Hard To Believe

A recent story from the newswires of CNN raises some deep and disturbing issues:

Administrators shut down 24 schools in Augusta County, Virginia, on Friday after a homework assignment on Islam drew fury from parents, CNN reported.

Cheryl LaPorte, a world geography teacher at Riverheads High School, assigned her students homework using a standard workbook on world religions that asked students to copy religious calligraphy.
The assignment read: “Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”
The calligraphy translated to, “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah,” according to CNN.
The assignment immediately drew ire from some parents who called for LaPorte’s firing for “violating children’s religious beliefs,” reported The News Leader, a local newspaper. The Virginia Department of Education reviewed the the assignment and found that it did not violate student rights.
The cancellation of school on Friday essentially started the district’s winter break early.
School administrators released a statement to parents saying that while there was no specific threat to students, schools were closed on Friday.
They cited a risk of harm to officials as the reason for the closure. “Some communications posed a risk of harm to school officials,” the school’s statement read, according to WHSV-TV, a local news station. “Others threatened significant protests on or near school property. Those communications are in the hands of the sheriff.”

The threats to teachers and administrators raises the greatest concern. We have truly become a nation of bigots and haters who see no reason not to threaten those who disagree with us. And, of course, there are those running for the highest office in this land who not only encourage this attitude, but give it strong impetus. One might feel these things, but it takes assurance from those around us to actually make those feelings public. And when those around us are led by a few who are regarded as smarter  (and more “successful”) than the rest of us, it becomes all too tempting to give vent to the most hateful feeling that are deep within us. And if this seems a bit of a stretch, please consider that Donald the Trumpet, for one, recently spoke with an interviewer about his relationship with Vladimir Putin whom he admires as a “strong leader” and responded to the question of whether he would approve the killing of journalists with the following dismissal: “He’s running his country and he’s a leader,” . . . Unlike what we have in this country.”

In any event, at a time when we need increased understanding of those who differ from us, the parents who shouted loudly at this class assignment were guaranteeing that they and their children would have little or nothing to do with the religion of Islam. “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.” This sort of attitude tells us many things, but above all else it shows what a difficult, if not impossible, job our teachers have in opening closed minds when the parents of their students resist strongly and threaten grievous bodily harm. It was wise to close the schools until tempers cool off. But the deeper problems will persist.

Rhetoric Of Hate

My blogging buddy Keith, who is almost always spot on (I know because I always tend to agree with him), recently responded to one of his readers who was commenting on the awful rise in gun deaths in this country. Keith worried that, given this nation’s proclivity for violence, with the rise in “rhetoric and hate mongering” there would be more hate crimes.

I have commented before about the terribly weak claim of those who defend the widespread sale of all manner of guns on the grounds that this is our “right” as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. This claim is based on a complete misunderstanding of that Amendment which is all about the militia and only tangentially about guns. It defends the right of the militia to their guns because those who wrote the Amendment wanted to have nothing to do with a standing army and thought an armed militia would be sufficient deterrent to those crazies over there in England (or wherever) who might want to once again take over this country. In any event, the sale of automatic weapons to anyone with the money to pay for them is madness and would never have been defended by the founders of this nation. But it matters not, because the “gun control” discussion is not based on reason and historical fact. It is based on rhetoric and hate mongering, as Keith pointed out.

What we fear and hate is almost always what we do not understand. In a word, the root cause of the increase in mass murders can be put down to the fact that so many citizens in this country are simply ignorant of other people and their beliefs, thus they are easily persuaded that “they” are out to get “us.” As long as our politicians, and those who would be politicians, play on our fears and can rely on our ignorance hate crimes will continue and will indeed increase. And this seems to be the order of the day: frantic rhetoric by those who claim to be in the know that appeals to fear and increases hatred of those who are different from us or who practice a different religion.

I must confess that I do not know much about the religion of Islam. That is a gap in my education that I really need to fill in. But I do want to know more about it and what I do know I respect: it is a religion of peace and love — just as Christianity is supposed to be.  The son of one of my friends converted to the religion of Islam and is now living with his wife in the Middle East. He was raised a Lutheran and converted because he decided after considerable thought and research that becoming a Muslim would make him a better person, that there was less hypocrisy in that religion and for the most part those who practice it are loving and decent people — just like him. Now I don’t know whether he is right, though he seems happy to have made that radical change in his life. I do know that the Quran teaches that the purpose of human existence is to worship God. I also know that those who form groups like IS are part of the lunatic fringe, just as those who preach hatred in the name of Christ are part of the lunatic fringe. Of increasing concern in this regard is that, as things are progressing, that fringe seems to be expanding and the rhetoric of hate that issues forth from the lips of political candidates like Donald Trump do nothing less than throw gasoline on a fire that may already be out of control.

