Saturday, September 13, 2014

Freedom and the Power of Pop Culture

Living in the Land of the Free as we do in the United States, it’s tragically easy to take our historically unprecedented freedoms for granted. It’s also easy to lose perspective and be unaware of just how significant an impact our culture has on people in less free societies around the world.  

Recently The Guardian reported on a 20-year-old woman now living in Seoul who had managed as a teenager to escape from the totalitarian nightmare of her native North Korea. One example in particular from her tale should serve as a stark lesson for those Americans who have become jaded by the ubiquity of pop culture in our lives, who see its value as limited to mere entertainment.

Park Yeon-mi was nine years old when she and the rest of her school were forced to attend the execution of a classmate’s mother. The poor woman’s capital crime was that she had lent a smuggled South Korean movie to a friend.

Under the brutally repressive regime of the insane Kim Jong-Il (now succeeded by his son, the insane Kim Jong-Un), “there were different levels of punishment” for such a crime, says Park. “If you were caught with a Bollywood or Russian movie you were sent to prison for three years but if it was South Korean or American you were executed.”

And yet Park risked, and others still there continue to risk, their very lives to watch international movies and TV shows smuggled into North Korea and sold on the black market. This contraband – the kind of entertainment to which nearly every American has cheap, casual access 24/7 via YouTube or Redbox or Netflix or iTunes or Amazon or TV with hundreds of cable channels – provided the culturally brainwashed North Koreans with “a window for us to see the outside world.” And that window also gave them insight into their own colorless world.

A single DVD cost about the same as 2 kilos of rice, so her family and her neighbors had to share. “Everyone was hungry so they couldn’t afford to buy many DVDs,” she said. “So if I had Snow White and my friend had James Bond, we would swap.” Getting caught could have meant death, but Park “couldn’t stop watching the movies because there was no fun in North Korea. Everything was so mundane and when I watched them I saw something new and felt hope. Fear didn’t stop me, nor will it stop others.”

As a teenager, it was Hollywood love stories that opened Park’s eyes to the literal and spiritual impoverishment of her native country, she told the Guardian. Among her favorite movies were Titanic and Pretty Woman. “Everything in North Korea was about the leader, all the books, music and TV,” she said. “So what was shocking to me about Titanic was that the guy gave his life for the woman and not for his country – I just couldn’t understand that mindset”:

In North Korean culture, love is a shameful thing and nobody talked about it in public. The regime was not interested in human desires and love stories were banned… That’s when I knew something was wrong. All people, it didn’t matter their color, culture or language, seemed to care about love apart from us – why did the regime not allow us to express it?

“All the foreign movies we saw about love affected me and my generation,” said Park. “Now we no longer want to die for the regime, we want to die for love.” How many of us can grasp the transforming power of such an awakening?

“The other shocking thing about that movie,” she said, “was that it was set 100 years ago, and I realized that our country is in the 21st century and we still haven’t reached that level of development.” That was a life-changing epiphany for the victims of Kim’s culture of propaganda, which insisted that North Korea was a communist utopia. 

Park Yeon-mi’s story should be a sobering revelation for all Americans, but especially conservatives, who too often dismiss pop culture as shallow and decadent, with little if any redeeming qualities. There is a good deal of truth to such criticism, but our TV and movies and music also have the power to inspire hope and a yearning for freedom among people in less fortunate societies. Her tale also highlights the importance of what kinds of messages our pop culture sends abroad – about freedom, morality, prosperity, love, and life.

If only we took our pop culture as seriously as do Park’s compatriots still in North Korea, risking their lives to swap smuggled copies of Titanic and Pretty Woman.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/12/14)

Refusing Submission

Considering the legitimate fear that ISIS has already penetrated our unprotected southern border, it’s reasonable to assume that Americans may soon be facing acts of terrorism against soft targets similar to the massacre in Kenya’s Westgate Mall in 2013. Americans can’t count on law enforcement or mall security alone to deal effectively with highly-trained teams of terrorists like the Westgate or Mumbai killers, so we all need to take measures to defend ourselves. Among those measures, should we consider learning how to fake being Muslim?

Recently The Canadian National Post published an article by Afsun Qureshi called “The Muslim Prayer That Might Save Your Life.” In it, Qureshi recalls that during the al Qaeda-linked Westgate attack, the killers quizzed terrified customers about their knowledge of Islam, including verses in the Koran or the name of Mohammad’s mother, for example, or demanded that some recite the shahadah, the Muslim declaration of faith. They did this in order to separate fellow Muslims, whom they spared, from infidel shoppers, whom they slaughtered with less concern than if the victims were livestock. (Similar tactics were carried out by the Mumbai terrorists).

“After that,” Qureshi writes, “many, myself included, wondered: Should we — Muslim or not — learn the basics of Islam and have a read through the Koran? If one of us ever finds herself in a situation similar to that of Westgate Mall victims, could even a rudimentary knowledge of Islam save us?”

Qureshi, who takes the view of many Muslims that the fundamentalists have hijacked her religion, believes this rudimentary knowledge is useful even in less threatening circumstances. She claims that “the odds are that if you are assailed by a radical Islamist in the streets of London or Toronto, it will be with words not bullets. For the sake of intellectual self-protection, it is worth getting up to speed on what these fanatics are so fanatical about.”

