Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Airline Bomb Plot

By Daniel Henninger
The Wall Street Journal
April 10, 2008

London police following a raid related to the thwarted bomb plot to blow up aircraft in mid-flight, August 10, 2006. The trial of eight Britons accused of plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners bound for North America began on Wednesday with jury selection.
(Stephen Hird/Reuters)

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain brought their presidential campaigns to the Petraeus-Crocker hearings on Iraq this week. An Iraq-based reporter appearing on one of the cable networks in the evening said the hearings struck him as oddly decoupled from the daily reality of war for the Iraqi people and U.S. troops there. Yup, never hurts to pinch yourself hard on entering presidential campaign space right now.

The three candidates addressed Gen. David Petraeus in tones of high gravitas equal to the thin altitude of the American presidency. Sen. Obama colloquied with Gen. Petraeus about the status of al Qaeda in Iraq – asking whether the terrorist organization could "reconstitute itself" and said that he was looking for "an endpoint."

Here's another hypothetical: Would this conversation be different today if in August 2006 seven airliners had taken off from Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport, bound for the U.S. and Canada and each carrying about 250 passengers, and then blew up over the Atlantic Ocean?

It is a hypothetical because, instead of the explosions, British prosecutors this week presented their case against eight Muslim men arrested in August 2006 and charged with conspiring to board and blow up those planes.

The details emerging from that case are quite remarkable and will be summarized shortly. Pause to reflect on the ebb and flow of public debate that has occurred over how free societies should order themselves after two airliners full of passengers knocked down the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11 in 2001.

The view that 9/11 "changed everything" did not hold up under the weight of our politics. Divisions re-emerged between Democrats and Republicans, in office and on the streets. These fights reignited over the Patriot Act, Guantanamo and the warrantless wiretap bill (or "FISA" revision). These arguers stopped to stare momentarily at their televisions when Islamic terrorists committed mass murder in the 2004 Madrid train bombing and the 2005 London subway bombing.

One sometimes gets the feeling that our policy debates over national security and the journalism that travels with them float, as it were, at 30,000 feet above the reality of the threat on the ground. A novelist or filmmaker, alert to the personal demons that drive modern terror, would with fiction better clarify what is at stake. Start with the details of the eight defendants now on trial in England.

The names of the accused plotters, all men in their 20s, are Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar, Tanvir Hussain, Mohammed Gulzar, Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Khan, Waheed Zaman and Umar Islam. They lived around London, in Walthamstow, Leyton, Plaistow and Barking. Most are Pakistanis.

Abdullah Ahmed Ali

Abdullah Ahmed Ali was caught on a wiretap telling his wife that he wished to bring his baby son along on the suicide mission. She resists. His suicide video, intended to become public after the planes blew up and shown at trial, promises "floods of martyr operations against you" and "your people's body parts decorating the streets."

Waheed Zaman studied biomedical science at London Metropolitan University. In his video Zaman says, "I have been educated to a high standard. I could have lived a life of ease but instead chose to fight for the sake of Allah's Deen [religion]."

Umar Islam mocks complacent Brits: "Most of you too busy, you know, watching Home and Away and EastEnders, complaining about the World Cup, drinking your alcohol." This would be fascinating as one nut's reason for murder. It is instead the basis for an ideology to justify blowing up thousands.

The prosecution said a computer memory stick on one of the men at his arrest listed the targeted flights. They were: United Airlines Flight 931 to San Francisco; UA959 to Chicago; UA925 to Washington; Air Canada 849 to Toronto; AC865 to Montreal; American Airlines 131 to New York and AA91 to Chicago. The first flight would depart at 2:15 p.m., the last at 4:50 p.m., allowing all to be aloft and out of U.S. or British airspace when they fell.

The private intelligence-analysis agency, Stratfor, concludes from the trial that "al Qaeda remains fixated on aircraft as targets and, in spite of changes in security procedures since 9/11, aircraft remain vulnerable to attack."

The men planned to take the bomb pieces onboard for assembly: empty plastic bottles, a sugary drink powder, hydrogen peroxide and other materials to be detonated with the flash on disposable cameras.

The arrests of the men, who say they are innocent, were the result of broad and prolonged surveillance. For months, the suspects were bugged, photographed and wiretapped.

Here in the U.S., our politics has spent much of the year unable to vote into law the wiretap bill, which is bogged down, incredibly, over giving retrospective legal immunity to telecom companies that helped the government monitor calls originating overseas. Even granting there are Fourth Amendment issues in play here, how is it that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cannot at least say that class-action lawsuits against these companies are simply wrong right now?

Philip Bobbitt, author of the just released and thought-provoking book, "Terror and Consent," has written that court warrants are "a useful standard for surveillance designed to prove guilt, not to learn the identity of people who may be planning atrocities." Planning atrocities is precisely the point.

"Atrocity" is a cruel and ugly word, but it has come to define the common parameters of the world we inhabit. It is entertaining to watch the candidates trying to convince the American people of their ability to be presidential. It would be more than nice to know, before one of them turns into a real president this November, what they will do – or more importantly, will never do – to stop what those eight jihadists sitting in the high-security Woolwich Crown Court in London planned for seven America-bound airliners over the Atlantic Ocean.

Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

Something Good This Way Comes

By Kathleen Parker
April 10, 2008 12:00 AM

Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of his general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9, 2008.(Max Rossi/Reuters)

The pope is a brave man.

A pope’s visit to another nation is rarely, if ever, viewed as inconsequential, but Benedict XVI’s upcoming U.S. tour comes at a time when consequences loom larger than usual.

In only three years as pontiff, Benedict has managed to ignite controversy in an already volatile religious environment, most recently by baptizing the Italy-based Muslim journalist Magdi Cristiano Allam during this year’s Easter vigil.

Not surprisingly, many Muslims were offended and criticized Benedict for being insensitive. It wasn’t only that the pope baptized a Muslim in such a public way, but that Allam, specifically, has written critically of Muslims who use violence to advance Islam.

This was the second time Benedict has stoked Muslim outrage, which is, inarguably, not the toughest trick in the book. In 2006, he was attacked following a lecture at Germany’s University of Regensburg about the mutual dependence of faith and reason. In the course of his remarks, Benedict quoted a 14th-century Christian commentator who pointed out that many Muslims justify using violence in the name of Allah.

Scandalous. Who knew?

In response, Muslims blanketed the streets with flowers, built dozens of orphanages and collected canned goods to feed the hungry. No, wait, sorry, wrong movie.

What they did was attack five Christian churches in the West Bank and Gaza; kill an Italian nun, shooting her in the chest, stomach, and back; and burn effigies of the pope, calling for his death.

Allam has enjoyed similar expressions of peace and love following his conversion. Because of death threats, he travels with a security detail and keeps his wife and son in hiding.

A majority of Americans anticipating the pope’s visit next week are favorably inclined toward Benedict and the Catholic Church, according to a poll recently commissioned by the Knights of Columbus. But many say they don’t feel they know him.

One can know this much about Pope Benedict XVI without further evidence: He is a brave man. And it seems that his messages against violence and in defense of human rights not only are being heard, but are being echoed in surprising places.

In the midst of Muslim protests over Allam’s baptism, for instance, Saudi King Abdullah issued a call for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders to begin a dialogue about the world’s suffering. On Easter Monday, of all days, Abdullah said he has been distressed the past couple of years by a crisis that “has caused an imbalance in religion, in ethics, and in all of humanity.”

In other headlines, the Riyadh government called for refresher courses for Saudi Arabia’s 40,000 imams to encourage a more moderate interpretation of Islam and to discourage extremists.

And in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Christian and Muslim leaders recently met, along with Hindu and Buddhist representatives, to discuss how the world’s religions might work together. More than 30 Islamic educators meeting in Jakarta issued an appeal to begin educating young Muslim men in more accurate ways. That is, without justification for violence.

Tipping points and perfect storms have permanent parking spaces in the pantheon of American cliches — and heaven forbid we should be seduced by optimism — but the confluence of these comments seems to offer a glimmer of hope for a saner world.

Yet even here, Benedict poses a small problem with his inflexible insistence on human rights, one of the most fundamental of which is freedom of conscience.

While Muslim leaders, including Abdullah, want to talk about the shared love of God common to all monotheistic religions, Benedict has refused to engage in a dialogue exclusively on theological principles of love.

Father Roger J. Landry, priest of the Fall River, Mass., diocese and editor of the diocesan newspaper The Anchor, wrote in a recent editorial that Benedict has “insisted that the conversation tackle how such love becomes concrete in analyzing how each tradition handles the question of human rights.”

