History Dead or Alive!

March 21, 2010

Anyone with the desire to obtain a sense of what our children are learning about Islam in school, would be well served by paying attention to some of our children’s history text books.  

The California standard 7th Grade text for history is titled , “History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond.” Not only is it rife with mistruths about medieval history, but it blatantly glorifies and promotes Islam at the expense of  Christianity.

History Alive! is a standard text and used in most of our country’s public schools. You would think that an American text book devoted to the medieval world would provide a balanced picture of pre-Enlightenment Europe and its accomplishments. 

But you would be wrong.  

This text barely scrapes together an outline of the Western civilization’s growth and development, but spends an inordinate amount of space displaying the growth (and worth) of Islam.   In fact an entire unit, 55 pages, featuring such chapter titles as The Geography of the Arabian Peninsula, The Prophet Muhammad and Islam’s Contribution to World Civilization, glorifies Islam’s contributions to our civilization while failing entirely to  recount  the bloodshed that accompanied its conquest of most of the Mediterranean world. 

The obvious impression left is that Islam’s spread was peaceful and benign, being implemented through trade and cultural exchange. Unanswered is how Islam converted populaces so implicitly unhappy with their heritage, that they forsook Christianity to take up a new religion. 

Strangely enough Christianity, in the same time period, has only 15 pages devoted to it – mainly centering on the Crusades, which are described as violent campaigns and massacres launched as attempts to regain captured lands.    Judaism is barely mentioned except in terms of the Spanish Inquisition.  There is no reference at all to the philosophical contributions of St. Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, Solomon Ibn Ezra and William of Ockam.    Nor is there much discussion of English Common Law, crucial to the growth of the continental legal system and the future American system of justice.

Additionally, Christian beliefs are presented as legends while the claims of Islam are presented as facts. For instance, “Moses claimed to receive the Ten Commandments from God” but Mohammad simply “received the Koran from God”. 

On the subject of Jihad: “Muslims should fulfill jihad with the heart, tongue, and hand. Muslims use the heart in their struggle to resist evil. The tongue may convince others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research. Hands may perform good works and correct wrongs.” 

No mention of the carnage and havoc wrought by Jihad’s call to arms throughout the medieval period. 

There was also substantial puffery and misinformation. The text tells us that Muhammad “taught equality and told his followers to share their wealth and to care for the less fortunate in society,”  –  a fact even most Islamic scholars might dispute. 

Where does all this come from? 

Well in 1998, the California State Board of Education adopted “History, Social Science Content Standards for CA Public Schools” which explicitly defines the content that students need to learn at each grade level.  For 7th Grade history,  students are required, among a number of other things, to analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages. Within the prescribed activities, they must explain the significance of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic beliefs, practice, and law, and their influence in Muslims’ daily life, discussing the expansion of Muslim rule through military conquests and treaties while emphasizing the spread and acceptance of Islam and the Arabic language. 

In other words, Californian 7th grade students must receive instruction and engage in activities to learn about Islamic history, culture and religious practices, whether they want to or not.  The guidelines indicate that the school’s approach to religion should be academic, not devotional and that the school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion. 

It is important to note that the textbook’s publisher, Teacher’s Curriculum Institute (TCI), enjoys a close relationship with the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a Muslim propaganda agency based in San Jose, California. The ING website was formerly connected to several Islamist websites, including a propaganda outlet in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.   It sported a website devoted to corrupting American history–and endorsing TCI textbooks. ING promotes no other schoolbook publisher.

The book credits Ayad Al-Qazzaz as its chief author-advisor on Islam. Al Qazzaz is professor of sociology at California State University, Sacramento who is a Muslim apologist and  a frequent speaker in Northern California school districts promoting Islam and Arab causes. He also co-authored The Arab World Notebook, issued by the Arab World and Islamic Resources (AWAIR) which is a proselytizing non-profit organization that conducts teacher workshops and sells supplementary materials to schools.

 Maybe it all began innocently enough with a State Board attempting to create a balanced multicultural approach to education.  

But this text is only multicultural in the sense that it presents the historical narratives of a range of cultures, without critique or comment and without offering any support for the value of the culture and civilization to which the students belong. 

The American Textbook Council (ATC), a national non-profit watchdog group, singled out History Alive! for its bias and prejudice, excoriating it for “an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security.” 

In a 2008 report, ATC spells out a damning indictment of the way such spurious material like this makes it into school texts throughout the country.   Its conclusions are worth quoting in full: 

“Textbook editors try to avoid any subject that could turn into a political grenade. Willingly, they adjust the definition of jihad and sharia or remove these words from lessons to avoid inconvenient truths that the editors fear activists will contest. Explicit facts that non-Muslims might find disturbing are varnished or deleted. Textbooks pare to a minimum such touchy subjects as Israel and oil as agents of change in the Middle East since 1945. Terrorism and Islam are uncoupled and the ultimate dangers of Islamic militancy hidden from view.

 None of this is accidental.  Islamic organizations, willing to sow misinformation, are active in curriculum politics. These activists are eager to expunge any critical thought about Islam from textbooks and all public discourse. They are succeeding, assisted by partisan scholars and associations. It is not remarkable that Islamic organizations would try to use ready-made American political movements such as multiculturalism to adjust the history curriculum to their advantage. It is alarming that so many individuals with the power to shape the curriculum are willfully blind to or openly sympathetic with these efforts. 

