The Oklahoman published five letters in Your Views on Aug. 22 criticizing Diana Hsieh (Your Views, Aug. 14) of the Coalition for Secular Government, for arguing that a free society can't be founded upon religious dogma, Judeo-Christian or otherwise. None of these writers objecting to Hsieh's position were able to articulate how mysticism leads to individual freedom beyond their merely asserting it. After all, there were 1,776 years between Christ's birth and the establishment of America as the world's first individual rights republic.
If the Holy Bible is full of ideas that lead to individual freedom, why the long disconnect? Why did other religious thinkers give us the Dark Ages, the divine right of kings and the Inquisition, while the supposedly equally religious American founders gave us the First Amendment? The reality is that faith itself is the enemy of freedom. It takes reason to look at humankind and see beings who require liberty in order to prosper.
We owe the liberty we enjoy today to the champions of reason; we owe our freedom more to a man like Galileo turning his telescope toward the heavens and accurately reporting what he saw (in bold defiance of the faith-based tyrants of his day) than to any religious prophet or savior.
Nicholas Provenzo, Washington, D.C.
Provenzo is chairman of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism.
Facing the political trends today often feels like confronting a tank in Tiananmen Square in China. The tank is powered by intellectual lethargy, moral turpitude and an uncontained malice for the freedom and independence that made the country possible and great. Its purpose is to crush anyone who refuses to get out of its way.
Hope? Change? A new direction? Suppose one doesn't want to go in a "new direction" or see the country go in it? Suppose the change one hopes for is the banishment of government and others from one's life, from the economy, from education? Suppose one knows that the only way one can be taken in a new direction is by deception, theft and force?
The Democratic convention in Denver last week presented the latest model tank which the collectivists plan to deploy in the country. Call it the Obliterator.
A succession of speakers, every one of them adopting the tone of an abrasive locker room pep talk instead of a political address, ranted from a podium on what looked like the topside of a blue Klingon warship - blue, one supposes, for Blue States - incongruously grafted to the façade of a Roman temple, doubtless intended to evoke Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial forty-five years ago. The parade of blowhards, most of whom combined secular collectivist sentiments with religious altruist ones, complete with quotations from the Bible, was climaxed by the appearance of Barack Obama, who on the evening of August 28 gave his acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee for President to a mass of worshipping, weeping, belief-crazed Obama cultists.
From beginning to end, the Democratic convention that ended with his appearance was more like a vaudeville show - "a series of acts," as one admiring commentator told the PBS anchor - imbued with the hysterical spirit of an evangelical tent meeting, in which all the attendees were united in an unreasoning, emotional Gestalt to hail the Messiah (or the Mahdi, the "expected one," to put an Islamic twist on the event). One half expected the 80,000-plus audience to rise as one and do the "wave," the American equivalent of the Nazi salute. To assure themselves that Obama is truly the "people's choice," the Democrats filled Invesco Field with a mob of the faithful to create the illusion that Obama would address not merely a hall full of party hacks, state delegates and their whips, and vote manipulators, but the whole American electorate.
The New York Times, in an adulatory story on Obama's acceptance speech, "Obama Takes the Fight to McCain" (August 29) remarked with brazen insouciance that the speech
"...came on a night that offered - by the coincidence of scheduling - a reminder of the historic nature of the Obama candidacy: 45 years to the day after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech on the Mall in Washington."
A coincidence of scheduling? There was nothing coincidental about it. The anniversary was a planned part of the Obama extravaganza to lend it "historical" significance, and perhaps even substance.
Viewers of any of the news programs covering the Democratic convention in Denver were constantly and solemnly reminded by news anchors that "history" was being made because an African-American or an American black was for the first time a major presidential candidate. Well, history of a sort was made, but not the kind that will be much dwelt on. The chief history-making event is that Obama is a fraud and that no one in the political arena, not his presidential rival, John McCain, nor anyone in the news media, has had the moral courage to call him on it or to even hint at it.
Obama is a fraud because he is neither "African-American" nor black nor the presumed descendent of African slaves, but basically Arab and more likely a descendent of African slavers or slaveholders. His parents were a communist white woman and a communist Kenyan. It is beyond the bounds of credibility to assume that any Kenyan blacks were transported across the African continent to its west coast to be sold to white slavers. Kenya, after all, is on the Indian Ocean, which, in the heyday of slave trading, was an Arab sea. And Obama's father is more likely the descendent of blacks who raided villages in the interior for captives to sell to Arab slavers. A little investigative reporting would turn up these facts and hypotheses, but no nationally known journalist will risk the effort, lest the truth burst his balloon of faith or he is answered with charges of prejudice.
Obama's race, however, is immaterial. One judges an individual by the contents of his mind, by his values, by the conduct of his life. But Obama from the beginning has angled for the "black vote" and the vote of guilt-ridden whites. Thus, the charade. This is worse than mere dishonesty. It is a fraud being perpetrated on an entire country in the guise of "racial justice."
Much has been made during the presidential campaign of the candidates' experience or lack of it, in both domestic and foreign affairs. This is a straw man. True, any one of the other candidates had greater congressional and political experience. Obama had a comparably short stint in the Illinois senate and 173 days as a U.S. Senator. But of what value is there in it in any of the candidates? Has it ever been defined? And what has all that experience garnered the country, except an incremental progress towards statism and a steady dwindling of individual freedom?