The only way to root out fear and eliminate hatred of those who differ from us is to get to know them better, to try to understand where they are coming from and what they most deeply believe. It is one thing to have “gun control” and to try to keep weapons out of the hands of those who are clinically insane and I support those controls. But it will not solve the problem, sad to say. What must happen is that all of us must want to understand things and people we are afraid of. If I know the sound in the other room that scared me moments ago was the cat I will not be afraid. Knowledge is the key to rooting out fear — together with a determination to accept the fact that those who preach hatred must be ignored if they cannot be made to shut up.

True Diversity

There is a disturbing movement afoot on America’s college campuses. I speak of the growing tendency to exclude certain points of view from being heard. In the name of defending the campuses from what they regard as “hate speech,” numbers of liberal students and faculty members are banding together to make sure that opinions they strongly disagree with are not heard.

In an article in this month’s “Intercollegiate Review,” an author with a familiar name (David Ortiz) tells of a number of instances in which speakers have been refused a voice on a number of campuses. At Stanford University, of all places, a group known as the Anscombe Society attempted to get funding to bring in a group of “nationally renowned speakers”  to discuss public policy issues “driving the marriage debate.” The campus  LGBTQ community launched protests against the attempts and the funding, which had originally been approved, was withdrawn. Then the Anscombe Society was told it would be necessary for them to pay a $5,600.00 “security fee” to protect the student body against possible violence. Now, whether one sides with the political left or the right in this issue, it beggars belief that a group of students and faculty on today’s campuses would argue against listening to a point of view, no matter how strongly they happen to disagree with it. Whether one is for or against same-sex marriage (and I am in favor of it as it happens) a college campus is a place where one would think it is not only possible, but desirable, to hear opposing points of view. It engenders healthy debate which is the life-blood of intellectual growth.

This is only one of several examples of intolerance across the country on college campuses cited by Ortiz. Others involve Brandeis University, which refused to allow prominent women’s rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people, to be their commencement speaker. Her offense? “She has dared to critique radical Islam for its history of violence and bigotry against women.” More than seventy-five members of the faculty joined student leaders to force the Administration to withdraw the invitation. Similar incidents occurred at Rutgers University involving Condoleezza Rice and at Azusa Pacific University (whatever that is!) involving right-wing author Charles Murray. As Murray noted in a letter he wrote to the students at Azusa, “[Your] administration wants to protect you from earnest and nerdy old guys who have opinions that some of your faculty do not share. Ask if this is why you’re getting a college education.”

Clearly, this is part of a growing problem across the country — and one that was pointed out in a recent speech in Iowa by former president Bill Clinton: people are increasingly refusing to listen to opposing points of view. While dialogue is vital to a democracy, genuine dialogue is dying out. On college campuses, in the name of what many regard as cultural diversity, there are movements to “protect” students against intellectual diversity. And this is the real problem here. As I say, whether or not one agrees with a person’s opinion it ought to be allowed to be given a voice — especially in an institution that claims to be promoting a liberal education. Listening to only one point of view is not education, it is indoctrination. There is considerable truth in the cliché “a closed mind is an empty mind.” And of all people, liberals (so-called) should be opposed to indoctrination. For years they have insisted that conservatives have indoctrinated students on America’s campuses by promoting ideas put forth by “dead, white, European males.” Whether or not this is true, and I strongly believe it is not, intolerance is wrong no matter who happens to be practicing it. The students, who are paying through their noses, are the real victims here.

We live in strange times. But they are times that demand open and searching minds because the problems we face as a human race grow larger by the day. Any attempt to close those minds, especially by so-called “educators,” is alien to everything that is demanded in today’s world. Whether or not we have children in college we must all be concerned about the growing tendency to silence voices that should  be heard — from both ends of the political spectrum. Intolerance of any type should never be tolerated on a college campus, or anywhere else.

Hooray For Canada!

Ya gotta love it! The border guards between Canada and Michigan refused admission into Canada of pastor Terry Jones and his fellow passengers. The story begins with a couple of tasty paragraphs:

Stephanie Sapp said fellow pastor and her husband Wayne Sapp, along with Jones, were turned back at the Michigan-Ontario border after being detained for several hours. Jones, who leads Florida’s tiny Dove World Outreach Center, and Wayne Sapp, were scheduled to attend Freedom Showdown, an inter-faith debate Thursday evening outside the Ontario Legislature.