These distortions and biases about Islam in history textbooks could not prevail were it not for the all-important bridge between Islamist activists and multicultural organizations on and off campus. Both are eager to restrict what textbooks say about Islam. Multiculturalists are determined that social studies curricula do not transmit “Eurocentric”or “triumphalist” presuppositions about Western history and society. Middle East centers on campuses promote an uncritical view of Islam, often with a caustic anti-Western spin. Historians actively interested in taking world history curricula in this direction are prominent in textbook authorship. Encouraged to do so by reputable authorities, textbook publishers court the Council on Islamic Education and other Muslim organizations—or at least try to appease them. This legitimacy is bestowed in spite of longstanding questions about sources of funding and degree of control over publishers.”

 All parents should be concerned about these developments and should demand to be given a say in how Islam is portrayed in our children’s textbooks.  For the current curriculum and the texts themselves amount to a whitewash of Islamic teachings and history, failing entirely to account for a 1400-year- long legacy of Jihad and attempts to subvert the West.

The fact that the global  terrorist campaigns we witness today derive their legitimacy and inspiration from the same teachings that drove the Islamic conquests of medieval times, should be something our students know and learn.   This must be so no matter how and whether it breaches the boundaries of accepted multicultural dogma or aspirations.

Petraeus of Arabia

March 19, 2010

 Could there be anything more discomfiting for Israelis and their supporters around the world than the recent breach in relations between the State of Israel and the United States?

 Well, yes.

 A report on March 17 revealed  that in mid- January, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. David Petraeus  had sent them to amplify his growing concerns at the lack of progress in bringing the Arab- Israeli conflict to an end.   It reflected  a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.  

A shiver has since then crept up the U.S. governmental spine that a failed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would couple Israeli intransigence with American weakness – resulting in an ebb in Arab support for American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing vulnerability of American servicemen to  attack.

The report, if true, should be of far deeper concern to Israel’s supporters than a temporary spat over housing units in Jerusalem.  For if the U.S. military, which has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an important hedge against the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East,  now sees the nation as a liability, we may be in for a fundamental realignment of American foreign policy.

But questions remain.  Who, for instance, has David Petraeus been talking to?  Not by chance  to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak –  the leader of a country that, despite a 30-year-old peace treaty with the Jewish state, is one of the world’s most vicious Israel bashers at world forums and a lodestar of antisemitism in a part of the world that has no dearth of Jew hatred?   

No?  Then what about  King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that avid seeker of peace, who, as monarch of his desert sheikdom, has presided over a cottage industry of Israel demonization while doing nothing, despite his country’s bubbling oil wealth, to enhance Palestinian welfare. 

Or maybe he has been taking tea with our friends in Dubai, who have expended millions on tracking the hit squad that targeted Hamas king pin Mahmoud al-Mabhouh but who seem oddly disinterested in the cloaca of muddied terrorist money that funnels unfiltered through its financial institutions.  

Perhaps it is that Petraeus has been given to reading a great deal lately from the communiqués of the British Foreign Office of the late 1930s and the U.S. State Department in the 1940s.  Back then the argument made by both was that neither Britain nor the United States could afford to support the establishment of a nascent Jewish state since it would inevitably turn the Arab world against the West.  

History proved them wrong.  British coddling of the Arabs proved distastrous as the sheikdoms tilted towards the Axis Powers during the Second World War and imperilled British access to oil as well as the approaches to India.   After the war, the oil rich sheikdoms discovered in the West hungry, open markets for their subterranean product.  The Arab-Israeli dispute was only a shadowy after-thought and did not get in the way of the growth of their oil business nor their relations with the West.   It was, oddly enough, not Western support for Israel that would ultimately turn the sheikdoms against the West, but the pressures of the Cold War and then the well financed rise of Islamic fundamentalism. 

You do have to wonder then whether Gen. Petraeus, like so many other Western diplomats,  is responding to facts on the ground, divorced from their historical context.   Does he appreciate that “the  process” he complains about did not begin a few months ago but has been on-going for 17 years?  Does he realize that Israeli concessions were not greeted with tears of joy by the Palestinian leaders but with the murder of Israeli citizens?   Or that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated their agreements and have, time and again over the past 70 years, refused generous territorial offers put to them by the Brits, the United Nations, the United States and Israel itself?

Does he appreciate that the Israelis have buried their dead as the world continued to rhaphsodize about Palestinian territorial rights?   

Perhaps he is unaware of any this because history has, at least until now, been an insignificant element in modern diplomacy in the Middle East, with each round of negotiations mandating a virtual reset of relations, as if the past was a blank slate and not inked with shattered Palestinian promises or dripping with Jewish blood.

But if Gen. Petraeus does not appreciate history, how does he feel about the present?  

Does he comprehend Israel’s military capability, the reach of its intelligence network, the strength of its civilian morale and the determination of its leaders to deter another Holocaust?    Does he understand the strategic importance of marshalling these resources in the inevitable confrontation between the Iranian mullahs and the West? Can he or our political leadership in Washington shrug off their prejudices and expectations long enough to recognize that the Palestinian pantomime is a mere sideshow to the true menace rising out of the sands of the Middle East?

