Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mark Tapson on The Glazov Gang show

Jamie Glazov, editor of FrontPage Mag, interviews me about conservatives and pop culture on his show The Glazov Gang...

How a Man Should Handle Rejection

Recently Acculturated’s Mark Judge posted a seemingly reasonable piece entitled “A Lesson in Graciously Turning Down a Man,” in which he urged women who reject polite, non-aggressive, would-be suitors to do so with civility and graciousness rather than rudeness and scorn. I say “seemingly” because when his plea caught the attention of, he was excoriated for daring to offer advice to women. The article ended up sparking a firestorm of angry comments from women who complained that, in their experience, men respond even to polite rejection badly, simply escalating to annoying persistence or vile insults or even outright violence.

Then Acculturated’s Ashley McGuire followed up with a part two in which she defended Judge against their overreaction. She took the position that “good manners are a two-way street” and that a polite admirer deserves a polite response, not pre-emptive hostility. But many female readers seemed to resent that the onus should be on the woman to take the leap of faith in this courtship interaction. “Where’s [Judge’s] advice to men,” one commenter demanded, “on how to graciously accept a polite rejection?”

What this tempest in a teacup reveals is the visceral anger that now marks the state of the sexes today, at least between younger generations. I’ve never seen such a distrustful, warring gender divide before, not even during the ascendant feminism of the ‘60s and ‘70s; with fewer and fewer exceptions, young men and women are now entrenched beyond a no (wo)man’s land that neither side will take the first step to cross. Women claim the right to act like the most vulgar, promiscuous men, and yet complain that men aren’t gentlemanly enough; meanwhile, men say they’ll start acting like gentlemen only when women start acting like ladies. Stalemate.

Someone has to take the lead and begin bringing the sexes back to some sane level of complementary balance, and that can be done only by individuals – men and women – who commit to honorable, civil behavior. “Ladies” and “gentlemen” may be increasingly quaint relics of the past, but those standards have to be revived among younger generations if human beings are ever going to get beyond our current defensive stances and treat each other decently.

While I couldn’t agree more with Ashley McGuire that women bear some responsibility because they normally are a civilizing influence on men, I also agree in principle, if not in tone, with some of the female commenters that it is incumbent upon men to stop acting like obnoxious jerks or worse. It’s long past time for another quaint relic of the past to make a comeback: chivalry.

The very word “chivalry,” a code of male behavior that used to be admired and appreciated by women, now sets off angry fireworks from women and men. I’ve written about that for Acculturated before. Chivalry is an ideal that is unfairly demonized today, but a revival of it will go a long way toward busting through the War of the Sexes stalemate. But again, it’s a two-way street, ladies.

So, “Where’s that advice to men on how to graciously accept a polite rejection?” Here it is, though it won’t go over well with predators or players or drunk losers: A woman turns you down politely? Apologize for intruding and wish her a good evening. A woman you approached turned you down because she has a husband or boyfriend? Leave it at that. Show her you’re a man who respects relationships. A woman turned you down rudely in front of her friends? Embarrassing, sure, but how is it manly behavior to spew insults at her in return? It’s not – it’s petulant and childish. So instead of confirming their low suspicion of you, deliver a gentlemanly signoff – “No worries, then. Have a good evening, ladies” – and then walk away with your dignity intact.

That’s how a man handles rejection – like a man. And maybe it will make the woman and her friends wish they had given you a chance.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/24/14)

ISIS Ignites “Flames of War”

Hollywood has been called the greatest propaganda machine in human history, because the power of film is so compelling and persuasive. Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan once wrote that “movies are hard-wired into our psyche, shaping how we view the world… It’s when politics infiltrates entertainment that it is most subversive – and most effective.” That’s why Communist Russia’s Lenin said, “For us, the cinema is the most important of all the arts.” Hitler too certainly understood its usefulness in conveying Nazi propaganda. Now the savage fanatics of ISIS show that they recognize the power of film too.

It’s not as if contemporary Islamic fundamentalists didn’t already understand this concept and take it very seriously. They took it seriously enough to butcher Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in broad daylight on the streets of Amsterdam back in 2004 for a ten-minute short film critical of Islam called Submission that he made with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Infidel. For her participation in it, Hirsi Ali herself has long lived under the threat of death, just like Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose 2008 short film Fitna outraged the Muslim world by linking verses from the Koran with images of violence inspired by those verses. Most significantly, the fundamentalists take film seriously enough to pressure Hollywood to shape the ways in which Islam and Muslims are depicted.

Now ISIS militants, who are amassing a disturbing number of recruits from around the world partly as a result of their social media savvy – have produced a recruitment video as slick as any Hollywood production in response to Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will lead an international coalition to stem the ISIS tide.

