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Friday, March 31, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Errol Louis: Blacks need a culture war

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Errol Louis: Blacks need a culture warBlacks need a culture war

The 2006 edition of "The State of Black America," published every year by the National Urban League, arrived this week to little fanfare, and has been duly ignored by most mainstream press outlets. The actual news contained in the 250-page parade of charts, tables, essays and factoids amounts to the six words that most people already knew would capture the state of Black America this year: Not so great, could be better.

The Urban League chief Marc Morial and other reporters on the "State of Black America" - including Prof. Ronald Mincy of Columbia University and Tavis Smiley, whose "Covenant With Black America" recently hit The New York Times best-seller list - should consider an alternative to the annual recital of statistics and essays on inequality and other social ills afflicting black folk.

What we need is a culture war.

Specifically, we need aggressive, concerted action by members and institutions of the respectable black middle class to do open combat against the rise of an ancient enemy: a bold, seductive street culture that exalts lawlessness, addiction and anti-family behavior like pimping, sexual promiscuity, ignorance and personal selfishness.

Smiley and civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson tend to gloss over a split that has run through black culture for more than a century: the need to choose between the narcissistic pursuit of short-term pleasure and the plodding but rewarding business of building strong families and communities, where learning is sacred and the needs of the next generation trump the cravings of the moment.

In other words, black Americans need to talk more about culture. We need to fight over it.

My former professor, Orlando Patterson of Harvard, recently weighed in on the topic in The New York Times, scolding black leaders for "the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes - its distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior of its members - and the relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing."

Patterson, citing the fieldwork of one of his students, found structural inequality aggravated by an implicit acceptance within black communities of a lot of the joblessness, criminality and other negatives that lie behind the statistics.

"What sociologists call the 'cool-pose culture' of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up," Patterson wrote. "For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture."

That mirage of street life tempts countless kids to discard the virtues of education, hard work and personal decency.

More teachers, preachers, politicians, journalists and other black Americans with a pulpit need to enlist in the battle against the self-defeating lure of street culture. That means putting off the usual run of statistics and studies that analyze social inequality in minute detail, and doing upfront combat against The Big Lie pumped out hour after hour by Hollywood, Madison Avenue, radio stations, the recording industry and other purveyors of vulgarity and irresponsibility.

A few leaders, like the Rev. Eugene Rivers in Boston and my colleague Stanley Crouch, have already taken up the fight in earnest. But they can't do it alone.

All we are saying is give war a chance.

Originally published on March 31, 200

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Africa"s leading lady

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Africa"s leading ladyAfrica’s leading lady

When Charles Taylor, the ex-Liberian thug president, was arrested in Nigeria trying to escape the clutches of international law, he was in a car with 110-pound bags of embezzled money. Well, he was not traveling light.

Taylor had risen to power after seven years of civil war, had won an election with 75% of the vote and had casually reduced his country to a pauper state. He is accused of starting conflicts in four other African states and encouraging the chopping off of hands, feet, lips and noses in Sierra Leone so that the terrified population would not hinder the sale of stolen diamonds.

Taylor is one of those African butchers who could have modeled himself on King Leopold II, the 19th-century Belgian king. Leopold's colonial policies in the Congo resulted in countless slaughters and many mutilations in the interest of producing a profitable rubber crop.

Leopold became a pariah among European courts, but naturally black-faced variations in Africa have wielded iron-fisted power without compunction, worrying only about being overthrown by some ambitious fellow monster in the military. If given the time, these monsters have fled to another African country, or to the Arab states, or even to the French Riviera, where they have been able to cool out and impress everyone with their pilfered riches.

As the Taylor case has proven, that trend in African politics may be coming to a screeching halt. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female president in all of Africa, had requested that Nigeria hand over Taylor to the authorities in Sierra Leone, where he would have to face charges of individual butchery, mutilation and crimes against humanity.

African women are coming to the fore, trying to right all of the wrongs put and held in place by a succession of brutal and corrupt African men. African justice has been as porous as Swiss cheese for more than 40 years and the African people have suffered enormously while black Americans in or out of elected office, in or out of the civil rights establishment, have either ignored the horrors wrought upon the people or have figured out ways to blame it all on others.

The women of Africa are more interested in dealing with the facts than maintaining a cosmetic front of innocence. In a number of places across Africa, we see women rooting out corruption and conceiving laws that will bring them closer to a standard of human equality.

Interestingly, Oprah Winfrey, who keeps turning up, has been a model. Winfrey has inspired African women to rebel against rape and kidnap, to defy misogynistic laws and to face up to the ravages of AIDS.

It is both sobering and exciting to realize that American women, having been taught much by the civil rights movement, can inspire African women by example, and that elected or appointed African officials can lead the way through the ingrained ignorance, poverty and disease that block human fulfillment. Such human force explains the mystery of African optimism.

Originally published on March 29, 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why We Fight: Documentary Sends Warning to Congress

Why We Fight: Documentary Sends Warning to CongressPublished on Thursday, March 23, 2006 by the Miami Herald
Documentary Sends Warning to Congress
by Walter Cronkite


When young Anh Duong fled war-torn Saigon in 1973, she never imagined she'd grow up one day to make bombs for the U.S. military. She was just a child whose passage to safety in the United States she credits to ''a thirst for freedom'' and ``the sacrifice of other people.''

In the important new documentary film Why We Fight, Duong's remarkable saga is told alongside the stories of a number of everyday people working for America's defense. From a wide-eyed young recruit to the pilots who launched the opening strike of Operation Iraqi Freedom to a New York policeman who lost his son on 9/11, the film is a scrapbook of the American family at a time of war, trapped in a tragedy of history repeating.

Today, Duong is an explosives expert employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Station at Indian Head, Md. Credited with the development of a powerful bunker-buster used in Afghanistan and Iraq, she proudly recounts her rise from refugee to ``defense technician.''

''I do remember the desperation,'' Duong recalls, the obvious sunshine in her nature battling the anguish of memories.

``A lot of South Vietnamese felt that the Americans had left them to fend for themselves. That in the end, America deliberately withdrew all the support.''

Though the pain of betrayal is not lost on her, there is an irony in her path from war victim to war professional. Though Duong's tale is a stirring immigrant success story, watching the movie's scenes of Saigon's fall at a time when we are facing the withdrawal question in Iraq gave me a profound sense of déj vu.

Not unlike the Vietnam quagmire on which I reported in 1968, we are today presented with the Iraq quagmire. The threat of world communism has been replaced by international terror as a pretext for another misbegotten and mismanaged war, but the falsehoods, broken promises and withering national faith are too familiar.

