Rod Dreher

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View From Your Table

Austin, Texas

Everybody who was at the Monks of Norcia fundraising dinner received two bottles of Birra Nursia in their gift bags. One of the attendees drank one of his this Memorial Day, and sent in the above photo.

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Black Like … Me?

This guy, descended from a slave. No, really

So, I sent a DNA sample to 23andMe to find out my genetic ancestry. The results came back this morning:

My genetic profile. Light blue is Northwestern European.

Mostly unsurprising. I’m 99.3 percent European. About 67 percent of that ancestry is Anglo-Irish, with 9 percent “French and German” (they can’t yet distinguish between French and German ancestry, so my ancestors came from that region; it’s got to be German, because the first Dreher to come to the US came from Germany; Dreher is a German name meaning “turner”), and 4 percent Scandinavian. The rest is “broadly Northwestern European”.

But here’s the surprising part: 0.6 percent of my ancestry — the thin red slice — is West African. The genetics timeline indicates that five to eight generations ago (the test can’t be more specific), I had an ancestor who was 100 percent West African. That ancestor was likely born between 1700 and 1820. That means he or she was a slave. Because African slave males did not generally mate with European females, that means that my African ancestor was almost certainly female. So, great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother was probably a slave woman.

Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud! Heh.

I’m guessing that that woman’s child passed as white, and married a white person, and that couple’s children married whites, and on and on.

(The test also found that a little farther back on the family tree, I have an ancestor who was 100 percent Native American. Given the time line, this probably means that one of my European ancestors during colonial days married a Native American woman, as happened back then given the relative shortage of European women in North America at that time.)

This is amazing information. Focusing on the slave ancestor, this means that under the so-called “one drop rule” that was the law in some Southern states in Jim Crow times, I and my children would have been considered black, and subjected to segregation and persecution. Of course it’s highly unlikely that anyone would have known, not even us back then. Our physical appearance is, um, very white. But had genetic testing been around at that time, and had my ancestors been subject to it, the state would have learned that despite the whiteness of their skin, some of them were black, according to the law, and treated them unjustly.

I don’t know if my slave ancestor descends from my maternal or paternal line. My father is dead, but my mother is alive. I hope she will do the 23andme test to see what her ancestry is. That will tell me which line my African grandparent came from. Still, it’s almost certain that some of my ancestors fought a war whose goal in large part was to keep descendants of other ancestors enslaved. Genetically speaking, the story of the African slaves in North America is my story and my children’s story, too. And somewhere in this country, I may have black distant cousins alive today.

America, man.

Have you had your ancestral DNA profiled? If so, were there any surprises?

My genetic ancestry, according to 23andMe


UPDATE:
Of course there’s no way to prove that my West African ancestor was a slave. It seems the most likely explanation given the time period in which West African DNA entered my line. But really, I don’t know.

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Memorial Day In Deep America

Dairy Palace, Canton, Texas

That’s the sign outside the Dairy Palace in Canton, Texas.

May God bless the souls of the armed forces dead who perished in battle. And may God comfort those who called them their own.

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Yale Rewards Student Thugs, Bullies

Yale students happy to be graduating. Take the caps off, and it’s a Yale mob (f11photo/Shutterstock)

James Kirchick reports the jaw-dropping news in Tablet that Yale University has given an award for improving race relations on campus to Alexandra Zina Barlowe and Abdul-Razak Zachariah, two leaders of the 2015 mob that bullied Prof. Nicholas Christakis over his wife’s suggestion that Yale shouldn’t try to police Halloween costumes. Excerpts:

But Nicholas Christakis was doing more than just defending the honor of his wife that afternoon in the Silliman courtyard. As video of the several hours-long ordeal revealed, Christakis was defending the most fundamental principle of higher education: that the university should serve as a place of free inquiry where individuals can respectfully engage with one another in the pursuit of knowledge.

At least, that’s what places like Yale claim to stand for. Not anymore.

Of the 100 or so students who confronted Christakis that day, a young woman who called him “disgusting” and shouted “who the fuck hired you?” before storming off in tears became the most infamous, thanks to an 81-second YouTube clip that went viral. (The video also—thanks to its promotion by various right-wing websites—brought this student a torrent of anonymous harassment). The videos that Tablet exclusively posted last year, which showed a further 25 minutes of what was ultimately an hours-long confrontation, depicted a procession of students berating Christakis. In one clip, a male student strides up to Christakis and, standing mere inches from his face, orders the professor to “look at me.” Assuming this position of physical intimidation, the student then proceeds to declare that Christakis is incapable of understanding what he and his classmates are feeling because Christakis is white, and, ipso facto, cannot be a victim of racism. In another clip, a female student accuses Christakis of “strip[ping] people of their humanity” and “creat[ing] a space for violence to happen,” a line later mocked in an episode of The Simpsons. In the videos, Howard, the dean who wrote the costume provisions, can be seen lurking along the periphery of the mob.

More:

The Orwellian veneration of racial agitators as racial conciliators is the logical conclusion of Yale’s craven capitulation to the hard left forces of identitarian groupthink. From the very beginning of this ordeal, the Yale administration refused to state some simple but necessary truths: that the missive Erika Christakis wrote was entirely appropriate; that the “demands” issued by protesting students (such as an “ethnic studies distributional requirement”) were ridiculous; and, most important of all, that the rude and insubordinate treatment to which Nicholas Christakis was subjected rose to the level of a disciplinary offense. (It was not so long ago that mobbing a professor, physically threatening him, and screaming in his face, for hours, would result in expulsion).

But Yale’s spineless leaders were never willing to say these things.

Read the whole thing. Nicholas Christakis stepped down as master of Silliman College in the wake of the controversy, and his wife Erika resigned her position at the university.

Here’s a 12-minute documentary on the event that reveals the kind of man Yale allowed bratty students to intimidate. What you reward, you’ll get more of:

In November 2015, I wrote in this space:

If the Yale administration gives a single inch to these people, they will have disgraced themselves. Mark my words, though: these young left-wing, anti-liberal tyrants will move into elite positions in the American establishment, because Yale is a gateway to that kind of privilege. And when they do, they will exercise that power against anybody who doesn’t bow down to their radicalism.

Now Yale has honored two of the leaders of the mob for … leading the mob. This is what Yale University, one of this country’s most elite and influential institutions of higher education, values. Please take note of it.

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The Hunting Of Bret Weinstein

The Evergreen State University in Olympia, Wash., promotes itself as a “progressive” liberal arts college. Here’s what that means: Watch Evergreen biology professor Bret Weinstein set upon by a mob of Social Justice Warriors. What was his sin? Objecting to a student demand that all white people get off campus for a day, because Racism:

What did these young scholars say to the professor?

The missive became public, resulting in an on-campus confrontation Wednesday between Weinstein and student protesters, in which Weinstein attempts to engage in dialogue with the students, who in turn call him a “piece of shit” and ask for his resignation, as seen in video footage of the altercation.

“Stop telling people of color they’re fucking useless,” a female student demands of Weinstein at one point.

“You’re useless, get the fuck out of here,” she adds, saying “fuck you, you piece of shit” as her peers ask Weinstein for an explanation of his email.

Weinstein attempts to answer–asking “may I answer that question?”–butthe student protesters suddenly decide that they no longer want his explanation, and respond with a resounding “no!”

They drove him off campus out of fear for his own safety:

As a biology professor for 15 years at Olympia’s The Evergreen State College, Bret Weinstein has seen his share of protests, but he’s never been afraid of being on campus until this week.

“I have been told by the Chief of Police it’s not safe for me to be on campus,” said Weinstein, who held his Thursday class in a downtown Olympia park.

An administrator confirmed the police department advised Weinstein it “might be best to stay off campus for a day or so.”

Demonstrations involving as many as 200 students filled classrooms and the President’s office on campus on Tuesday and Wednesday. Protesters are upset over what they believe are racist policies at the college, and some called for Weinstein to resign.

Every one of those students who intimidated that professor should be disciplined, and probably expelled. Every one. Including this nitwit:

But when student Marissa Parker, one of the protesters, heard Weinstein was advised to stay off campus, she responded, “If he feels unsafe or frightened for two days, he can only imagine what black and brown bodies have feared for years.”

According to the report from Seattle’s KING television station that I linked to above, Evergreen State officials are considering changing the school’s racial policies in response to the protesters. And look at this — the administration is gutless:

What’s it going to take to make this evil stop?

The backlash is coming, though not fast enough. But it’s coming.

UPDATE: Or not. Reader Jonathan comments:

What makes you think there’s a backlash coming? I wish you were right or at least had any grounds for hoping as much, but such a pronouncement sounds like some pagan philosopher dismissing the rise of Christianity and declaring c. 500 AD that there will be a pagan backlash, just you wait, this insanity can’t last. . .

My wife is an academic in the humanities. She related to me just last night how she was at a colleague’s house with other faculty from her department and someone said to her, apropos of this person’s transgender male friend who was going to start breastfeeding his infant, “isn’t that cool?” And my wife said nothing, walked into the kitchen to put the food she had brought in the fridge. Don’t you think, she later said to me, that my silence would have given her (the colleague with the trans friend) pause? No, I said. No, you were the one being tested there, and after all it was you who were struck speechless. The only thing your colleague might have paused to wonder is how far astray you might be from the New Morality and whether she might be able eventually to leverage this against you. It was indeed a moment of confrontation, I told my wife, but it was you who were being confronted, not you who were confronting your colleague. The culture has swung round. We’re the freaks. (Catholics).