Actually, the odds are that if you are assailed by a Muslim fanatic, it will be with bullets, shrapnel, or blades. Intellectual protection is of much less value than Kevlar. However, I fully support the concept of understanding the basics (at the very least) of Islam, and I agree that learning a few key points of theology with which to intellectually disarm Muslim ideologues in a debate can be “a handy tool when it comes to confronting radicals in the realm of ideas.”

Referring to the Showtime TV drama about a former American soldier turned sleeper terrorist, Qureshi says “Some might fear that learning a bit of Islam will lead to a Homeland type situation, with folks going all Brody on us. But I doubt that.” She doesn’t sound too confident. In any case, in extreme circumstances, she believes that knowing a prayer or two might help you deceive attackers into sparing you as a fellow Muslim.

But at what cost? In reciting the shahadah, the speaker bears witness that “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” A person becomes Muslim by reciting the shahadah with a sincere heart in Arabic. Memorizing this and regurgitating it when necessary may or may not be enough to persuade an Islamic butcher to release you, but pretending to be Muslim is a test of your faith as well, because it demands that you deny your true faith, whether it is Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or even atheism or “other.” It puts you in the same spiritually damning position as the apostle Peter, who denied Christ three times in the hours following his Savior’s arrest.

Of course, with a knife to your throat, under that kind of duress, you certainly wouldn’t be declaring your Muslim “faith” with a sincere heart, so theoretically it’s meaningless. Nonetheless, I don’t think most American non-Muslims are comfortable reciting it knowing that it is the principal requirement for conversion to Islam.

But “paramilitary jihadist groups have been growing,” she points out, and “until this fight is over, a little knowledge could go a long way.” True, and again, I’m all for acquiring as much knowledge about jihad as possible. But Qureshi is suggesting you do so not in order to take the fight to the enemy, but to save your butt if you are ever “assailed” by slaughterers who decide to put your fake faith to the test.

I have a family with small children, and if I could save them from certain death or worse by tricking jihadists with a rote recitation of the shahadah, shouldn’t I do it? Even if I were facing the threat alone, shouldn’t I save myself for my family’s sake, for my own sake? After all, Muslims themselves are given a pass for lying to infidels in order to save themselves. Why should non-believers not be granted the same leeway?

Because Americans believe in standing up for our beliefs, not lying and denouncing our faith to save our necks. Give us liberty or give us death. Thanks for the suggestion, Ms. Qureshi, but Americans refuse to accept living in a country in which we might need to learn how to lie about the god we worship, so that if we take our family to the mall, we will all have a better chance of coming home with our heads on our shoulders. Our administration may be full of cowards, liars and Islamic sympathizers, but ISIS will find that American citizens are not cowards. We are not liars. Our faith and freedoms are stronger than your barbarism. And we will not submit.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 9/11/14

The NFL Shows its Compassionate Side

The National Football League – and indeed, the sport of football itself – is under a lot of fire lately, with scrutiny over damaging concussions, videos of domestic violence, and even charges that the game encourages homophobia and teaches children misogyny. But there is a positive, compassionate side of the league that tends to get lost among the volleys of criticism.

When Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive tackle Devon Still, for example, learned in June that his beautiful 4-year-old daughter Leah had Stage 4 pediatric cancer, “I just broke down in tears and couldn’t stop crying. It’s like my whole world turned upside down.” Still wasn’t able to give the team 100% after that, and eventually he was cut from the squad.

But the Bengals then offered him a slot on their practice squad, providing him with a paycheck, health insurance, and more time to spend with Leah. “They could have just washed their hands of me and said that they didn’t care what I was goin’ through off the field,” Devon Still said. But they didn’t; they took the high road. The Bengals organization showed real class and compassion.

Another Devon, safety Devon Walker from Tulane University in New Orleans, was paralyzed from the neck down after a collision during a 2012 game against the University of Tulsa. He is bound to a wheelchair and needs a ventilator to help him breathe.

Nevertheless, Tulane Coach Curtis Johnson said that Walker was a big part of the team’s success the following year: its first winning season and bowl game since 2002. “I didn’t have to do any pregame speeches at home because he did them all,” Johnson said. “And he policed the locker room. He policed those guys. He was around all the time. This kid deserves it all. He’s very inspirational.”

Walker, who also went on to become the recipient of the 2013 Disney Spirit Award, an honor given annually by Disney Sports to college football’s most inspirational figure, became an unofficial member of the New Orleans Saints family as well. Then at the end of May, just hours before graduating from college, the Saints surprised Walker by signing him to an official contract. “I’m proud to be up here with him, and I’m super proud of his recovery and the way he’s handled this and the way he’s approached this,” said Coach Sean Payton. “Obviously he’s been an inspiration to our region, to our community, New Orleans, the Tulane family, and it’s carried over to us on the Saints.”

“To me, this is almost like one of my dreams come true,” said Devon Walker. “I’ve been a Saint since before I was walking. Just to be a part of this team, just to be around the players is more than I could have hoped.”

Those are just two highlights of the NFL’s more uplifting side. The league also offers a support program called NFL Player Engagement, whose mission is “to optimize and revolutionize the personal and professional growth of football players through continuous guidance and support before, during and beyond their NFL experience.” It “prepares and supports players with matters such as physical and mental health, family safety, lifestyle and transition into their post-NFL life.” Its goal is “to serve and assist as a resource for parents, coaches and athletes in using football as a catalyst to build and develop life skills for success.” One of the related programs is All Pro Dad, which offers resources for fatherhood and aims “to interlock the hearts of the fathers with their children.”

