Friday, December 4, 2015

It’s Time For Conservatives to Confront Racism. By David Marcus.

It’s Time For Conservatives to Confront Racism. By David Marcus. The Federalist, December 3, 2015.


Too often, people of color find themselves trapped between a Left that exaggerates racism and a Right that pretends it doesn’t exist.

Several American cities and college campuses are experiencing levels of racial strife that haven’t been seen in decades. For myriad reasons, including legitimate complaints about police violence, many black Americans have come to feel disconnected, if not flat-out threatened, by our society. While it is true that progressives have cynically poured gasoline on these fires with outsized rhetoric, it is also true that conservatives have been far too dismissive of these concerns.

Too often, people of color find themselves trapped between a Left that exaggerates racism and a Right that pretends it doesn’t exist. Under these circumstances it is difficult to blame them for choosing the former. Black Americans in particular feel gaslighted by conservatives. They experience racism, they explain it to us, but instead of addressing it we tell them it is marginal, rare, and unimportant if we acknowledge its existence at all.

The result of this conservative ambivalence to racism is that we are ceding an enormous amount of ground in what should be an important and nuanced conversation. It is very much our fault that the only sides of the issue are “white privilege explains everything” and ”white privilege doesn’t exist.” The truth lies in between, in the murky waters of interpersonal relationships where baseless racism still lurks. Casting ourselves as the side that denies racism leaves the Left the entire playing field upon which to castigate the country for its iniquity. Our only response? A tin-eared refusal to accept that we have a problem.

Yes, Racism Still Exists

A few years ago, my wife and I were looking for a new apartment. My wife met with a realtor who had a place that was perfect for us, but wanted to know if I was Arab (I’m not). Turns out the landlord didn’t want to rent to Arabs, who are a growing population in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Because he lived in one of the apartments in the house, this was perfectly legal—but also obviously racist.

On many occasions in New York I have seen cab drivers pass by black men, as Al Rocker recently detailed. Just the other day, while buying a six-pack down the shore I chatted with the clerk about the hapless 76ers. He told me, “They need a white guy, you know, someone with brains.” I cringed and said something like, “I don’t think that’s the problem.”

On social media, conservatives have been quick to quibble with racist Donald Trump supporters, but not quick to address it in our pages. It’s time that we do. The Trump nativists often post horrible anti-Semitic and anti-black cartoons of a kind we thought long gone from discourse. They are not long gone. They are right here with us, and they demand rebuke.

Racism is real. It happens. It’s no good pretending it doesn’t. And it’s no good pretending that police deal with white kids the same way they deal with black kids. Irrational racist bias is still a part of our lives. It’s true that racism has a very different form than it did half a century ago. Our laws have moved towards equality, even to inequality to address historic racism, such as affirmative action. There isn’t much more the state can do to promote racial equality, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing we as Americans can do.

No, Racism Is Not the Driving Force in Our Society

The very real existence of racism in our society does not justify the Left’s contention that racism is everywhere and everything. This argument emerged with the concept that unconscious bias is the most fundamental form that racism takes in our culture. Even though, as shown above, blatant and conscious racism still exists, the Left focuses on supposed unconscious racism because it broadens the field of their agenda.

Most of us reject blatant racism, but for the Left this is not enough. The Left insists that all white people are the complicit beneficiaries of historical racism. To some degree this is true, insofar as everyone is the beneficiary or victim of history, and sometimes both. But in practice this invisible hand of racism theory offers us no practical path towards eliminating racism. We can sit quietly contemplating our advantages all day, we can listen to and accept the testimony of people of color, but it won’t make any difference.

Navel-gazing white people can confess their privilege on Facebook over and over without ever truly confronting the root cause of racism. That cause is and always has been an irrational belief that a person’s skin color defines them in any important way. Addressing that cause is off-limits to the Left because it denies their fundamental belief that people are first and foremost defined by their race. Whites are doomed to oppress whether they want to or not, blacks are doomed to be oppressed no matter what they achieve.

A racial grievance industry worth millions of dollars has grown over the past two decades. Consultants to colleges and businesses preach privilege for a paycheck. Ethnic studies departments focus more on the debilitating nature of oppression than the considerable cultural contributions of every ethnic group.