Last week the al-Hayat Media Center, the English-language propaganda outlet for ISIS, released a trailer for a film entitled Flames of War with the tagline, “Fighting has just begun.” The 52-second video displayed production values not too dissimilar from those in just about any explosion-fest by blockbuster director Michael Bay, including super-slow motion footage of jihadis in combat, quick cuts, and CGI flames and explosions.

The trailer showed U.S. tanks being attacked by jihadists with shoulder-launched missiles, American troops being shot at, our wounded being loaded into an armored vehicle, almost subliminally quick images of George Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner and Donald Rumsfeld on a tour of Iraq, and drive-by footage of the White House at night, implying that ISIS is on our soil and within striking distance of the White House itself. The only spoken words are Obama’s pledge that “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.” It must have been a very compelling teaser for any young Muslim men looking for excitement and adventure.

A mere two days later ISIS followed up the trailer with the full-length film: fifty-five minutes of documentary-style recruitment propaganda touting the military success of the Islamic State. It consists mostly of handheld footage taken by cameramen embedded with ISIS fighters, and is narrated or subtitled almost entirely in English – presumably because its intended audience is Muslims living in the West. The narrator, apparently fluent in both English and Arabic, praises the brave mujahideen who come “from all corners of the world” to bring “a new era of victory for the ummah within the pages of history.”

The muj are depicted as heroes relentlessly waging war against anyone who gets in their way, crusaders or Muslims, and their enemies are derided as cowards. They are shown fighting without fear of death, since their aims are favored by Allah, and they accept only victory or martyrdom. Indeed, at one point a long camera shot practically caresses the bloody, dusty cheek of a dead ISIS warrior, whose beatific final expression suggests a spiritual joy in having given his life for Allah. As for Iraqi or Syrian Muslims who dared fight against ISIS, they are shown being graphically and ruthlessly executed after being forced to dig their own graves.

One crucial lesson to be drawn from Flames of War is that the film utterly destroys Obama’s and John Kerry’s ridiculous assertion that ISIS is not Islamic. From beginning to end, Allah’s presence is inescapable – he could even be said to be the movie’s protagonist. The film is suffused with religious commentary and Koranic justification for waging war on unbelievers. “Nothing can stand against the weapon of unshakeable faith,” the narrator assures potential recruits.

Similarly, there is absolutely zero mention of the colonial “grievances” that Obama claims are motivating ISIS. Instead, the narrator very clearly proclaims that “we only fight to bring back the Khalifah and establish the shari’ah of Allah. We fight in order to rule the entire world with Allah’s revelation.” Yeah, not Islamic at all.

The movie ends with a message to America – called the “defender of the cross” – about the inevitability of war with ISIS: “You will be forced into a direct confrontation, with Allah’s permission, despite your reluctance. And the sons of Islam have prepared themselves for this day.”

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 9/23/14)

Should Miss America Be Scrapped?

The contestants onstage may be all dazzling smiles and glowing confidence, but the Miss America Pageant itself is facing sad, uncertain times. Once among America’s most-watched television shows, in recent years it has been strutting bravely down a catwalk to obsolescence. The 2015 competition last weekend lost the TV ratings race to Sunday Night Football and, with under 7 million viewers, was down 25% from last year. What will it take to revive the nearly century-old pageant? Or is it time to simply pull the plug?

Derided unfairly, like all beauty pageants, as a sexist anachronism featuring a gaggle of gorgeous but dim bulbs, Miss America was actually founded as a scholarship program in 1921, and today is the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. The contestants are no intellectual slouches; this year’s winner Miss New York, Kira Kazantsev, is a dean’s list honors student at Hofstra whose scholastic ambition is to obtain a law degree and a Master’s in Business Administration for a career in international diplomacy.

But pageants have been easy targets over the decades for feminists, who argue convincingly that, no matter how impressive the contestants’ other qualities are, parading sculpted bodies in swimsuits and evening gowns before a panel of judges tends to objectify women. On the other hand, television is a visual medium where inner qualities don’t do much for ratings, so eliminating the “style” part of the organization’s “Style, Service, Scholarship and Success” motto probably isn’t in the cards.

This year’s pageant in particular was difficult to take seriously for other reasons as well. Miss Kazantsev’s talent was singing Pharell’s “Happy” while sitting cross-legged on the stage and drumming with a plastic cup, which won her the crown but drew some social media scorn. Also during the broadcast, Miss Nebraska unwittingly flashed her underwear to the camera, prompting a lot of tittering on Twitter. At another point, novelist Jane Austen’s name was misspelled onscreen.

