Saturday, December 20, 2014

Moral Equivalence

Whenever hostilities break out between Israel and the Palestinians we're often told that both sides are equally guilty, that there's some sort of moral equivalence between them. At Viewpoint we have rejected this idea since it seems clear to us and indeed to anyone who looks at the facts objectively that the Palestinians are the chief obstacle, maybe the sole obstacle, to peace in that region.

Yossi Klein Halevi wrote a column at the Wall Street Journal (Subscription required) on the day in which four Jewish worshippers were butchered by Palestinian terrorists who hacked them to death while they were at prayer in their synagogue. Halevi compares this tragedy with another 20 years ago and the comparison is instructive. The reactions to those two events tell us much about the sort of people the Palestinians have chosen to be their leaders and the sort of people the Israelis have elected to be theirs.

Halevi writes:
On the morning of Feb. 25, 1994, the Jewish holiday of Purim, Baruch Goldstein, a far-right activist living in the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba, entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and gunned down 29 Muslim men at prayer.

The horror within Israeli society was overwhelming and unequivocal. Speaking from the Knesset podium, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin excommunicated Goldstein from the people of Israel. The country’s two chief rabbis denounced the attack as a desecration of God’s name, the ultimate Jewish sin. The official publication of the West Bank settlement movement, Nekudah, denounced Goldstein, a settler, as a stain on its camp. Only a radical fringe sought to justify and explain the massacre as a response to Palestinian provocations.

Tuesday’s massacre by two Palestinian terrorists of four Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue is the Palestinian Baruch Goldstein moment. Yet rather than respond with shame to the murder of those Jews, as well as of an Israeli police officer, the Palestinian reaction has ranged from reluctant condemnation to outright celebration. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, reportedly after being pressed by Secretary of State John Kerry, condemned the attack—even as he cited Israeli “provocative acts.” Less equivocal was Mr. Abbas’s adviser on religious affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, who said of the terrorists: “We are behind them. The leadership is with them.” Palestinians cheered in the streets of Gaza.
The Palestinians' reaction to this savagery is as distressing as it is disgusting. It's hard to maintain the notion that there's a moral equivalence between the two sides as long as crimes like this are celebrated.

Halevi closes with this: In an era of moral madness, in which much of the world judges Israel more harshly than it judges Hamas, this must be said: Nothing Israel does or doesn’t do is responsible for provoking young Palestinians to hack to death Jews in prayer. The provocation is Jewish prayer itself, the right of the Jewish people to live in its land.

One image from the synagogue massacre will haunt Jews for a long time to come. According to a medic on the scene, terrorists severed an arm wrapped in the straps of tefillin, the phylacteries in which religious Jews recite their morning prayers. That terrible image has reinforced the prevailing sense within Israeli society that the war against the state of Israel is only the latest phase of an old war against the Jews.

If you google Halevi's name you might be able to find the entire column. It's worth reading.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Campus Rape Culture

An editorial by Jim Wallis and Sandi Villareal of Sojourners on the topic of campus rape addresses some very important facts about the problem of sexual assault on our nation's colleges and universities.

It's predictable but disappointing that in the wake of the phony Duke Lacrosse team case and the more recent Rolling Stone mess some commentators are minimizing the problem of sexual assault on campus. This, it seems to me, is precisely the wrong response. The conclusion that should be drawn from these episodes is not that there's really no problem, but that it's absurd to assume, as the left enjoins us to do, that every report of an assault is true.

Even so, given the atmosphere of sexual licentiousness that's promoted by and pervades our popular culture, given, too, the easy access to alcohol and drugs on campus and their effect on students' inhibitions, and given the complete inability of a secular society to instill in young men (and women) any sort of moral governor of their appetites, it would be remarkable were there not a problem with sexual assault. Indeed, in the current cultural and moral climate one wonders how there could not be.

Nevertheless, one sentence in the Sojourner's piece is a bit jarring. The authors write:
Rape culture is living in a society in which your story is dissected rather than heard; it’s being told your inherent, God-given value begins to disintegrate once your story gets uncomfortable and its trajectory skewed.
I'm not sure how the authors intend this rather opaque passage to be understood, but it sounds like they're saying that it's wrong for people to examine the claims made by putative rape victims and instead everyone should assume their claims are true.

