Thursday, November 03, 2005

Robert Hilburn: Rebirth of a Solitary Man

October 30, 2005
The Los Angeles Times

For years, producer Rick Rubin tried to chase Neil Diamond into a studio. Finally, he succeeded -- and so did Diamond. The result: '12 Songs.'

Neil Diamond laughs when asked how it feels suddenly to be hip again — thanks this time to an album he has just finished with cutting-edge record producer Rick Rubin, who has worked with such indisputably cool artists as the Beastie Boys, System of a Down and Johnny Cash."I'm a songwriter," Diamond says, sitting in a lounge at his office-studio complex in Los Angeles. "I'm not trying to be hip or nonhip. It's nice when a new generation starts paying attention, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'm not sure I even understand it.

"When Quentin Tarantino wanted one of my songs for 'Pulp Fiction,' I turned him down. I wasn't familiar with him, and I thought the scene was too brutal for the song. So what do I know?"

Fortunately, Diamond relented when his music publisher explained that Tarantino was a serious director, and the tender song, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," proved in the film to be eye-opening for '90s hipsters who had long thought of Diamond as the ultimate Las Vegas lounge act — someone who sang lush, melodramatic songs, such as "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," in sequined shirts for the AARP crowd.

In truth, Diamond was singing old songs to (mostly) old fans nightly, but not in lounges. He was performing in 20,000-seat arenas, one of the biggest and most consistent draws ever in pop music. The singer-songwriter, however, had lost his touch on records and, without any new songs to embrace, the in-crowd quickly moved on.

Thanks to Rubin, things could be different this time. The new "12 Songs" is the most rewarding album the veteran New Yorker has released since "Beautiful Noise," the 1976 collection he made with another respected rock producer, the Band's Robbie Robertson.

"12 Songs," due in stores Nov. 8, doesn't match the consistent artistry of "Beautiful Noise," but its highlights recapture the intimacy and charm of Diamond's '60s and early '70s period, when he was turning out warm, spirited and catchy songs such as "Solitary Man," "Sweet Caroline" and "Song Sung Blue."

Even if singles from the album don't return Diamond to the Top 10, the best of the tunes, including the zesty "Delirious Love," should connect with his core audience in ways few of his songs have in two decades.

"Hell Yeah" is an uplifting, introspective number in the tradition of one of Diamond's signature hits, "I Am … I Said." Live, it could become his equivalent of Frank Sinatra's "My Way," a song that tries to get past the sequined shirts and show-biz trimmings of his image.

"We" has the timeless, feel-good quality of a "Forever in Blue Jeans." Even Diamond would admit the key line is corny, but there's also something sweet and disarming about it — you can picture couples holding each other tight as they sing along: "It's not about you, it's not about me, love is about we."

Despite his exuberance on stage, Diamond is somewhat shy and self-effacing. He avoids the music-business party circuit and rarely does interviews. Even if critics dismiss most of his recent CDs, he works just as hard on his songs as he ever did.

"All the sparkly shirts and the stage trappings — that's just the performer, the public me," Diamond says on a recent day off from touring. He's wearing a plain, wrinkled shirt. "Songwriting is the hardest and most personal thing I do. When I'm writing, I'll go into the studio at 6 in the morning and stay until after dark, including weekends.

"It was the same with all the albums. Whether you're at a point in your career where everyone seems to be waiting for your next song or at a point where no one out there seems to be paying attention, you still have to give it everything you can."

The Rubin touch

Neil Diamond and Rick Rubin?

It's as odd an all-star pop couple as Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash.

Lots of heads turned a decade ago when the bearded, Zen-like Rubin stepped away from his hard-rock and rap worlds to sit down to work with Cash, who, at age 62, had pretty much been written off by the country music industry.

Though Cash was hampered much of the time by deteriorating health, the pair made a series of acclaimed and warmly personal albums that not only introduced Cash to a new, young audience but won four Grammys in the process — including one for his version of "Solitary Man." The partnership continued until Cash's death in 2003.

It's easy to think that Rubin turned to Diamond as his next "reclamation" projection, but Rubin, who has also worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jay-Z, winces at the word.

"I'm not trying to follow Johnny at all," Rubin says, sitting in the living room of his Hollywood Hills house. "I grew up listening to Neil's music on the radio, songs like 'Cherry, Cherry,' 'Solitary Man' but also 'Sweet Caroline' and the others."

Rubin first tried to contact Diamond 10 or 12 years ago, and he couldn't get through. Diamond didn't know any more about Rubin at the time than he did about Tarantino. Things were different when Rubin came around again a few years ago.

After a 2002 tour, Diamond planned to take a two-month vacation at his retreat in Colorado, but he found himself writing every day. He knew more about Rubin by then and thought they might make an interesting partnership in the studio.

They met one afternoon at Rubin's house and spent hours talking about everything but music. They had a lot in common. They were both from New York, had both attended NYU and had both moved to Los Angeles after enjoying considerable success in the music business in New York.

They met weekly for months, just talking, before Diamond finally started playing some new songs, accompanying himself on guitar. Even when Rubin later brought in a few musicians to flesh out some arrangements on the songs, he encouraged Diamond to keep playing guitar, something he hadn't done on his records in years.

"I noticed that when he played guitar, he was a lot different singer than the guy I saw on the big stage," Rubin says. "It was less of this big performance. There was more feeling. It's probably as simple as you can't think about how you phrase the vocal if you are also concentrating on guitar."

It was a sore point with Diamond. "We argued about the guitar literally every day," Diamond says, again smiling. "I hadn't played guitar on my records since 'Cherry Cherry' and 'Kentucky Woman.' There were better guitar players around. Let me just concentrate on singing. But ultimately, I realized Rick was right. There was something different about my singing when I played guitar. It let me connect with the song in a more emotional, more personal way."

Diamond and Rubin ended up with almost 30 songs. "It was a new experience for both of us," Diamond says. "Normally, I don't let a producer hear a song until I'm ready to record it. But Rick heard them from the beginning, sometimes when I just had a melody and some dummy lyrics.

"He's a very interesting guy, very diplomatic. He knows songwriting is a very personal process. Every song has a part of you in it, even if it's discarded and thrown away. Rick is sensitive to that. If he doesn't like something, he doesn't just stomp on your dream. He might just say, 'Let's work on this other song. I think it's a little stronger.' "

In the end, Diamond let Rubin pick the songs for the album. "If I had picked them, I might have done it slightly different," Diamond admits, saying he was heartbroken at some that Rubin had passed over. "They'll go on the next album."

A common thread

Rubin doesn't like to compare Cash and Diamond or any of his other artists, but he sees a similar streak in each of them: a burning artistic drive.

"Neil's tortured by the whole process of writing and recording," Rubin says. "He told me until a record is actually finished, he can't even listen to it with any idea of enjoyment. All he can do is figure out what he can do to change it.

"Two weeks ago, we already had the majority of the tunes mixed, but he went back into the studio and redid six of the vocals."