This will be the focus of Benedict’s message as he visits the U.S., according to Vatican insiders. Although the official timing of his trip coincides with the 200th anniversary of Baltimore’s becoming an archdiocese, Benedict’s real purpose in coming to the U.S. is to address the United Nations — to reach as many of the world’s people as possible, not just Americans.

One of his essential messages, if only inferred, will be that the ultimate test of any given faith is the freedom to choose it — or to reject it — without fear of persecution.

A brave man.

Dreams From My Father

By Ann Coulter
Thursday, April 10, 2008

Since a Chinese graduate student at Columbia University, Minghui Yu, was killed last Friday when black youths violently set upon him, sending him running into traffic to escape, I think B. Hussein Obama ought to start referring to the mindset of the "typical Asian person."

As of Wednesday, police had no motive for the attack, and witnesses said they heard no demand for money or anything else. The Associated Press reports that the assailant simply said to his friend, "Watch what I do to this guy" before punching Yu.

Meanwhile, let's revisit the story about Obama's grandmother being guilty of thinking like a "typical white person." As recounted in Obama's autobiography, the only evidence that his grandmother feared black men comes from Obama's good-for-nothing, chronically unemployed white grandfather, who accuses Grandma of racism as his third excuse not to get dressed and drive her to work.

His grandmother wanted a ride to work at 6:30 in the morning because, the day before, she had been aggressively solicited by a homeless man at the bus stop. On her account, the panhandler "was very aggressive, Barry. Very aggressive. I gave him a dollar and he kept asking. If the bus hadn't come, I think he might have hit me over the head."

Even Obama's shiftless grandfather didn't play the race card until pretty far into the argument over whether he would drive Grandma to work. First, the good-for-nothing grandfather told Obama that Grandma was just trying to guilt him into driving her, saying, "(S)he just wants me to feel bad."

Next, he complained about his non-work routine being disrupted, saying: "She's been catching the bus ever since she started at the bank. ... And now, just because she gets pestered a little, she wants to change everything!"

Only after Obama had offered to drive his grandmother to work himself and it was becoming increasingly clear what a selfish lout the grandfather was, did Grandpa produce his trump card. The reason he wouldn't get his lazy butt dressed and drive Grandma to work was ... she was a racist!

As Obama recounts it, on Grandpa's third try at an excuse, he told Obama: "You know why she's so scared this time? I'll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black. That's the real reason she's bothered. And I just don't think that's right." So I guess I'll be heading back to the sack now!

That makes sense. It certainly never bothers me when crazy white people harass and threaten me.

This is Obama's own account of what happened, which – as anyone can see – consisted of his slacker grandfather making a series of excuses to avoid having to drive the sole bread-earner in the family to work.

But Obama says, "The words were like a fist in my stomach, and I wobbled to regain my composure." (It was as if he had been punched by an aggressive panhandler at a bus stop!) And not because his grandfather's sorry excuse reminded him that he came from a long line of callow, worthless men, both black and white.

No, Obama swallowed his grandfather's pathetic excuse hook, line and sinker, leading Obama to a reverie about his grandparents: "I knew that men who might easily have been my brothers could still inspire their rawest fears." That's true – assuming his brothers and sisters were menacing people at bus stops.

How deranged would you have to be to cite this incident as evidence that your grandmother thought like a "typical white person" – as opposed to your grandfather being worthless and lazy? For those keeping score, Obama is aghast at his grandmother's alleged racism, but had no problem with Jeremiah Wright's manifest racism.

If Obama is sent reeling by the mere words of an elderly white woman, how is he going to negotiate with a guy like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What if Ahmadinejad calls him "booger-face"? Will he run crying from the table?

Your grandmother wasn't a racist, Barack. Your grandpa was just a loser. Can we wrap up our national conversation about race now? I think we'd like to move onto questions about your stupid plan to hold talks with Iran.

Ann Coulter is a bestselling author and syndicated columnist. Her most recent book is Godless: The Church of Liberalism.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Today's Tune: Don Edwards- Coyotes

(Click on title to play video)

Catholic schools slide off course

Rick Martinez, Correspondent
Raleigh News & Observer
April 9, 2008

A US flag is seen as Pope Benedict XVI is driven through the crowd during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 9, 2008. The pontiff is scheduled to visit Washington D.C. and New York in his upcoming April 15-20 US trip.
(AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

'Is the Pope Catholic?" is a popular comeback used to denote an obvious fact. Of course he is. The answer to "Is Notre Dame Catholic?" used to be equally indisputable. But not any more.

That's a shortcoming many American Catholics pray that Pope Benedict XVI confronts next week when he makes his first papal visit to the United States. Among the many events he will preside over is a meeting with, and address to, Catholic educators. It's a summons, really. Presidents and chancellors from all 235 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities are expected to atttend.

To borrow a Protestant phrase, I hope the pope's address is really a "Come to Jesus" meeting. Too many Catholic universities -- the University of Notre Dame is a high-profile example -- have become "CINOs," or Catholic In Name Only. Many have used the cloak of academic freedom to support causes and events contrary to church doctrine, leading to serious questions about the definition and role of Catholic identity in higher education.

The decline of Catholicism at U.S. Catholic colleges and universities has reached the point that only 10 percent adequately preach and practice church doctrine, according to the Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors Catholic higher education. A Catholic university should be the last place to find a performance of the play "The Vagina Monologues," yet it's scheduled on 19 Catholic campuses this academic year, including Notre Dame. The good news is, that's less exposure than the play had in 2003-04.

Although Pope John Paul II defined the ideals of a Catholic education in Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From The Heart Of the Church") in 1990, it was a 2003 Georgetown University commencement speech that woke lay people to how secularized many Catholic colleges and universities have become.

In his Georgetown speech, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria said this: "In many parts of the world, the family is under siege. It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce."

This was hardly a new theme, particularly from a cardinal who was thought to be a leading candidate to succeed John Paul II. To the faithful, that Cardinal Arinze delivered these remarks at the oldest Catholic university in the United States seemed as natural as making the sign of the cross.

Instead, all hell broke loose. A feminist professor seated on stage walked off during the speech. About 70 faculty members signed a letter of protest. Others, including a priest, criticized Arinze's pointed, pro-traditional family remarks as inappropriate and insensitive.

Criticism of Catholic universities' adhering to church doctrine hasn't abated. Catholic institutions are under continuous pressure to reject core belief to conform to what are becoming cultural norms, including offering students contraception on demand and opening resource centers for homosexuals. These are pressures a number of Catholic colleges and universities have given into or probably will succumb to.

I'll leave it to the holy father, a former theology professor himself, to explain the orthodoxy of having Catholic educators return to church teachings. As a layperson, I just want my church's educational leaders to stop using the academic freedom argument to undermine religious freedom.

Refusing to pass out condoms to students isn't undermining academic freedom. Refusing to establish gay resource centers has nothing to do with academic freedom. Refusing to stage a play that includes graphic descriptions and depictions of acts considered by the church as serious sins is not an issue of academic freedom.

If Catholic beliefs about human life, morality and culture aren't going to be taught and supported at Catholic universities, then what is the point of being a Catholic institution? Why would a parent looking for a Catholic learning environment send a child -- and pay top dollar to do so -- to a campus that intellectually is nothing more than a secular school decorated with crosses?

These are the issues I hope Pope Benedict will discuss in clear and concise terms, as only he can, when he meets with Catholic educators next week.

Rick Martinez is director of news and programming at WPTF-AM (rickjmartinez2@

Springsteen returns to O.C. with a vengeance

Review: His Honda Center opener boasts a load of firsts and plenty of scorching solos, including an unforgettable turn from Tom Morello.

The Orange County Register
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

ALL FIRED UP: "We're out for blood!" Bruce Springsteen declared early on in his rousing set Monday night with the E Street Band at Honda Center in Anaheim, its first of two shows there this week.

There has been more highfalutin prose written about the cultural significance of Bruce Springsteen than there has been meaningful analysis of some presidents.

Every two-bit critic who thinks he's got the fast-track to rock 'n' roll insight has pontificated about his importance, debated whether he outranks Dylan as Greatest American Rock God, blathered on about his remarkable ability to make the smallest everyman details resonate universally – and make the universal ones relatable in the most intimate ways.

I've tried my hand at more than a few such pieces – some Springsteen shows can seem so monumental as they're happening that it's hard not to get caught up in the re-energizing rapture. His first of two shows at Honda Center with the ever-mighty E Street Band this week certainly qualifies as a standout in my logbook. I won't soon forget Nils Lofgren's outrageously scorching solo at the end of "Because the Night," for instance, or the elated feeling that blasted up my spine when that song perfectly dovetailed into the Bo Diddley rumble of "She's the One."

