Saturday, September 29, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
KNOWING FILTH WHEN YOU SEE IT
If I had my druthers, the subject of this post would be the following question: “Does the First Amendment prevent the U.S. Government from censoring ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ video?” I will not address that question because, given my day job, this blog post is a law-free zone. But I must raise the question because it is an interesting one in light of the importance of the First Amendment and the contents of that video. I would urge each of you to research this question on your own.
Now, for what I CAN address regarding the video.
I have serious questions about the judgment of You Tube and Google. Those organizations have no first amendment obligations to air the video. And clearly, there are many videos that You Tube will censor on the grounds that they are pornographic. Given that fact, and the video’s patent lack of artistic or intellectual merit, why they would choose to continue to air it so that even children can watch it is beyond me.
Other than sex acts involving children, it is difficult for me to imagine any set of sex acts more obscene than the totality of “The Innocence of Muslims.” Whether you are talking about Muhammad, Jesus, Moses or the Buddha, civilized people need to show some basic respect for these figures and for the faiths they have created. And when any of these individuals is portrayed as a sexually-perverted, bloodthirsty simpleton, which is the way Muhammad is portrayed in this video, what you are talking about is obscenity. Whenever you show one of those figures putting his head in a woman’s crotch in order to mock him as pervert, you have WAY crossed the line.
This video isn’t art. Nor is it a serious attempt to study Islam. It is pure incendiary garbage. You might as well substitute Charles Manson for the Prophet Muhammad and ask a drug-addicted tenth-grader to make a 13-minute film about him. That’s basically what this video is.
In light of the above, and given the sensitivities in the Muslim countries today about their faith, any sane person who would make this video would immediately realize that it would have a body count. That is not to justify the taking of human life in response to the video; it is merely a statement of fact. I understand that some of the violence that is taking place in the Middle East would have been taking place anyway, and this video is just a pretext for that pre-planned violence. But still, the video is so insulting, the emotions in that part of the world are so raw, and Muhammad is such a holy figure there, that to make this film at this time is beyond reckless. The issue for the filmmaker shouldn’t have been whether it would result in human deaths, but how many?
I realize that the focus of everyone’s attention in America this week is the savagery that we are observing in places like Libya, Yemen, the Sudan and Egypt, where masses have taken to the streets to protest the video. Clearly, what happened at the consulate in Benghazi was the work of sub-human animals. Those murderers might as well have been working the gas chamber gig at Auschwitz; once you get to that level of evil, you belong in the Hall of Shame, and there’s no point in assigning rankings. While I wouldn’t equate those who are, say, storming the embassy walls in Yemen to the firebombers/murderers in Benghazi, any of these protesters who resorts to an act of trespass or assault against an American embassy is behaving in a manner unworthy of our species. They remind me of the Russian peasants who would gladly take up arms against the Jews when their real problems were with the czarist regime. It’s truly a pathetic sight to see.
But please, while we must take stock of the profound problems in the Middle East, let’s not lose sight of how this episode has raised issues here in America.
To begin, this video didn’t emerge from nowhere. It is the product of Christian fanaticism operating within an environment of widespread Islamophobia. If you read the Internet comments about the video, you will find that many are defending it, not only on free speech grounds but also based on the idea that it is revealing some basic truths about Muhammad and Islam. That is just flat-out bigotry. There is no more truth in this video than there is in the blood libel story and other canards that have been peddled in recent centuries against Jews. Christians, Muslims and Jews all have their religious fanatics – we are witnessing the Muslim fanatics on TV every night, we can find the Jewish fanatics fighting peace efforts in Israel, and here in the USA, our biggest problem is fanaticism of the Christian variety. It gave us not only this video but an altogether too tolerant reaction to the video. You shouldn’t have to be Muslim to find it completely offensive.
Secondly, part of the muted reaction here in America to the substance of the video isn’t Islamophobia per se but a very different form of blindness. Perhaps as a reaction to religious fanaticism, much of America has lost its ability to respect religion in any of its manifestations. In other words, they’ve lost the sense of the sacred. And, as a result, they feel that people should just be able to shrug it off whenever a religious figure is blasted with insults, no matter how vile the insults.
The problem with that attitude is that, just as it is possible to become too intolerant and overly sensitive, it is also possible to become too tolerant. Just as many Germans had a problem with anti-Semitism in the 1930s and that problem was widely tolerated by the majority of the country, we here in America have a problem with Islamophobia that must not be tolerated. Sure, Americans have a right to be secular and non-religious, but when that secularity blinds them to the point where they are not personally offended by this video, then it has gone too far. That’s when non-religious turns into anti-religious – which can easily turn into just another form of Fundamentalism.
Finally, isn’t it a sad commentary on the American electorate that it took ill-advised comments this week by Mitt Romney before foreign affairs had any meaningful impact on the campaign for President? I’m so sick of all this “it’s the economy, stupid” talk. We sure can sound like a bunch of parochial morons, can’t we? This is the 21st century, and the world is getting more and more connected every year. When we elect a President, it’s questionable how much he or she can really do about our economy, but at least he or she can control our foreign policy. So what do we do? Ignore vital foreign policy issues as much as possible and exaggerate the President’s role over the economy. The same thing happens every four years. Apparently, in this regard, we are uneducable.