Now, as then, with each further escalation, we come closer to the brink of cosmic disaster. A recent poll revealed that three-fourths of U.S. troops serving in Iraq want full withdrawal, one-fourth immediately. Despite the executive's stubborn optimism, two-thirds of the public now favor withdrawal.

Yet in Congress, such voices are the minority.

In my February 1968 broadcast, I called the position of Vietnam a stalemate.

I'm not sure ''stalemate'' fits the U.S. military's loose footing in the sands of Iraq, but the need to cut losses does. In the wake of the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, Shiites and Sunnis now clash across the region. Our men and women in uniform face the task of trying to stave off a civil war when their very presence as an occupying force more often than not fuels the violence and represents an obstacle to Shiite and Sunni reconciliation.

As I stated in relation to Vietnam, the only rational way out is to proceed not as victors but as an honorable people who tried to defend democracy the best they could. Recently, I suggested that in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina there was an opportunity to withdraw from Iraq and still maintain our sense of honor. We had an urgent need to redirect our resources to the aid of our communities and people stricken by the devastation of the great storm. Almost no one on Capitol Hill was listening.

Why We Fight should be required viewing for Americans but even more for those on Capitol Hill. The film sends a chilling warning that should not be ignored by Congress and our executive branch.

Walter Cronkite is a former anchorman for CBS News.

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Separate & unequal

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Separate & unequalSeparate & unequal

It seems that some of us are committing intellectual suicide. It is undeclared and unrecognized by its victims, men of the black lower class. By contrast, both black women and the black middle class seem to be doing fine, better and better, in fact.

Recognition of this phenomenon is widespread. All this week I received telephone calls and spoke with people from across the country who were disturbed by recent studies showing that lower-class black men are falling further and further behind everyone in society, including Hispanics. Three-quarters of black high school dropouts are suffering from unemployment and a lack of job skills. The unemployment figures are much higher than for their white and Hispanic counterparts.

One person said to me that there is no need to be embarrassed or especially upset because what is going on can easily be explained - or at least understood. The black lower class is not only separated from America as a whole, it is also separated from those principles that have helped the black middle class do the most that it could for itself.

Once upon a time, black lower class did not mean welfare dependents, teenage mothers and young men who had served time before they were in their mid-20s. It once meant blue-collar workers, almost all of whom agreed that knowledge would result in freedom, while ignorance would result in slavery.

At that time, those who were in the black middle class usually lived in the black community, meaning that children had flesh-and-blood models of success. Desegregation, however, meant that black middle-class people moved to the suburbs and other places.

So, as one black man who works for Princeton University says, "You cannot be surprised if a population of young men who live on media images fail to believe in books if most of what they see and can relate to comes from hip-hop fantasies and professional athletes."

What it amounts to is that certain principles that were in place at least since the end of slavery have eroded.

Originally, perhaps because there was once such resistance to black education, achieving an education became a high cultural goal. Taking care of one's family and staying out of jail were also high achievements.

But with the fall of shame and the emergence of a cultural relativity that would seem to accept almost any kind of behavior, things have gone badly for black males. Once the pimp or the hustler was no longer thought of as slime and started to be seen as just another guy working his way through capitalism, black lower-class values had reached the bottom.

Now that we are there, it is important to understand that the job ahead for our society is not introducing something new but reasserting a set of survival principles based on excellence, which once had a strong position and can have one again.

Originally published on March 23, 2006

Monday, March 20, 2006

United Press International - Security & Terrorism - Film warns of military-industrial complex

United Press International - Security & Terrorism - Film warns of military-industrial complexFilm warns of military-industrial complex

By BURGESS EVERETT

WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- In his new documentary, "Why We Fight," director Eugene Jarecki examines the growth of the United States' military-industrial complex from after World War II up to today's controversial war in Iraq.

"Back then, the reasons (for war) were clear -- fascism, genocide, oppression," Jarecki, who also directed 2002's "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," says on the movie's Web site. "Today, if you ask people why we are fighting in Iraq, I think the reasons are far less clear."

The movie, the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, focuses on the topics of preemption, the industry of war and global economic colonialism by the United States. The documentary uses no real narrator; instead telling a story through interviews with bomber pilots, government employees, politicians and average American citizens in 30 states as it unveils a war-dependent U.S. culture.

The film opens with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 farewell speech, in which he predicted the problems a permanently militarized United States would have.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," Eisenhower said in the speech, often championed by Jarecki throughout the film. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

From there, Jarecki interviews the pilots who dropped the first bombs on Iraq in 2003, a Vietnamese war survivor turned tactical weapons expert and recounts the tale of Wilton Sekzer, a retired New York City policeman who lost his son in the Sept. 11, 2001 mega-terror attacks. After the attacks, Sekzer contacted the armed forces, and eventually got his son's name on a bomb that later fell on Iraq.

After President George W. Bush confirmed that Iraq had played no part in the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Sekzer felt exploited for his patriotism.

"Am I sorry I asked for my son's name to be put on the bomb?" Sekzer muses. "No, because I acted under the conditions at the time. Was it wrong? Yeah, it was wrong, but I didn't know that."

Rather than using the heavy-handed approach that another documentary film-maker Michael Moore took in "Fahrenheit 9/11," Jarecki stays behind-the-scenes throughout the movie, allowing his interviewees to do the talking. Though Jarecki maintains he interviewed a conservative majority, it would be a lie to say "Why We Fight" doesn't take a liberal slant. Despite the biased angle, conservative voices receive an opportunity to comment on the film's issues, most notably military preemption.

"What's the big fuss about preemption?" says former Defense Department official and neo-conservative Richard Perle. "You'd shoot first if someone was planning to shoot you right?"

The movie separates itself from simple anti-Bush critiques by offering a broader cultural study, both historically and geographically. An especially powerful segment of the film shows a world map that is then chronologically peppered with U.S. military conflicts from World War II until the present.

The United States' support of and then subsequent hostility towards foreign nations is also a talking point, punctuated by the image of current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983.

In contrast to the critiques against preemption and the United States' economic war machine is the story of George Solomon, a 23-year-old who signs up to be an army pilot after his mother dies. Solomon represents the thousands of people who turn to the military as the answer for their life's complications.

"These three problems: my mother's death, my financial hardship and my inability to complete my education," Solomon says. "All of these problems are gonna be solved by my enlistment in the military."

If Eisenhower is the hero in "Why We Fight," the villain must be Vice President Dick Cheney, who is identified as a former weapons contractor and personifies the idea of war as a business. Cheney's economic impact on the military is thoroughly criticized by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is interrupted while panning Cheney on-camera by a phone call from the vice president himself.

