City of Brass

City of Brass

Ramadan row – French fatigue

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Ramadan is like a magic word. You need only to utter it and suddenly people become insane:

The trial of seven men for armed robbery was due to start on 16 September in Rennes.

But last week the court agreed to a request from a lawyer for one of the accused to put it off until January.

In his letter asking for the delay, the lawyer noted that if the
trial were to start now, it would fall in the Muslim month of Ramadan.

His client, a Muslim, would have been fasting for two weeks and thus, he said, be in no position to defend himself properly.

He would be physically weakened and too tired to follow the arguments as he should.

The accused in this case are garden-variety criminals, on trial for mundane bank-robberies. Naturally, therefore, the suggestion that Ramadan be invoked as any kind of argument for anything is immediately taken to signal the end times for Western civilization. As one muslim blogger once observed, Muslims are Orcs.

The request for a delay is not some kind of Shari’a end-run around justice, it’s a request completely and fully within the justice system. There’s no Islamic basis for the request, either, it’s a request based on the accused physical state (Ramadan just happens to be the reason). If the lawyer was arguing for a trial delay because of some vague notion of sensitivity to Isamic belief, then that would be nonsense, but the argument that the accused needs to be fully alert when defending himself against charges in a court of law – especially upon the stand – is a perfectly reasonable one.

As usual, the guardians of Western sensitivity are easily bruised, insisting that the imbroglio violates the concept of separation of Church and State. The French concept of Separation, Laïcité, is probably better expressed as “State hostility towards Church”, though that hostility is modulated by French racism, meaning that it is expressed more towards the faith of its ethnic minorities. The result is that the State, claiming to be Separate, actually ends up involving itself all the more directly in religious affairs. For example, the French ban on hijab – this violates in a fundamental way the concept of Separation, because it uses the power of the State to define what is acceptable religious behavior and what is not, in a much more intrusive way that the UK or the US do. I previously argued that the government plays a necessary role in oversight of religious actions, using the Manchester child abuse case as an example – the key difference there is that existing Law was used as an impartial standard to assess the religious act. The religious act itself was not defined illegal, but the details of how it was practiced are constrained by law.

ou sont les John McCains de l’antan?

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

In the 2000 election, John McCain was a very different politician. He was truly a maverick, unafraid to confront the radical elements within his own party, and he paid the price. He lambasted the social conservatives’ hold over the GOP agenda, critiquing the symbolism of George Bush’s speech at Bob Jones University, and calling evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance.” For his principled stand, he was rewarded with a truly horrific smear campaign in South Carolina by the Bush campaign which insinuated that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter Bridget was actually his illegitimate love-child. That smear derailed his impending victory in SC and literally cost him the nomination.

In 2008, John McCain has flip-flopped on almost every issue, consistently moving towards politically-expedient positions that fall in line with the social conservatives he once criticized. He’s also courted even more extreme evangelical leaders like John Hagee, whose comments on Jews, homosexuals, women, muslims, Catholics, and Hurricane Katrina make Falwell and Robertson (who blamed American morality for 9-11, if you recall) seem tame in comparison. And, most tellingly, he has hired the architect of the smear campaign against his own daughter, to help him win against Barack Obama.

I will admit that in 2000 I was less of a political junkie than I am now. But I was a big fan of John McCain in 2000, and had he won the nomination I’d have likely voted for him over Al Gore (because then, unlike now, I didn’t really appreciate Gore’s intellect, vision, and his judgment in matters of foreign policy). Actually, I might have voted for Bill Bradley over McCain, but that’s another story. At any rate, the John McCain today is not the John McCain of yesteryear.

My good friend Joshua Trevino argues that John McCain’s acceptance speech at the RNC convention was a return to the John McCain of old, and in many ways a direct rebuke to the Bush years. But a speech is one thing – the words sounded great, but his actions say something else. By moving to embrace George Bush over the past 8 years, by sacrificing his principled stand against everything that darkens the GOP for the sake of his political career, by choosing a vice presidential nominee whose role is purely to ignite a culture war of the sort he once was an anchor of resistance against, he has betrayed his old 2000 maverick identity.

I’m certain that I am one of the people Josh had in mind when he wrote,

“I’d vote for John McCain if he were still the John McCain of 2000,”
they say. After tonight, we get to find out if they mean it.

However, even the John McCain of 2000 falls well short of the new standard set by Howard Dean and Barack Obama. That new standard is born of the transformative paradigm of a people-powered campaign, a 50-state strategy, a true call for the empowerment of the ordinary American citizen to take direct control of the political machine. Howard Dean was bested by the establishment, but succeeded in clearing the path, and Obama has followed. The country wasn’t ready for these new ideas in 2000, and the key organizing power of the Internet which makes this political revolution possible was still in its infancy (though, McCain 2000 was one of the pioneers there, too).

So would I vote for John McCain circa 2000 in 2008? It would be like riding a steam engine rather than a shinkansen. But easy as such a choice would be, that’s not even the choice offered to me today. McCain 2008 is  not McCain 2000 – that John McCain is gone, and there’s no room for him in today’s GOP.
 
(bonus points for identifying the allusion in the post title…)

no condemnations, please

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

As a follow-up to my earlier disagreement with Rabbi Hirschfield, it’s worth looking at what other muslim bloggers in the Islamsphere have to say about the New York Times article about the Hezbollah death shrine in southern Lebanon:

Angry Arab As’ad: What is Robert Worth’s point in this article? That Arab children love and enjoy terrorism?”

