Archive for October, 2001

Unafraid to Identify Islamic Terrorism

Sunday, October 28th, 2001

The Reuters News Service instructs its correspondents to eschew the use of the word “terrorist.” Correspondents may quote others using the word, but they cannot exercise journalistic judgment and use the term directly. After all, according to Reuters, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “freedom fighter.” This is a new policy, since Reuters had no problem accurately characterizing Timothy McVeigh, the person who set off a bomb in a Federal building in Oklahoma Building killing many fellows citizens, as a “terrorist.”

In its defense, Reuters claims it is trying to avoid the use of “emotive” words and employ more descriptive ones. Well, this begs the question since the word terrorist is also descriptive. So what words are they substituting instead of “terrorist?” They are using words such as “bomber” or “hijacker” as if these words carried no emotional content. No, there is something more behind Reuters’s decision.

It would be easy to ridicule Reuters for its inability to identify a “terrorist.” Surely there may be cases where people might differ in their judgment, but it seems the deliberate act of slamming civilian aircraft into the World Trade Centers, killing thousands of civilians, is easy to identify as the act of “terrorists.”

A little cynicism may be in order here. Reuters is an international news service that seeks to expand its market. Calling a “terrorist” a “terrorist” may bother some Middle Eastern news consumers. Reuters is simply trading a little journalistic integrity for market share. This is not an unheard of exchange. Greed may not be noble, but it is, at least, understandable.

The Religious Newswriters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists have no similar excuse when they advise journalists to “[a]void using word combinations such as `Islamic terrorist’ or `Muslim extremist”’ lest someone believe that all Muslims are terrorists or extremists. Surely this is political correctness gone awry.

It is certainly the case that mainstream Islamic teaching is fundamentally inconsistent with mass murder. Nonetheless there are strains of Islamic fundamentalism that endorse and use terrorism. These strains are sufficiently prevalent that they pose political threats to Islamic countries like Egypt and Pakistan. Indeed, the clerical leaders of one such strain, the Taliban, rule Afghanistan with a religiously gloved iron fist.

It is not insensitive journalists who have attached the modifier “Islamic” to “terrorism.” It is groups like “Islamic Jihad” and the Taliban who have seized the traditions and history of Islam for their purposes. The US is not at war with Islam, but there are certainly Islamic groups who are at war with the US.

The term “Islamic terrorist” is accurately descriptive and informative no matter how uncomfortable that makes some feel. Such a term no more implies that all Muslims are terrorists than the phrase “American steelworkers” implies that all Americans are steelworkers. If it were not for the traditional Islamic respect for learning, perhaps we in the West would not have had the benefit of Aristotelian logic to understand this simple point.

The source of the recent anthrax attacks in the US is still not clear. The Washington Post has reported that “right-wing hate groups” are suspected sources. Does that phrase imply that all right-wingers are haters? Of course not.

This mania for political correctness, to avoid offending Muslims even when there is no real offense, potentially corrupts journalism. Journalists often call the subjects of stories to provide them an opportunity to correct inaccuracies or to respond to comments by others. However, they would never allow any outside groups to be involved in the editorial process. The Society of Professional Journalists would rightly never suggest that the military should “review…coverage and make suggestions.” Yet, this is precisely the oversight function that the Society of Professional Journalists believes “targeted” groups should have.

In an effort to appear objective and impartial, journalists are being asked to contort their normal processes for seeking the truth. Sometimes, speaking and writing the truth forces one to be on one side. Live with it. As Winston Churchill said, “I cannot undertake to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.”


The Tide Comes in For John Adams

Sunday, October 21st, 2001

The inauguration of John Adams took place the city of Philadelphia in the House Chamber of the Congress on March 4, 1797. As David McCullough in his book John Adams, paints the scene, “There was a burst of applause when George Washington entered the room…More applause followed the appearance of Thomas Jefferson…[A]nd `like marks of approbation’ greeted John Adams, who on his entrance in the wake of the two tall Virginians seems shorter and more bulky even the usual.”These three men, Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, are the preeminent American Founding Fathers. The occasion of the inauguration of Johns Adams was last time that all three appeared on the same platform. Many people attending the inauguration suspected as much.

The reputations and popularity of different American heroes ebb and flow as the times seem to demand the different qualities associated with different Founding Fathers. Perhaps the reputation of George Washington alone has remained stable over time.

