Monday, May 31, 2010

Andrew Roberts Defends Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Historian Andrew Roberts has written this article for The Daily Beast, defending Ayaan Hirsi Ali and critiquing Nicholas Kristof's review of Ali's new book, Nomad. (You can find Kristof's review here.)

I have not read Ali's new book so I'm not in a position to evaluate either writer's claims about it. But this selection from Robert's piece leaped out at me:
The word “provocative” is often a term of approbation; here it is clearly intended pejoratively. The only people who could possibly be “provoked” by Nomad are Islamic fundamentalists who abuse women and beat children; much of the book is a passionate denunciation of the way violence is routinely used against children in the Muslim world. Of course, equally provoked are ultra-liberal Western commentators who regard any criticism of Islamic practices whatsoever, especially those specifically sanctioned by the Koran, as “provocative” and thus somehow illegitimate.
Roberts articulates a concern that nags at me both personally and professionally. As someone who has worked on multicultural issues in higher education, which is becoming increasingly more diverse, I worry that in our rush to create a peaceful and stable environment we end up sacrificing our ability to think critically about culture.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Meghan McCain on Rand Paul

Meghan McCain has written this piece for The Daily Beast on Rand Paul's political faux paus over his comments about the Civil Rights Act (see Paul's full interview with Rachel Maddow here). McCain writes that although the Tea Party and the mainstream Republican party do share some ideals, they have very different ideas about governing. An excerpt:
With the midterm elections fast approaching, and the 2012 elections around the corner, let’s hope Paul isn’t a canary in the coal mine, if you will, for Republicans, but a cautionary tale. The lesson is clear: If we don’t nominate formidable candidates with wider appeal and a broader message, our party is dead in the water.

Yes, Rand Paul could just be an anomaly; the next Tea Party candidate who rises to national prominence could be the answer to the movement’s prayers. Yet I believe that Paul offers a lens into the Tea Party’s broader problems. While anger over the way the country is run is valid, when it comes to specifics—and to direct, clear solutions—things fall apart.
There is a difference between libertarianism and anarchism. The former advocates an extremely limited role of government but it does nevertheless allow for a government to do the business of governing. The latter is opposed to any government whatsoever. But many of those calling themselves libertarians, including elements of the Tea Party, are leaning much more toward anarchy than libertarianism. And if you want an example of anarchism in action, take a look at Somalia and how well it has worked there.

The biggest trouble with these anarchist-leaning libertarians is not racism or white supremacy; it's naivety. Listening to Rand Paul's interview with Rachel Maddow, he constantly states how he does not approve of racist activities but also does not approve of government intervention into private business. I am willing to take Paul at his word on this. But, since Paul claims to be an ardent supporter of the Constitution, I have to wonder how he squares government's role to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty" with the circle of anarchist ideology.

Apologists for the Confederacy have argued that the Civil War was fought not over slavery but over state's rights. And in some respects they are right: the war was fought to preserve the union and to assert the federal government's authority over the states. But on behalf of the Confederacy, the Civil War was fought to preserve the state and private industry's rights to engage in an activity (slavery) so heinous that even so-called libertarians like Rand Paul claim to be embarrassed by it.

The political can of worms reopened by Paul's interview with Maddow is essentially the same argument made in the 1960s over civil rights, and the same argument made during and after the Civil War. And in all cases some very smart people are able to make the anarchist-libertarian argument not because they view minorities as inferior but because they have turned a blind eye to the moral, ethical, or just plain practical implications of their positions.

Check out Maddow's analysis of Paul's comments and on the libertarian movement as a whole.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Muslim Miss America

I'm not a fan of beauty pageants. I see them as an elaborate version of online "Are you hot?" quizzes, leading women onto stages to be evaluated like cattle at the state fair. They reinforce the idea that a woman's value is based on her physical appearance and embody the institutionalization of oppressive gender roles. What's worse, Miss USA and similar organizations have the pretension that they are something other than that, and to my eyes that hypocrisy makes them worse than the average spring break wet t-shirt contest.

