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Sick and Twisted

An American was murdered by an Iraqi because he “looked Jewish” and Professor Juan Cole (perhaps the most over-rated blogger in the world) blames, wait for it, Israel!

The Iraqi killer of Reserve Navy Lt. Kylan Jones-Huffman has been brought to justice in an Iraqi court. Although he has since changed his story, he at one point admitted to killing Jones-Huffman with a bullet through the back of the neck while the latter was stuck in traffic in downtown Hilla. The assassin said that he felt that Jones-Huffman “looked Jewish.” The fruits of hatred sowed in the Middle East by aggressive and expansionist Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza against the Palestinians and in south Lebanon against Shiites continue to be harvested by Americans.

This from a guy who arrogantly calls his blog “Informed Comment.”

Well, professor, I suppose you join a phalanx of “informed commenters” who blame the United States for the World Trade Center attacks. Nice company you have there. Do you blame black people for Ku Klux Klan lynchings and cross-burnings? Perhaps you blame the gay rights movement for the murder of Matthew Shepherd. I’m just assuming since you’re a professor that you know how to apply a little consistency in your thinking, but I wouldn’t know. I found this entry via Andrew Sullivan, who reads your blog so I don’t have to.

UPDATE: Michael Kimmitt in the comments seems to think it’s okay to blame Jews in one country for the murder of a guy who “looks Jewish” in a different country.

And precisely how many heterosexual babies were blown to pieces in collateral damage from gay strikes on heterosexual homes? Also, how long have gay occupiers administered the heterosexual US as a conquered territory without its denizens granted the basic rights of life, liberty, and property? I’m curious. Seriously.

I’ll answer that question with another. Would it make sense if a Klansman lynched a black American and blamed it on the confiscation of white farms in Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe?

SECOND UPDATE: Looks like Juan Cole blamed Israel for the massacre of American contractors in Fallujah, as well.

Fisking Juan Cole

I hardly ever – ever – pick fights with other bloggers. But I’m not finished with Juan Cole yet. It’s long past time to give the professor from Michigan a double-whammy shellacking.

Yesterday he made up a conspiracy theory (all by himself, this time) about the Iraqi bloggers who write at Iraq the Model.

A related practice has been called by Josh Marshall “astroturfing,” where a “grass roots” campaign turns out actually to be sponsored by a think tank or corporation. Astroturf is fake grass used in US football arenas. What Mailander is talking about is not really astroturfing, but rather the granting of some individuals a big megaphone.

He wouldn’t want to let any individuals have a big megaphone. Especially not liberal-democratic Iraqis who don’t hate America like they’re supposed to.

The MR posting brings up questions about the Iraqi brothers who run the IraqTheModel site.

See what I’m talking about?

It points out that the views of the brothers are celebrated in the right-leaning weblogging world of the US, even though opinion polling shows that their views are far out of the mainstream of Iraqi opinion.

The brothers call b.s. on this one, but I don’t know. I don’t live in Iraq. Neither does Juan Cole. We’ll see what happens after the election in January.

But why should it make any difference to the right side of the blogosphere whether or not the Iraq the Model guys are mainstream or not? They are obviously friends of Americans. They share our liberal-democratic values. They helped found the Iraq Democracy Party. They aren’t running around bitching about America or cutting off heads. They’re the good guys. That’s why we like them.

Juan Cole would rather align himself with anti-American Iraqis like the blogger Riverbend. Okay, whatever. But I have no idea why he expects conservatives and centrists to do any such thing. Most people in this world don’t reflexively side with those who hate them. One reason he is in the political wilderness and I’m not is because he does and I don’t.

It notes that their choice of internet service provider, in Abilene, Texas, is rather suspicious, and wonders whether they are getting some extra support from certain quarters.

Well, Lord help us. Someone in America supports liberal Iraqis against fundamentalism, Baathism, and jihad. Ooo, how suspicious. Better come up with a “theory.”

Contrast all this to the young woman computer systems analyst in Baghdad, Riverbend, who is in her views closer to the Iraqi opinion polls, especially with regard to Sunni Arabs, but who is not being feted in Washington, DC.