While at times the movie seems to only raise more questions rather than answers, one strong message is for the United States to remember its political and military history. Scattering the film's 98 minutes are quotes from Presidents George Washington and Eisenhower that warn of the dangers of a U.S. permanent military presence. Using techniques like this, Jarecki sends a clear message the United States must avoid becoming what author Gore Vidal calls the "United States of Amnesia."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: A must-see view into New York's painful history

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: A must-see view into New York's painful historyA must-see view into New York's painful history

While many were undoubtedly surprised last October by an entire exhibit at the New-York Historical Society devoted to slavery in this state, they shouldn't have been. After all, a mile-long common grave was unearthed downtown in 1991 and became known as "the African Burial Ground." Historians believe as many as 15,000 slaves were buried there. Those thousands of anonymous downtown cadavers formed a temple of bones, enshrined evidence of New York's involvement in what has become known as "the peculiar institution."

Yes, there was slavery up here in the wonderful North just like there was in the terrible South. The "Slavery in New York" exhibit - already viewed by more than 60,000 students from more than 1,000 schools and now extended until March 26 - should not be missed. Understanding American slavery is essential to understanding American history and American issues.

It all comes down to a single fact: Black people were sold as work animals here from the early 1600s until 1827. They were chattel slaves for more than 150 years before the formation of the United States. At the time of the Revolutionary War there were more slaves in New York than anywhere other than a selling hub in South Carolina.

Slaves were a contradiction to the country's system of values. Opposed by determined Christians, who believed that all of mankind began in Eden, slavery became an ever hotter issue until Abraham Lincoln became President, the Civil War broke out and the plantation system was deservedly brought down in blood, dust and flame.

The New-York Historical Society tells the story of slavery in New York across 200 years, including such objects as a daguerreotype of a slave named Caesar who outlived three masters and a listing of the first 11 Africans brought to New York as slaves.

"Slavery in New York" has its positive moments, including the depiction of the American abolition movement, as full of honor and bravery as any other great American story. There is plenty to be learned here about those people, whether black or white, who stood up against the bloody constraints of a system that failed to acknowledge the humanity of the enslaved.

This struggle clarifies the importance of self-criticism to Western civilization and shows how the American people can shift - sometimes after a long struggle - from superstitions such as racism to enlightened policies.

The society's director of communications, Laura Washington, says that before this exhibit, "There was no formal teaching of the history of slavery in New York. That is now changing, and the enrichment of public education is one of the great goals of any museum."

The exhibit is sobering in its tragic dimensions and inspiring in its focus on those New York men and women who called for the liberation of the slave population. Those abolitionists foreshadowed what became the internationally recognized spirit of New York: a force focused as much on freedom as anything else.

The New-York Historical Society, at Central Park West and 77th St., can be contacted at (212) 873-3400.

Originally published on March 13, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: A must-see view into New York's painful history

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: A must-see view into New York's painful historyA must-see view into New York's painful history

While many were undoubtedly surprised last October by an entire exhibit at the New-York Historical Society devoted to slavery in this state, they shouldn't have been. After all, a mile-long common grave was unearthed downtown in 1991 and became known as "the African Burial Ground." Historians believe as many as 15,000 slaves were buried there. Those thousands of anonymous downtown cadavers formed a temple of bones, enshrined evidence of New York's involvement in what has become known as "the peculiar institution."

Yes, there was slavery up here in the wonderful North just like there was in the terrible South. The "Slavery in New York" exhibit - already viewed by more than 60,000 students from more than 1,000 schools and now extended until March 26 - should not be missed. Understanding American slavery is essential to understanding American history and American issues.

It all comes down to a single fact: Black people were sold as work animals here from the early 1600s until 1827. They were chattel slaves for more than 150 years before the formation of the United States. At the time of the Revolutionary War there were more slaves in New York than anywhere other than a selling hub in South Carolina.

Slaves were a contradiction to the country's system of values. Opposed by determined Christians, who believed that all of mankind began in Eden, slavery became an ever hotter issue until Abraham Lincoln became President, the Civil War broke out and the plantation system was deservedly brought down in blood, dust and flame.

The New-York Historical Society tells the story of slavery in New York across 200 years, including such objects as a daguerreotype of a slave named Caesar who outlived three masters and a listing of the first 11 Africans brought to New York as slaves.

"Slavery in New York" has its positive moments, including the depiction of the American abolition movement, as full of honor and bravery as any other great American story. There is plenty to be learned here about those people, whether black or white, who stood up against the bloody constraints of a system that failed to acknowledge the humanity of the enslaved.

This struggle clarifies the importance of self-criticism to Western civilization and shows how the American people can shift - sometimes after a long struggle - from superstitions such as racism to enlightened policies.

The society's director of communications, Laura Washington, says that before this exhibit, "There was no formal teaching of the history of slavery in New York. That is now changing, and the enrichment of public education is one of the great goals of any museum."

The exhibit is sobering in its tragic dimensions and inspiring in its focus on those New York men and women who called for the liberation of the slave population. Those abolitionists foreshadowed what became the internationally recognized spirit of New York: a force focused as much on freedom as anything else.

The New-York Historical Society, at Central Park West and 77th St., can be contacted at (212) 873-3400.

Originally published on March 13, 2006

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Simmering GOP revolt stoked by ports flap

Simmering GOP revolt stoked by ports flapSimmering GOP revolt stoked by ports flap
- Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Washington -- The Republican rebellion that President Bush smacked into with the Dubai ports deal was the tip of an iceberg of Republican discontent that is much deeper and more dangerous to the White House than a talk radio tempest over Arabs running U.S. ports.

A Republican pushback on Capitol Hill and smoldering conservative dissatisfaction have already killed not just the ports deal but key elements of Bush's domestic agenda, and threaten GOP control of Congress if unhappy conservatives sit out the November midterm elections.

The apostasy in some quarters runs to heretofore unthinkable depths.

"If I had a choice and Bush were running today against (Democratic President) Bill Clinton, I'd vote for Bill Clinton," said Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan administration Treasury Department official whose book, "Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," is making the rounds of conservative think tanks and talk shows. "He was clearly a much better president in a great many ways that matter to me."

Bartlett may lie at the extreme, but his critique taps into a strong undertow -- reflected in a sharp drop in Bush's support among his typically solid Republican base, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday.

