Most comments about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad assert that Muslimsbelieve it is completely taboo to depict him, period. But is the ban ondepicting the prophet really so severe? At Zombietimeyou can view dozens of images of the prophet, including some from theMuslim world: medieval Persian miniatures; a portrait of Muhammad as ayouth by the contemporary Iranian woman painter Oranous (okay byShi'ites because he wasn't the prophet yet); posters being sold in Iraqright now.
From the Middle Ages on, Muhammad has appeared in Western art notinfrequently--in drawings, paintings, book illustrations, comics,advertisements, and on the covers of books and magazines, including arecent issue of Le Nouvel Observateur.
Muhammad has been portrayed by the cartoonist Doug Marlette and hasappeared on South Park. And get this: Muhammad appears on the NorthFrieze in the courtroom of our very own Supreme Court! He's the man withthe scimitar, between Justinian and Charlemagne.
Some of this art is respectful; some fanciful and playful; somesatirical or even crude and vicious. Only once, however, has any of itseemed to bother believers: in 2002 police uncovered a jihadist plan toblow up the church of San Petronio in Bologna, site of a fresco byGiovanni da Modena showing Muhammad being tortured in Hell (this scene,from Dante's Inferno, was also depicted by Gustav Dore, William Blake,Auguste Rodin and Salvador Dali).
I don't know where exactly this clarification takes us. Maybe I'm justirked by lazy pundits who talk about the global uproar as if everyoneshould have known this is what happens when you draw Muhammad:Naturally, believers would go round the bend!
But wait, a solution may be at hand to this whole clash of civilizationsthing. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly which reprinted theMuhammad-mocking Danish cartoons, says it will publish cartoonssatirizing the Holocaust. I guess they didn't want to be upstaged byIran, where President Ahmadinejad an announced a a contest forHolocaust-mocking cartoons. (This is an advance on his previousposition, which was to deny the Holocaust occurred. Now, it happened,but it's funny.). At last Muslim fundamentalists and free-speech-loving Europeans have found common ground: Anti-semitism!
Few figures have contributed more to the debate about corporate globalization than Jose Bove, the French farmer whose dismantling of a McDonald's restaurant that was under construction near his sheep farm was something of a "shot-heard-round-the-world" in the struggle against the homogenization of food, culture and lifestyles.
While his assault on the local manifestation of the restaurant chain that has come to symbolize the one-size-fits-all character of globalization was a blunt act, Bove is known in France and abroad as a thoughtful theorist and strategist whose critique of the World Trade Organization's pro-corporate agenda has done much to alert activists around the world to the threats posed to workers, farmers, communities and democracy by WTO moves that allow multinational firms to disregard the laws and traditions of countries in which they operate.
But Bove, who has been a frequent visitor to the United States since he played an important part in the 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, is no longer welcome in George W. Bush's America.
When he arrived Wednesday at New York's JFK Airport on a trip that was supposed to take him to Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations for events sponsored by Cornell's Global Labor Institute, Bove was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who told him he was suddenly "ineligible" to enter the U.S.Before the night was done, Bove was hustled onto an Air France flight that returned him to his homeland.
Why can't Bove, one of the most influential political activists on the planet, speak in the U.S.?
According to Bove, the agents told him he was being denied entry because of his past prosecutions for "moral crimes."
The French activist's "crimes" may have been motivated by a deep sense of morality. But they were, more precisely, political acts, usually involving nonviolent civil disobedience or symbolic gestures meant to raise the awareness of the French regarding globalization -- most notably the 1999 dismantling of the restaurant McDonald's was developing in Millau, a community in southern France that is not far from the cooperative farm where Bove has lived and worked for decades.
And Bove's political views are not in synch with those of a president who used his recent State of the Union address to talk up his commitment to globalization with a corporate face.
Bove does not for a second believe that the U.S. officials who blocked his entry were concerned about morality, or particular "crimes." Rather, he suggested to reporters on Wednesday evening, the militantly pro-free trade Bush administration has found a new avenue to constrain the debate about its policies.
"I think this administration is crazy," Bove explained. "They don't want any discussion that can affect all the things going on with globalization. They don't want people coming from outside to discuss it."