Further, not a single candidate lacks experience in corruption, venality, malfeasance, concession, logrolling, compromise, theft, and a multitude of other misdemeanors. Obama is not the stainless prophet ready to lead the country in a "new direction." He is as guilty as any of the rest of them.
John McCain is an enemy of freedom of speech. His campaign finance law has made it more difficult for any one to oppose the collectivist policies that his alleged opponents "across the aisle" regularly propose. Barack Obama, for his part, has twice now, as far as it is known, attempted to suppress the truth about his past political associations, chiefly his comradeship with William Ayers, the Weatherman "radical" who bombed the Capitol building long before Obama would spend so little time in it. It is appropriate that Obama's political career - one that advocates the use of government force in every sphere - was launched in the home of a retired and unrepentant terrorist.
Obama likes to chide Senator John McCain for his lack of vision, possibly for his age, and for wanting to continue Bush's domestic and foreign policies. But one has never heard Obama thank McCain for having sponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which Obama is attempting to use to censor or intimidate anyone who raises the matter of his extremely questionable political background.
What all the candidates seem to have lacked are any commitment to freedom, and the integrity to proclaim it and act on it. But, it would be an error to think that. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party is a friend of those things. In point of fact, both parties are committed enemies of freedom. Whether McCain or Obama wins the White House in November, there would be no "change" and no "new direction," but more of the same movement in the same direction, which is statism. The only difference between the candidates is the preferred rate of acceleration in that direction.
13 year-old Anna Tomalis died yesterday of a rare form of liver cancer, having had to wait seven long months before she was legally permitted by the FDA to use medicine that the government had not yet approved, but that her doctor wished to prescribe for her.
A little noted federal court ruling has found the enemies of the U.S. not guilty of knowingly attacking the U.S. Our feckless judiciary has handed the Islamists another legal victory, one which, given the employment of non-objective law, will be difficult to reverse.
"A federal appeals court ruled that Saudi Arabia and four of its princes can't be held liable for the September 11 terrorist attacks even if they were aware that charitable donations to Muslim groups would be funneled to al-Qada.
"The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the defendants were protected by sovereign immunity and the plaintiffs would need to prove that the princes engaged in intentional actions aimed at U.S. residents."
Other publications reported the decision, as well, such as Newsweek, the Associated Press, and the New York Post. Coverage has otherwise been negligible. The case has been dragging on since August 2002 when the lawsuit was first filed. According to a November 22, 2002 Wall Street Journal article:
"Brought by Charleston, S.C. plaintiffs lawyer Ronald L. Motley on behalf of 3,000 families of those who died and survivors of the attacks, the suit alleges that members of the Saudi royal family and other Saudi entities sponsored the attacks by financing terrorism through a global financial network. The lawsuit alleges racketeering, conspiracy, wrongful death and negligence."
Even if they were aware that the money the princes were donating to these alleged "charitable" Muslim groups was helping to fund al-Qada and its conspiracy to attack the U.S.? Since when is knowledge of the commission of a crime, or of an act of war, and one's conscious abetting of that crime or aggression with money donations, a measure of blamelessness and non-complicity?
If one merely supplied the guns and get-away car for a gang of bank robbers, and even had a role in recruiting the gang members, but did not actively take part in the robbery, a criminal court would charge one with aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime.
If one only suspected that the gang was planning a bank robbery, but still donated money, guns and cars, one could still be charged with aiding and abetting. Where, in the Saudi prince case, does the role of "reasonable suspicion" enter - that is, the princes' reasonable suspicion that their money was destined to pay killers to attack the U.S.?
What is the difference here except in the scale of the 9/11 "crime"?
In reality, there is no fundamental difference. The chief monkey wrench that obviates reason and logic is the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976, on which the judges of the 2nd Circuit Court based their ruling. Congress amended it in 1996 to allow victims and survivors of terrorism to file tort suits against countries officially designated "state sponsors of terrorism."
The suit against the royal princes and Saudi Arabia (and, in the original suit, the Saudi American Bank) was probably inspired by the successful suit against Libya for the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, which killed 270 people. (For the denouement of that sordid exercise in moral evasion, see the August 15 brief in The Wall Street Journal, "Settlement May Clear Way for Full U.S. Diplomatic Ties" and the details of that suit on the FindLaw site.)
The chief purpose of the FSIA, it seems, is to relieve Congress and the White House the burden of passing moral judgment on aggressor nations and also of the responsibility for acting on that judgment. It does hold responsible individuals representing foreign governments for actions that result in the deaths of and injuries to U.S. citizens, and specifies that such individuals and their actions by implication represent the actions of their governments. However, Congress simply passed the buck to the victims and survivors of those actions, permitting them to hire expensive lawyers and endure years of litigation in courts sinking into the swamp of unpredictable, non-objective, positivist law.
Here are the fundamentals overlooked or ignored by the court in this outrageous decision.
The Saudi princes who are defendants in the case are members of the ruling Saudi royal family. The Saudi royal family is the government of Saudi Arabia. Yes, there is a kind of legislature in Saudi Arabia, but it acts and speaks at the behest of and on the behalf of the Saudi royal family and its Wahhabist religious establishment. Neither it nor the judiciary, which enforces Sharia law, is independent of the central government - which is the Saudi ruling family. The particular princes party to the case cannot have been the only ones who made donations to the Muslim "charitable" groups that funnel money to al-Qada and other terrorist organizations; there are innumerable Saudi princes who form the upper caste of Saudi society and necessarily of the government. They are the government. They all represent and are answerable to the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah.
