The Wall St. Journal has a good editorial, "The Van Gogh Murder", which explores the implications of the brutal slaying of Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh, who was shot, stabbed an almost decapitated by a radical Muslm assailant in the streets of Amsterdam. His crime: making a short film that criticized Islam's treatment of women.
Partly motivated by an understandable desire not to inadvertently fuel xenophobia, Europe's elites have for too long played down the problems posed by radical elements within Europe's large Muslim community. Even as Muslim demonstrators called for the death of Jews right in the streets of Amsterdam, Paris and elsewhere, the public hardly took notice.
One might argue that this is the price a liberal society has to pay for its freedom: tolerance of the intolerable. But in Europe, tolerance is selective. Most countries have tough laws against hate speech and neo-Nazis are arrested for similar offenses. The police detained about 20 people in The Hague for chanting nationalist and anti-Muslim slurs after Mr. van Gogh's murder.
Of course, Muslims in Europe actually turning to terrorism are a tiny minority. But as Ms. Hirsi Ali said, Islamic terror can thrive there because "it is embedded in a big family of equal-minded Muslims." Dutch security services estimate that "only" about 5% of the country's Muslim community is "radical." Given that one million Muslims live in the country, that's about 50,000 people.
Europe's Muslim leaders are guilty of silence. Muslim groups in France organized thousands to protest the law against wearing headscarves in schools. No such demonstrations on a comparable scale have taken place in France, or elsewhere in the world for that matter, to condemn Islamic terror. Muslims who oppose terror and embrace liberal values have to stand up and be counted.
UPDATE:Daniel Pipes emphasizes that the Van Gogh murder was indeed a wake-up call to liberal Dutch society:
The reason for this lies in the identity of the victim and the nature of the crime. He was Theo van Gogh, 47, a well-known radical libertarian, a filmmaker, television producer, talk show host, newspaper columnist, and all-around mischief-maker who enjoyed the distinction of being a relative of one of Holland's most renowned artists, Vincent van Gogh. In recent years, Theo garnered attention by critiquing Islam (in a 2003 book Allah Knows Best and a 2004 film Submission).
That a non-Muslim critic of Islam was ritually murdered for artistically expressing his views was something without precedent, not just in Holland but anywhere in the West. Dutch revulsion at the deed shook the deep complacency of what is perhaps the world's most tolerant society. The immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, one of the five persons threatened, publicly rued the country's having long ignored the presence of radical Islam. "For too long we have said we had a multicultural society and everyone would simply find each other. We were too naïve in thinking people would exist in society together."
Jozias van Aartsen, parliamentary leader of the VVD party, went further, warning that "jihad has come to the Netherlands and a small group of jihadist terrorists is attacking the principles of our country. These people don't want to change our society, they want to destroy it."
The vast majority of mainstream, tolerant Muslims must not allow the radicals to set the agenda. If people can take to the streets to protest over Iraq, Palestine or headscarf bans, surely they can also express outrage over murder committed in the name of their faith?
ANOTHER UPDATE: It's all about the women. Roger L. Simon has a roundup of illuminating tidbits.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE:This is more like it: "Some 20,000 people took to the streets in the western German city of Cologne on Sunday, waving German and Turkish flags, to protest against the use of violence in the name of Islam." Via Roger L. Simon.
AND ANOTHER: Is Europe finally waking up? Let's hope. Is it too late? Let's hope not.
Remember the film Sliding Doors? It starred Gwyneth Paltrow as a woman whose life can go in one of two very different directions, depending on whether the subway doors slide shut before or after she can jump aboard. And this being a romantic fantasy, we get to see what happens in both scenarios.
Real life does not afford us such a luxury, least of all with elections. However, the Washington Post has given us an opportunity to glimpse both timelines with two parallel essays:
Both essays are thoughtful pieces that do not sugarcoat the consequences of Tuesday's vote, but paint a likely picture of what will happen in terms of tone and policy. Highly recommended. And no fair reading only the one for your candidate!
On November 2, Americans will step inside the voting booth and determine the direction of the country, not just for the next four years, but possibly for the next century and beyond. If you think I am being dramatic and overstating the case, ask yourself whether you would rather be living in a world where a defiant Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq and was on his way to getting his hands on nuclear weapons. Because that's the world we'd be living in if my candidate Al Gore had won in 2000. Decisions - even ones we are blase about at the time - have serious consequences and reverberate through history. And no one is blase this time around.