In the end, military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus, schooled as they are in the practical realities of the world, should not allow themselves to be distracted by the importunings of a gang of self- interested autocrats who have shed as many tears  for the welfare of their Palestinian brethren as Adolf Hitler once wept for the Sudeten Germans.   He should be aware that no matter what Arab leaders explain to him about their tribal alleigences, their assurances have regularly proven hollow, their willingness to make genuine sacrifices for American security negligible and their commitment to peace a fraud, offered as a sly purchase for American aid and protection.

Is it any wonder then that when Israelis hear American generals talk excitedly about the slow pace of  negotiations and its threats to the lives of American soldiers, they can only hang their heads in exasperation?

The President’s Middle East Playbook

March 17, 2010

Barack Obama has achieved the impossible. He has managed to bring together secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews in a heated campaign against him.  His administration’s determination to use an Israeli housing construction project in Northern Jerusalem as the pretext for a diplomatic crisis, has set him on a collision course not just with Israelis of all stripes but even with American Jews who are growing increasingly apprehensive of just where this President intends to lead them.  

Did he anticipate this?  No one can know for sure.   But his determination to face down Benjamin Netanyahu and force him to cancel the permit for 1600 units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem has already backfired.   Coming right at the opening of the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. this weekend, he is about to become the first post- war Democratic President whose name may be greeted with derision by a convocation of Jews. 

Almost anyone who lives in Jerusalem knows that the area in dispute, Ramat Shlomo, is a Jewish neighborhood and has been so for thirty years.  It is surrounded by other Jewish neighborhoods and no Israeli in their right mind would consider surrendering it in any final peace deal with the Palestinians. Giving up Ramat Shlomo would be the equivalent of giving up the world famous Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the tony Jerusalem suburb of French Hill and even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.  All three are just  as integrated into the Jewish identity of Jerusalem as Ramat Shlomo.  Only by accepting the Palestinian narrative – that all of Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians, could anyone possibly envision  the suburb as future Palestinian territory. 

The punditocracy is awestruck by the apparent petulance of it all.  What, they are all asking, did he hope to gain? Was the intention to dress down Netanyahu and bring him into line?  Well, the Israeli prime minister is defiant and there is no sign whatsoever he will accede to the administration’s demands that he cancel the permit. This stance has rallied much of the country behind him.  Rather than weakening the Israeli leader, as Obama might have hoped, he has only added to his political capital.   

The Palestinians watch in delight as they wait for the Americans to deliver Israeli concessions without having to do anything but chew on their falafel.  They win either way.  If the peace process continues to stall they can continue to wait, which is their modus operandi anyway.  If Obama finally gets Netanyahu to say uncle, they will be dealing with a castrated Israeli leader viewed as unable to control his own foreign policy. 

The Arab League, those irredentist potentates, are no doubt rolling around on their palace beds in glee.  They had made clear to Obama that there could be no further progress in Middle East peace without resolving the grievous wound to Arab pride caused by the Arab-Israeli dispute.  Ramat Shlomo has become their poster child for Israeli transgression and so now they are winning too, convincing an American president to do their bidding.   

And what is one to say about the claims by Obama lieutenants such as Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton and David Axelrod, that events in northern Jerusalem put American lives elsewhere at risk?   Are we really to believe that  al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan have for years awaited developments in Ramat Shlomo with tense anticipation – so much so that if the crisis is not resolved soon in the Arab favor, there is certain to be an explosion?   

Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is absolutely no connection between the construction of apartment units in Ramat Shlomo (still two years distant) and the intent of Islamic martyrs to kill American soldiers thousands of miles away.  The same number of American servicemen will be targeted and killed in the Middle East no matter what happens in northern Jerusalem.

So what  playbook is Barack Obama and his administration reading from in breathing life into a crisis that should never have been?  It is, I believe, simply this: Obama sees the world in terms of a rather protean struggle between the weak and the strong, the poor and the rich.  The weak in his eyes are almost always innocent purveyors of righteousness and while the powerful personify greed and oppression.  The same world view permeates his domestic policies and can be read between the lines of his push for health care reform, his castigation of rich bankers, his penchant for apologizing for American actions abroad and his willingness to risk U.S security for the benefit of the human rights of enemy combatants.   

The Palestinians have won his sympathy in spite of their proclivity for deception and their gift of the suicide bomber to the world.  In his first year in office, the President has rarely leveled any criticism at Palestinian temporization and yet demonstrated increasing impatience for the fat cat Israelis in Jerusalem and even more for their supporters in Washington.  After all, they represent the kind of world for which he has contempt.   

Even reserving to himself these feelings, Obama could have spared both countries this latest crisis. There are plenty of ways of applying pressure to an ally without having them feel undermined.   But that would have required certain skills of statecraft that this president has yet to develop.   Instead, this administration has fanned into a life a blaze it will spend many months trying to extinguish and in the process revealed a political immaturity and flailing inexperience that should worry Barack Obama’s even most ardent supporters.