This fatalistic fantasy of perpetual prejudice is the central theme of the modern Left’s failed anti-racism efforts, because they don’t really think racism can ever be defeated. This is why they never talk about the point at which affirmative action won’t be needed. So ingrained is white supremacy, they argue, that its effects are permanent. And all institutions, be they governments or colleges, must enact permanent policies regarding racial difference.

Anti-Racism Is a Conservative Issue

The Left is happy to go on endlessly promoting policy prescriptions for racism and justifying state control of anything and everything along the way. Conservatives do not have that luxury. Racism undermines conservative ideals of individual responsibility, freedom of speech, and limited government in ways it does not with progressive ideals. The Left believes it can coerce equality on a racist population. Conservatives do not. Conservatism demands that we overcome this problem ourselves.

Implicit in the demand for limited government is a responsibility to treat people fairly. Conservatives are not anarchists. We do not eschew moral norms, we insist upon them. Any concept of conservative morality must contain the duty to treat people as they are, not as symbols or reflections of their racial caste. On that moral principle, we have not been insistent enough. But there are ways for conservatives to tackle this issue, and they hold much more promise than the tired digital privilege theory pamphlets so pervasive on our Internet feeds.

The first step is mostly symbolic. It is simply to accept the racism that exists in our society and to call it an important problem. On its own, this admission will do nothing. But it will lay the groundwork for positive approaches and assure people of color that conservatives are not blind to their concerns.

A second and vital step is for conservatives to start developing a competing anti-racism agenda. The focus of this agenda should be the irrational nature of racism, not its immorality. It should harken back to the outdated but much more successful color-blind model, which demands we treat people as individuals, not as representatives of a demographic. Our think tanks and foundations should develop curriculum around this ideal and demand equal access in education. We must demand that diversity and race in culture be treated as a conversation, not a lecture.

A third step is to re-engage with urban politics. Robert Tracinski in these pages and Kevin Williamson at National Review Online (among others) have written about how conservatives must regain a foothold in cities. These appeals dovetail directly with anti-racism. The dismal decline of American cities under perpetual Democratic control exacerbates racism enormously. It creates the conditions of crime and poverty that turn fear into racial bias.

The predicted demographic demise of the Republican Party has so far turned out to be hokum. Outreach to minorities no longer seems so essential to survival of conservative politics. But opposing and ending racism is not about political survival. It’s about creating the level playing field upon which conservatives believe everyone can succeed. It’s about reestablishing an abiding faith in the principles of democracy and the free market. Too many Americans, particularly Americans of color, have abandoned this faith.

Ours will not be an anti-racism of coercion, confession, and castigation. It will be an anti-racism of hope and an abiding belief in the dignity of man. For too long we have chosen to ignore racism. We have done so at our own peril, and that peril has been delivered upon us. It’s time to strike back. It’s time to defeat racism. And we are the only ones who can do it.

Syed Farooq Is an American. By Steven Salaita.

Syed Farooq is an American: Let’s stop the Muslim vs. Christian debate and take a look at ourselves. By Stephen Salaita. Salon, December 3, 2015. Also at AlterNet.


Dear Compatriots:

I address you in a moment of collective stress, with another mass shooting, this one in San Bernardino, California, dominating the news.  Guessing the identity of shooters—black or white, Christian or Muslim, man or woman (though masculinity is almost guaranteed)—has become a vicious social media ritual.  Too many people seem to believe we can discern motivation by ethnicity, or that ethnicity alone determines what type of terror can rightly be deemed terrorism.

It was with much sadness that I witnessed your gleeful reaction when police named Syed Farooq, a devout Muslim, as one of the suspects.  You seem to be under the impression that a Muslim shooter absolves the United States of brutality, forgetting that Farooq is also an American.  This worldview allows you to embrace mythologies that exonerate you of political violence.

But we must acknowledge Farooq’s nationality, because his terrible deed does not arise from an unknowable foreign culture, but from one endemic to the United States.  You can exempt yourself from Farooq’s actions only if you are willing to exclude minorities from your national identity.  Many of you are happy to do that, but it’s an intellectually lazy choice.

It is why I greet you as a compatriot.  The greeting might make you uncomfortable because I am Arab, but I am also American.  Being American requires no special ethnic, religious, or ideological character, even though our nationality contains implicit demands.  One of those demands is to not be Arab or Muslim.

Enough about technicalities, though.  I don’t approach you to be pedantic or to beg for your acceptance, nor do I have any interest in situating mass murder into hierarchies of tolerability.  I merely ask you to consider why those hierarchies exist and why it’s so easy to name state violence as necessary or desirable.  There’s a connection between the supposed deviance of Farooq’s shooting and your endless, adamant justification of U.S. bloodletting throughout the world.