Not that I care. And you shouldn’t either, Rod. I don’t want to contribute to the prevalent misunderstanding of the BenOp as pure withdrawal, but the fact is the universities aren’t worth saving and the only reason you should focus on stories like this is to bring home the point that the Christian population needs to establish its own shadow-culture. If there’s a positive focus like that, about building up an alternative, I might care about a story like this. Otherwise, no, I don’t care about “stopping the evil,” let the schools burn, let the dead bury the dead.

UPDATE: From a reader with an Evergreen e-mail address:

I was here. In the Library. Staff.

It was a brown-shirt terrorist operation. And they got what they wanted. There was fear amongst the students (who were not participating), there was fear amongst the staff. (One of our student-workers left early because she felt the stress and fear affecting her heart condition.) There was frustration and disappointment amongst us lower-level staff in an administration which simply left us to fend for and protect ourselves and our students as best we could. When they barricaded the front of the building, we closed the main entrance to the Library itself, allowed entrance and egress through a side-door, and told patrons already in the Library they were free to leave using an emergency exit out the back of the building which wasn’t being “monitored”–an option which many gratefully accepted.

The “protest” started in the Library Building Lobby–some 20 yards from my desk–with the ominous announcement that “this is about black-people. So be careful what you say!” Almost six hours later–that is, almost six hours of terrorizing the campus–it wound up in the same place with some young girl identifying herself as “a person of color” and saying she was tired of putting up with yadda-yadda, finally declaring, “If you’re not with me, you’re against me!” Does that sound like a threat much? It should, because with it she clearly defined the standard by which you are either acceptable, or dehumanizable. (In other words, you might as well just sign yourself up on Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “Hate Organizations”, because that is what you will be labeled as.) She immediately followed this up–with NO sense of irony–with the words, “Let’s have one more ‘Community Love’!” This triggered an immediate and zombie-like chorus of “Community Love” from the assembled crowd, sounding creepily like “The Greater Good” from the movie “Hot Fuzz”. (Great film.)

Response from the “rank and file”–that is, those of us who actually work for a living–was negative, but necessarily quiet. To quote–slightly modified–a coworker this morning, “I hope he [Weinstein] sues the fudge out of the college.” But of course, we will not be heard; the higher up the food-chain you go, the more this nonsense apparently makes sense.

I have worked here in this position for 20 years, and as a Christian, I can tell you that there is bias, intolerance, and hate-speech at Evergreen, but it is not racial. From my immediate supervisor four weeks into my employment here being confused at why I did not laugh at his joke about the Library of Congress assigning “BS” as the subject-call# for Christianity, to the faculty who last year very glibly and confidently told me at the Circulation Desk–in front of other witnesses–that he thought everyone who couldn’t get behind “Obergefell” should be imprisoned (“Lock ’em all up, that’s what I say!”), it has only gotten more brazen and more intolerant.

I have to agree with Jonathan; the educational system in rotten to the core–and not just higher-ed. The only option, the only hope, Christian or otherwise, is to start afresh somewhere else with something else. Good luck to all of us with that.

(Sorry I took so long approving comments today, readers. I’ve been driving all day to Dallas. Will be speaking Saturday night at a fundraiser for the Monks of Norcia.)

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What Was ‘Star Wars’ Like In 1977?

Summer 1977 (Michael Dorausch/Flickr)

Charlie Camosy asks on his Facebook page what it was like to experience Star Wars in 1977. He was two years old, and (obviously) has no memory of it. I was 10, and I do.

I had been hearing about the Star Wars phenomenon for a few weeks, I guess. I really don’t remember, but back then, it was kind of a big deal to drive from our place into Baton Rouge, 30 miles away, and we didn’t do it often. Being a nerd, I would have watched the TV coverage of the Star Wars phenomenon obsessively, and aggravated my parents incessantly to take me to Baton Rouge to see the movie. And they would have put it off until they couldn’t stand it anymore.

My father dropped me off one afternoon at the University 4 theater just north of the LSU campus. He hated sci-fi, and wasn’t going to endure the thing. I was on my own. I remember being so excited I hardly knew what to do with myself. There wasn’t a line, which tells me that the film had to have been out for a while. I walked into the lobby, smelled the popcorn, looked nervously around at the movie posters on the wall, spotted the particular theater showing Star Wars (it was on the right side of the lobby, to the left), and hustled in. If you were 10 years old, and you were me, sitting in the darkness waiting for the movie to start was like being strapped into the top of an Apollo rocket waiting for ignition.

As I write this, I have a chill run down my back recalling the STAR WARS logo appearing on the big screen. Liftoff! As far as I was concerned, the crawl setting the stage for the drama (“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…”) may as well have been unfurled from the summit of Sinai.

And then Princess Leia’s ship shot across the screen, pursued by the Imperial star destroyer. The wedge of its prow appeared at the screen’s corner … and the thing kept coming. It was massive, just massive! The vastness of the thing! I remember shivers racing through my body. That had never happened to me in a movie before, at least not that at that degree of intensity.

I don’t need to recount the plot for you, of course. For our purposes here, the important thing is to say that the experience was so overwhelming, so hyperrealistic, that I lost myself in the story. The climactic assault on the Death Star was so anxiety-producing that it’s a wonder my heart didn’t burst. I can see it in my mind’s eye now. And then, the medal ceremony brought it all to an end. I didn’t want it to end. Did not. How could something so unutterably great exist in the world?!

I walked out of the theater into the brightness of the lobby. Nothing looked the same. Nothing. It was as if I had come down the mountain with my face shining from having seen God. I walked like a pudgy little zombie out of the theater and to my dad sitting in his pickup in the parking lot.

“How was it?” he must have asked. I can’t remember. I’m sure I had no words that could have conveyed the sublimity of the experience. I still don’t. I only have the memory of how it felt.

All summer long, all I thought about was Star Wars. Riding the lawn tractor mowing our big yard, I was Darth Vader hurtling through the galaxy in my special TIE fighter, with the crimped wings. (Yes, I loved Vader, who was so scary and mysterious; Luke was a bland, whiny punk.) Of the Star Wars narratives I invented for myself that summer, there was no end. And this lasted with me far, far past that summer. It dominated the conversation of us boys at school that fall, and even for a year after that. It occupied nearly all of my thoughts for a very long time. I bought the John Williams soundtrack, put the vinyl disc on my cheapo GE stereo, and listened to the theme constantly. Constantly. 

I also listened to this monster radio hit. Remember, Star Wars debuted smack dab in the middle of the disco craze:

Even that was good. Hell, it was great! Because Star Wars, that’s why.

My room and my life filled up with Star Wars junk. I even had this:

I remember standing with my mother in the corner of our living room late one Saturday night, begging her to iron a couple of these onto my Hanes t-shirts. I remember the way the overhead light was as I waited impatiently for her to quit pressing the fabric with the hot iron. I don’t think it worked very well.

I feel sorry for 10 year old kids today, who can never, ever have that experience, with any movie. There was never anything like Star Wars, not in terms of special effects. Just today, my kids watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Blu-ray, and were like, meh. They had seen it before. Even if they had not seen this particular film before, they still had seen it before, if you take my meaning. Because Star Wars changed everything. Is it over the top to call it the Woodstock of my generation?

Were you there? What was it like for you?

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Middlebury Spinelessness, Republican Gianfortitude

Montana politics, Gianforte style (Roka Pics/Shutterstock)

Middlebury College has ended its semester by doing nothing more than tut-tutting students who prevented Charles Murray from speaking on campus, and assaulted him and a Middlebury professor. And so, this kind of thing will continue.

Last week, I was invited by a student group at a prestigious college to come speak to them in the fall. I thought about it, but turned them down, because this college has been in the news for illiberal shout-em-down student activism, and a pusillanimous reaction by the university administration. Frankly, I don’t want to take the chance that some student hotheads may decide to no-platform me, and I would not only not be able to speak, I would be dragged into a drama that I don’t care to be part of. And if it happened, I don’t have any faith that the university would lift a finger to prevent it, nor do I have any faith that if it happened, that there would be any repercussions for the little Maoists. It’s not that I’m afraid; it’s that it’s just not worth doing, at least not to me.

Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I’ve got a number of invitations to speak at colleges this fall, and I can’t accept all of them. I’m going to go to schools where I have faith that people who want to hear me will be able to hear me, and those who want to disagree with me will do so respectfully, within the bounds of civil discourse.

A lot of us conservatives have made hay out of illiberalism on campus, but now we have an egregious, high-profile example of brutal behavior on our side. Montana Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter who asked him a perfectly normal question (about health care) that he didn’t care to answer. From a Fox News crew member’s eyewitness account of what happened:

During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.

It’s one thing for idiot college kids to be violent. But a middle-aged Congressional candidate?

It is disgusting to me that some conservatives are defending this thuggery, saying that the reporter had it coming. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh:

“In Montana — ladies and gentlemen, I must do something,” Limbaugh said. “I must join the chorus of people condemning what happened out there. This manly, obviously studly Republican candidate in Montana took the occasion to beat up a pajama-clad journalist, a Pajama Boy journalist out there.”