First Salvo in the Battle For Our Children’s Education

March 16, 2010

News that the Texas Board of Education had decided on Friday to revamp Texas school text books to reflect traditional American values, has whipped to life a hornet’s nest of liberal opposition.  Not only did the conservative dominated Board have the gall to reject official texts which have been circulating inthe system for close to a decade,  but they ordered important changes made to the curriculum that would bring the text books more into line with true American history and ideals.  Conservatives on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school.

The curriculum standards will now be published in a state register, opening them up for 30 days of public comment. A final vote will be taken in May.

And what are the items the new curriculum seeks to correct?

Well, facts such as these:

  • The U.S. Constitution’s failure  to make any mention of the phrase ” separation of Chruch and State” ( a certain religious tenet of the left)
  • The conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 90s
  •  That the rise of the violent Black Panthers should be taught along side the passive ressitance movement promoted by Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • That the Great Society programs, passed during the Johnson administration, had many unintended negative consequences
  • That not only Japanese-American citizens were interned during the Second World War, but also Italian-Americans and German-Americans as well.
  • In the field of sociology, a significant amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders. 
  •  In economics ‘capitalism’ be changed to ‘free enterprise system’  and that both Milton Friedman and Frederich Hayek, champions of free-market economic theory, be given pride of place alongside Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.

The changes the Texas Board ordered wouldn’t have troubled anyone, say, fifteen years ago.   But high school education has, over this period, become the bridgehead of reformers who have used text books to promote leftist causes such as radical environmentalism, multiculturalism and warmed over socialism.  

With carte blanche the progresives have been able shift the emphasis of American high school education from deep rooted appreciation of traditional values to a picayune culture of  criticism and complaint.

Liberals, of course, are apoplectic with indignation.  The Huffington Post screamed out the headline The Texas Book Massacre;  the New York Times opined that the curriculum has more to do with politics and ideology than education and the McClatchy Blog  suggested that the new curriculum  did  ” a disservice to taxpayers and the very children whose education needs to be improved, not politicized.”

This last sling at the conservatives deserves a retort.   Hearing liberals proclaim that until the conservatives came along educational curricula in the country was non-political is like hearing Americans claim that they have no accent.  There is a sense among liberal educators that education should be driven by a progressive and modern agenda which is more in keeping with truth and objectivity than a passe retailing of conservative tropes which focus on patriotism, Judeo-Christian values and American exceptionalism. 

But the kind of education our children receive these days,  as derived from social studies text books ( and I am witness to some of these from my own children’s high school texts)  is alarming, to say the least.   For a reading of some of these texts could make anyone come away with the notion that Americans ( and namely white Americans) are racist  colonizers who arrived on this continent four centuries ago to exterminate the natives, exploit the blacks and pollute the environment.   Very little about the extraordinary achievements in securing a level of human freedom hitherto unknown to mankind or facilitating a measure of  prosperity that has been a boon not just to Americans, but to the world. 

Admittedly, there are some foolish and largely gratutious amendments, such as the decision to drop Thomas Jefferson as one of the intellectual leading lights of the independence movement.  But for the main, the curriculum’s drive  to restore  a point of view which dominated our educational system for more than 150 years, draws from the same well as the desire to have our children recite  the pledge of alleigence  without any sense of irony or distate.    It is the kind of educational systen  in which patriotism is not a dirty word to be derided as old fashioned,  but  a symbol of pride in the achievements of a great nation.

The so-called Texas Book Massacre is therefore the first salvo in the war to reclaim that part of the nation’s heritage that liberals no longer deem worthy of discussion.  The presentation of the curriculum change, with its many amendments, will be heard far and wide since publishers of text books pay particular atttention to Texas as one of the country’s  most important markets.  Only California is quite as significant  to them.   And even here, rumblings of dissatisaction are being heard about high school curricula and how it has plunged education into a nihilistic abyss. 

Deeply politcized as our childrens’ education has become,  it is time now to strike back  against revisionism and return to an emphasis on the greatness of the American experiment,  which should, fittingly, be discussed together with any of its failures or shortcomings.

Our Gender Neutral Universities

March 16, 2010

Thirteen years ago, five freshmen at Yale University found themselves with a dilemma. Yale required all freshmen and sophomores to live in co-ed dorms where floors were mixed and bathrooms were often shared.  Exemptions were made for those who were either married or over 21.  The five students were orthodox Jews, raised in tradtional homes whose values and principles were deeply offended by the Yale requirement.

After many complaints to the Yale administration were denied, the five decided to launch a law suit against the university.  In the meantime, at least two of the students underwent a civil marriage in order to avoid the requirement of sharing a bathroom with someone of the opposite sex.

Three years later their case was denied and a year afte that their appeal failed.  The Court claimed that the students knew of the mandatory housing rules before they applied to the school and therefore could not complain about the conditions once they arrived there. 

The saga of the Yale Five was repeated across the country as more and more colleges decided to integrate their dorms with men and women sharing floors and even bathrooms.

Now we find that many campuses throughout our country have opened the door to shared rooms between males and females.  This, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times,  is in order to encourage a  a form of non-discriminatory gender neutrality, which caters to gays, bisexual and transgender lifestyles. 

Once limited to such socially liberal bastions as Hampshire College, Wesleyan University, and Oberlin College, mixed-gender housing has edged into the mainstream. Clark and Dartmouth universities introduced mixed-gender rooms last fall, and Brown and Brandeis announced plans last month to follow suit.

