Friday, November 30, 2007

Covenanting with a life of actions

The world is full of curious animals. Capybaras. Meerkats. Flying Squirrels.

We can look at these creatures, and wonder at the step by step changes that befell them, in their long march towards their present state.

For the animal on two legs that is man, we can find within a single life a similar march, taken of similar steps, and see a life transformed by its actions.

We can look at a man’s present state of being, and wonder at all the steps undertaken to march them to this point. Some such steps would be ones which we are well familiar with ourselves, through shared personal experience; growing up with a family, pursuing personal interests, trying to start a career, maybe getting married, starting a family of our own, making ends meet.

Maybe a father is disappointed in us for not following in his footsteps, maybe a parent is relieved that we their children can be spared shouldering the weight they themselves had to carry as the required sacrifice that would lead to a lightened load for our generation.

We march alongside one another, but do we really all walk in the same footprints? Do you know what leads me to live my life, do I understand the steps you’ve taken in order to arrive at yours?

We can watch grown men engaging in actions such as those in this video, and wonder: what paths have they walked, to lead them to such acts? What has led them to become flying squirrels, rather than the dodgy ones we can meet in any public park?

To live is to act, to march off into the distance, where even the smallest of steps can be a leap of faith into an uncertain future. Just marching up to a stranger and saying hello, can lead to so many different future steps that the mere thought of it all could paralyze us into inaction. We can't imagine the whole future, and that makes us feel smaller and shorter in stride than we would prefer to be. We often prefer the vanity of presuming our present state of being is the result of a concluded march, the end of change, rather than humbly recognize we're still at the comparative beginning. So much more to do, to know... to be.

The temptation is to come to believe that by walking alone, we can march faster, further, across a vaster expanse, than we should were we walking hand in hand with another.

Would a man jump off a mountain, in the manner as these people do, if they were truly alone? Surely a good portion of the thrill comes afterwards, from comparing notes, by daring to exchange inadequate words for the sensations experienced during the action itself, and by talking a newly met stranger into participating the next time... building a deeper relationship of trust. Maybe at the start the action was undertaken alone, inspired by the hope that one day others would follow in the same footsteps, leap after leap. If we measure our steps so that our advance can be treasured by another, in addition to ourselves, we may find that by through such sharing we have enriched ourselves, added to ourselves, rather than brought about a penury of personal experience. Growth through sharing.

Pity the man who knows no other men, but himself; pity the lonely figure on his single trail, consumed only with his personal footsteps. Maybe it the tragedy of an only child without brothers or sisters, or of unconnected parents, leading a child too long to focus only upon themselves. When our life is lived only for ourselves, then our march becomes a short trek indeed, leading often enough to no changes at all. Life at twelve years of age remains unchanged from life lived at two:

When we see nature's flying squirrels, it enlarges our sense of space and time, and the opportunities we all have before us to change. How many small steps does it take to lead a squirrel to fly? How many steps in the scope of a man's life, how many lives in the life of a civilization?

It is good to meet people on our walk through life, it is helpful to interact with them, to compare notes of roads taken and untaken, to search for words to understand each other's experiences, having the faith to believe that while we may never reach a full understanding, we can nevertheless march towards a closer one. We can't march far and wide enough to pretend we could predict the result of every path, for who could imagine lives like those being led by this angry german kid, who can say why he's become what he is, not to mention whether he's cursed to remain that person for the rest of his journey on earth.
In meeting others sometimes the encounter shocks us, and in so doing helps us, to appreciate our own steps, giving us the gratitude to say: there but for the grace of God go I, and thank God for not being cursed with such little human interaction.

[Thanks to Flares into Darkness for the flying squirrels video, and thanks to my wife, the formidable Mrs Henry, for putting my frustrations over my work into perspective with that angry german kid video]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A reader calls on us

Rob M. left us the following comment in this post:
Yeah the natural wonders of BC are beautiful.

If you could only do something about the liberals driving the social decline to moral bankruptcy.

Do you agree with me that people are losing the basic social value to discriminate between right and wrong?

In this universe, the truth is our crucible. Yet more and more people don't care about it.

Join with me in a covenant of the truth.
Yes, Rob, we agree; people need to learn again that discrimination is a beautiful word.

And we will certainly join with you in a covenant for truth. In fact, we meet (almost) every Thursday evening in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm, in front of Blenz Coffee. Look for the blue scarves.

Wherever you are, whomever you are, you can help spread the covenant of/for truth, simply by remembering our compact with you, the reader/commenter, to try our best to give a true accounting/naming of reality. Covenant Zone is not so much a specific political project as a means for people to come together and renew the desire to go out in the world in pursuit of truth, and knowledge of right and wrong. That desire is what we try to kindle every Thursday at the library with whoever is there. Please join us, or start your own covenant zone, wherever you are.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Palestinian Scholars not above a little Torture

While at the University of Florida, there is much concern over the supposedly fanciful, and free speech-abusing, claim that Radical Islam Wants You Dead, life in Palestine shows the true complexity of things. Maybe it is actually the Radical Marxists who want you dead:
Classes at Birzeit University, in the West Bank, were suspended on Tuesday after escalating violence between Palestinian political groups on the campus.

Tension has been rising between supporters of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and the radical Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine over a West Bank security crackdown in which militants in the Popular Front, known as the PFLP, have been arrested by Fatah-dominated security forces.

The university’s administration decided to suspend classes and evacuate students from the campus after a Fatah-affiliated student was assaulted in his dormitory room, apparently by four men from the PFLP. The student, Ahmad Jarrar, was treated at a hospital for severe injuries suffered as he was apparently being tortured.

The assailants used charcoal to burn Mr. Jarrar’s face. They also hammered nails into his feet, according to eyewitnesses. Fatah gunmen then arrived at the campus and threatened to kill PFLP supporters.
It seems like student politics are taken much more seriously over there. A sign of too much free speech?

