Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Time for Everything

Linking to this column, Conor Friedersdorf labels Dennis Prager as one of the more "thoughtful" right-wing commentators. Which is ironic, because I once labeled Prager the "Jewish pseudo-Christian ... voted most likely to piss me the hell off."

This column, on the benefits of global travel is admittedly better than normal, although foolishness hardly is absent ("After visits to about a dozen African countries, I came to realize that the spread of Christianity holds the best hope for that sad continent. If anyone can name a better solution, this Jew would be interested in hearing it." Jesus Christ, why doesn't he start worshiping Jesus Christ already?). But that marks a first for me, as until now the universal quality that linked all my exposure to Dennis Prager was breath-taking ignorance. Let's canvass some of my favorites:

* There aren't many Black people at Tea Party rallies because Black people aren't rational.

* Keith Ellison swearing his oath of office on the Koran "undermines American civilization."

* A constant trend of conflating Judaism and Christianity.

* Giving the totally-not-self-serving marital advice that women should have sex with their husbands, even if they don't want to.

Library Grape offers some examples of his own.

The point being, one column that manages to get a toehold on "mediocre" notwithstanding, Dennis Prager pretty much represents the bottom of the barrel -- and, since his hallmark is trying to pretend like Judaism is indistinguishable from fundamentalist Christianity, I have a personal Jew-to-Jew gripe with him as well.


Ivan Ludmer said...

Could not agree more about Prager. Then again, "[o]ne of the most thoughtful right-leaning talk radio hosts" isn't exactly a high bar, so I might agree with Friedersdorf too.

chingona said...

This paragraph is also pretty WTF-y:

I learned more about Islam in a week in Egypt than in two years at Columbia’s Middle East Institute. When the pretty young Egyptian waitress at the Nile Hilton in 1974 told me to read the Koran because once I did I would become a Muslim, I realized that secularism was not, my professors notwithstanding, the wave of the Middle East’s future, and I understood how Muslims view the Koran and the non-Muslim world. When I offered to buy a beer for the Egyptian taxi driver who took me from Cairo to the pyramids on a very hot day, he politely declined, explaining that as a Muslim he is not permitted to drink alcohol. I asked why he thought the ban was necessary. Because, he explained, if a man drinks and then goes home and sees his daughter lying in bed, bad things could ensue. That opened this 25-year-old’s eyes.

Really? He's never had a Christian tell him that if he would just read the Gospels, his eyes would be opened? He's never heard a Christian (or an American for that matter) make the argument that without religion to reign us in, there would be nothing to stop the average person from committing all manner of evil acts?

I mean ... yeah, living in and traveling to foreign countries is very educational and eye-opening. I'll even go so far as to say that living in other countries has caused me to believe that we actually aren't "all the same" and that culture matters tremendously in how people see the world and their place in it.

But he seems to be pretty selective in what he "sees" when he travels.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I wonder if there is any context in which some overtly religious asshole of a Christian or Muslim variety could be labeled a "pseudo-Jew" and David would not be offended. Can't really think of any, but he throws out "Christian" as a pejorative (and this is not the first time) free as you please! Classy.

Rebecca said...

No, David isn't using Christian as a pejorative. He's angry at Prager for conflating fundamentalist Christianity with Judaism. Rabbi Daniel Lapin behaves in a very similar way - currying favor with fundamentalist Christians by pretending that Judaism is the same as Christianity.

It's very peculiar - usually traditional Jews emphasize the differences between Judaism and Christianity (for example, the whole not-believing-in-Jesus thing), rather than trying to elide them.

I just took a look at Lapin's web page - he has a page of testimonials, most of which are from conservative Christian leaders, not from his fellow Jews, which strikes me as very strange for a rabbi.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it really was a pejorative, revealing that he thinks conservative assholes are really just creatures of some other, lesser religion. Now, if he wants to police the borders of his own faith, that is one thing, but that doesn't give carte blanche to classify that of others.

Besides, I think you are dodging the point. Can you imagine a situation where some gentile gets labeled a "pseudo-Jew" as a criticism and David "Marmaduke" Schraub would not speak up about it?

David Schraub said...

It really was border-policing, but anonymous raises a decent objection with respect to whether there's any situation where a Christian could tell another Christian that, more or less, they should just convert to Judaism already in which I would find it offensive.

And the answer is ... I dunno? Let's forward two potential examples. In example one, the Christian "pseudo-Jew" is supporting some classically liberal policies (like gay marriage). If that was thought to be incompatible with Christianity and exemplary of Judaism, would I be offended? Well, I might on behalf of all the Christians who are being told that moral policies are incompatible with their religion. On behalf of Jews? Tough call -- on the one hand, the essentializing "join the enemy" thing is kinda rough, on the other hand, it's hard for me to get too upset that Judaism is being held out as an example of a belief system that actually is compatible with just policies. Cf. "blaming" the Jews for stirring up agitation against the Darfur genocide.