“The story is he grabbed his neck and threw the guy to the ground because the journalist was being insolent and disrespectful and whiny and moany and accusatory,” he explained. “And the manly, studly Republican simply didn’t realize that on the big stage you can’t do this kind of stuff and kicked the guy’s ass to the ground. This cannot be accepted. This must be condemned. I wonder how many people in Montana are now gonna vote for the guy, though?”

“And there’s a brave newspaper out there,” he continued, “a brave newspaper withdrew its endorsement for this studly, manly, brutish Republican. His name is Gianforte, Greg Gianforte, and he didn’t like this reporter who’s indistinguishable from your average Millennial man today, virtually indistinguishable. He’s from the U.K. Guardian.”

These people are making America worse by legitimizing violence against non-violent people whose politics or identity they don’t like. We need fortitude in support of civilized norms of behavior, not Gianfortitude.

But then, don’t forget that this is also true:

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‘An Eyeball Just Fell Into My Lap’

Another undercover video of abortion providers talking shop. National Review runs excerpts from their conversation, such as:

Dr. Lisa Harris, the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Michigan:

Given that we actually see the fetus the same way, and given that we might actually both agree that there’s violence in here. . . . Let’s just give them all the violence, it’s a person, it’s killing, let’s just give them all that.

Dr. Ann Schutt-Aine, the director of abortion services for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (which has been referred to local law-enforcement for criminal charges related to fetal-tissue trafficking):

If I’m doing a procedure, and I’m seeing that I’m in fear that it’s about to come to the umbilicus [navel], I might ask for a second set of forceps to hold the body at the cervix and pull off a leg or two, so it’s not PBA [partial-birth abortion].

Dr. Stacy De-Lin, the director of abortion services for Planned Parenthood of New York City:

But we certainly do intact D&Es [dilation and extraction, otherwise known as partial-birth abortion, a method that is illegal under federal law].

Dr. Uta Landy, the founder of the Consortium of Abortion Providers (CAPS), Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA):

An eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that is gross! [laughter from the crowd]

Dr. Susan Robinson, an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte:

The fetus is a tough little object, and taking it apart, I mean, taking it apart on Day One is very difficult. . . . You go in there, and you go, “Am I getting the uterus or the fetus? Oh, good, fetus. [Robinson makes a stabbing sound effect] What have I got? Nothing. Let’s try again.

This is what abortion is. This is what unlimited abortion rights mean. In a civilized country, these ghouls would be pariahs.

Read the whole thing. Watch the video below.

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UK Muslims Reported Abedi

According to the Telegraph, members of Manchester’s Muslim community reported the suicide bomber Salman Abedi on multiple occasions to British authorities after he voiced support for suicide bombing and Islamic extremism. Excerpt:

The missed opportunities to catch Abedi were beginning to mount up last night. The Telegraph has spoken to a community leader who said that Abedi was reported two years ago “because he thought he was involved in extremism and terrorism”.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said: “People in the community expressed concerns about the way this man was behaving and reported it in the right way using the right channels.

“They did not hear anything since.”

Two friends of Abedi also became so worried they separately telephoned the police counter-terrorism hotline five years ago and again last year.

“They had been worried that ‘he was supporting terrorism’ and had expressed the view that ‘being a suicide bomber was ok’,” a source told the BBC.

Akram Ramadan, 49, part of the close-knit Libyan community in south Manchester, said Abedi had been banned from Didsbury Mosque after he had confronted the Imam who was delivering an anti-extremist sermon.

Read the whole thing. The report says that members of Abedi’s own family contacted authorities, saying that he was “dangerous.” But nothing happened.

What else would you have had these Muslims do? Sounds like they did exactly what they were supposed to do. It is not their fault that the authorities did not act on their tips.

UPDATE: Sam M. comments:

Fair question, but similarly… what more would you have authorities do? If he had not acted out… what do you do? I mentioned this in a previous thread. You’d have to deport people for the offense of traveling to the Middle East. Or jail them for visiting radical websites.

You OK with that? Do we have to be?

That’s a fair point. Did this bomber do a single illegal thing prior to his act of terror? On what legal grounds could the authorities have detained him?

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A Monumental History

Removing the Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans (Infrogmation of New Orleans/Flickr)

I want to commend to your attention the speech New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu gave on the day the final Confederate monument — Robert E. Lee’s — was taken down in the city. It is quite moving. Excerpts:

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

He’s right about that. More:

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

We all know the answer to these very simple questions.

Well, we do, but I think it’s also true that these questions are too simplistic. They make history into therapy. Before I explain what I mean, let me make it clear that I’m very pleased that the white citizen’s rebellion monument was removed, pleased that Jefferson Davis’s statue is gone, indifferent to the Beauregard monument’s fate, and I am only somewhat troubled by the Lee monument’s removal. That’s not because of any sympathy for the Confederacy — it deserved to lose, and the suffering of the South in and after the war was, I believe, God’s judgment on it for the sin of slavery.

My unease over the Lee monument’s removal has to do with a couple of things. First,  This excerpt from a letter from Lee to Beauregard after the war has a lot to do with why I think it is wrong to cast his monument into the waste bin. Emphases mine:

After the surrender of the Southern armies in April, the revolution in the opinions and feelings of the people seemed so complete, and the return of the Southern States into the union of all the States so inevitable, that it became in my opinion the duty of every citizen, the contest being virtually ended, to cease opposition, and place himself in a position to serve the country. I, therefore, upon the promulgation of the proclamation of President Johnson of 29th of May, which indicated his policy in the restoration of peace, determined to comply with its requirements, and applied on the 13th of June to be embraced within its provisions. I have not heard the result of my application. Since then I have been elected to the Presidency of Washington College, and have entered upon the duties of the office in the hope of being of some service to the noble youth of our country. I need not tell you that true patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and the motive which impels them — the desire to do right — is precisely the same. The circumstances which govern their actions change; and their conduct must conform to the new order of things. History is full of illustrations of this. Washington himself is an example. At one time he fought against the French under Braddock, in the service of the King of Great Britain; at another, he fought with the French at Yorktown, under the orders of the Continental Congress of America, against him. He has not been branded by the world with reproach for this; but his course has been applauded.

Lee fought for a bad cause out of loyalty to his home state, and if he had prevailed, an evil institution — slavery — would have prevailed. He fought for the wrong side and deserved to lose. But notice that after he lost, he called on all defeated Southerners to cease hostilities and to commit themselves to the service of the United States. Lee was the most prestigious figure in the South. It mattered that he did not urge bitter resistance, but rather nobly counseled patriotism. Had he done otherwise, the healing of the nation’s wounds likely would have taken longer.

Lee was a far more complex man than many people today seem to realize. In the 1950s, a New York dentist wrote to President Eisenhower, asking how he could display a photo of the traitor R.E. Lee on his desk. Ike responded:

General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

Read the whole exchange here.

Again, I’m not losing sleep over the removal of any of these statues, though I do wish they had kept the Lee statue because he was a great, deeply (and tragically) flawed American. Gen. Sherman fought for the right side of that war, but he did not have Lee’s character. To me, the national tragedy of the Civil War is exemplified not by Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, but by Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. To remember him as nothing other than a man who commanded an army that defended slavery is a mistake.

I don’t at all agree with Mayor Landrieu’s standard that public monuments exist to “encourage” children or anybody else, and if they don’t do that, then they should be removed. That is a crude and dangerous principle. Five years ago, when my family spent a month in Paris, I read a book about the French Revolution. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the hatred the revolutionaries and the opponents of the Revolution had for each other. Mobs tore down churches in rage over the Catholic Church’s support of the monarchy. And it is also true that the Church supported some appalling injustices, of the sort that could make a poor man hate it.

As a Christian and as a conservative, I, of course, think the French Revolution was a calamity. I stood in the garden behind a Carmelite convent in Paris, and prayed at the site where Revolutionaries murdered 150 bishops and priests, one by one, for refusing to sign a loyalty oath. The anti-clerical persecutions in revolutionary France were vicious. And yet, there are monuments to the revolution in the city, and to some of its leaders. There is no monument to the worst of the revolutionaries, Maximilien Robespierre, who instituted the Terror, but there is a metro station named for him. 

Should the city change the name of that metro station because it discourages five-year-old French Catholic girls, or offends other Catholics? How can a Catholic be “encouraged” by the Danton statue, given what the Revolution did to Catholics?  And if she can’t be, should the statue be removed?

Or think about Oliver Cromwell, the regicidal Puritan monster who horrifically persecuted Irish Catholics, and whose statue stands in Westminster today.  What should English Catholics think of that?

Of the finding of grievous fault among our ancestors there is no end. We should be deeply reluctant to remove statues and monuments, simply because it is very easy to yield to the passions of a given place and time, and to erase history. When I have been with my kids in the presence of Confederate monuments, I have done my best to explain to them what the Confederacy was and what slavery was. They are under no illusion that the Confederate cause was just.

But I have also stood with them in the local cemetery, lighting a candle on the grave of their great-great-great grandfather, who fought for the Confederacy with incredible bravery, and was wounded at the Battle of Port Hudson. He was a poor country man who held no slaves. My guess is that he fought for the South for the reason most Soviet soldiers fought for the USSR: not because he was enthusiastic about the ideology behind the state (though he might have been), but because it was home, and it was under attack. I have had to explain to my kids why it is right to honor this ancestor of ours, even though he fought for a government and a society that enslaved black human beings.