The University of Pennsylvania, Skidmore and Ithaca colleges, and Oregon State University also allow roommates of different genders. Students at New York, Harvard, and Stanford universities, among many others, are now calling for gender-blind dormitories. Nearly 30 colleges throughout the country have offered gender neutral housing to their students. In some colleges, such as Stanford, co-ed  room assignments are made by consensus and students can find themselves allotted to a gender neutral room even without their consent.

Supporters, of course,  hail the trend as a key advance for homosexual and transgender students that eliminates a gender divide they see as outdated, particularly for a generation that has grown up with many friends of the opposite sex. Traditional rooming policies, they say, infringe upon students’ rights and perpetuate gender segregation. 

Eliminating distinctions between men and women is one of the hallmarks of the new feminist movement and almost certainly applauded  by it. But what kind of life are we recommending for our students when we offer them such kind of living arrangements?  What are we teaching them about respect for privacy and sexual responsibility?

Any argument that the new room arrangements are simply a healthy means to integration is dispatched by the realities of life on campus.  At the time the Yale students were launching their law suit, the Yale Daily News published an article titled “Yalexicon: Your indispensable guide to understanding Yale Speak.” The definitions included:

“Couch Duty”: Being forced to sleep on a common room couch because your roommate and his/her significant other want some time alone together.”

Sexile”: Banishment from your dorm room because your roommate is having more fun than you.”

 “Walk of Shame”: When you find yourself in rumpled evening wear, walking to your dorm from someone else’s room early in the morning.ertes

The administrations of many of our colleges are blithely disinterested in complaints that these living arrangmeents will lead to promiscuity. On the contrary, they see them as benign and healthy additions to campus life.

Yale President Richard Levin expressed such a view in 2001 upon the failure of the Yale Five’s appeal:  “Why come to a university like this one if you won’t open your mind to new ideas and new perspectives?” he said. “This is not a place where people who close themselves off to the world can thrive.” Levin also stressed the importance of residential colleges at Yale. “We’re pretty committed to idea of people getting to know people different than themselves.”

Really? Well what about students who don’t opt for such a lifestyle?  What about those students who insist on following the traditional values of modesty and temperance?  Is their lifestyle somehow not  “different enough” to warrant exposure to the incoming freshmen ? 

Perhaps not.  Perhaps what we will see in the future is mandated gender neutral dorms in which future students like the Yale Five will be required to share a room with someone of the opposite gender – or someone even of a bixsexual or transgender orientation, in order to encourage their “awareness and integration”. 

For such students this stultifyingly politically correct culture, embracing as it does a new pagan orthodoxy, would then not be one of openness, tolerance and integration, but a fretful distopia where discrimination becomes the rule and hostility to traditional values the dominant credo.

The Volunteer Attorneys

March 15, 2010

The battle over the attorneys continues.  First the Bush administration fired nine Justice Department attorneys in December, 2006 occasioning a Congressional investigation of Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales’ conduct and resulting, a year later, in his resignation.  Then the Obama administration launched an investigation into the conduct of Legal Counsel to the President’s office, helmed by John Yoo and Jay Bybee to determine the extent of their liability for giving legal sanction to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program.  Unlike Gonzales, Yoo and Bybee emerged innocent of all charges, even if they were badly singed by the process. 

Now its the Republicans’ turn.  In his book Courting Disaster, former  Department of Defense speech writer Marc Thiessen devoted an extensive chapter to the way in which several Obama appointees to the Justice Department had voluntarily defended Guantanomo Bay detainees.  U.S. justice calls for every man to have his innocence defended in court by legal counsel and indeed our courts are mandated to appoint  legal counsel where the accused has not elected to defend himself .    But should those who have volunteered to represent the enemies of the state be serving in our own Department of Justice? 

That is the volatile question posed by Keep America Safe, an organization co-founded by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  In an advertisement distributed through YouTube, Cheney demands that  Attorney-General Eric Holder identify the seven Department of Justice attorneys who once served as voluntary counsel for the Guantanomo Bay al Qaeda inmates.  Should Holder be forced to disclose those names and why is it important? 

The Wall Street Journal Weekend Journal posed that very question two attorneys who should know something about the issue.  Steve Jones was the Oklahoma City based attorney who defended Timothy McVeigh after his arrest in 1996 on charges of planning the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City.  Andrew C. Mc Carthy was the lead federal prosecutor of the plotters of the World Trade Center bombing in New York in 1993. 

Jones leads off with a case for attorneys who defend unpopular clients.  He  states that it has long been the position of American system of justice to offer a defense of criminals who our system labels innocent until proven guilty.  John Adams defended British soldiers accused of shooting several Boston’s citizens in 1770 and suffered public opprobrium for doing so.  But that did not stop him from becoming our second president. 

As an attorney Abraham Lincoln also took up unpopular causes, as did many of our distinguished federal judges.  Jones concludes that “neither history nor experience demonstrates that the points being made by Ms. Cheney and her allies have any merit.  They merely represent “forensic vigilantism,” and “a political lynch mob mentality.” 