For his part, Diamond, at 64 and a grandfather of four, can envision a day when he puts the sparkly shirts away and stops touring. But he can't picture not obsessing about his writing.

"I enjoy it as much as ever," he says, lighting a cigar near the end of the interview. "The thing that surprises people is that it doesn't get easier with time because you are, in a sense, comparing every new song to what you've written before. You don't want the same sound or the same melody. You want to find something new."

Rubin agrees. "We didn't try to go back and re-create the music he made years ago," he says. "That's a mistake people often make. Everything in life is moving forward and music has to move too. We weren't interested in Neil Diamond in 1966 or whatever. We were interested in Neil Diamond today."

Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic. Contact him, at

Deroy Murdock: Missing Parks

Playing the race card doesn’t do justice to a pioneer’s legacy.
November 03, 2005, 8:09 a.m.

When the late Rosa Parks was laid to rest Wednesday at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery, Americans also paid their last respects to the brand of civil-rights activism that she embodied. By refusing to yield her seat to a white man in the front of a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus on December 1, 1955, Parks (who died October 24 at age 92) both launched and epitomized a dignified, determined fight against hardened bigotry. It spread from the ultimately successful, 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, to sit-ins at Whites-Only lunch counters, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, to President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s signature on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In just eight and a half years, Parks, King, Medgar Evers, Bayard Rustin, and other civil-rights pioneers killed and buried Jim Crow by being serious, self-respecting citizens who challenged their countrymen to supersede real, palpable racism and achieve true equality for all Americans. Their victory was one of this nation’s finest hours.

Compare the grace and magnanimity of their struggle with the behavior of today’s civil-rights activists and their liberal, Democratic allies. As black Americans run the State Department, Time-Warner, Merrill-Lynch, and even Interpol, today’s charlatans promiscuously play the race card, not as the rarely deployed, ultimate defense against ethnic bias, but as the first response to any inconvenience that anyone of color might perceive. Rather than appeal for unity and calm to overcome bigotry, today’s racial arsonists spray lighter fluid on the nation’s still-cooling embers of ethnic animus. Instead of conserving their energies to fight genuine hatred when it makes an increasingly rare appearance, today’s race-obsessed liberals see prejudice as often as the white rays of the morning sun scatter the black shadows of the night.

Indeed, Jim Crow might have survived for years were Parks, King, and their contemporaries as buffoonish as today’s race-propelled Left:

When a bipartisan commission led by former Democratic president Jimmy Carter and former GOP secretary of state James Baker urged election officials to require photo ID cards to fight vote fraud, Democrats acted as if former segregationist George Wallace had decreed this policy from his grave.

“This decision takes us back to the dark past of literacy tests and other insidious devices that were carefully devised to hamper the participation of all of our citizens in the political process,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), a 1960s civil-rights hero.

The GOP desire for voter photo ID is “a new Southern strategy and a new Jim Crow,” said Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean.


Asking citizens to show photo ID before voting is as Jim Crow as requiring blacks (and everyone else) to produce picture identification before boarding airplanes, cashing checks, or entering many government buildings. Deep down, Lewis and Dean know this. Such outbursts make Americans laugh at such idiocy now and, unfortunately, laugh again when such crying wolf inures people to legitimate claims of racism.

Similarly, when Rep. Vito Fossella (D., N.Y.) warned that the election of Democrat Fernando Ferrer as Gotham mayor next Tuesday would resurrect “the antagonistic years under David Dinkins,” black Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) threw down the race card. He chided Fossella for using “coded, fear-mongering language…when you talk about David Dinkins.” Democrat Dinkins, after all, did preside over skyrocketing homicides, spiraling homelessness, economic dislocation, and even an anti-Semitic pogrom in Crown Heights. To call the pre-Giuliani Dinkins years “antagonistic” is not racist. It’s downright polite.

“Downright impolite” accurately describes the Left’s bigotry toward black conservatives. Rather than engage in serious debate, for instance, The News Blog’s Steve Gilliard posted a Washington Post photo doctored to make Michael Steele, Maryland’s democratically elected Republican lieutenant governor, look like Black Sambo, one of the ugliest racist stereotypes — complete with extra-darkened skin, huge red lips, and illiterate lingo (“I’s Simple Sambo and I’s running for the Big House” [U.S. Senate]). (Yielding to complaints, that photo was replaced with a non-bigoted image, although columnist Michelle Malkin archived a copy for posterity.) Steele’s Democratic opponents have called him “Uncle Tom” and hurled Oreo cookies at him (black on the outside, white on the inside). The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee even secured a copy of his personal credit record — a massive and illegal invasion of privacy.

Cartoonists have depicted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a bird with fat lips and as a barefoot mom in a rocking chair on a rural porch. Radical calypso singer Harry Belafonte compared Rice and her predecessor, Colin Powell, to house slaves. One magazine a few years ago portrayed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shining fellow Justice Antonin Scalia’s shoes. The same magazine published an illustration of Thomas as a lawn jockey.

With such stereotypes and images largely retired from polite company, it is nauseating that they now survive among the American Left. Out of answers and devoid of ideas, the best they can do is excavate the Ku Klux Klan’s iconography to attack honorable, black American public servants who do not drink the liberal Kool-Aid. If the American Left’s reservoir of decency were not running on fumes, they would denounce such racist rhetoric and instead, discuss the issues. Don’t hold your breath.

For his part, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan staged the October 15 “Millions More Movement” in Washington. Crowds were a fraction of those that attended the October 1995 Million Man March on the National Mall. (The Congress of Racial Equality’s Niger Innis dubbed last month’s event the “Millions-Less March.”) Even worse, Farrakhan then called for a separate-but-equal black cabinet, including black departments of Defense, Education, and Health and Human Services. As fellow Project 21 adviser B. B. Robinson explained, these mirror-image agencies would be funded by asking blacks to fast one day every week and forward $1 each from the resulting savings in erstwhile nutrition. Even if every one of America’s 34,772,381 Census-estimated black citizens participated in this $52-per-capita voluntary tax, it would yield just $1,808,163,812 annually. Try building a parallel federal bureaucracy on that.

Farrakhan blasted to bits the faded remnants of his own credibility when he said this shortly after Hurricane Katrina dissolved much of the fair city of New Orleans: “I heard from a very reliable source who saw a 25-foot-deep crater under the levee breach,” Farrakhan explained September 12 in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It may have been blown up to destroy the black part of town and keep the white part dry.”

Presumably when New Orleans re-flooded during Hurricane Rita, Whitey was working in his mysterious way to re-soak the Crescent City’s black neighborhoods — this time, just for laughs.
Speaking of hurricanes, black congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Tex.) said, “All racial groups should be represented,” among the World Meteorological Organization’s names for tropical cyclones. Lee worried that 2003’s hurricane designations, including Larry, Sam, and Wanda, did not include more “black-sounding” monikers, such as LaToya and Shemika. Rep. Lee hoped the weather community “would try to be inclusive of African-American names.”