"Bush's compassionate conservatism has morphed into big government conservatism, and that isn't what the base is looking for," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "The White House and the congressional leadership have got to reinvigorate the Republican base. In off-year elections ... if your base isn't energized, particularly in a relatively evenly divided electorate, you've got more problems than you think you have."

Any significant drop in GOP turnout in the November midterms -- when the party in power is historically weak -- could prove disastrous for Republicans.

A Democratic takeover of either the House or the Senate would expose Republicans to a nightmare scenario: loss of control over policymaking and relentless congressional investigations of the White House that would consume the rest of Bush's presidency and damage Republican presidential prospects in 2008.

"Republicans are in a deep funk," said Marshall Wittman, a former aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., now at the centrist Democratic Progressive Policy Institute. "They're going to have to send out doses of Prozac in the (Republican National Committee) direct-mail pieces."

Whither the base?

The entire House and a third of the Senate are up for grabs in just seven months. Democrats need a gain of six seats to win back control of the Senate and 15 seats to retake the House. Bush's election strategies have always hinged on a motivated conservative base.

"At the end of the day, the bulk of us are with the president and with the leadership, but that's because we don't have any other place to go," said Manuel Miranda, head of the conservative Third Branch Conference who helped kill Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. "We suppose they're doing the best they can, but we're all very unhappy."

Although the Iraq war is hurting Bush with all voters, the deeper conservative discontent is with the spectacular growth of spending during the last five years that rivals that of a famously free-spending Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson.

Frustration over spending now threatens to overshadow Bush's accomplishments that conservatives love: his first-term tax cuts and his nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

"I think it's the biggest reason our base is so disenchanted with Republicans right now," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. "The president has been great on tax cuts, and been great on a few issues, economic growth, pretty good on trade -- little hiccup on some steel tariffs there -- but I think most of us recognize that these tax cuts are increasingly difficult to defend politically because of the increase in spending."

Moving to stanch the damage, Bush called last week for Congress to grant him a line-item veto to prevent members from redirecting money in spending bills to their pet projects, a practice known as earmarking that has achieved notoriety under the GOP. The Congressional Research Service counted 15,877 earmarks in 2005, almost four times as many as in 1994, when Democrats last held a House majority.

What Bush didn't say is that he already has the power to eliminate 95 percent of these earmarks.

A Congressional Research Service report requested by Flake and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., found that most earmarks are slipped into committee reports but are not part of the legislation and not legally binding.

'We wish he'd use it'

"The president could instruct the federal agencies tomorrow not to fund any of them," Flake said. "The president has a lot more authority and control than he's willing to admit right now, and we wish he'd use it. That's something he could do right now, and it would engender just a ton of support among Republicans everywhere, and frankly Democrats.

"The indoor rain forest in Iowa -- there are things that are just as ugly as the bridge to nowhere," Flake said, referring to a pair of highly criticized earmarks. "He could simply instruct the agency, 'Don't fund that.' Believe me, I've had discussions. We've recommended it. We just can't get him to do it."

Many conservatives remain furious over the new prescription drug benefit in Medicare passed in 2003, the biggest entitlement expansion since Johnson created Medicare in 1965. It took effect at the start of this year.

"The one big strategic error -- which was a political error and an economic error of grand proportions -- was the prescription drug bill," Keene said.

Bush and the GOP leaders who rammed it through Congress hoped the drug benefit would neutralize health care as a political issue for Republicans. Instead it is proving an enormous liability. Its cost -- more than a trillion dollars over 10 years and more than the entire unfunded liability in Social Security -- angered conservatives, and it has backfired politically among seniors who typically turn out heavily in off-year elections. Even though seniors got an expensive new benefit, many complain that it is too confusing and offers too many choices, an idea Democrats have encouraged.

The drug benefit was the last straw for Bartlett. "That's not what conservatives and that's not what Republicans are supposed to do," he said. "They're not supposed to create massive new entitlement programs, and they did."

Conservatives contend Bush has never resisted spending, starting with the gigantic farm bill in 2001 and continuing with his failure to veto a single bill. Bush is the longest-serving president to do so since John Quincy Adams in 1829.

"There's a sense that Republicans are not the party of reforming government and ending big spending," Miranda said. "Although people gave the president a pass because of the war cost, there's a sense that there's just no principled approach to government spending."

Bartlett argues that government's growth under Bush will eventually force his tax cuts to be rolled back and leave conservatives with the worst of both worlds.

Last week, Senate Republicans unceremoniously ditched Bush's call to trim $65 billion in entitlement spending. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa also questioned the need for more health care tax breaks -- including the health savings account expansion that Bush highlighted in his State of the Union address.

Question of competence

White House handling of the Dubai ports deal also crystallized growing doubt among Republicans about what had been one of Bush's strong suits: competence. The ports deal added to the growing list of what many see as White House failures in planning for the Iraq occupation, pushing Social Security reform and responding to Hurricane Katrina.

"I've been astounded by Bush in his relationship with Republicans in Congress," Keene said. "In my lifetime, there has been no Republican president who has spent as much effort and as much time electing people of his own party to the Congress, or less time talking to them after they got there."

The Republicans in Congress also are reading the polls. The AP-Ipsos poll, for example, found Bush's job approval in March was at 37 percent, tied for his lowest rating. The president's approval among Republicans dropped from 83 percent last month to 74 percent in March.

While Republicans are starting to run away from Bush for the midterms, what may be more telling for the future of the party is the stance of Republican presidential contenders in 2008.

"In 1988, all Republicans ran as heirs to (President Ronald) Reagan," Wittman said. "It's becoming increasingly unlikely that candidates in 2008 will be running as heirs to Bush."

Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat - New York Times

Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat - New York TimesMarch 12, 2006
Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
and BERNARD E. TRAINOR

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.

But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq's bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line.

General Hamdani got little in the way of additional soldiers, and the grudging permission to blow up the bridge came too late. The Iraqis damaged only one of the two spans, and American soldiers soon began to stream across.

The episode was just one of many incidents, described in a classified United States military report, other documents and in interviews, that demonstrate how Mr. Hussein was so preoccupied about the threat from within his country that he crippled his military in fighting the threat from without.

Only one of his defenses — the Saddam Fedayeen — proved potent against the invaders. They later joined the insurgency still roiling Iraq, but that was largely by default, not design.

Ever vigilant about coups and fearful of revolt, Mr. Hussein was deeply distrustful of his own commanders and soldiers, the documents show.

He made crucial decisions himself, relied on his sons for military counsel and imposed security measures that had the effect of hobbling his forces. He did that in several ways:

¶The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense.

¶He put a general widely viewed as an incompetent drunkard in charge of the Special Republican Guard, entrusted to protect the capital, primarily because he was considered loyal.