Maybe she’s more in line with the Sunni Arabs. I really don’t know. But she certainly isn’t in line with the Sunni Kurds, who conveniently ceased to exist on the left the instant the United States government took Bill Clinton’s regime-change policy seriously.

But anyway. Why on Earth would an anti-American Iraqi be celebrated in Washington? Professor Cole might want to try really really hard to remember which country he lives in and, more important, which country Washington is in. That way he might be slightly less baffled by what happens outside his bubble.

The phenomenon of blog trolling, and frankly of blog agents provocateurs secretly working for a particular group or goal and deliberately attempting to spread disinformation, is likely to grow in importance. It is a technique made for the well-funded Neoconservatives, for instance, and I have my suspicions about one or two sites out there already.

As it turns out, Jeff Jarvis – who was an outspoken supporter of John Kerry – probably helped pro-American Iraqi bloggers, including those at Iraq the Model, more than anyone else. But it’s much more fun for a certain kind of person to write off Arabs who support freedom and democracy as pawns in a neoconservative plot. Every time I come across this hystetical knee-jerk formulation my opinion of neoconservatives goes up and my opinion of illiberal so-called “liberals” goes down.

It’s no wonder, really, that so many conservatives dismiss liberals and leftists out of hand as self-declared enemies of freedom and democracy. Not everyone on the left is like this, I know. Jeff Jarvis is only one of the more obvious examples of a liberal who’s actually liberal. But Juan Cole is the “national security” hero on the left side of the blogosphere. It’s not the right’s fault that it has come to this.

UPDATE: Ali at Iraq the Model responds to the professor.

[Y]ou’d better focus on something other than Iraq. Talk about Lebanon, or Yemen. Yemen is good! You haven’t messed up with a Yemeni blogger I assume? Or if you can’t live without talking about Iraq, then keep it poetic. It saves my time and your reputation.

SECOND UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis, bless his bleeding liberal heart, accuses Juan Cole of libel and says he is pond scum.

THIRD UPDATE: Barb O. in the comments section points to Juan Cole’s page on RateMyProfessors.com. Some of his students don’t like him very much. The person who wrote the top entry says he’s “a hypocritical, double-standard spouting apologist for racism and religious fascism.”

CORRECTION: The professor linked to a Martini Republic post about “blog trolling” (his characterization.) I didn’t read that post so I didn’t realize MR came up with this silly conspiracy theory first. Cole didn’t invent it, he just repeated it.

I’m Losing Here, People (Updated – I Won It)

Patterico is ahead in the Wizbang blog awards. He’s posting “vote for me” over at Free Republic, exchanging blogroll links for endorsements, bashing me as a “liberal” over at Little Green Footballs, and pulling all sorts of other shenanigans. That kind of behavior can’t be rewarded. But so far…it is!

So please go here and correct it by voting for me.

Thanks, all. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.

UPDATE: Okay, polls are closed and I won best blog for the top 100-250. (Unless, that is, somebody cheated on my behalf – please tell me you didn’t.) Thanks, everybody. And congratulations to Patterico and Meryl Yourish who took second and third place. They’re both on my blogroll, and both well worth visiting on a regular basis.

When in Rome

I considered moving to Tokyo to teach English right out of college but then chickened out. I wasn’t ready to live abroad in an alien culture at 22. (Actually, I probably was. I just thought I wasn’t.) Six years ago, before the eruption of the second intifada, I agreed to move to Jerusalem for an Intel tech writing job. But I didn’t go because the position was eliminated before I could start.

I thought long and hard about what it would mean to live in a culture different from mine. The first thing I would have to do — obviously — is accommodate myself to people who are different from me. If I moved to Japan I would expect to encounter Buddhism once in a while. If I moved to Jerusalem I’d expect something around a Jewish theme. And if I ever decide to move to Istanbul (to pick a random example), I’ll expect a reduced selection of restaurant options at noon during Ramadan.

I can’t imagine moving to one of those places and pitching a fit about and getting “offended” by the local traditions. Only the ugliest of ugly Americans would even think of it.