To put it plainly:  thinking about violent behavior as something innately foreign is a terrific rationale for delivering violence to foreign places.  It forces you to hate people and demands your loyalty to institutions designed to contravene your interests.

I think you’ve been hoodwinked by politicians and luminaries into hating Arabs and Muslims.  This hatred is bad for Arabs and Muslims, of course, but it also does you little good. It might make you feel better about your place in the American racial hierarchy.  It might alleviate your majoritarian anxieties.  It might reaffirm the superiority of your faith.  It might make patriotism easier to accept.

It doesn’t, however, help you better understand this world and it certainly won’t keep food on your table.  In fact, it deprives everybody of intellectual and economic sustenance.

The attitudes you possess—that Arabs are beholden to violent culture, that Islam singularly produces religious evil, that Syrian refugees threaten American safety, that the Middle East and South Asia are places of mystical barbarity—have existed since before 9/11, but they seem to have a particular resonance in the current presidential election.

It’s become remarkably disturbing, to be honest.  It reminds me a bit too much of the rhetoric preceding the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  I don’t select the analogy at random: more than one eminent conservative has suggested interning Muslims. Liberal beacon Wesley Clark did, too, when he spoke approvingly of interment and proposed it as a remedy for the “disloyal.”

Every day I hear another demagogue inflaming your outrage, urging you to maintain an acutely resentful psychology.  Ben Carson, often described as judicious and presidential, recently proclaimed that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” a flagrant constitutional violation and a vulgar bit of pointless scapegoating.

Last week, Donald Trump repeated the canard that Arabs in New Jersey celebrated as the Twin Towers collapsed, claiming that he witnessed “a heavy Arab population that were cheering as the buildings came down.”  Trump implies that all Arabs supported 9/11.  None, therefore, is trustworthy.  There is no reason to make this sort of comment other than to manipulate our desire for safety and thereby create a pretext for unthinkable possibilities.

Is it too difficult to recognize the many problems of a discourse that relies so heavily on demonization to generate support?  The demagogue can enact violence only when his audience refuses to recognize the violent nature of demagoguery.

Politicians love nothing more than a frightened, uninformed citizenry.  It’s how they convince us to cosign our dispossession.  People who discern gray areas and have the ability to reason through propaganda are their most undesirable clients.  The United States cannot be a functional democracy if we make ourselves so compliant.

Believe it or not, Arabs and Muslims (and other minorities) are not the source of your problems.  Turn to the politicians who promise you an uncomplicated world for a better target of your anger.

I know you’re ready to counter with “terrorism,” but the term is largely a bromide in the American political vocabulary.  It’s useless to debate which groups commit more violence.  No week passes that we don’t hear of another white supremacist plot to murder South Asians, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics or African Americans.  The U.S. and its allies generate extraordinary destruction in the regions of the world said to be uniquely barbaric.  Police kill with impunity. Our president orders death by remote control.  Everybody suffers but the people who oversee this horror.

Displays of spectacular cruelty pervade the United States, but you embrace any opportunity to disavow them as an exotic problem.  And still more people will be killed today—many by those for whom you voted and to whom you pay taxes.

We should work to better understand how the elite apportion discourses of violence into categories of good and evil, civilized and savage, rational and unreasonable.  Who creates these binaries?  Who suffers their finality?  Who profits from their endurance?

Let’s explore these questions together.  We’ll surely be surprised by what we learn through the simple act of listening.  Before we do, though, I ask you to remember that I am proudly Arab but legally American, and I refuse to entertain the possibility that either category invalidates the other.

More Evidence That ISIS Fails the Reality Test. By Walter Russell Mead.

More Evidence that ISIS Fails the Reality Test. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, December 2, 2015.