This is what history does to us. History is not there to comfort, to encourage, or to be instrumentalized. True, the society that erects monuments does so because it wants its people forevermore to honor whoever or whatever is being memorialized. All monuments are instrumentalizations of history. The City of New Orleans did not erect the Jefferson Davis monument in 1908 for neutral or scholarly reasons, heaven knows. But once in place, monuments bear witness to what values the people of a place once hallowed. When our ancestors got something very wrong, then that’s often worth remembering publicly. As John Daniel Davidson wrote in The Federalist:

The case for keeping our Confederate monuments has everything to do with preserving our history, the better to understand it. The history of the Civil War and the Confederacy is complicated and, even to this day, painful for some Americans. But a standing monument isn’t the same as a flag flying in a place of honor. Monuments become part of our landscape down through the decades, and their physical presence testifies to the past in a way that museums cannot.

This is especially true of our Civil War monuments. Something as central to American history as the war between North and South should impose on us and demand our attention—not so that we can honor the principles of the Confederacy, but so we can understand and remember who we were and all we suffered to survive the Civil War and remain one nation.

There are certainly limits. There are no statues to Marshal Pétain, the Nazi stooge who ran Vichy, even though he fought bravely in World War I. There shouldn’t be, either. His crimes were too great. I would support removing every public statue of Lenin or Stalin from Russian life, given the enormity of their crimes, but I would leave in place every statue honoring Soviet soldiers who fought and died in World War II, even though they could plausibly be said to have fought for communism. Most of them, I imagine, fought for the same reason my Confederate ancestor fought: because they were defending their home. The fact that they were fighting a hideous regime of world-historic brutality and criminality to defend a hideous regime of world-historic brutality and criminality only highlights their tragedy.

Granted, the Union was nothing like the Nazis. In fact, it was on the side of right in the Civil War. But you see the point I’m trying to make. This is one reason why if I were dictator, I would have kept the Lee statue, while ditching the Jefferson Davis one. And I would have built monuments to the slaves, and to black civil rights heroes. Add to the public marking of history, not detract from it.

I concede that these are fine distinctions that will seem cold and abstract to partisans on both sides of the monuments issue. The population of New Orleans is 61 percent black. I wouldn’t be surprised if a single black citizen opposed removing the monuments, and it’s certain that the white population was divided. It’s worth asking if monument-removal was a more pressing issue than the many other problems New Orleans’s municipal government faces. Still, we live in a democracy. If most of the people wanted the monuments gone, then take ’em down.

Note well, though, that in a 2016 statewide poll conducted by LSU, 75 percent of Louisianians (not just New Orleanians) opposed taking those monuments down. And get this: more black Louisiana residents opposed taking the monuments down (47 percent) than supported doing so (40 percent). Like history itself, this issue is not so black and white (no pun intended).

Finally, some of you pushed back the other day when I pointed out in connection with the monument-removal story that violent crime continues to be a major problem in New Orleans. My point was that monument removal is a symbolic act that does little to nothing to address the real problems of black New Orleanians, and all New Orleanians, which the city government is not so good at doing. That’s not an argument for keeping the monuments, necessarily, but it does put the controversy into a certain perspective. The city’s streets are in horrible shape, with potholes everywhere. Some snarky New Orleanians are spray-painting names of Confederate generals on the potholes in an effort to get the attention of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, so he will take them away too.

UPDATE: This is how crazy it is in New Orleans now:

The principal of an alternative school in New Orleans was asked to leave his post this week after he was pictured standing near a Confederate flag the morning before the city removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in downtown New Orleans.

Nicholas Dean, principal of Crescent Leadership Academy, confirmed Tuesday that he was told not to report to work for the next week or two after the photograph circulated on social media last weekend.

 

More:

The picture, which drew immediate attention on Facebook, depicts Dean standing near a man holding a Confederate flag who was part of a crowd that had gathered in Lee Circle. Dean said the photo was taken about 2:30 a.m. Friday, long before the Robert E. Lee monument was removed that afternoon.

When reached by phone, Dean said he was there because he thought the monument would be taken down in the night and he wanted to witness it happening.

He said he was there for just a few minutes and left once he saw there was no equipment in place to take the statue down. He insisted that the photograph was taken “out of context.”

“I went to see history in the making,” Dean said. “And now I am history.”

Are you now standing or have you ever stood on the street in proximity to something Confederate, while white?

UPDATE.2: Holy moley! Turns out Dean appears in a video wearing rings associated with neo-Nazism, and appeared recently on a white nationalist podcast!

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Islam Through Western Liberal Eyes

Trafalgar Square, London (Koca Vehbi/Shutterstock)

Reader Annie comments on the Manchester bombing thread:

Western liberals have a bad habit of “denying agency.” Our self-absorbed knee-jerk tendency to blame all the world’s woes on the evil West is just a way of putting ourselves at the center of every story, for reasons best left unaddressed here.

I’m opposed to drone bombing. I’m opposed to the wars in the ME. I’m opposed to arms deals with the Saudis, and I suggest now is a good moment to get behind Rand Paul and his move to bring the current arms deal to a vote. I’m opposed to an economy built upon the exploitation of the world, and I think we should move immediately to address our real sins: an unethical standard of living which requires oil, fuels wars across the world and has led to global displacement and chaos.

Those are our real sins, and every single person writing here is complicit in them. But let’s get something straight: this cultural relativism is nonsense. Islam has a problem, and it has had a problem since its very inception. It is at war against itself and against whatever people it comes across. It slaughters in the Philippines. It slaughters in India. It slaughters in Myanmar. It slaughters in Nigeria. It slaughters in the Sudan. It has done these things from the beginning, and it is all right there in the Quran, let alone the hadith.

There was a time about ten years ago when I considered becoming Muslim. It is a very attractive image to a certain type of young bleeding heart woman, and I know two others who did convert. You can identify with the scapegoat, with the suffering. Most attractive of all was Sufism. I still am moved by the Sufis.

My boyfriend at the time had a grandfather who was a very liberal, open-minded man. He had spent his career between the Middle East and America, working as an oil executive (and yes, really, he was a passionate Democrat). He was quite tolerant of my many radical left-wing ideas, but he would shake his head when I started talking about Islam.

“Annie,” he’d say. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Please, read the Quran. Not excerpts. Not summaries. Read the book.” Eventually I did. I read it in a day, reflected for a few minutes in a sort of weird trance, and then re-read it once more straight-away.

I stopped talking about becoming a Muslim after that. There are beautiful things in Islam. The Sufis are incredible. Many Muslims also hold to their own sort of MTD-ism, and accept the religion the way Catholicism in America was often just a home for keeping the immigrant culture together. Social hall religion, you could say.

But I became a Christian because the Gospels really are radically different than anything the world has ever seen. Christianity grew on the blood of martyrs; The Prophet made martyrs. It will not stop with the end of the Caliphate. As long as there are people who read the Quran and take it literally there will be people who go out and perform jihad. This is not like inviting the Irish Catholics into your Protestant country. It is like sending Lenin back into Russia.

As much as possible we should preach Christ. But that doesn’t mean we should pretend Islam is what its naive defenders want it to be. The burning flesh and severed limbs of innocents are there in the heart of it. Yes, “Not All Muslims.” But, a lot. I foresee Islam waging war on the infidel as long as Islam exists. And by all means, let it exist. But let those who would fight back fight back. Let those who would defend their homes and children defend them. Let us arrest and detain anyone with the slightest hint of radicalism, who has been welcomed in another country and is prepared to return that welcome with nails through children’s faces. Let those who are convinced Islam is the religion of peace face their own dependence on violence in the ME. Let them look the Coptic Christians, the Yazidis, Hindus, Christians in Somalia, Pakistan, Nigeria or Sudan, Buddhists, even (especially) other Muslims in the eye after the radically bold sacrifice of having changed their FB avatar.

Please, enough with the self-absorbed platitudes and selective history-making. Islam is not your piece of clay to make in your own image.

Discuss.

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America’s Culture War On Russia

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, defends traditional Christian values more resolutely than many Western Christian leaders do (a href=”https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/moscow-russia-january-7-2017-patriarch-550177228?src=_9qOW227vL-atbmf95ymtA-1-84″>Nikolay Androsov/Shutterstock)

The other day on this blog, in a discussion of Team Trump’s dodgy relations with Russian officials, I described Russia as a “hostile foreign power.” Some of you objected to that, saying that Russia is actually friendly. That’s simply not true. I mean, I wish the US and Russia were more friendly, but we are hostile foreign powers to each other. After all, it was the United States that pushed post Cold War NATO to the Russian border. Maybe we had good reasons for that (or not), but there’s no rational way for the Russians to see it other than a hostile act.

In The Atlantic last week, Sigal Samuel wrote about Russian (and Eastern European) anxiety about America’s hostility on the culture war front:

In many Central and Eastern European countries, people are concerned about America’s influence on Russia and on their own nations—and they want Russia to push back, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey.

The results of the survey—released, by coincidence, just hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the White House and joked about Comey’s firing—reveal that in most nations with Orthodox Christian majorities, Russia is seen as an important buffer against the influence of the West. Because the study was conducted between June 2015 and July 2016, before Trump’s election, it does not capture any shifts in public opinion that his administration may have provoked. Still, the survey offers illuminating insights into how America is perceived, and about how those perceptions correlate with religious identity.