Whether you agree with Bush's foreign policy moves or not, the fall of Saddam was an inflection point in history, just as 9/11 was. The door of Middle East politics slides closed (or open) and a new timeline emerges, one that is unlikely to ever converge with the one left behind on the other side of the door. I happen to think that, in spite of the hardships our military and the Iraqi people have faced in the aftermath, the world is extremely fortunate that Saddam Hussein is gone. Whether he is re-elected or not, Bush deserves a place in history beside Ronald Reagan for facing down tyranny and liberating millions of people, not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan. But I recognize that there are people of equal and honest conviction who would vehemently disagree with that perpsective.
History will render a more definitive verdict some years from now. But in the meantime we all have a train to catch.
Over the July 4th weekend, I finally got around to seeing Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11". Whatever you may think of the film or its director, it's clearly a phenomenon, and is energizing the Democratic base as it gears up for the home stretch in its push to oust Bush. The film covers a lot of important ground, but also has many gaps, about which more presently.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is many things a good film should be: entertaining, intriguing and moving. It has its agenda, but that's to be expected, since all documentaries have a point of view. Of course, it's totally one-sided and manipulative, but that was expected as well; after all, it's Mikey's world, we're just living in it for two hours. Viewing it as a satirical polemic that takes shots at those in power - a time-honored American tradition - I quite enjoyed it. Moore effectively uses pacing, editing, musical cues and pop-culture references to power his narrative and keep it engaging. For example, he incorporates clever nods to '60s TV programs like "Bonanza" and "Dragnet"; elsewhere, he rapidly intercuts back-to-back statements by various members of the Bush administration, hyping the threat of Saddam Hussein and his WMD.
The film occasionally gets bogged down in minutiae, and the manner in which Moore attempts to connect all the dots is often vague and inconclusive, relying on innuendo or in some cases Moore himself to take cheap shots or let questions hang with no one to refute them. To sum up the premise: George W. Bush is a lazy, spoiled rich kid who is incapable of thinking for himself, and who relied on his family connections to steal the 2000 election. He later used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for curtailing civil rights and whipping up paranoia and fear, then launched an imperialist war for oil Afghanistan and Iraq, all of which served as a smokescreen to divert attention from his too-cozy business relationship with the Saudis, including the bin Laden family itself. In the process, many Americans, Afghans and Iraqis died or were maimed in a pointless and useless war, all for the sake of enriching Bush's wealthy friends in corporations such as Halliburton.
I won't go on at length here about the way Moore plays fast and loose with the facts. Fans of the film won't really care, any more than Rush's dittoheads are interested in anxiously perusing the "Flush Rush Quarterly" to determine whether their hero is distorting the record. It has become something of a parlor game among Moore's critics to deconstruct the film scene by scene and provide rebuttals to the presentation. Spinsanity offers an excellent analysis of the problematic aspects of the film, in its usual straightforward style. And you may want to read Dave Kopel's article cataloguing "The 56 Deceits of Fahrenheit 9/11". You can find it and other resources like it at MooreLies.com and MooreWatch.com, two of the more popular sites debunking Moore. One quick example will suffice: there is the clip of Bush on the golf course, denouncing terrorism and then insouciantly returning to his golf game. Kopel's article includes a reference that points out that "...a check of the raw tape reveals the President is talking about an attack against Israel, carried out by a Palestinian suicide bomber." Kopel documents that the movie is filled with bits like this: snippets taken out of context that present a picture of the Bush crew as lazy, incompetent, uncaring or downright devious. Of course, if you already see them that way Moore's treatment just confirms what you already knew. And of course, that is the intention here.
I have not yet seen Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11", but I plan to, as I expect many people will, just to get Moore's take on the War on Terror. For better or worse, Moore's much-hyped film will inform much of the political discussion this summer. Elsewhere, it has been suggested that the film could cause an unexpected pro-Bush backlash, in the same way that the excesses of the Wellstone memorial service were linked to a surge of support for the Republicans in the 2002 elections.
Christopher Hitchens has seen Moore's film. And like Moore, he is an opinionated man of the left. Unlike Moore, he is exceedingly well-informed about the history, culture and politics of places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, he supported the Iraq war, all of which makes him the perfect foil for Moore. And he has a few things to say about the film and about Moore in a new essay in Slate: "Unfahrenheit 9/11".
One of the many problems with the American left, and indeed of the American left, has been its image and self-image as something rather too solemn, mirthless, herbivorous, dull, monochrome, righteous, and boring. How many times, in my old days at The Nation magazine, did I hear wistful and semienvious ruminations? Where was the radical Firing Line show? Who will be our Rush Limbaugh? I used privately to hope that the emphasis, if the comrades ever got around to it, would be on the first of those and not the second. But the meetings themselves were so mind-numbing and lugubrious that I thought the danger of success on either front was infinitely slight.