Not to be outdone, Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt conjured their own six-string cataclysm for "Gypsy Biker." And I suspect everyone who was there has by now told anyone who'll listen about the surprise appearance from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello (aka the Nightwatchman), who joined his fellow crusader for truth and freedom on a gut-walloping rendition of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" that built from a moody smolder to a positively incendiary finish. With Morello's Hendrix-style soar getting sympathetic underpinning from Springsteen's Telecaster (while the Boss beamed at the display), the climax of the hard-bitten piece was worthy of David Gilmour at his most expressive.

LOOKING AT YOU: "You, there, with the sign for 'Out in the Street' - your request will be honored tonight!" Springsteen gets 'em even more riled up at Honda Center Monday night.

So, sure, I could go on about the profound statement that song makes, ponder what its modernization of Steinbeck's Depression-era icon signifies at a time when the economy is none too rosy – just as I could tap out 1,000 words alone on what Springsteen might be getting at in "Reason to Believe" when he hollers its hopeful chorus into his harmonica microphone like the ghost of a radio preacher from the Dust Bowl days. (Clues about what he's implying abound in his new material, by the way, especially in the mournful "Last to Die," the symbolic charlatanism of "Magic" – "Here's to the end of eight years of horribly bad magic," he declared at its outset – and "Livin' in the Future," a "song about sleeping through the changes as they happen.")

But that kind of dissertation is out there – Google away. I'm as bored with such academic displays as I am accounts of overcome first-time encounters. (To those of you who just experienced your first Boss bash and are looking for validation of your joyously overcome feelings: Yes, we know. Pretty incredible, huh? Oh, and yes, he's almost always this amazing. Sometimes more.)

What's worth discussing, actually, is how this great gig (one of his best local shows this decade) matters in nascent Bruce-in-O.C. lore. For remember: Monday's and Tuesday's concerts, his first stops here in nearly eight years, also rank as only his third and fourth full-blown performances in our fair county in almost four decades of touring.

How did it differ from his May 2000 shows at the then-Pond?

Well, for one thing, all the songs I've already mentioned (save for "Tom Joad") made their O.C. debuts Monday night – as did that fetching "Rosalita," who didn't exactly jump a little lighter (her groove came off its wheels at one point) but who hadn't been let out at a Southern California show since Dodger Stadium in August '03.

Signs could be spotted here and there pleading for favorites: "Stolen Car," "Blinded by the Light," "Spirit in the Night." He didn't honor those requests, but he did throw in unexpected twists.

"Ramrod" filled in the question marks on his handwritten set list (viewable at and, thanks to some loopy mugging at the mic, had Little Steven Van Zandt cracking up. "Racing in the Street" was listed to follow "Tom Joad" but instead the Eddie Cochranisms of "Working on the Highway" preceded it. Later on, Springsteen mouthed an audible to the band – and broke tradition this tour by placing a rollicking "Out in the Street" after his usual main-set finale, "Badlands."

"Light of Day," a roaring opener, made its tour premiere, though not its O.C. bow (he closed with it at his second Pond show in 2000). The hearty shout of "Trapped," a rarely-played Jimmy Cliff cover he dug out two weeks ago in Seattle, got another airing, as did a slashing handling of "Murder Incorporated," another recent set-list addition.

"We're out for blood!" he yelled at the end of that one. I'd say they got plenty to guzzle, and so did we. In all, only eight of 24 songs were repeats from when I saw him at the Pond, and a good half-dozen were swapped out from his L.A. Sports Arena shows in October. Maybe you were hoping for "Thunder Road," or "Born in the U.S.A." – or even "Fire," which turned up Saturday night in San Jose.

This, newbie, is why people keep going back. "Man, that was a good one!" he announced at the start of the encore. Wonder if Tuesday can top it.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2248 or

ALL FIRED UP: Bruce Springsteen performs Monday night in his first of two shows at Honda Center this week.

Setlist: (Monday)
Light of Day
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Murder Incorporated
Reason to Believe
Because the Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Working on the Highway
The Ghost of Tom Joad (w/ Tom Morello)
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Out in the Street
* * *
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Born to Run
Ramrod (w/ Bobby Bandiera)
American Land (w/ Marty Rifkin and Marc Anthony Thompson)

Setlist (Tuesday):
Thunder Road
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Murder Inc.
Atlantic City
Candy's Room
Reason To Believe
Prove It All Night
Because The Night
She's The One
Livin' In The Future
The Promised Land
Brilliant Disguise
Ghost of Tom Joad w/Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine)
Last To Die
Long Walk Home
Out In The Street
* * *
Meeting Across The River
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
American Land!

Absolut Folly

By Michelle Malkin
April 9, 2008 12:00 AM

In this image released by the Mexican advertising firm of Teran/TBWA on Monday April 7, 2008, an advertisement created for Swedish Absolut Vodka which ran in Mexico, shows a map of the border of Mexico and the United States where it stood before the Mexican-American War of 1848. The Absolut vodka company apologized for the ad campaign amid angry calls for a boycott by U.S. consumers.
(AP Photo/Teran/TBWA)

The Swedish vodka maker thinks radical politics will boost sales?

Is it wise for a global beverage company to pander to radical politics while alienating a much wider consumer base?

Absolut, the Swedish-owned vodka maker, apparently drinks to that. Last week, my e-mailbox lit up with messages from readers and bloggers about a new Absolut ad catering to Mexican drinkers who believe the American Southwest belongs to them. (That extreme ethno-supremacist idea, of course, is not news to anyone who has paid attention to the massive illegal alien marches of the past two years — where “This is our continent, not yours” has been a rallying mainstay.) As part of its “In an Absolut World” print and billboard campaign, the company featured a large map of the continental U.S. redrawn with the pre-1848 borders — with Mexico swallowing up California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.

Here’s how Favio Ucedo, creative director of leading U.S. Latino advertising agency Grupo Gallegos, which was not involved in the Absolut campaign, explained the reconquista-endorsing ad to the Los Angeles Times: “Mexicans talk about how the Americans stole their land, so this is their way of reclaiming it. It’s very relevant and the Mexicans will love the idea.”

Oops. Guess he didn’t get the liberal talking-points manual: You’re supposed to deny that reconquista exists and label anyone who criticizes it as a delusional racist. And remember: The National Council of La Raza (“the race”) claims that reconquista is just a “code word” invented by conservative “hate groups” who are dreaming the whole thing up.

Reader Paul Hergert wrote to Absolut: “Your company’s illustration of Mexico occupying a large part of the western United States is reprehensible for myriad reasons. Not only is it an anachronistic and ersatz view of geography, it also unnecessarily inflames American/Mexican tensions. I understand that marketing is to be provocative, but when it can be used as propaganda for certain people/nations, it has crossed the line into the political realm and is, therefore, inappropriate.”

Bar owner Matthew Rogers of Pt. Richmond, Calif., sent this note to the company: “I run a bar in Pt. Richmond. . . . After seeing your ad campaign where you show a western map of the United States in which California is part of Mexico again, I’ve decided to do the following: 1) Never carry Absolut. Ever; 2) Lower the price of Ketel One vodka to $2 a shot indefinitely to build loyalty; 3) Print a copy of your ad and put it above the Ketel One drink special; 4) Tell all my friends and family what Absolut thinks of the United States of America and our right to enforce border laws. I am on the frontline of illegal immigration and its effects. Where are you? Oh, yes, Sweden. Good riddance.”

Absolut’s initial response to complaints was to hang up on consumers who phoned and to delete their e-mail without bothering to read it. But the controversy spread like a California wildfire stoked by Internet Santa Ana winds. In the first of two statements, Absolut Vice President of Corporate Communications Paula Eriksson attempted to douse the flames by touting the company’s embrace-diversity ethos. “As a global company,” she pedantically droned, “we recognize that people in different parts of the world may lend different perspectives or interpret our ads in a different way than was intended in that market. Obviously, this ad was run in Mexico, and not the U.S. — that ad might have been very different.”

That arrogant, p.c. sanctimony had the effect of pouring gas on the flames. So over the weekend, Eriksson issued a new statement announcing withdrawal of the ad. It was comically titled “We apologize” — and disingenuously argued that “In no way was the ad meant to offend or disparage, or advocate an altering of borders, lend support to any anti-American sentiment, or to reflect immigration issues. . . . This is a genuine and sincere apology.”