There are complex reasons why the Orthosphere nations see the West as a threat, including economic ones. However:

But the perception of clashing values goes beyond different economic models. Pheiffer Noble added that there is a widespread sense among Russians that they are safeguarding civilization, be it through the conservative gender norms and sexual norms they advocate, the literature they produce, or the soldiers they send off to war in every generation. “In Russian culture, they have their canon, and their canon is pretty impressive,” she said. “They’ve got Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They’ve got iconography. They’ve got the idea of suffering as a cultural value—and they feel like they’re also winning at that.”

Sergei Chapnin, the former editor of the official journal of the Russian Orthodox Church, agreed that many Russians feel their country is both integral to European culture and superior to it. (Indeed, 69 percent say their “culture is superior to others,” the survey shows.) “We have a desire to cooperate with Europe and to call Europe an enemy,” he said. “These exist at the same time in the mass consciousness in Russia.” But he also warned that “politicians manipulate” this psychological tension, appealing sometimes to pro-Western feeling and sometimes to anti-Western feeling, in order to serve their own purposes.

Well, sure. But that doesn’t mean the psychological and cultural tensions aren’t real, and important. It’s very difficult for Americans to think of ourselves as anything but bearers of light and goodness to the nations of the world. Along those lines, many of us (especially secular liberals) see resistance to American values — and, more broadly, secular Western values — as a sign of irrational prejudice. The presumption that Western values are universal values is very strong.

These values are globally powerful not so much because they are true (though they may be), but because they are borne by the most economically and culturally powerful nations on earth, especially the United States. Ryszard Legutko, the Polish Catholic political philosopher, writes about how Western liberalism has come to mimic the coercive and unjust ways of the communism it displaced in Eastern Europe. Cultural imperialism is a real thing, and it is no less imperialistic because it hides its aggressiveness from the aggressors. As Legutko puts it, “The liberal-democratic man, especially if he is an intellectual or an artist, is very reluctant to learn, but, at the same time, all too eager to teach.”

When it comes to Orthodox Christianity and Orthodox Christian peoples, many Westerners assume that the Orthodox are just like our Christians, except they use more incense and come in more pronounced ethnic flavors. I used to be this way too, before I entered Orthodoxy in 2006. At that time, a fellow convert in my parish told me to be patient, that it would take at least a decade for my mind to begin thinking like an Orthodox Christian. I didn’t understand that. I thought it would simply be a matter of getting used to a few doctrinal changes, and a different way of worship. Not true. Orthodoxy is not so much a set of propositions as it is a way of being in the world — a way that has for the most part not been conditioned by the experience of modernity, as Western Christianity has.

I’m not here to argue whether that’s a good or a bad thing, though I think it’s mostly a good thing. My point is that Orthodox Christian civilization is meaningfully different from Western civilization, which assumes that liberal individualism is the correct social model.

In the US, for example, our religious culture has been dramatically shaped by Evangelical Protestantism, the Enlightenment, and capitalism — all modern phenomenon that understand religion in individualistic, voluntary terms. Orthodox cultures have a much more traditional form of Christianity and morality, and see religion in far more communal terms — as it was seen in the West prior to the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has correctly described the basic principle of Western cultural life today as affirming the individual’s freedom of choice, which includes diminishing the role of religion in public life. Kirill continued:

We cannot say that we live in a completely peaceful environment. Today there are battles without roar of guns, and the enemy who threatens us does not visibly cross our borders. However, we are all involved into what the Orthodox tradition calls ‘the invisible battle’. Everyone today is involved in this battle. We are offered a chaos, but we should not be bought by these recommendations and should not participate in the creation of chaos … We are offered sin, a destruction of the moral foundations.

In an academic paper about differences between the West and the Orthodox East on the meaning of human rights, law professor Mark Movsesian has written:

The [Russian Orthodox Church’s social teaching’s] ambivalence about individual rights and its emphasis on the religious community reflect central themes in Orthodox thought, which distrusts Western-style individualism. It is not simply a matter of rejecting the “excesses of individualism” in the matter of Western communitarian scholars. Orthodoxy often expresses discomfort with the very idea of the autonomous individual as a rights-holder. Orthodox thought emphasizes the relational self: a person is defined by relationship to others in the body of the Church. As Daniel Payne writes, “the Orthodox tradition understands the human being ecclesially rather than individualistically.” As a consequence, the tradition has a problem with the idea of individual rights in the Western manner. “[I]f there is any concept of rights in Orthodox political culture,” Payne explains, it is not individual rights, but “group rights.”

Moreover, Orthodox thought conflates religious and national identities in a stronger way than in the West. To be sure, religion can serve as a marker of national and cultural identity in the West as well; consider Italy and Poland. And citizenship in Orthodox countries is not directly tied to religion; as a formal matter, one can be a Russian citizen and not an Orthodox Christian. But religion and nationality are intertwined in a particularly powerful way in the Orthodox world. In Russia, for example, it is a “widely accepted idea”—“shared by politicians, intellectuals and clergy”—that Orthodoxy is the fundamental factor in national identity. Other historical and ethnic factors pale in comparison. The same may be said for other Orthodox countries, like Greece.

This is hard for Westerners — including Westerners like me, who have converted to Orthodoxy — to grasp. I bristle, for example, at restrictions on religious liberty in Russia, in particular on the freedom of minority forms of Christianity. But this is because I have a Westernized view of how religion relates to society. As Movsesian says elsewhere in the same law journal paper (for which there is no link), the Catholic Church’s current teaching on religious liberty is also informed by modernity’s individualism.

My point in this blog entry is not to argue for the superiority of one model over the other. I think both have their strengths and weaknesses. I do want, however, to point out that when Orthodox countries reject liberal Western ideas (e.g., gay rights, religious liberty), they are not necessarily doing so out of bigotry, but because they have a fundamentally different view on what the human person is, what the church is, and what society is. They see the West’s war on their traditions in the name of secular liberalism as an act of aggression — and they’re right. Many of us Westerners regard our actions instead as human rights activism, as fighting for basic liberties against structures of bigotry. But doing so requires accepting the modern Western way of seeing the world as normative — and assuming so is an act of cultural imperialism.

Hey, sometimes cultural imperialism is defensible. It was a very good thing, for example, that the colonizing British in the 19th century put an end to the ancient Indian practice of suttee (widow-burning). Even so, we should practice self-awareness when we are being cultural imperialists, and understand how our cultural hegemony appears in the eyes of other civilizations.

Contemporary America most fundamentally operates on the principle elucidated by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Leaving aside the legal and philosophical incoherence of this statement, and the coercion it conceals, it is nevertheless an accurate précis of the way Americans think about the relationship between society and religion, or any other source of transcendent meaning. Orthodox countries rightly reject it, because it is profoundly untrue to their own traditions and ways of living. To the Orthodox mind, what Kennedy proposes here is not liberty at all, but a form of bondage. Again, I’m not trying to convince you that the Orthodox view is correct, but only to point out that when Orthodox countries push back against Western “human rights” activists, it is a matter not only of self-defense, but defending themselves against what they genuinely believe to be lies that will destroy the fabric of society.

 

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Peter Augustine Lawler, RIP

Earlier this spring, with Peter Lawler (middle) at LSU

I received the news this morning that my friend Peter Augustine Lawler had died. It is always shocking to learn that a friend has passed, but this was a particular blow, because we about to celebrate the 2017 Walker Percy Weekend. Peter was a vital part of the first two Walker Percy Weekends, because he was a Catholic scholar who loved Percy and who loved the South, though not uncritically. Here is a terrific essay Lawler wrote about the mind of the South. Excerpt:

Southern literature at its best is a critical account of the mind of the semi-dispossessed aristocrat. Faulkner and Walker Percy, for example, let us see the self-deception at the core of racist paternalism, as well as the neglect for the truth about natural rights taught by Jefferson. But they also let us see how empty middle-class life is from an aristocratic view, and how clueless those who so methodically devote themselves to the pursuit of happiness are about what human happiness is. True individualism, from this view, regards rights not as rooted in calculated interests but as points of honor to be exercised honorably.

Among the instances in which Southern Stoic virtue has elevated the American mind, the most obvious is Harper Lee’s character Atticus (note the name) Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus’s virtue had nothing to do with Christian charity or the liberal understanding of rights. He was courageously and paternalistically taking responsibility for his inferiors, for those who couldn’t defend themselves against the vicious mob that threatened the rule of law in the decadent South.

And then there are the Stoic characters of Tom Wolfe. There’s one who becomes “a man in full” by reading Epictetus, and so knows what to do as a rational man completely isolated in a maximum security prison. There’s also the star basketball player in I Am Charlotte Simmons who learns how to treat women and regains his manly self-confidence through absorbing—making his own—his professor’s very Stoic reading of Aristotle. In Wolfe’s novels, the foundation of coming to live according to this version of natural perfection has nothing necessarily to do with being raised with Southern “class,” but he shows us that, in the classically Southern version, becoming a member of the class of rational, responsible, relational men is a possibility available to us all.

