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Nation Topics - Race and Religion

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US values rest historically on a spiritual foundation grounded in
nature.

Women are a driving force behind reform in the Catholic Church.

"How do you feel, being there?" my friend asked on the phone from
America. I thought a minute, looking out of my Haifa hotel window at the
moon rising over the sea. "Relaxed. I feel relaxed." This seemed to my
friend an improbable way to feel in Israel on May 28, 2002. And in one
sense, it obviously was. Many people urged me not to go--some out of
fear for my safety, some with a moralistic doubt as to whether I should
accept an honor associated with the state of Israel (an honorary degree
from the University of Haifa). About the first, I felt probably I was as
safe in Haifa as in Chicago. About the second, I was determined to
affirm the worth of scholarly cooperation in the face of the ugly
campaign, waged mostly in Europe, to boycott Israeli scholars and refuse
cooperation with them. (The campaign has led to the dismissal of Israeli
scholars from the editorial board of at least one major journal, and to
a general call to boycott Israeli scholars in publications and
conference invitations.) I was also planning to deliver a speech, with
the advance approval of the rector, that said the things I wanted to say
about the situation, in a polite, detached, but unequivocal way.

But relaxed, certainly, is not how I had expected to feel. On my one
previous trip to Israel, in the relatively good times of December 1995,
I had felt edgy all the time, skeptical as I am about muscular Zionism.
I converted to Judaism at the age of 21, and I felt then, as I do now,
that Judaism is above all a moral identity, connected to the love of
justice. I felt that I was dedicating myself to a program of moral
action aimed at realizing justice in the here-and-now rather than in
some dim Christian afterlife--that, as Moses Mendelssohn once wrote,
"The highest stage of wisdom is incontrovertibly doing that which is
good." More viscerally, I felt I was leaving an elitist WASP culture
that cared not one whit for social justice to join a liberal, socially
alert Jewish family that read I.F. Stone and The Nation.

For the sort of Jew I have ever since felt myself to be, Israel was a
source of much embarrassment. Reform Jews traditionally were
anti-Zionist on the ground that Israel is a moral idea, like Kant's
Kingdom of Ends, not a place. And even if the Holocaust has caused
Reform to moderate that position, it still explains a lot of the unease
many of us have with the idea that Jews would attach themselves to a
kind of nationalism that seems in tension, at least, with the
cosmopolitan goals of justice for all that (so I think) ought to be the
goal of a good Jewish life.

But in Haifa I felt relaxed. And the reason was not just the beauty of
the silvery beach, with the large moon above, or the high quality of the
philosophy department and the philosopher-rector, a man whose work on
emotions I have long admired. It was deeper, connected to the
ambivalence I have described. Haifa, and especially its university, were
simply a different Israel from any I had seen, an Israel that still
makes justice and peaceful cooperation its central goals and, to a
surprising degree, realizes those goals. The university enrolls about 20
percent Arab students (Muslim, Christian and Druse), and the faculty,
too, has many Arab members. The first priority of the philosophy
department, I was told, was to raise funds for an endowed chair for an
Arab faculty member to teach Islamic philosophy. We like to see
ourselves as an outpost of peace and reciprocity, people kept telling
me. And the rector, the dean of the law school and the board of
governors, holding their annual meeting the day of the ceremony, made me
feel that my own sentiments about peace and respect for all humanity
were theirs also, and real pragmatic goals of university policy rather
than just slogans. Campus life seemed remarkably peaceful, as Arab and
Jewish students continued to learn side by side and interact without
suspicion.

One great sorrow I heard repeatedly expressed: their feeling that as
Israelis they are being demonized by the world community, and their
efforts toward justice are simply not being recognized, their story not
being told. (Would the American Philosophical Association pass a
resolution opposing intellectual cooperation with Israeli philosophers?
I was asked, as a past president of the association and past chair of
its Committee on International Cooperation. I said I hoped not, and that
I thought it most unlikely, though I know that things are otherwise in
Europe.)