As for causes outside the league, the NFL is widely known as a very charitable organization. This is to say nothing of the caring and philanthropic acts of countless individual players throughout the NFL, past and present, who offer their time and celebrity to various causes.

“We are losing the compassionate side of sports,” former San Francisco 49ers star Ronnie Lott worried back in 1986. In the high-testosterone, hard-hitting world of professional football, that is a legitimate concern. But I think that today, despite the very public issues currently plaguing the National Football League, there is plenty of evidence that football’s compassionate side is more active than ever.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/10/14

‘Justpeace’ Movement Urges Nonviolent Resistance to ISIS

While President Obama dithers about whether to “destroy” ISIS or “manage” them, the Christian left is urging him to engage the butchers in nonviolent, “community-level peace and reconciliation processes.”

The Catholic, Washington-based Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns recently posted a letter addressed to President Obama and other White House officials at the end of August. Signed by 53 national religious groups (including Maryknoll), academics, and ministers, the letter urged the White House to avoid warfare in Iraq by resorting to “a broader set of smart, effective nonviolent practices to engage hostile conflicts.” The strategies are part of “a fresh way to view and analyze conflicts” offered by an emerging ecumenical paradigm called “justpeace” (a cutesy combination of justice and peace). This approach was initiated by the Faith Forum for Middle East Policy, a “network of Christian denominations and organizations working for a just peace in the Middle East.”

The signers expressed their “deep concern” not so much over “the dire plight of Iraqi civilians” being slaughtered by ISIS as “the recent escalation of U.S. military action” in response. “U.S. military action is not the answer,” they claim, sounding a pacifist note common among left-leaning Christians. “We believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.”

Good luck with that. It doesn’t take a diplomatic genius to know that ISIS’ response to such flaccid tactics would be the same as the one they delivered recently in a video warning to the U.S.: “We will drown all of you in blood.”

But the left deals in wishful thinking, not reality. Thus the signers affirm, with Pope Francis, that “peacemaking is more courageous than warfare” – a statement that makes a great bumper sticker for Priuses but has no basis in fact. “It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” concedes Pope Francis, but “stop” does not mean wage war, which he calls the “suicide of humanity.”

Typical of the blame-America-first left, the letter’s signers faulted “decades of U.S. political and military intervention, coupled with inadequate social reconciliation programs,” for “the current crisis in Iraq.” More violence, they believe, will simply lead to “a continual cycle of violent intervention” that does not address “the root causes of the conflict.” You know that when the left speaks of “root causes,” they mean poverty, social injustice, imperialism – all of the familiar grievances whereby the left legitimizes “freedom fighters” such as ISIS. The left is also fond of the notion of the “cycle of violence” – as if both sides are equally to blame, and if one side takes the bold step to end that cycle, the other side will stop as well.

“We… deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians,” the letter continues, but “there are better, more effective, more healthy and more humanizing ways” to do that. Those steps include the following recommendations:

  • Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq “to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances.”
  • Provide “robust humanitarian assistance” to refugees fleeing the violence, “in coordination with the United Nations.”
  • Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts.
  • Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties.
  • Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council.
  • Bring in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations.
  • An arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.
  • Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level.
I don’t see how any of these are more effective than annihilating ISIS militarily, particularly since the UN is worthless and hardcore jihadists would simply consider the above methods to be indications of weakness from our side. The signers close the letter by asking Obama to “move beyond the ways of war and into the frontier of just peace responses to violent conflict.”

Priests like those at Maryknoll naturally seek peaceful solutions – that’s understandable, and peaceful solutions are certainly preferable if they are available or possible. But working toward peace requires the willing participation of all parties. If one side is hell-bent on genocide, and views conciliatory overtures from their enemy as pathetic weakness, then all the “community-based nonviolent resistance” in the known universe isn’t going to persuade them to compromise for the sake of peace; on the contrary, it will only encourage and embolden them to keep slaughtering. This ugly reality may not sit well with the utopians of the Christian left, who believe that harmonizing “Kumbiyah” will soften savages who think nothing of burying children alive, selling women into slavery, and sawing people’s heads off.

ISIS is not an isolated group of “extremists,” as Obama likes to call them (“extreme” what?). They are part of a surging worldwide jihad against a Western civilization that the jihadists view as weak, decadent, and dying. A falling camel attracts many knives, as the Arabic saying goes, and the jihadists smell blood. They are not impressed or moved by promises of “inclusive governance” or “reconciliation processes.” They don’t respect interfaith dialogue or hashtag diplomacy. They don’t desire peace – at least, not as we define it. Peace for them means not coexistence, as our bumper stickers urge, but worldwide submission to Allah. They respect only strength. When we work up the cultural and military will to show them that we, and not the jihadists, are the strong horse of which bin Laden spoke, we will be on our way to peace.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 9/8/14)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

‘Locke’: Risking Everything to Do the Right Thing

Though I was intrigued by its premise even before it appeared in theaters, I only just this weekend got around to watching Locke starring Tom Hardy, now out on DVD. You might think that an 80-minute movie featuring only one actor, who spends the entire film in his car driving and talking on a hands-free phone, would be at best a gimmicky curiosity and at worst a nap-inducing bore. You would be wrong. Locke is a riveting and affecting tale of a man risking everything to do the right thing.