Would any American feel better if Hurricane Katrina had swirled through the south as Hurricane Keisha?

Among Rosa Parks’s 37 eulogies was one delivered by none other than the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Mainstream Media’s de facto president of Black America. He proposed a White House Conference on Civil Rights, then smacked its presumptive host. President Bush Monday “put forth an anti-Rosa Parks judge,” Jackson said, presumably referring to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. “He [Bush] sticks out his hand, and there’s always something up his sleeve,” Jackson added.

Jackson was a member of Dr. King’s entourage and famously cradled his head in his arms after he fatally was shot in April 1968 on the balcony of Memphis’s Lorraine Motel. Since then, Jackson has sullied his reputation with a parade of corporate shakedown schemes, love-ins with Latin thugs, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and a quixotic mission to dragoon NASCAR into hiring one or two black speed racers. Meanwhile, thousands of black boys and girls abandon high school every year as Jackson resists school-choice efforts that might offer them a fighting chance to learn a few skills to survive in this globally competitive, information-driven society.
Apparently, they must wait as Jackson and today’s Democratic Left keeps marching on.

Detroit buried a giant on Wednesday. How sad that Rosa Parks is survived by pygmies.

— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.

Peter Brookes: The Iran-al Qaeda Axis

By Peter Brookes
November 3, 2005

The most immediate threat Iran poses to American national security isn't its nuclear (weapons) program. It's the safe haven Tehran is giving al Qaeda terrorists, who are planning and directing jihad across the globe.

If the United States and its allies in the War on Terror don't take firm action against Iranian support to al Qaeda, the price in blood and treasure attributable to Osama bin Laden's killers — in Iraq and elsewhere — will continue to soar.

Shockingly, it's been long forgotten that Iran became home to some of al Qaeda's most wanted after the fall 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Tehran admitted as much, claiming that al Qaeda operatives were under "house arrest" and would be tried.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened . . .

So al Qaeda "refugees" from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, North Africa and Europe — including senior military commander Saif al Adel, three of Osama's sons and spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith — now operate freely from Iran.

In fact, just last week, the German monthly magazine Cicero, citing Western intelligence sources, claimed that as many as 25 al Qaeda thugs are living in Iran under the protection of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Cicero cites a "top-ranking" Western intelligence official saying, "This is not incarceration or house arrest. They [al Qaeda members] can move around as they please." The IRGC even provides logistics help and training to al Qaeda.

Cicero doesn't mention which al Qaeda operations Iran is supporting, but there's little doubt that Tehran is aiding the terror in Iraq, where there are more and more Iranian "fingerprints" on insurgent/terrorist attacks.

Iran and al Qaeda have been tight for some time. The 9/11 Commission said that al Qaeda passed freely though Iran before 9/11, including at least eight of the 14 "muscle" hijackers that commandeered the four ill-fated planes. After the USS Cole bombing in 2000, Iranian officials approached al Qaeda to propose a partnership for future anti-U.S. attacks. (Osama nixed the offer for fear of alienating Saudi supporters.)

Al Qaeda also collaborated with Iran in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. And U.S. intercepts caught al Qaeda operatives in Iran communicating with terrorists in Saudi Arabia before the 2003 attacks there.

And, though conventional wisdom has bin Laden somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border, there have also been rumors that he and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are under Iran's protection.

Of course, Iran and al Qaeda aren't natural allies. Iran is Persian/Shia, while al Qaeda is Arab/Sunni. But, for the moment, Iran and al Qaeda seem to be looking beyond this and toward a common goal — global Islamic rule and American failure in Iraq.

Getting Tehran to cough up Saif al Adel, al Qaeda's No. 3, would be a major coup. The former Egyptian Special Forces colonel was involved in attacking U.S. forces in Mogadishu (1993) and the U.S. embassies in Kenya/Tanzania (1998). He was also a player in the Cole assault, trained 9/11 hijackers, orchestrated Saudi attacks and acts as an al Qaeda-Hezbollah liaison. He's surely involved in supporting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's thugs in Iraq.

And not addressing the Iran-al Qaeda axis could allow Iran to become al Qaeda's "new Afghanistan" — a base where Osama's henchmen could raise funds, recruit/train new footsoldiers and plan/direct attacks.

Repeated calls for Iran to turn over al Qaeda members to their countries of origin have gone nowhere. It's time to stop giving Tehran a pass.

Tough, multilateral economic sanctions against Iran are long overdue. Iran's economy has been on the skids for a while; Tehran would feel the pain if the United Nations — or simply its major trading partners, such as Germany, France and Italy — put the squeeze on.

The sound of Tehran's high-pitched squeals whenever economic sanctions are even mentioned — usually over its nuclear (weapons) program — seems to indicate that these measures are something the mullahs would rather avoid.

There's no guarantee that sanctions will get Tehran to swear off its terrorist ways. But, because Iran's economy is so centralized, trade gives the mullahs pocket change to cause trouble at home and across the globe.

So while a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious — but future — threat that has a (slim) chance of a diplomatic solution, the Iranian-al Qaeda terrorist threat is here and now, making the time for action — not negotiations — long past.

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Peter Brookes, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, is a senior fellow for National Security Affairs at
The Heritage Foundation.

Scott P. Richert: Welcoming Muhammad

Abandoning That Which Is Our Own

Chronicles- October 2005

In February 2002, Chronicles’ associate editor Aaron Wolf and I spent a day at the Rockford Iqra School, a Muslim academy in Southeast Rockford. I chronicled the events of that day in “Through a Glass, Darkly,” the April 2002 installment of The Rockford Files. The frank expression of admiration for Osama bin Laden by the chairman of the school (the assistant director of neonatology at Rockford’s largest hospital) and the performance of Muslim raps about jihad by children as young as six were not what we, or our readers, expected. The reaction to the article was varied, ranging from anger—either because of my supposed “intolerance” to Muslims or because of my perceived evenhandedness—to shock, as readers admitted that they had no idea that such schools existed in the United States, much less out here, in the middle of Middle America.

The 43 children enrolled at that time at the Rockford Iqra School are a small portion of the children at the more than 600 Islamic schools nationwide. (Some estimates range as high as 1,000.) Today, the U.S. State Department officially estimates the number of mosques in the United States at over 1,200, but that is based on a survey conducted in the late 1990’s; unofficial State Department estimates rise as high as 2,000. CNN notes that nearly 80 percent of those mosques have been built since 1990—after our first war with Iraq; of the rest, the bulk were built after the Islamic revolution in Iran.

In both the United States and the world at large, Islam has become the fastest-growing religion. In 1990, the Census counted 5.27 million Muslims; today, there are as many as 9 million Muslims in America. Most of that growth, again, occurred between 1990 and 2002. By 2000, the number of Muslims worldwide had exceeded the number of Catholics; by 2010, the State Department estimates that there will be more Muslims in America than there are Jews, making Islam the second-largest religion in America.