The Law.Com site on August 15 ran a much longer article on the decision.
"The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act shields Saudi Arabia, its leaders, a Saudi banker and the Saudi High Commission for Relief to Bosnia and Herzegovina from suit in the United States. The plaintiffs were a collection of 9/11 victims and their families, as well as major insurance companies and property owners, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"Second Circuit Judges Dennis Jacobs and Jose Cabranes and, sitting by designation, Eastern District of New York Judge Eric Vitaliano said the act 'most obviously' protects the Kingdom itself.
"But the circuit held for the first time that the act 'applies to individual officials of foreign governments in their official capacities,' a ruling that means immunity for Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, president of the commission; Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, chairman of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs; Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, interior minister; and Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, director of the Department of General Intelligence.
"In its ruling Thursday, the circuit upheld an opinion of the late Southern District of New York Judge Richard C. Casey that there was no personal jurisdiction over the four princes. In the court's 67-page decision, Jacobs said even if the princes were 'reckless in monitoring how their donations were spent, or could or did foresee that recipients of their donations would attack targets in the United States, that would be insufficient to ground the exercise of personal jurisdiction.'"
What is "sovereign immunity" but immunity of a government against judgment and reprisal by another government? If the princes were members of the royal government, would that not in fact implicate them, rather than protect them?
The mental gymnastics of the three 2nd Circuit Court judges that allowed them to dismiss the case ultimately led them to reach this bizarre conclusion:
"The court also found that none of the exceptions to sovereign immunity in the act apply, including the exception for state-sponsored terrorist acts in 28 U.S.C. §1605(a). The reason, Jacobs explained, was that Saudi Arabia has not been designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terror." [Italics mine.]
Also, the court found, the defendants were not "acting in their official capacity." Ergo, even though the defendants are known to have donated fortunes, through bogus "charity" organizations, to terrorist gangs that wage jihad against the U.S. and the West, they are blameless and outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
The federal court, in a time of war, has consequently rejected the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the belligerents waging that war against the U.S. It has been waging cultural war and economic jihad against it for years, in addition to enabling physical assaults by soldiers and weapons.
The August 15 Wall Street Journal article concluded:
"Lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages were filed by representatives, survivors and relatives of the victims [of the 9/11 attacks] against foreign governments, charities, financial institutions and individuals believed to have provided support to al-Qada. The plaintiffs claimed the defendants gave money to charities in order to funnel it to terrorist organizations behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon."
Lawsuits are not the rational, proper way to deal with aggressors. The proper justice would have been immediate military retaliation against Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and other Islamic regimes connected to the 9/11 attacks. (Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Steve Emerson, and others have documented ample evidence of these countries' roles in the attacks.) Instead, the U.S. took action against mere intermediaries and minor enablers of the attacks: Iraq and Afghanistan. The "war on terror" would have lasted perhaps a month, had the U.S a rational, self-assertive foreign policy. Because it has not had one in decades, the "war" has gone on for eight years with no end of it in sight.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, no lawyers representing the survivors and relatives of the victims filed a "wrongful death" suit in a U.S. court against the Japanese naval officers who planned and launched the attack. Nor did anyone seek to sue the Japanese government for monetary damages. Either idea would have been laughed at and contemptuously dismissed. The U.S. declared war on Japan, defeated it four years later, and occupied the country to ensure that such a government and the philosophy of conquest behind it never rose again.
Suppose the plaintiffs were able to prove hostile or belligerent intent against U.S. resident citizens, also known as the U.S. One assumes here that counsel for the plaintiffs had solid, incontestable proof of the defendants' contributions to a terrorist organization, a paper trail of their financial transactions; their intent would be immaterial and irrelevant; it is their actions that would be the basis of the plaintiffs' argument.
Then what? Suppose the princes were somehow arrested and taken into custody. Would that not be a declaration of war against Saudi Arabia, since they are implicitly or explicitly members of its government? The Saudis would be the first to make the claim. They would not recognize the princes as individuals charged with a capital crime, but as representatives of the government and the country.
Suppose instead the princes were somehow tried and found beyond the shadow of a doubt innocent of any knowledge that the money they donated to the Muslim "charity" organizations was being used to fund al-Qada. Suppose they were found to be absolutely blameless. Then what? Or, rather, so what? They would retain the status of being enemy aliens, for their government would still be responsible for waging a multifaceted war against the U.S.
But all these suppositions float in the rarified air of non-objective domestic and international law, where a dozen angels can dance on the head of a pin and Saudi sheiks can sue publishers and authors for depicting Mohammad in a good or bad light (thus violating one's sovereign immunity against censorship as ensured by the First Amendment to the Constitution). One must ask oneself if all the federal circuit court judges (in all, seven courts reached the same decision) know anything about Saudi Arabia other than what they have read in The New York Times or The Washington Post.
The Law.Com report quotes Judge Jacobs extensively from the circuit decision, for example, "construing that the meaning of the term 'agency' is any thing or person through which action is accomplished,' and "it is easily open enough to include senior members of a foreign state's government and secretariat."
Because a state 'cannot act except through individuals,' he said, 'the act-of-state doctrine precludes our courts from sitting in judgment 'on the acts of the government of another done within its own territory' including acts committed by individual officers of foreign governments.