Coming at a time when the Bush administration faces scrutiny for warrantless wiretapping and other assaults on basic liberties, when new evidence of domestic spying on dissidents surfaceson a regular basis, and when we just witnessed the removal of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan from the Capitol before the president delivered his State of the Union address, that's hardly an unreasonable claim.
Certainly, it is a matter that merits a Congressional inquiry -- not just into this incident but into the whole question of whether customs and border operations have, like so many other functions of the federal government, been abused for political purposes by an administration that is far more committed to advancing the agenda of its corporate contributors that it is to respecting the rule of law.
So George doesn't know Jack? How then to explain the emails between Abramoff and Washingtonian editor Kim Eisler, published today by Think Progress?
First, Abramoff explains his decision not to travel to Bush's Crawford ranch after he received an invite in 2003:
NO, IT WAS THAT I WOULD HAVE HAD TO TRAVEL ON SATURDAY (SHABBOS). YES, I WAS INVITED, DURING THE 2004 CAMPAIGN. IT WAS SATURDAY AUGUST 9, 2003 AT THE RANCH IN CRAWFORD.
Second, Abramoff describes nearly a dozen meetings with Bush:
HE HAS ONE OF THE BEST MEMORIES OF ANY POLITICIAN I HAVE EVER MET. IT WAS ONE IF [sic] HIS TRADEMARKS, THOUGH OF COURSE HE CAN'T RECALL THAT HE HAS A GREAT MEMORY! THE GUY SAW ME IN ALMOST A DOZEN SETTINGS, AND JOKED WITH ME ABOUT A BUNCH OF THINGS, INCLUDING DETAILS OF MY KIDS. PERHAPS HE HAS FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING. WHO KNOWS.
I guess the scandal's moved beyond Chanukah parties. Let's see Scotty spin this.
President Bush can't seem to tell people enough times, in enough ways, about his self-proclaimed determination to "leave no child behind." The most recent occurrence came, predictably, during his State of the Union address, when he offered this bit of faux-wisdom, "If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world."
He then promptly cut Department of Education funding by $2.1 billion and shortchanged No Child Left Behind by $15.4 Billion. He froze Pell grants for the fifth straight year, despite the fact that average tuitions and fees at public universities have risen 40 percent since 2001, pricing more and more young people out of college every day. 19,000 children face elimination from the Head Start Program as his funding fails to keep pace with inflation.
Arlen Specter called the cuts "scandalous." One wonders what the President might say if he dropped the platitudes and actually spoke the truth about his values when it comes to young people. How might that read exactly? I welcome submissions.
Those critics who systematically caricature the Democratic Party as "soft on defense" should've headed down to the National Mall in Washington on this brisk Wednesday morning. Against the backdrop of the US Capitol, 40 of the 55 veterans running as Democrats for Congress in 2006 assembled "to take the flag out of the hands of Karl Rove and his political assasins," said Eric Massa, a 24-year Navy Officer vying for a seat in upstate New York.
These "Band of Brothers," including nine Iraq veterans, saluted their country but implored the need for a "change of course" on the war, Congressional corruption, VA health care and basic bread-and-butter issues.
The Fighting Dems include:
** Bill Winter, a 10-year Marine Corps and Navy vet who's running against the vile immigrant-basher Rep. Tom Tancredo in suburban Denver, Colorado.
** Jim Nelson, a self-described "military veteran, Methodist minister and moderate Democrat" who's seeking the Georgia seat of Rep. Jack Kingston, one of Tom DeLay's closest allies in the House.
** Joe Sulzer, a Vietnam vet and mayor of Chillicothe, Ohio, who wants to oust the soon-to-be-indicted Rep. Bob Ney.
** Mishonda Baldwin, a Desert Storm vet who's trying to become the first African-American woman elected to the House from Maryland.
GOP attack dogs may have been able to swift boat the hapless John Kerry. Let them try and do it to over fifty vets. As Tim Dunn, an Iraq war vet from Fayetteville, North Carolina, put it: "It's time to take the Hill."