A Zogby poll in August 2000 revealed that almost 78 percent of Muslims in America are immigrants, most from the Middle East. “Approximately a third of American Muslims live on the East Coast (32.2%), 25.3% live in the South, 24.3% in the Central/Great Lakes Region, and 18.2% in the West.” In other words, the bulk of the Muslim population is firmly in the heart of Middle America. Moreover, Muslim population growth in the United States is no longer driven primarily by immigration but by birthrate. Of the six children we interviewed extensively at the Rockford Iqra School, only one—a nominal Christian—had fewer than three siblings. And conversion is also contributing to the growth of Islam in America; a 2004 Zogby survey found that 20 percent of American Muslims are converts.

Muslim population growth in the United States has been accompanied by a sea change in American attitudes toward Islam over the past quarter-century. In 1979, one of the most popular songs on country-music stations began:

Dear Mr. Ayatollah
I know you think we’re yella
But you gotta learn you can’t blackmail
the good ole U.S.A.I hope the sand you eat
fills your stomach like our wheat
and you can shove your oil up your only holy place.

The jingoistic lyrics reflected a broad anti-Islamic sentiment brought about by the storming of the American embassy in Tehran and the taking of 40-some American hostages, all of whom were eventually returned. In 2001, however, after the greatest act of foreign terrorism ever committed on American soil, with over 3,500 dead, our government reacted quickly to try to prevent the development of similar sentiments, assuring us that true Islam is a “religion of peace” and that the men who committed and coordinated these acts are “fundamentalists” or “radicals” or “extremists” or “Islamists”—anything but good Muslims.

How is this even possible? What kind of society, after enduring the tragedy of September 11, continues not only to allow the coreligionists of the September 11 terrorists to flourish within its borders but to invite even more to cross those borders and take up residence within? The answer is simple: Only a dying society would accept the presence of such a fifth column. And only a society with a death wish would take the further step of praising that fifth column and encouraging its members to remain true to their religion of war.

In Europe and around the world, America’s status as the only remaining superpower, and especially the Bush administration’s willingness to use military means to achieve its foreign-policy goals, has left many with the impression that the United States is vibrant and strong. That impression is mistaken.

Far more important than U.S. military actions and belligerent rhetoric is the question of how we treat the potential enemy within. The Bush administration and the American media, in insisting that true Islam is a “religion of peace,” are not simply playing a political game. They are firmly wedded to the postmodern doctrine of multiculturalism, an ideology that Pope Benedict XVI has rightly denounced as “an abandonment and denial of that which is one’s own.”

In contrast, Muslim leaders in the West hold no such illusions. As Kalim Siddiqui, the late founder of the Muslim Institute of London and the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, writes in his book Stages of Islamic Revolution, “The West is frightened of Islam not because Islam is any different now than it was at any time in history; the West is frightened because its diplomatic and intelligence services and the media are reporting strong currents of convergence of Muslim political thought and methods of action in all parts of the world.” And, a few pages later, “This terrifies the West; hence the word ‘terrorism’ and ‘fundamentalism.’”

In the wake of September 11, Muslim schools across the country saw an upsurge in enrollment; in Rockford, the Iqra school’s enrollment rose by close to 50 percent almost immediately, and it has continued to grow at a steady pace, attracting Muslim families from across the country to the area. In the long run, it does not matter whether more parents placed their children in the school because the events of September 11 somehow made them more acutely aware of their faith or whether they placed them there out of genuine concern that their children might be targeted in the wake of September 11. The effect is the same: More children are receiving the message of Islam, undiluted by the multicultural virus that afflicts Americans of European descent.

Even the military might of the United States may give Muslims cause for hope, because it is so often used in the service of multiculturalism. Islam claims to rise above nationality, and its ultimate vision is of a world united in submission to Allah, in which nation-states, as in the Marxist vision, have withered away. As Chesterton realized at the beginning of the last century, Islam may well be the ideal religion for the post-Christian West, because Islam and the modern project have the same ultimate goal—the destruction of the diversity and richness that flows from the Christian understanding of the Incarnation and its replacement with an homogenous, unitary state. As Siddiqui writes: “Once a global Islamic movement acquires global following and legitimacy, all States whose statehood is predicated on nationality may be considered under sentence of disintegration and death.” The American-led destruction of such states aids Islam in its struggle, as does the emerging global culture of Disney, McDonald’s, and Microsoft. The story of John Walker Lindh thus becomes a fable for our time.

This is not an isolated view. Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, a former chairman of the board of trustees of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, writes in Muslims in the West:

The Message and the Mission that Islam is the most suitable religion for this land [America]. Had a union taken place between the two, the history of mankind would have taken a very different course. On the one side, the unbounded natural resources of America, the tremendous vitality, resoluteness and enterprise of its people; on the other, the moderation of Islam, its message of hope and confidence, its unequalled distinctiveness as the faith of nature, its insistence on the intrinsic innocence of man. . . . But, Islam is not the faith in America, a misfortune for this country and the world. The Western world opted for a religion which insisted on the doctrine of original sin, giving rise to the worst pessimism and leading man to believe that sin was his destiny. It did not raise the stature of man, but put the mark of disgrace on his forehead, persuading him to believe that he needed an “other” to redeem him by offering atonement for his misdeeds. . . . But now circumstances are taking a favorable turn. Muslims are migrating to America in a steady stream from different lands and for different reasons. There is no Islamic country whose finest young men are not found here. Lastly, a large number of enterprising people are also coming to it from the country where the Ka’ba is situated.

So-called mainstream Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which successfully pressured Boeing to convince National Review to quit selling Srdja Trifkovic’s Sword of the Prophet on its website, share this rabidly anti-Christian vision of America. Imagine the outcry if a Christian organization had made a statement similar to the one uttered by Omar M. Ahmad, chairman of CAIR, in a 1998 interview with the San Ramon Valley Herald:

Muslim institutions, schools and economic power should be strengthened in America. Those who stay in America should be open to society without melting, keeping mosques open so anyone can come and learn about Islam. If you choose to live here, you have a responsibility to deliver the message of Islam. . . . Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faiths, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.

This is not surprising rhetoric from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who named his son Osama and worships at a mosque that, in the 1990’s, raised money for Al Qaeda’s second in command. What should be surprising is that CAIR is viewed by the U.S. government as a legitimate civic organization. Indeed, the State Department bases its official “Demographic Facts” on Islam in America on an April 2001 survey entitled “Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” cosponsored by CAIR and the Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America.

Government support of Islamic organizations in America goes far beyond accepting their surveys as the gospel truth. A massive article in USA Today on February 24 recounted the rise of sharia-compliant banks and mortgage-finance companies, glowingly comparing the head of one such company to Jimmy Stewart’s character in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. Rushdi Siddiqui, the director of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Group, told USA Today that, “Frankly, with 9/11, as with any tragedy, there was a silver lining. One of the silver linings . . . was a revival by Muslims to look inward to how they can be more compliant (with the Islamic faith).”