The second example might be a situation where someone more or less only uses Jewish sources, Talmudic texts, Rabbinical edicts, etc., in making moral claims -- but holds it out as an example of Christian thinking (which -- inverted -- is more or less how I view Prager). There, it might make sense to wonder why they're not Jewish already. I don't think that's insulting to Jews (in fact, I sometimes wonder that myself -- I have some nominally Christian friends who seem to draw far more from Jewish spiritual sources, and I do sometimes wonder why they don't just switch over already).

N. Friedman said...

A rabbi friend of mine once recommended that I should read Prager. I read a few of his columns. He was not my cup of tea.

Then again, the argument made by David does not make much sense to me. I do not think Prager is conflating Judaism with Christianity or vice versa. I think he is speaking about something quite different, which more or less coincide with what is normally called Judeo-Christian values - values which are shared not necessarily by the two faiths but which the community of Americans once more or less accepted as common wisdom (whether or not it really was or is).

I also do not think that David's comment about Prager and African American tea party types - or the absence thereof, in any event - has even a close relationship to what Prager actually wrote. That may be why David linked not to Prager himself but to someone who chose to misrepresent what Prager actually wrote. Of the Prager comments of concern to David, that was Prager's more intelligible. Had one linked to the actual article, Prager was actually arguing only that many on the Left make the mistake - and it is, in fact, a logic error and, hence, an invalid argument - of arguing against opponents (claiming racism, sexism, etc.), not against opponents' actual arguments, which may or may not be valid.

PG said...

Because, he explained, if a man drinks and then goes home and sees his daughter lying in bed, bad things could ensue. That opened this 25-year-old’s eyes.

Why does Prager think that's so nuts? I don't know what the empirical evidence is, but when I trained to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate, substance abuse was described to us as a potential predicate for child molestation by the type of adult who was not a routine pedophile. I suppose Prager also thought "The Bluest Eye" was ridiculous for depicting a father who rapes his daughter once while he is intoxicated and then runs away in shame.

N. Friedman said...

PG asks "Why does Prager think that's so nuts?"

I think that is a good question. My gut is that a person visiting a society which is rooted in a different tradition, where people explain normal things by examples which would not likely be spoken in his or her own society, the natural tendency is to see something odd.

For what it is worth, I think it is pretty shocking to hear someone admit that he would not drink lest that lead to raping his own daughter. Imagine what would happen to a Senator who might say something like that. The Senator would be toast.

I have never heard anyone explain not drinking for that reason although, no doubt, the comment sounds shockingly sincere and may well be good advice for many men to follow. But, that comment may merely be my American prejudice in listening to what may merely be a conventional way of explaining something in Egypt, not a sincere admission of human frailty.

Your comment, however, fails to consider that, as a comment - as opposed to a fact -, the statement by the Egyptian really is, by Western standards, unusual. Which is to say, Prager is correct that Egypt is shockingly different from, e.g., Chicago.

Pallavi said...

the natural tendency is to see something odd.

If Prager's great insight into Egypt was "Their culture is different from that of Chicago's," both travel and higher education are wasted on him. Certainly, the natural tendency is to see people different from oneself and one's own people as odd. The natural tendency also is for men to try to impregnate as many women as possible in order to maximize the descent of their own genes. I doubt you or Prager would consider promiscuity morally acceptable merely because it is natural.

N. Friedman said...

Pallavi writes: "I doubt you or Prager would consider promiscuity morally acceptable merely because it is natural."

I have no issue with it at all. However, I do note that you missed the point. Prager's view - with which I disagree - was that a society in which people remark to strangers about impregnating their kids demonstrates an important difference from our society. My view is that it is merely odd but seems unimportant.

Now, I do think that there are some markers by which it can be said that Egyptian society is importantly different from our society. Those differences are at the ideological and cultural level.

A society in which drinking is not only frowned upon in its excess but to any degree at all cannot help but be very distant from our carefree, alcohol imbibing society. A society in which the social changes seem, at this time, mostly to be heading away from those of the 20th Century and towards those in place centuries ago, is very distant from our society.

Of course, Egypt is not a simple society and there are trends going forward as well - as the recent revolt suggests - but, all told, the distance between Egyptian and Western society is wide and, in many ways, getting wider.

So, to the extent that Prager sees serious distances between our society and Egypt, I think he is on solid ground. However, I think he draws more from the evidence he cites than is there.

PG said...

However, I do note that you missed the point.