Stephanie Sapp said Jones was denied entry because of a fine he got in Germany almost 20 years ago for using the title “doctor” there (he had received an honorary doctorate in theology from a Californian university in 1993). Also, both men had been charged with breaching the peace at a planned rally in Detroit last year.

I’ll overlook the fascinating question of why the man wanted to be addressed as “doctor” after holding an honorary doctoral degree from “a California university.” (But I do wonder what on earth they were thinking??) The Germans had it right: they should have fined him for impersonating a respectable person. And I would defend anyone’s right to “breach the peace” in the name of conscience. But bear in mind that this is the man of God who ordered the burning of the Quran not long ago precipitating a riot in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He is apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But I love to think the Canadians have it right to refuse admission of this man into their country. I’m all for freedom of speech (which he claims he is being denied), but there are certain people who simply shouldn’t be allowed to open their mouths in public. Defending a person’s right to spread hatred is pushing the first amendment to its limits. Hate speech is designed to drive people apart and start riots; that sort of thing coming from a professed man of the cloth is doubly reprehensible. However, we cannot pick and choose what a person is allowed to say, though (speaking for myself) there are times when I would like to!!

In this regard, one can sympathize with those in the Middle East who wondered why this country doesn’t refuse to allow films such as “The Innocence of Muslims” that promote racial hatred and which has recently led al-Qaida to declare a “holy war” against the United States and Israel. One can understand, if not sympathize with, those who were outraged at the insults heaped on the founder of Islam. Our notion that free speech is a basic human right is not one that is shared by every other culture. But our defense of free speech is vital to what this country means and we were right to allow the film to be shown in spite of the fact that it stirred up hatred and violence in the Middle East.

We must protect any person’s right to say anything as long as it doesn’t directly result in harm to another person. Determining just what this might be before the person speaks or writes is a problem. One must try to determine the person’s intent, which is not always clear. And the intention of the film-maker in this case was to increase sympathy for the Christians living in Egypt, not to spread hatred — or so he says. Whenever speech is prohibited there is always the danger of censorship which, like any form of repression, is anathema to a free country. Thus, while I may applaud the Canadians for doing what I would love to do myself — namely, refuse to allow Terry Jones entry into the United States — I must admit that he has a right to his opinions no matter how hateful and stupid they might be. It’s the price we pay I suppose.

Religion Doesn’t Matter

I am not sure what possible difference it makes what religion the president practices — or doesn’t practice (though I confess I am puzzled about Mitt Romney’s religion. What is the Mormon “take” on marriage?  Polygamy is OK but gay marriage is taboo. What’s with that?). But ever since John Kennedy’s Catholicity bothered many and was a bump in the road to his presidency, it seems to be a topic of some interest to voters — or at least the media think it is. A reporter from Yahoo News recently went to Northern Virginia, to a place near Arlington they call “Little Provo,” and interviewed a number of Mormons to see whether Mitt Romney’s religious preferences would make a difference in their voting (Duhhhh!). The story begins as follows:

Some 10,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live in Northern Virginia, a crucial battleground region in what is expected to be one of the most tightly contested states of the 2012 presidential campaign. Situated next to the nation’s capital, the area is a hub for politically active Mormons in their 20s and 30s. With Mitt Romney on the verge of formally becoming the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, we traveled to Northern Virginia in June to talk to these voters about what that historic moment–the first Mormon to be nominated for president by a major American political party–will mean to them.

Strange to say, there was at least one interviewed who planned to vote for Romney’s opponent. But, as expected, most align themselves foursquare behind their man, for better or worse. None of this seems to me to be terribly important. There is a movement afoot to besmirch members of this Administration for their alleged practice of the religion of Islam. And while I have blogged about that and the force behind it which smells much like decaying McCarthyism, I ask again “what possible difference does it make?” The question is not what religion these people do or do not practice, rather it is whether or not these people can do the job they are called upon to do. And the answer to that question seems to be a reluctant “No” — at least at the top of the pyramid.