Wolfe, by reminding us that it’s barely possible but highly countercultural to live as a natural aristocrat in our clueless and trashy time—when our institutions of higher education are the most clueless and most trashy parts of American life—frames a narrative of American moral and intellectual decline. His nostalgia for the past is meant to be selective, and it is meant, of course, to inspire personal action in the present. The purely Southern mind—like all aristocratic narratives—is a reflection on our movement away from what was best about the past. And so the Southern mind is anti-progressive, even as it suggests, with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that the one true progress is toward wisdom and virtue in a particular human life.

Peter’s final essay appeared this morning in Public Discourse. It’s a meditation on Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” and it’s meaning for us today. Excerpt:

When it comes to the less elite sectors of our society, resistance to the linguistic therapy of the cognitive elite’s newly aggressive niceness takes a different form. Our anti-elite perceives itself as being stripped of the dignity that comes with being responsible citizens and having the wherewithal to raise a family. Their revolt is not only concerned with the compensation, security, and status of “skilled labor.” It also attempts to defend the opinions and beliefs of loving spouses, parents, citizens, and religious believers from corporate scripting. From the perspective of these rebels—Trump voters in our country and Brexit voters in Great Britain—the nice are lacking in real virtue, particularly personal courage and civic commitment. And they have been parasitic for their defense on those who orient their relational lives by God, country, and family.

I’m far from endorsing Trumpism, which attempts to counter being nice with being brutal. But there’s a lot to be said for any effort that restores the country as a real source of human loyalty and reminds us of the nobility and indispensability of relational virtue.

Bloom believed that, in an enlightened country, the thoughts of the sophisticated eventually transform the lives of everyone. We might have more reason than he did to hope that our story won’t be that simple. Now’s the time to praise manliness, but only in the context of showing the road from anger, meaninglessness, and despair to a world once again full of ladies and gentlemen—people who know who they are and what they’re supposed to do as beings born to know, love, and die, and designed for more than merely biological existence.

Peter Augustine Lawler knew who he was and what he was supposed to do.

Charles Copeland, writing for Peter’s friends and longtime colleagues at the Intercollegiat Studies Institute, mourns. Excerpt:

Devastated. Just devastated.

That is how everyone at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute feels today after learning that our friend Peter Augustine Lawler has passed away.

Actually, devastated is an understatement. Peter has played such an important role in ISI’s educational program for so long, and has been a friend, mentor, and teacher to so many, that it is almost impossible to imagine an ISI program in which he won’t play a major part. He has been an ISI stalwart for decades. He was a magnificent and beloved teacher, not least because he challenged students in ways that most professors never do. Peter taught in the ISI Honors Program for many years, becoming a mentor to countless ISI students. He was one of ISI’s most popular campus lecturers as well. Frankly, he is irreplaceable.

 

I will always remember him like he appears in the photo below: sitting on my front porch at the first Walker Percy Weekend, in a rocking chair, surrounded by bourbon-drinking Southerners (and aspiring Southerners) who enjoyed the pleasure of his company. RIP.

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Once Again, Islamic Terror

It’s hard to know what to say anymore about things like the Manchester bombing. What more could the security services be doing than they surely are already doing? Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber, was born in Britain, the son of Libyan refugees. We will find out very soon what kind of life he had, and who his associates may have been, but as has been pointed out many times, young Muslims self-radicalize through the Internet. It is entirely possible that he acted on his own.

How do we guard against things like this happening without becoming a police state? Is it even possible?

UK commentator Rod Liddle rather bitterly sums up what he says is the message from the BBC broadcasting this morning. Excerpt:

We must all come together. Hope, not hate. Nothing to do with Islam. Nothing to do with Muslims. Just a rogue individual, possibly in the employ of some mysterious foreign agency. Just terrorism, bad people. Unaligned wickedness. Nothing to do with religion. We must all come together. And show love. And solidarity. Hope not hate.

Je Suis Ariana Grande. Already viciousness is being expressed on social media sites. People jumping to all sorts of conclusions. Horrible, horrible, people – no better than the murderer. Who might just as easily have been a Methodist. Remember Jo Cox? That wasn’t them, was it? There, you see.

I share his scorn for the usual bromides. But Alex Massie, also writing in The Spectator, gets it right too. Excerpt:

In the aftermath of this, nuance is easily lost but no less important than ever. To observe that an act of terrorism was religiously-motivated does not mean responsibility for it is shared by all the perpetrator’s co-religionists. And yet it remains reasonable to ask what motivated the bomber, who inspired him, whose writings or teachings or words gave him the serenity and security of ‘righteousness’ and ask what can be done to counter this. We ask because we need to know and because knowing can aid the process of doing something, however imperfectly, about it.

That might amount to little more than more of the same and it is easy, in the heartbroken pain of the moment, to understand why that must seem a wholly inadequate, even insulting, response to murder on this scale. And yet the alternatives are no better and often worse. An over-reaction, while satisfying a sense of justified outrage, does little to make such events less likely in the future. And any reaction which fails to meet that test – the test of whether it makes these attacks more or less likely – is likely to prove unwise.

The bromides about a community pulling together, about insisting that we have more in common than whatever divides us, that we – that Manchester – will meet horror with a certain dogged fortitude, have become the stuff of cliche. But cliches rest on truths and a hackneyed truth is no less true for being so familiar it risks seeming glib. The official responses to last night’s events, from the Prime Minister down, have said all the right things in all the right, grimly familiar, ways.

If you have nothing helpful to say, it’s probably better to say nothing at all. I’m talking to you, Slate”s Christina Cauterucci:

Like her pop-superstar predecessor Britney Spears, Grande has advanced a renegade, self-reflexive sexuality that’s threatening to the established heteropatriarchal order. If the Manchester bombing was an act of terrorism, its venue indicates that the attack was designed to terrorize young girls who idolize Grande’s image. … These girls are survivors of an orchestrated attack on girls and girlhood, a massive act of gender-based violence.

The arrogant stupidity of wokeness. Those girls weren’t killed by the heteropatriarchy, you dimwit. They were slaughtered by a radical Muslim.

We all struggle for something to say in part because we want to bound the horror by rationality, to re-establish a sense of control. That is an illusion.

UPDATE: This is what ISIS is:

Terrified eyewitnesses who survived the Manchester Arena terror attack have described the horrifying scene last night – with one teenager saying: ‘People’s skin and blood were everywhere’.

Homeless people outside the venue were ‘pulling nails out of children’s faces’ and ‘cradled victims in their arms’ after an improvised explosive device was detonated.

There is nothing to do but to kill them all.

UPDATE.2: Kill ISIS members, of course, just as you would have to kill SS members of Khmer Rouge. My point is that they will never, ever stop. They are not people who use terrorism as a means to achieve a goal. They simply like killing infidels.

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Monty Python, Enemies Of The People

In today’s dispatch from the blasphemy news desk, Britain’s Liberal Democratic party is getting beat up by its own supporters for releasing this campaign poster, featuring the face of Nigel Farage superimposed on Prime Minister Teresa May’s:

The Telegraph writes:

On Sunday, when the poster was released, the chair of LGBQ Lib Dems, Jennie Rigg, complained about how the press team was “making her life difficult”.

She tweeted: “Guys, this is bordering on transphobia, and it would make my job as chair of plus a lot easier of you didn’t do this sort of thing.

“I’m not missing the humour, I just don’t find humour that picks on people who already have a suicide attempt rate of 50% that funny.”

Um, this image was not remotely picking on transgenders, but whatever, Crazypants Identity Politician. The mainstream left in Britain have already savaged the hapless LibDem leader Tim Farron, a left-wing Christian, for his apparently orthodox private views on homosexuality, even though he votes as an MP for gay rights, and the LibDem are totally on board the LGBT train.

What’s next? Will the Pythons, now elderly, have to flee Britain to avoid the re-education camps?

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‘There Is No Plan B’

Piazza of St. Benedict, in Norcia, before the earthquake

I was quite pleased to read my friend Conor Dugan’s generous (but not uncritical) review of The Benedict Option, which appeared last week in Catholic World Report. The thing I’m most grateful for is his detailed and accurate summary of what the book actually says — something that has been confoundingly rare in a number of reviews. Excerpts:

Dreher also suggests a more modest, but realistic politics. “The first goal of Benedict Option Christians in the world of conventional politics is to secure and expand the space within which we can be ourselves and build our own institutions.” Christians must “create and support ‘parallel structures’ in which the truth can be lived in community.” Dreher denies that this is a form of retreat. Rather, the “parallel polis must understand itself as fighting for ‘the preservation or the renewal of the national community in the widest sense of the word—along with the defense of all the values, institutions, and material conditions to which the existence of such a community is bound.’”

Reading these suggestions about a new politics, immediately brought to mind a young Polish actor named Karol Wojtyla and the Rhapsodic Theater of the Word with which he performed in Nazi-occupied Poland. Risking his own life, the future saint and his acting troupe lived out a form of cultural and political resistance through acting. No one would accuse Wojtyla of having retreated from evil. Rather, he was creating a zone of freedom, generating true and authentic culture that could stand up against the bulwark of evil.

I’ve mentioned in this space before that when I asked my friend the philosopher Michael Hanby for advice at the the beginning of my writing the book, he said I should ask myself the question, “What would Wojtyla do?” Hanby cited the same case that Dugan does, and said further that Wojtyla and his circle knew that the most important thing that Christians could do under those circumstances was keep cultural memory alive — especially the memory of what it was to be a real Christian.