How did I miss the point? You're asserting that it's natural to see those different from oneself as "odd." I agree that it's natural, but I don't think "natural" behavior is necessary the best kind. It's unnatural to be open-minded about those who are different from ourselves; it's unnatural to strive to understand other peoples rather than condemn them for their differences. But it's also what mature adults are supposed to be capable of doing. Prager evidently is proud that as a 25-year-old, he was still too immature to perform such unnatural feats.

N. Friedman said...


Are you Pallavi?

Assuming that you be she, my comment addressed the comment that "I doubt you or Prager would consider promiscuity morally acceptable merely because it is natural." That point was an irrelevancy to what Prager had to say and, more importantly, to what I had to say.

Prager's point was about the societal differences represented by a person worrying to a stranger that he might rape his own daughter - and he made a moral judgment about what he heard. I was noting that such expression was not good evidence to show his point, which is that there are worrying differences about the views expressed by Arabs and Muslims.

Now, you think we should all be open minded. I agree. However, my open-mindedness ends where my rights to be left alone begin. There are - and, as a woman, this ought shock you - real differences in how Islamic society including, in particular, Arab society treats women. Some of the difference is explainable, given that not many years ago, woman in, say, the US did not have the right to vote or to participate in many aspects of society. Other aspects - such as the religiously sanctioned right to beat one's wife (but not with too much strength) - are not. And, such religiously sanctioned views are not declining but are on the rise. I am open minded but, at the same time, such practices are barbaric and need to be called out as being barbaric. So, I am not opened minded to anything without regard to content.

Then, there is the thing in the Arab world about Jews. I am not open minded about the rampant Antisemitism among Arabs. That noxious ideology, evidently, permeates even those who want democracy, as the sexual assault of Lara Logan shows. She was attacked by democracy demonstrators who shouted, "Jew, Jew, Jew." I have no tolerance for that or for the Antisemitism that prevails among Arabs. Do you?

PG said...

That point was an irrelevancy to what Prager had to say and, more importantly, to what I had to say.

Why was it irrelevant to what you had said? You defended Prager's statement as "the natural tendency is to see something odd" in that which is different. I countered that what is natural may easily be reproachable or even reprehensible. Instead of addressing this, you've somehow spun an explanation of why it's unwise to get intoxicated (one with an Old Testament echo, as it was when Noah was intoxicated that Ham saw him naked -- Genesis 9:21-22), into having something to do with Arab culture's attitudes toward Jews and women. The Biblical Lot notwithstanding, the idea that you shouldn't have sex with your daughter predates feminism by quite a few years.

N. Friedman said...


My comment about Antisemitism in the Arab regions and wife beating that is permitted by the religious laws prevalent among Arabs was in response to your comment that we should be opened minded. I think there are limits on what we should be opened minded about. My bet is that, notwithstanding your comment suggesting you somehow disagree, you think so as well and that you are for unknown reasons shy to express your true opinion.

If you do not think it wrong to point out the noxious Antisemitism prevalent among Arabs, I would be interested in knowing why. There is no doubt that, at the moment, the prevalence of Antisemitism among Arabs exceeds that of Germans at the time of WWII. David can confirm that fact for you if you do not believe me.

What is this talk about Lot? My comment had nothing to do with it and you know that full well.

Returning to the original discussion, your earlier comment was based on a misunderstanding of my comment. Noting oddities and judging them are very different things. Prager had reached certain judgments about Egyptians based, among other things, on his being told by an Egyptian that he would not drink because it would make him potentially rape his daughter. My reaction was that, while such a statement sounds odd to American ears, such is not sufficient evidence to reach a harsh conclusion. Your comment, by contrast, addressed the conclusion, not my point.

You also did not really address Prager's point, meaning, his evidence either shows the conclusion he reached or not. Your comment is to think it juvenile that he might find certain attitudes among Arabs to be troubling. Well, it is not juvenile. I think he is mistaken for the reasons I stated before. But that, in fact, child rape is not permitted by any known religious or cultural traditions is no answer to the fact that a person, out of the blue, said his concern to a complete stranger.

So, I stand by my statement that you have not addressed the issue.

PG said...

Your comment is to think it juvenile that he might find certain attitudes among Arabs to be troubling.

Wow, do we seriously have to get into the Arab Is Not The Same As Muslim tangent now?

the fact that a person, out of the blue, said his concern to a complete stranger.

And now we've moved on from your habitual ignoring of what I actually write, to ignoring what Prager actually wrote, which is that he ASKED THE DRIVER WHY HE DIDN'T DRINK. The driver's comment was not "out of the blue." If you're going to ask someone an intrusive personal question like "why do you adhere to your religion's restrictions?", expect that person either to tell you to go to hell, or if he's more polite and friendly, to give you what may seem like an awfully personal kind of answer. The notion that the DRIVER was the one somehow out of line in this interaction is very revealing of your prejudices.