But some people do behave that way and — amazingly — fools let them get away with it.

Last week, a public elementary school in the northern [Italian] city of Treviso decided that Little Red Riding Hood would be this year’s Christmas play instead of the Christmas story.

The teachers said the famous tale was a fitting representation of the struggle between good and evil and would not offend Muslim children. The school’s traditional nativity scene was scrapped for the same reason.

In another school near Milan, the word “Jesus” was removed from a Christmas hymn and substituted with the word “virtue.” In Vicenza province an annual contest for the best Nativity scene in schools was canceled.

Conservative politicians and Churchmen blasted the moves.

“Are we losing our minds?,” said Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, an outspoken member of the populist Northern League. “Do we want to erase our identity for the love of Allah?”

Some places are more hospitable than others, and the Muslim countries are at the absolute top of that list. But there’s a flip side to hospitality. It ought to go both ways. Let’s not forget there’s such a thing as a rude guest. Those brats and their parents in Italy are perfect examples.

No More Stolen Elections!

I know you’re all tired of hearing about this, but it’s crunch time and slacking off would be fatal.

That little beady red rat eyed punk Patterico pulled ahead of me in the Wizbang blog awards. He’s bribing people for votes, spreading rumors about me and women’s underpants, and is almost certainly otherwise rigging the system.

Meryl Yourish is in third place. She emailed me and said she would form an alliance with him to gang up on me, then betray him in the end. Well, Meryl, that betrayal had better come fast.

Thousands of people cruise by this site everyday. If every one of you takes just a few seconds to go on over there and vote for me I’ll whoop ‘em both by a fat whopping margin.

So come on, dearly beloved fans and antagonists. Help me out here. My gigantic ego depends on it. Vote for me. Early, late, and frequently.

Cheers. And cheers to you, too, Patterico and Meryl. You’re alright – as long as you lose!

Worlds Can’t Meet Worlds. But People Can Meet People.

I forget who first said that (the headline, that is) but I like it and I thought about it as I was walking around inside Libya, hanging out, and chatting with regular folks.

One of the most striking things, really, about meeting people in far away lands inside other civilizations isn’t how different they are, but how very much like me they are. It shouldn’t be odd, but somehow it is. Nothing busts up stereotypes better than travel. Common sense and mere mental effort can never compete with it.

It goes both ways, I’m sure. What must it be like for someone who spent their entire life inside a country (like, say, Iraq) where Americans were constantly demonized to come to the United States and hang out with regular people. It’s probably a bit like my experience in Libya.

Granted, Libyans as people were hardly formally demonized in America. But almost every one of my friends and family members thought I was crazy to go there. The unspoken fear was that the people might kill me.

Well, no. Nobody killed me. Nobody even looked at me funny. I knew that’s how it would be from everything I read in advance, but it’s nice to actually experience that and have the old adage “people are people” proven out through experience.

This is a long intro for something I want to point out.

Omar and Mohamed, the two Iraqi bloggers who write at Iraq the Model, are travelling around the United States with Jim Hake from Spirit of America. Jeff Jarvis was lucky enough to meet them. And oh, how I wish I had been there.

It occurred to me it had been a while since I’ve look at their site, so I hopped on over and found this entry from Omar.

I wanted to say that I only knew about the left side of the blogosphere months after we started. I thought that the right side was the whole thing, as in the beginning I thought we were just posting our thoughts ‘into the darkness’ and get lots of visitors without having any idea were they come from except Iraqi blogs. Later we found about the major blogs such as Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Buzz Machine, LGF, Tim Blair, Roger Simon, Right Wing news…Etc and for long months I thought these were the only major bloggers! I didn’t know because these were the sites linking to us and from were we get lots of visitors and when I used to go to their sites I would find a somewhat similar list. It turned out to be that the other side top bloggers rarely if ever mentioned us or other Iraqi blogs except for the very anti-American ones. I realized lately that the blogosphere was divided into two major parts with very few bridges.

I think that’s sad for all kinds of reasons. But here’s his next sentence:

When I started looking at the ‘enemy’ I found out that most of them were not that horrible!

Exactly. Exactly.