But the real threat to Miss America is not feminist scorn or comic flubs but tepid ratings. In 2004, the pageant was dropped by ABC after scoring (at the time) record low ratings — 9.8 million viewers. It thereafter went to cable until it made a bit of a comeback on ABC in 2013 with the best numbers since its last ABC appearance — 10 million, or virtually the same as the ratings that got it dropped in the first place. It doesn’t help that the viewing demographic skews middle-aged. “The Miss America pageant is not the attraction that it used to be,” laments Sen. Ray Lesniak of New Jersey, where the organization is based. “It certainly has lost its significance and its value.”

The pageant may have lost its significance and value, but what about Miss America herself? What purpose does she serve? The organization points out that Miss America is a role model and spokeswoman, traveling approximately 20,000 miles a month – a different city every two days – touring the nation to educate millions of Americans on issues that are near and dear to each winner’s heart (Miss Kazantsev’s platform is ending domestic violence, certainly a timely and timeless issue). Get past the overblown glamour and glitz of the pageant telecast, and it becomes clear that Miss America does make an impact through her year-long, nonstop charitable and community efforts.

What can save the pageant itself? Perhaps nothing will ever elevate it again to its former glory, but it would be sad to see an American tradition like Miss America go entirely the way of the dinosaurs – not just for tradition’s sake but because Miss America does good work raising awareness and serving as an inspirational American symbol of the “Service, Scholarship and Success” parts of the motto. Perhaps its critics should look at the larger picture before tearing that institution down.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/22/14)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Toward a New Conservative Literature

“Politics flows downstream from culture,” my friend the late, great Andrew Breitbart was fond of pointing out. This is an insight too many conservatives have yet to take to heart; many are still dismissive of, or pay lip service to, the cultural battleground as a critical front. But thankfully, a few conservatives are getting the message out and leading the conversation.

For example, my friend Andrew Klavan, novelist/screenwriter/essayist extraordinaire, published a must-read Freedom Center booklet earlier this year entitled Crisis in the Arts, in which he discusses why the left owns the culture and how conservatives can begin to take it back (which just happens to be the booklet’s subtitle). “There should be more TV shows and movies and novels,” he writes, which celebrate the conservative values and themes “currently being excised from the arts by left wing censorship and so-called political correctness.”

There is Adam Bellow, the man behind the publishing venture Liberty Island, a platform for conservative writers whose work might not otherwise find a home in the left-leaning literary establishment. He recently wrote a counterculture manifesto at National Review in which he called for more support for a greater conservative presence in the literary world. Mainstream fiction writers, he says, benefit from a “well-developed feeder system” that promotes them, including “MFA programs, residencies and fellowships, writers’ colonies, grants and prizes, little magazines, small presses, and a network of established writers and critics.” But nothing like that exists for writers on the right:

This is a major oversight that must be urgently addressed. We need our own writing programs, fellowships, prizes, and so forth. We need to build a feeder system so that the cream can rise to the top, and also to make an end run around the gatekeepers of the liberal establishment.

Bellow described the sort of work he hopes to promote at Liberty Island: “good still triumphs over evil, hope still overcomes despair, and America is still a noble experiment and a beacon to the rest of the world.” The fact that this is a need to be filled speaks sad volumes about the current American literary landscape, even in genre fiction like mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, et al.

But Tablet’s Adam Kirsch posted an objection to those values: “The problem is not that these are conservative ideas, but that they are simpleminded ideological dogmas, and so by their very nature hostile to literature, which lives or dies by its sense of reality.”

Really? Goodness, hope, and America as the home of a noble spirit unique in human history are simpleminded ideological dogmas? Are they any more simpleminded and ideological, or less true, than the nihilism, anti-Americanism, and moral equivalence so revered by the left? At least the conservative literary “dogmas” are more compelling to the human spirit than an amoral void. But Kirsch feels that they are out of sync with reality:

If you are not allowed to say that life in America can be bad, that Americans can be guilty as well as innocent, that good sometimes (most of the time?) loses out to evil—in short, that life in America is like human life in any other time or place—then you cannot be a literary writer, because you have censored your impressions of reality in advance.

Well, Bellow never said that those things are not possible or that they would not be allowed at Liberty Island. Of course life in America can be bad (though it’s better than anywhere else). Of course Americans can be guilty and good sometimes loses to evil. Conservatives know this – we are realists. But Kirsch is skeptical that you can be a “literary writer” if you choose to focus on the positive, if you celebrate the good, the innocent, and life in America. I believe that you can, but the literary establishment simply won’t embrace you for it.

That doesn’t mean that conservative literature should read like the novelistic version of a Norman Rockwell painting. In fact, as Klavan says,

The single biggest mistake conservative cultural warriors make is this:  they expect a conservative culture to look conservative.  It will not… Conservatives should not be afraid to make and praise art that depicts the worst aspects of human nature as long as it does so honestly — that is, in the context of the moral universe in which every choice has its price and every action has its consequences whether internal or external or both.