N. Friedman said...


On your first point, that not all Arabs are Muslims, the point is what, exactly? I am well aware of that fact. In that part of the world, non-Muslim Arabs are typically persecuted and oppressed, to one degree or another, and often discriminated against. The oppressions, persecution and discrimination finds its roots in religion.

On your statement that the comment was not out of the but in response to a question about not drinking, the answer that came back, which might have been limited to a statement such as "My religion does not permit it," addressed the driver's concern that he might rape his own daughter.

That answer, in my book, was out of the blue. You are free to differ. And, whatever Prager's motives for asking the question - an interest in Islam or ignorance in its teaching -, the answer was a whopper, one you are unlikely ever to hear from a stranger.

I note the following points: PG has chosen not to respond to my most recent comments regarding the vile Antisemitism among Arabs. I take that to mean that she believes one should be tolerant of Antisemitism.

I note that I make a point of not calling people bigots, racists, Antisemites, etc. based on single comments. I raise the bigotry issue - as anyone who reads my comments on this cite knows - rarely and where there is overwhelming evidence. PG either is unaware or could not care - due to her ideology of open-mindedness - about Arab Antisemitism. That, to me, speaks volumes, David, about that way of thinking. It is an ideologically dishonest way to think because you have to ignore facts that are inconvenient and politically incorrect.

PG said...

N. Friedman,

Seriously, you read the following --

he politely declined, explaining that as a Muslim he is not permitted to drink alcohol. I asked why he thought the ban was necessary. Because, he explained, if a man drinks and then goes home and sees his daughter lying in bed, bad things could ensue. That opened this 25-year-old’s eyes.

and interpreted it as "The driver DIDN'T say something like 'My religion does not permit it'"?!

Your reading comprehension also led you to think that Prager was conversing with someone he'd specifically identified as an Arab rather than someone identified as a Muslim? FYI, not only are there non-Muslim Arabs, there are non-Arab Muslims -- yes, even in Egypt! (Such as the ethnically-African Nubians and Siwis.) Possibly even driving Prager! Prager himself said he'd "learned" about Islam in his week in Egypt.

Once again, I give up trying to discuss a text with someone who stubbornly ignores what's in the text.

N. Friedman said...


Again, the comment was out of the blue. The driver's comment revealed something about the driver. Prager, however, over interpreted it to be about general Egyptian attitudes.

I note, once again, PG, that you refuse to address the vile Antisemitism prevalent among Arabs. Why is that?

N. Friedman said...


I did not mention, with reference to your so very diverse Egyptians, that they expelled their Greek population in the 1950's and, more or less, did the same to their Jewish population. We are talking more or less a half million people. Does your open mindedness extend to that as well?

PG said...

N. Friedman,

I note, once again, PG, that you refuse to address the vile Antisemitism prevalent among Arabs. Why is that?

Because even when I'm weak enough to feed trolls, I refuse to give them exactly what's on their menu.

(Translation: Neither this post nor my comments had anything to do with anti-Semitism OR Arabs. You want to talk about anti-Semitism's prevalence among Arabs because you think it's a justification for your own bigotry toward Arabs. I therefore refuse to go off on your tangent.)

N. Friedman said...


You are the one who raised the issue about being open minded of Arab prejudices. I pointed out that I am open minded but that there are limits, among them, Antisemitism among Arabs and mistreatment of women by Arab men.

You think all of that is a tangent. Really. Prager's comment related to a taxi driver who raised the issue of potentially raping his own daughter. Your comment on this topic was, to cut to the chase, that we should be open-minded. My comment was that there are limits to being open minded.

In my view, you have no idea what it means to be opened minded, naively thinking that Antisemitism can be papered over. It can't. It is a cancer choking Arab society, just as it choked European society.

You are free to provide moral cover for bigots - which is what you are doing -, under the false umbrella of open-mindedness. You are free to claim I hate Arabs - something which is patently untrue. You are free to say whatever you want.

However, anyone reading this posting page will know that, to you, Antisemitism is not very important. Rather, it is something about which we should have an open mind, when such views are expressed by Arabs. So, you can say what you will but, frankly, you are an enabler of Antisemitism.

David Schraub said...

NF -- knock it off. There is literally nothing in PG's responses in this thread that in any way demonstrates that she is "open-minded" about anti-Semitism. Reviewing the comment thread, I think you're obviously misreading her responses, and you're nakedly strawmanning the issue as relevant to the post topic. For her part, she has already explained her non-responsivity as avoiding feeding your trolldom, which (a) is perfectly reasonable and (b) I entirely agree with. You're also behaving like a total schmuck ("as a woman, this ought shock you" -- if I were her, I'd want to slug you in the face right then). Quit it, or I delete subsequent comments.

N. Friedman said...


I shall do as you request. However, I note that were your view really correct, she would merely say she opposes Antisemitism among Arabs. She won't because she doesn't.