Hardy, last seen as Bane, Batman’s Darth Vader-y nemesis in The Dark Knight Rises, plays Ivan Locke, a Welsh Everyman in charge of laying the concrete foundation for one of the biggest construction projects in Europe. The film opens on Ivan climbing into his car at the end of a work day prior to the early morning pouring of the concrete. He does not exit the car for the duration of the movie. At the first intersection, he makes a decision to turn right instead of left, and that commitment sets the wheels of this tense drama in motion, if you’ll pardon the pun.


As the perfectly-paced film unfolds, we learn that the married Ivan is on his way to be with a woman named Bethan who is in a London hospital an hour and a half away, prematurely having his child – the product of their one-night stand together. The lonely older woman, with no one else in her life, had been his assistant on a London project seven months earlier, and after celebrating the project’s completion with too much wine, Ivan was unfaithful for the first time in his fifteen-year marriage. He regretted it but thought it was in the past – until he learned of the pregnancy.

Along the 80-minute drive, Ivan has to juggle numerous impending catastrophes: potentially disastrous problems at the work site that could scuttle the $100 million project; complications with the pregnancy; and worst of all, explaining to his wife why he won’t be home that night, and then handling the emotional fallout from that revelation.

Throughout it all, he clings steadfastly to his decision to be there for the birth, though it may cost him his job, his marriage, and his home. But why risk all that, why cause all that emotional turmoil for his wife and two young boys? After all, he has no emotional attachment to Bethan, and keeping the child was her choice. Why not leave her to deal with it, and go home to his oblivious, loving family and his comfortable life?

He doesn’t take that easy way out because, as we discover, he refuses to become the weak loser that his own dad was, a drunk addict who wasn’t there for Ivan’s birth and who disappeared until Ivan was a grown man. “That bastard wasn’t around for me and didn’t even give me a f**king name,” Ivan says to himself in the car. “I will give the baby my name and it will see my face. It will know and it won’t spend its life thinking that nobody…” The thought trails off.

It’s clear that the wound from his father’s absence still festers, and Ivan refuses to pass that pain on to this new innocent child. “Unlike you,” he addresses his father’s imagined presence, “I will drive straight to the place I should be, and I will be there to take care of my f**kup.”
When his boss screams at him on the phone, asking why he’s abandoning this critical job in the morning just to comfort some woman who is not even his wife, Locke replies:

Because the baby was caused by me. I have not behaved in the right way with this woman at all. But now I am going to do the right thing… I know how it feels to be coming out into the world like this. There is someone being brought into the world and it’s my fault. So I have to fix it.

Ivan is a rational man with a steely determination to escape his father’s legacy and be the master of his own fate, to take life into his own hands and “do what needs to be done,” regardless of how uncomfortable the consequences. “No matter what the situation is, you can make it good,” he asserts. “You don’t just drive away from it.”

In the end, the consequences are harsh. We don’t know how or even if the damage can be repaired (though the film ends on a hopeful note), and writer-director Steven Knight asks in the DVD commentary, “Was his choice worth it? It’s up to the viewer to decide.” This viewer believes Ivan Locke made the right choice. This is not to absolve him of his infidelity, only to respect him for owning up to that mistake, for being responsible for the new life he brought into the world, and for not taking the easy way out. That’s what a man does.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/4/14

School Paper Changes its Name From ‘Bullet’ Because it ‘Propagates Violence’

The Fredericksburg News Desk reported last week that the University of Mary Washington’s student newspaper, an institution at that Virginia campus since 1922, is in the process of changing its name from The Bullet to The Blue & Gray Press. Why? Because the old name “propagated violence” and did not honor the school’s history “in a sensitive manner.”

The Bullet began as a bulletin for campus events at the university, located in Fredericksburg, and gradually morphed into an award-winning platform for student journalism. A name change for the paper was considered as far back as 1971, when Vietnam War opponents resented the “overly militaristic” implications of the paper’s name. The paper name survived that threat, but those were less politically correct times than today.

The press release last week stated that the name change to The Blue & Gray Press “calls forth UMW’s colors, giving a direct reference back to the school and students the university paper should represent.” Had this been the only reason, the change probably would have seemed reasonable enough, although some alumni were upset 0ver the end of the longstanding tradition.

But the release also noted that “The editorial board felt that the paper’s name, which alludes to ammunition for an artillery weapon, propagated violence and did not honor our school’s history in a sensitive manner.”

Huh? Sensitive to whom? The release didn’t specify, but anytime the word “sensitivity” rears its ugly head on campus, you can be sure that politically correct panic is in effect. Apparently the board is very concerned about how potentially upsetting the word “bullet” is to some. The release didn’t specify how the word dishonored the school’s history (it doesn’t seem inappropriate considering that two Civil War battles were fought in Fredericksburg); nor did it explain how the paper’s name actually “propagates violence.” Have students who were exposed to the paper’s name snapped and committed acts of violence afterward?