One way is to return to the traditional Muslim ban on interest. This, however, presents a business-model problem for Muslim mortgage companies. In order to make any money, they have to sell those mortgages to a secondary-mortgage marketer. Enter Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—federally funded mortgage agencies that, one year after September 11, began purchasing mortgages from Islamic companies, lighting a fire under a market that has now reached $600 million.

In good Republican fashion, Fannie Mae account manager Colette Porter characterized the agency’s efforts as part of the Bush administration’s encouragement of faith-based initiatives: “Faith-based organizations have become trusted (financial) advisers in underserved communities,” she told USA Today, begging the question of whether the federal government should be doing anything at all to help establish a Muslim beachhead in America by financing the purchase of property.

Those who understand the threat that Islam poses to the United States and Europe occasionally characterize such policies as selling Muslims the rope with which to hang us. But our death wish goes well beyond that: The Bush administration is now buying them the rope. The April 25 issue of U.S. News & World Report details a classified plan, which the administration has dubbed “Muslim World Outreach,” that “calls for working through third parties—moderate Muslim nations, foundations, and reform groups—to promote shared values of democracy, women’s rights, and tolerance.” “In at least two dozen countries, Washington has quietly funded Islamic radio and TV shows, coursework in Muslim schools, Muslim think tanks, political workshops, or other programs that promote moderate Islam. Federal aid is going to restore mosques, save ancient Korans, even build Islamic schools.”

The Bush administration undoubtedly views the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax County, Virginia, as another faith-based initiative. In the case of the ISA, that faith has begun to bear fruit. Built and funded with money from the government of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Saudi Academy lies just up the street from Mount Vernon. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, valedictorian of his class at the Islamic Saudi Academy, was recently arrested for plotting to assassinate President Bush. Born in Houston, Ali, after graduating from the Islamic Saudi Academy, pursued religious studies in Saudi Arabia, where he joined an Al Qaeda cell in 2001 and where the plot was apparently concocted. Yet, in late April, while Ali awaited trial, President Bush walked around his ranch in Texas, holding hands in friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

Multiculturalism is “an abandonment and denial of that which is one’s own,” and, for Americans of European descent, Christianity is at the center of what is being abandoned and disavowed. Despite President Bush’s profession of faith, his administration is, like the America it represents, at best post-Christian, and perhaps anti-Christian. With Christianity on the retreat in Europe and in America, it is no surprise that insurgent Islam is once again on the rise. If Americans truly believed in the Faith of their fathers, how likely is it that there would be an Islamic school in Rockford or an Islamic academy near Mount Vernon? The presence of these foreign elements is as much an indication of a failure of nerve on the part of Christians as is the mosque that has been erected in Rome. Until we abandon and deny the multiculturalism of our postmodern world, until we rise above our pathological self-hatred and return to the certainties of tradition and kinship and soil and memory, our faith will never match theirs in its intensity, and the Dar al Harb will, gradually but inexorably, be absorbed into the Dar al Islam.

Scott P. Richert is the executive editor of Chronicles.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Thomas Sowell: Civil Rights Rites

Nov 2, 2005
Thomas Sowell
( bio archive contact )

While giving my office at home an overdue cleaning up -- "operation Augean stable," as my wife and I call it -- I uncovered in the paper jungle a 2005 calendar. Since there was not a lot of 2005 left, I was about to throw it out when I read its title: "2005 Republican Civil Rights Calendar." Sent by the National Black Republican Association in Washington, this calendar listed for each month various things that Republicans had done for civil rights over the years.

No doubt there was a need for something to counter the impression built up over time that Democrats were pro-civil rights and Republicans anti-civil rights, when in fact a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

So far, so good.

But the calendar featured a long list of minority and female individuals appointed to high office by Republicans or elected to office as Republicans. While it was good to see that the Republicans had finally woken up to a need to articulate their case on civil rights -- as they need to articulate their case on a whole range of other issues -- there was still something disquieting about this approach.

Civil rights cannot include everything that is done by government which benefits particular groups, individually or collectively. The whole case for civil rights is that every American is entitled to them. Civil rights are not about doing special things for special groups.

Even when there is a persuasive case for providing special benefits to particular groups -- military veterans, for example -- there is no need to call those things civil rights.

While blacks have had a long struggle to achieve the civil rights that many other Americans took for granted, not everything that has advanced blacks in the past or that can advance blacks in the future, is a civil right. In fact, the most dramatic economic advancements of blacks, in both incomes and occupations, occurred in the years immediately before the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

The effect of government policies on blacks cannot be judged by whether these policies were conceived or carried out with blacks in mind.

It has long been axiomatic, for example, among those who study the American economy, that "A rising tide lifts all boats." When the economy has been booming, there have been years when black incomes rose at a higher rate than white incomes.

No one has a greater stake in various school-choice plans, including vouchers, than blacks have, even though school choice is not specifically racial. Social Security is not a racial policy either, but economists who have studied it have long described it as a system that transfers money from black men to white women, given the different life expectancies of these two groups.

Minimum wage laws have long had an adverse effect on the employment of blacks, especially young blacks, who are more likely to be looking for entry-level jobs. These are the kinds of jobs most often reduced or eliminated when the minimum wage set by the government exceeds what those jobs are worth to an employer.

This is a pattern found in countries around the world, so it is not even peculiar to the United States, much less to black Americans. But its impact on black Americans is especially harsh.

Few policies have had more devastating local impacts on blacks than severe restrictions on the building of housing under "open space" laws, which lead to skyrocketing prices for homes and apartment rents that take up half the incomes of low-income households in many California communities.

Almost invariably, such communities are controlled by liberal Democrats -- and blacks have been forced out by high housing costs. The black population of San Francisco, for example, declined by 18,000 between the 1990 census and the 2000 census, even though the city's total population rose by more than 50,000 people.

The time is long overdue for both blacks and Republicans who are trying to appeal to blacks to focus on policies in terms of their actual effects on blacks -- and to stop calling things "civil rights" when they are not.

Thomas Sowell is a Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Robert Spencer: Open Season on Muslim Women

Robert Spencer
November 1, 2005

Can wife-beating be justified under any circumstances? According to some in Australia, yes — if the couple is Muslim.

The Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau has published and distributed 50,000 copies of an 82-page handbook for Australian police officers, directing them on how to deal with people from all the unfamiliar cultures that an Australian policeman may encounter. A Sikh, for example, may receive a three-day reprieve from arrest if the arresting officer happens upon him while he is reading his holy scriptures — a practice that takes fifty hours, and must not be interrupted. And Muslim husbands who beat their wives must be treated differently from other domestic violence cases, as a matter of cultural sensitivity: “In incidents such as domestic violence,” says the handbook, “police need to have an understanding of the traditions, ways of life and habits of Muslims.”