Arabic Media Shack: “Israel used and celebrates the terrorists who fought for its cause just
as much as the Arab side does.  For example, if you can prove that you
were a member of the Stenn Gang or Irgun during the Mandate era, the
Israeli government  today will give you a medal.  That’s celebration of
terrorism just as much as what is being said in the Mughnoya piece. “

AMS goes on to ask whether we can have equal opportunity condemnation, but actually I prefer that we ask no one to condemn anything. This incessant “Condemn This” routine is tiring.

Palin vanilla

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

When John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, I googled her and found her to be a very interesting mold of Republican, who took on her own party in Alaska and fought against the entrenched corruption in her state. She also had a pretty compelling personal story, in terms of her journey from hockey mom to public servant. My first reaction was therefore disappointment, because pulling Palin out of Alaska seems like eating your seed corn. Young, policy-driven leaders like Palin and Louisiana governor Bobby Kindal are GOP 2.0, the kind of Republican that the GOP needs to lead it out of the wilderness from which it is inevitably headed after this election cycle. It’s leaders like Palin and Jindal, in the mold of Schwarzenegger, who will be needed to recast the GOP as a party of solutions rather than ideology, along the lines advocated by Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat in their new book, Grand New Party.

As John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee, however, Palin is relegated to the status of hyper-partisan attack dog. In one prime-time televised speech she’s completely squandered whatever future she might have had as an appealing moderate Republican leader and is now diminished. If McCain loses, her political career is over. Having donned the mantle of hyper-partisan, social conservative warrior princess, she can’t easily reclaim the moderate mantle.
So be it. Palin has set a new course. But watching McCain’s speech Thursday night, which is more McCain 2000 than McCain 2008, I am struck by just how different the political landscape would be right now had Palin delivered a speech aimed at wooing the independent voter rather than exciting the base.

Arguably, the social conservatives who fell so easily into line with Palin’s appointment that they gave her a standing ovation before she’d said a single word, would have fallen into line come election day. And with both McCain and Palin giving persuasive appeals to the middle rather than stemwinders, real inroads might have been made towards Obama’s voter coalition.
However, it’s clear why McCain chose the lower road strategy – because the independents are independent, whereas the base is more predictable. McCain’s team doesn’t want to put all their eggs in one basket, so they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. McCain alone could not excite the base, but by positioning Palin as a persecuted martyr (with the media playing the villain) and stoking a culture war, the social conservatives can be mobilized. Meanwhile, McCain will woo the middle by taking the rhetorical high road and pointedly mentioning key issues like alternate energy sources, global warming, and expressly non-ideological talk of finding solutions from “both sides of the aisle”.
If everything falls into place, they theoretically could pull it off – but the problem is that the independents are watching Palin, too. And they didn’t like what they saw:

“Who is Sarah Palin? I’m sorry but I still don’t know anymore about this young lady tonight than I did last night … The way it looks to me, she’s the Republican vice presidential nominee for one reason: because Hillary wasn’t selected.” — Mike Kosh, 38, West Bloomfield independent

“Sarah Palin is a self-described ‘pitbull with lipstick.’ She spent little time helping Americans learn who she is. She is a cool, poised speaker, but her speech contained few statements about policy or the party platform…. I am not convinced that Palin’s experience as a mayor or governor in Alaska meet the qualifications to be vice president much less one stroke or heart attack away from being commander in chief.” — Ilene Beninson, 52,

Berkley independent
“Nothing worked for me. I found her barrage of snide remarksand distortions to be a major turn off. She is not a class act. The most important point she made is that she will be an effective attack dog.” — Jan Wheelock, 58, Royal Oak independent

Those were from focus groups in Detroit, MI (a critical swing state). Meanwhile, former Hillary voters in Nevada (another swing) were put off by Palin’s deragotory tone and lack of any policy specifics:

one attendee kicked off the discussion by saying “she’s a good speaker, and a crowd pleaser,” the rest of the room articulated their agreement. “I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I was,” said another respondent. But then another woman added: “Once she started mudslinging, I thought, it’s the same old crap as other politicians. McCain used her to get the women’s vote. And she’s using McCain.”
“Thank you,” another woman responded. “That really upset me; there was no need for that. It was snippy.”

The unmarried group also voiced similar objections to the harsh, partisan edge of Palin’s remarks. “I’m not impressed with her at all as a person,” one said, citing her “finger pointing” and general sarcasm after the group had generally agreed that she was a talented public speaker.

So, will the gambit work? My guess is that Palin will succeed in bridging the enthusiasm gap and succeed in mobilizing the Republican base, but the Republican base is a. steadily shrinking and b. as incompatible with the independent vote as oil and water. Palin’s youth and contrast to McCain are a double-edged sword for him, as well. Further, Palin’s personal attacks on Obama triggered a democratic grassroots response, with $8M raised in 24 hours (almost twice the McCain campaign’s $4.5M post-Palin groundswell). Palin cannot erase the Obama campaign’s financial, infrastructure, and ground operation advantages. Also keep in mind that the McCain campaign has decided to gamble on a media scapegoating strategy, effectively ending the media honeymoon he’s enjoyed for most of his career, especially in the years since the 2000 campaign where he’s essentially abandoned his principles for political advantage.

As Marc Ambinder notes, it’s going to be a Palin September. But the spotlight is harsh, and in the end Palin is nothing more than another angry right-winger intent on lobbing the same old partisan attacks that John McCain disavowed one night later. Obama supporters should be more worried about what lies in store next month. Palin isn’t the only surprise coming down the pike.

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