For its part, the open-borders Associated Press attempted to minimize the widespread opposition to the Absolut ad from Americans and persisted in labeling reconquista views “fringe.” I direct them to the speech given two weeks ago in San Bernardino by Hillary Clinton campaign co-chair Dolores Huerta, who railed, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” and gloated that immigration enforcement is moot because the reconquista is won. “It’s really too late,” Huerta said. “If 47 million (Latinos) have one baby each . . . it’s already won.”

Maybe Absolut should hire Huerta as its next spokesperson.

Fresh off its Aztlan debacle, the company announced its newest campaign this week featuring an ad titled “Ruler,” described as “a humorous look at gay men and their fascination with perfect, eight-inch ‘member’ measurements.”

The company doesn’t seem to have grasped that left-wing identity politics and liquor don’t mix.

— Michelle Malkin is author of Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

The Genocide Loophole

By Jonah Goldberg
April 9, 2008 12:00 AM

Holodomor Memorial in Ukraine

An illuminating Enlightenment bias.

Last week, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a resolution insisting that Josef Stalin’s man-made 1932-33 famine — called the Holodomor in Ukrainian — wasn’t genocide.

Not even the Russians dispute that the Soviet government deliberately starved millions. But the Russian resolution indignantly states: “There is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines.” It notes that victims included “different peoples and nationalities living largely in agricultural areas of the country.”

Translation: We didn’t kill millions of farmers because they were Ukrainians; we killed millions of Ukrainians because they were farmers.

And that’s all it takes to be acquitted of genocide.

The United Nations defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Left out of this definition are “modern” political labels for people: the poor, religious people, the middle class, etc.

The oversight was deliberate. The word “genocide” was coined by a Polish Jew, Raphael Lemkin, who was responding to Winston Churchill’s 1941 lament that “we are in the presence of a crime without a name.” Lemkin, a champion of human rights who lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust, gave it a name a few years later. But to get the U.N. to recognize genocide as a specific crime, he made compromises.

Pressured by the Soviets, Lemkin supported excluding efforts to murder “political” groups from the U.N.’s 1948 resolution on genocide. Under the more narrow official definition, it’s genocide to try to wipe out Roma (formerly known as Gypsies), but it’s not necessarily genocide to liquidate, say, people without permanent addresses. You can’t slaughter “Catholics,” but you can wipe out “religious people” and dodge the genocide charge.

Political scientist Gerard Alexander decries that type of absurdity as “Enlightenment bias.” Reviewing Samantha Power’s moving 2003 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Alexander observed that this bias leaves the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century — self-described Marxist-Leninists — somewhat off the hook.

In Power’s book, the most influential writing on genocide in a generation, she scolds — often justly — the U.S. for not doing more to stop systematized slaughter. But by focusing so narrowly on the U.N.-style definition of genocide, she implicitly upholds a moral hierarchy of evil, which in effect renders mass murder a second-tier crime if it’s done in the name of social progress, modernization, or other Enlightenment ideals.

This is dangerous thinking; people perceived to be blocking progress — farmers, aristocrats, reactionaries — can be more forgivably slaughtered than ethnic groups because they’re allegedly part of the problem, not the solution. After all, you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet.

For many, the Soviets and the Red Chinese elude the genocide charge because Communists were omelet-makers. Ukrainian kulaks, or independent farmers, opposed Stalin’s plan for collectivization, so they were murdered for that “greater good.”

Today, Mao and Stalin aren’t in Hitler’s class of evil because Hitler wasn’t a “modernizer,” he was a racist. Note how the Russians have no problem copping to the charge of mass murder but recoil at suggestions it was racially motivated.

It’s a wrongheaded distinction. Murder is murder, whether the motive is bigotry or the pursuit of allegedly enlightened social planning.

It’s also a false distinction. Racial genocide is often rationalized as a form of progress by those responsible. Under the Holodomor, Ukrainian culture was systematically erased by the Russian Soviets, who saw it as expendable. No doubt the Sudanese janjaweed in Darfur and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Tibet believe they are “modernizers,” too.

Or consider the ultimate racially motivated genocide, the Holocaust. Gotz Aly and Susanne Heim demonstrate in their brilliant book, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction, that the Final Solution, particularly in Lemkin’s own Poland, was perceived by the young economists overseeing it as a “modernizing project that would transform society.”

In Germany, the effort to crush Jewry was intertwined with the effort to nationalize the economy and eliminate small and independent businesses. For German social engineers, the Jews were convenient guinea pigs for their economic experiments. The first test cases were not the Jews but the mentally ill, who were classified as an economic liability — “useless bread-gobblers” — in Germany’s 1936 Four-Year Plan of economic modernization.

The climate of anti-Semitism made the Holocaust possible, but so did Enlightenment bias, which holds that almost anything can be justified in the name of progress.

I doubt such distinctions would have been of much comfort to Lemkin’s 49 relatives.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

Keystone Culture of Death

By Paul Kengor
April 09, 2008, 5:00 a.m.

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., right, greets Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., after Casey introduced him at a town hall meeting at Hempfield Area High School in Greensburg, Pa., Friday, March 28, 2008. At an earlier event Carey announced his endorsement of Obama.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Casey’s killer Obama embrace.

At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic governor of the state of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, was prohibited from speaking. The Clintons and their associates had blacklisted Casey because he wanted to speak against legalized abortion — as a pro-lifer, Casey was an increasing oddity in the modern Democratic party. The governor, engaged in a simultaneous fight to preserve his own life from a rare and fatal disease, never stopped lamenting how his party, which claimed to champion the little guy, utterly refused to defend the most innocent and defenseless.

After the incident, Governor Casey sensed things would only get worse in his party, which was now totally beholden to a radical feminism. His worst nightmares materialized in 1993, when the new first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, sought to revolutionize the American health-care and abortion industries. In a televised forum discussing her national health-care plan that October, Mrs. Clinton said that abortion services “would be widely available.”

Pro-lifers like Casey were distraught; they could not fathom that their tax dollars might be used to fund abortions. They also feared the sudden availability of the abortion pill, RU-486, under the first lady’s health-care plan — one of Bill Clinton’s first acts in office was to push the pill to market through an expedited FDA approval process that, pro-lifers charged, did not take enough time to adequately consider women’s safety.

There were many counter-reactions to all of this. Republicans introduced the Coates Amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives, which sought to strip abortion funding from the first lady’s “health-care” plan. On the Democratic side, there was, of course, little objection — with a notable exception: Casey was so enraged that he considered a 1996 run for the presidency. This would prove impossible, principally because of Casey’s declining health. Casey died on May 30, 2000.

In 2006, another Bob Casey rose to national prominence: the late governor’s son, Robert P. Casey Jr., also a committed pro-life Irish Catholic. Casey had his eyes on a U.S. Senate seat, and challenged and defeated Senator Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) — ousting the Senate’s best defender of unborn human life. This thrilled abortion-rights supporters, but Casey himself was pro-life. The anti-abortion movement hoped Casey Jr. might pick up the torch from Santorum, and might even shake up his own party on the issue.

Thus far Casey has been a disappointment. And now, alas, Senator Casey has stepped up to endorse the most radical supporter of abortion to ever come close to a major-party presidential nomination: Barack Obama.

Sen. Barack Obama is so extreme on abortion that he has managed to achieve what I once thought impossible: He is to the left of Hillary Clinton on abortion. I say that as someone who has written a book on Hillary Clinton, with a special focus on her abortion fanaticism.

How extreme is Obama? His short U.S. Senate record is as Planned Parenthood-perfect as Senator Clinton’s and other abortion extremists’. Yet there is one area where he surpasses even the zealots: In the Illinois senate, Obama led the charge against legislation that would have ensured medical care to babies who survived abortions. Let me explain.

Most Americans have no clue that in their country since Roe v. Wade, countless babies have survived abortion attempts. An unknown number have been left to die alone on tables, in trash cans, in dark rooms — no medical care offered. Alas, mercifully, the U.S. Congress finally came along in 2002 and unanimously (both houses) passed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. The legislation mandates that born-alive infants be given the full protection of federal laws.

Who could possibly oppose something like this? The answer is Barack Obama, who in Illinois sought to prevent the adoption of similar statewide legislation. In 2002 and 2003, he voted against such legislation twice, and then blocked the bill as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. He denounced the bill on the floor of the state senate. Keep in mind that this is a man who supports government intervention for everything under the sun, particularly in health care — with the exception of unborn babies, or in this case, born babies.

When it comes to abortion, Barack Obama is to the left of not just Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and Ted Kennedy, but even NARAL. Yes, not even NARAL opposed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act.

And this is in individual Sen. Casey chose to endorse last Friday before a cheering, roaring crowd of Pennsylvania Democrats.

Now he has joined Obama on a six-day bus tour through Pennsylvania in advance of the state’s crucial April 22 primary, where Obama has trailed Clinton.