For a country that was largely prosperous and self-involved over the last two decades, Thomas Jefferson seemed a likely icon. The brilliant and articulate Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, was the most rhetorically gifted of the three and could be idolized in an age of glibness. In an era devoted to self-improvement and “self actualization,” the expansive curiosity and intellectual depth of Jefferson was a perfect fit.

Jefferson’s recent popular decline and Adams’s ascendancy began with John Ferling’s book, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson and the American Revolution. George Washington is portrayed in Ferling’s book as heroic if sometimes bumbling and stiff. His popular stock remains stable. Jefferson’s brilliance is painted in contrast to his glaring failings: his irresponsible extravagance, his affair with a slave in his custody, and his refusal to free his slaves upon his death. Jefferson’s stock falls into a recession. Adams plodding constancy, particularly in foreign affairs, as well as his simple honesty supported a more bullish assessment.

Nonetheless, of the big three, Washington, Adams and Jefferson, John Adams is perhaps the least known and least understood, that is, until David McCullough’s new book. John Adams has been on national bestseller’s list for months. Despite the book’s over 700 pages, McCullough’s adroit prose and command of illuminating detail make the book a joyful read.

What is perhaps least known about Adams is his success in foreign affairs. During the Revolutionary War, Adams endured a dangerous ocean voyage beset with threats by the British and a torturous overland journey to represent US interests in France. While there, Adams worked first to gain support from the French in the War of Independence. After the French entered the war on the side of the Americans, he toiled to keep the French from negotiating a separate peace with Britain at the expense of American interests.

Unlike Jefferson’s, Adams’s personal life is a model worthy of emulation. He was a devoted father who lived simply and focused on the education his children. Adams’s relationship with his wife, Abagail, is legendary. Although Adams’s work for the United States and the slow transportation of the time sentenced the couple to months and even years of physical separation, their voluminous correspondence revealed an intellectual, emotional, and physical intimacy that anyone would envy.

Whereas Jefferson’s profligacy in book purchases was just one extravagance of many, Adams built an enormous library. When Jefferson died his estate was so worthless he could not free his slaves without burdening heirs with debt. Through frugality, wise management, and without the aid of slave labor, Adams left a substantial estate to his family.

McCullough’s book demonstrates that Adams’s simple virtues strike an important resonance with contemporary Americans. Unfortunately, the recent attack on America has probably jolted the country into a different mind set. We will now look for leaders and models with martial rather than diplomatic virtues. Adams’s popular ascendancy may be short-lived replaced by America’s first war hero, George Washington. Perhaps the public will even reach beyond the generation of the Founding Fathers, to Abraham Lincoln who led the country through its darkest times.

Squishy Pacifism

Saturday, October 13th, 2001

“You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” — Matthew, 5:38-39.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” — Matthew, 10:34.

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: `It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: `If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — Romans 12:19-21.

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” — Romans 13:3-4.

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

“A pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1917.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but there exists an intellectually honest, devout, resolute, and muscular pacifism that springs both from Christian beliefs and other religious traditions. It is a belief that physical violence is inherently against God’s will. It is a creed that holds evil can only be effectively countered with nonviolent resistance. It is a conviction that violence, even if temporarily effective, is, in the long run, counterproductive. The Mennonites, Quakers, and the followers of Gandhi fall into this tradition of pacifism.

But make no mistake about the courage of the adherents to this position. They believe that nonviolent resistance could very well lead to persecution and death. These people are clear-eyed about the consequences of their faith. They recognize the reality of evil and the cruelty that evil people can inflict on them, their families, and their nations. Their faith may call them to martyrdom. According to Luke 10:3, the Lord commands, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” There are many pacifists who have tried to build a peaceful world by bringing medical care, clean water, and food for those who lack these necessities. These pacifists have often risked personal safety in doing so.

There is an equally devout and honest tradition that believes that violence and war are sometimes regrettably necessary and can lead to peace. The Catholic tradition, in particular in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine, has a well-considered and developed “Just War Theory.” A just war must meet at least four criteria:

  1. War must be a last resort. Other avenues to mediate a dispute must be exhausted.
  2. Only a legitimate authority can conduct a just war.
  3. War must be undertaken for the right reasons. In the words of Saint Augustine, “… we go to war that we may have peace.”
  4. The war must entail a reasonable chance of success. The destruction accompanying war should not be inflicted for a hopeless cause. On balance, the expected good from a war must exceed the cost in violence.

