Archive for May, 2007

Pew Research on Muslim-Americans

Monday, May 28th, 2007

The conventional pattern for immigrant groups in the United States is assimilation within a generation or so. More than other societies, the American culture is commercial one which tends to wash over religious and ethnic differences. In a commercial society, it makes little difference where a neighbor worships, what type of clothing he wears, or what unique food he eats at home as long as his commercial transactions are acceptable. Moreover, religious tolerance has been institutionalized since the nation’s founding. In addition, the children of immigrants are often rapidly assimilated in schools where they quickly acquire and influence the popular culture.

It was, therefore, heartening that a recent nation-wide Pew Research poll, that interviewed over 1,000 Muslims, found that middle-class Muslims were following the traditional assimilation pattern. The title of the report even suggests a certain optimism: Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream. The report finds Muslim Americans “to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”

From a Conservative perspective, there are some worrisome results from the poll. For example, most Muslims support a larger government that provides more services and as a consequence voted overwhelming for John Kerry in the last election. Although foreign-born Muslims were more likely to have voted for Kerry, interestingly they were less likely to do so than American-born Muslims.

Social Liberals might be concerned by the fact that Muslim-Americans believe that homosexuality should be discouraged by more than a two-to-one margin. Muslims are more socially conservative than Americans as a whole.

However, these issues are small compared to some very disturbing ideas held by a minority of young American Muslims. While an overwhelming majority of all Muslim-Americans do not believe that the suicide bombing of civilians are ever justified, fully 15% of Muslim-Americans between 18-29 believe that such bombings are “often or sometimes justified.” The press has reported that number as high as 26%, but it only grew that large when you include the 11% of who believe that bombings are “rarely” as opposed to “never” justified.

It is also unfortunate, that a significant fraction of Muslim-Americans are in denial with regard to the 9/11 attacks. Half of Muslim-Americans over 55 believe that that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by “groups of Arabs.” By contrast, 40% of Muslim-Americans between the ages of 18-29 believe that Arabs were not involved.

Perhaps the views of young, radical Muslim-Americans will be become more mainstream as these people age and grow to be more personally invested in American society. Nonetheless, the extremism of a small but significant minority of Muslim-Americans is a cause for long-term concern.

The Consequences of Pelosi’s Visit to Syria

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

The recent visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria was the occasion of much discussion as to the appropriateness of the visit. Did the trip represent wise policy, a way to reduce Syrian provocations in Iraq and Lebanon? Did the trip intrude upon the Constitutional prerogatives of the President? If the trip had been clearly successful, questions about Constitutional propriety would be quickly forgotten. However, just the opposite has happened.

The New York Observer recently reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad concluded from the trip that the American public was split on foreign policy and that is now safe to oppose American interests. The immediate effect was a crack down on dissidents. The New York Observer quotes a woman’s rights activist in Syria as complaining that “Pelosi’s visit made the regime feel that Americans were divided on how to deal with Syria…This sends a message to the regime that the pressure is off, that it can do what it likes.” Pelosi’s visit allowed Syria to feel freer to sentence Syrian dissident Kamal Labwani for daring to meet with American officials during a visit to Washington in 2005.

Pelosi’s visit also did not alleviate Syrian meddling with its neighbors and perhaps accelerated it. There are credible reports that Syria is now smuggling arms and munitions to Fatah Al-Islam, a terrorist group which is destabilizing Lebanon and triggering violent clashes with the Lebanese army. Pelosi’s visit did not preclude these actions, and it is at least possible that the visit made it a little easier in Assad’s mind to exercise his destructive influence in Lebanon.

Pelosi’s present ideas seem to contradict ones from her past. In 2003, she argued that “One of the lessons learned thus far in the war on terrorism is that there can be no success without disrupting the support networks on which terrorists rely. Rhetoric has thus far not been effective in encouraging the Syrian government to cease its assistance to terrorists, and to remove its forces from Lebanon.” Now in 2007, Pelosi appears enamored by the potential effectiveness of rhetoric and discussion. It is difficult to escape the notion that she visited Syria because the Bush Administration opposed such a high-level contact. If President George Bush did not want her to visit Syria, to Pelosi this was dispositive evidence that she should visit.

Pelosi’s problem is not a lack of good intentions. She certainly wants Syria to reduce the oppression of its citizens and its destabilizing actions on neighboring countries. As a consequence of their adult experience and the nature of their professions, politicians from democracies suffer from the conceit that all differences are splittable and agreements can always be reached through discussions. By contrast, tyrants, who rule by force and not through popular assent, desperately seek legitimacy. Friendly visits from high-level, democratically-elected leaders lend such legitimacy. Politicians, like Pelosi, consider such visits as simple courtesies, not as concessions. Unintentionally, Pelosi’s visit handed Assad a victory without extracting any comparable concession from Assad.

It is sometimes necessary to communicate with bloody regimes like Assad’s. In such cases, it is possible to send middle-level officials discretely or to work through intermediaries. The moral authority granted by the visits of high-level officials should be reserved for those cases when a comparable concession is extracted.

