Friday, January 28, 2011

The Egypt Game

Egypt is imploding, Mubarek's officials are tripping over each other trying to get out of the country, a highly disgruntled public has taken to the streets, and they may or may not have the support of the police...
With the internet blocked and most communication on lockdown, who knows what's really going on? There's only a thin trickle of news and all of it is bad. We DO know that the Muslim Brotherhood (which is extremist, militant, fundamentalist, radical....take your pick, it's a political force with an acknowledged Islamist agenda) is a major player. No surprise there: they've long considered Mubarek & Co. a shill for US interests as well as way too secular for their tastes. Mubarek returns their sentiments exactly: whatever his flaws, he's had their number for a long time and rightly considers them dangerous.

And here's a SHOCKER: Ahmad Rehab, spokesman of CAIR, is NPR's Cairo correspondent! You can listen to his report here. (He claims he's there on his own and not as a representative of CAIR, although their mandate appears to be identical.) He acknowledges that Muslim Brotherhood is Islamist, but then he goes on to explain that Americans are shortsighted and simplistic and that this sort of Islamism is really a "grassroots pro-democracy movement." I guess that makes the Taliban a grassroots democracy movement, too. Mmm, how evil of us to think otherwise!

Rehab never says that the Muslim Brotherhood is NOT an Islamist organization.  He can't deny that because MB is up front about their totally-not-hidden agenda. So he tries a different spin: sure, MB is Islamist, BUT THAT'S OKAY--Islamists are just benign little humanitarians out doing good works.

Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, al-Qaida, CAIR--a consortium of grassroots pro-democracy movements.

NPR's biases are usually pretty amusing, they're so transparent--but this is sickening. You have to wonder how they would have represented the Hitler Youth: a boys and girls club dedicated to nature studies? Perhaps the beef industry should start promoting itself as an animal rights organization--that would throw PETA off their scent! (Or at least, PETA members who also listen to NPR.)

Don't forget that Egypt receives the second biggest chunk of foreign aid from the US. (Israel is the only country that gets more.) Mubarek is bad news, but if he's replaced with the Muslim Brotherhood, we may find ourselves in a position of supporting a state that is actively working to destroy our government and our allies.

But back to Cairo: even though Egypt has been leading the news feeds for days, WBEZ/NPR's Worldview host, Jerome McDonnell hosted two "Middle Eastern specialists" to inform the erudite, self-important NPR target audience that Americans know practically nothing of what's going on and this should be much, much bigger news.

Both of these men (the broadcast was today, and if you want to poke around NPR's website you might find their names) are professors at DePaul University--yet ANOTHER Islamocentric hub, though nominally a Catholic school. And more of the same re: American ignorance about Egypt.

Anyway: one of the profs actually said that Egyptians are dismayed that Obama hasn't made good on his promises to the Muslim world.

Whoa. Now we're supposed to establish diplomatic ties with a religion? A religion that, moreover, continually explains that there is no caliph or grand mufti or whatever you would call the equivalent to the pope, a religion that constantly insists that it's not monolithic, that it's way too diverse and complicated to--oh, I don't know--unequivocally take a stand against religiously motivated violence?

Never mind that Obama has been bowing and scraping to Arab leaders out of deference to his beloved Islam since the minute he took office. He is the most islamophilic leader on the planet. I don't want to go off on the tangent that he may, himself, be a Muslim--although Muslims consider religion patrilineal, and Obama pere was definitely a follower of the Prophet. So, on that level--that Obama of all people hasn't delivered his promise to the Muslim world--I beg to differ. He has, a thousandfold.

But really--the "Muslim world" is now a diplomatic entity with all the state privileges that implies? Israel is a Jewish state, and Vatican City is a Catholic state, but the US doesn't have ties with the "Jewish world" or the "Catholic world." And we do have relations with coutries that identify themselves as Islamic republics (the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, for example). Apparently that's not enough--we have to initiate some sort of outreach to members of a specific religion on a foreign policy level.

So now Egypt is an example of the Muslim world that we've supposedly been dissing for lo these many centuries. Non-Muslims in the Muslim world, who already live under constant threat of annihilation, are yet again reminded that they don't count for much, although if they keep their mouths shut and their eyes down and comply with shariah, they might not get killed. 

Pro-Muslim commentators on Egypt should be especially sensitive to this now, given the overt persecution of the non-Muslim minorities in that country.  Within the last month, the Coptic Egyptians have endured vicious attacks that--we are told--do NOT represent the will of the Egyptian people and do NOT represent Islam. But now Egypt can be reduced to Islam? Well, they must be way ahead of the game in their effort to eliminate any competing faiths.

My prediction is that Mubarek will soon be history, and the Muslim Brotherhood will hold the reins of the next government, grassroots pro-democratic leanings or not.

My hope is that Ahmed Rehab decides to remain in Egypt so that he can continue to wallow in the ever-interesting Muslim world...and stay out of mine.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ennword and the Teeword

Recently, two events prompted a lot of media coverage. On January 8, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a number of supporters were shot--some fatally--  by Jared Loughner when Giffords made a public appearance in her home state of Arizona. Close on the heels of this tragedy, a publishing house announced that the upcoming edition of American classic "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" would have the word "nigger" excised and replaced with "slave."