Does Casey not understand the threshold upon which he and his nation now stand? Roe v. Wade is at last in peril, but if he achieves his dream of an Obama presidency, Obama can tip the Supreme Court’s balance in a pro-Roe direction for decades to come. There have been 40 million abortions since 1973.

Consequently, Senator Casey’s endorsement of Obama is an undeniable betrayal of his, his father’s, and his church’s pro-life work and commitment.

— Paul Kengor has most recently published God and Hillary Clinton and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand. He is professor of political science at Grove City College.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Today's Tune: Los Lobos - La Bamba

(Click on title to play video)

There’s no team like Kansas

The Kansas City Star
April 8, 2008

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 07: Mario Chalmers #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots and makes a three-pointer to tie the game to send it into overtime against the Memphis Tigers during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO: That’s how you win it all, exorcise the demons and baptize a new era of greatness.

You do it with an unforgettable rally, a stunning three-pointer and with your most famous and infamous coaching alum sitting in the stadium, cheering you on and sporting a Jayhawk sticker.

Dorothy said it best: “There’s no place like (Kansas),” and now maybe Roy Williams and everybody else in the college basketball world realizes it, too.

Five years from heartbreak, feelings of betrayal and ruin, the Kansas Jayhawks are the kings of college basketball, winning their third NCAA title Monday night with a pulsating 75-68 overtime victory against the Memphis Tigers.

On the 20th anniversary of Danny Manning and the Miracles, Mario Chalmers’ miracle three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation rescued the Jayhawks, culminated a furious 130-seconds rally from a nine-point hole and sent the championship spiraling into an extra session.

The Jayhawks were dead, down 60-51 with 2 minutes, 12 seconds to play and in desperate need of several miracles. They got a few along the way.

It really started when the refs correctly changed Memphis freshman Derrick Rose’s apparent three-point basket to a two during a TV timeout with a little less than 4 minutes left in regulation.

That point would obviously prove to be critical. So would Memphis’ three missed free throws in regulation’s final 16 seconds. All season, basketball experts predicted the Tigers’ free-throw-shooting woes would bite them.

When Chris Douglas-Roberts and Rose failed to extend Memphis’ lead to two possessions by missing a combined three of four freebies, it cracked the door for Chalmers’ heroics. When the Tigers failed to foul a Jayhawk and send Kansas to the line for two free throws, Memphis opened the door wide for a game-tying, miracle three-pointer.

Chalmers walked through that door, unspooling a floating rainbow from the top of the key.

It was good when it left his hand. It was great when it tickled the bottom of the net. And it became a permanent part of Kansas history when the Jayhawks rode its momentum to a six-point advantage halfway through overtime.

“We got the ball into our most clutch player’s hands, and he delivered,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 07: Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks is presented with the championship trophy after defeating the Memphis Tigers 75-68 in overtime during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

All of the Jayhawks delivered on Monday night.

Darrell Arthur scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Brandon Rush dropped in 12 points and chased Douglas-Roberts all evening. Sherron Collins nailed a huge three late in regulation, passed out six assists and stole three balls. Darnell Jackson produced eight points and eight rebounds. Russell Robinson pestered Rose into a miserable first-half performance.

Chalmers did a little bit of everything, scoring 18, dishing out three assists and grabbing four steals. He was chosen the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. He deserved it — on the big shot alone.

Self deserves some praise, too. He kept his team calm, confident and aggressive when it trailed by nine points and the game looked decided. The Jayhawks used their timeouts wisely and fouled at the right time in mounting their comeback.

There will be a lot of talk about Memphis’ collapse and John Calipari’s coaching blunders.

“I take full responsibility,” Calipari said in the aftermath. “When you’re up seven (really nine) … you’re supposed to win that game. We were fouling late, and the kid got away from Derrick so he couldn’t get to him to foul him, and when he did get to him, knocked him to the floor and they just didn’t call it. I understand why. And then they make a tough shot.

“Overtime, they kind of beat us down. I didn’t sub a whole lot because I was trying to win the game at the end. I didn’t give Chris enough sub. I didn’t give Antonio enough sub … I’m proud of them. I’m disappointed in myself. I look at that and say, ‘We should have won that game.’ ”

Nope. Kansas was the better team. The Jayhawks controlled the entire first half and led by five at the break. The game got away from them for a stretch during the second half. But Kansas should’ve won in regulation.

Ed Hightower’s officiating crew swallowed its whistle down the stretch. Collins got fouled hard going to the basket on a fast break late in the game. No call. Douglas-Roberts should’ve been called for a technical foul after he missed his two free throws late. He slammed the ball to the floor, sending the ball skyrocketing into the air. Hightower chose to talk to Douglas-Roberts rather than T him up.

The right team won this game. Once Collins’ knee got healthy at the end of the regular season, the Jayhawks were the best team in college basketball. They proved it this weekend, demolishing a North Carolina team everyone thought was the best in the land and upending a Memphis team that had a chance to win a record number of games.

Kansas is king. And with its third NCAA title, storied history and a young, ascending coach, it has a chance to join the super elite.

To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to For previous columns, go to

Fitna: The Carrot and the Stick

By Robert Spencer
Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Indian Muslims burn a poster of Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders during a protest against a recent Dutch film that links Islam to violence, in Jammu, India, Friday, April 4, 2008.
(AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Geert Wilders’s film on the Qur’an, Fitna, which had the whole world holding its breath before its release, has been out for over a week now, and the much-anticipated explosion of worldwide Muslim rage has so far failed to materialize. That rage, however, is heating up: 25,000 people rallied against the film in Karachi on Sunday, and demonstrators in Pakistan and Indonesia have already called for Wilders to be killed. While many continue to hope that that will be the crest of Muslim rage regarding the film, there are indications that these demonstrations are actually only part of a larger strategy.

The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has condemned the film in “the strongest terms,” saying that it was “a deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims” designed to “provoke unrest and intolerance.” This statement closely follows the OIC’s March meeting in Senegal, where they developed what AP called “a battle plan” to defend Islam “from political cartoonists and bigots.” Wilders’s film is obviously just the sort of thing they had in mind.
At the Senegal conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC’s secretary general, declared: “Muslims are being targeted by a campaign of defamation, denigration, stereotyping, intolerance and discrimination.” The Associated Press reported that OIC “delegates were given a voluminous report by the OIC that recorded anti-Islamic speech and actions from around the world. The report concludes that Islam is under attack and that a defense must be mounted.” Ihsanoglu stated that “Islamophobia cannot be dealt with only through cultural activities but (through) a robust political engagement.”

What kind of robust political engagement? Nothing less than restrictions on freedom of speech, of course. Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal and chairman of the OIC, said: “I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy. There can be no freedom without limits.”

These words, and the OIC’s “legal instrument” in general, demonstrate why the foundations of a free society cannot take root where Islamic Sharia law prevails.

Once you declare one group off-limits for critical examination or declare that these people must at all costs not be offended, or that if they are they’re perfectly within their rights to stone, or lash, or imprison, or kill the offender, then you have destroyed free speech. In a free society, people with differing opinions live together in harmony, agreeing not to kill one another if their neighbor’s opinions offend them. Whenever offensive speech is prohibited, the tyrant’s power is solidified. No less in this case, although the tyrant in question is of a different kind.

That’s why all free people should oppose the OIC’s legal initiative. Not only does it threaten the foundations of Western society, but as it would render us unable to analyze it, it is an attempt to leave us defenseless against the jihad threat.

Yet at the United Nations, officials seemed eager to use Fitna as an excuse to enact laws restricting free speech. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dubbed the film “offensively anti-Islamic” and declared: “There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here.” Or maybe it is: the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, urged those angered by the film to work to limit free speech rights. “There is a protective legal framework,” she noted, “and the resolution of the controversy that this film will generate should take place within it.” She said that legislators “should offer strong protective measures to all forms of freedom of expression, while at the same time enacting appropriate restrictions, as necessary, to protect the rights of others.” And last week, the UN Human Rights Council passed unanimously a resolution proposed by Egypt and Pakistan that calls for the policing of individuals and media reports for negative statements about Islam.

Will it soon be illegal to speak about the use that Islamic jihadists make of Islamic texts and teachings to justify violence and supremacism? If it is, the only ones who will benefit will be the jihadists themselves – advancing the jihadist agenda far more effectively than riots ever could alone. The demonstrations on the one hand and the calls to limit free speech on the other neatly coalesce into a carrot-and-stick strategy. The message to the West is that speech about Islam that the Islamic world dislikes could lead to violent reprisals – but if the West heeds the voice of reason and clamps down on free speech and free inquiry, this violence will melt away. It is a message that all too many Leftist, appeasement-minded European and American leaders will find quite enticing. And that could be the most serious threat of all to our survival as a free people.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Religion of Peace?.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Today's Tune: Duane Eddy - Ghost Riders In The Sky

(Click on title to play video)

Islam's 'Public Enemy #1'

Coptic priest Zakaria Botros fights fire with fire.