Bush Derangement Syndrome: Again

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Only a tiny number of votes separated then Governor George Bush and the Vice-President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. George Bush was finally determined to have won a majority of votes in Florida, a majority of the Electoral College, and consequently the election for president. All this occurred despite the fact that Al Gore received a small, but very real majority, of the popular vote. The controversy had the salutary effect of reminding us of the thoughts of The Founders on the structure of government. Unfortunately, the close election also aroused deep partisan antipathy that has continued to this day. For some number of angry Democrats, Bush was “selected” not “elected.” Use of this expression at a Democratic gathering is as sure to arouse a positive response. Some Democrats have never internally accepted Bush’s legitimacy, and it shows.

One might have thought that Bush’s clear victory in 2004 (286-251 in the Electoral College and 53.16% to 46.65% in the popular vote) would dispel disputes about Bush’s legitimacy. Perhaps still yoked to their residual anger from 2000, Democratic partisans could not pull away from belief that the Swift Boat political ads, disputing Senator John Kerry war hero status, unfairly tipped the election to Bush’s favor. If anything, the anti-Bush antipathy hardened rather than eased after 2004. Indeed, Charles Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist, coined the phrase “Bush Derangement Syndrome” to describe otherwise normal people who seem loose their grip on rationality whenever the subject touches on President George Bush. Krauthammer’s clinical description of the syndrome is “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.”

This week a Rasmussen poll documented the most recent manifestation of this pernicious affliction. Released on May 4, 2007, the poll reported that:

“Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure.”

If Bush knew about 9/11 in advance, he might have picked a more heroic circumstance to be found in than reading a story about a pet goat to elementary school children in Sarasota Florida during the attacks. Indeed, the Left blogosphere spent the last six years portraying Bush reaction to 9/11 as one of confusion and disorientation. If Bush knew about 9/11 in advance, he could have flown directly back to Washington in faux bravery rather than hopscotching from an Air Force base in Louisiana to one in Nebraska. If we may expand on Krauthammer’s initial work, another symptom of Bush Derangement Syndrome is the ability to simultaneous and fervently believe two contradictory propositions.

There is no plausible evidence that Bush knew in advance about 9/11, so how can so many Democrats maintain such a ludicrous proposition? Of course, there are always the extremists lurking in the muck at the ends of the political spectrum. The far Left and their associated web sites have been propagating such theories on Bush’s advance knowledge of 9/11. In addition, through the efforts of popular, though intellectually undisciplined, entertainers like Rosie O’Donnell or movie producers like Michael Moore, these notions and similarly improbable ones have been deliberately spread to infect the main stream consciousness. Such efforts, however, would not be fruitful if serious Democrats and others did not acquiesce to the crazies in their midst. Former President Jimmy Carter lent credibility to Moore by inviting him to his box at the Democratic National Convention, while Rosie O’Donnell has a daily presence on ABC’s The View. The View’s credibility is undergirded by ABC’s news correspondent Barbara Walters.

The Right is not immune to such attitudes. During the Clinton Administration and during particular embarrassing times with respect to impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Bill Clinton launched military strikes against Iraq and Afghanistan. Some Republican lawmakers wondered out loud whether these attacks represented a “Wag the Dog” scenario. However, the notion was never strongly pushed by Republicans.

The problem with the rise in saliency of vicious anti-Bush ideas is that such hatred needs fuel to survive. Believers must either consume themselves or spread their hatred to others. If the first turns out to be the case, extremists on the Left will burn brightly for a short time, but in the end consume themselves alone and be forgotten. If the latter turns out to be the case, the hatred will spread to others parts of the polity. That is the real danger.

Conservatives Hardened By Being on the Defensive

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Consider the proposition that in modern America, Conservatives tend to be more articulate, better debaters, and less given to foolish remarks. The reason behind this difference is not that Conservatives are inherently smarter or more eloquent, it is that Conservatives are immersed in a popular culture informed by a media that is largely unsympathetic to Conservatives. Conservative are justifiably on the defensive. As a consequence, if one has Conservatives inclinations, one soon learns that one needs to be better informed and practiced in making arguments. Many Liberals live in environments that never challenge their notions and hence their ability to debate atrophies. While Conservatives may be just as likely as others to have a foolish thought cross their minds, they have been taught to exercise a little more verbal discipline.

Thus, it was not surprising when Conservative Sean Hannity was judged by viewers in a KSL-TV poll to have won a debate with the Liberal Salt Lake City Mayor Ross Anderson, 58% to 24%. By conventional standards, it was a crushing rhetorical defeat for Anderson [1]. Part of the problem for Anderson is that he is accustomed to giving speeches to those who are largely already in agreement with him. Hannity by contrast, debates nightly with his counterpart Alan Colmes and must occasionally deal with hostile callers to his radio program. Direct debate and argument are acquired skills.

