Friday, February 17, 2006

Delicious Defamation

Well, it seems someone discovered a response I posted on a conservative blog; the good folks at Indeed, they took the opportunity to further attack an issue they proved they knew nothing about. Anyone even remotely familiar with the situation would know that the inaccurate paraphrase of Jill Edwards did not "[speak] for the student body." Nor did Ashley Miller ever "sneer." For that matter, I also don't recall anyone holding a bong. This hardly qualifies as "Top News." More like "Made-up Nonsense." And now my most honorable mention:

"Defending his decision to diss Boyington, Director of Student Senate Operations Karl D. Smith thought he was going for middle ground, commenting in a regional blog, 'We also are home to civil rights leaders such as Gordon Hirabayshi and a major contributor in the eradication of smallpox William Foege, and the Nigerian statesman who worked for peace Alex Ekwueme.' Yep, household names all, just like Boyington. I was just wondering today, what's Al Ekwueme up to these days? You hardly hear his name any more. By the way, I am not the Great Punctuator, but I'm willing to send Karl some commas. You know, to bring his writing up to the junior-high-school standard expected at UW.

Smith issued the plaintive call of today's university dweller, confused, intimidated, and relativistic: 'How do we decide who is and is not deserving?'

Well, Karl, it looks like you just did, despite your girly-man waffling. Did you say that he was evil for shooting down enemy airplanes?

'I stand by my comments in support of removing the language regarding the Japanese planes shot down.' (Geez, the kid talks like a bureaucrat already. He'll be making everyone's life miserable in the DMV some day). 'In war, killing is a necessary evil. Because of this I am all the more grateful for those who endure the effects of war. But I do not believe our honor of him should focus upon the evil, regardless of how necessary.'"

Their ad hominem attacks aside, I would suggest that they drop the "household names" argument. Gordon Hirabayashi is far more of a household name to me than is Pappy Boyington. Besides, isn't one of the points of creating a memorial to ensure someone will be remembered? As to their questions regarding where Alex Ekwueme is now, evidently he's still doing good works in Nigeria: "Now 66 years old, Ekwueme is a philanthropist as well as a public servant and architect. He established an educational trust fund that sponsors the education of several hundred Nigerian youths in universities at home and abroad."

It gives me some reassurance that I am not the only object of Mr. O'Brien's bullying. Also, I am no Great Researcher, but nor am I the "Director of Student Senate Operations." A trifling matter, but about as significant as a missing comma.

As of this writing, I have not received said commas offered by Mr. O'Brien. I'll be waiting at the DMV!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Problem as I See It

Last week the Senate voted against a resolution to create a memorial to a distinguished alumnus. Almost immediately conservative talk show hosts sprang into action. Ironically, perhaps, I wasn't even going to post on this; it simply wasn't worthy of attention, but it has gotten so out of hand (WorldNetDaily, Michelle Malkin, Boortz Report, Seattle PI) that I wish to establish a few facts here. You see, the problem wasn't the debate which occurred in the Student Senate; it's what occurred after the meeting, which I intend to establish here.

1.) College Republican president Brent Ludeman sent out an e-mail to his listserv (including conservative talk show hosts and state legislators) which characterized the opposition thusly: "Opponents of the resolution contended that Colonel Boyington 'is not the type of person we should be honoring' and that 'we don't need to honor any more richwhite males' while others ecquivicated the hero's actions to murder." He paraphrased two individuals of the 130 senators and insinuated that all those voting against the resolution did so for these reasons and I can personally vouch that that is simply not the case.

2.) Local conservative talk show hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson carry the show on the air, repeating the characterization of Brent's e-mail and singling out students for derision. They attacked the intelligence and motivation of certain students. Unsurprisingly, this is when the hate mail and intimidating phone calls began.

3.) The conservative blogosphere picked up the story, continuing the misrepresentation, but now adding personal e-mail addresses and phone numbers online. The hatefulness peaked here; one individual received FOUR HUNDRED such e-mails in a single day to say nothing of the phone calls.

4.) The WorldNetDaily "News" carried a "story" repeating the UWCR press release insinuations, but now quoting conservative bloggers (who were, in fact, basing their work off the original press release).

5.) Fox News is picking the story up today; I only hope this can be promptly defused.

The greatest irony of all here? The sponors of the legislation, Andrew Everett, is a friend of mine and respects those who disagree with him; he doesn't necessarily like it, but he resents the circus this has turned into. Why, then, if this is not an issue on campus, has the conservative media become so mesmerized and incensed? Why do they seek to divide through insinuation and misrepresentation?

Friday, February 10, 2006

When it rains... pours. Evidently the state of Israel intends to create a museum of tolerance. Fantastic. By removing skeletons from a Muslim cemetery. Not fantastic. Regardless of your stance on other actions by the state of Israel, this one deserves consternation. Muslim groups in Israel have protested the action and sought legal relief with some limited success thus far. And yet the government continues to push for the completion of the project.

Particularly intriguing was a quote from a spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority: "Israel is more crowded with ancient artefacts than any other country in the world. If we didn't build on former cemeteries, we would never build." So we can expect to see new developments on top of the Western Wall? Jewish cemeteries? Or is there perhaps a double standard at work here?

(Thanks to Jesus' General for the link)

[Edit: For those not caring for The Indepent as a news source, read about the same story in the Seattle PI, the Chicago Tribune, or, just for fun (I certainly don't share all the frames of the article), the Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency.]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Just about impossible

Karl has written up, I think, a very good distinction between the right to speak freely and whether one should. Western liberal governments allow for unethical behaviors (lying, for instance) - but should we perform them? Unfortunately, Karl's distinction doesn't give much help right now to the governments who are grappling with the issue right now: does the Danish government apologize?