If this in fact is the intended meaning then I think the authors are going way too far. It's the job of the police, for example, to ascertain that a crime really has been committed. That requires asking sometimes uncomfortable questions and seeking out evidence. The accuser's word that someone assaulted her is simply and unfortunately not enough upon which to base charges that could ruin someone's life. Unlike most crimes, sexual assault sometimes leaves no real evidence, sometimes involves a lot of ambiguity, and often takes place where there are no witnesses. It's thus very hard to prove. It's also very hard for the wrongly accused young man to prove his innocence. Even if he can demonstrate that the claims are false his reputation is often in tatters just by virtue of having the charges made against him.

All of this is tragic, but it's why the authorities just can't accept uncritically the alleged victim's word for what happened.

Sojourners nentions that only 2% to 8% of assault allegations are false, but even if those figures are accurate that's certainly not a reason, by itself, to believe that any given allegation is true.

Young women are in a tough spot in our culture. They're urged to go along with the prevailing sexual winds, but those prevailing winds often lead to awful destinations (Read for example, Tom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, if you can stomach Wolfe's enthusiasm for vulgarity). When a young woman finds herself victimized by young men weaned on the pornographic ideas and images served up to them throughout their adolescence - young men, it might be added, who've been taught that they're simply animals engaged in the Darwinian imperative to mate and that their sexual urges should never be repressed - she has either to try to prove what may be very difficult to prove and risk public humiliation, or she must accept what happened to her and realize that she is a victim of a culture that has lied to both her and her assailant about what human beings are, what right and wrong is grounded in, and what sex is all about.

One thing we can be pretty certain about: The campus rape culture will never fade away until sexual morality is once again considered part of the will of the God who created sex. Failing that, young women will continue to be victimized and young men will continue to be both victims of false allegations and victimizers of young women whom they'll continue to see as sexual prey.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Horror That Is ISIL

With all the news vying for our attention it's easy for yesterday's news to be quietly overtaken by other events and forgotten, but it hasn't gone away. One example is ISIL in Iraq and Syria. A pair of reports on today's Drudge Report warn us that the horrors of radical Islam are still with us and remind us what lies in store for any people who come under the rule of these savages.

The first is a story by Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon. Kredo informs us that ISIS has released a penal code to which everyone in the territories it has subjugated must submit. It's unimaginably brutal. It imposes the death penalty for blasphemy against Allah, Mohammed, or Islam in general. Adultery is punishable by stoning if the adulterer was married and 100 lashes if he/she was not. Homosexuality, spying on behalf of unbelievers, murder and stealing are all punishable by death, the latter two by crucifixion. It should be pointed out that death has always been a standard punishment under Islamic law for most of these offenses.

Mercifully, some crimes do not merit the death penalty. Some forms of theft, for instance, will result merely in cutting off the offender's hand. Drinking alcohol will earn the tippler 80 lashes, as does the crime of slander. Banditry, a special form of stealing, will cause the criminal to have both his right hand and left leg cut off.

Meanwhile, Breitbart reports that at least 150 recalcitrant women and young girls, some pregnant, in Fallujah, Iraq were executed for refusing to accept "jihad marriage" to ISIS fighters. Many families fled the town of Al-Wafa after receiving death threats. Many of these families were stranded in the desert where their children perished.

The Islamic State also slaughtered over 50 people from the Al Bu Nimr tribe in Iraq’s Anbar Province on November 2. The massacre included six women and four children. Witnesses said the militants lined up the victims, whom they “publicly killed one by one.” Over seventeen people were kidnapped, as well. Militants murdered 98 people from the same tribe 24-48 hours before the massacre. The tribe is Sunni, which holds the same Islamic beliefs as the Islamic State, but ISIS views the tribe as a threat.

From the Breitbart article:
Militants claim they adhere to a very conservative interpretation of Islam, yet they run brothels and keep sex slaves. They even allow women from the West to perform “sexual jihad” for the terrorists. A 2013 edict allows this behavior “to boost the morale of fighters.” Islamic State issued its own edict in June after conquering towns in Iraq. Jihadists set up brothels filled with kidnapped females and placed British women in charge. One Yazidi sex slave begged the West to bomb the brothel at which she was held to end her suffering. A video in November showed militants laughing and joking about buying female Yazidi slaves.
It may be hard for some readers to believe that this sort of evil exists today. It sounds like something out of the Lord of the Rings, but it's how much of the Islamic world thinks. Unfortunately, we in the West have become so immersed in the cultural and moral relativism that's purveyed by so many of our intellectual betters that we're convinced that labeling this "evil" is to be inexcusably judgmental and culturally chauvinistic. Perhaps, but I'll bet that Yazidi woman would dearly love for us to be a little more judgmental and chauvinistic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Voltaire, Please Call Your Office