These days, with anti-gun paranoia at DEFCON 1, having a school paper with The Bullet right there on the masthead must seem terrifyingly threatening. There is no word at this point on whether the school will be considering Orwellian neologisms for other unsettling words and phrases such as “bulletin,” “bullet point,” and “faster than a speeding bullet.” No doubt the student body will be wrestling with how to handle the phrase “trigger warning” too, which alerts hypersensitive students to potentially upsetting ideas and words (because heaven forbid that adults at an institution of higher learning should be presented with concepts that they aren’t comfortable with). Perhaps the phrase “trigger warning” itself now will have to be preceded by some kind of trigger warning.

The paper’s editor-in-chief, Alison Thoet, steered the issue away from political correctness and said the staff wanted to change the name to “really be reflective of the student body,” whatever that means. She said that in upcoming issues she hopes to focus on the stories of everyday students and on investigative journalism. I humbly recommend that their first investigative piece should be on how guns work, since they apparently believe the word “bullet” refers to “ammunition for an artillery weapon.” Perhaps if university students and staff were more educated about firearms, they wouldn’t be so irrationally disturbed by gun-related words.

In the wake of some criticism of the decision to revamp the name, the new Blue & Gray Press attempted to clarify the controversial action in an open letter last Friday. They felt that “the announcement has been interpreted in some media circles in a manner that misrepresents our decision and intention”:

The Bullet, a name related to the word bulletin” and the phrase “news as fast as a bullet,” had become dated and no longer represented adequately the student body nor the university. Blue and Gray symbolize both the community’s history and our school’s spirit. By choosing The Blue & Gray Press as our name we are connecting the past with the present to honor both our beautiful city’s history and our student body’s pride in an identifiable and meaningful way.

That explanation didn’t pacify the commenters underneath the posting; as of this writing, they were uniformly critical of the change of a name that had stood nearly one hundred years.

This is a seemingly minor incident of political correctness, but it’s another in a growing number of instances of anti-gun hysteria sweeping the country – particularly in schools, where all common sense seems to have fled adult authorities. A 7-year-old boy in Western Pennsylvania, who accidently brought a toy gun to school in his backpack, turned himself in after he discovered it. It was a toy gun, and he turned himself in, but still he was suspended from school and faced a disciplinary hearing.

Fanning the flames of such irrationality, Huffington Post editor Mark Gongloff mapped scary data from gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety about 74 school shootings that have taken place since the Sandy Hook massacre – misleading data that a University of Sunderland teacher and author deconstructed to conclude that “schools are actually extremely safe.”

In another recent example, a 16-year-old boy was suspended from school in South Carolina over a creative writing assignment in which he made a joking reference to shooting a neighbor’s pet dinosaur. The teacher actually called the police – without informing the boy’s parents first. They searched his book bag and locker for a gun, but didn’t find one (or the body of the dinosaur, for that matter). When the boy became irate over this insanity, he was handcuffed and arrested.

“Paranoia strikes deep,” the Buffalo Springfield sang back in the ‘60s. “Step out of line, the man come and take you away.” Indeed.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 9/1/14)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The ‘Insidious’ Threat of Benevolent Sexism

On the Fox News show Outnumbered recently, the always-outspoken ex-KISS bass player Gene Simmons scoffed at a 2012 study posted on which warned of “the insidious nature of benevolent sexism” and the hidden dangers of holding a door open for a woman.

Dr. Stephen Franzoi and Dr. Debra Oswald, professors of psychology at Marquette University, co-wrote the study entitled “Experiencing Sexism and Young Women’s Body Esteem,” about how young women’s body esteem is affected by both hostile and “benevolent” sexism from family members and everyday experiences.

If you have been blissfully ignorant of benevolent sexism, it’s been central to feminist theory since the late 1990s. The Marquette University study explains that benevolent sexism is characterized “by beliefs and actions that appear outwardly positive, but actually undermine gender equality.” It is “subtler” than “hostile sexism,” its more extreme partner which consists of open acts or policies of gender discrimination, and so widespread and “deeply ingrained in American culture that women experience it daily but may not even realize it.” Something as seemingly innocuous as a man holding a door open for a woman, for example, is benevolent sexism.

How does this fiendish strategy work? “This pattern of sexist behavior restricts what the woman can and cannot do by setting up rewards and punishments” for her behavior, Oswald writes. For example, if a father believes that women should stick to a proper feminine role in society, he tends to encourage his daughter to perpetuate that social conformity by, say, complimenting her on a traditional feminine appearance with makeup and certain dress. It’s unclear whether the solution is for men to stop complimenting women’s appearance, or for women to start dressing like men.

The researchers gave a series of surveys to 86 first-year female college students and their parents to explore any connection between the students’ body esteem and “parental support of sexist beliefs.” It turned out that the women who had higher body esteem were more likely to have fathers who practiced benevolent sexism. The researchers found this “disconcerting” and insist that “it highlights the insidious nature of benevolent sexism.”
If you have been under the impression that poor body esteem was a serious problem for women and especially young girls today, you may be wondering how something that elevates that esteem can be considered bad. Well, academics like Franzoi and Oswald worry that when women feel good about themselves, it “decreas[es] efforts to change the social structure that promotes benevolent sexism and male dominance.”

In other words, benevolent sexism is bad because it makes women feel good about themselves and thus perpetuates benevolent sexism. And that’s bad because if women feel good about themselves, they can’t be manipulated into tearing down the existing social structure.

So the researchers claim that this type of sexism “undermines the long-term esteem of women because it binds them to gender-specific roles… Sexism has evolved into a system where women are rewarded for engaging in the traditional feminine role” and punished for engaging “in nontraditional roles that may challenge the traditional gender relations and power balance.”