¶Mr. Hussein micromanaged the war, not allowing commanders to move troops without permission from Baghdad and blocking communications among military leaders.

The Fedayeen's operations were not shared with leaders of conventional forces. Republican Guard divisions were not allowed to communicate with sister units. Commanders could not even get precise maps of terrain near the Baghdad airport because that would identify locations of the Iraqi leader's palaces.

Much of this material is included in a secret history prepared by the American military of how Mr. Hussein and his commanders fought their war. Posing as military historians, American analysts interrogated more than 110 Iraqi officials and military officers, treating some to lavish dinners to pry loose their secrets and questioning others in a detention center at the Baghdad airport or the Abu Ghraib prison. United States military officials view the accounts as credible because many were similar. In addition, more than 600 captured Iraqi documents were reviewed.

Overseen by the Joint Forces Command, an unclassified version of the study is to be made public soon. A classified version was prepared in April 2005. Titled "Iraqi Perspectives on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Major Combat Operations," the study shows that Mr. Hussein discounted the possibility of a full-scale American invasion.

"A few weeks before the attacks Saddam still thought the U.S. would not use ground forces," Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told American interrogators. "He thought they would not fight a ground war because it would be too costly to the Americans."

Despite the lopsided defeat his forces suffered during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Mr. Hussein did not see the United States as his primary adversary. His greater fear was a Shiite uprising, like the one that shook his government after the 1991 war.

His concern for the threats from within interfered with efforts to defend against an external enemy, as was evident during a previously unknown review of military planning in 1995. Taking a page out of the Russian playbook, Iraqi officers suggested a new strategy to defend the homeland. Just as Russia yielded territory to defeat Napoleon and later Hitler's invading army, Iraq would resist an invading army by conducting a fighting retreat. Well-armed Iraqi tribes would be like the Russian partisans. Armored formations, including the Republican Guard, would assume a more modest role.

Mr. Hussein rejected the recommendation. Arming local tribes was too risky for a government that lived in fear of a popular uprising.

While conventional military planning languished, Mr. Hussein's focus on internal threats led to an important innovation: creation of the Fedayeen paramilitary forces. Equipped with AK-47's, rocket propelled grenades and small-caliber weapons, one of their primary roles was to protect Baath Party headquarters and keep the Shiites at bay in the event of a rebellion until more heavily equipped Iraqi troops could crush them.

Controlled by Uday Hussein, a son of the Iraqi leader, the Fedayeen and other paramilitary forces were so vital to the survival of the government that they "drained manpower" that would otherwise have been used by Iraq's army, the classified report says.

Mr. Hussein was also worried about his neighbor to the east. Like the Bush administration, Mr. Hussein suspected Iran of developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Each year the Iraqi military conducted an exercise code-named Golden Falcon that focused on defense of the Iraq-Iran border.

The United States was seen as a lesser threat, mostly because Mr. Hussein believed that Washington could not accept significant casualties. In the 1991 war, the United States had no intention of taking Baghdad. President George H. W. Bush justified the restraint as prudent to avoid the pitfalls of occupying Iraq, but Mr. Hussein concluded that the United States was fearful of the military cost.

Mr. Hussein's main concern about a possible American military strike was that it might prompt the Shiites to take up arms against the government. "Saddam was concerned about internal unrest amongst the tribes before, during or after an attack by the U.S. on Baghdad," Mr. Aziz told his interrogators. Other members of Mr. Hussein's inner circle thought that if the Americans attacked, they would do no more than conduct an intense bombing campaign and seize the southern oil fields.

Steps to Avoid War

Mr. Hussein did take some steps to avoid provoking war, though. While diplomatic efforts by France, Germany and Russia were under way to avert war, he rejected proposals to mine the Persian Gulf, fearing that the Bush administration would use such an action as an excuse to strike, the Joint Forces Command study noted.

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq's weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.

To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Mr. Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.

Mr. Hussein's compliance was not complete, though. Iraq's declarations to the United Nations covering what stocks of illicit weapons it had possessed and how it had disposed of them were old and had gaps. And Mr. Hussein would not allow his weapons scientists to leave the country, where United Nations officials could interview them outside the government's control.

Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator's goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview "deterrence by doubt."

That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites. Mr. Hussein's efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation.

Even some Iraqi officials were impressed by Mr. Powell's presentation. Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaish, who oversaw Iraq's military industry, thought he knew all the government's secrets. But Bush administration officials were so insistent that he began to question whether Iraq might have prohibited weapons after all. "I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed we had these weapons," he told interrogators after the war, according to the Iraq Survey Group report.

Guarding Against Revolt

As the war approached, Mr. Hussein took steps to suppress an uprising. Fedayeen paramilitary units were dispersed throughout the south, as were huge stashes of small-caliber weapons. Mr. Hussein divided Iraq into four sectors, each led by a member of his inner circle. The move was intended to help the government fend off challenges to its rule, including an uprising or rioting.

Reflecting Mr. Hussein's distrust of his own military, regular army troops were deployed near Kurdistan or close to the Iranian border, far from the capital. Of the Iraqi Army, only the Special Republican Guard was permitted inside Baghdad. And an array of restraints were imposed that made it hard for Iraq's military to exercise command.

Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, Mr. Hussein's defense minister who had distinguished himself during the Iran-Iraq war, held an important title, for example. But he had little influence. "I effectively became an assistant to Qusay, only collecting and passing information," he told interrogators, referring to a son of Mr. Hussein.

To protect Baghdad, Mr. Hussein selected Brig. Gen. Barzan abd al-Ghafur Solaiman Majid al-Tikriti, a close cousin, to head the Special Republican Guard even though he had no field experience, had failed military staff college and was a known drunkard. Asked about his military skills, General Tai laughed out loud. Even so, the Special Republican Guard commander was closely monitored by Mr. Hussein's agents and later told American interrogators that he had held the most dangerous job in Iraq. "They watched you go to the bathroom," he said. "They listened to everything you said and bugged everything."

Once the war began, field commanders faced numerous restrictions, including bans on communications, to minimize chances of a coup.

"We had to use our own reconnaissance elements to know where the other Iraqi units were located on our flanks," the commander of the First Republican Guard Corps told interrogators. "We were not allowed to communicate with our sister units."

Even as the Americans were rapidly moving north, Mr. Hussein did not appreciate the seriousness of the threat. While the Fedayeen had surprised the allied forces with their fierce resistance and sneak attacks, Iraqi conventional forces were overpowered.