This handbook has been issued, not surprisingly, in Australia’s Victoria state, where late last year two Christian pastors in Australia fell victim to new and treacherously elastic religious hatred laws. They were found guilty of vilification of Muslims for crimes such as quoting verses of the Qur’an that Victoria Muslims evidently preferred that non-Muslims not know about. The silencing of free speech was bad enough; now the distribution of the handbook made Joumanah El Matrah of the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council concerned that women would be endangered: “The implication,” she explained, “is one needs to be more tolerant of violence against Muslim women but they should be entitled to the same protection. Police should not be advising other officers to follow those sorts of protocols. It can only lead to harm.”

Muslim husbands, of course, can point to Qur’an 4:34 to justifying wife-beating: “…good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them…” This sanction has become culturally ingrained: the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences has determined that today over ninety percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or abused sexually — for offenses on the order of cooking an unsatisfactory meal. Others were punished for failing to give birth to a male child.

If Victoria police are to tolerate such behavior by Muslims on the grounds of multiculturalism, even though it contravenes Australian law, surely they must tolerate other behavior as well. After all, Islamic law also allows for polygamy. Western European governments already turn a blind eye to polygamous arrangements among Muslims, and the British have even considered legalizing polygamy for tax purposes. Will Victoria state allow it also? Will Victoria police turn a blind eye to thieves whose hands have been amputated in accord with Qur’an 5:38? That verse is clear: “As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise.” Muhammad is equally clear that anyone who leaves Islam must be killed (cf. Bukhari, vol. 9, bk. 84, no. 57): will Victoria police hesitate or even decline to prosecute murder cases if the victim is an apostate from Islam?

This backhanded endorsement of wife-beating in Australia has revealed in a harsh new light the bankruptcy of relativist multiculturalism. Is wife-beating intrinsically wrong? Evidently not in Victoria state. Indeed, it is doubtful that the learned members of the Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau think that moral categories have any relevance to the modern world. Yet if something that is endorsed by large numbers of people and ingrained in cultural habit cannot be condemned, then the Allies had no reason to oppose Nazi Germany or condemn Hitler. Murderous anti-Semitism? Well, yes, but you see, we need to have an understanding of the traditions, ways of life and habits of Nazis.

All Muslim husbands are not wife-beaters, and it is condescending and irresponsible for the Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau to give those who are a free pass, instead of denouncing the practice unequivocally and calling upon Muslim men to heed the better angels of their nature. It is the same condescending irresponsibility that primly refuses to confront the elements of Islam that jihad terrorists use today to justify violence, for fear of offending moderate Muslims — thereby undercutting any chance sincere moderates may have had to speak out for reform within Islam. Why should they speak out if nothing needs reforming?

But the folly of Victoria state runs deeper also: it reveals a gaping weakness in the West’s defense against the global jihad: this is, or threatens to become, not so much a clash of civilizations as a clash of barbarisms. One side contends for certain values that are, in a word, monstrous: the subjugation of women and non-Muslims, the stifling of freedom of conscience, and so on. But the other contends for no values at all, and opposes this great maelstrom with nothing more than a moral and intellectual vacuum in which no behavior, no matter how heinous, is beyond the pale.

Which side will prevail in such a conflict? Well, nature abhors a vacuum. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is the Judeo-Christian West that has given the world the great ideas of the equality of dignity and rights of all people, the freedom of conscience, the sanctity of the individual — all of which would be swept aside by the jihadists. Instead of sweeping it aside for them, as Victoria state seems determined to do, perhaps those who cherish these values will someday unite in their defense. But it is getting late, very late.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Daniel Pipes: Iran's Final Solution Plan

Daniel Pipes
November 1, 2005

"Iran’s stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon [i.e., Israel]. We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region.”

No, those are not the words of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking last week. Rather, that was Ali Khamene’i, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s supreme leader, in December 2000.

In other words, Ahmadinejad’s call for the destruction of Israel was nothing new but conforms to a well-established pattern of regime rhetoric and ambition. “Death to Israel!” has been a rallying cry for the past quarter-century. Ahmadinejad quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, its founder, in his call on Oct. 26 for genocidal war against Jews: “The regime occupying Jerusalem must be eliminated from the pages of history,” said Khomeini decades ago. Ahmadinejad lauded this hideous goal as “very wise.”

In December 2001, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president and still powerful political figure, laid the groundwork for an exchange of nuclear weapons with Israel: “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce minor damages in the Muslim world.”

In like spirit, a Shahab-3 ballistic missile (capable of reaching Israel) paraded in Tehran last month bore the slogan “Israel Should Be Wiped Off the Map.” The threats by Khamene’i and Rafsanjani prompted yawns but Ahmadinejad’s statement roused an uproar.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed “dismay,” the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned it, and the European Union condemned it “in the strongest terms.” Canadian prime minister Paul Martin deemed it “beyond the pale,” British prime minister Tony Blair expressed “revulsion,” and French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy announced that “For France, the right for Israel to exist should not be contested.” Le Monde called the speech a “cause for serious alarm,” Die Welt dubbed it “verbal terrorism,” and a London Sun headline proclaimed Ahmadinejad the “most evil man in the world.”

The governments of Turkey, Russia, and China, among others, expressly condemned the statement. Maryam Rajavi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a leading opposition group, demanded that the European Union rid the region of the “hydra of terrorism and fundamentalism” in Tehran. Even the Palestinian Authority’s Saeb Erekat spoke against Ahmadinejad: “Palestinians recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist and I reject his comments.” The Cairene daily Al-Ahram dismissed his statement as “fanatical” and spelling disaster for Arabs.

Iranians were surprised and suspicious; why, some asked, did the mere reiteration of long-standing policy prompt an avalanche of outraged foreign reactions?

In a constructive spirit, I offer them four reasons. Ahmadinejad’s virulent character gives the threats against Israel added credibility. Second, he in subsequent days defiantly repeated and elaborated on his threats. Third, he added an aggressive coda to the usual formulation, warning Muslims who recognize Israel that they “will burn in the fire of the Islamic umma [nation].”

This directly targets the Palestinians and several Arab states, but especially neighboring Pakistan. Just a month before Ahmadinejad spoke, the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, stated that “Israel rightly desires security.” He envisioned Muslim countries like Pakistan opening of embassies in Israel as a “signal for peace.” Ahmadinejad perhaps indicated an intent to confront Pakistan over relations with Israel.

Finally, Israelis estimate that the Iranians could, within six months, have the means to build an atomic bomb. Ahmadinejad implicitly confirmed this rapid timetable when he warned that after just “a short period … the process of the elimination of the Zionist regime will be smooth and simple.” The imminence of a nuclear-armed Iran transforms “Death to Israel” from an empty slogan into the potential premise for a nuclear assault on the Jewish state, perhaps relying on Rafsanjani’s genocidal thinking.