Most people just aren’t that horrible. Whether they’re red-staters, Libyans, Iraqis, liberals, whatever, people are people.

Everyone knows this already, I know. But sometimes I get the impression when reading political blogs (and the comment section on my own blog) that liberals think neoconservatives have horns, and that heartland Republicans think Bay Area hippies have two heads, both of ‘em tattooed and pierced.

When I peruse the Guardian it sometimes seems like left-wing Europeans actually believe Americans have scuff marks on their knuckles and permanent drool stains on their shirts. Reading right-wing American magazines I sometimes wonder what on Earth some conservatives would think if they hopped on a plane to Paris and discovered that French people don’t have little beady red rat eyes.

Nothing distorts reality like politics and war. Those of us who spend our time on this stuff should try to keep that in mind once in a while. If you’re in a cocoon, try to get out more. It’s good for you. And it feels good, too.

PS – Don’t forget to vote for me in the Wizbang awards. Patterico is running neck and neck with me, and I hear he really does have little beady red rat eyes. We can’t let a guy like that win this thing, people.

Against PC Left and Right

Bridgett Johnson is a conservative screenwriter in Hollywood who isn’t happy with the Politically Correct orthodoxy that rules over the film industry. She wrote a guest column about it a few weeks ago for the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal where she makes the following point:

One would think that in the name of artistic freedom, the creative community would take a stand against filmmakers being sent into hiding à la Salman Rushdie, or left bleeding in the street. Yet we’ve heard nary a peep from Hollywood about the van Gogh slaying. Indeed Hollywood has long walked on eggshells regarding the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. The film version of Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” changed Palestinian terrorists to neo-Nazis out of a desire to avoid offending Arabs or Muslims. The war on terror is a Tinsel Town taboo, even though a Hollywood Reporter poll showed that roughly two-thirds of filmgoers surveyed would pay to see a film on the topic.

In a recent conversation with a struggling liberal screenwriter, I brought up the Clancy film as an example of Hollywood shying away from what really affects filmgoers–namely, the al Qaeda threat vs. the neo-Nazi threat. He vehemently defended the script switch. “It’s an easy target,” he said of Arab terrorism, repeating this like a parrot, then adding, “It’s a cheap shot.” How many American moviegoers would think that scripting Arab terrorists as the enemy in a fiction film is a “cheap shot”? In fact, it’s realism; it’s what touches lives world-wide. It’s this disconnect with filmgoers that has left the Hollywood box office bleeding by the side of the road.

I don’t know about the Hollywood box office “bleeding by the side of the road.” If there’s any evidence for it, she doesn’t cite any. And if she’s right I imagine (although I admit I’m only guessing) that political correctness has precious little to do with it.

She’s on solid ground, though, about movies themselves. Plenty of movies were made with Communist villains during the Cold War. I don’t recall any hand-wringing about how Hollywood hurt the self-esteem of the Russians.

If fictional Muslim terrorists offend certain people, the real ones on the news must give them a heart attack. But that’s not CNN’s fault.

Johnson hopes to see movies in Hollywood made by conservatives.

A liberal friend asked me what conservative filmmaking was, envisioning staid, G-rated pictures. The movement is better described as rebellion from the Hollywood status quo, the dream of being able to make a feature film whose political content won’t be altered to make the Republicans evil, in which politically incorrect yet pertinent material won’t end up on the cutting-room floor. It’s about having faith in filmgoers that they’ll eagerly support pictures to which they can relate.

Sounds great. But I’m not holding my breath. This article appeared yesterday at the BBC:

The director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is to remove references to God and the church in the movie.

Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy, said the changes were being made after film studio New Line expressed concern.

The books tell of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God.

“They have expressed worry about the possibility of perceived anti-religiosity,” Weitz told a His Dark Materials fans’ website.

How on Earth can you make a movie about a revolt against God without mentioning God? (Okay, Blade Runner told that story in an extremely roundabout way, but that’s, well, another story.) Replacing Palestinian terrorists with neo-Nazis was silly enough, but this is even more gutless.