The city, too, seemed bent on something like peace. Its economy is
clearly suffering, and the Druse villages, dependent on tourism, are
particularly hard hit. (I had to get a jeweler's young daughter to go
find him so that he could open his shop--he had gone home because there
were no customers. I concluded that the purchase of a beautiful necklace
was a virtuous deed.) But once again, there is cooperation and even
amity. The Arab-owned restaurant that had been hit by a suicide bomber
has been rebuilt and is ready to reopen. Walkers stroll along the Louis
Promenade with their dogs, as if daily life still brings joy. Flowers
abound in the Bahai gardens below; perhaps Haifa was not such an
unreasonable choice for the worldwide headquarters of a religion
committed to peace and internationalism.

So, relaxed in my moralistic heart, I put on the academic gown for the
ceremony, and I added to it the little silver Star of David from
Tiffany's that a graduating PhD student gave me but that in my
anti-Zionistic frame of mind I never wear. I gave my speech about global
justice and the limits of nationalism, and then I sang "Hatikvah" like
everyone else. And for the first time that sort of speech and that song
did not seem to be so ill suited to each other.

For a long time now, we secular humanists and other skeptics have been denigrated as the apostles of decadence and social decay.

The attacks hardened the resolve of immigrant bashers and anti-Semites.

Belief in God is not the issue in the continuing brouhaha over the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance. Rather, it's the government's endorsement of a monotheistic God.

Historians have made much of the ways that the social protest movements of the 1960s unsettled the morals of the dominant culture, but it is often forgotten that activists themselves were sometimes jarred by the new sensibilities as well.

Nixon thought so; Otis Chandler doesn't. Maybe it depends on where you
stand.

Never did I expect to feel sorrow and pity for the Catholic Church, yet I confess that I do.

Affirmative action, while generally a good and necessary thing, has
always been more complicated than its supporters admit. It inspires a
backlash; it often promotes people who are underprepared for their
assigned tasks; and it attaches a stigma to those who do succeed on
their own, often with a crushing psychological burden. Yet another
problem is how easily it can be manipulated for nefarious purposes.

Women and minorities have been agitating for greater representation in a
largely white, male media structure for decades, making their case by
the numbers. According to a recent study published by Fairness &
Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), women made up just 15 percent of sources
appearing on the three major network news programs in 2001, while 92
percent of all US sources for whom race was determinable were white.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have also made a case for greater media
representation. They've done so by redefining the terms of debate. While
most pundits and nearly half the "experts" employed by the media are
quite conservative by any reasonable or historical measure of the term,
that's not good enough. They are demanding more. Bernard Goldberg, Nat
Hentoff and Reed Irvine are hardly the only conservatives who say they
deserve greater representation. Many news producers and editorial page
editors apparently concur.

The media's response to the traditional affirmative-action
constituencies and the well-funded propaganda offensive by the
conservatives has been to capitulate to both sides at once. Hence the
rise of the female and/or minority conservative pundit, often
unqualified by any traditional standard and frequently close to the line
in terms of sanity but with job security the rest of us can only
imagine.

When MSNBC began operations in the summer of 1996 and hired eighteen
regular pundits--of whom I was one--the most recognizable type among the
mostly unknown cast were the blonde and black fire-breathing
right-wingers. Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Jennifer Grossman, Niger
Innes, Deroy Murdoch, Brian Jones, Joseph Perkins, Betsy Hart (a
brunette, but still...); the list goes on and on. At the time, I used to
joke that the producers might wish to inquire about the politics of the
black/blonde daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton. If she liked Star Wars
and tax cuts for the rich, they should offer her a lifetime contract.

It didn't matter to the network executives at the time that women and
minorities in real life were far more liberal than most television
people, and their gimmick was, in that regard, deceptive. These pundits
gave the new network some "pop" in the larger media--or so it was
believed. In fact, most of those named above have faded back into the
proverbial woodwork. But not all. Laura Ingraham now wears her leopard
miniskirts on radio and is apparently a political fashion consultant to
CNN's Reliable Sources. (On Al Gore's Florida speech: "His
perspiration was, I mean...it was quite unpleasant." On the state of the
nightly news: "I think one of the worst things that's happened to news
is this sort of open-collared shirt, no tie, you know, do you take the
jacket off? That whole, you know, undress thing on television...")