By Raymond Ibrahim

March 25, 2008
Father Zakaria
Though he is little known in the West, Coptic priest Zakaria Botros — named Islam’s “Public Enemy #1” by the Arabic newspaper, al-Insan al-Jadid — has been making waves in the Islamic world. Along with fellow missionaries — mostly Muslim converts — he appears frequently on the Arabic channel al-Hayat (i.e., “Life TV”). There, he addresses controversial topics of theological significance — free from the censorship imposed by Islamic authorities or self-imposed through fear of the zealous mobs who fulminated against the infamous cartoons of Mohammed. Botros’s excurses on little-known but embarrassing aspects of Islamic law and tradition have become a thorn in the side of Islamic leaders throughout the Middle East.

Botros is an unusual figure onscreen: robed, with a huge cross around his neck, he sits with both the Koran and the Bible in easy reach. Egypt’s Copts — members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East — have in many respects come to personify the demeaning Islamic institution of “dhimmitude” (which demands submissiveness from non-Muslims, in accordance with Koran 9:29). But the fiery Botros does not submit, and minces no words. He has famously made of Islam “ten demands” whose radical nature he uses to highlight Islam’s own radical demands on non-Muslims.

The result? Mass conversions to Christianity — if clandestine ones. The very public conversion of high-profile Italian journalist Magdi Allam — who was baptized by Pope Benedict in Rome on Saturday — is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, Islamic cleric Ahmad al-Qatani stated on al-Jazeera TV a while back that some six million Muslims convert to Christianity annually, many of them persuaded by Botros’s public ministry. More recently, al-Jazeera noted Life TV’s “unprecedented evangelical raid” on the Muslim world. Several factors account for the Botros phenomenon. First, the new media — particularly satellite TV and the Internet (the main conduits for Life TV) — have made it possible for questions about Islam to be made public without fear of reprisal. It is unprecedented to hear Muslims from around the Islamic world — even from Saudi Arabia, where imported Bibles are confiscated and burned — call into the show to argue with Botros and his colleagues, and sometimes, to accept Christ.

Secondly, Botros’s broadcasts are in Arabic — the language of some 200 million people, most of them Muslim. While several Western writers have published persuasive critiques of Islam, their arguments go largely unnoticed in the Islamic world. Botros’s mastery of classical Arabic not only allows him to reach a broader audience, it enables him to delve deeply into the voluminous Arabic literature — much of it untapped by Western writers who rely on translations — and so report to the average Muslim on the discrepancies and affronts to moral common sense found within this vast corpus.

A third reason for Botros’s success is that his polemical technique has proven irrefutable. Each of his episodes has a theme — from the pressing to the esoteric — often expressed as a question (e.g., “Is jihad an obligation for all Muslims?”; “Are women inferior to men in Islam?”; “Did Mohammed say that adulterous female monkeys should be stoned?” “Is drinking the urine of prophets salutary according to sharia?”). To answer the question, Botros meticulously quotes — always careful to give sources and reference numbers — from authoritative Islamic texts on the subject, starting from the Koran; then from the canonical sayings of the prophet — the Hadith; and finally from the words of prominent Muslim theologians past and present — the illustrious ulema.

Typically, Botros’s presentation of the Islamic material is sufficiently detailed that the controversial topic is shown to be an airtight aspect of Islam. Yet, however convincing his proofs, Botros does not flatly conclude that, say, universal jihad or female inferiority are basic tenets of Islam. He treats the question as still open — and humbly invites the ulema, the revered articulators of sharia law, to respond and show the error in his methodology. He does demand, however, that their response be based on “al-dalil we al-burhan,” — “evidence and proof,” one of his frequent refrains — not shout-downs or sophistry.

More often than not, the response from the ulema is deafening silence — which has only made Botros and Life TV more enticing to Muslim viewers. The ulema who have publicly addressed Botros’s conclusions often find themselves forced to agree with him — which has led to some amusing (and embarrassing) moments on live Arabic TV.

Botros spent three years bringing to broad public attention a scandalous — and authentic — hadith stating that women should “breastfeed” strange men with whom they must spend any amount of time. A leading hadith scholar, Abd al-Muhdi, was confronted with this issue on the live talk show of popular Arabic host Hala Sirhan. Opting to be truthful, al-Muhdi confirmed that going through the motions of breastfeeding adult males is, according to sharia, a legitimate way of making married women “forbidden” to the men with whom they are forced into contact — the logic being that, by being “breastfed,” the men become like “sons” to the women and therefore can no longer have sexual designs on them.To make matters worse, Ezzat Atiyya, head of the Hadith department at al-Azhar University — Sunni Islam’s most authoritative institution — went so far as to issue a fatwa legitimatizing “Rida’ al-Kibir” (sharia’s term for “breastfeeding the adult”), which prompted such outrage in the Islamic world that it was subsequently recanted.

Botros played the key role in exposing this obscure and embarrassing issue and forcing the ulema to respond. Another guest on Hala Sirhan’s show, Abd al-Fatah, slyly indicated that the entire controversy was instigated by Botros: “I know you all [fellow panelists] watch that channel and that priest and that none of you [pointing at Abd al-Muhdi] can ever respond to him, since he always documents his sources!”

Incapable of rebutting Botros, the only strategy left to the ulema (aside from a rumored $5-million bounty on his head) is to ignore him. When his name is brought up, they dismiss him as a troublemaking liar who is backed by — who else? — international “Jewry.” They could easily refute his points, they insist, but will not deign to do so. That strategy may satisfy some Muslims, but others are demanding straightforward responses from the ulema.

The most dramatic example of this occurred on another famous show on the international station, Iqra. The host, Basma — a conservative Muslim woman in full hijab — asked two prominent ulema, including Sheikh Gamal Qutb, one-time grand mufti of al-Azhar University, to explain the legality of the Koranic verse (4:24) that permits men to freely copulate with captive women. She repeatedly asked: “According to sharia, is slave-sex still applicable?” The two ulema would give no clear answer — dissembling here, going off on tangents there. Basma remained adamant: Muslim youth were confused, and needed a response, since “there is a certain channel and a certain man who has discussed this issue over twenty times and has received no response from you.”

The flustered Sheikh Qutb roared, “low-life people like that must be totally ignored!” and stormed off the set. He later returned, but refused to admit that Islam indeed permits sex-slaves, spending his time attacking Botros instead. When Basma said “Ninety percent of Muslims, including myself, do not understand the issue of concubinage in Islam and are having a hard time swallowing it,” the sheikh responded, “You don’t need to understand.” As for Muslims who watch and are influenced by Botros, he barked, “Too bad for them! If my son is sick and chooses to visit a mechanic, not a doctor — that’s his problem!”

But the ultimate reason for Botros’s success is that — unlike his Western counterparts who criticize Islam from a political standpoint — his primary interest is the salvation of souls. He often begins and concludes his programs by stating that he loves all Muslims as fellow humans and wants to steer them away from falsehood to Truth. To that end, he doesn’t just expose troubling aspects of Islam. Before concluding every program, he quotes pertinent biblical verses and invites all his viewers to come to Christ.

Botros’s motive is not to incite the West against Islam, promote “Israeli interests,” or “demonize” Muslims, but to draw Muslims away from the dead legalism of sharia to the spirituality of Christianity. Many Western critics fail to appreciate that, to disempower radical Islam, something theocentric and spiritually satisfying — not secularism, democracy, capitalism, materialism, feminism, etc. — must be offered in its place. The truths of one religion can only be challenged and supplanted by the truths of another. And so Father Zakaria Botros has been fighting fire with fire.

An Appraisal: The Man Who Touched Evil and Saved the World

Universal International Pictures
Orson Welles, left, and Charlton Heston in “Touch of Evil.”

The New York Times
Published: April 7, 2008

“What does it matter what you say about people?” Marlene Dietrich asks at the end of that 1958 American masterpiece “Touch of Evil.” She’s talking about the dead cop Hank Quinlan, a mound of stilled flesh and lasting corruption given frightening life by the film’s director, Orson Welles. The man who brings him down is Vargas, the upright Dudley Do-Right Mexican detective with a paint-on tan. Lantern jaw set like a vise, this is of course Charlton Heston.