Mark Twain knew, better than anyone else, the power of using the right word. He deliberately chose language that would underscore the humanity of Jim while highlighting the inhumanity of slavery. He wrote "Finn" in 1885, 20 years after the insitution of slavery had been illegalized in the US.  But the Jim Crow South was no picnic for former slaves and their descendants, and Twain spoke to that social reality in the most potent way he could.

To alter his original language is to mitigate the power of his book. It is sadly ironic that the loudest voices in favor of watering down Twain's message are those who identify themselves as militantly anti-racist. They worry that use of the word "nigger" causes undue emotional pain to the reading audience and therefore is not useful.

This sort of editing is not new, and even Shakespeare's works were not immune to well-intentioned idiots. (The word "bowdlerize" comes from a man named Bowdler who attempted to revise a lot of profanity out of the Bard's plays.) Michelangelo's nudes were likewise supposed to be repainted and clothed, although in the case of both Shakepseare and Michelangelo, artistic integrity was maintained and the changes did not stick.

But I think "Finn" will be different. The language in the book has been a bone of contention for years now, and the novel regularly lands on the censored list for this reason.  It's only a matter of time before the "official" version of the book will have a nicer term for Jim.

But what will that do, ultimately? It will soften the impact of "Finn," but it will also allow the politically-correct version of American history to move forward with inoffensive revisions.

Indentured servitude  was also slavery, though it manifested in a much different way for most of the people affected. It was supposed to be temporary, a condition that would be lifted when the person fulfilled the terms of his servitude. However, there were blacks who arrived in North America as indentured servants--or, even if nominally slaves, at least slaves who could achieve freedom under certain circumstances.

Did Twain speak only to surviving slaves who were freed with the end of the Civil War, or was his book a larger statement on race relations in our society? If the latter is true, then the word "slave" is inadequate.

But if the word "slave" is used, then "slave" will eventually come to mean "anyone in forced servitude," which would include indentured servants. It would also include waves of immigrants who arrived here, and continue to do so, beholden to those who financed their passage to the US. Slave then has to be broadened to the point where it is almost a meaningless designation. 

I guess that is okay, if references to the reality of slavery are so disturbing that we should move forward and no longer refer to them except in the vaguest terms. I personally do not agree that our cultural history should be stripped of its lessons, but maybe "Finn's" critics have a point. Maybe, also, in future depictions of Jim, he should be portrayed as a white man...isn't it, after all, racist to ALWAYS show him as black? When slavery becomes a universal shared legacy of all Americans, it would not make sense to stereotype Jim as black.  Would it?

Arizona brought up another example of broadening the language to the point where it is meaningless. Shortly after the kiiller, Loughner, was identified, several media outlets began insisting that he be referred to as a "terrorist." This was often at the suggestion of Muslim groups--who bridle at being associated with terrorism--who wanted to remind Americans that terrorism takes many forms and should not be another word for Islam's war against the West.

But remember, terrorism is a tactic, not a motive or ideology.

A lot of blame has been spread around regarding what actually provoked Loughner, and much of that blame of course came home to roost at the doorstep of the conservative/Republican sector. Sarah Palin got in trouble for having a target superimposed on a map of Giffords's district, and a lot of people expressed the belief that this somehow made her accountable.

Never mind that Loughner had been holding a personal grudge against Giffords since 2007, well before Palin's political ambitions had gone national. Maybe these critics also believe she practices some sort of hoodoo voodoo mind-control on people like Loughner.

There is also the whole "climate of violence" argument, and this too comes back to the conservatives.  The underlying, though not completely original, theme is, How can this not be Bush's fault? We all know of course, that EVERYTHING is Bush's fault, including Stalin's rise to power, the bubonic plague, and the Fall of Man.

But now that the dust has settled we do know a few things about Loughner. His poltical stance was so scattershot and illogical that he was no more a pawn of the Right than a product of the Left, so those influences pretty much cancel themselves out.

In regard to Loughner, the word terrorism can only be used in its most broad sense--to instill terror, or to use violence or the threat of violence to terrify others. He certainly did that.  As for using the word "terrorist" in the contemporary, conventional way--as a member of a group that uses terror tactics to achieve their goals--I don't think he fits that at all. (Nor does Tim McVeigh, who was also kind of a lone wolf.)

As with the sanitized version of Huck Finn, the word "terrorist"  allows us to distance ourselves from reality, and convince ourselves that the only danger we face is random and general--anyone can be mentally ill, like Loughner, just like anyone can be in forced servitude, like 19th century factory workers.

But if we are going to talk about Jim's experiences honestly, we should allow Twain to use the term with the greatest impact, not a generality.

And if we are going to talk about terrorism honestly, we will likewise have to stop using the word "terrorism" if there is any political group behind it. We will have to use the most specific language possible, even if some people think it's politically incorrect to do so.