Both of the major players in this Fall’s election carry considerable baggage with them into the contest. Barack Obama has been all-too-conciliatory for many, cozying up to Capital and making deals with devilish companies to win accommodations; escalating the war in Afghanistan and ordering drone attacks in crowded civilian centers in the name of “anti-terrorism”; and weakening his stand on the environment, especially of late. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is not forthcoming and has a checkered past with only modest success as Governor of Massachusetts; he also has a questionable connection with Bain Capital and its tendency to outsource while he preaches “job creation” at home. Further, he is regarded by many as aloof and insensitive to the needs of the lower and middle classes — an image that was further sharpened when his wife was interviewed recently on ABC News. In response to a question about her husband’s unwillingness to release his tax records, she is reported to have said: “we’ve given all you people need to know” about the family’s finances. As one of “you people,” I find this offensive.

But the pyramid shows signs of deterioration further down as well.

Our government has broken down and lies scattered in fragments, including partisan politics, lies, deceit, deception, self-promotion, and greed — a great many politicians have their hands out to the all-too-generous corporations who are ready and willing to dole out the treasure that will guarantee them the results that will benefit their bottom line. What the country desperately needs is a Third Party candidate who is tied to no large corporations and who has vision and tenacity while at the same time he or she is unwilling to sacrifice integrity to achieve political success. But such a person could not succeed until or unless constraints are placed on political gift-giving and the hands of special interests are tied and the playing field is made level.

It’s not about religion, folks. It’s about competency. It’s about character and courage. It’s about a person’s willingness to stand up for what is important and ability to put the interests of the country ahead of their own self-interest. This country has produced such people in the past; one hopes that another is out there in the wings waiting for the opportunity to step forth.

Witch Hunt

Some time back when I was younger and wars were Cold a Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy had the country in a panic because he was convinced that Communists and Russian spies were infiltrating not only the government but also the entertainment and news industries around the country. Rumor has it that he got the number 57 from a ketchup bottle and insisted that there were 57 known Communists in the government (later adding to that number as whim dictated). The witch hunt began, giving birth to the word “McCarthyism” and involving daily coverage on TV; it took months before things were restored to normal and it was determined that it was a tempest in a teapot. McCarthy was censured by the Senate though in the meantime careers were destroyed and hatred and fear were prevalent in the country.

Apparently McCarthy is back in the person of Michele Bachmann, a Representative from Minnesota, who is trying to rouse the rabble over the notion that the Muslims are taking over our government. The Huffington Report recently noted that Rep. Michele Bachmann says the Muslim Brotherhood, the international Islamist movement that recently came to power in Egypt, has made “deep penetration” within the U.S. government, and she wants an investigation of its influence within five federal agencies.

Bachmann’s charges were included in a letter signed by three other Republicans and sent to federal defense, diplomatic, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies calling for an investigation into this Muslim Brotherhood. There is no talk about what, precisely, the nature of the threat from this group happens to be though the group which recently came to power in Egypt is reputed to seek to unite traditional Islam with modern democracy. Wikipedia tells us, further, that the group is a “model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work.. . .The movement has been criticized by al-Qaeda for its support for democratic elections rather than armed jihad.” One would think these qualities suggest a group this country would seek to befriend, not fear.

Bachmann’s alarm appears to be the rantings of a hysterical women at a particularly difficult time in the history of this country. We face serious and complex problems that need to be addressed by our government. Suspicion and distrust already run deep, as does the chasm between the political parties. It is poor timing, at the very least, to call for an investigation at this time. It’s not clear that there ever is a good time for a witch hunt, but these  are definitely not the times. The country is in debt and the economy is in a recession that some might call a depression (especially those who cannot find any work). An investigation would take time, money, and attention away from real problems in order to conduct a search for a group of people who may or may not pose a threat to this country.

Bachmann was a recent candidate for the Republican nomination, as you will recall. Perhaps she merely wants to call attention to herself once again. It must be difficult after all to be relegated to the shadows after being in the bright lights even for a brief moment. One hardly knows what her motivation might be. But I suspect she is exhibiting a knee-jerk reaction to the word “Muslim,” a religious group that in itself is peace-loving and deeply religious and has no desire to “take down” this country — though there are elements within the group that most assuredly do. We might begin by trying to understand the groups better and see how they differ from one another.

One could say, looking at things from another perspective, that there are Americans who want to turn the rest of the world into a mirror-image of themselves, arm themselves to the teeth, and are willing to resort to any means to achieve that end. I expect we can seem frightening to people in other parts of the world. Much depends on one’s point of view. And we need clarity and dispassionate thought, not emotional rantings. Instead of a witch hunt let’s try to understand one another. How about that, Michele?

In the end, this is sheer hysteria and the call for a witch hunt is not only something we should have learned in the 1950s can tear the country to pieces, it is something that no civilized people should even contemplate.