Sony has cancelled their premiere of a comedy film about an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film was called The Interview and Sony claims that too many theater chains have chosen not to show it for fear of terrorist reprisals threatened by hackers who have infiltrated Sony's computers. In other words, the very people, liberal Hollywooders, who talk about how brave and bold and courageous it is when a film or book comes out that skewers Christianity are now not only meekly submitting to the tender sensibilities of Muslims but also to some of the most atrocious people on earth, the North Koreans.

It's fine if they don't want to offend people, and I certainly don't blame them for being anxious for their safety, but it's unseemly of them to prance, preen and bloviate about how brave it is to attack the beliefs of people who would never dream of retaliating, and then cower in fear when they're given ultimatums by people who just might carry them out.

I wonder, for instance, what the reaction would have been had a few anonymous threats of violence been received when Religulous or Last Temptation of Christ were released. I suspect there would've been a lot of defiant huffing and puffing about the First Amendment, the Critical Importance of Art, Freedom From Religion and all that, and the film would still have been shown amidst congratulations all around for the amazing heroism of the doughty people in the art world who surely deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for their courage.

Liberals used to love to quote a dictum attributed to Voltaire to the effect that though they "may hate what you say they'll fight to the death for your right to say it." Apparently that only applies to saying things critical of people you know won't hurt you for it. Since Muslims have started to hold them to it liberals don't say that sort of thing much anymore. Indeed, the actors and cast of The Interview aren't showing their faces in public lately without bodyguards.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Totally Unnecessary Sacrifice

Anne Applebaum has an interesting article in The Spectator about the woes befalling the long-suffering Russian people. They're being caught in an economic squeeze by a combination of international sanctions imposed by the West in response to Putin's assault on the Ukraine, Putin's decision to retaliate against the West by refusing to import food from Europe which has caused food prices to rise in Russia, and the falling price of oil, Russia's chief export. Here's part of her article:
The US, Europe, Australia and Japan responded with sanctions which were deliberately designed to target a small number of wealthy Russians. But Putin broke new ground again. Instead of responding in kind, he banned food imports from the West. Because Russia normally imports at least a quarter and possibly as much as half of its food — not only Parmesan from Italy but frozen vegetables from Poland — he ensured that food prices would rise, not just for a small number of people but for the entire nation.

It was a calculated risk: the Russian President and his entourage apparently reckoned that the Russian people would agree to pay higher prices for food in exchange for military glory. Unlike decadent Europeans and spoiled Americans, Putin seemed to believe that Russians would stoically suffer on behalf of the motherland at a time of crisis.

Was he right? We are about to find out. This week the rouble, which has lost a third of its value in three months, slid by 9 per cent in a single day. A recession is now predicted. Inflation is predicted too, as high as 8 or 9 per cent. A controversial but long-planned pipeline construction has been abruptly cancelled. Major Russian banks are asking for government loans. Russian companies which earn in roubles and borrow in dollars are suddenly in trouble. Capital has been swiftly flowing out of the country, and some banks are rumoured to be limiting withdrawals. There are so many rumours about capital controls that the prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, has explicitly denied them.
What effect have falling oil prices had? Applebaum explains:
Not all of Russia’s economic disruption is caused by sanctions, of course. Since last spring, oil prices have also dropped by nearly 40 per cent. The world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has just made it clear that it won’t lower production in order to push them up again, at least for the time being.