At an April 2 meeting, General Hamdani, the commander of the Second Republic Guard Corps, correctly predicted that the American Army planned to drive through the Karbala Gap on the way to Baghdad. General Tai, the Iraqi defense minister, was not persuaded. He argued that the attack in the south was a trick and that the main American offensive would come from the west, perhaps abetted by the Israelis. That day, Mr. Hussein ordered the military to prepare for an American attack from Jordan.

As a sop, General Hamdani received a company of Special Operations forces as reinforcements and was finally granted permission to destroy the Euphrates River bridge southwest of Baghdad. But it was too little, too late.

By April 6, the day after the first United States Army attack on Baghdad, the so-called thunder run, Mr. Hussein's desperate predicament began to sink in. At a safe house in the Mansour district of Baghdad, he met with his inner circle and asked Mr. Aziz to read an eight-page letter.

Mr. Hussein showed no emotion as the letter was read. But Mr. Aziz later told interrogators that the Iraqi leader seemed to be a defeated man, and the letter appeared to be his farewell. His rule was coming to an end.

"We didn't believe it would go all the way to Baghdad," a senior Republican Guard staff officer later told his interrogators. "We thought the coalition would go to Basra, maybe to Amara, and then the war would end."

A Sharp Debate Erupts in China Over Ideologies - New York Times

A Sharp Debate Erupts in China Over Ideologies - New York TimesMarch 12, 2006
A Sharp Debate Erupts in China Over Ideologies
By JOSEPH KAHN

BEIJING, March 11 — For the first time in perhaps a decade, the National People's Congress, the Communist Party-run legislature now convened in its annual two-week session, is consumed with an ideological debate over socialism and capitalism that many assumed had been buried by China's long streak of fast economic growth.

The controversy has forced the government to shelve a draft law to protect property rights that had been expected to win pro forma passage and highlighted the resurgent influence of a small but vocal group of socialist-leaning scholars and policy advisers. These old-style leftist thinkers have used China's rising income gap and increasing social unrest to raise doubts about what they see as the country's headlong pursuit of private wealth and market-driven economic development.

The roots of the current debate can be traced to a biting critique of the property rights law that circulated on the Internet last summer. The critique's author, Gong Xiantian, a professor at Beijing University Law School, accused the legal experts who wrote the draft of "copying capitalist civil law like slaves," and offering equal protection to "a rich man's car and a beggar man's stick." Most of all, he protested that the proposed law did not state that "socialist property is inviolable," a once sacred legal concept in China.

Those who dismissed his attack as a throwback to an earlier era underestimated the continued appeal of socialist ideas in a country where glaring disparities between rich and poor, rampant corruption, labor abuses and land seizures offer daily reminders of how far China has strayed from its official ideology.

"Our government only moves forward when it feels there is a strong consensus," said Mao Shoulong, a public policy specialist at People's University in Beijing. "Right now, the consensus is eroding and there is a debate over ideology, which we haven't seen for some time."

The divide does not appear likely to derail China's market-led growth. President Hu Jintao, in what Chinese political experts and party members said was a clear reference to the debate, told legislative delegates last week that China must "unshakably persist with economic reform."

China has generally stuck by its market-opening commitments to the World Trade Organization. Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, has allowed billions of dollars in foreign investment to flow into the once tightly protected financial sector.

Legislative officials insist that the proposed law, which has taken eight years to prepare and is intended to codify a more expansive notion of property rights added to the Constitution in 2003, will sooner or later be enacted, though possibly with some significant modifications.

But Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen wittingly or unwittingly invited the debate when they made tackling growing inequality a center of their propaganda efforts, political analysts say. The state-run news media are abuzz with calls to make "social equity" the focus of economic policy, replacing the earlier leadership's emphasis on rapid growth and wealth creation.

Since his rise to power in 2002, Mr. Hu has also tried to establish his leftist credentials, extolling Marxism, praising Mao and bankrolling research to make the country's official but often ignored socialist ideology more relevant to the current era.

He told party leaders in 2004 to study how Cuba and North Korea maintained political order, party officials say. And he has tried to distance himself from his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who invited private businessmen to join the Communist Party and was viewed as permitting well-connected officials to enrich themselves with public property at the expense of the poor.

"Hu is himself a centrist who is not really pursuing one agenda or the other," observed a party official who said he could be punished for talking about leadership politics if he were quoted by name. "But he did pull us to the left to restore balance, and that gave the old guard an opportunity it has not had in years."

As a result, analysts say, the leadership may find it harder to pursue market-oriented solutions to some pressing problems, like providing health care to rural residents, grappling with rampant corruption in the state sector, expanding access to education and overhauling banks, insurance and securities companies.

Beijing's new plan to address its rural woes, labeled "building a new socialist countryside," promises an infusion of government cash for peasants and rural areas. But it steers clear of tackling some restrictions on economic activity, like a ban on private land sales in the countryside, that many pro-market economists say have left peasants economically disenfranchised.

"My impression is that allowing an expanded role for the market in education and health care is off the table," said Mr. Mao, the People's University policy expert. "Rural land ownership is also too sensitive to consider now."

The tensions reflect rising concern that breakneck growth averaging nearly 10 percent annually over 20 years has left China richer but also dirtier and, by the standards of the one-party state, politically volatile.

Corruption, pollution, land seizures and arbitrary fees and taxes are among the leading causes of a surge in social unrest. Riots have become a fixture of rural life in China — more than 200 "mass incidents of unrest" occurred each day in 2004, police statistics show — undermining the party's insistence on social stability.

Many Western and some Chinese experts have argued that these problems stem from China's authoritarian political system, and that they will not easily go away until people have a greater say in how they are governed. But the Communist Party and many left-leaning scholars reject that view. They say the ills are caused by capitalist excesses and rising inequality, which they say requires that the government reassert itself in economic affairs.

One measurement of inequality, the gap between the average incomes of urban and rural residents, has risen to about 3.3 to 1, according to the United Nations Development Program, higher than similar measures in the United States and one of the world's highest. A study by the party's Central Research Office estimates that the ratio could rise to 4 to 1 by 2020 if current trends continue, a level some Chinese economists say could incite wider social turmoil.

Such political fears seemed to give an opening to critics who felt economic policies had strayed too far toward capitalism. The strength of leftist opposition had faded throughout the 1990's after Deng Xiaoping, who called economic development "hard truth," and later Mr. Jiang tolerated little ideological discussion of the direction of changes.

Liu Guoguang, a Marxist economist and a former vice director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, stimulated an outpouring of opinions about inequality last summer when he gave a private talk that was transcribed and posted on the Internet. His talk supported the emphasis on growth and development but called for a much larger role for the government in managing economic affairs.