All kidding aside, here is yet another nightmare example of the kind of people whom all good opinion makers in the West want the Israelis to trust as "peace partners". Tonight there was a story on the CBC television news showing some Palestinian reaction to George Bush and Condi Rice's Annapolis Peace Summit. The thing was, these "Palestinians" were rather sane and intelligent-looking residents of East Jerusalem who are all of a sudden scared that a peace agreement, conceding East Jerusalem to a new Palestinian state, will mean they lose all the benefits of life in Israeli society, such as well-funded schools and hospitals, not to mention relative freedom and security. The "Palestinian" couple being interviewed couldn't quite bring themselves to say they were against East Jerusalem becoming part of "Palestine", but they were suddenly planning to relocate to another part of the city.

Isn't it nice how reality gets an occasional day in the news?

Prime Minister Harper on communism

Never did I dare to dream I would live long enough to hear a Canadian Prime Minister denounce communism.
Yet this is exactly what has happened: our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, delivered the following statement at the Holodomor Commemoration Ceremony, in memory of the victims of the communist-initiated policy of genocidal starvation waged against millions in the Ukraine, and elsewhere in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s.
“I am very honoured to join you tonight in this solemn commemoration of the Holodomor. The 20th century was described by Pope John Paul II as the “century of tears.” The world was infected by a lethal combination of utopian ideology and brutal despotism. It spawned totalitarian regimes that enslaved their own peoples and sought to conquer others.

Rarely did dogma and dictatorship combine to more murderous effect than in the regime of the communist tyrant Josef Stalin. Tonight we remember and honour those Ukrainians who suffered horribly during his savage reign. The main instrument of Stalin’s persecution of Ukrainians was collectivization.

The honest and hard-working people who had tilled the rich soil of Eastern Europe successfully for centuries were forced to farm for the Soviet state. By crushing private ownership, initiative, and dignity, collectivization destroyed most of their agricultural production, and the soviets stole the rest. The result was one of the worst famines the world has ever known, millions of men, women and children - mostly Ukrainian, but also some Kazakhs and Russians – died of starvation. Those who refused to yield were slaughtered.

We in Canada are bonded to this dark chapter in human history by more than a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many of whom lost loved ones in the Holodomor. And so, all Canadians join us in commemorating this 75th anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932-33. Because what was done to the Ukrainian people was a mortal offence against the values we hold dearest; freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Ladies and gentlemen, in remembering these events, we should also never forget the efforts that some made to encourage us to cast aside these values and turn a blind eye to this brutality. Between the two world wars and the long cold war that followed, apologists tried to persuade us that the ideology of communism was benign.

They said we should be neutral towards it – an “honest broker.” They said we should learn to live with it – that we had nothing to fear from the Soviet Empire. Canadians knew better. So we took a stand. We stood for freedom and fundamental human rights. We stood against oppression in Ukraine. We stood with its brave people, and those of the other captive nations of central and Eastern Europe. And when Ukraine won her freedom, we became the first western country to formally recognize her membership in the free world.

Our special kinship with Ukraine was displayed to the world again last month. At UNESCO, Canada proudly co-sponsored the government of Ukraine’s motion honouring the millions who perished in the famine and acknowledging that their deaths were caused by the brutal communist dictatorship of Josef Stalin. That was just the beginning of a year of commemorative events in Canada planned by the Ukrainian Canadian congress.

Our government welcomes and supports these efforts because remembering those who died, and why they died, is our best hope against history repeating itself.”

Compassion Sucks, Literally!

Part of the reason that human life is unavoidably tragic is that a lot of evil is done by people who are nonetheless convinced they are doing good. They must convince themselves of overly-simplistic "truths" because most people are incapable of living permanently in uncertainty (or with a humble faith in their Creator) about the meaning of human existence. Humanity being a rather complex and somewhat irreducibly mysterious thing, relatively few people respond to the mystery and complexity of our lives with a hard-won humility. Far too many - though especially the young - are caught up in an overwhelming desire for dogmatic certainties. Beyond the common inability to face existential uncertainty, a pragmatic reason why everyone doesn't choose humility is made obvious enough by our competitive world where not only getting the upper hand but having the mere appearance of being right may have rewarding consequences in the political and economic marketplaces. That's true at least until those who have been rewarded for merely having the appearance of being right have to face up to the full reality, and those misled demand payback.

If there's one class of people whom I would like to see payback (by humbly disappearing from view), given their long history of hostility to reality, it is the present generation of baby boomer academics, especially those who lead political opinion in the universities. I was reminded of this yesterday when Pastorius somehow got hold of what he thinks is a real email from a University of Florida vice-president:
November 26, 2007

To: All University Students
From: Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin
Vice President for Student Affairs

Re: Official Response to a recent advertisement for the movie "Obsession"

Throughout our country, we have witnessed a rise in offensive behavior and actions taken against others, which has created greater divisiveness and misunderstandings among the various ethnic groups residing in our communities. One of these events occurred on our campus recently with the promotion of an event.

Advertisements for the movie "Obsession" sponsored by several student organizations appeared during the past several weeks on campus bulletin boards and they illustrate the importance of balancing freedom of speech with responsibility.

The ads, which promoted a showing of the movie on Nov. 13 and a panel discussion afterward, entitled "Radical Islam Wants You Dead," offended many Muslim students on campus. Regardless of its original intent, the language reinforced a negative stereotype, created unnecessary divisiveness and contributed to a generalization that only furthers the misunderstanding of the religion of Islam.

We cannot speak of rights without also addressing the responsibility associated with our actions or statements, including understanding the potential consequences. One of our roles as a learning institution is to teach our students to express themselves freely, and also in a fair and conscientious manner. In an academic setting, differences of opinions are strongly encouraged, yet such opinions must be based on accurate information when describing other members of the community.

Unfortunately, in the case of the "Obsession" ads, that did not happen. I believe the groups that posted them owe the campus, and particularly campus members of the Islamic faith, an apology and a clarification.

At the University of Florida we have embraced a set of values, one of which is diversity. Diversity is not just about having representation from various cultures on campus, it also is having each member contribute to an inclusive and safe environment and collectively enhancing our understanding and appreciation of the richness brought by such differences. The University of Florida is committed to being
an institution of excellence, where all members are valued and feel safe on our campus. Our role as an institution is to create opportunities for students to learn in an open and accepting environment; one that emphasizes respect for all. Let's remember that part of our mission is to prepare each other to be effective members of a global community. With that in mind, I encourage each member of our campus community as a start to learn more about the religion of Islam and some of its tenets of peace, hard work, charity and compassion.