Here is the author’s agent from the same article:

Of course New Line want to make money, but Mr Weitz is a wonderful director and Philip is very supportive…You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush’s America.

This is not Bush’s America. This is everybody’s America.

Boo hoo, some movies offend people. And those very same movies are often box office smashes. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police is only the latest example. The very fact that Team America was as raucously anti-PC as it was hilarious was a major part of the draw.

If you’re afraid of the content of the script in your hands that’s a pretty good indication that you need to be making a different movie. Find someone who isn’t a coward and who won’t take a meat-axe to the plot and let them shoot it instead.

Political Correctness is juvenile and asinine. It irritates more people than the number whose precious feelings it saves. I applaud Bridgett Johnson’s stance against left-wing PC. But let’s not forget about the right-wing variety (which is really quite rich if you think about it) at the same time.

PS – Don’t forget to vote often for me in the Wizbang blog awards. I’m losing my margin here because Patterico posts a “vote for me!” at the bottom of every single one of his posts. At this moment I’m only ahead of him by 0.1 percent, so you need to go here and make it all better for me. Thanks!

They’ll Never Have Paris

I don’t usually link to reviews of books I haven’t read. And I’ve never linked to a rebuttal to a review of a book I haven’t read. But sometimes these things are entertaining all by themeselves.

Like now, for instance.

John J. Miller and Mark Molesky wrote a book called Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France.

Is the book good? I dunno. Maybe. Our relationship with France isn’t all that hot at the moment, so it could be interesting and informative. On the other hand, with an overwrought title like that it’s not hard to imagine a wee bit of hyperventilating.

I was in France last weekend after my grand tour of Libya. I was well aware of the strained relationship between our two countries while I was there. But the French even in Paris were absolute sweethearts to me. (Where they get the reputation for being rude, I have no idea. My experience does not bear it out.) I certainly didn’t feel like I was behind enemy lines. After Libya, I felt like I was home.

Anyway, one of France’s most famous intellectuals, Bernard-Henri Levy, wrote a nasty review for the New York Times. (Try to get over the shock.) Miller and Molesky strike back at NRO. Maybe everyone involved is full of crap. I don’t know, but the fight is fun either way.

In his one-page critique, Levy hurls just about every hysterical epithet he can find in our direction. He accuses us of “racism” and “Francophobia.” He calls our book “nauseating,” “fantastical,” “grotesque,” and in competition for the “grand prize in stupidity.” He even compares what we’ve written to “the fascist French literature of the 1930s.”

Now that’s a curious putdown, comparing us to the French.

The only thing more curious may be the fact that before Levy goes diving off the deep end, he concedes so much of our argument. He readily admits that French anti-Americanism is “lodged in the heart of my country’s culture.” He even calls our historical account of Franco-American diplomatic relations — which is to say, the vast majority of our book — “a more or less fair re-evaluation.”

What really seems to irritate him is that we have the audacity to examine how French anti-Americanism has shaped Franco-American relations throughout history. At its core, our book seeks to overturn the pervasive, deep-seated, and dearly beloved myth that France and the United States are traditional allies whose age-old friendship only hit the rocks when America’s yahoo president decided to embark on an imperialist adventure in Iraq.

Levy’s central complaint, however, is that we have committed the unforgivable sin of “essentialism” — i.e. that we reduce France and the French to a simplistic, noxious caricature. His evidence that we are dyed-in-the-wool essentialists comes from the second-to-last line of our conclusion, where we offer some parting thoughts on the future of Franco-American relations: “Will the French, in short, continue to be the French?” we ask. For Levy, this mortifying question is hard evidence of “a temptation to which it is surprising to see apparently respectable minds succumb: racism.” In other words, we are racists for even wondering it. Yet Levy completely overlooks something that is, ahem, essential to understanding our question, which is that our question is actually an allusion. It harks back to the opening lines of the conclusion, where we quote a prominent American politician who had just been asked whether he considered the French friends or enemies. “The French are the French,” he responded. “And I think most people know exactly what I mean.”

And who was this politician? Here’s a hint: He spoke these words during a Democratic primary debate last year.

Still not sure? Some have said he looks French.