In a subsequent interview with Business Watch, a state-run magazine, Mr. Liu said, "If you establish a market economy in a place like China, where the rule of law is imperfect, if you do not emphasize the socialist spirit of fairness and social responsibility, then the market economy you establish is going to be an elitist market economy."

He has been joined by other scholars, including Mr. Gong, whose incendiary polemic on the property law prompted a succession of sympathetic essays and study sessions.

Also contributing to the response is the Hong Kong-based economist Lang Xianping, who has used a television show to pillory what he describes as raids on state assets by managers and foreign investors.

One top official who has come under scrutiny is Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank governor and a promoter of market initiatives. Mr. Zhou attracted foreign investment to the financial sector, partly delinked China's currency from the United States dollar and steered the three biggest state-owned banks toward stock market listings overseas.

Mr. Zhou was attacked directly in a widely circulated Hong Kong newspaper article and indirectly by commentators in Beijing, who accuse financial officials of selling China's most valuable assets too cheaply.

Ji Baocheng, president of People's University in Beijing, criticized Mr. Zhou's banking changes in a public session of the legislature last week. He cited the big Hong Kong stock market listing of China Construction Bank, which was completed after the government injected billions of dollars to clean up its balance sheet.

Mr. Ji said the government priced shares in the bank too low, given the fresh infusion of capital, and he accused officials of "blindly sacrificing the interests of China and its people."

The government defends the overseas listings as a necessary step to raise capital, attract foreign experts to the boards and executive offices of the troubled banks and put the financial system on sounder footing.

Some pro-market economists, who seemed ascendant in the 1990's and early in this decade and now often sound defensive, have denounced the leftist revival as dangerous. Many also criticize the Hu-Wen administration for micromanaging investment and bank loans, tinkering with property and stock markets and declining to extend market-oriented policies to the countryside.

Zhou Ruijing, a retired newspaper editor associated with the pro-market camp, captured the sentiment in a January magazine essay.

"A widening gap between rich and poor is not the fault of market reforms," he wrote. "It's the natural result of them, which is neither good nor bad, but quite predictable."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Stanley Crouch: Parks' self-respect - The Sacramento Bee

Stanley Crouch: Parks' self-respect - The Sacramento BeeStanley Crouch: Parks' self-respect
By Stanley Crouch
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, March 11, 2006
Within three days after a minstrel show interrupted the Oscars ceremony but wasn't noticed, Gordon Parks died. Three 6 Mafia's elegy to the difficulty of living off women, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," was awarded the Oscar for best song before a predominately white audience of wealthy media types who work before and behind the camera. The grand irony is one of those that resonate with particular clarity in our time.

Gordon Parks was 93 when he died and had made a career for himself that was, at almost every step, a repudiation of the minstrel imagery that had burdened black Americans since the middle of the 19th century, composed equally of contempt and low expectations. The last of 15 children born into poverty in Kansas, Parks, a high school dropout, had made himself into a highly sophisticated man - a professional photographer, a writer, a composer and a film director.

Parks attributed his drive and the variety of ways in which he developed his talent to the curiosity, discipline and religious faith instilled by his family, especially his mother, who taught him piano and glued wings to his dreams.

It was always the goal of Parks to disprove stereotypes by countering them with excellence. Since he was always ready to laugh if the conversation provided the room for it, Parks might have just as well been contemplating a meal his mother used to cook as pondering the difficulties of aesthetic technique or the tragic weight of social issues.

Born in 1912, Parks had lived through the Great Depression and World War II and was the first Negro photographer for Life magazine, and shot for Vogue during the black revolt against segregation, unconstitutional laws and bigoted treatment. The "Negro Revolution," as it was called, brought light and darkness, dividing the social and cultural sky.

The light came with the rejection of stereotypes and a bigger, more open area of social possibility. The darkness was the minstrel reiteration that appeared with a vengeance, as blaxploitation films following Parks' own "Shaft" set aside the photographer's black detective in favor of the black hustler, like "Superfly," the celebration of a cocaine dealer. For years, because Hollywood was in trouble, cheap, empty-headed black films about pimps, hustlers and cartoon revolutionaries were made.

They turned a profit, got Hollywood back on its feet and were summarily rejected as American popular film returned to the snow village.

That Parks had become an answer to all stereotypes and low expectations by mastering the English language, the camera, film technique and by deporting himself with absolute elegance and taste must have made him an anachronism to those who believe that buffoons like Three 6 Mafia represent anything other than the descent of black popular music into blaxploitation with a backbeat.

Parks was not made in a factory that manufactures stupidity and the hatred of women, projected by puppets of exaggeration wearing diamonds in their teeth. He made himself, with all of the discipline necessary, which is why even Malcolm X recognized his integrity.

Parks was also one of the founders of Essence. Were he alive, the magazine's well-received war against the kind of minstrelsy seen at the Academy Awards would not have fizzled. Parks never forgot the honor of women like his mother and his sisters. That is why he would have kept the heat on, which is but one of the many reasons why we miss him.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Stanley Crouch: Reformation of Islam - The Sacramento Bee


Stanley Crouch: Reformation of Islam - The Sacramento Bee:
By Stanley Crouch
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, February 18, 2006
During the 1960s, a white Southerner made me aware of a problem that now seems to be common to the complexity faced by modern people of many different societies and religions: The loose screws among them have come to represent the entire group.

Forty years ago, the white Southerner said to me that all of the televised redneck violence in reaction to the civil-rights movement had made his Southern accent a social liability. Northern white people tended to assume, once they heard the sound of his voice, that he supported the Ku Klux Klan, had probably brutalized a black man and could easily have taken advantage of a black woman, who might be the mother of his unacknowledged child. It took them a while to discover that he was a supporter of the civil-rights movement and had had to leave the South because his opinions endangered the safety of his wife and children.

I am sure that this problem is now felt in what one Muslim scholar calls "liberal Islam." I encountered the term while reading material written by Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, which is based in Washington, D.C., and is a nonprofit think tank. Masmoudi is from Tunisia and immigrated to the United States in 1981. He has a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in robotics and automation, and is an advanced control engineer. He is also the editor in chief of his think tank's publication, Muslim Democrat.

So he's been around. But there is much to be learned from reading his piece titled "The Silenced Majority," which he published in 2003 in the Journal of Democracy. It informs us that being a modern Muslim means more than wearing a suit instead of a robe. Masmoudi writes that the Muslim world is troubled by the battle going on between secular and religious extremists. But, he writes, "Between these two extremes, we find the majority of the people, who want to practice their religion faithfully, but who also want to live in the modern age - i.e., they want a modern, moderate, and appropriate interpretation of Islam."