There is little room for divisiveness in our world if we are to find peace and understanding among us. We all can win if we focus on greater inclusion and understanding as well as the delicate balance between our rights and esponsibilities.
My initial, overly hot-headed, response to Pastorius was as follows:
This woman calls for responsibility in the use of free speech. Well, ok, because freedom and responsibility are synonymous: real freedom emerges from necessity.

But what about her own conception of responsibility? Do you think there is a snowball's chance in Florida that she will ever engage in a serious debate in which she is challenged on her dhimmitude or her diversity ranting by someone well informed and articulate on the problems with such?

The clue to her non-thinking is here:
There is little room for divisiveness in our world if we are to find peace and understanding among us.

This is pure Gnostic Utopianism. Does she not know how irresponsible it is to give young people the impression that we can live in a world without conflict? Does she not know that conflict is inherent to the human condition and the real evil is done by those who think they have some "solution" to it? She is a totalitarian but she's too stupid to know it. That is why she will never engage in a free and open debate in which her own conception of responsibility is challenged.
Pastorius then more calmly replied:
I would add, that when she says there is little room for divisiveness, she includes critical analysis. The method of critical analysis requires that we make distinctions and have arguments. Distinctions and arguments are inherently divisive.

In fact, if you think about it, all thinking requires that distinctions be made, so thinking itself is divisive.

When you get right down to it, this woman would prefer that no one thinks.
I think that is a fair summary of what happens when you get university officials demanding an avoidance of "divisiveness". Nonetheless, I would agree with Dr. Telles-Irvin that you should call people out when they are saying things that are untrue. But I would not use the method of a school matron rapping knuckles. If you believe in free speech, you enter the debate, you don't try to stand above it and simply say, officiously, "you lied, you have no right to your free speech".

I don't know what was on the supposedly offensive posters, beyond what the email states: "Radical Islam Wants You Dead." While I agree that such a generalization leaves something to be desired - for example, it is more true of Jews and pagans, perhaps, than Christians - it's pretty clear that there are various kinds of people that some of the more incensed Muslims of today would like to see dead. The traditional choice that Islam offers peoples of the book - conversion or dhimmitude or death - can come to mean, for Muslim fundamentalists, that a non-Muslim not willing to convert or act like a dhimmi should be killed, after due warning and when one is in an appropriate position to do jihad.

In any case, it is hardly clear how "Radical Islam Wants You Dead" is less true than the professor's own generalization that Islam is about "peace, hard work, charity and compassion."

While some Muslims might grumble about being called "compassionate", an emotion which implies a sense of guilt (notwithstanding that the "compassionate" frequently deny that they feel guilt, when challenged on the point...), the peace, hard work, and charity are, according to orthodoxy, all contingent on an acceptance of Islamic law which calls, among other things, for the whole world to be subdued by Islam, sooner or later. Since this call has led and continues to lead to much violence and conflict, one has to be willfully ignorant or deceptive to imply that Islam is strictly about peace.

Furthermore, even if one assumes that peace is only promised to those who submit to Islam (whether as true believers or as dhimmis) the evident facts of history are that Islam is full of internal conflict and violence both within and between sects. Whatever the dogmatic ideal, as a pragmatic form of culture Islam does not have a great track record for finding ways to mediate conflict. No doubt this has something to do with the fundamentalist idea that Islam is not open to change. Anything closed to serious debate and reform cannot hope to develop new shared understandings of the sacred, which are the only ways to defer conflict and violence.

This is why freedom of speech is so important. While it's true that the abuse of freedom can foster or exacerbate conflict, it's more importantly true that freedom of thought and exchange of opinion is the only way out of conflict, short of total physical dominance of one side by the other (which only in turns sets the stage for the next challenger to someone's physical dominance). To denounce someone's use of free speech for merely offending someone or some group, while feeling no serious need to demonstrate that the speech in question is particularly fallacious, at least more fallacious than one's own pieties, is to miss an essential truth about our humanity: free speech is less often a road to violent conflict as the only possible alternative to it. If we are not verbally and intellectually challenging those with whom we have great differences in regard to what people should hold sacred, we are either moving towards open violent conflict, or the physical and often spiritual submission of one side to the other.

Free speech is not nice, it's not pretty, and it has nothing to do with avoiding hurt feelings. It is, instead, our only alternative to a world where might is right; and since might can never be uniquely right, since no dictator can last long without taking others' opinions into account, "might is right" is just another form of Utopian fantasy that presages a renewal of open conflict.

There is nothing more evil for a university to teach, in my humble opinion, than Utopian fantasies about overcoming conflict through diversity (as if "diversity" could be a "value" in and of itself: what can be given a value is only a difference which is exchangeable, not something put above and beyond free exchange, not that anything can really be put above free exchange even by the most totalitarian of attempts, though attempts at unreality are no less evil for that...). It is to mislead students on fundamental questions of reality. Conflict is inherent to the human condition, because we are unavoidably in mimetic rivalry over that which is held sacred by any or all. Free and open exchange in the signs and tokens of the sacred is the best way to mediate this conflict relatively peacefully. In other words, unrestricted free speech and a society ruled by free trade in opinion is our best way to keep this conflict maximally non-violent.

Those who would let ideas of "compassion" towards the losers in history's intellectual and cultural struggles dictate their politics and governing authority need to be reminded that "compassion" is a "value" closely linked to violence. It is rooted in our guilt towards the victim of violence or unacceptable inequality. Because it is a form of guilt, "compassion" is only a "value" which can be exchanged - in secular, non-religious, contexts - with irrational and resentment-generating reminders of violence in the air. If you're the victim for whom I have compassion today, you can only hope that tomorrow the tables will be turned. Unless, that is, you are truly committed to refusing and overcoming the trade in compassion and victim status. Compassion, in anything other than the Christian, victim-transcending, God-centered, sense, is a primitive object of sacrificial exchange that has no place in a truly free marketplace.