Dietrich’s character probably had it right that it doesn’t really matter what we say about people, but in the wake of Mr. Heston’s death on Saturday, I would like to offer a few words about one of the last American movie stars. This seems particularly worthwhile because in the final decades of his life he had all but disappeared from the screen, making one of his only on-camera appearances in “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore’s 2002 anti-gun feature. Mr. Moore shows up at Mr. Heston’s home and tries to shame this stooped and visibly frail old man for his stance on guns. The old man doesn’t engage Mr. Moore, just walks away, unfailingly polite to the end.

Charlton Heston, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career but who is remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses, Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83. Left, Mr. Heston after winning the 1959 Oscar for best actor for his role in "Ben-Hur."

Welles called Mr. Heston “the nicest man to work with that ever lived in movies.” These two seemingly unlikely collaborators were brought together to star in a pulpy Universal Pictures project originally titled “Badge of Evil.” Mr. Heston thought that his co-star had been hired as the director (“any picture that Welles directs, I’ll make”), which prompted the studio quickly to sign Welles up for what would be his last Hollywood studio gig. Welles rewrote the screenplay and shot much of the film in Venice Beach in Los Angeles. History, alas, repeated itself, and he lost control of the film as he had on “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which is a different story from the one I want to tell. (A beautifully re-edited version was released in 1998 and is available on DVD.)

It was Welles who decided that Mr. Heston should play the role as a Mexican, partly as a way of building up what he considered to be an uninteresting character. (At first glance it may seem as if Welles failed.) Shortly after the film opens, Vargas and his delectable new American bride, Susan (Janet Leigh), kiss at the Mexican-American border, a passionate embrace that leads to a cataclysmic explosion and soon plunges the newlyweds into a phantasmagoria of sleaze, violence and very low camera angles. Vargas, a celebrity cop who has brought a case against a drug ring that’s about to go to trial in Mexico City, spends much of the story separated from Susan and circling Quinlan, a dirty American lawman.

In long shot and choking close up, Welles directs Mr. Heston brilliantly, making particularly memorable use of the actor’s physicality, his big, rangy body and the hard, clean right angles of his face. The ramrod straight, straight as an arrow Vargas, with his impossibly long and loping stride, could not look or register more different from Quinlan, an amorphous blob who all but rolls across the screen. Welles exploits Mr. Heston’s rigidity as a performer (and his American movie-star presence) for the character, using what in other films sometimes seemed like a limitation of craft and technique to the great advantage of the story’s texture and meaning. He turns Mr. Heston’s jutting jaw into the wagging finger of righteousness, deepening the film’s complex morality.

Heston was cast as Michelangelo in the 1965 film version of Irving Stone's novel "The Agony and the Ecstasy." Directed by Carol Reed, the film pitted Mr. Heston's temperamental artist against Rex Harrison's testy Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to create frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Mr. Heston starred in other notable films, of course, including Sam Peckinpah’s vicious 1965 western, “Major Dundee,” another story about border crossing and yet another ill-fated production taken away from its director. Mr. Heston plays the title character, a fanatical cavalry officer who, along with a motley posse, chases marauding Apaches into Mexico. Mr. Heston has his moments as Dundee — there’s something about his intensity that lends itself to obsessive characterizations — but he remains elusive, never becoming the Ahab that Peckinpah was after. As he had with Welles, Mr. Heston showed great loyalty to his troubled director and threatened to walk if the studio fired Peckinpah, who was drinking heavily throughout the production. Mr. Heston forfeited his salary in the bargain.

As much as I admire “Major Dundee,” my fondness for Mr. Heston can be traced back to the films I saw growing up, most important his great dystopian trilogy: “Planet of the Apes” (1968), “The Omega Man” (1971) and “Soylent Green” (1973). This was the Charlton Heston I first met and loved and the one I still love, the last man on Earth, the raging consciousness, the horrified hero. Few films thrilled me — or scared me — as much as “Soylent Green,” in which his character realizes that the stuff keeping the human race alive is made from other human beings: “Soylent Green is people!” By then, he had played Moses and saved an entire people from destruction. Things didn’t look good in “Soylent Green,” but somehow, I thought, surely Charlton Heston could save us.

Obama's Church: Gospel of Hate

By Kathy Shaidle
Monday, April 07, 2008

Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, became a household name last month when ABC News reported on some of Wright’s inflammatory sermons. As his applauding congregation cheered him on, the former leader of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ condemned the U.S. government for “killing innocent people” and for treating American citizens, especially blacks, as “less than human.” “God Damn America,” Rev. Wright preached.

These sentiments were entirely consistent with comments Wright had made many times during his long pastoral career. From the pulpit, Rev. Wright also has taught that AIDS was concocted by the federal government as a genocidal plot against blacks. On another occasion, he declared, “Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run! ... We [Americans] believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.”

Millions of Americans were shocked to hear such vituperative rage and unrestrained anti-American hatred. They need not have been surprised. Rev. Wright’s passionate disdain for his country, and his belief that black Americans are still singled out for persecution, is entirely in keeping with the political philosophy that underpins his religious views: Black Liberation Theology.

In March of 2007, FOX News host Sean Hannity had engaged Obama’s pastor in a heated interview about his Church’s teachings. For many viewers, the ensuing shouting match was their first exposure to “Black Liberation Theology,” and to the name of one of its leading mouthpieces, James Cone, a professor at New York's Union Theological Seminary and an iconic figure venerated by Rev. Wright.

Until ABC News picked up the story months later, Black Liberation Theology remained a rather obscure discipline, confined to the syllabi of liberal seminaries. But after Wright’s sermons were broadcast again and again on the news and the Internet, Black Liberation Theology once again commanded popular attention. After all, Barack Obama had joined Trinity twenty years earlier, had been married in the Church, and had his daughters baptized there. Obama and his wife had donated $22,500 to Trinity in 2006. The presidential hopeful even took the name of his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, from the title of one of Wright’s sermons. The beliefs held by a presidential candidate’s longtime pastor and spiritual advisor are therefore of great national interest.

And what are those beliefs? Like the pro-communist liberation theology that swept Central America in the 1980s and was repeatedly condemned by Pope John Paul II, Black Liberation Theology combines warmed-over 1960s vintage Marxism with carefully distorted biblical passages. However, in contrast to traditional Marxism, it emphasizes race rather than class. The Christian notion of “salvation” in the afterlife is superseded by “liberation” on earth, courtesy of the establishment of a socialist utopia.

The leading theorist of Black Liberation Theology is James Cone. Overtly racist, Cone’s writings posit a black Jesus who leads African-Americans as the “chosen people.” In Cone’s cosmology, whites are “the devil,” and “all white men are responsible for white oppression.” Cone makes this point without ambiguity: “This country was founded for whites and everything that has happened in it has emerged from the white perspective,” Cone has written. “What we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.”

If whiteness stands for all that is evil, blackness symbolizes all that is good. “Black theology,” says Cone, “refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.” Small wonder that some critics have condemned black liberation theology as “racist idolatry” and “Afro-Nazism.”

Furthermore, according to Cone, “black values” are superior to American values. Sure enough, the “About Us” statement on Trinity’s web page includes the following Cone-inspired declaration: “We are an African people, and remain ‘true to our native land,’ the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.”

It is troubling that Barack Obama’s closest friends and allies subscribe to an explicitly racist doctrine. Even more worrying is that the main exponent of Black Liberation Theology sees Obama as a kindred spirit. In the wake of the controversy surrounding Obama’s pastor and Church, Cone said: “I’ve read both of Barack Obama’s books, and I heard the speech [on race]. I don’t see anything in the books or in the speech that contradicts black liberation theology.”
It’s tempting to see figures like Cone and Wright as fringe actors with no constituency in the wider black community. Yet Cone considers himself to be the natural successor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and not everyone finds the comparison jarring.

Similarly with Rev. Wright. At a summit of black pastors held shortly after the recent controversy broke, many defended Wright’s sermons as part of the “prophetic preaching” tradition embodied by the assassinated civil rights leader.

Said Rev. Frederick Haynes III, senior pastor at Friendship West Baptist Church: “If Martin Luther King, Jr. were pastoring a church today, it would look very much like Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, and the sermons you would hear him preach would sound very much” like Wright’s.

Stacey Floyd-Thomas, who teaches ethics and serves as Director of black church studies at Brite Divinity School in Texas, explained that King, foreshadowing Wright, had once called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Moreover, said Floyd-Thomas, King was assassinated before he could deliver his scheduled Sunday sermon entitled “Why America May Go to Hell.”