The odds remain slim, however, that the New York Times and Bernard-Henri Levy, now duly alerted, will soon condemn the junior senator from Massachusetts as a thoroughgoing essentialist, not to mention a fascist, a racist, and a Francophobe.

You can read Levy’s review here. And you can buy the book that kicked all this off over here.

I should add, for the benefit of those who don’t follow the link, that Levy ends his piece this way:

”Our Oldest Enemy,” an American version of what I used to call ”French ideology,” reinforces my conviction that there is one matter of great urgency, and only one: to reunite our broken link and to go beyond the two chauvinisms to resume rational dialogue.

I think that would be nice.

Thanks for Voting Early. Now Please Vote Often.

This cannot stand.

Patterico is asking his readers to vote for him again in the Wizbang blog awards. So now he’s gaining on me. How can I compete with him if he pulls a stunt like that and I don’t?

He runs a pretty good blog, so there’s no hard feelings here. But I don’t see him running off to places like Libya and posting extensive photo galleries of places almost no one has ever seen. My blog is better!

Vote for me again. Please. Thanks in advance.

Reactionary Provincials

Marc Cooper points to a short, concise piece in The Nation by Michael Lind (an ex-conservative turned center-leftist who I’ve admired for years) that stands out in a sea of mediocrity.

In an era in which most U.S. population growth is occurring in the South, West and heartland, American liberalism is defined by people in the Northeast.

At a time when rising tuitions are pricing many working-class Americans out of a college education, the upscale campus is becoming the base of American progressivism.

In a country in which most working-class Americans drive cars and own homes in the suburbs, the left fetishizes urban apartments and mass transit and sneers at “sprawl.”

In an economy in which most workers are in the service sector, much of the left is obsessed with manufacturing jobs.

In a society in which Latinos have surpassed blacks as the largest minority and in which racial intermixture is increasing, the left continues to treat race as a matter of zero-sum multiculturalism and white-bashing.

In a culture in which the media industry makes money by pushing sex and violence, the left treats the normalization of profanity and obscenity as though it were somehow progressive, making culture heroes of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt.

At a time when the religious right wants to shut down whole areas of scientific research, many on the left share a Luddite opposition to biotech.

In an age in which billions would starve if not for the use of artificial fertilizers in capital-intensive agriculture, the left blathers on about small-scale organic farming.

In a century in which the dire need for energy for poor people in the global South can only be realistically met by coal, oil and perhaps nuclear energy, liberals fantasize about wind farms and solar panels.

And in a world in which the greatest threat to civilization is the religious right of the Muslim countries, much of the left persists in treating the United States as an evil empire and American patriotism as a variant of fascism.

American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can’t adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.

I think he’s off base about Larry Flynt and Lenny Bruce. Hardly anyone cares a whit for nasty ol’ Larry, and Lenny is from another era. (Also, as an aside, anyone who doesn’t care for Lenny Bruce might consider watching Dustin Hoffman portray him in Lenny and see if you don’t change your mind.)

I also think he’s wrong about sprawl. Ask your average American what he or she thinks of sprawl, and you’re not likely to get an enthusiastic endorsement. It’s one thing to like your house in the suburbs, and another to be a booster for 2-hour commutes from the exurbs. New urbanism is rising, not falling, in popularity – and for a reason.

But Lind’s basic point stands. Progressivism, as he calls it, is both provincial and reactionary. What used to turn me off about the right now repels me from the left.

Not entirely, mind you. The Democrats have been the party of fiscal responsibility since at least the 1980s. (The Republicans create deficits so the Democrats can reduce them.) And the Republicans have plenty of provincial reactionaries of their own. (Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, anyone?) But that’s just another way of saying anyone who is literally progressive, rather than dogmatically so, has nowhere to go.

Andrew Sullivan = Starbucks

Right-Wing News published its warblogger poll results.

Funny how Andrew Sullivan won “Most Annoying Right-of-Center Blogger” and also took fourth place in the “Most Annoying Left-of-Center Blogger” category. People can’t agree whether he’s left or right (and that’s to his credit, I say), but they do seem to agree that he’s annoying.