Rather than the thoughtless, maternalist teaching of compassion, passing for higher education, it's much better to teach young people how to "insult" each other with clever words (though of course one should not always be "insulted" when someone puts in time and effort to insult you - it's often a compliment, a sign that you matter!). It's better not to be compassionate to anyone, not even to your friends or your dieing and suffering mother. Treat them with real respect instead. Treat them as people capable of thinking and confidently holding their own through even the hardest trials of this world. If you treat them like a victim, you're only really telling them that human existence is something fundamentally irrational and intolerable, and that Utopian denials of reality are a necessary, comforting lie. But you don't want your loved ones leaving this world without eternal and realistic hopes for the humanity left behind, or for the Creator with whom many people hope one day to reunite. So instead of teaching Utopianism, which only encourages more violence - when disappointed people, unprepared for hard reality face hard realities and lash out - teach instead the "bitter truth" of human conflict over the sacred. This lesson is the first step to real freedom, and humility.

Dead French youth was a blogger

It turns out that one of the two youths killed when their stolen moped collided with a patroling police car, whose deaths have been used as the excuse to burn, shoot, assault and pillage, was a blogger.

If you scroll down his site and look at the pictures he posts of himself, one is accompanied by this quote:
"No need for [other] people in order to live
Nor for your critics in order to survive"

Another quote at the very bottom of the page:

"But in any case, the one I love more than anyone else and who is the most beautiful, is my mother, who I love so much."

Papa Sarkozy comes home to France

The French head of state, President Nicholas Sarkozy, had been on an important state visit to China when the recent wave of urban violence broke out in France's slum neighborhoods.
Reading the various accounts of his return, both in French and English news sources, I can't help but roll my eyes at what, to me, sounds like an unmistakeable invocation of that time-honored cry, "You just wait until your father gets home..!"
It is the avoidance of accepting both personal responsibility and personal commitment to engaging in solving problems, that leads to the scale of disorder currently plaguing La France, just as avoiding unsavory responsibilities leads to unruly children at home.

With characteristic elan, a returning President Sarkozy went straight from the airport to a hospilized police officer, recovering from a particularly savage beating at the hands of the barbarians now within France's gates. While Sarkozy's good at madly rushing off in all directions, I remain an agnostic on his supposed conservative credentials. Sure, he's "talking tough", and vowing to hold "a tough line", etc. But one person's definition of "tough" is not automatically the same as another's.

It is a major fault of the conservative blogosphere to only read in his words and deeds the definitions they've longed hope for, and not recognize what he is actually doing. Just read sites like GalliaWatch to discover how much of a disconnect exists between Sarkozy's actions and how they are reported in arenas like American talk radio. I have a lot of respect for Michael Medved and Dennis Prager, and other conservative hosts, but I have to wonder how they come to the conclusions they do about President Sarkozy whenever they comment on him. To be sure, he is decidedly more pro-west than other French politicians (and we can probably thank God he was elected and not Bayrou or [shiver-r-r] Segolene Royal), but we need to be honest with ourselves, and see that he is not the testorene Margaret Thatcher he is frequently made out to be. It's a good wake-up call I try to hold myself to, in not mistaking wishful thinking for shallow thinking.
Isn't it amazing; now that the internet has given us all a platform upon which to finally hear what everyone is thinking, we end up forgetting how to listen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Belgians under siege

Tenants are under siege in their apartments near Brussels, unable to leave after nightfall, without risking violence and robbery. This news according to an investigation by French news site dhnet, reveals the extent to which post-Christian Western Europe starts to decay, and rot. How to turn things around, when...

The inhabitants of 216 apartments of a Saint-Gilles complex are taken hostage by a gang of 41 youths who vandalize everything! (with thanks to BafWeb for their highlighting this story; my humble translation of the original french article)

For several weeks, a neighborhood in Saint-Gilles has been considered a no-go zone. A hell on earth. A place where people no longer dare to leave their homes after a certain hour. An area where assaults, insults, incivilities or other degradations occur daily. This is Jacques Franck square, in Saint-Gilles.

"15 years ago, we didn't have any problems. Everything has happened very gradually. And then, since last June, horror. In fact, it's tied into the shifting of the [crime scene?]. Since the police have secured Bethlehem place, the juvenile delinquents have come all this way to the two Towers" [says the assistant director of the apartment complex.] "All this because of a gang of youths who squat in the entryways of the two buildings." They squat, vandalize and act in such a way that the residents no longer dare leave without being accompanied by security agents. The youngest [in the gang] is 10 years old, the oldest barely 15.

An accompanying article offers an eye-witness account from "Anne", long-time resident in the apartment building:
..."But I want to assure you that I am scared. I can no longer go out. They [the youths] consider me a racist. If I leave the building alone, they follow me into the street. They have thrown stones at me!" Stephane, the assistant director, confirms [the story]. He adds also that since then, he has taken away all the stones that used to be found at the base of the two towers!
In watching the French crime news videos that are all over dailymotion and youtube, one quickly gets the impression that an entire generation of teenagers living in certain regions belong behind bars. Arrests of dozens of kids at one time are not that rare. This post concerns a story out of Belgium, not France, to be sure; yet are the conditions really all that different..? These articles that I've translated above go on to mention that all forty of this particular gang of kids have been painstakingly identified, one by one, and that the whole rotten bunch of them will soon be arrested, and charged. These kids, however, are only one gang. Are there other gangs of forty other kids occupying the vestibules of other nearby buildings in the neighborhood? Is there anyone below the age of 20 in that community who goes against the tide, and does not belong in prison?
You could arrest them, all of them, every single teenage thug; but then what? At some point you have to let them go; what happens then... a change of heart as they become an adult thug?
What could possibly reduce the militant nihilism of these young kids, I ask myself as I read these stories... A hard slap to the head? That's probably what they get at home already. Or what they serve to each other as tokens of friendship. How to change their behavior, without first changing their heart? How to steer these kids away from their savage state, converting them into productive (or at least less destructive) contributors to their community?