Ironically, Ahmadinejad’s candor has had positive effects, reminding the world of his regime’s unremitting bellicosity, its rank antisemitism, and its dangerous arsenal. As Tony Blair noted, Ahmadinejad’s threats raise the question, “When are you going to do something about this?” And Blair later warned Tehran with some menace against its becoming a “threat to our world security.” His alarm needs to translate into action, and urgently so.

We are on notice; will we act in time?

Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

Thomas Sowell: Fishing License Indictment

Nov 1, 2005
Thomas Sowell
( bio archive contact )

We have been hearing for a long time what a terrible thing it is to reveal the name of a covert C.I.A. agent -- and it is a terrible thing because that can be a life-and-death situation for the agent exposed and a devastating setback for this country's ability to get people in other countries to supply intelligence. But it was quite an anticlimax when the man who is accused of doing that -- Lewis Libby on Vice President Cheney's staff -- is not even charged with the crime for which a special prosecutor was appointed, with extraordinary powers and an extraordinary budget.

Unfortunately, this situation is not unique. It is not uncommon for a prosecutor to charge someone with a crime that did not even exist when the prosecutor's investigation began. In other words, the crime was created during the course of the investigation.

That leaves completely aside the question whether the person accused is in fact guilty or innocent of the crime with which he is charged. And presumably if the prosecutor had enough evidence to charge the accused with the crime for which the investigation was authorized in the first place, he would have done it.

One of the legal problems is that it is by no means clear that a crime was actually committed in this case.

It is one thing to tell the world the name of some C.I.A. agent operating in Iran or North Korea, for that agent may never come back alive as a result of being outed. It is something else to say that Joe Wilson got the assignment to go to Niger because his wife sits behind a desk at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia.

Put bluntly, too often the authorization of an investigation is essentially a fishing license to enable the prosecutor to find something to prosecute, whether or not he can get evidence to prosecute the crime he was supposed to be investigating.

In the case of Lewis Libby, the case against him consists essentially of the fact that he remembers various conversations with reporters differently from the way those reporters remember those conversations.

Any married couple who have gone on vacation together and come back with the husband remembering some things differently from the way the wife remembers them can see why this can be a hard case in which to prove perjury, much less the original crime that was supposed to be investigated.

However, prosecutors nailed Martha Stewart, so they may be able to nail Lewis Libby. In the meantime, it is fascinating to see people who were downplaying an organized campaign of perjury and subordination of perjury by Bill Clinton a few years ago, now touting the indictment of Lewis Libby as proof that the whole Bush administration is corrupt.

There is no talk today about "move on," with or without the dot com. There is no one saying "get over it." More important, there is no orchestrated campaign of character assassination in the media against special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the way there was against special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during his investigation of Bill Clinton's perjury.

There is no need to demonize Mr. Fitzgerald. What really needs serious re-examination are laws under which special prosecutors are issued unlimited fishing licenses to go see if they can trip someone up on inconsistencies in their statements about something that was not even a crime in the first place.

After any special prosecutor has spent millions of tax dollars and is caught in the media spotlight, the temptation is to find something, anything, rather than say it has not been worth the expense or the bother. A regular prosecutor has many other cases to turn to if one particular case does not look worth investing more time and money in, when other cases are demanding attention.

A special prosecutor has only that one case and so has no incentive to weigh alternatives like a regular prosecutor.

Even aside from cases involving a special prosecutor, there are far too many complicated laws regulating too many things for which people can easily be indicted, leading to a media frenzy -- and often a biased frenzy at that.

To the liberal media, the accused is "innocent until proven guilty" -- when the accused shares their political views. Otherwise the standard is "the appearance of impropriety."

Thomas Sowell is a Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Eli Lake: Israel's Gaza Pullout Brings Dividend

Eli Lake
October 31, 2005

In the aftermath of Israel's decision to pull its soldiers out of Gaza, relations between the Jewish state and Muslim nations are quietly thawing.

The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said he would be interested in pursuing formal relations with Israel after the establishment of a Palestinian state. This was followed by a statement from the government of Pakistan that it would be willing to accept aid from Israel for earthquake relief. Israel is planning on sending approximately 100 tons of water purification kits, blankets, and other relief supplies through the United Nations.

Next month, Israel's Tunisian-born foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, will attend a U.N. summit on information technology in Tunis at the invitation of the government there. Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats are quietly meeting with their counterparts from Indonesia, Morocco, and Tunisia to revive long dormant trade relationships in light of Prime Minister Sharon's decision to evacuate settlers from Gaza and hand over the territory to the Palestinian Authority.

The development could have wide-ranging repercussions for the war on terror as Arab and Muslim governments quietly inch toward recognizing a state that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists have repeatedly pledged to destroy.

While the gestures of some countries are largely symbolic and do not yet amount to recognition, Israeli diplomats say they are optimistic about their relationship in the region for the first time in years. To date, Egypt and Jordan are the only members of the Arab League to recognize Israel as a state. The state-run press in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran still refer to Israel as the Zionist entity.

Pakistan, a nation believed to have assisted Iran's nuclear program in the 1980s and 1990s, was the first major Muslim country to openly discuss the possibility of normalizing ties with Israel last month when President Musharraf was photographed shaking hands with Prime Minister Sharon. While at the United Nations' annual parley he met with Jewish leaders to discuss the relationship.

"The president in that meeting was clear, he said, 'we have taken a step, we have established a contact,'" the deputy chief of the mission for Pakistan in Washington, Mohammad Sadiq, said. When asked whether Pakistan could one day recognize Israel diplomatically, Mr. Sadiq was optimistic. "That could happen once there is a Palestinian state and the future of Jerusalem is decided."

Those kinds of words would be almost unthinkable in 2001 after the beginning of the Palestinian intifada, when Muslim public opinion of Israel sunk to new lows and Islamic leaders went out of their way to show solidarity with Yasser Arafat. But Mr. Sadiq said there was not public outrage after the president's photograph with Mr. Sharon. The flurry of diplomatic activity between Israel and some Islamic states is reminiscent of the height of the Oslo negotiations years, when the Jewish state established under the radar embassies, in the guise of trade missions, in Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. After the Palestinian uprising, only the missions in Mauritania and Qatar stayed.

"We have seen this before. It has gone up and down depending on what happens in the region," a former assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, Edward Walker, said. "In light of what Prime Minister Sharon has done there is more openness to explore a relationship with Israel now. People for a long time reacted to Sharon viscerally. He seems to have managed to dispel that view, at least in part among the elites."

Mr. Walker, who is president of the Middle East Institute, a think tank here funded in part by Arab governments and businessmen, said he was closely watching Qatar, a country that maintained its trade mission in Israel throughout the intifada and is often used as a back channel between Arab states and the Israelis.

But Mr. Walker noted that private money from Saudi Arabia and government funds from Iran were still going to Hamas and other terrorist groups that sought to scuttle any progress Mr. Sharon's government would make with the Palestinian Authority.