I still like the guy, myself. And his traffic is up. Hating Andrew Sullivan is like hating Starbucks. All the cool kids do it, but the exact same people always hang out there anyway.

No, the Dungeons Aren’t Charming

Cliff May, founder of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote the following post for The Corner.

THE DUNGEONS ARE PARTICULARLY CHARMING THIS TIME OF YEAR

The New York Times Travel section this week features Libya, which it describes as “a once-forbidden fruit …a complicated and confounding land on the North African coast, opened in February after 23 years of a travel ban tighter than Cuba’s.”

There’s also this: “Despite American air strikes designed to kill its leaders, and a Bush administration that has enflamed Muslims around the world, I found the Libyans to be warm and self-deprecating. And despite being branded a rogue terrorist state by the international community, Libya felt perfectly safe in both urban and rural areas.”

No mention of Libyan dissidents being held incommunicado in prisons, such as the ailing Fathi Eljahmi.

I don’t want to pick on Cliff May. I have a great deal of respect for both him and his organization. (You’ll notice that I permanently linked to it on the right-hand sidebar of this Web site.) And a friend of mine, Andrew Apostolou, came over from Oxford to work for him — where he does some very good work, indeed.

That said, I want to address this post.

As regular readers know, I got home from Libya myself less than a week ago. And I’m working on a story about it for the LA Weekly.

My editor Marc Cooper explicitly told me he doesn’t want a newspaper-style travel piece like the one at the New York Times. And thank Heaven for that. I don’t want to write that kind of piece, which is one reason I pitched my story to the Weekly instead of many other places that might have been willing to send me. I don’t want to write a general article about tourism. I want to write an article that basically and honestly answers the following question: What the hell is it like to visit Libya? Hardly anyone knows. That’s the kind of story I’d like to read, so naturally it’s the kind of story I’d like to write.

I spoke to Marc on the phone last night and wondered out loud: How can anyone visit a place like that and not write about how weird and oppressive it is? He told me what I’m sure is the correct answer. That’s just not the kind of piece daily newspapers publish. Those kinds of articles are found in weeklies and magazines.

Cliff May’s point is to some extent a fair one. He points to an article about Libya that doesn’t mention dungeons or dissidents like Fathi Eljahmi. Okay. It’s a glaring omission. Sure. But in another sense this criticism isn’t fair. It wasn’t a political article. And it wasn’t trying to be. The writer didn’t have an agenda that included covering up or smoothing over the political crimes of the regime. The writer was simply working on a different kind of article. His editor almost surely said “no politics.” The editor would have said “no politics” no matter which country the reporter was visiting.

I spoke to Fathi Eljahmi’s brother on the phone a week before I left. (He lives in Boston, and told me stories about Libya that harrowed up my soul.) Andrew Apostolou, one of Cliff May’s colleagues, put me in touch with him. I wanted to speak to a Libyan national who really knew the country, who could explain to me what goes on there behind the scenes, and who could give me some advice about what to expect and how to behave. I’d like to thank him for this.

I should also say that I don’t intend to mention his brother in my piece. It’s not because I don’t care about his brother or the rest of the suffering people of that country. (Believe me, I do, especially now that I’ve been there.) It’s because my article is, and must be, about what it was like on my trip. It won’t be a policy piece or an explicitly anti-Ghaddafi piece, but a personal one.

So give the Times reporter a break. The kind of article he wrote serves a purpose and has an intended audience. It’s not the kind of thing I want to write, nor is it the kind of thing Cliff May wants to write. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the New York Times wants to whitewash Ghaddafi as he implies.

UPDATE: Julie Carlson emails:

I agree with your point completely, but don’t forget that this is the same New York Times that found a way to criticize the Bush Administration in a restaurant review, for heaven’s sake. Many of their reporters certainly never miss a chance to take a shot at a Republican president (so to speak) in all kinds of stories where it is completely out of place. But I guess I’m glad to know that when it comes to dictatorial regimes, the NY Times has its journalistic practices well under control!