That is, the princes could donate money while in Saudi Arabia, safely out of reach of American courts, even though the money is being used to attack the U.S. All the defendants in this case are "senior members" of the Saudi government, yet somehow they and their government are immune from reprisal, retaliation, or punishment.
As though to rub salt in the wounds of the plaintiffs, Jacobs went on with petulant arrogance to claim that
"...[t]he act made clear it 'did not delegate to victims, their counsel and the courts the responsibility of the executive branch to make American's foreign policy response to acts of terrorism committed by a foreign state, including whether federal courts may entertain a victim's claim for damages."
Yes, it is the responsibility of the executive branch to establish foreign policy. But, absent a foreign policy that asserts America's and its citizens' right to exist unmolested by foreign governments - a policy abandoned in degrees by our government over the course of half a century - what avenues of justice have been left to the victims and survivors of an attack on this country but to turn to the court system?
And when that judiciary abandons the citizens of this country to the mercies of Islamic jihadists - here and abroad - it leaves Americans no option but to resign themselves to being sacrificial animals with no right to self-defense, redress, or justice.
What kind of commitment does it take to master Objectivism as a tool for living a just and happy life? Is Ayn Rand's philosophy something that can take a relatively short time to learn (perhaps a few years of study), but a lifetime to master? What insight can you offer based upon your own effort?
The section starts 1:57 into the podcast and lasts until 6:39. While I had my own answer to this question, I was nevertheless intrigued to see how he would frame the issue. As always, he offered the kind of insight one would expect of a man of his intellect and accomplishments. Thanks!
As a condition of its being awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, China had promised increased freedom for its people. Now caught in an obvious lie, Chinese leaders are being put in the hot seat. According to the AP via the Wall Street Journal:
The executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, Mr. Wang [Wei ] was put on the defensive by a British television journalist who repeatedly asked International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies if the Swiss-based body was "embarrassed" about bringing the Games to China.
China's authoritarian government and the IOC have repeatedly said the games would open the country to social change and stoke breakthroughs on religious freedom and the treatment of the country's minorities.
It is good that China is getting called out for its many abuses and that the International Olympic Committee being asked by the press to defend its decision to host its games in China. There is something deeply perverse about holding a celebrated event such as the Olympics in a nation that denies its people basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This is not a question of trading widgets with an individual Chinese businessman to mutual benefit and leaving it to the Chinese to improve their own lot. This is a question of whether a venerated institution in the world of sport should lend its laurels to a government that seeks to use the games to help solidify its brutal hegemony over its own people.
Worse, the Chinese government is attempting to loose its hegemony upon the Olympic athletes themselves by squeching thier ability to worship as they would see fit. According to this report by the Washington Post, Chinese promises of religious freedom for Olympic athletes have not been kept.
China's ruling Communist Party is suspicious of any cause that could compete with its authority, including organized religion. Officially, the party allows worship only at registered churches belonging to a state-controlled organization; non-registered places of worship are closely monitored. The party also bans foreign chaplains' holding services without government permission or proselytizing on Chinese soil.
In the run-up to the Games, Chinese Olympic officials clashed behind closed doors with their international counterparts over the sensitive topic of whether to allow in foreign chaplains.
In Athens in 2004, more than 100 religious leaders speaking several dozen languages were stationed in the Olympic Village. Many had extensive experience counseling elite athletes facing extreme pressure.
While China held its ground on foreign clerics, it promised that it would provide its own chaplains and that athletes would be allowed to worship just as they would in their home countries.
But visitors to the center say that the majority of the 65 staff members there are student volunteers and that, at best, they can speak broken English, French, Italian, Korean and Arabic. All are Chinese.
For the past few days, athletes and others have been marching into the center and asking for spiritual counseling in their native languages. They know that, in most cases, the staff there won't be able to oblige. That's the point.
For all the claims of China's much-vaunted changes, the reality is that China's actions are not all that far removed from when the Society of Right and Harmonious Fists worked to block all foreign influence at the turn of the last century. Philosophic and religious freedom is a fundamental right of sovereign minds, yet here China's ruling clique recognizes no sovereignty other than its own, even when it comes to the freedom of the guest athletes participating in the Olympic games.
I have read that Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian threw down his bronze medal in protest against some officiating that he disagreed with. My hope is that an athlete with moral courage would choose to make a similar gesture, but to protest the larger and vastly more serious injustices perpetuated by the Chinese in association with these games. I'm sorry, but as stupendous an individual achievement winning an Olympic medal can be, it is not worth turning a blind eye to the obvious denial of individual freedom that exists in China today.
As I follow the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their extravagant splendor, I cannot help but think that they are predicated upon a massive fraud; specifically, that China has "emerged" as a great nation worthy of our respect and admiration. While the games themselves are spectacular, they are built upon the brute force of an authoritarian regime desperate to show both its people and the world that it deserves its grip on China. This regime has literally spared no expense, including billions of dollars spent upon the games, the literal shutting down of an entire city to alleviate its notorious smog and what can only be described as an outright sadistic and militaristic training program for its athletes. These games are built upon a mountain of human abnegation and for the sole purpose of telling the world that the system that enforces this abnegation offers great achievements and can be trusted as a friend.