Not so, says McCarthy.   It is not an American tradition for U.S. attorneys to volunteer to represent enemies of the state, but rather a modern anomaly.  The prisoners at Guantanomo Bay, were not U.S. citizens who had been deprived of their right to habeas corpus but unprivileged, alien enemy combatants.   U.S. law has also not traditionally extended the right of legal counsel in habeas corpus cases, even to U.S. citizens – and until 2004, enemy prisoners were not entitled to challenge their detention at all.  Moreover, he defends the Keep America Safe advertisement in its insistence that when attorney volunteer to participate in cases, where there is no requirement of representation of legal counsel, that choice likely reflects their policy preferences.  

On balance, Jones’ case comes out as unconvincing.   It fails to answer the question of how the American public should regard those who voluntarily (rather than as draftees, as he was) defend non-citizen enemies of the state and whether it has a right to have the political orientation and policy biases exposed through a demonstration of their choices. 

There is almost no question that at a time of grave national security risk (or war, as Mc Carthy calls it), the country’s legal team should be composed of individuals, who, at the very least, place the country’s security first and individual human rights in only a secondary position.  For as the John Yoo episode well demonstrated, we rely upon these attorneys for the legal justification of our national security policy.  If their position is that the individual rights of terrorists trumps the need for the American public to be protected, then we should demand their resignation. 

In the end, this debate exemplifies the struggle between the exigencies of national defense on the one hand and the rights of individuals to privacy and protection on the other.  In another sense it also illustrates the battle between those who reject American particularism, which requires that American law apply to just Americans  – and those who support the notion that American protections and privileges should have universal application.    

Does the decision of the so called ‘al- Qaeda Seven’ to defend non-citizen enemy combatants make them, ipso facto, supporters of al Qaeda’s ideology?  Of course not.  But equally it does not makes them heroes of conscience whom we should reward with employment in an important national office tasked with responsibility for our safety and well being.

No Rap Over the Knuckles This Time

March 15, 2010

We might have put this behind us.

That’s what some members of the Obama administration should have been thinking this week as the brouhaha over Israel’s authorization of 1600 new housing units in Jerusalem has been allowed to explode into a diplomatic crisis.  Vice President, Joe Biden, touring the region had stinging words of rebuke for his hosts despite repeated apologies from Israeli government leaders.  He refused to be mollified, even as he mouthed platitudes about his understanding of the unfortunate timing of the announcement.

In almost every other administration, such an event would have been pasted over with a mere rap across the knuckles and an exchange of polite assurances that such a diplomatic gaffe would not recur.  But on Friday the Obama administration, perhaps believing that getting tough with Israel only serves to enhance its bona fides with the Arab world, decided to escalate the matter.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, claimed that the action “undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interest.”White House political chief David Axelrod piled on yesterday, lambasting Israel for what he described as “an affront.”

Why?  Almost anyone who lives in Jerusalem knows that the area in dispute, Ramat Shlomo, is a Jewish neighborhood and has been so for thirty years.  It is surrounded by other Jewish neighborhoods and no Israeli in their right mind would consider surrendering it in any final peace deal with the Palestinians. Giving up Ramat Shlomo would be the equivalent of giving up the world famous Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the tony Jerusalem suburb of French Hill and even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.  All three are just  as integrated into the Jewish identity of Jerusalem as Ramat Shlomo.  Only by accepting the Palestinian narrative – that all of Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians, could anyone possibly envision  the suburb as future Palestinian territory.

All of which brings us to the question of what, exactly, the Obama administration is trying to achieve with this demonstration of diplomatic muscle.   Surely it now understands how the Palestinians manipulate the news and use their own refusal to negotiate, as a bargaining chip in itself.   Certainly it must appreciate, that such Palestinian grandstanding is a reflection not of  their political strength but of their weakness –  as Mahmoud Abbas  and his lieutenants use such diplomatic opportunities to drive a wedge between Israel and its U.S. ally.

Well, maybe not.  Listen to what Hilary Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, had to say on Friday:

“ Mrs. Clinton spoke this morning with Prime Minister Netanyahu …to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence  in the peace process and in America’s interests. The Secretary made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and the peace process.”

I suppose, then, that Israel had not demonstrated sufficient commitment to the “relationship and the peace process” by withdrawing its settlements and troops from Gaza and certain areas of the West Bank – and receiving nothing but rocket fire in return; or by imposing a ten month freeze on construction in the West Bank or, for that matter, by giving up, over the past 17 years, more than one thousand lives of its citizens to Palestinian terror.

Categorizing all such painful sacrifices as ‘past history’ and irrelevant to future negotiations, this U.S administration now sees only Israeli infractions and reticence and nothing of the same kind among the Palestinians.  Where is Hilary’s condemnation of the Palestinian education system which continues to brazenly demonize Israelis and Jews and encourage suicide missions for children?  Where is Hilary’s alarm about the ubiquity of anti-American sentiment in the Palestinian controlled territories, fanned by Palestinian clerics and political leaders?  Where is the sense of outrage that with the tremendous aid the Palestinians receive from the European Union and the United States, there is still, after 17 years, no effective accounting for much of it.

In the same week in which Obama’s State Department offered an apology to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi for Crowley’s dismissal of Gadhafi’s “Jihad speech” against Switzerland and the opening of an  “era of good relations” with Syria, accented by the appointment of a new U.S.  ambassador, it seems oddly ironic  that its best friend in the region is the one country whose conduct is targeted as inimical to U.S. interests.