More:

Yet, time and time again, critics have accused Dreher of suggesting that Christians must run for the hills, away from an impure world. These critics argue that Dreher’s solution is to create Christian enclaves, bubbles. Any halfway careful reading of The Benedict Option shows that this is simply not true. Repeatedly Dreher writes that any shoring up of the Christian community is for the sake of the world. For instance, Dreher writes:

If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have.

The point is not a fleeing from the world, but a turning to God in order to serve God and man more deeply. With approval Dreher quotes Father Benedict of Norcia as saying: “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance. It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.”

On that point, Dugan does something I’ve not seen anybody do in any other reviews: ties my vision to Pope Benedict XVI’s prophetic statement (in 1969, when he was only Father Ratzinger) that the Church was going to lose wealth and power, and would experience a tremendous falling-away to a small remnant of true believers. But from that mustard seed, the Church would be reborn. Dugan:

How can this be? How can a smaller, weaker Church become this light for the world? It is precisely because of something against which Pope Benedict constantly warned. Despite scurrilous charges, Pope Benedict never called for an isolated or insular Church, a pure Church separated from the world. Indeed, the exact opposite theme permeates Benedict’s work. While the Church may be small, she must be open and attentive to the world. She must not be of the world, but she must be at the heart of the world. Take for instance then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s answer to Peter Seewald in God and the World: “The Church of the first three centuries was a small Church and nevertheless was not a sectarian community. On the contrary, she was not partitioned off; rather, she saw herself as responsible for the poor, for the sick, for everyone. All those who sought a faith in the one God, who sought a promise, found their place in her.” It was a theme that Pope Benedict returned to forcefully in a 2011 visit to Germany. Speaking to Church personnel in Freiburg, Pope Benedict laid out a vision of a Church pouring herself out for the world by setting “herself apart from her surroundings, to become in a certain sense ‘unworldly.’” By discovering the “right form of detachment from the world” which “does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world,” the Church is freed to “mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers.”

This is the model for the Church today. And this, ultimately, is what Dreher is proposing in The Benedict Option: the Church returning to her roots, giving up worldliness, so that she can more radically serve the world.

Let me address one of the criticisms Dugan makes:

In conclusion, let me offer a few criticisms and questions as a friend and admirer of Dreher. First, is a concern about the name itself of the book. The terms “option” and “strategy” in the title and subtitle undermine Dreher’s project. They concede too much to liberalism and the lie at its heart that one choice is as good as another. Further, the terms too easily allow Dreher’s critics to dismiss this as a brand or a fad. But Dreher is not simply presenting another lifestyle choice, one option among the smorgasbord of various options of how we can live out our lives. Rather, he is re-presenting the Christian way of life. (In this critics are correct that Dreher isn’t offering a new vision; he’s offering a traditional vision for living our lives in this world.) We won’t be saved by strategies.

He’s right about this, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this critique regarding framing my program as an “option”. I should clarify that I really don’t think Christians who want their descendants to come through this crisis with their faith intact have an alternative. My hope is that by the end of the book, readers will agree that in truth, there is no choice here. I present it as an “option” with reference to Alasdair MacIntyre’s framing of the choice the early Benedictines made: to quit dedicating their energies to shoring up a failing social order, and instead focus on building up smaller communities within which it would be possible to live out their faith through the dark age to come. For us traditional/conservative/orthodox Christians today, we do have a choice: we can continue living as these were more or less normal times, or we can recognize the radicalism of the age, and respond appropriately.

In fact, Christians cannot avoid the choice. To refuse the choice is to choose, whether you like it or not. The culture in which we are all immersed is so powerful that unless you are consciously and meaningfully pushing back against it, it will carry you along and transform you into its image. It already has for many, and perhaps most, American Christians.

Read the whole thing. 

And, if you are so inclined, buy the book.  At the Wilberforce Weekend conference I attended in the Washington area this past weekend, I received a warm reception from Evangelicals. One man told me that he doesn’t agree with everything I have to say in the book, but he’s grateful that I wrote it, and he’s telling all his friends to read it, because “his is a conversation the church needs to have right now.”

I recently heard from a reader who offered some thoughts about why so many Christians resist the Benedict Option concept in an irrational way (e.g., misconstruing my argument as a way of dismissing it without actually engaging it). In particular, he talked about why there’s so much resistance to the idea that we Christians have a much diminished capacity to effect change through politics in post-Christian America.

This post is already very long, so I won’t quote any more, but I can sum up his message like this: They have no Plan B. He explained that it’s very hard for our side (conservative Christians) to imagine living in a country and a society that is not Christian, or not recoverable for Christianity. Therefore, they double down on the denial of our situation. Trump has to be seen as a tribune of Christian hope, because if not, what do we have? What do we do? Where do we go?

So they continue to “shore up the imperium” (the phrase is MacIntyre’s) because the thought of anything else terrifies them. And it genuinely can be scary. At the Wilberforce conference, the evangelist Ravi Zacharias gave a powerful address, telling the gathered audience that we have entered a time in which society is beyond mere sinfulness (a distortion of the good) and is becoming in fact “evil” — defined by Zacharias as the denial of the foundations we need to understand what sin is, and what goodness is. I agree with him. We Christians have to face facts, and respond to the world as it is, not as it used to be.

 

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Trump In Arabia

Donald Trump and King Salman sign statement in Riyadh (Ninian Reed/Flickr)

My colleague Daniel Larison hated Trump’s speech in Riyadh. He faulted the president for fawning over the Saudis, and for condemning Iran when the Saudis are guilty of worse. Larison is right. When Trump said that the Iranian people are the victims of the Iranian government, and when he looked forward to the day when “the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve,” he overlooked the fact that he was in a country ruled by an absolute monarchy, and that Iran, whatever its faults, has elections.

Larison is also right to condemn Trump for participation in this charade. From Trump’s speech:

Later today, we will make history again with the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology – located right here, in this central part of the Islamic World. This groundbreaking new center represents a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization, and I want to express our gratitude to King Salman for this strong demonstration of leadership.

This is like celebrating the Philip Morris Center for Lung Health, or the Miley Cyrus Finishing School for Young Ladies. Saudi Arabia is the world center of extremist ideology — and behind oil, that is the country’s leading export. Last summer, The New York Times reported:

The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.

There is a broad consensus that the Saudi ideological juggernaut has disrupted local Islamic traditions in dozens of countries — the result of lavish spending on religious outreach for half a century, estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The result has been amplified by guest workers, many from South Asia, who spend years in Saudi Arabia and bring Saudi ways home with them. In many countries, Wahhabist preaching has encouraged a harshly judgmental religion, contributing to majority support in some polls in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries for stoning for adultery and execution for anyone trying to leave Islam.

More:

And for a small minority in many countries, the exclusionary Saudi version of Sunni Islam, with its denigration of Jews and Christians, as well as of Muslims of Shiite, Sufi and other traditions, may have made some people vulnerable to the lure of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other violent jihadist groups. “There’s only so much dehumanizing of the other that you can be exposed to — and exposed to as the word of God — without becoming susceptible to recruitment,” said David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington who tracks Saudi influence.

Exhibit A may be Saudi Arabia itself, which produced not only Osama bin Laden, but also 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001; sent more suicide bombers than any other country to Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State, 2,500, than any country other than Tunisia.

Mehmet Gormez, the senior Islamic cleric in Turkey, said that while he was meeting with Saudi clerics in Riyadh in January, the Saudi authorities had executed 47 people in a single day on terrorism charges, 45 of them Saudi citizens. “I said: ‘These people studied Islam for 10 or 15 years in your country. Is there a problem with the educational system?’ ” Mr. Gormez said in an interview. He argued that Wahhabi teaching was undermining the pluralism, tolerance and openness to science and learning that had long characterized Islam. “Sadly,” he said, the changes have taken place “in almost all of the Islamic world.”

In a huge embarrassment to the Saudi authorities, the Islamic State adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools until the extremist group could publish its own books in 2015. Out of 12 works by Muslim scholars republished by the Islamic State, seven are by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century founder of the Saudi school of Islam, said Jacob Olidort, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Adil al-Kalbani declared with regret in a television interview in January that the Islamic State leaders “draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, our own principles.”

In 2002, I went to a Muslim bookstore on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. It was next door to a mosque that had been used by al Qaeda for recruitment. I bought some English language literature that came from Saudi publishing houses. It was radical stuff. I’ll never forget this one thin book giving instruction to new converts to Islam. In one section it warned them against spending time with Christians and other non-Muslims, because “you might come to love them.”

As the Times story points out, the story about the Saudis is complicated. They are not the only reason some Muslims turn to terrorism. And they do help the United States by providing intelligence on terrorists, and they execute people within the Kingdom whom they catch involved in terrorism. Still:

An American scholar with long experience in Saudi Arabia — who spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve his ability to travel to the kingdom for research — said he believed that Saudi influence had often been exaggerated in American political discourse. But he compared it to climate change. Just as a one-degree increase in temperature can ultimately result in drastic effects around the globe, with glaciers melting and species dying off, so Saudi teaching is playing out in many countries in ways that are hard to predict and difficult to trace but often profound, the scholar said.