The study didn’t address whether engaging in nontraditional roles actually makes the majority of women any happier or more fulfilled. Nor did it address whether the feminist imperative to “challenge traditional gender relations and power balance” has actually improved relations between men and women. It doesn’t take a study to see that gender relations today, at least among younger generations, are characterized mostly by anger, confusion and bitterness. Young men don’t know how to be men or to treat women, and they blame them for that confusion; young women despise men for being immature and confused, and yet they believe that their own liberation means acting like the worst examples of men. They are all a lost generation, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. This is the result of the radical feminist assault on men and the notion of gender itself.

Gene Simmons and his four female co-hosts on Outnumbered didn’t take the notion of benevolent sexism seriously. They all seemed perfectly comfortable in their traditional gender roles, and by “traditional” I mean the recognition that biological gender differences exist, that men and women are equal but different and complement each other, and that we can embrace that balance and not buy into the feminist imperative to be angry antagonists.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/27/14)

Calling ISIS What it is – Evil

If any Americans remained unconvinced that barbaric evil is at the cold-blooded heart of the terrorist group ISIS, their recent beheading of journalist James Foley made it graphically undeniable. The moral divide between ISIS and us is clearly marked. And yet there are those among us who still cannot bring themselves to use moral terminology to describe the enemy.

Michael J. Boyle for example, an associate professor of political science at La Salle University, contributed an op-ed to the New York Times Saturday on “the moral hazard” of using terms like “evil” and “cancer” to describe the terrorist group ISIS. Sure, he concedes, ISIS has committed thousands of gruesome human rights violations and war crimes, but Boyle wants to put the brakes on the “disturbing return of the moralistic language once used to describe Al Qaeda.”

“Condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely ‘evil,’” he writes, “is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs.” How is this a problem? Moral clarity is an ideal state of affairs, especially in a world in which moral boundaries so frequently seem blurred. But Boyle believes that using judgments such as “nihilistic” to describe a group “tends to obscure the group’s strategic aims and preclude further analysis.” In other words, it discourages us from understanding the enemy.

I’m skeptical that Boyle himself understands ISIS’ strategic aims. He insists that ISIS “operates less like a revolutionary terrorist movement that wants to overturn the entire political order in the Middle East than a successful insurgent group that wants a seat at that table.” The notion that Islamic fundamentalists want only a seat at the political table is short-sighted, if not deluded. ISIS and their brethren absolutely want to overturn the political order of the world, not just the Middle East, and replace it with their own. This may seem comically unrealistic to us, but our opinion is irrelevant; all that matters is, ISIS believes it to be not only possible, but inevitable. They are executing their vision in a bloody swath across Iraq, and will continue until someone with the moral clarity and military power to stop them does so.

But this is another issue for Boyle. He is concerned that moralizing about the enemy is a slippery slope toward another Middle Eastern military quagmire:

The Obama administration needs to ensure that the just revulsion over Mr. Foley’s murder and ISIS’ other abuses does not lead us down an unplanned path toward open-ended conflict… The strategic drift produced by this moralistic language is already noticeable, as an air campaign first designed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe has morphed into an effort to roll back, or even defeat, ISIS.

Isn’t rolling back and defeating ISIS a desirable outcome? In any case, whether we acknowledge it or not, we already are in an open-ended conflict with an enemy – Islamic fundamentalists – who are committed to a forever war. The way to prevent a quagmire is not to be tentative about military force, but to unleash hell and finish the job.

The New York Times wasn’t alone in its moral unease. A similar piece, “Should We Call ISIS ‘Evil,’” appeared on CNN, as National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg pointed out. James Dawes, director of the Program in Human Rights at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, wagged his finger at Goldberg for tweeting that ISIS is obviously evil, and for the same reason as the Times’ Boyle: such simplistic terminology doesn’t do justice to the “complexities” of the ISIS phenomenon. Dawes too claims that calling someone evil “stops us from thinking”:

If we are to have any hope of preventing the spread of extremist ideologies, we must do more than bomb the believers. We must understand them. We must be willing to continue thinking...

We can say they are evil people doing evil things for evil ends. Or we can do the hard work of understanding the context that made them, so that we can create a context that unmakes them.

Inexplicably, Dawes seems to believe that understanding our enemies and identifying them as evil are mutually exclusive. Then he goes from the inexplicable to the offensive: “There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil – because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. ‘Evil’ is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.”

What a crock of academic moral equivalence. The reality is that we call ISIS evil not so Americans can have an expedient justification to go out and “kill other people comfortably,” but because ISIS beheads innocents, buries children alive, sells women into slavery, and massacres thousands. If we can’t objectively describe that as evil, then evil doesn’t exist. Perhaps for Dawes, it doesn’t.

There is no question that understanding the enemy is always vital. No one argues otherwise. But moral judgment is vital too. However, since 9/11 (and even before), the news media, academia, politicians, and even our own military establishment have done their best to deflect understanding and judgment of Islam and to explain away the evil done in its name as everything but Islamic. Islam is peace, they say. Jihad isn’t holy war, it’s inner struggle. Terrorism is blowback for our own oil-grubbing imperialism. The Ft. Hood massacre was workplace violence. Al Qaeda has hijacked and perverted Islam. Hamas are freedom fighters pushing back against Israeli occupation. ISIS is just an insurgent group seeking political legitimacy. And so on.