My guess is that as a matter of inherent skill and intelligence Hannity and Anderson are comparable. Why then was Hannity so victorious in their debate? The problem lies in that Anderson has been so immersed in the Left’s approach to the war and its irrational anti-Bush bashing that he assumed upon himself an impossibly high debate standard to meet. Anderson tried to argue that, “Given the scale, frequency and moral depravity of these outrages, President Bush must be held to account through impeachment and removal from office, if we do not call for accountability, we are complicit.”

I am sure that among Anderson’s friends and staff, he has drawn raucous cheers for making similar statements and he felt confident entering into the debate on the basis of such an extreme position. However, for the purposes of debate, Anderson buried himself with an un-winnable position. He could have taken a position that was more moderate position, still critical of Bush’s policies, and might have prevailed. Conservatives, always prepared for debate in a hostile context, would typically not make such a tactical mistake.

On the other side of the country, we find an example of how Liberals living in a cocoon of agreement among their peers are apt to make foolish statements. Apparently, someone had defaced a radio station advertisement for Rush Limbaugh, an event, had it occurred in other contexts, would have be called a hate crime. Instead, it was just another example of Left-wing commitment to free speech, at least the free speech of those they agree with.

The event might have passed unnoticed except for the fact that the Baltimore Sun reported that Robert Murrow of the Department of Public Works beamed about the defacement: “It looks great. It did my heart good.” The Baltimore Sun did not consider the comment remarkable until the story unleashed a furry on the Internet and talk radio. The Department of Public Works quickly distanced itself from the apparent endorsement of the destruction of private property. Although cooler heads prevailed, the question is what environment makes it easy for a public employee in Baltimore to make such a comment to a newspaper without fear of consequence? Is it alright to deface Conservative property? Had someone defaced a campaign ad for Barack Obana would anyone have be crazy enough to say “It looks great. It did my heart good,” even if such an ugly thought came across their mind?

[1] It is interesting to note that the KSL-TV report was so disappointed at the outcome that you had read to the fourth paragraph in their on-line report to learn that more than twice as many people thought Hannity had won.

The Gaia Napa Hotel

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

The Bloomberg media services company recently reported on the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa, less than 40 miles northeast of San Francisco, a self-described “eco-friendly property,” equipped with low-water-use toilets and showers and paved in recycled stone. If the owners can find a market for their hotel services, then who are any of us to complain. A quick check showed rooms priced as low at $149 a night. While this is high by Midwestern standards, for a hotel near San Francisco, this rate is reasonable.

Bloomberg also reported that this environmentally-conscious hotel had replaced the Gideon Bible, that is traditionally found in hotel rooms, with a copy of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. It is difficult to conjure up a more fitting metaphor for the transition of the environmental movement from a reasonable concern for stewardship of the environment to a religious faith. The “Tree Huger”web site even considered the Bible replacement to be a “nice touch.”

Since the story came out, the hotel claimed that the Bibles haven’t been replaced. According the hotel’s web site, “Contrary to an erroneous news report, Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa is continuing the long tradition, first established in 1899, of placing a Gideon bible in all our hotel guest rooms. In addition, we are placing the book of Buddha’s Teaching for Buddhist travelers.” Now whether the Bibles were always there or hastily brought in to deal with popular criticism is something that is difficult to determine from a distance. We should grant the benefit of the doubt and assume that the hotel managers were not so foolish as to discard Bibles. However, of the name Gaia for the hotel and the message behind Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. that the time for debate about global warming issues is over, are implicit signs of the descent of the extremes of the environmental movement to cult-like status.

Gaia is the Greek goddess of the Earth. In its mildest form, the Gaia Hypothesis is almost trivially true: that life on the Earth can be considered as an interlinked system, complete with self-regulating feedback loops. In its more extreme form, the Gaia Hypothesis views the Earth as a living organism, perhaps even with a consciousness of it own. The personification of the Earth and the environment, implicit in giving the Earth system a name and consciousness, re-enforces the cult like worship of the Earth which views humans an interlopers. From this perspective, every creature, but humans, are a part of nature. Only humans can deliberately upset the natural balance. Only humans can be evil. However, it is the capacity of humans to choose to be either good or evil that makes humans unique and immeasurably more valuable than the remainder of creation. It is this moral capacity that makes us stewards and not subjects of the Earth or Gaia.

The issue of climate change is an important one. We are in the processes of assessing the extent to which human actions affect climate. Some believe that immediate action is necessary. In an effort to compel such action, we are told by Al Gore and others that the debate is over and the scientific consensus favors immediate action to alleviate global warming. Concede for the moment that such a broad scientific consensus exists. This is does not mean that the debate is over. Science is inherently skeptical, always willing to question, and perpetually provisional. When we suspend skepticism or when we discontinue debate we move from the realm of reason to the realm of faith. Ironically, some environmentalists use the credibility and authority to science to suppress the very processes that make science credible and authoritative.

By all means visit the Gaia Hotel in California and enjoy your stay while studying An Inconvenient Truth. But recognize that humans are unique to the world and that this uniqueness is measured by the extent that humans have the capacity to act morally and question authority.