's like the Maroonbook doesn't even exist (for entirely valid reasons, to be sure).

The best and worst of America.

Monday, August 30, 2010


CNN has an interesting story about a group of two American Muslims (plus a CNN reporter and photographer) who are trying to visit 30 mosques in 30 states in 30 days. Worth a read.

You'd Think the Church Would be Deemphasizing the Centrality of its Priests' Genetalia

I think Christian denominations have every right to define their own theology and religious practices, free from my interference. Nonetheless, I find the latest Catholic defense of barring women from priesthood to be a little baffling:
Barring women from being Catholic priests is not the result of sexism 2,000 years ago, it's because women cannot fulfill a basic function of the priesthood, "standing in the place of Jesus," a leading British Catholic thinker argued Monday.

"This teaching is not at all a judgment on women's abilities or rights. It says something about the specific role of the priest in Catholic understanding - which is to represent Jesus, to stand in his place," argued Father Stephen Wang in a statement sent out by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.
The bottom line is that Jesus chose 12 men - and no women - to be his apostles, Wang argues.

The choice was "deliberate and significant, not just for that first period of history, but for every age," Wang says.

Men and women are equal in Christianity, he continues, but "this does not mean that our sexual identity as men and women is interchangeable. Gender is not just an accident."

He compared the role of a priest to that of an actor playing King Arthur or British soccer star Wayne Rooney in a movie.

"No one would be surprised if I said I wanted a male actor to play the lead," he said, admitting the analogy was "weak."

But, he said, "it shouldn't surprise us if we expect a man to stand 'in the person of Christ' as a priest, to represent Jesus in his humanity - a humanity that is not sexually neutral."

Indeed, that analogy is weak. But more fundamentally, I have to think one can believe that sex is not interchangeable while still not considering a critical component of Jesus' human representation to be his penis (why not his height or -- let's have some fun, shall we? -- skin color? Would you hire George Clooney to play Magic Johnson? On second thought, don't answer that). If I were a Christian, I'd find that message to be incredibly degrading. The essential Jesus: universal love, global salvation, and a cock.

But whatever. I'm an interested spectator in this fight, no more.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Strange Necessity of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

The other day, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the influential Sephardic-religious Shas Party, set-off a firestorm after delivering a sermon in which he said God should unleash a "plague" against the Palestinians and declared that "Abu Mazen (nom de guerre for Abbas) and all these evil people should perish from this world."

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu moved quickly to disavow the comments. And yet, we are left in a strange situation. Rabbi Yosef's comments are clearly appalling -- I reject anyone who tries to distinguish them from the rabid anti-Israel and anti-Semitic discourse that flows out of the pulpits of all-too-many Palestinian preachers. And yet, Rabbi Yosef has an interesting history in this respect. He has consistently viewed the Palestinian people as Israel's enemy. Yet he also made a highly influential religious ruling that Israel should seek peace with Palestinians, even giving up painful concessions, because to do so might save lives. And indeed, this perplexing paradox was how Shas' spokesperson explained the Rabbi's comment: That the Rabbi sees the Palestinians as enemies, but wants peace with them.

And this is something we seem to see surprisingly often. In the case of "normal politics", we might say someone who called for a plague to fall down against a whole class of people ought be permanently disqualified from playing any role in any political discussion whatsoever, except as a figure of contempt. For of course, these positions are contemptible. And yet, if we want peace, it will have to be the people like Rabbi Yosef who will do it. I am proud of the Israelis who don't see the Palestinians as enemies, and the Palestinians who don't see Israelis as their enemies. But ultimately, it's the folks who would say things like this, who have horrible, hateful, detestable views, and yet still are willing (at least sometimes) to take a step for peace, that are the most valuable.

The easiest thing in the world, in an entrenched ethnic conflict, is to find ways to disqualify prominent players from the realm of civilization. Because ethnic conflict nearly always carries with it a wake of hatred, and hatred is a terrible thing. But such an instinct, I think, ultimately is incompatible with peace and reconciliation -- it is a gambit to justify the status quo, not a tactic thrusting towards the future. This is why I'm willing to look beyond -- not overlook, not apologize for, but look beyond -- some of the positions of potential peace partners, rather than searching for mutually assured discredition. You don't build bridges to folks already on your side of the river. You don't make peace with those who already agree with you. The important thing is a commitment to securing a just peace. Beyond that is beyond that -- it isn't my concern right now.

At least once upon a time, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was this sort of person -- horrible in his hatred of the Palestinians, but perhaps necessary in order to secure peace. It is a thin stand upon which to hang grace, and he may not possess it anymore. But the template is a common one -- amongst Israelis and amongst Palestinians, and it is one we must handle delicately.

No, Dr. King Would Not Be Proud

On the occasion of helping lead a right-wing rally on the Mall on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech", Sarah Palin declared her hope that "Dr. King would be so proud of us."

In his famous speech, Dr. King answered those who asked "When will you be satisfied?" He replied:
We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

As my friend notes, some of these, like the exclusion of Blacks from hotels, the "Whites only" signs, and the flat prohibition on Blacks voting in the South, have been rectified. Others, though -- like police brutality and rampant residential segregation, have not.

Has Sarah Palin spoken out on the issue of housing segregation? Has she spoken out on the issue of police brutality? Not that I can recall. Those aren't her issues. Those aren't her passion. And I doubt she knows or cares enough about the legacy of Dr. King to even know her short-comings.

I wrote several years ago that, for much of America, the only "good" civil rights leader was, quite literally, a dead one (Dr. King). There is a reason why the same admiration the right bestows upon Dr. King hasn't been granted to any of his surviving lieutenants.
Being dead, he can't contest or contextualize the actual content of his beliefs. Being dead, he can't remind audiences of the criticisms and abuse he was subjected to during his campaigns, and how it is eerily reminiscent of the charges foisted upon contemporary Black leaders. And being dead, he is no longer a political threat, and thus is a safe person to prop up upon an altar and praise. Were he alive, we might be faced with the uncomfortable prospect that this great hero of American history might demand we actually fulfill our covenant with Black citizens, and that would require actual change and reform and sacrifice. Dead people tell no such tales.

I firmly believe that, if Dr. King were alive today, Sarah Palin and her cohorts would believe he is a radical agitator, a socialist sympathizer, maybe someone who once had some important ideas, but whose time had effectively passed. It is quite fortunate, then, that he is dead, so he can be stripped of his essence and turned into a icon.

So no, I don't think Dr. King would be proud to be treated in this manner. I don't think he would be proud to have his legacy abandoned -- contorted as some abstract paean to "equality" rather than as a concrete struggle for justice. Sarah Palin can change that, by actually adopting Dr. King's agenda. But she won't. And he is not proud to be used as a tool by the likes of Sarah Palin..