We will begin to win this forever war when remove these politically correct obstacles to understanding the enemy, and embrace the moral clarity to identify evil and eradicate it.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 8/27/14)

Is Chivalry Too Risky?

The word “chivalry” brings to mind heroic images of a knight in shining armor riding to the defense of a damsel in distress. We don’t usually consider the possibility that things may go badly for the would-be rescuer.

Earlier this month, a 39-year-old Texan visiting Philadelphia was out in the wee hours of the morning when he saw several men inside a car pull up next to a group of women, whom they began taunting and catcalling. A police captain later reported that the visitor “took offense to something that the guys were saying to the girls and said ‘Hey, watch what you’re saying.’”

At that point, one of the men inside the vehicle got out and punched the Good Samaritan, who fell and struck his head on the concrete, knocking him unconscious. The suspects then fled and the victim ended up in the hospital. “This is a tragic, tragic story,” the police captain said. “Here’s a guy trying to stick up for these girls and he gets victimized.”

Even more tragic is the instance one night last July when a 49-year-old man came to the rescue of a woman being sexually assaulted by two men at a Fresno gas station. This allowed the woman to escape, but he was badly beaten by the pair and left in the street, where he was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.

These are just a couple of newsworthy examples of heroic intentions gone terribly wrong. What both victims did was the very definition of chivalry, which in its purest original sense is rooted in service to others and protection of the defenseless. They were gentlemen coming to the defense of women; the other men were cads at best, violent sex offenders at worst. Unfortunately, the gentlemen got the worst of both confrontations.

I’m a fierce proponent of the social value of chivalry, the medieval code of honor which unfortunately has nearly been snuffed out over the course of the 20th century by the rise of feminism. Today it is in a coma on life support, and we are worse off for that. Our culture – any culture – sorely needs its young men to embrace chivalry’s core principles.

But many men will see the above examples as definitive evidence that chivalry is, well, stupid. Why leap to the defense of a woman you don’t even know if you might end up in the hospital – or the cemetery? Even if you get the better of the bad guy in a physical confrontation, you might still come away injured and/or facing a financially devastating lawsuit. And what if the woman doesn’t even appreciate a man coming to her defense? These days many young women resent even having doors opened for them. Just what is the upside of playing the white knight anymore?

These are very valid questions, and they are part of the reason that chivalry is dead to so many today. What are men to do?

The simple answer is that men must do their duty, as men have always been expected to do. Part of that duty means, as I wrote above, embracing the chivalric virtues of service to others and protection of the defenseless. I know that the reality is more complicated than that sounds, but there is no getting around the fact that morality and manhood require courage. The world needs – and has always needed – men willing to put themselves on the line to be gentlemen and heroes, willing to stand up to men of baser character and evil intent, even at personal risk. Without that, in a society in which able-bodied men do not selflessly step up to do the right thing, bad men will run rampant and the law of the jungle will prevail.

Without knowing more details about the incidents in the opening examples, it’s difficult to know if the situations could have been handled more safely or wisely. But the point is that the gentlemen who came to the aid of those women acted rightly on noble instincts. The alternative would have been to stand by or turn a blind eye to misogynistic hostility, and in the second instance, possibly murder. That cowardly inaction would have come at the cost of the women’s safety and the gentlemen’s manhood.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/25/14)

Obama Delivers Empty Rhetoric About ISIS

President Obama took time out from his busy social schedule to present a statement Wednesday afternoon on the ISIS (or ISIL) beheading of a kidnapped American photojournalist. It was unsurprisingly full of empty rhetoric without any reference to action.

He began by announcing that “the entire world is appalled” by the murder of James Wright Foley – or as Obama referred to him repeatedly and familiarly, “Jim” (this has to be the first speech by Obama in which he referred to someone else more often than himself). Foley’s murder was “an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.” I don’t believe the President of the United States is authorized to speak for the entire world, but in any case there is a significant portion of the world that not only wasn’t shocked but has no conscience about the butchering of infidels, and that’s the problem that needs to be addressed.

But first, Obama eulogized Foley: “Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend.” Such an intimate, even maudlin statement would be entirely suitable among friends and relatives at a funeral service but is frankly unworthy of a presidential announcement to the world. But Obama wasn’t done expressing his unconvincing grief: “All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.” Apparently Obama mourns by heading straight to the links for another round of golf, because that’s what he did immediately after he delivered this statement.

“We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families,” he continued. Like U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who remains jailed in Mexico and has been separated from his family since late March? Keeping him in one’s prayers is a nice gesture but is no substitute for the President of the United States actually lifting a finger to bring that Marine home, something Obama hasn’t done.

He moved on to address the monsters behind Foley’s beheading and countless other sick atrocities. “Let’s be clear about ISIL,” said Obama, although we know by now that anytime Obama declares that he’s going to be clear about something, he’s just posturing at sounding authoritative. He acknowledged that “they have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery.” Then he purposefully notes that they have murdered Muslims by the thousands and “target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion.”

Yes – a religion different from Islam, but Obama didn’t make that connection. Instead, he declared that “ISIL speaks for no religion.” No? The Islamic State speaks for no religion? “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” His language here is disingenuous, because of course Muslim fundamentalists have a different definition of “innocent” from ours, and they have never had a problem slaughtering less orthodox Muslims. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday... ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings.”