ISIS’s attempt to build a state is faltering under the strain of both external attacks and internal failings as its ideology collides with reality. The New York Times reports:
Some fighters have taken pay cuts, while others have quit and slipped away. Important services have been failing because of poor maintenance. And as its smuggling and oil businesses have faltered, the Islamic State has fallen back on ever-increasing taxes and tolls imposed on its squeezed citizens.[..] 
Stories abound of the Islamic State putting loyal members in positions they are not qualified for. The head of medical services in one town is a former construction worker, residents said. The boss at an oil field was a date merchant, according to a former employee. 
In Raqqa, the National Hospital featured in a propaganda video about health services in the caliphate is all but closed because so many doctors have fled, according to an aid worker with relatives in the city.[..] 
Also driving people out is an onerous tax system carried out in the name of zakat, or Islamic alms. The jihadists collect, among other taxes, a yearly share of every harvest and herd of livestock, and make shopkeepers pay a share of their inventory. 
ISIS is selling a dream, as we’ve written before. But everyday life grinds away at the fantasy world ISIS wants to live in.

Nothing kills an ideology like success. This is what happened to Communism: the Marxist-Leninists had 70 years and half the world’s population as a laboratory. They produced misery, oppression, poverty, pollution and corruption. The fantasy of a utopian Communist world could not survive reality.

The caliphate crazies claimed that a “pure Islamic state” with a real, live caliph and strict sharia law would bring victory and prestige to Islam and good governance to its inhabitants. In fact, ISIS has damaged Islam more than its worst enemies could hope, wrecked the lives of millions, and created a gangster state that mistreats and exploits its residents.

The failure of ISIS as a state means more trouble for the rest of us, at least in the short- to medium-term. To keep the fantasy alive, the brain-sick fanatics and true believers are likely to try more Paris style massacres and acts of spectacular terror. But the ideology that undergirds ISIS isn’t just bad in the sense of evil. It is bad in the sense that it does not provide a framework that can organize the life and work of a community on a productive and enduring basis.

Even more than was the case for Communism, failure is baked into the ISIS cake. That doesn’t mean we can sit and wait serenely for the forces of history to destroy it; Stalin and Mao between them after all managed to murder something like 100 million people before the forces of history kicked in, and the Soviet Union managed to drag the world to the precipice of nuclear war before it imploded. So the intrinsic shortcomings of jihadi ideology doesn’t justify a passive policy. But the wrong-headed ideas at the core of this nonsense should give us hope: real victory over this nasty perversion of religion is not just possible; it is likely. 

Athens vs Jerusalem. By Shlomo Riskin.

A guard walks past statues of wounded Amazones, made between 400 and 350 BCE, at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. (photo credit:REUTERS).

Athens vs Jerusalem. By Shlomo Riskin. Jerusalem Post, December 3, 2015.


A significant distinction between the Greek and Hebrew cultures reverberates to this day.

Contemporary Western culture is fundamentally the product of two great ancient civilizations: Greco-Roman and Hebrew (or Judeo-Christian, as it is generally described).

More than two millennia ago (in 165 BCE), the Hasmonean-Judeans won a military victory against the Syrian Hellenists, granting Judea the opportunity to reclaim and cleanse our Second Holy Temple and develop the Second Commonwealth largely independent of the heirs of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic conquest of the “fertile crescent.”

Much has been written about the clash of ideology separating Jerusalem from Athens. Nineteenth-century German poet-philosopher Heinrich Heine suggested that for the Greeks beauty was truth whereas for the Hebrews truth was beauty, and late-20th-century philosopher William Barrett maintained that while the Greeks idealized philosophic speculation and theoretical meditation, the Hebrews emphasized moral and ethical conduct in daily human behavior as being the highest good.

Allow me to suggest a more significant distinction between the Greek and Hebrew cultures, one which reverberates to this very day. The answer to the Greek Riddle of the Sphinx “Who walks on four in the morning, on two in the afternoon and on three in the evening?” is Man, who crawls about as a baby, stands upright as an adult and has need of a cane in old age. C.M. Bowra, the great interpreter of the wisdom of Hellas, suggests that indeed Man is the answer, not only to the Riddle of the Sphinx but to every question worth asking. Pythagoras taught that “Man is the measure of all things”; for the famed sculptor Praxiteles, the human form was the most perfect of all forms (and therefore for the ancient Greeks circumcision was a heinous crime because it maimed the perfect human body); and the chorus of Sophocles’s Antigone iterates and reiterates, “Many are the awesome-awful (Hebrew nora, nora’ot) phenomena, but none more awesome-awful than man.”

Hence the gods on Mount Olympus were formed in the image of man, endowed with human and mostly physical characteristics: Zeus was the most powerful, unpitying and terrible; Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty and pleasure; Hermes was the god of speed. The gods were created in the image of humans, warring and jealous human-like beings, idealizing their most physical and even animalistic traits.