Yet as Brandon Byrd at Noodlefoodobserves, the Chinese system cannot be trusted. Writing about how a minor scandal involving a Milli Vanilli-esq lip-syncing episode at the opening ceremonies has degenerated into the ruling regime's outright censorship of any negative talk about the affair, Boyd writes:
Why China faked the ceremony and why they oppressively censor online comments is essentially the same reason: the Chinese regime is nationalist. At root, the opening ceremonies were meant to be a nationalistic demonstration of a nation's power on the world stage, showing how Chinese competence could produce a magnificent ceremony. That is, it was viewed by Party members (who had the power to shape the final form of the ceremony) as an expression of political prowess. It was China's coming out party, and nothing could blemish its reputation – not even an orthodontic travesty or a flat note here or there. Any expression of weakness or failure is an indication of national failure, of China's inability to succeed. The state, the people, the NATION must look good at any cost, even if it means engaging in deceptive behavior that manipulates children (who may or may not have known about the lip-synching at the time of the performance); even if it means selecting potential Olympic gymnasts at the age of three... even if it means placing stringent government controls on what can and cannot be said through electronic media.
The problem the Chinese face with such fraud is that it depends upon our willful acceptance of it; it demands that we shrug it all off and pretend that the games are worth it. Yet the games are not worth it; no sport is worth slavery, censorship and oppression.
The good news is that unlike the Nazi Olympic games of 1936, which were a propaganda triumph of a state hurtling toward brutal totalitarianism, the China of the 2008 games is far more mixed. In many regards, the Chinese people enjoy more freedom of action than we do in America; for example, Chinese businessmen, insomuch as they are productive and don't elicit the attention of the ruling party, are free to produce without constraint. What China lacks is an understanding of the principle of individual rights and the rule of law; any freedom that the Chinese do enjoy is the product of whim and can be taken away just as easily as it can be given. Just ask any of the thousands of Beijing businessmen whose businesses were shuttered so China can host smog-free games.
So while China may not be totalitarian like it was under Mao, it is still very much a nationalist dictatorship; it has changed only in terms of degree and not so much in terms of essentials. The West must not be coy about it. As China works feverishly to present its face to the world, we must see though the pancake makeup and lip-synced little girls. We must see Chinese oppression, caprice and avarice for what it is--and treat it accordingly.
There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged!...It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry peace, peace - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! - Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
Yes, the war declared by the Islamists on the West began years ago - nay, decades ago - but gentlemen raised on Western pragmatism and multiculturalism continue to cry peace, peace, even though the clash has caused tens of thousands of deaths and incalculable destruction - but no echo of resounding arms. The enemy will be content only with the peace of our submission and slavery, and are exploiting the multiculturalism that has forged the chains being fitted onto men's minds.
The second definition of syndrome, in The American Heritage Dictionary, is that it is "a group of signs and symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition." The three ingredients of what could be called the "sensitivity" syndrome include pragmatism, multiculturalism and fear. It is a syndrome not conducive to conducting business or exercising one's freedom of speech, if one refrains from taking certain actions for fear of hurting the feelings of unknown persons who may or may not retaliate with violence. In this instance, the syndrome is indicative of de facto censorship.
The Random House decision in May to cancel the publication of Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina, about Mohammad's child bride, Aisha, represents two developments fatal to the First Amendment and the future of freedom of speech: it is a capitulation to the "cautionary advice" that the novel might be considered "offensive" to Muslims and possibly spark a wave of violent "protest" similar to that which followed the publication of the Danish Mohammad cartoons in 2005; and it is an implicit injunction against other publishers banning the publication of any literary work that depicts Mohammad.
The Belfast Telegraph ("Next 'Satanic Verses' is shelved for fear of stirring up Islamic extremists") and other newspapers reported on August 9 (from a Reuters report of August 7) that:
"Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry said in a statement the company received 'cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.'"
Like the other newspapers, the Telegraph did not fully quote Perry. The complete statement, carried in The Wall Street Journal article of August 6, "You Still Can't Write About Muhammad," reads that Random House received the "cautionary advice" from "credible and unrelated sources."
"We decided," went the Random House press release, "after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."
The sources are certainly "credible" but hardly "unrelated," as will be discussed below. And the "small, radical segment" of Muslims is nothing less than a large band of killers, extortionists and fifth columnists funded by organizations with financial links to Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic regimes.
The irony of Random House's decision is that the novel apparently does not paint Mohammad in critical terms. "I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammad," said Jones. "I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder."
A "bridge-builder"? To connect what? The Western value of individualism and a separation of church and state, and the Eastern value of mysticism and the union of religion and state? Kipling was right. Fundamentally, the twain between East and West can never meet - unless one capitulates to the other by abandoning or surrendering its values.
The Belfast Telegraph wrote that:
"The novel traces the life of Aisha from her engagement to Mohammad, when she was six, until the Prophet's death."
Jones said, "They did have a great love story. [!!!] He died with his head on her breast."
The Telegraph said that Jones, "who has never visited the Middle East, spent several years studying Arab history. The novel, she says, is a synthesis of all she had learnt." Which was, in essence, absolutely nothing about Islam and how it is, by its nature, virulently obsessed with global conquest. Jones apparently had no objection to a barbarian raping a six - or nine-year-old girl, and the "love story" she novelized was woven from whole cloth.
The Wall Street Journal opinion piece, written by Muslim Asra Q. Nomani, even contains an excerpt from Aisha's wedding night: "The pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life."
All nine years? That kind of writing should have appeared in a Harlequin Romance style bodice-ripper that celebrated pedophilia and child molestation. But, under the imprint of a major publisher, Ballantine, a subsidiary of Random House?