He’s correct about that last part, and that the ideology is “nihilistic,” but he never says what that ideology is, only that it’s “bankrupt.” Is it bankrupt if it’s gaining adherents daily who are fanatically committed to the elimination of Western civilization? Obama claims that this undefined “ideology” has nothing to offer but “endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.” No argument there, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to implode on its own for lack of true believers. Too many feel that Islam has a very compelling vision, and that it is Western freedom that enslaves.

“People like this ultimately fail,” Obama declared with unfounded optimism. “They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” Oh? Where is this guarantee written in stone? Because in the real world good doesn’t always win; history belongs to “the strong horse,” as bin Laden once put it, and right now ISIS and their ilk are far more confident than we are about to whom the future belongs. Of one thing we can be certain: the forces of evil and annihilation will win if “those who build” don’t get their civilized ass in gear and eradicate this nihilistic “ideology.”

And yet ultimately, Obama’s statement mentioned not a single action item, only pompous rhetoric: “The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.” Is there anyone here and abroad who still believes that America under Obama relentlessly protects and seeks justice for her citizens? Need I mention Benghazi?

Obama went on to urge the governments and people of the Middle East to unite in “a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kinds of nihilistic ideologies.” Yes, there has to be, but what is the President of the United States going to do to ensure that? “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” ISIS begs to differ. They believe that it is America that has no place in the 21st century.

Before rushing off to the golf course, Obama closed with the vague promise “to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.”

ISIS’ boastful response? “We will drown you in blood.”

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 8/22/14)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is Taylor Swift’s New Video Racist?

I recently wrote for Acculturated that these are tough times for white female pop stars, whose every video and stage performance is now scrutinized for racism and cultural appropriation by those who seem predisposed to find racism everywhere (except, too often, where it actually exists). Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry have been highly visible targets of such charges, and now Taylor Swift joins their ranks.

The music video for Swift’s new single “Shake it Off” debuted Monday and as of this writing has 20 million YouTube views. It’s a playful, exuberant song about shrugging off your critics and haters, and living with joyful abandon. In the video, Swift self-deprecatingly but unself-consciously tries to keep up with talented, ethnically diverse performers in a variety of dance styles, from ballet to modern dance to twerking to breakdancing to ribbon gymnastics to cheerleading.

The video immediately drew fire for supposedly racist images. Rapper Earl Sweatshirt, for example, pronounced it “inherently offensive and ultimately harmful” on Twitter and declared that it perpetuates black stereotypes, despite admitting that he hadn’t seen the video (which instantly renders his opinion invalid). “I don’t need to,” he says, defiant in his ignorance.

Unlike Sweatshirt and probably many others among the chorus of race-baiters, I have seen the video. It’s not racist. I’m not a Swift fan, but smearing someone as racist is a very serious accusation, and those who hurl false charges need to be called out for their hatefulness.

In a pointlessly bitchy takedown of Swift and the video at the Jezebel website, for example, Hillary Crosley accuses “milquetoast” Swift of “cultural appropriation” because she is “wearing cut off jean shorts, an animal print jacket, big gold hoops and jewelry that harken [sic] people of color,” and because she is backed up by twerkers (who are not all black, by the way). “Dressing up in the cultural cues of another ethnic group isn’t cool,” finger-wags Crosley, who is black but who probably doesn’t object to Leontyne Price dressing up in the white cultural cues of opera or Misty Copeland dressing up in the white cultural cues of ballet.

The Consequence of Sound website also questioned whether the video is racist, posting a litany of tweeted disapproval from random commenters, like these:

“Hi, Taylor Swift. Welcome to the racist pop singer club.”

“wtf did taylor swift just do omg is she pulling a katy perry? where are all these racist white girls comign from”

“#ShakeItOff is racist and offensive. Why does your self expression and rebellion have to come off the backs of black people?”

At least CoS finishes the piece with a defense of Swift from the Tumblr page Ohrgasm, in which “a proud ass black man” declares it “not problematic or even close to racist”:

Taylor was not “cultural appropriating” anything and she wasn’t “being racist”... She was celebrating people’s dancing and how they celebrate music throughout the video and a large variety of black woman twerk. Would it honestly make sense if Taylor had 100 or so white girls try to twerk?

Let me be blunt: the theory of cultural appropriation is a divisive, narrow-minded, inherently racist ideological weapon that locks us all into racial identities with hard and fast borders rather than acknowledging us as individuals with our own tastes and interests and abilities. It denies us, on the basis of skin color, the ability to pay homage to or engage in cultural expressions that are not our own. It enforces segregation and stunts cultural evolution.

As for negative black stereotypes: if, like Earl Sweatshirt, you want to shame performers who are perpetuating them, the most obvious and influential place to begin is with black recording artists who glorify those stereotypes. For blacks who don’t want to be stereotyped as uneducated thugs and hypersexualized twerkers, then the solution is very simple: stop doing it yourselves. Stop making videos depicting yourselves as pimps and hos. Stop referring to each other as nigga. Stop glorifying the materialistic immorality and criminality of the gangsta life. Stop twerking. Stop spewing obscenities and porn dressed up as lyrics. Mostly, stop embracing this degrading behavior as your proud cultural tradition.

Taylor Swift isn’t perpetuating those stereotypes – you are.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/21/14)