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Ralph R. Reiland: Mao's 70 Million

Ralph R. Reiland
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Monday, October 31, 2005

Question: How many innocent people does a communist tyrant have to kill before The New York Times gets really mad? Answer: More than 70 million.

Seventy million is a good estimate of the number of Chinese who perished under Mao's reign of terror and ineptitude, the victims of their own government's decades of torture, famine, forced labor, purges, assassinations, ethnic massacres and class genocide.

Out of the tens of millions of alleged "counterrevolutionaries" and dissidents who spent long periods of their lives in Mao's system of prison-factories and corrective labor gulags, it's estimated that 20 million died during their "re-education" into collectivism, obedience and communal selflessness.

Additionally, the human cost of Mao's ill-planned and ill-named Great Leap Forward of 1959-1961 might well have reached 40 million deaths from starvation, the result of the largest and most deadly famine in world history.

In 1968, Wei Jingsheng, 18, a Red Guard member, provided a firsthand account of how the Great Leap Forward had driven parents mad with hunger:

"Before my eyes, among the weeds, rose up one of the scenes I had been told about, one of the banquets at which families had swapped children in order to eat them. I could see the worried faces of the families as they chewed the flesh of other people's children."

Countless other millions boiled weeds and bark to make soup and stripped the trees free of leaves. Others, writes Jean-Louis Margolin, a lecturer in history at the University of Provence in France and a researcher at the Research Institute of Southeast Asia, were "reduced to searching through horse manure for undigested grains of wheat and eating worms they found in cowpats."

In response to this widespread starvation that was the direct outcome of his forced collectivization of farming, Mao instructed: "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest to prevent peasants from eating too much."

Added to the above are the direct murders of those who were too successful or too free to fit into Mao's vision of collectivized zombies.

Margolin describes the fate under Mao of landlords, intellectuals, small bosses, richer peasants and those suspected of political incorrectness or independent thinking, i.e., non-communist thinking:

"The whole people were invited to the public trials of 'counterrevolutionaries,' who almost invariably were condemned to death. Everyone participated in the executions, shouting 'kill, kill' to the Red Guards whose task it was to cut victims into pieces.
"Sometimes the pieces were cooked and eaten, or force-fed to members of the victim's family who were still alive and looking on."

For those fortunate enough not be killed, eaten or shipped to the gulags, there were mandatory "submission and rebirth" meetings for wayward intellectuals, as well as organized shunning, social exclusion and public acts of confession and self-criticism for alleged "right-wingers" and those suspected of "Westernism."

I bring up all this history because I was halfway through reading "Mao: The Unknown Story," the new book by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, when The New York Times published Nicholas Kristof's review of the book.

Now it's true that Kristof, an op-ed writer at The Times, judges the book to be a "magnificent biography," and he does at least whistle past the graveyard, pointing out that Mao had slaughtered a quarter of the entire Red Army, "often after they were tortured in such ways as having red-hot rods forced into their rectums."

Still, Mr. Kristof worries that Chang and Halliday might have painted too dark a picture. He wonders if the 70 million number is "accurate," and if the book unfairly excludes "exculpatory evidence" about the upside of Mao's rule.

Arguing that "Mao's legacy is not all bad," Kristof pays tribute to Mao's successes with land reform and women's rights. "Land reform in China," he writes, "like land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today."

What he doesn't say is that land reform in Japan and Taiwan was accomplished without the slaughter of millions of people.

Regarding women's rights, Kristof asserts that Mao "moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea."
The perfect example of this enhanced equality, perhaps, is that the Chinese government has just banned this new book on Mao, for both men and women.

Ralph R. Reiland, the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University, is a local restaurateur. E-mail him at

Ryan Clancy: Che Guevara Should Be Scorned - Not Worn

Posted 10/30/2005 8:54 PM
USA Today

Che Guevara is everywhere these days. Not literally. He is, after all, dead. But 38 years after meeting his demise in the Bolivian jungle, the communist revolutionary has re-emerged as a pop culture icon. In dorm rooms, on the runways of Paris and on merchandising kitsch, the legendary Alberto Korda image of a beret-clad Guevara is the epitome of cool. Don't be surprised if during tonight's trick-or-treating, Che shows up among the goblins. He's that ubiquitous.

Hollywood has taken notice, too. Last year's indie hit The Motorcycle Diaries, which traced Che's youthful wanderlust trip across South America, is soon to be followed by a major studio production featuring Benicio Del Toro.

Che's rock star status will probably be fleeting. Just ask Motley Crüe. But long after Jay-Z stops rapping, "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on," Che will retain the exalted position he has held since the Vietnam War as a symbol of peace and justice. And that is a problem.

Che demanded worldwide revolution, even if it meant a stream of death and misery. He said the utopia that could be built on the ashes of the old world would make the suffering worthwhile. That's why he advocated a nuclear exchange during the Cuban missile crisis.

In fact, if you read through Che's speeches, with his constant refrain of glorious martyrdom, they're remarkably similar to another well-known "revolutionary" — the tall, bearded one holed up somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Che hated the United States and the global free market system that sustained it. Just ask him. "Let us sum up our hopes for victory: total destruction of imperialism by eliminating its firmest bulwark, the oppression exercised by the United States of America."

If Che's world vision had prevailed, it's safe to say that Apple founder Steve Jobs would have never brought us the iPod. After all, it's tough to innovate when you're stuck behind a donkey farming turnips for the proletariat.

For those who sell Che merchandise, this history is beside the point. Yakov Grinberg, a 20-year-old clerk at Freaks, a shop in Manhattan's trendy East Village, freely concedes: "Most of these people obviously have no idea what they're wearing."

Che isn't the only erstwhile commie scoring cool points either. Chairman Mao and the Soviet hammer-and-sickle are showing up on hipster gear as well. Who knew that bread lines were the new black?

Against this backdrop of ignorance, it's not surprising that Che, as a populist symbol of uncompromising defiance who stood up for the poor and oppressed, transcends the real Che — the one who said judicial review for executions was an "archaic bourgeoisie detail."

What then are we to make of Che Guevara? Che apologists insist he fought "for the people." But when it came to the basics of helping "the people," such as not killing them, he was less than stellar.

Most historians agree upon one fact, however, that can shape our understanding of Che. He was a loser. Big time. I'm talking McGovern in '72, Saddam in '91 and the Chicago Cubs every year since '08.

Che fomented unrest in Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama and the African Congo, and every expedition was an abject failure. His single enduring political achievement, Cuba, is not even threatening enough to make the Axis of Evil.

So, instead of Che being held up as a beacon of peace and justice, let us hereafter revel in his futility. He'll be an exemplar of the idea that hard work does not always pay off. In fact, I already have a new shirt in mind. Take the same iconic picture of Che and just add the heading, "I tried to conquer the evil Yankee imperialists and all I got was this stupid T-shirt."

Ryan Clancy is a freelance writer living in New York City.