Black Liberation Theology, in short, cannot be dismissed as a minority view. Americans are thus left with the troubling knowledge that millions of their fellow citizens consider them to be “devils,” having been taught to think this way by their religious leaders. They must wonder, too, why they should entrust the presidency to a man who has surrounded himself with those who actively despise the very country he seeks to lead.

A blogger since 2000, Kathy Shaidle runs Her new e-book Acoustic Ladyland has been called a "must read" by Mark Steyn.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Today's Tune: Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning (1964)

(Click on title to play video)

Charlton Heston: Ultimate Movie Star

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2008; 4:00 PM

He was the hawk.

He soared. In fact, everything about him soared. His shoulders soared, his cheekbones soared, his brows soared. Even his hair soared.

And for a good two decades, Charlton Heston, who died Saturday at 83, was the ultimate American movie star. In a time when method actors and ethnic faces were gradually taking over, Heston remained the last of the ramrod straight, flinty, squinty, tough-as-old-hickory movie guys.

He and his producers and directors understood his appeal, and used it for maximum effect on the big technicolor screen. Rarely a doubter, never a coward, inconceivable as a shirker, he played men of granite virtue no matter the epoch. He played commanders, Biblical prophets, Jewish heroes, tough-as-nails cowpokes, calm aviators, last survivors, quarterbacks and a president or two.

Later in his life, he took that stance into politics, becoming president of the National Rifle Association just when anti-gun attitudes were reaching their peak. Pilloried and parodied, lampooned and bullied, he never relented, he never backed down, and in time it came to seem less an old star's trick of vanity than an act of political heroism. He endured, like Moses. He aged, like Moses. And the stone tablet he carried only had one commandment: Thou shalt be armed. It can even be said that if the Supreme Court in June finds a meaning in the Second Amendment consistent with NRA policy, that he will have died just short of the Promised Land -- like Moses.

Was he great actor? Many think not, and few would rank him with contemporaries like Brando, Dean, even Widmark or Wayne. But at the same time his talent was much underrated, as it frequently is for people who enjoy the blessed gift of great beauty. For the purposes of the movie industry in the '50s, at the height of its patriotism and Western-centrism, he was a perfect fit and always gave solid, professional work. Can anyone imagine either "The Ten Commandments" or "Ben-Hur" without him?

And he was in a number of first-rate and even a few great movies. His greatest film, "Touch of Evil," featured Heston as a Mexican narcotics detective, probably his biggest stretch and not really an outstanding performance. But he was invaluable in getting Universal to put up the money for Orson Welles' s great shaggy dog. Its greatness may be incidental to Heston's performance, but its existence certainly isn't incidental to his behind-the-scenes efforts.

Then there's "The Ten Commandments," such a perennial that even today, half a century after its creation, it gets a ritual primetime network unspooling. Nobody ever accused its director, Cecile B. DeMille of greatness; DeMille was more entrepreneur, logistics expert, visionary, and carny barker than true artist. And the movie he made remains a monument to kitsch, particularly the orgy sequence unleashed by Edward G. Robinson. (Now, would you go to an orgy hosted by Edward G. Robinson?) And DeMille's concept of Moses wasn't particularly deep either: he saw the great conduit between man and God as a kind of Mount Rushmore head, given life atop Heston's lanky frame and posed heroically against dramatic skies. The best performance in the picture was by Heston's hair, which grew into a lion's gray mane with Susan Sontag highlights (boy, was that scary!) But he functioned there as he did in "Ben-Hur" essentially as the rock upon which the church of giant '50s pop religiosio-amen-chorus moviemaking was built. He may not have really parted the Red Sea but he got millions to part with their bucks to the greater glory of the big studios and that was sermonizing Hollywood could understand.

It's easy to make fun of these two behemoths. Of the two, "Ben-Hur" is vastly the superior and again it's Heston's natural instincts for the heroic, as opposed to the pompous or the self-dramatizing, that help the movie to work so well. He mastered horse-team driving, no easy thing, for the still-classic chariot race, many people's choice for the best action sequence in movie history. He looked great in a toga, Roman armor and a Jewish robe, he was able to convey Judah Ben-Hur's suffering, anguish and heroism without overstating it, or fighting the scenery or giving the film an unsavory narcissistic center. In the end the movie stands for a certain kind of glory and grandeur that have passed from the scene and the screen, except in occasional nostalgic retro-wallows like "Gladiator."

Heston made a number of other extremely good films as well. His favorite was 1968's "Will Penny," a hardscrabble western with director Tom Gries, set in an anti-romantic west of hungry, starving people, inarticulate heroes who never saw the inside of a bathtub. I know it was his favorite film because he sent me a copy after we met at an NRA event many years later. And it was a great performance in a very good film, and it showed what he could do: Who could believe the same man could make you enter the private lives of Michaelangelo and Will Penny, genius with chisel and brush, good hand with frying pan, lariat and Winchester.

In fact, his later films let him be more actor and less icon. He was always pursuasive, except in the football movie, "Number One," where slow motion revealed that he lacked a professional athlete's grace and power; he was only big. But in "The Omega Man," "Soylent Green" and "The Last Hard Men," all humble B movies, he was extremely impressive (in "Soylent" he played a great scene with orgy-master Edward G. Robinson, another woefully underappreciated actor).

But his last great film was probably Sam Peckinpah's "Major Dundee," playing the title role as a Union officer in the Southwest who, short of men, recruits some Confederate cavalrymen (led by Richard Harris) to cross into Mexico in search of an Apache band raiding the frontier. It's got Peckinpah's native grit, insight into male violence, and sense of scrubby western reality, and Senta Berger in a completely ludicrous role as a European doctor (!) in a tiny Mexican village (Hollywood! Don't you love it?). But the real issue is Harris vs. Heston. Harris, desperate for attention, turns into a magnificently neurotic, self-dramatizing, deathwish-driven troubadour of Nineteenth Century "honor," while Heston is stuck in the thankless role as the practical military guy with a hard problem to solve. In other words, Harris is Doc Holiday, poor Chuck the dreary Wyatt Earp. Interpretations will vary, possibly driven by political considerations, and maybe I'm in the bag for the big guy, but I give it to Chuck on points in the late rounds.

One of his earliest films was a noir entitled "Dark City," but his face and frame were entirely too free of neurosis for the world of film noir. In almost no time, he moved to center ring roles -- "The Greatest Show on Earth," as a circus boss in 1952, for DeMille. By 1953 , he was Buffalo Bill Cody in "Pony Express," his first iconic role. It just seemed to get better and better and certainly by the time of "The Ten Commandments" he had arrived. That role also cemented him in place as Mr. Monument to the Great Western Way.

If you pine for some hint of scandal or even minor weakness, Heston's life isn't the place to look. He married early (to Lydia Clarke) stayed married, had kids and seemed never to make the gossips.

In his private life, he was given to follow that strange calling that is half public service and half self-aggrandizement with the distinction frequently blurred. He was six-term president of the Screen Actors Guild, an early celebrity marcher in the civil rights crusade, and his beloved status in Tinsel Town was certainly validated when he received the Academy Awards' Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1977.

Why then, it must be asked, did he take the leadership of the NRA, never the most popular of lobbying outfits in Washington? One cynical explanation is that the old star was looking for an audience that would treat him as he had been treated in the late '50s and early '60s, almost as a god.

President Reagan with Charlton Heston at a meeting with the Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities in the cabinet room. 6/15/81.

But the abuse he took! The anger he generated. The fury he absorbed from a Hollywood and a critical community that were turning ever more liberal in the wake of the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Good Lord, he didn't need that at all.

The only answer can be: he believed. His had to have been a ramrod sense of the Second Amendment and he never varied from it. Hate his politics or love them, you have to say: There was a man.

When I met him at that NRA event (I am a member; he had read some of my novels), I was disappointed. He was -- no other word will do -- old. He had an old man's stooped posture and an extremely tentative way of speaking, as if clarity were an issue. His features, once so mythic, now seemed fragile, draped with a loose parchment of delicate, spotted skin. He didn't walk so much as shuffle, as if he were already wearing those hospital paper shoes; it was as if he had a walker with an oxygen tank attached.

We exchanged cordialities and banalities (can't remember a word of it), and then it was time for him to address the crowd. He shuffled slowly into the big room, and the spotlight came on him, and it was as if with each step he tossed off a decade. His shuffle became a stride and then almost a strut. His posture went from the question mark of age to the exclamation point of youth. His lungs filled, revealing the full breadth of his wide shoulders. He neck turned iron, his chin came aloft, his vision sharpened and the years just fell away like leaves. When he spoke he boomed in Moses' triumphant baritones, delivering the Tablets to the believers.

I thought: Good for Chuck. Magnificent to the end.