With such a venomous attitude towards friends and an open arms attitude towards enemies, it becomes clearer by the day what should have been obvious from the very beginning: the Obama administration has no Middle East policy other than to reprimand or pressure Israel.  That might seem appropriate seeing that Israel has the only government in the Middle East with apparently anything to either gain or lose by coddling U.S. support.

Why Copenhagen Failed

March 12, 2010

The end of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change occasioned much hand wringing and recrimination amongst climate change alarmists. There were accusations that the gathered plenipotentiaries had been inadequately prepared;  that the protocol the governments had been expected to sign had not been properly vetted and that not enough footwork had been done to shore up support from the developing world.

That last point was particularly acute and was amplified in this piece by Mary Kissel , the editor of the opinion page of the Asian Wall Street Journal.  In it Ms. Kissel profiles Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment and Forests Minister who has few kind words for the climate change evangelists and their chorus in the developed world.  Ramesh  points out the environmental fads of the developed world have very little to do with third  world realities.  Ramesh has gone onthe attack against bogus science  by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC)  – particularly when it claims that the Himalayan glaciers will have melted by the year 2035.   He even founded an Indian climate change research institute as an implicit snub at the IPPC for its politicized advocacy which he feels compromises  its empirical research.  He has complained  that a lack of graduation in climate control targets  means that all countries take on exactly the same burden as every other country in the levels of emission of controls, no matter what their per -capita income is or will be. 

But more important than this, the developing world, led by India, China, Brazil and South Africa  – is loathe to countenance any binding agreement which will constrict its developmental options.   That is to say that all these countries, while ostenibly admitting the seriousness of global warming,  have put their econmies and productivity first and  have no desire to sacrifice their potential growth for mere bandaid measures that may have no noticeable impact on global warming.

China is particularly in tune with this kind of thinking.  With a powerhouse economy driven by cheap coal and low wages, it is fast emerging as a global economic super power and wants nothing placed in the way of such progress.  It essentially led the sabotage of the Copenhagen conference because it knew that the emissions controls demanded of it would crimp its quest for global economic dominance. 

The most  important lesson to learn from Copenhagen is that multilateralism is not as vigorous as global governance advocates and environmentalists would have us believe.   Some nations will actually place their own interests ahead of  so called global efforts particularly if the calamities to be avoided have not been adequately vouchsafed by reliable evidence or the sacrifices demanded of them do not make proper economic sense. 

Nations are therefore much like people in this respect; if you want something from them,  offer them incentives – but don’t expect self-sacrifice.  That is as relevant for the war on terror, the attempt to hem in  Iranian nuclear ambitions or the struggle for global financial stability- as it is for controlling fossil fuel emissions.

Jerusalem’s Future

March 12, 2010

Outrage! That is the word Vice-President Joe Biden used yesterday to describe the decision of the Israel’s interior minisister Eli Yishai to sanction the construction of 1600 new units in the Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Shlomo.  Forget that the decision had been on the books since June of 2008 or that Ramat Shlomo sits on land already annexed by the State of Israel and over which it claims sovereignty.   Forget that the Netanyahu government’s 10 month housing freeze expressly excluded East Jerusalem.   This was to be another Palestinian grievance by which the U.S. administration would blithely allow itself to be manipulated.

Yes, the timing could have been  better.  But lets face it:  Almost any construction in Jerusalem is a cause for heated debate between I srael, the U.S.and the Palestinians.   A few weeks ago I highlighted the dispute between Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center and the custodians of a Palestinian cemetery. There are continuing disputes between the Palestinian controlled Wakf and the Jeruslaem City Council over access to the Temple Mount.  And Har Homa, which is a project now completed, continues to sizzle on the Palestinian grill. 

But the Vice President could not be placated.  He insists that any building in Jerusalem will affect U.S. soldiers in other areas of the Middle East and U.S. interests in general.

Here , apparently, according to Politico, is what he said behind closed doors:

“This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism. “

The ‘danger’ comes from incendiary statements like this and not in any Israeli decision to build housing.  If the actions of the Israeli government “endanger regional peace” it is only because the U.S.  government allows them to.  The implict acceptance of Palestinian land rights in East Jerusalem prejudices the potential peace talks by taking a direct position on the matter. 

Put simply, the idea that the capital of a potential Palestinian state should be in East Jerusalem, has extremely little support in I srael and has not been officially accepted by any Israeli government.   The  two sectors of Jerusalem were united by Israel in 1980 under the Jerusalem Law, even if the boundaries were never clearly delineated.  Today Arabs and Jews both inhabit this part of the city and Israeli law extends to all.

The Palestinians have given I sraelis no good reason to believe they would be good neighbors and that establishing a Palestinian capital on the Knesset’s doorstep will lead to peaceful relations.   In fact, since  the 1993 Oslo Accords, quite the opposite has been in evidence. 

If Palestinians want “rights” in East Jerusalem, perhaps they can start by demonstrating  that they can abide by their own agrreements, that they are capable of enforcing their own laws and that the graft and corruption that is rife inthe kelptocracy that is the Palestinian Authority can be investigated and curtailed.