Sadr City Turns Around

I don’t have much to say about this AP story by Hamza Hendawi. It pretty much speaks for itself. Happy to pass it along, though.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – After spending much of the year as a battlefield between militiamen and U.S. forces, Baghdad’s Sadr City district is now embracing peace and reconstruction.

Anticipation is high for what the residents of the mainly Shiite district say is their overdue empowerment through elections Jan. 30.

The outdoor markets are busy again and the gridlocked traffic is back. The bands of excited children who walked behind local militiamen heading to battle in the fall now clamor around machinery laying down new water pipes.

Workers in orange jumpsuits are laying asphalt in dozens of potholes dug by the fighters to conceal roadside bombs meant to kill American soldiers. The clerics who replaced their turbans and robes with track suits to join the fight are back in mosques and seminaries.

The daily lives of Sadr City’s estimated 2.5 million people have not seen much improvement in the two months since fighting ended. But the large Baghdad neighborhood appears on such a euphoric high that the mounds of festering garbage, the constant seepage of sewage and shortage of clean water seem to matter little.

In marked contrast to the skeptical Sunni Arab community, Sadr City’s population is looking forward to the January ballot. Banners and posters exhort residents to vote, and booklets explaining the process are distributed house-to-house. Even the sight of U.S. military convoys darting through the district no longer draw resentful looks.

First, Sadr City. Next, Fallujah.

New Email Address

I changed my email address, updated it on the sidebar, and thought I’d mention it here, too. I no longer use Yahoo and have moved on to gmail instead. So the new address is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com. Please send all future mail to that address. Thanks much.

How to Save Liberalism — and America

Peter Beinart’s latest article in The New Republic has already made the rounds in the blogosphere. I probably don’t need to link to it. I’m going to anyway, though, because there is one point he makes, his very first point, that isn’t getting enough attention.

First, however, a letter to Andrew Sullivan:

Beinart is almost completely right, and I do think part of the problem this election year was John Kerry personally, which is another way of saying that as de facto leader of the Democratic Party he was unwilling to use the words “Iraq” and “democracy” or “Arab” and “democracy” in the same sentence, and tell the peacenik wing of the party to sit down and shut up. But I’m just plain sick and tired of trying to convince other liberals that America is now engaged in a multi-decade struggle against Islamo-fascism, and that this struggle will be the central organizing principle in American politics for years to come. Sadly, the central post-election narrative that “values” rather national security cost Democrats this election, combined with ridiculous and childish allegations of massive voter fraud in Ohio, has allowed Democrats the luxury of avoiding and denying what ails them.

But whatever.

If liberals are determined to play the role of Taft Republicans during the 1930s and 1940s, denying the threat posed by European fascism and Japanese nationalism, obsessing about freedoms lost at home during wartime, and as such remaining in the political wilderness for most of the next three decades, who am I to stop them? In fact as far as I can tell Democrats would *rather* watch the New Deal and Great Society pissed down the drain, and a hard right Supreme Court roll back the 1960s, than stepping up to the plate and committing themselves to the realization of liberty and democracy in the Muslim world. The peaceniks were allowed to destroy the party once before in the late 60s and early 70s. Will they be allowed to do it again? So far it looks like the answer is yes.” [Emphasis added by me.]

Now let’s take a look at the Beinart column. Here’s his first paragraph:

On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington’s Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that “the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction.” Liberals, they argued, “consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West.” Unless that changed, “In the spasm of terror which will seize this country … it is the right–the very extreme right–which is most likely to gain victory.”

Exactly. The liberals pulled it together in 1947 and faced down Communism. If they had not McCarthyism would surely have ruled over the nation much more ferociously than it did. (Communists would have been dealt with harshly in any case.)

So here’s my advice to American liberals: If you want to win elections against the Republicans, strike the Islamists. Kill two birds with one proverbial stone. What could be easier? The Islamists are your real enemy anyway. They are far and away the most illiberal people on Earth.

But as long as the Terror War rages, if you keep lashing out at Republicans they will continue to beat you. In a time of war, your enemy is not the larger half of your country.

Do you want a liberal hawk in the White House? Or a conservative hawk? Decide.

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