I’m still deciding whether Mitt’s bizarre statement on Tuesday night and press conference the next morning actually did us a favor. They certainly drew everyone’s attention to the events overseas. And that’s a great thing. But of course, they also did so in a way as to cause the people of this country to divide and view this whole situation in narrow partisan terms, which is tragic. So yes, we care what’s going on in the Middle East … only we care because we are viewing it through the prism of our own Presidential election.
My friends, that’s almost as twisted as “The Innocence of Muslims.” Almost, but not quite. That video is the most twisted thing I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s saying something. The fact that it is still readily available for our children to access on their computers boggles my mind. And I’m not even a Muslim. Oy vey, indeed.
Saturday, September 08, 2012
Hopefully, you have not only been spending your evenings thinking about politics lately, but devoting much of your morning and afternoon reflecting on it as well. That would certainly be the case for me during a normal political convention season. This year, however, I am just finishing an eight-day stretch during which I’ve been working practically dawn to dusk on writing my newest book. The week is finished, but the book isn’t. I’m getting there, though. I hope to have a first draft done by the end of the year, knock on wood.
What all that means is that while I’ve been watching the DNC at night, I’ve truly been giving it very little thought. Yet I can’t bear to have a whole DNC go by without at least commenting on it. So here you have my thoughts, for what they’re worth, and I offer them in no particular order.
1. Clinton’s speech felt a bit like watching Jack Nicklaus in the 1986 Masters. Jack was 46 years old, nobody had ever before won a Major at that age, and Jack hadn’t won one in years. But he won it, and that even further cemented his title of greatest of all time.
Is Clinton the greatest President of all time? No. Is he the greatest American political orator? Again, no. But with that speech, it became clear that in his party, he has no equal as a statesman in half of a century. Some of us thought Obama could be on the same level, but Clinton just argued Obama’s case ten times better in one hour than President Obama has argued it since his inauguration. It definitely made me nostalgic, and I’m not even the world’s biggest Clinton fan.
2. And speaking of nostalgia, did you all catch John Kerry? He was awesome. Like everyone else who watched the speech, I sat on my couch dumbfounded, wondering where in God’s name that guy was eight years ago. Had the Kerry from Charlotte showed up, W would have been toast. He was coming up with one zinger after another, effectively poking fun at himself, sounding Presidential … you name it, it was working. In light of the election of 2004, it’s enough to make any Democrat cry.
3. Michelle Obama’s speech was terrific. I don’t mean it in the sense that it “did what she needed to do,” which you could say for Ann Romney’s talk. I mean that it was beautifully delivered and exquisitely well written. She should bite the bullet and run for office. Why not? Politics is clearly in her blood. And judging from the size of her daughters, she’ll be an empty nester pretty soon after her husband finally leaves office.
4. Yes, that’s right. I’m penciling Obama in for re-election. I realize that he still is given less than 60 percent chance of winning on Intrade. Clearly, a lot can still happen, and if Romney wins all the toss-up states, then he will prevail. But I refuse to be so cynical as to think that will happen. Romney still hasn’t told us anything about what he’ll do – other than pander to the troglodytes. While Obama’s speech wasn’t exactly a font of information either, it didn’t have to be. When you’re in a title fight and you’re the champ and the challenger doesn’t throw a punch, you don’t have to either.
5. This Convention had some stars that I didn’t know much about before. I had certainly seen Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick prior to this Convention, but this is the first time I had watched him give a lengthy speech. That guy can seriously bring it. He was fiery but without sounding out of control or shrill (unlike Jennifer Granholm, who just came across to me as goofy). I was also impressed with the keynote speaker, Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio. I have to admit that I was biased in favor of the guy, since he attended both my college and my law school, but I would think any Democrat would be impressed. My only concern is that the guy is from Texas, and I wonder if he is too liberal to win statewide office there. Probably not. The greatest political talents tend to win out no matter where they’re from.
6. I really liked Sandra Fluke. I didn’t think the contents of her speech were especially memorable but I remain impressed with her poise and delivery. Here’s a woman who is barely 30, has barely completed law school, and has come into national prominence by being treated as a prostitute by one well-known Republican figure after another. And it all seems to roll off her back. I’d like to see her run for office someday as well. We could use a statesperson who actually gives a damn about women’s rights. It’s clear she’s a real fighter in that domain.
7. If you had dry eyes after watching Gabrielle Giffords recite the Pledge of Allegiance, you are either a partisan Republican or you need therapy (or both!). I’d suggest taking off from work and watching West Side Story, Titanic, Hamlet, and maybe a couple of movies ending with the death of an animal. Then watch Giffords again. I’ll think you’ll be able to act like a human being.
8. Particularly after watching the DNC, I still have questions about what happened in Tampa. Here are a few: Why didn’t Mittens mention the Afghanistan war? Is he tone deaf, or is he just dumb? Why did the GOP talk as if there are three kinds of people in the world: entrepreneurs, family members of entrepreneurs, and people who want welfare? Why couldn’t Paul Ryan have just shoved away the deception and hypocrisy; didn’t he realize that he has a lot of talent as a speaker and didn’t need those sleazy gimmicks? Why do the Republicans think they can win without giving a clue as to their plans for governing? Do they really think they can win this election with 30-second advertisements alone?
9. Joe Scarborough had the best line of the pundits: “The President said nothing in his speech tonight. But he said it so much better than Mitt Romney when he said nothing in Tampa.” That pretty much says it all.
10. Best of luck, my fellow political junkies, in filling the void in your life before the debates start. I suggest watching the Nationals. They’re an amazing story. And that’s what we Washingtonians are thinking about these days even more than politics.