So I have a mixed reaction to Tunku Varadarajan's piece in The Daily Beast which tries to spin the crowning of Rima Fakih, a Muslim American, as the newest Miss USA into a sign of cultural progress. According to Varadarajan:

So to have a Shiite Muslim girl from Dearborn, Michigan—born in a Lebanese village to parents who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 7—take part in a Miss USA contest is a cultural phenomenon of considerable interest and value. If you choose to come and live in the U.S., it is broadly desirable that you live in an American way. And that, for some, includes taking beauty contests seriously. After all, these parades of temptation are precisely the sort of exercise that hard-line Islamist zealots hate most about Western civilization, and which they deploy as cautionary ammunition in the repression of their own women: Were it not for the burqa, you would all be naked harlots.

Varadarajan has a point. A Muslim woman in a bikini--especially one getting an award for it--is a subversive action in the Muslim community. It flies in the face of sexual repression and is a freeing of the spirit. And it does cast an olive branch to the rest of (but mostly to white) America.

And yet I can't help but feel as though this is two steps forward and one step backward. Yes, it is assimilation and can be viewed as some sort of acceptance or validation. But is this the kind of validation that Muslim women are looking for?

"Congratulations, ladies," we might say. "You've moved out of the sexual repression of the 15th century and into the sexual repression of the 1950s."

I guess it's progress.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maddow: "Some Dreams Are Bad Dreams."

Check out Rachel Maddow's commencement speech at Smith College. She puts a new spin on commencement speeches; rather than telling students to blindly follow their dreams, she encourages them to think about the broader consequences of their actions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio

Hell's impressive musical roster has just increased by one.

Former Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio has passed away. From The Chicago Tribune:

Dio’s neo-operatic voice was one of metal’s most distinctive instruments, an over-the-top stylist perfectly suited for a genre that demanded excess.

He fronted some of metal’s most revered bands, including a Deep Purple offshoot called Rainbow, the second incarnation of Black Sabbath and his namesake group, Dio. As a result, he had a hand in a half-dozen of metal’s greatest albums, including Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and Dio’s “Holy Diver.” Most recently he was heard fronting a Sabbath offshoot, Heaven and Hell, which released a fine 2009 album, “The Devil You Know,” and toured extensively in 2008-09.

Dio’s piercing voice and equally flamboyant persona – he is sometimes credited with popularizing the two-fingered “devil’s horns” gesture – made him fodder for affectionate parody, most notably by the best-selling comedy duo Tenacious D.

Here are a few notable performances:

Holy Diver

Heaven and Hell

Rainbow in the Dark

The Devil Cried

Kickapoo - Tenacious D featuring Meatloaf and Dio

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pawlenty To Veto Gay Rights Bill

As some of you might have heard, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty plans to veto a bill that would give same sex couples equal end-of-life rights as heterosexual couples.

The first paragraph of this article at Salon sums up the rationale behind Pawlenty's veto quite nicely:

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty isn't seeking re-election. He is seeking the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nomination. So he's no longer obligated to give a shit what his constituents think -- he's governing solely for the editors of the Weekly Standard and our nation's conservative newspaper columnists.
It's important to remember that this bill does not do any of the things that the "defenders of traditional marriage" are so scared of. It does not redefine marriage or recognize a second class marriage (a.k.a. civil unions); it's not even about marriage at all. It does not allow them to adopt children or require the state to approve of boys kissing. All it does is grant homosexual partners the same legal recourse as heterosexuals in matters of end-of-life care.

But Pawlenty has to limbo under the same bar as other 2012 Republican hopefuls, a bar that has been continually lowered by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party crowd. This is a race to the bottom, pandering to the worst in American politics.

Friday, May 07, 2010

AZ Immigration Law to Come to MN?

According to this article in the Winona Daily News, Minnesota state representative Steve Drazkowski has introduced a bill similar to the Arizona "Show Me Your Papers" anti-immigration law. According to the Winona Daily News:
The bill, called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, is designed to target the estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants in Minnesota, said Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. It would establish a Minnesota illegal immigration enforcement team with at least 10 officers, and includes the controversial provision that all law enforcement officials determine the immigration status of any person they have stopped, detained or arrested "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States."
The Arizona law, as stupid as it is, can at least be understood as an overreaction to the drug-related violence and kidnappings on the Arizona-Mexico boarder. But there is no reason for this in Minnesota, unless Drazkowski is really worried about illegal Canadians. But the Minneosta bill is unlikely to pass, since there isn't much time left in the session and there are much bigger issues on the table right now.

Speaking of the Arizona anti-immigration bill, check out this report from The Rachel Maddow Show about the link between the Federation for American Immigrant Reform (FAIR), which had major influence on the language of the bill, and the white supremacist subculture:

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