Nonetheless, it seems that an answer to this long-felt need is finally beginning to emerge. I exempt Al Franken's unintentionally funny Air America network, to which I gave a couple of interviews in its early days. There, one could hear the reassuring noise of collapsing scenery and tripped-over wires and be reminded once again that correct politics and smooth media presentation are not even distant cousins. With Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, however, an entirely new note has been struck. Here we glimpse a possible fusion between the turgid routines of MoveOn.org and the filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl.
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
And that's just the warm-up. By all means see the film. But don't miss what Hitchens has to say about it and its maker.
UPDATE: Hitchens is tough enough on Michael Moore, but now Allah is on his case, letting us know that even mainstream Democratic leaders are giving Moore's film a big thumbs up.
ANOTHER UPDATE: My own review of Fahrenheit 9/11 is now up and can be found here.
Unconventional Wisdom has some intriguing thoughts on how Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" could have an impact on the upcoming presidential election similar to the effect the Paul Wellstone Memorial-turned-rally had in the 2002 Minnesota midterm elections:
This film will be the equivalent of the memorial service for Paul Wellstone, which the left made the fatal mistake of turning into a giant anti-Republican political rally weeks before the 2002 election. It turned the tide against Democrats not only in Minnesota but nationally, as Americans who watched it on cable were appalled by the behavior of the attendees and the speakers.
I think this analysis is dead-on. I live in Minnesota (which over the past decade has shaded from blue to purple) and watched the Wellstone memorial service live (I had been a two-time Wellstone voter and was deeply saddened at his death). But as the memorial service wore on, I was astonished at the partisan tone: not only Rick Kahn, Wellstone's campaign treasurer who told Republicans that they should back Wellstone's replacement out of respect, but also Democratic leaders like Tom Harkin who also turned it into a rally, urging his audience to "win it for Paul". People across the board, even those who had been Wellstone supporters, were turned off by the partisan turn the service took. Independent governor Jesse Ventura walked out in disgust.
Similarly, liberals look to Michael Moore to expose the wrongdoings of the Bush admininstration, but Moore's reputation is such that he can no longer be seen merely as a documentary film-maker; everyone knows he is viscerally opposed to Bush and everything he stands for prior to walking in the theater. The film's audience will consist of three segments: 1) The amen choir of Bush-haters who want to see Moore present "the truth" about W. and his use of war fever to suspend our civil rights; 2) Bush supporters, who want to see how Moore is depicting their man and the extent to which he distorts the record; 3) Those who enjoy Moore's humor and think of him as an amusing political agent-provocateur.
The first and second groups won't change their opinions as a result of viewing the film, but the third group may well be appalled at what they see as over-the-top Bush-bashing, and it may result in unintended consequences in the form of a sympathetic backlash among swing voters in favor of Bush. At the very least, it is likely to cause people to pay attention to partisan rhetoric they had previously dismissed as noise.
Axis of Weasels excerpts a few choice quotes from Joe Scarborough's interview with John Rhys-Davies, known to millions for his portrayal of the dwarf Gimli in "The Lord of the Rings". Topics include France, Iraq and Michael Moore.
If the name Robert A. Heinlein doesn't mean anything to you, you obviously didn't grow up during the '60s. Heinlein was considered the "Dean of science fiction writers". His best-known book is Stranger in a Strange Land, the story of a human raised by Martians who returns to Earth and is caught up in the mother of all culture shock. It became an unlikely cult classic with the '60s counterculture, which surprised no one more than Heinlein. Another of his novels, Starship Troopers, was made into a gory (and schlocky) 1997 action film directed by Paul Verhoeven, but the story of a militaristic earth fighting back fiercely and defiantly against a relentless enemy seems eerily familiar in post-9/11 America.
I recently came across a blog dedicated to Heinlein, his work, and his ideas, which were a radical mix of right-wing libertarian philosophy and '60s free love. A startling author because he didn't fit any preconceived mold. Here's an excerpt from one of the posts on the blog that sums up the effect Heinlein had on his unsuspecting readers:
More than anyone else, Heinlein is responsible for my evolution from a liberal Democrat into a libertarian. It didn't happen all at once, of course. I read his books because I enjoyed them, but was disturbed by some of the radical ideas. I tried to not read any more, but doggone it, the first one was so much fun, I had to pick up another. Then another.
I made a pact with myself: I would read every single thing the man wrote, but I would not let them change my mind about anything. Nosiree. I was a liberal and I knew that was the right position because anything not liberal was conservative, and conservatives were bigots, they wanted to keep the work class down and were pro war.
So I read and enjoyed. After Heinlein died, I could only re-read his stuff. I began to admit to myself that a lot of what he was saying made sense. He certainly didn't seem like the hateful conservative monster my parents warned me about. I read an interview in which Heinlein described himself as essentially a libertarian.