But Jones' ignorance of and naiveté about Islam and the publisher's tastelessness are irrelevant. Random House ought to have been free to publish her novel without fear of consequence, except for the probable loss of its investment in the book. (Jones received a $100,000 advance for that title and a sequel.) More likely than making waves as a literary work, it would have been lost in the swamp of undifferentiated fiction that publishers gurgitate every year. Muslims who might have objected to it - their "sensitivities" or feelings having been abused - might not have even become aware of its existence.
The New York Times, once a champion of freedom of speech but now a yeah-sayer in political correctness and "sensitivity," merely noted the development in a one-paragraph article on August 9, "Random House Cancels Novel with Islamic Themes."
"Carol Schneider, a spokeswoman for Random House, said on Friday that the company 'requested that it be postponed indefinitely' after consulting with experts and receiving unsolicited advice. 'We thought it was not a good time, with tensions running as high as they do, to publish this,' Ms. Schneider said."
No, Muslims might have remained oblivious to the novel's existence, but for Denise A. Spellberg, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. According to most of the newspaper and wire service reports, it was she who unleashed the dogs of fear.
Having been sent an advance copy of The Jewel of Medina by Random House, in hopes of her writing a jacket blurb endorsing the novel, Spellberg's first action after reading it was to call a Muslim and guest lecturer in Spellberg's classes, Shahed Amanullah, to warn him about the book because, she said, according to the WSJ article, the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history" and that she found the novel "incredibly offensive." Amanullah subsequently emailed other Muslims about the book, even though he had not read it and was taking her word for it.
The next day Spellberg called Random House/Knopf editor Jane Garrett with dire warnings about the consequences of publishing the book, calling its scheduled publication a "declaration of war," a "national security issue," and claiming that the novel was "far more controversial than [Salman Rushdie's] The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons." How anyone could imagine that Jones' novel could have been any of those things is only a clue to the inflated importance Spellberg must place on her role in "building bridges," multiculturalist "bridges" which she would not want to see burned in defense of someone else's freedom of speech. (And this is one example of how multiculturalism is anti-Western and a destroyer.)
It is not so curious that, having first alerted the Muslim grapevine about the book - surely with the knowledge that some "extremist" or "radicalized" Muslims just might want to conspire to bomb Random House's offices or set up picket lines outside of them or murder Jones in "protest" of the novel - Spellberg then warned the publisher of those very dangers. This is tantamount to setting a fire in a crowded theater, then shouting "Fire!" Draw your own conclusions about her motivation, but whatever the conclusion, her actions were contemptible.
Random House's executives and editors, "sensitive" to these dangers, some two weeks later terminated Jones' publishing contract, freeing her shop the novel with other publishers. This "sensitivity" was not a reflection of their "respect" for Islam and Muslims, but of their fear of violence and even possible lawsuits.
In a letter to the WSJ on August 9, "I Didn't Kill 'The Jewel of Medina,'" Spellberg accuses Nomani of "falsely" asserting that she was the "instigator" behind Random House's decision, blithely forgetting that but for her actions, no one would have paid any serious attention to Jones' novel.
In her letter, Spellberg asserts that as an "expert on Aisha's life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life." How could she be an "expert" on the life of a figure who may or may not have existed? Islam's "history" is no more credible or factually based than is Christianity's, completely absent of proof, relying mostly on tongue-in-cheek episodes invented by theologians and scribes for the sake of the gullible and the credulous. Spellberg is as much an "authority" on Aisha as Sherry Jones.
Spellberg further claims in her letter that she does not "espouse censorship of any kind, but I do value my right to critique those who abuse the past without regard for its richness or resonance in the present." But the kind of censorship she instigated was a cabal whose specific purpose was to stop the publication of a book with which she disagreed. Instead, she lays blame for the decision - one with which she agrees - entirely on the doorstep of Random House.
One is at a loss to fault Random House for caving in to the hypothetical dangers of publishing Jones' novel. Weighing the possible expenses of fortifying its business offices against Muslim terrorists and protecting the lives of anyone connected with Jones' novel - certainly an abnormal condition of existence - one can hardly blame the publisher for its decision. What is regarded as "normal" today is a perceived necessity to defer to the threat of harassment or physical force.
After all, Random House has been paying taxes to our government to protect it from domestic criminals and foreign invaders - to ensure its enjoyment of the First Amendment without risk of molestation by any party, religious, "offended" or otherwise - a task which, vis-à-vis Islamists, our government has not performed with a shred of effectiveness.
Where would we be today if men were "sensitive" to the tensions that led to Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, and decided it "was not a good time" to take a stand? There were men like that in 18th century America, but fortunately their "cautionary advice" was ignored. The "sensitivity" syndrome has made modern Americans insensible to what they have been surrendering and giving up.
The gales have been sweeping from the north for over a generation, but today's gentlemen either ignore them or do not notice them.
Welcome to the August 7, 2008 edition of the Objectivist Round-Up--it's again our pleasure to be hosting this week's edition. This round-up presents some of the best insight and analyses written by authors who are animated by Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to Ayn Rand:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
Burgess Laughlin presents What is in-line activism? posted at Making Progress, saying, "The most potent form of intellectual activism may be activism that is a direct application of one's passionately held central purpose in life. This post gives an example."
Dan Edge presents The Ponies Made Me Do It posted at The Undercurrent. Dan discusses NBA official Tim Donaghy's recent felony conspiracy conviction for betting on games he refereed and his counselor's defense: the claim that gambling is “hidden disease” which compels its victims to act against their wills."