In the middle, between deep pacifism and the reluctant acceptance of war as a necessity, there is a squishy and soft pacifism, the pacifism of Phil Donohue and much of the left. This pacifism avoids violence not through courageous nonviolent resistance, but by dismissing the need for any action. Whereas true pacifism recognizes the existence of evil and even the necessity of martyrdom in nonviolent resistance, squishy pacifism will find ways to explain or excuse evil. Squishy pacifism will employ self-hate disguised as reflection to diffuse moral clarity. They will ask, Sure the people who drove planes into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon did a bad thing, but what has the US done to make them so mad? If moral clarity can be sufficiently muddied, the moral authority to conduct military action atrophies. By blurring distinctions between good and evil and feigning an open-mindedness that hides an uncalibrated moral barometer, squishy pacifism allows evil to continue unabated. Squishy pacifism confronts evil with neither nonviolent nor violent resistance.

America is open to and prospers by exposure to different ideas. Muscular pacifists and believers in the possibility of a just war have much to seriously debate. Squishy pacifism just make clear the adage that one price of freedom is the necessity to tolerate fools.


Kinsley on Racial Profiling

Saturday, October 6th, 2001

The attack and murder of over 6,000 people at the World Trade Centers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia have come collectively to known as “September 11′ or “911” for short. The shock of it has forced us to reconsider and rethink some collective assumptions. In particular, we are now confronted with the question of “racial profiling” in an effort to identify potential terrorists. Michael Kinsley the liberal editor of Slate Magazine is considered a thoughtful commentator, but fell flat on his face in a recent article when he endeavored to determine “When is Racial Profiling Okay?”

Kinsley defines racial profiling as acting with respect to individuals on “statistically valid but morally offensive” assumptions groups. It implies, “rational discrimination: racial discrimination with non-racist rationale.” Kinsley identifies bad racial profiling as making decisions that generally disfavor historically disadvantaged groups and good racial profiling as arising from benign and altruistic motives.

Recent polls suggest that Americans, by a small majority, would support the use of racial profiling against Middle Easterners. It is ironic that African-Americans, who have been victims of such profiling in the past, support such a policy at higher rates than other Americans. It is doubly ironic when a Detroit Free Press poll found that Arab-Americans support racial profiling to search for potential terrorists by a 2-to-1 margin.

Kinsley admits that “affirmative action” is indeed a form of racial profiling. As he explains, “You can believe (as I [Michael Kinsley] do) that affirmative actions is often a justifiable form of discrimination, but you cannot sensibly believe that it isn’t discrimination as all.” However, since it arises out of a commitment to advancing minority groups, it is a dangerous, but useful form of discrimination. For Kinsley, this form racial profiling is “Okay.”

In our current situation, we ask whether additional attention by security agents in public places should be paid to people, particularly men, with an obvious Middle Eastern ancestry. Only a minute fraction of Middle Easterners are terrorists, but at least recently, all terrorists have been from the Middle East.

Somewhere between ignoring the appearance and citizenship of people as they pass through security check points at airports and devoting more scrutiny solely to those with a similar background to the 911 terrorists lies a reasonable compromise. However, the reason that such special attention might be warranted has to do with more than just benign motives on the part of security agents. In National Review, Robert Levy suggests a framework where ethnic heritage should only be considered in conjunction with other factors and only if such “profiling” could demonstrate empirical success in locating potential terrorists.

In 1993, Jessie Jackson explained “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” This observation by Jackson suggests that avoiding the obvious statistical correlations about groups is not easy. It also demonstrates that noting such correlations does not necessarily imply mean-spirited bigotry.

The difference between Jackson’s experience or security situations and affirmative action has to due with how much time and information are available for judgment. Late at night, Jackson must make an instant surmise lacking additional information to make a complete judgment. At an airport, a “suspicious” appearance of a non-citizen might suggest further investigation. Statistical correlations there are used as an opportunity to gather further information before formal judgments are made. No serious person would argue that all Muslim citizens of Middle Eastern countries in the United States should be automatically arrested.

Affirmative action is radically different. There is ample time in admissions or employment decisions to be thoughtful; and deliberate at to consider far more than just the race of an applicant. A rational use of race in admissions or employment might be to identify people who might deserve a second look. However, race or ethnicity ought not be used as a definitive factor in admissions no matter how benign or sainted the intentions.

Recent events forced Kinsley to re-consider what might constitute a rational policy for security in public places. Unfortunately, in trying to arrive at a general rule about when racial profiling is “Okay” he appears not to understand the issue and falls sadly very short.