This might not matter as much to other oil producers, but for more than a decade Putin has coasted on the illusion that historically high oil and gas revenues could both support the national budget and disguise Russia’s failure to create a more productive economy. High energy prices even paid for the excesses of autocracy and an expansionist foreign policy: the Sochi Olympics, the billionaires’ palaces, the adventure in eastern Ukraine, the military exercises on a Cold War scale, even the €9 million loan which a shady Russian bank has just made to the far-right French National Front.
All this puts Russia in a difficult position as Applebaum goes on to tell us, but what the outcome will be is hard to predict. What's clear, however, is that Russia has embarked on a course that could lead the world back to a cold war, or even open hostilities, and nobody wants that. Here's how Applebaum concludes her essay:
... the past decade of high oil prices gave many Russians a standard of living that their Soviet parents and grandparents could never have imagined. There are not just oligarchs but concentric circles of people who have invested in the West, traveled in the West, shopped in the West or otherwise benefited from Russia’s integration into the global economy, if only because they bought those cheap frozen vegetables. They have no clear mechanism to respond to the onrushing economic crisis. Alternative leaders have been eliminated, and alternative policies are not discussed, but that doesn’t mean they’ll remain passive forever.

They could leave the country, withdraw their money, stage a palace coup or simply find ways to make life in Russia unpleasant for Russia’s leaders in ways we haven’t yet imagined.
It's unfortunate that Putin has chosen to take the path he has, he certainly didn't have to, but it's the road he's chosen, and it's a very dangerous road for everyone.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thoughts on Some Racial News

Three black effigies were found hanging on the campus of UC Berkeley over the weekend. Perhaps this was the work of cruel, thoughtless, stupid bigots, but given the number of incidents staged by blacks to make whites look bad over the years we shouldn't automatically assume that it was the work of bigots, nor should we be surprised if it turns out that the perpetrators of this incident were themselves African-American students, trying either to make it appear as if it were done by white racists or trying to make a political statement about being black in America.

Also over the weekend thousands of people took to the the streets of New York and other cities to protest the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others by police. It's good every now and then to protest excessive use of force by government agents, and to demand that they not use more force than a situation warrants, but I wonder when we'll start seeing huge demonstrations on behalf of the dozens of police who are murdered every year by killers, many (most?)of whom are black. Or doesn't anyone care about the lives of police officers?

Even as the African American community expresses it's outrage at the death of Eric Garner, black kids continue to die by the hundreds at the hands of other black kids in cities across our nation, and no one is organizing protest marches on behalf of these anonymous young men. Why is that? Do "all black lives matter" or do only politically expedient black lives matter? Do all lives matter or do police officers' lives not matter?

Reading the news about these protests, and reflecting on the relative silence when a black man is killed by another black man, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that at least some of the people who are venting their rage are angry not so much because black men have died but because these black men died at the hands of white men. If so, one wonders why. It is, after all, far less likely that a black man in the United States will die at the hands of a white man than that a white man will die at the hands of a black man.

Maybe you think I'm missing the point. Maybe you think that the protests are in fact directed against the kind of police brutality and overreaction on display in the Eric Garner case. I'm sure this is what animates many, maybe most, of the protestors, but ask yourself a hypothetical question: Do you think that there would be any organized protests at all, any media coverage at all, had Michael Brown and Eric Garner been white, or, alternatively, had the cops who killed them been black?

Neither do I.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Which Is Worse?

Consider this scenario: You're in the position of a terrorist detained by the intelligence service of the country whose citizens you were trying with all your might to slaughter. You are given the choice either to be tortured in order to provide information on the plans of your terrorist associates or be executed.

If you're tortured no permanent physical damage will be done to you, and moreover, you will have complete control over how much pain you'll have to endure. You know that as soon as you're forthcoming with the information that will save thousands of innocent lives the torture will immediately cease. If, on the other hand, you're executed quite possibly your spouse and children will be executed with you as may many of your innocent friends. Which would be worse in your mind, the torture or the execution?

I ask the question because it illustrates the hypocrisy of many of those who've expressed moral indignation in the wake of the Democrats' report on CIA "enhanced interrogation" practices in the wake of 9/11. Much of the Progressive left is livid that the CIA and, by extension, the Bush administration were practicing things like sleep deprivation, threats, uncomfortable positions, water boarding (on three people), and something called rectal hydration (don't ask).

Meanwhile, the Progressives are silent about their own leader in the White House carrying out a policy of drone strikes on terrorists that have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents along with the intended targets. Some of these strikes have even killed American citizens.

I'm not criticizing the drone strikes, but I'd like those who are so outraged by what the CIA did in order to prevent another 9/11, and who are so nonchalant about what President Obama is doing, to answer one simple question: Which is worse, the infliction of pain which produces no lasting physical effects to speak of, or the infliction of death on not only terrorists but also their families?

If you're outraged by the former but haven't had much to say about the latter then some of us would like to know why.