Diana Hsieh presents Our Secular Constitution posted at NoodleFood, saying, "Three passages of the US Constitution make clear that the Founders intended their new government to be independent of any religion"
The question arose recently among some bloggers: Of all the arts, is fiction writing the most difficult career to pursue?
It would be a legitimate question even were we living in a culture of reason, or in a culture dominated by reason, such as that of the 19th century, which by no means was wholly founded on reason. The severity or duration of difficulties encountered by an artist -- be he novelist, playwright, screenwriter, painter, sculptor, composer, or actor - depends on if he is living in a free society or in one that is only semi-free, that is, one governed partly by irrationality.
In a free society, an artist whose implicit or explicit premise is reason would have relatively little difficulty establishing a career, albeit with the caveat that there would be no guarantee of success, just as there is no guarantee that the value of a new invention would enjoy immediate recognition. If he is irrational in such a society, and is an exponent of a school of art similar to the Minimalist or Dadaist, he may find a "following," but deservedly remain on the fringes of that culture.
Conversely, in a partly irrational society, or in one palsied by viral strains of irrationality, as ours is, the irrational artist will more frequently be rewarded with recognition and riches, depending on the culture's fad, fashion or mania of the moment, while the rational artist will struggle with little hope of making a life-sustaining, materially rewarding career of his chosen art, and remain relegated to the fringes of that culture.
A completely irrational society would entail government censorship, and the rational artist would disappear altogether, either of his own choice or by government force. Even the pseudo-nonconformist, abstract artists would be suppressed, persecuted or banished, to be replaced by consummate mediocrities or officially approved irrationalists, as happened in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
For brevity and economy's sake, by "rational artist" is meant here an individual who, in his work, respects and addresses the reality-rooted epistemology of the human mind, works on the premise of Aristotle's "ought," and seeks, to the extent of his vision and ability to translate it into an artistic work, to enhance human existence. By "irrational artist" is meant an individual who hates and defies man's reality-rooted epistemology, works on the premise of destruction, and seeks, to the depth of his malevolence, to deprecate or negate the experience of human existence. An irrational artist is fundamentally a nihilist, or an anti-artist. Better known anti-artists, as examples, are Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and the Dadaists, and in music, Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage.
A great number of fiction writers and other artists, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, fall somewhere on the upper end of a sliding scale between the rational and irrational. For every John Singer Sargent and Daniel Chester French there were numerous minor painters and sculptors who mastered the requisite disciplines of their fields, whose skills and virtuosity were spent on noncontroversial or common subjects and themes, but whose work may still be admired and enjoyed for their clarity, technique and integrity. For every Victor Hugo or Friedrich Schiller, there were many lesser writers whose work can be enjoyed for the same reasons, such as that of O. Henry and Terence Rattigan.
On the far end of the sliding scale is a moldy heap of literature and other arts, which, while not consciously produced by "irrational" artists, can still be deemed trash. It is of the undistinguished kind that can be seen at community art fairs or that is churned out in "workshops" or "creative" writing programs, including "folk art" and kitsch, often commercially available to people with less esthetic sense than prehistoric cavemen and produced by their esthetic inferiors. The men who told stories by painting reindeer and bison on cave walls were true innovators and more respectful of human epistemology than any educated, modern irrational artist, past or present.
Relevant to this discussion is a host of middlemen responsible for promoting the irrational artist: critics, intellectuals, impresarios, teachers, and other exponents of unreason, all of whom, including the irrational artist, are necessarily impervious to any objective criticism of their actions - necessarily because they reject reason. Their usual fallback argument in answer to such criticism is to fault human cognition for not valuing, appreciating or pursuing the irrational. Too often today, however, they do not feel a need to answer such criticism at all, or to justify their actions, because the culture is on their side. They are the "establishment."
Regular readers of this column need not be reminded of the power of government agencies that encourage the formation and perpetuation of such an establishment, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, not to mention their smaller siblings and cousins in every state and municipality of the Union, all supported or "endowed" with revenue looted from taxpayers. For a description of the founding and mechanics of such an establishment, see Ayn Rand's essay, "The Establishing of an Establishment," in Philosophy: Who Needs It. One observation of hers in particular is germane to the subject here, which is the difficulty of any artist, including fiction writers, to advance in his career in especially today's culture:
"Private cliques have always existed in the intellectual field, particularly in the arts, but they used to serve as checks and balances on one another, so that a nonconformist could enter the field and rise without the help of a clique. Today, the cliques are consolidated into an Establishment."
So that there are no checks and balances that would allow a nonconformist to enter any field, intellectual or artistic, just a damp, impenetrable, cotton-like barrier of suffocating insouciance that disguises fear and hostility, a barrier that cannot even be objectified in the image of a human face.
All that being said, fiction writing differs from the visual arts in that a writer must create his own world (or selectively recreate reality according to his metaphysical value judgments), whereas a visual artist creates a single static entity (governed by the same method). A painting, which may be of a human figure or a tableau, or a statue of a human figure, will occupy physical space. A novel will occupy one's mind as a set of concretized abstractions (of specific characters, actions, places, and events), and how well and how long they occupy one's consciousness depends on how vividly memorable their venue - the story - is established by their author.