Unfortunately, post-Christian Europe won't be receptive to my hope of reducing recidivism through religious conversion, convinced as the continent's ruling class are that their society's worship of the secular will somehow, in some way, inspire the current generation of belgian "youths" to live as people, and not animals.
Maybe it's time that the atheistic left currently directing the european enterprise swallow some pride, and accept what for them, surely, must be the lesser of evils. There was a time when being poor was not an automatic trigger for being violent, rapacious, and sadistic. There was a time, not so long ago, when poor people struggled to live self-disciplined lives worth living, guided as they were by the teachings of their church. People can live with the inevitable disappointments that are part of the human experience, and remain humane, if they have an effective model to follow.
Europe, let some committed Christian missionaries work with the youth, turn prisons into penitentiaries, so that youthful prisoners can become penitent, that is, repentant of their past sins.
Would it make things any worse...? What have you got to lose...?
Who's being naive here: me, or you?

UPDATE: More on Belgian urban violence here.

New riots in a new France

The incessant, day-to-day car burnings and spontaneous assaults that have plagued France over the last two years have taken more sinister shape in recent days, as I'm sure everyone knows if they get their news from new media internet and talk-radio sources in addition to old media television and newspapers.

Citizen journalists are on the scene this time, far more than was the case during the previous rioting; now a whole parallel world of reporting is going on, in venues like youtube and dailymotion, and blogs like bafweb and Francois deSouche. The France of 2005/06 was not as wired as the France of today; let's see what difference this might make, as the French news consumers plug in to alternative sources of information to fill out their understanding of why they've lost their car and why they have the sting of smoke in their eyes.
Mainstream media outlets like Le Figaro and France Info may still hold title as the first stop for news, but do they remain **the only** source, as they once might have been?
I think we can expect a very different response to the riots this time. Not a universal, nation-wide condemnation yet, but far less sympathy for the "downtrodden youth" than was the case during Chirac's France.
The French seem to be waking up.

(thanks to Francois DeSouche for the videos)

UPDATE: another reason for having hope in a New France: "French youngsters are Europe's top bloggers"
UPDATE II: It turns out that one of the youths killed in the collision with the police car, in the accident that "started" this whole new wave of rioting, was a blogger.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Those for whom Vlaams Belang is the last stop!

Islam in Europe: Book Review: Undercover in Little Morocco
Esther, at the excellent Islam in Europe blog, reports on the book by journalist Hind Fraihi on the Moroccans of Belgium. The active support in this community for violent Jihad, killing Jews, and control of the local Muslims, especially women, according to fundamentalist Islamic dictates, may come as no surprise. In any case, it is a reminder of what the Flemings rightly fear in their midst. But what may surprise some readers is the support for the Vlaams Belang among the moderate Muslims:
She meets more people like Jamal, but she feels they're fighting a losing battle against the fundamentalists. She says that the moderate Muslims are walking a tightrope, between the Muslim fundamentalists and the right-wing (ie, nationalist) Flemish extremists. I had trouble understanding what she meant, but she later brings example of Muslims who vote for Vlaams Belang. I doubt most Muslims are in danger of becoming nationalist extremists, though. As Fraihi says, if they vote for Vlaams Belang, they do it out of protest, fear and disillusionment.

As one example she brings Fatima, a Moroccan immigrant in her 60s. She doesn't see herself as integrated and doesn't think she acts any different in Belgium then she did in Morocco. She came in 1968, got a hearty welcome, worked with Belgians and generally enjoyed herself. She followed up on her kids - went to PTA meetings and made sure she knew where they were going at all times. A friend of hers complains that her son lives off benefits, even though he could work. There is discrimination, she says, but the 2nd and 3rd generation don't want to work and just use it as an excuse. These youth are coddled by multicultural and integration organizations, all in the name of tolerance.

According to Fatima the problem-youth are problematic because they have become fully Flemish. She suffers from the extremist Muslims who demand that she wear a headscarf, soemthing that she'd never done in morocco. The moderate Muslims are the first victims of Muslim extremism, but nobody takes care of them. She supports the Vlaams Belang program: stopping immigration, reducing marriage immigration and cutting off the integration sectors. She sees Vlaams Belang as the only party which is upset at Muslim extremism, who wants to treat immigrants strictly but justly. Moderate Muslims are fed up and feel that they've been left on their own. Fatima wants to vote for a more moderate party, but only after the danger from Muslim extremism is dealt with.

She meets a worker at a youth center who tells her he blames the parents, imams and Belgian authorities for the Islamization of the youth. The parents blindly follow the Moroccan imams, who preach that almost everything is a crime, though many of them are former criminals themselves who have become 'born again' Muslims. Some have traveled to Afghanistan and are therefore barred from going back to Morocco, and yet the Belgian authorities don't seem to care. The parents were also not that religious when they were kids, but they expect much more from their children. Not only that, the parents had realized their dreams, but their children don't reach as far, don't get anywhere and are therefore easy prey for terrorist recruiters.

As she repeats in her interview, she feels the 'integration' sector has no reason to actually solve the problem, since that would take away their reason for being.
The Flemish nationalists may sometimes be heard preaching "white Europe", but it seems the implicit multiculturalist-Jihadi alliance is not a more appealing option for some Moroccan-Belgians. Perhaps for the infamous "moderate Muslim", the only hope lies in a Flemish nationalism that may one day acknowledge and support Moroccan-Belgian allies. If the only hope for such people is the renewal of a responsible nationhood that makes real demands of youth, etc., maybe you have to start with the least bad option, the one closest to the mark (however problematic) and work from there. Or maybe it's just a great delusion. Maybe it's supporting those who will one day kick you out of the country, or worse. The thing is, no one can know in advance. It all depends on the exercise of human political freedom, and the learning process that only the interaction of strange bedfellows can bring. There is a point at which desperation and good faith meet, the point where all new religion starts...

Why I love living here

I do it often, but never enough, so here I say it once again:
Thank you God, that I managed to stumble my way across Canada in order to end up here, in beautiful British Columbia.
We are so blessed here, to have these visual wonders surround us with such appreciable abundance. It's hard to stay depressed, or to live without faith for a positive future, when you live with so much to be grateful for.
In fact, wouldn't it be fair to say that it's actually harder to stay depressed, than it is to have one's sadness subside, once you spend a few hours submerged in the beauty of nature..?