I want to offer a theological note - it is just about impossible for any non-Muslim American to understand the level of offense involved in creating an image of God or God's messenger, Muhammed (peace be upon him). I'm pretty sure I don't understand - and for that matter, whoever is reading this probably doesn't either.

As people who have grown up and been educated in a Western context, and even more so because it has been an American context, the scent of Christian norms and assumption lingers on all of us. It doesn't matter what religion you call yourself - growing up in the West, and especially growing up in America, means that you basically receive a basic Christian foundaiton - this carries with it many ethical norms and expectations.

One of these is the innocence of imagery - I think Christianity is a thought-system where images are not only tolerated, but vital. Theologically, I don't think it's a stretch at all to say that the person of Jesus Christ himself represents the decision of God to reveal Godself to humanity through a direct human image. This means, really, that the center of the entire system revolves around an IMAGE of God - additionally, for Christians, this is the unique and, at least for me, the graceful part of the religion. It means that God recognizes and understands the way that we see and conceptualize the material world, and that rather than see that as evil or fallen, God thinks so highly of human perspective that God would come into the world, in human form, to share in that perspective. So, Jesus as the perfect human image of God is pretty darn important.

I definitely don't think that it's a reach at all, then, to say that Christianity carries with it a high regard for the power of imagery. This isn't to say other systems do not, but in Christianity, the power of imagery is seen as a positive, good force. Images facilitate connection, promote understanding, and foster sympathy. It means that someone who grows up on "Christian milk" (pretty much every domestic-born American), regardless of whether he or she is "Christian", internalizes a deep-seated reverence for imagery.

Muslims also recognize the power of imagery - but here, the recognition takes on an overall negative form: imagery is seen skeptically, prone to hasty interpretation, curtailing deeper thought and criticism of ideas, and worst of all, encouraging far-reaching but inherenty incompelte generalizations about what is contained in the image. I must admit my knowledge of Islam isn't stellar, but I don't think what I'm saying here is a stretch - Muslims revere imagery also, but in the negative sense. This is evident from the strict injunction, contained in the Qur'an, against ANY images of God or God's prophets. In the case of depicting images of God, this is part of Islam's one unforgiveable sin: shirk. You can read more about shirk from other sources, I'm sure, but it basically means the confusion of God with part of God's creation. Islam's central tenet is the total and utter one-ness, only-ness, and infinite-ness of God. To say, for instance, that God is a man (as Christianity claims) is quite unacceptable in Islam, because a man (part of Creation) could never contain the infinite-ness of God, and since man is in the material world, it would also violate the only-ness of God because then God would exist in two places differently.

Creating an image of God is shirk because it rudely violates the one-ness, only-ness, and infinite-ness of God by replacing the mysterious, infinite nature of our conception of God with the fences of a picture - the idea, then, is that in our minds, we think of God and helplessly see the picture, and never again can the true, infinite God be accessed. This is shirk. And considering that every chapter of the Qur'an begins with the phrase, "In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficient, the Most Merciful...", the one unforgiveable sin of shirk is pretty serious business - don't you see that creating an image of God or a prophet chosen by God creates forever a barrier to fully contemplating God and God's teaching?

I wonder if the cartoonist, or the Danish Government, or any of us can really know what it's like to have a reckless sketch forever alter our relationship with the cosmos? Not if we grow up surrounded by Christianity, where images are sacred! So I think I'm justified in saying that mutual understanding here is truly just about impossible.

But, it does come down to action time for the governments in question here. The Danish Government must recognize the immensity of what's happened here - and offer its overdue apology. It, by no means, should place restriction on its press - but it should feel the need and duty to call injustice when it happens. In the case of the cartoon, the injustice was done to Allah, to the Prophet of Allah (pbuh), and to those who submit to Allah.

If you've read this far, thank you. Hope to hear what you have to think. Peace out.

Freedom of Speech

Recent discussion of the cartoon published in European newspapers has become something of a magnet for freedom of speech rhetoric. And yet it is woefully misapplied. The freedom of speech protects individuals from government censorship or punishment; it does NOT dictate what *should* be said – that is, simply because you can legally say something doesn’t mean you should. Think about it, just because it would be legal to create a political cartoon glorifying the lynchings of American history, wouldn’t it be utterly distasteful to not do so? A newspaper can decide what content it will or will not publish, and such inflammatory rhetoric will only be harmful (there is no *benefit* to its publication); it would be irresponsible to publish such a cartoon. The instance in Europe is far worse.

Another website recently created a cartoon of Hitler and Anne Frank in bed together with Hitler saying “Write this one in your diary, Anne” in response, to illustrate this very point. As offensive as that is (and it’s damn offensive), it doesn’t compare to an attack on one’s religion, on one’s reason for being. Though I cannot understand, the Islamic proscription on depictions of Allah and the Prophet are especially deep, lacking direct comparisons in contemporary Christianity (but here, I overstep my bounds of knowledge, so I leave further discussion to my esteemed colleague).

As French President Jacques Chirac stated, the reprinting of the cartoon is an exercise in provocation, not free speech. Free speech may protect the newspapers from government sanction, but they do not justify the decision of the newspapers to publish the cartoon. Chirac put it aptly when he said, "[f]reedom of expression must be exercised in a spirit of responsibility.” The decisions of the European media have thus far been quite the opposite.

Another perspective: The freedom of speech is certainly not absolute. Particularly illustrative here is that the third Geneva Convention, which forbids the publishing of pictures of POWs and, arguably, the dead (subjecting them to “public curiosity” is the precise wording). The principle behind that is one of respect. Applying such a principle to the contemporary case is a worthwhile exercise.