Saudi proselytizing can result in a “recalibrating of the religious center of gravity” for young people, the scholar said, which makes it “easier for them to swallow or make sense of the ISIS religious narrative when it does arrive. It doesn’t seem quite as foreign as it might have, had that Saudi religious influence not been there.”

Here’s another part of Trump’s speech:

Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.

Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death.

If we do not act against this organized terror, then we know what will happen. Terrorism’s devastation of life will continue to spread. Peaceful societies will become engulfed by violence. And the futures of many generations will be sadly squandered.

If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing—then not only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by history, but we will be judged by God.

This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations.

This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.

One expects presidents and diplomats to lie as part of the job, for the sake of the greater good. I don’t know that it would have done the United States much good if Trump had told the truth about Islamic terrorism: that it is hard to disentangle it from the religion’s teachings. We have to hope that Muslims can do this, for the good of the whole world, but this is only something they can do. Though she is an apostate from Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is right to say that most Muslims around the world do not seek violence, but for those who do, the Quran provides clear religious sanction for it:

Anyone seeking support for armed jihad in the name of Allah will find ample support in the passages in the Quran and Hadith that relate to Mohammed’s Medina period. For example, Q4:95 states, “Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home).” Q8:60 advises Muslims “to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know.” Finally, Q9:29 instructs Muslims: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Mainstream Islamic jurisprudence continues to maintain that the so-called “sword verses” (9:5 and 9:29) have “abrogated, canceled, and replaced” those verses in the Quran that call for “tolerance, compassion, and peace.”

As for the example of Mohammed, Sahih Muslim, one of the six major authoritative Hadith collections, claims the Prophet Mohammed undertook no fewer than 19 military expeditions, personally fighting in eight of them. In the aftermath of the 627 Battle of the Trench, “Mohammed felt free to deal harshly with the Banu Qurayza, executing their men and selling their women and children into slavery,” according to Yale Professor of Religious Studies Gerhard Bowering in his book Islamic Political Thought. As the Princeton scholar Michael Cook observed in his book Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, “the historical salience of warfare against unbelievers … was thus written into the foundational texts” of Islam.

There lies the duality within Islam. It’s possible to claim, following Mohammed’s example in Mecca, that Islam is a religion of peace. But it’s also possible to claim, as the Islamic State does, that a revelation was sent to Mohammed commanding Muslims to wage jihad until every human being on the planet accepts Islam or a state of subservience, on the basis of his legacy in Medina. The key question is not whether Islam is a religion of peace, but rather, whether Muslims follow the Mohammed of Medina, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shiite.The key question is not whether Islam is a religion of peace, but rather, whether Muslims follow the Mohammed of Medina, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shiite.

Ali goes on to say that it does no good to engage with Muslims who maintain that Islam has nothing whatsoever to do with violence, because this is a polite fiction. Trump was right to say this in his speech:

But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.

It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.

A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.

Again: the Saudi theocracy is a global manufacturer of a fundamentalist form of Islam that it spreads around the world, thanks to its vast wealth. If the Saudis drove “extremists” out of their country, how many people would be left? Compounding the problem, a decade or so ago, I talked with a senior US Middle Eastern diplomat, then retired, who told me that the Saudi royal family are the most liberal force in the entire country. As bad as they are on this stuff, he said, any potential alternative is worse.

Still, it is striking to note the difference between Candidate Trump and President Trump. In his 2011 book, Trump wrote of Saudi Arabia:

It’s the world’s biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petro dollars, our very own money, to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people while the Saudis rely on us to protect them.

Now, President Trump has just given a fulsome speech lauding the Saudis and reaffirming US commitment to the Kingdom. His speech was a repeat of longstanding bipartisan US policy towards the Saudis: give them whatever they want. Anybody expecting a shake-up in US Middle East policy will have been sorely disappointed. It’s hard to find anything in Trump’s speech that could not have been said by George W. Bush or Barack Obama, or any other American president.

Maybe, just maybe, it was the best of all possible alternative things Trump could have said. Or maybe this is only the latest example of Trump becoming like the Establishment he supposedly abhors. Ross Douthat wrote yesterday:

Trump is not actually governing as a populist or revolutionary, and the rolling crises of his first four months are not really about resistance to an “America First” or “drain the swamp” agenda, no matter what his fund-raising emails insist.

In Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump, the great iconoclast, symbolically drank a toast to Manor Farm. If you read Orwell’s Animal Farm, you know what happened next:

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

I wonder what Steve Bannon thought of the speech.

UPDATE: This letter comes from reader and commenter Mohammad, who writes from Iran:

We had almost one month of breathtaking political advertising, campaigning and fighting in Iran. If you want to get a sense, add up all the tension and excitement the Americans had during your last presidential election campaign, and insert it into a two month period. I actually wrote a comment on one of the article in TAC about this election while I was in the line waiting (for two hours) to cast my vote.

Everybody was on her/his mobile sending and receiving messages about the election. The environment was as tense as you can imagine. The young people, the students, the artists, the intellectuals, even many Iranians in exile…. were spontaneously campaigning for the moderate side, that is Rouhani and his brand of politics. On the other hand, there were the hardliners pushing hard and using all their influence, money and power to try to re-take the presidency. They were successful mostly in rural areas, where the poverty is very high and the promises of economical help always works.

The cities, especially the big ones, went almost entirely to Rouhani. It was a landslide victory, and showed clearly that the real number of people who want isolation and radicalization of Iran is very small. As I mentioned, most voters who went for the other side were from the poor areas, and their main concern was economical, not ideological. The people who voted for Rouhani, on the other hand, had a very clear vision of what he stood for.

As a response to this election, Mr. Trump, as wise as he is, chose to use all the anti-Iran rhetoric he could use, and sided unequivocally with the Iran’s rivals, the Saudis. Now I am the last person to assume that, in the problems between Iranians and Saudis, the blames go only, or even mostly, to Saudis. Iranians have their own share (actually a big share and maybe the bigger share) of the blame. Also,  I have zero sympathy, zero, for the values of Iran’s revolution of 1978. But how Trump’s behavior can help anything in this regard, I am at loss. It only makes any rapprochement and understanding between the two sides all the more unlikely, it rewards anti-American side in Iran (who always claim that the enmity of the USA towards Iran will not assume any lessening no matter how Iranians try to conform to what the USA wants), it punishes Iranian moderates, it rewards all the bad behavior of Saudis (recently increasing every day)……But of course, it is a good policy for selling weapons! Who can doubt that!

Keep all this in mind when you assert, as sometimes you do, that even though the Iraq war was a mistake and a disaster, the intentions of its proprietors were mostly good, and only if the Iraqis could accept what good the Americans had dreamed for them! I would register to the myth of the good intentions of the interventionists 10 years ago, but not now. Now I see only evil and hypocrisy, in act and in intention.

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View From Your Table

Puebla, Mexico

My son Matt is in Puebla, Mexico, this weekend with a friend. Matt, across the table, is eating enchiladas in mole. Our friend, who took the shot, is eating maguey worms.

More recent VFYTs:

Laguna Beach, California

The reader writes:

Sat. am jazz, Laguna Beach, CA. The eschaton hasn’t quite arrived today.

And look at this, willya?

Porto, Portugal

The reader writes:

I recently got back from a trip to northern Portugal and wanted to share a phenomenal dish with you: The Francesinha. It’s a Portuguese take on the croque monsieur. The attached video shows how one is made, although there are plenty of variations as the one that I ate had a fried egg on top. There is *a lot* of meat in this sandwich, so it’s not something to eat if you’re stationary — but we were walking many miles a day, so bom apetite!!
https://youtu.be/dcpGu8uVq_Q

This sandwich is a staple in Porto, the nation’s 2nd largest city, and we saw it on the menu board in almost every cafe. We actually had ours at the Cafe Piohlo Douro, near the University of Porto, a restaurant itself over 100 years old.

Anyways, I wanted to recommend a visit to Portugal if you have a chance.

I second that recommendation. Julie and I went to Portugal for our honeymoon. We visited the Algarve and Lisbon, with a short pilgrimage to Fatima. Best thing I ate was porco alentejo, which is pork nuggets and clams in broth. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s good.

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God & The Violin

Thanks to a new German Catholic friend in Munich for sending this along.

That clip is a made-up version of this real-life experiment involving violinist Joshua Bell in the DC subway. If you don’t know this story, you should!

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‘A Real Nut Job’

Deeper and deeper into the hole:

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that the president dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.

The comments represented an extraordinary moment in the investigation, which centers in part on the administration’s contacts with Russian officials: A day after firing the man leading that inquiry, Mr. Trump disparaged him — to Russian officials.

The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not dispute the account.

So, let’s review: the President of the United States told the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador that he fired the “nut job” director of the FBI to get the heat off of himself … because of his relationship to them.

When the Comey firing first broke, some in the media compared it to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” I thought that was over the top. You may recall that President Nixon faced possible impeachment in part over obstruction of justice charges in the House, but resigned to avoid that potential fate. President Clinton was impeached in part on an obstruction of justice charge for lying under oath about his extramarital affair. The more this Trump-Comey thing drags out, the easier it is becoming to make an obstruction of justice charge plausible as part of an impeachment proceeding (which is not the same thing as a criminal proceeding, note well).

A country whose president fires the FBI director because he’s irritated by an investigation into members of his administration, in particular an investigation that involves possible illegal contacts with a hostile foreign power. That’s what we have become.

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