I'm grateful for the humbling smallness that befalls me when I stare out at nature's gallery of treasures, such as were on display throughout the mountain park I accidentally visited this afternoon. (I got lost and in so doing found a new world to explore) It's a useful check to one's vanity, to measure oneself within such awe-inspiring splendors. Who could see their personal problems as the most important things in the world, when the world stares back at you and serves up such an endless feast for the senses? What makes our lives valuable in a world that seems so complete without us? What elevates our personal concerns higher than the heights of these trees, these mountains, higher than the sky above us all?
What is so special about us, compared to the awe-inspiring glory we find ourselves in?

The answer takes a while to come, but when it does it is as clear and obvious as the beauty around us: we can feel awe at what we see, therefore we fit in. We are indeed crucial in making nature special, since it is special for us. In itself nature is nothing, it is by our relationship to it that it possesses any meaning at all. So long as we can feel an appreciation for nature's beauty, it is then our lives that are beautiful.

As mankind stumbles its way through attempts to find a balanced harmony with nature, entertaining the blasphemy that the beast of man can be welcome amid such beauty, the winding well-kept trails and welcome park benches speak to the ennobling commitments we make to be of service to our fellow men. If we should forget our ties with nature, it would only be through neglecting our Covenant with our fellow men, a commitment easily renewed by the curiosity to go searching for further splendors, to share with future seekers of natural beauty. We dare justify our existence alongside the marvels of nature by the manner in which we enter into harmonious relationships with others; when considering the dormant brute that lies within man, harmony between men is surely the greater marvel.
Blessed are those granted the good fortune to appreciate it.

All I could think of today, while soaking in one view after another, each more memorable than the last, was all the people I am blessed to know, that I could invite with me the next time I come this way again.

For what good is good fortune, unless is it shared?

French union thugs assault counter-protest

"No one can go on being a rebel too long without turning into an autocrat."
__ Lawrence Durrell

Leftist tempers flared at a November 20th union march last week in France, captured on video by the courageous crusaders for freedom at La Baf ("Brigade de l'Argent Francaise") .

Check out the video of the unnerving incident, below (or here at the La Baf site).

The two quixotic counter-protesters sport winsome smiles as they tease the phalanx of marching strikers with slogans like "time to get back to work".

Suddenly the scene takes an ugly turn for the worse, as you'll see around the 00:56 mark in the video; unionists don't seem to have much of a sense of humor, and lose their sense of proportion even quicker than they lose their temper.

The union marchers push at first, but that's not enough to get the counter-protester pair silenced, so rough shoving is soon accompanied by smacks of increasing violence, eventually knocking one of the gutsy pair of French jokers to the ground.

There's your "solidarity" right there, served in a knuckle sandwich by the totalitarian left.

Tell me again which is the side of diversity, tolerance and peace.

(These brave blue-helmeted fellows are from the same team that dared face down the anti-mohammed cartoon protests way back in February 2006; you may recall that famous video seen around the world, where a pair taking a stand for freedom of expression (maybe the exact same two guys..?) were wisked off by French secret police, as the latter expected the intrepid pair of counter-demonstrators to be lynched by the furious mob. You should watch that video as well, if you haven't yet seen it...)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Covenant Zone Reconvenes

After a brief respite, the Covenant Zone bloggers will be renewing our regular Thursday night meetings in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9pm. Please join us if you can and would like to discuss the renewal of Western culture and particularly of Canadian nationhood and democracy. Everyone, of any faith, is welcome, as long as you are committed to rational and open-ended discussion in good faith that our common purpose is to work to help guarantee and extend the freedom of every Canadian. To this end, we may freely quote from, say, a Christian writer, without giving the impression that we are trying to convert people to Christianity, instead of simply to a higher appreciation of human truth. On this note, a thought for the day:
The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he "likes" them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly [even those he does not like], finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on - including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

The same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become - and so on in a vicious circle for ever.

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or a railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 111.

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Covenant Zone wishes a Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers.

On a day dedicated to giving thanks, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at the first Thanksgiving of the United States of America, a different date than that of the very first Thanksgiving **in** America... I have in mind, the one proclaimed by President George Washington.

His Proclamation:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLIC THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Islamophobic" Dutch gays swing to the Right

Multicultural civil war grows in Holland as "islamophobic" Dutch gays respond to homophobic muslim immigrants, in a contest making strange bedfellows out of "right-wing" politicians and Dutch libertines.

A gay activist interviewed in the article named Frank van Dalen does much to reveal the dishonesty and arrogance preventing us so often from moving towards a less violent accommodation of opposite beliefs. If the article is representing his statements in a trustworthy context, he comes across as an unsympathetically self-deluded thinker. It cautions us all to be honest in formulating our opinions of others, and to value truth when seeking a balance between looking for the legitimate good in people, and yet still seeing what is really there...

Translated, [faithfully, I hope, by myself, despite dubious help from babel fish], from the left-leaning 360 degree magazine's website, we can read of Insecurity and immigration: dutch gays caught in a bind :

The picture postcard of an open and tolerant Amsterdam is increasingly fading: a month does not go by without the national gay organization COC not reporting at least one, even two or three homophobic aggressions. According to police statistics, it is already up to 31 since the beginning of the year. And the incidents do not proceed any old place: "When there is violence, or more often still, provocation or intimidation, it is most of the time in the gay districts, on our streets", explains Frank van Dalen, president of the COC. However, in Amsterdam as in other large cities of the Netherlands, it is the young people of arabic-muslim origin, in particular the moroccans of the second or third generation who are singled out. An ethnic dimension which weighs very heavy in the current political climate.

While incivilities, violence and confrontations between young people of foreign origin and the police make the media headlines, the crisis of Dutch identity is also playing out in the background of demographic upheavals. Indeed, according to official projections, the muslim populations should form the majority of the large cities of the country within three years. "All political discussions are centered on these questions of integration of the moroccans and of religions", summarizes Philippe Esnault, a Genevan long living in Amsterdam.
"All these speeches do not reassure the homosexuals, who are taking refuge in populist rhetoric in order to protect their gains."

In fact, the massive rallying of homosexuals to the populist right, had just been predicted by a survey of the magazine Gay Krant, which foresees a [political issue?] for the local “iron lady", Rita Verdonk, ex-minister known for for her xenophobic declarations and her tough stands regarding immigration. The politician has started a new movement baptized Trots op Nederland ("Proud of the Netherlands"). "She is the homosexuals’ diva", says Laurent Chambon, French sociologist and elected Labour official in Amsterdam, with amusement. "Because of her, homosexuals on the right are coming out of the closet."