JUDAISM IS the very antithesis of this. Human beings are created in the image of God, duty bound to walk in God’s ways and to emulate His Divine characteristics of love, compassion, patience, loving-kindness and truth. “Just as the Holy One Blessed be He is called compassionate, so must you be compassionate, just as He grants His grace freely, so must you grant grace freely....”

(Maimonides, Book of Commandments, Positive Command 8). These characteristics are not physical but rather spiritual; characteristics of the soul.

I would submit that from the pre-Sophists of the Hellenistic era until the post-Modernists of today, there are only two fundamental ideologies of the human being: Is he a complex animal, the most fit species to survive because he was the most powerful (sometimes as a result of superior intelligence leading to knockout weaponry) and to the victor belong the spoils, or is he rather a child of the Divine created in the Divine Image, inalienably free, inviolate and inviolable and Right will eventually triumph over Might, in a perfect world under the Kingship of the Divine? Greek-Sparta-Rome taught the former, touting war as the ideal because war tests the mettle of the man, separates the strong from the weak, the brave from the cowardly; “arma virumque cano,” “of arms and virility do I sing,” calls out the Aeneid. And this view spawned Babylon, Persia, Rome, Aryan-Nazism, Stalinist (and Putinist) Communism and extremist Islam – father of ISIS.

Abraham taught the latter, “commanding his children and his household after him to observe the way of the Lord, to do compassionate righteousness and moral justice, chosen by God to become a great nation to bring blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:2, 3, 18:18-19).

Abraham’s seed, and all of those who accept the teaching of the God whom Abraham, the father of a multitude of nations, discovered, are to be God’s witnesses, priest-teachers to all of humanity, promulgating a world of peace and human redemption, a world in which the strong will not take it as their right to destroy and inherit the weak but will rather take responsibility for the weak and teach them how to become strong.

HENCE, FROM time immemorial great wars have been fought between those who believe in power and those who believe in morality. Nietzsche even taught that those who believe in morality place limits upon, and severely threaten, those who believe in power, which may well explain the anti-Semitism suffered by Jews throughout human history.

It is not correct to link together the three major world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as being monotheistic, and thus against the rule of Power.

That is true of Judaism, which believes that God created humankind in His Image, and God created everyone equally free to believe in whatever he may wish to believe as long as it does not imply bringing undue suffering to any innocent human being. That is true of contemporary Christianity, post-Nostra Aetate, but it is not true of jihadist Islam, preaching a holy war of domination and subjugation and even extinction of any people who do not believe in Islam’s right to dominate.

Abraham did not merely discover monotheism; he discovered ethical monotheism, a God demanding compassionate righteousness and moral justice.

Anyone who believes in one deity, who urges terrorist jihad, is a mono-satanist, not a mono-theist, having transformed our loving God into a hating Satan.

Textbooks, propaganda machinery and armaments in the hands of these mono-satanists must be extirpated if the free world is to survive.

And so the truest distinction between Judaism and Hellenism lies in the question as to who is really the measure of all things, the ultimate decisor of human conflict: powerful man or ethical God? From this perspective we may also gain deeper understanding of the ideological argument between Joseph and his brothers, an enmity born not only from jealousy and sibling rivalry.

You will remember the grand dream of our forefather Jacob, truly the national vision of Israel, a ladder uniting heaven and earth, spirituality and materialism, with God above the ladder charging Israel’s eternal seed to fill the earth with the blessing of compassionate righteousness and moral justice (Gen. 28:13-15).

HOW DIFFERENT are the dreams of Joseph, newly appointed heir-apparent to the birthright, just having received the tunic of many colors from his father: the sheaves of grain of the brothers all bowing down to the sheaf of Joseph; the sun, moon and 11 stars all bowing down to Joseph! Joseph, not God, is at the center of his dream. No wonder the brothers are ready to banish him from their family and mission.

Subsequently Joseph, as a result of his exile and peregrinations, comes to realize that it is indeed God who is at the helm as final guide and arbiter. When he stands before Pharaoh to interpret his dream, he clearly states, “It has nothing to do with me; it is God who will respond to bring peace to Pharaoh”; and even earlier in his Egyptian experience, Joseph finds the moral strength to resist the seduction of Potiphar’s wife because he could not “sin before God” (Gen. 39:9). It is hardly coincidental that these biblical readings always fall out in the period of Hanukka.

Hanukka sameah.