Coulter, meanwhile, well... it's complicated. On the one hand, she is
the television babe to end all television babes--bright blonde locks,
legs that never end and skirts so short as to make Sharon Stone distrust
her Basic Instincts. On the other hand, she is clearly the victim of an
undiagnosed case of political Tourette's syndrome. How else to explain
incidents like the time she attacked a disabled Vietnam vet on the air
by screaming, "People like you caused us to lose that war"? Or when she
termed Bill Clinton a "pervert, liar and a felon" and a "criminal"? Or
Hillary Clinton "pond scum" and "white trash"? Or the late Pamela
Harriman a "whore"? Coulter also wrote a book during the impeachment
crisis that appeared to suggest the assassination of Bill Clinton. She
was, also, as the Boston Globe reported, credibly accused of
plagiarizing from a colleague at Human Events for her book.

By the time she finally got herself fired from MSNBC, Coulter was a
star. (No man, or ugly woman for that matter, would have lasted remotely
as long.) She found herself celebrated by the likes of John Kennedy Jr.,
who gave her a column in George, as well as bookers for talk
shows with hosts like Wolf Blitzer, Larry King, Geraldo and Bill Maher,
and quoted by ABC's George Will with the same deference usually reserved
for Edmund Burke or James Madison.

Lately Coulter has gotten herself in the news again by calling for the
wholesale slaughter of Arabs, the murder of Norm Mineta and the use of
mob violence against liberals and Muslims. Perhaps she's kidding, but
it's hard to know. We have, too, another book-length screed,
Slander, this one bearing the imprimatur of Crown Publishers. As
with her entire career in the punditocracy, it is a black mark on the
soul of everyone associated with it. Here is Coulter's characterization
of a New York Times editorial criticizing John Ashcroft: "Ew
yuck, he's icky." She worries about "liberals rounding up right-wingers
and putting them on trial." One could go on, and on, and on.

What's scary is that Coulter is hardly alone. Look at the
free-associating reveries Peggy Noonan manages to publish every week in
the Wall Street Journal, or the lunacies that right-wing lesbian
Norah Vincent pours forth on the LA Times Op-Ed page--as if
self-consciously seeking to fill the space mercifully vacated by that
nutty nineties icon Camille Paglia. Check out Alan Keyes on MSNBC and
tell me, seriously, that the man has ever made what Bobbie Gentry called
"a lick of sense" in his life. I'm not saying that women and minorities
don't have the right to be as idiotic as white men. But be careful what
you wish for and smart about how you pursue it. Liberals and
conservatives both got their affirmative action. Guess who won?

Blogs

And still, the will to protest has not died.

November 21, 2014

Advocates pushing to expand My Brother's Keeper say it’s good to see their concerns acknowledged and keep their eyes on next steps.

November 21, 2014

This has been, and will continue to be, about the protection of black life and the end of the police state.

November 19, 2014

Palestinians in East Jerusalem face not just a wall but a welfare system designed to impoverish and ultimately remove them.

November 4, 2014

The way we use the police in this country is inherently discriminatory. 

October 31, 2014

UNC’s recently uncovered unprecedented cheating scandal took place in the department of African and Afro American studies, a fact which has raised an age-old, prejudicial argument on the legitimacy of the field of study.

October 29, 2014

How one reproductive justice organization is working to make sure black voters help defeat Amendment 1.

October 27, 2014

Beijing is experimenting with "soft power" approaches, but brute force remains an omnipresent threat.

October 9, 2014

Threats against Barack Obama have been three times more frequent than for his predecessors. There’s an obvious explanation: he’s black.

October 6, 2014

A guilty verdict does not undo the racist world we live in.

October 2, 2014