In a style inaugurated by the gay tribune Pim Fortuyn who was assassinated in 2002, Rita Verdonk and Geert Wilders, the other leader of the populist right-wing, became masters of the art of waving the scarecrow of Islamism after each incident implicating young people of muslim origin. A technique which works on gays at least as well as upon the rest of the population. "There is islamophobia among gays, I would have preferred that it is not the case, but it is a fact", concedes Frank van Dalen.

Frank van Dalen is not easily deceived on the motives which push the youths to attack homosexuals: "I believe that islam hardly plays any role in it. In truth, it is a question of social position, lack of education and of group behavior... the young people simply use it [islam] as an excuse." For Laurent Chambon, the phenomenon is the symptom of a more general malady, which has nothing specific to do with homosexuals. It particularly fits within a territorial dimension, because of the privatization of the municipal real estate, driving out the lower classes from the downtown area. "If the young morrocans come to play the strong arm in the center it is also because themselves, or their close relations, have just been elbowed out of it, sometimes with brutality, in order to make room for white bobos", he explains. "Gays are the first [targets?] because they are perceived as weak [links?]... In that, they pay the price for their visibility... "

This rise of insecurity coincides with a fall of vitality in the local gay scene. A decline that many Amsterdam citizens interpret as the sign that a "moral blanket" is falling upon the city, as bars close and restrictions multiply. Some put forth even the hypothesis that the parties in power (Labour and Christian Democrats) would benefit from the current tensions in order to “clean up” the gay scene, and to roll back certain gains of the homosexual community.

A vision that the COC president contests, for whom there is not any doubt that the authorities support gays, more than ever. "For the first time, the struggle against homophobia has been integrated in the coalition program. We have a minister of State in charge of the dossier and a more important budget to improve measures in education ", explains Frank van Dalen.

The reinforcement of educational measures for diversity are only a single part of the demands of the Dutch gay movement, which call for draconian measures of repression. It thus obtained an increase on required penalties for offences of a homophobic character. Last June, the COC even proposed the installation of a perimeter prohibiting known delinquents around the gay district. Immediately labeled the "gay ghetto", the idea caused an outcry. It measures in any case the confusion of the [gay and lesbian] community vis-a-vis this new phenomenon.

In response to requests from the gay community, the Amsterdam police force innovated by assigning gay and lesbian officers at heart of a special liaison unit, the Homonetwerk, which informs the remainder of the police force about the [gay and lesbian] community and encourages the victims of aggression to come forward with charges. ...

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I can't help but read this story as another example of how humility is such an essential component to searching for truth. Can a lifelong atheist not question their certainties about whether they truly do understand religious motivation? Can a die-hard socialist not push aside their own financial obsessions long enough to succeed in imagining something other than money alone as the motivating force behind any choice of behavior?
How authoritatively can we each see the unseen in our lives, to what degree can one man claim to sufficiently understand another, as difference after difference separate their personal experiences, further separating their common frames of reference?

Can the besieged Frank van Dalen really believe he knows what is in the heart of the thugs that repeatedly assault his friends? Is he honestly reporting on what is in his **own** heart, is he being honest with himself, when he claims that the "young people" are simply "...using islam as an excuse"...!?! What does that even mean, anyway; is he promoting the politically incorrect blasphemy that islam is a religion condoning violence, and that young muslims are using this as a license to indulge in all-too-typical adolescent urges to be violent? Does he have the courage of his convictions to follow links of one thought to another, or do his thoughts trespass into a "no-go zone" of the mind? For if the youth were indeed using islam as an "excuse" for their violent homophobia, what does that suggest should be the fate of islam itself in the tolerant Netherlands..? Where does he disagree with Rita Verdonk?

Silently missing from the discussion, as usual in these articles, are what the violent moroccan youths themselves think. In their mind, are they beating up gays because of an oppressively "unfair" distribution of capital?
Why deign to ask them, I suppose, when experts already portend to "know" what the youth believe......

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"...Dedicated to the great task remaining before us…"

We missed an important date yesterday, but the locals didn’t:
Hundreds convene on anniversary of the Gettysburg address.

The words that struck a chord in America’s heart resounded Monday morning at Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, on the 144th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address.
Hundreds, braving bone-chilling temperatures, convened Monday morning to celebrate Lincoln’s speech, near the same spot where he trumpeted his famous words 144 years ago. More than 3,500 Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery, dedicated by Lincoln on Nov. 19, 1863 as “a final resting place for those who here gave their lives so this nation might live.”
“The fact that we’re here remembering this,” said co-keynote speaker Jeff Shaara, “is a greater treasure than anything Abraham Lincoln could have expected that day.”...

A fitting ceremony to occur on the week of American Thanksgiving. Giving thanks in graceful manner for blessings that have come our way is good for the soul, as the golden virtue of optimism springs from gratitude, from humble recognition of the good that has already come our way.
Appreciation of the gifts of our past beckons the imagined possibility of further blessings laying in wait over the horizon, within our unknown future. As we age as individuals we grow to see in our parents past actions all the devotion and sacrifice that as children we took for granted; so too as an aging nation we may come, hopefully, to appreciate the painful privations undertaken by those who came before us, paving the way towards our better fortunes today.
Belief in a "happy ending" seems unnatural, if we are to judge by the seeming scarcity of this belief among adults today... and, presumably, in all times. It is through the humility involved in taking a second look, and adopting an awareness of one’s past that we may learn how much has always been done on our behalf. Our families, our families' families, each acting in faith that their sacrifices shall give us today a chance to live a life of increasing, not diminishing, happiness. Through such efforts optimism may become "second nature", learned behavior; possibly, the greatest of all the gifts bestowed upon us.
What are we to do with this gift? Best to become grateful by acting gratefully, through living a precious life worthy of that previous sacrifice, and in turn teaching a new generation the ennobling tradition of giving thanks.