In an insightful response to both Kirsch and Bellow, Micah Mattix at The American Conservative wrote that the latter “makes some good observations… [but] it’s the overemphasis on the political value of supporting popular culture and the arts that sticks in my craw.” The problem with Bellow’s approach, Mattix writes, “is that it would most likely lead to ideologically ‘pure’ but bad work.” He wants more conservatives to “write good fiction and poetry, not in order to win the culture war, but in order to have better fiction and poetry.”

Ultimately Mattix urges conservatives to reject Bellow’s proposal “because it is not conservative. It inescapably treats art or culture as a tool, or weapon, in the struggle for power. This, it seems to me, is a progressive or revolutionary conception of art.” No one likes to be preached to, not even progressives, which is why a heavy-handed “Bush lied” message movie like Matt Damon’s The Green Zone bombed despite being packaged as an exciting action thriller.

The trick, then, is to put aside the ideological jackhammer, focus foremost on the storytelling, and allow conservative values and messages to arise organically from compelling tales grounded in an unflinching moral universe. Easier said than done, of course, but audiences and readers must be – and want to be – seduced, not lectured. That is the way to a powerful, effective, conservative art that can reshape the cultural landscape.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 9/19/14)

In Defense of Home-Cooked Meals recently posted a curiously useless, sour article with the hyperbolic title “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Meal.” That’s right, tyranny. So cooking is the new Communism, and mothers, your family are the new Stalins.*

Columnist Amanda Marcotte asserts that the home-cooked meal has become “the hallmark of good mothering, stable families, and the ideal of the healthy, productive citizen,” which is overstating it, but yes, a good home-cooked meal is certainly, and rightfully, regarded very positively – except by Ms. Marcotte and North Carolina State University sociologists, who complain in a recent study that too many mothers don’t have the time or money to live up to that ideal.

The researchers interviewed 150 mothers “from all walks of life” (although only the middle class and below are discussed) and found that “even for middle-class working mothers who are able to be home by 6 p.m., trying to cook a meal while children are demanding attention and other chores need doing becomes overwhelming.”

Welcome to the real world, ivory tower sociologists. Yes, simultaneously juggling chores, cooking, and wrangling kids can be overwhelming, but that’s motherhood. Mothers have been multi-tasking since time immemorial. What is a real-world alternative, besides not becoming a mother in the first place? The article doesn’t offer one.

The sociologists also discovered that “low-income women often… can't afford to pay for even a basic kitchen setup,” and “even when people have their own homes, lack of money means their kitchens are small, pests are hard to keep at bay, and they can't afford basic kitchen tools like sharp knives, cutting boards, pots and pans.”

Yes, poverty makes feeding your family problematic – it makes everything problematic – but the notion that cooking is too expensive for most mothers is demonstrably false. You don’t need the Barefoot Contessa’s kitchen to cook for your family. And again, what’s the alternative – an even more expensive restaurant? Fast food? I paid over $8 recently just for McDonalds Happy Meals for my two kids. By contrast, my entire family stuffed ourselves on my wife’s hearty, healthy, delicious dinner tonight that cost literally under $4 total for all four of us.

But the study reports yet another downside: “whiny, picky, and ungrateful” family members who didn’t appreciate the mother’s cooking efforts, including husbands and boyfriends who were “just as much, if not more, of a problem than fussy children.” I feel sorry for the women in this study who apparently married ungrateful jerks and raised ungrateful kids, but I don’t believe they’re in the majority. Speaking for myself, my kids and I gush compliments and gratitude to my wife over every home-cooked meal.

In conclusion, “people see cooking mostly as a burden… because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.” Wow. Besides the sheer whininess of that statement, the article doesn’t even offer a solution: “If we want women—or gosh, men, too—to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles need to be fixed first. And whatever burden is left needs to be shared.” The “obstacles need to be fixed”? How? It doesn’t say. The entire piece, and the North Carolina State study, simply seem like an unhelpful attack on the family unit, especially the husband.

Time and money may be in short supply but there is no instantaneous, free alternative for feeding your family – certainly not going out to eat – and there has never been more information available for mothers and/or fathers about how to make healthy meals quickly on a budget.

A home-cooked meal is considered a hallmark of good mothering for good reason: far from being tyrannical, it’s a powerful labor of love that saves money, instills healthier eating habits, and most importantly, helps unify and stabilize the family unit. Maybe that’s why Slate feminists resent it so much.

* Marcotte apparently took such heat for that title that it has since been changed to “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.”

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/18/14)

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)