Writing a novel (or a play, screenplay, or short story) requires a personal commitment to a long-range project. This is the chief obstacle which, aside from his lacking the skills needed to accomplish it, stops any person who merely dreams of writing a story or who toys with an idea by taking still-born notes over a period of years, hoping that some magic "inspiration" will suddenly strike and move him to somehow realize his idea. Fiction writing is a purely non-social task, absolutely non-cooperative, an utterly solitary avocation, requiring a passion second only to sex. A fiction writer, as Ayn Rand once noted, is God at the creation of his own world, and such a task requires a nearly selfless dedication, "selfless" in the sense that one's own existence cannot matter until that world is complete.
As one overcomes external difficulties and obstacles, one's writing career must advance up a ladder of one's own making. One may advance, too, up another's ladder, say, that of a critic or a teacher, but that measurement should be wholly incidental and apart from one's concerns. In Rand's The Fountainhead, Howard Roark ascends his own ladder; Peter Keating, having no ladder of his own, rises on Ellsworth Toohey's.
Another difficulty encountered by a fiction writer is that employment in that art does not exist, except perhaps in Hollywood, writing screen treatments and screen plays and the like largely by committee or collaboration. There is nothing that would allow a writer to perfect his craft while earning a living as an apprentice or an intern to someone like Tom Clancy or J.K. Rowling. But then one would just be a hack for a "master," much like the artists who did the detail work for popular painters in the past and finished a "masterpiece" to which the "master" would sign his name.
Fiction writing may be a difficult career, but it is not necessarily the most difficult. A different species of labor exists for every other art form - in painting, sculpting, composing, and acting - but one cannot legitimately compare the various efforts and say that one is harder than the other. If there were any difficulty at all, it would depend on the scale or magnitude of one's artistic ambition and communicating its value to those who may undertake to bring the work to the public. Ayn Rand's legendary conflicts with her agents, editors and publishers over the integrity and marketing of her novels are a case in point. With all due respect to O. Henry, he would not have been able overcome the difficulties Rand encountered in her career. But, then, he did not need to deal with an ossified cultural establishment.
On a personal note, concerning the difficulty of getting one's work "out there," I have had a comparatively easier experience than have other writers and artists, and I think the most difficulties are encountered by visual artists. The visual arts in our culture have arguably sunk beyond sight into a percolating mire of mediocrity, pretentiousness, and worse, farther than has literature.
What difficulties are faced by individuals who aspire to become poets or composers? Why have no new Miltons or Kiplings or Rachmaninovs appeared? The culture just does not encourage such a career path. And here again one should defer to Rand and her introduction to Victor Hugo's Ninety-Three:
"Have you ever wondered what they felt, those first men of the Renaissance, when - emerging from the long nightmare of the Middle Ages, having seen nothing but the deformed monstrosities and gargoyles of medieval art, as the only reflections of man's soul - they took a new, free, unobstructed look at the world and rediscovered the statues of the Greek gods, forgotten under piles of rubble?"
The men of the Renaissance undertook to excavate those piles of rubble to more clearly see and appreciate those statues. The men of our time, since the end of the 19th century, are dedicated to not just reburying those statues, but to destroying them so that they are unrecognizable rubble. They want to return to a nightmare worse than that of the Middle Ages, from which no one would emerge but in which all would suffocate. If that is the spirit of our culture, how could anyone be inspired to compose great music or compose great poetry? To celebrate or communicate what? Where is the incentive? In answer to what? To disgust? To revulsion? To madness?
A rational, sane person could not be enticed to master the disciplines of those arts merely to answer the malevolence or dullness or the irrationality that may be the leitmotif of a culture (not unless he is a destroyer or psychotic or just plain dull himself). Most men today would be deaf to a new symphony or epic poem, or indifferent to it. (For more on this subject, see Rand's articles, "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation," in The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought by Ayn Rand, and "The Esthetic Vacuum of Our Age," in The Romantic Manifesto.) The great composers and poets of the 19th century were imbued with and encouraged by the spirit of Western culture then, and each was moved to answer or echo it in his own way. The last great composer in our time was Rachmaninov, and he was of the 19th century.
In the past, the progression was just the reverse. Michelangelo's "David" can be taken as a symbol of the Renaissance, when men were emerging to take "a new, free, unobstructed look at the world." Literature and music trailed behind, advancing in fits and starts, catching up only in the 19th century. But by then, as Rand so poignantly remarked, it was too late; Kant and his minions, with virtually no opposition or protest, had sabotaged the Aristotelian underpinnings of Western culture. The symbol of our culture today is something that is a combination of what might be a screwdriver welded to a dented car fender, or perhaps a leprous-looking human figure encased in mud. A fictional hero, such as Cyrano de Bergerac or Howard Roark or John Galt, is considered unreal or a fraud.
The only artistic medium that has half a chance of surviving and influencing the culture today (barring censorship) is the novel. It can point the way, just as Ayn Rand's novels have pointed the way, to valuing those other artistic fields and ultimately allowing them to flourish. It is, after all, a philosophical battle, the most difficult battle of all. Novels, because they can dramatize ideas in action, can help to promulgate a philosophy, while the other arts act as a reflection of it and of the culture.
It would be apropos to end this commentary by quoting Ayn Rand from her essay, "What is Romanticism?" in The Romantic Manifesto:
"When reason and philosophy are reborn, literature will be the first phoenix to rise out of today's ashes. And, armed with a code of rational values, aware of its own nature, confident in the supreme importance of its mission, Romanticism will have come of age."