Unfortunately the Palestinians, infused with the dignity of a potential sovereign government by the United States and almost every other nation on earth, have no incentive to do any of  this.  Their politics of grievance always trumps the politics of action. And as long as that continues to happen and as long as the United States fails to take note of it, the more adamant will each  successive Israeli government become that Jerusalem will never be divided.

The Armenian Genocide and Congress

March 11, 2010

For once I find myself agreeing with Howard Berman.

The über-liberal Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee came out strongly in favor a of a non-binding resolution calling upon the United States to condemn the Turkish slaughter of nearly 1 million Armenian Ottoman citizens during the First World War as a genocide.

I have been arguing the same thing for years.  Ever since reading Franz Werfel’s epic The 40 Days of Musa Dagh in the 1980s I have been deeply taken with the terrible tragedy which befell the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in the second decade of the 20th Century.

Berman’s committee narrowly passed the resolution last week and since then U.S-Turkish relations have been convulsed in uproar.  The Turks, partners in a corner of the world where the United States has vital strategic interests, have been loathe for generations to embrace the notion that a genocide took place.  Official Turkish historiography claims that the events of 1915-16, are clouded  in confusion brought on by the fog of war and there has never been a paper trail linking the Ottoman Empire to any planned extemination policy.

The evidence, however, is overwhelming.

Reports from contremporary German military observers, from then-U.S Ambassasdor Henry Morganthau Jr.  and the oral testimony of the survivors themselves, make it clear that the Turkish government of the time was involved in a systematic attempt to wipe out the Armenian presence in the Turkish heartland.

Why have the Turks of every stripe then – from the secular government of Kemal Ataturk inthe 20s and 30s to the Islamic leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan today resisted the demand to acknowledge Turkish complicity in the slaughter?

The simple answer revolves around the financial cost of acknowledging the genocide.  Just as Germany paid a very high premium in reparations to the State of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust, the Turks are well aware that the descendants of the murdered Armenians, who are successful and politically active in the U.S. and other Western countries,  could instigate an endless stream of litigation against  future Turkish governments, extending for decades both reparation and land claims.

But the more important reason for this continued resistance is the psychological cost of acknowledgement.  The stain on national honor, as any modern German will tell you, is not something that anyone finds easy to assimilate.  The fact of a genocide, perpetrated within one’s own borders and upon your own country’s citizens no less, is a taint that every Turk will carry with him and opens up the possibility of an endless inquiry into why and how successive generations refused to accept the Turkish involvement in the slaughter.

Governments all over the world, valuing their diplomatic relations with Turkey have been loathe to rock the boat with that country and only a handful – 20 at the last count – have passed resolutions acknowledging the genocide. The list of governements who have passed resolutions can be found here.

The United States has been particularly squishy on the issue and every administration from Richard Nixon’s onward has refused to push for a Congressional resolution.  During the Bush administration, the effort to bring the resolution to the house floor was deeated by a bi-partisan effort, which involved both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  The Obama admninistration has followed suit, recognizing that the U.S -Turkish entente is too valuable to displace right now, despite a pledge Barack Obama made during his electoral  campaign to present exactly such a resolution to Congress.

The realpolitik arguments against a Congressional resolution are actually quite strong.  We can’t forget that two wars  are taking place in the region  and Turkey, as a secular democracy and America’s strongest regional NATO ally, plays a significant role in both.  For instance,  70 percent of ordinance and supplies to U.S. forces  in Iraq pass through Turkey and any withdrawal of U.S. troops will also necessarily involve the country.  This is the reason Nancy Pelosi did not take the resolution to the House floor in 2007 – the last time it passed the HOR Foreign Affairs Committee.  She simply didn’t have the votes to push it through.

Enter Howard Berman.   He claims, and I believe correctly, that the Turks are actually more dependent on U.S. goodwill than the other way around.  With  $12 billion in trade between the two countries and U.S. pledges to protect Turkey in the event of an attack from Iran, there can  be little doubt that the Turks also have a great deal to lose.   Domestic support for a Congressional resolution is also high.  As of this date, 43 U.S. states out of 50 have already passed resolutions acknowledging the genocide,  indicating widespread public support for the measure.

However, more important than any of this, is the necessity to set history straight.  The 20th century genocides, beginning withthe extermination of the Herero in South-West Africa by the German army in 1904, leading through the Ukrainian enforced famine of the 1930s , the  Holocaust, the Cambodian slaughters of the late 1970s and the Rwandan massacres of the 1990s, need to be all thoroughly documented  so that we can understand how such catastrophes could befall humanity.  Turkish archives need to be opened and investigated and the causality of this horror must finally begin to be understood.  For there is no guarantee that such an event could not befall Turkey and/or our civilization once again.

In the end, narrow contemporary interests and concerns should not be allowed to stand in the way of our validation of a historical event so significant in the history of mankind.  It will ultimately be to Turkey’s and the United States’ mutual benefit to finally and officially acknowledge this enormous crime against humanity.  We  need to look beyond our immediate political and diplomatic concerns to finally give an international memorial to the hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children who perished at the time.  This is so that at the very least, their suffering will have meant something and their murder will have left an indelible  impression that time cannot erase.

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