Just as they did following the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, Republican operatives and their acolytes in the media are now claiming that there was something inappropriate about the manner in which those who knew Coretta Scott King best mourned her passing. So great is the determination of the spin doctors for a White House that seeks to protect George Bush from even the mildest expressions of dissent that commentators rushed Tuesday to television studios even before the service for Mrs. King was done to denounce former President Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for expressing sentiments not usually heard by this protected president.
But don't think that anything untoward actually took place in the Atlanta suburb where thousands gathered to celebrate the life, the work and the politics of Mrs. King. The service provided the president with a healthy -- if all too rare -- dose of reality. Bush's policies are not popular, particularly with the African-American community, and the president needed a gentle reminder of the fact. Indeed, the president was far more graceful in the receipt of the dissenting messages that were uttered at the service for Mrs. King than were those who rushed to condemn his critics.
What got the Republican spin machine humming Wednesday?
The see no evil, hear no evil, acknowledge no evil crowd was furious that several speakers used their brief portions of the six-hour remembrance service for the widow of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to pointedly echo the anti-war, anti-poverty and anti-racist themes that were so central to Mrs. King's life and work. The event featured no direct attacks on President Bush, who seated himself prominently on the stage of the vast New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in an Atlanta suburb. Instead, there were the sort of knowing, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted, prods that often are heard at memorial services of this kind.
Atlanta Mayor Franklin, whose address followed that of the president, made reference to Mrs. King criticism of "the senselessness of war" and recalled, correctly, that the late civil rights activist's voice was heard "from the tin-top roofs of Soweto to the bomb shelters of Baghdad."
That did not sit well with those who believe the president's precious ears must be protected from the sound of any and all dissents with regard to the quagmire that is Iraq.
Even more unsettling to the critics were the words of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who worked for decades with the Kings. Of Mrs. King, Lowery recalled, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here." As the crowd cheered, Lowery boomed: "Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor."
Ultimately, however, it was not Lowery but Carter who took the hardest hits for daring to dissent. Noting the slow and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, Carter pointed out that, "We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."
For this comment, and for recalling the historical fact that the Kings were victims of "secret government wiretapping and surveillance" -- a sore point for a president who is under fire for ordering warrantless wiretaps -- Carter was denounced as "shameless" by the New York Post and ridiculed by Republican commentators.
To his credit, Bush seemed to take the criticism is stride, even shaking hands with and embracing Lowery, Carter and other speakers. And that may be the most important point that can be made about this rare moment in which the president heard actual dissent -- as opposed to the manufactured applause that usually accompanies his stage-managed public appearances. As someone who covered Bush long before he took office in 2001, I have always believed him to be a more gracious and thoughtful man than his presidency has made him out to be. Bush and his presidency suffer from having been placed in the bubble to which his neoconservative handlers have consigned him. Indeed, despite the ranting and raving of the spin doctors who would have us believe that it was wrong to honor Mrs. King by echoing the dissents she made during her lifetime, both President Bush and the American discourse surely benefitted from a real moment in these surreal times.
Ten thousand people mourned Corretta Scott King at her funeral yesterday. President Bush was also in attendance. The stark contrast between the life of Mrs. King, and the Man Who Would be King, is hard to miss.
In 2003, Mrs. King noted, ''A war with Iraq will increase anti-American sentiment, create more terrorists, and drain as much as 200 billion taxpayer dollars, which should be invested in human development here in America."
King George, on the other hand, has pursued a win-at-any-cost of lives and dollars war in Iraq, while slashing already meager funds aimed at alleviating growing poverty.
The disconnect between the real King and the pretend one wasn't lost on Mrs. King's friends. Rev. Joseph Lowery noted in his eulogy-- that literally made George Bush squirm, "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew… that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."
Yesterday, Mrs. King's friends paid tribute to her, and let it be known that the struggle continues. No matter how much that makes the pretend king squirm.
Despite his best efforts, George Bush's recent budget places his values in plain view for all of America to see. Mr. Bush plans to cut $65 billion from domestic spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, low-income housing, education, and food stamps, while extending his favorite petproject--tax cuts for the very wealthy. Even worse, in order to make the claim that he will cut the deficit in half before leaving office, Mr. Bush asks that Congress adopt a brand new approach to budgeting. Under this plan, Congress would not treat an extension of Bush's permanent tax cuts as having any cost!
As Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in the New York Times, "[This] is the most flagrant gimmick in the history of the U.S. budget. It's so flagrant," Greenstein added, " that I don't think even Congress will give it to them." (Here's hoping that we see some spine in these next days and weeks.) But there are some things Mr. Bush just can't hide: like not counting the costs of the war in Iraq; cutting food programs for the elderly; reducing spending in poor schools, job training, and on Pell grants that make college affordable. Even his pledge to end "our addiction to oil" seems to have slipped by the wayside as this budget actually cuts funding for energy efficiency. Let's keep this conversation going… find all the ways Mr. Bush betrays his so-called "values" in this budget, while also trying to slip real costs under the rug.
Los Angeles-based Gay Republican activist and blogger Scott Schmidt worries that his party –-in the run-up to the November elections-- is about to take a suicidal turn toward immigrant bashing. He remembers the Republican electoral disaster that ensued after then-Governor Pete Wilson tried to ride a xenophobic wave: Wilson got re-elected but the state GOP as much as imploded under a Latino backlash.
Currently, the national GOP seems split over what to do about immigration. President Bush and the more corporate wing of the party who have endorsed at least some tepid immigration liberalization, are under attack from their restrictionist right flank. While some analysts believe the Republicans are more interested in winning over the growing Latino vote than they are in pandering to xenophobes, Schmidt fears the opposite. He points to the virulent public comments made by L.A. GOP Chairwoman Linda Boyd to last week's State of the Union response offered in Spanish by Angeleno Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Schmidt writes:
Chairman Boyd's "scorecard" on Villaraigosa's record blamed illegal immigrants for the City's failing healthcare system, astronomical high school drop-out rate and prison overcrowding. As a member of Boyd's Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, I blushed in embarrassment when she compared Villaraigosa to the dictators Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.
And if you doubt that immigrant-bashing isn't on the GOP Agenda in 2006, take a look at the agenda for this weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference. It's the first, second, third and fourth issue to be discussed.
Let's hope Schmidt is wrong and the temptation to immigrant-bash will be foresworn. More than ever, we need comprehensive immigration reform and for the first time in a long time a lot of Republicans – from John McCain to Jeff Flake are supporting the idea. Let's hope that in the internal Republican debate they prevail over the Minuteman-types.
Also, take a moment to check out my personal blog for a tribute to Neil Postman.
Christine's last post on the American Family Association's successful scuttling of "anti-Christian" television programming makes an interesting counterpoint to much of the media coverage of the Danish cartoon demonstrations. Cast as "a contest between...immutable religious beliefs and uncompromising freedom of speech" (see Mahir Ali on Znet for the full critique), mainstream media have played the protests off as another "clash of civilizations." But freedom of speech is a poor framework for such a global and complicated story because "freedom of speech," however abstractly and absolutely put, is realized in local-national contexts. Critics have pointed to European and Canadian laws that prohibit varieties of "hate speech" (including bans on anti-Semitic and pornographic material). And as Christine's post reminds us, "freedom of speech" in the US doesn't mean media outlets are immune to boycotts and political protests, particularly from the Christian right. Think of the controversy over Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" or Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary."
One way to think of this all is as a struggle to define and control sacred texts and images (the Prophet Muhammad, the Virgin Mary, the crucifixion of Christ) whose religious power derive from their segregation from other cultural and political symbols. The Prophet is not drawn, and he most certainly does not carry out suicide bombings. Jesus does not endorse a cooking show or swim in urine for kicks. Such attempts at religious control are fraught enough in mono-religious cultures, but become tragicomic in multicultural contexts (as the brouhaha over Ofili's painting of the Virgin Mary made in part by African elephant dung reminds us). Secularism proposes to be that neutral ground that resolves the sacred and the profane (in part by censoring and limiting both), but the mainstream is having a hard time digesting this one.
Finally, I'll just point out that religious roots acknowledged, at least in Afghanistan, Christian Parenti writes that the protests are fueled both by anti-Western sentiment stirred up by occupation and by "specifically local political and economic grievances."