Masmoudi does not see this happening overnight, but is sure that the first thing that must come about is the freedom to debate issues and to criticize Islamic governments and policies, a basic tenet of democracy. This sort of freedom exists under neither the secular nor religious Islamic governments, both of which tend to take the position that it will be their way or the highway.

There is hope, says Masmoudi, because liberal Islam is rolling along quite well in the United States and Europe. "The reformation of Islam," he writes, "will require freedom and democracy, and right now the only place where we have them is in the West."

We should not be naive about a reformation taking place within the Islamic world next week, next month or next year, even in the next decade. But neither should we be prematurely cynical about liberal Islam growing to the point that it will influence first and take over second. All we are actually talking about are things that we take for granted, such as free speech, freedom of the press and a diversity of freely expressed opinion. When we look at the most conservative versions of Islam, we can easily understand why all of those freedoms were hard to come by at certain points in Western democratic history.

Warriors are only interested in, understandably, the nuances of command and performance in battle. Recognition that humanity always means endless nuance is a foundation of democracy. Recognition is always the beginning of revolution. The idea of freedom always precedes its becoming true within a society. Masmoudi says that the majority of those in the Muslim world want what we know as freedom, and do not believe that their religion is threatened by it. Let us hope that he is right, which might mean that some of us might live to see that old saying become true in the Islamic world: It is always darkest before dawn.

About the writer:

* Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily News. His column routinely appears Saturday in The Bee and occasionally on other days. Reach him at scrouch@edit.nydailynews.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: How dare they try to copyright the N-word


New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: How dare they try to copyright the N-word

One of the most repulsively fascinating facts about contemporary black popular culture is how it continues to reach fresh lows. It finds new ways of leaping all fences that would bar it from falling into a bottomless pit of tastelessness. All of the insults and burdens of minstrelsy have been bested by black comedians and rappers who have made stupidity, hedonism, pimping, misogyny, pornography and violence their stock in trade.

One defense of this amoral sense of life and culture is that black people didn't invent any of it, so why shouldn't they, like the white people, be able to make big money from it? As one imbecilic black man in television said to me, "I ain't hating on these brothers. All they are doing is dealing with a market the same way that the white people do. This is capitalism and they're responding to a market. You know the old saying, 'Whatever the market will bear.' "

Now we find that comedian Damon Wayans has spent the past 14 months trying to copyright the N-word with "iggas" instead of "iggers." He wants to put it on apparel and whatnot. So far, he has not been successful but one can imagine young American kids wearing that word emblazoned on clothes and listening to rap "songs" in which the N-word frequently appears, in conjunction with "bitches" and "hos," among other denigrations.

Of course, there is a defense. One Hollywood Negro said that "Damon is no fool. He might be pulling a Brer Rabbit move that would mean that he would take control of the word and make everyone pay to use it."

I responded rappers and others would merely put the cost in the budget. The Hollywood guy agreed.

However this comes out, it is further proof of how remarkably decadent our moment is. On the one hand, opportunistic numbskulls use the rhetoric of free speech and the liberal arts to justify the thick presence of misogyny and insult in their material, meaning that constantly referring to women as bitches and hos is an expression of their artistry and their freedom of speech. So is the constant screaming of the N-word.

Now we have a comedian attempting to copyright the N-word so that everyone who uses it will have to pay him for the right. I guess that takes its place right next to John Singleton, Spike Lee and Will Smith supporting the dehumanizing "Hustle & Flow." In the world of entertainment, the siren call of the commercial, however hollow and denigrating, seems impossible for many to resist, a fact that transcends all ethnic, sexual and religious distinctions.

When Essence magazine began a campaign against the prevalence of misogyny and insult in rap material, literally hundreds of thousands voiced their approval. This proved that this product is disgusting to millions of black women and their supporters. Unfortunately, the most important movement in popular culture since the emergence of rap itself floundered. Essence let the campaign fizzle after editor Diane Weathers, who shaped the magazine's response to popular muck, left the magazine.

If Damon Wayans wins his quest for ownership of the N-word, one wonders to whom - if any - he will have to answer.

Originally published on February 27, 2006

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Hip hop exhibit sure to sugarcoat the hate

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Hip hop exhibit sure to sugarcoat the hateHip hop exhibit sure to sugarcoat the hate

According to rap mogul Russell Simmons, hip hop is "the only real description of the suffering of our people." Well, not quite. Perhaps Simmons is referring to those early rap recordings that made political complaints. But the bulk of what we know is that rap itself is part of the suffering of black people.

This arrives through a media that has been bamboozled into thinking the expression of "black culture" can be reduced to gold teeth, pistol-waving, hedonism, whorishness, pathological narcissism, misogyny, drop-down pants and illiteracy. In context, Simmons was quoted as he addressed a New York press conference to announce that the Smithsonian Institution is collecting materials for a future rap exhibit in Washington.

This is not especially surprising, given the fact that the Metropolitan Museum of Art genuflected before the world of rock 'n' roll. The museum presented in 1999 the exhibit "Rock Style." It was "made possible" by Tommy Hilfiger, Conde Nast and the Estee Lauder combine.

We can now fall back on our most cynical responses to contemporary phenomena and say, as so many do, "If there is enough money involved, anything is possible."

Make no mistake, what we always see in our time is the demand for respectability. It seems to have had a price on its head for a while now. When Elvis Presley and the early rock 'n' roll bunch appeared, they knew what they were and so did their fans: entertainers followed by teenagers. With the '60s came all of the pretensions and college students, assuming that whatever they liked should get the same credibility as what adults appreciated. We then saw the arrival of rock magazines.

It did not take long for the hustlers in rap to get the drift. Defend your product against charges of obscenity by saying it is "reporting from the streets." Take the position that being repulsed by the gangsta lifestyle and philosophy is no more than cultural racism. Soon, insecure black academics began to champion this "art form" on our campuses. Of course, those campuses had already been wounded by courses in rock 'n' roll.

One wonders how much time the Smithsonian will devote to the many murders, shooting and violence surrounding rap. Will there be autopsy pictures of Tupac Shakur and others? One also wonders if visitors to the exhibit will learn about the major campaign against the worst of hip hop that fizzled under exceedingly poor leadership at Essence magazine.

Both sides of the story are demanded in many places, but almost never in the world of popular muck. Especially if it makes black hustlers wealthy.

Originally published on March 2, 2006