President Lincoln’s eloquent speech is a powerful lesson in humility, gratitude, and faith. It is useful to re-read it on occasions like this, in order to re-learn and renew its message:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate… we cannot consecrate… we cannot hallow… this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us… that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

[The miracle of the internet: A tantalizing look at the actual, original draft(s) of the speech, can be found here]

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moral Fog

When do moral ends justify immoral means? What is the Right Thing to do?

This is the subtext of the current dispute that has shaken the growing alliance standing against the creeping islamization of the western world.

At what price, victory? At what cost, strength? At what sacrifice, allies?

To vainly attempt a summary of the "blog wars" dispute to date: a rupture emerged among allies in the wake of the counter-jihad conference held in Brussels this past October. The dividing fires were sparked by the contention that certain groups participating at the conference, notably the European political parties Vlaams Belang (“Flemish Interests”) of Flanders/Belgium and the SD (Sweden Democrats) of Sweden, have at their core a narrowly pro-white, rather than broadly pro-west, leaning; and that their past actions discredit them sufficiently to deny them a welcome place alongside those standing up for the preservation of western freedoms and values, today.

Charles Johnson, of the prominent US-based anti-jidadi blog Little Green Footballs, is leading the prosecutorial charge against these European groups. Gates of Vienna, with its more European focus, might be said to be serving as their defense counsel. Back and forth go the allegations and subsequent clarifications.

I think the only area of agreement remaining might be to admit how complicated a story this is to follow. What is a conscientious person to think? Are these European parties racist in their anti-immigration policies? Are they nationalistic to the point where they can be accurately described as neo-nazi in their stridency, denying even the possibility of assimilation, and change?

The answer is: it depends. It depends on your personal definitions of "racist", "nationalist", and "neo-nazi"; it depends on whether you believe people can change or moderate their views over time; and it depends on whether you accept that actions speak louder than words.

If we study this complicated story too narrowly, we can easily come to the wrong conclusions, and if nothing else the detailed context required to make an informed opinion reminds us not to presume a jump into instant expertise, just because we may have read one single source’s account on the issue. (A fault I confess I see in myself, and work to overcome)

After spending an obsessive, preposterous, amount of time researching the controversy, I come away with only the obvious perspective that since nobody is perfect, the issue becomes a measurement of what it means for someone to be “good enough” to enter into an alliance with them.

What is the character of our allies? Do judgments on character even matter, when the stakes are so high?

These are the two questions being batted around, but the important one, the one that establishes our right to victory, is the second one, as far as I’m concerned. Character matters.

It establishes our merit, it renews our strength, it sanctifies our sacrifice.

It is not only important to strive to Do The Right Thing, it is surely the whole point of the struggle, it is why the West’s current struggle against the unholy alliance of the far left and islamist fundamentalists is a struggle worth undertaking.

Our opponents find no problem in aligning themselves with forces which, in an honest accounting, they should be seeing instead as an irreconcilable enemy. To their side, clearly, ends do justify means. It is a characteristic moral compromise for them. It is the dark secret of the political left’s history, that they have repeatedly justified unconscionable crimes against humanity, because these were seen as in service towards such irrefutably “noble” ends; the professed nobility in the absolute end is then used to cleanse the conscience of any odious individual step taken towards it. Pillage, starve, kill, no sin stains their soul or stays their hand, as long as it is seen as helping bring about a “paradise” on earth. (A fair reading of history is that every group has done this to some degree, the left merely being the more recently guilty of the highest body counts resulting from their immoral behavior.)

Moral justification for immorality is horrible when the left does it, because it is horrible in itself, not merely because it is the left doing it. If we decry the tactic when our opponents use it, how dare we defend it when we do it? That’s the kind of tribal thinking which, surely, Western civilization is trying to overcome in this current clash against civilization.

Can we afford to be absolutely moral, at all times, in all occasions? As I grow older, I realize: No. There is a tipping point, tragically, at which short-term needs may outweigh long-term standards, and we settle for pragmatism. This compromise counts for nothing, however, if it is not based on a moral foundation, following a moral compass as it navigates through a moral fog. At such ethical setbacks we need to remember our moral foundation more than ever, to ensure we atone for our temporary fallen standards. Means ennoble ends. If a starving man steals bread, should he later come by the money for it he better go back and pay for what he stole. Otherwise, maybe the right thing to do would have been to go on starving.

Have we reached that tipping point in our defense of our precious western civilization? Maybe that’s what the debate should be focusing on: have we reached the point where, in order to defeat the enemy, we must become no different than the enemy we fight? Must we adopt tribal attitudes to morality, and lump people indifferently into categories, announcing that anyone in one group is identical to everyone in that group? When we do it to them, is that to be pronounced okay; it is only when they do it to us that we can object? That is what our civilization's self-declared enemies believe; are we to look to them now for our moral example?

As distasteful as the argument raging in the anti-jihadi blogosphere has become, it is a vital and timely reminder of our moral duty to retain a civility worth preserving, to remember the distance our civilization has traveled, as we have risen so far above the moral stain of our earlier tribalism, foolishly dividing the world into an "us" and a "them", forgiving any trespass we commit against the "other", and seeing them as cursed for not being born as one of "us".

We are not good because of what we are, we are good because of **how we are** what we are. We are defined by our choice of actions, our attempt to find the lesser of evils, and our heartfelt atonement for when we stray from the right path. Our cause is ennobled only so long as we continue our ongoing search for what it means to live an increasingly Good life... to progress.

We should, therefore, be prepared to hold out our hands to potential allies, hopeful that interaction will surely bring about more positive change in them than would the isolation of quarantine. Maybe the erstwhile ties to the VB and SD will, eventually, be revealed as improper; if that proves to be true we can admit sincere error of judgment, and move on. For we do not believe in permanent defilement; that we leave to our current enemies. We believe in a second chance, in repentance... in progress.
If we honestly believe in the righteousness of our values, we will continue to live by them, and by doing so, perhaps persuade less-than-perfect allies to change for the better... holding them, in fact, to the self-same standards we hold for ourselves.

So that together, the Righteousness of our Covenant may send a guiding light to pierce through the fog of uncertainty that has seemingly fallen, like a curtain, around us.

Our Enemy

Jack Layton tells us he wants to negotiate with the Taleban. I hope he's planning to bring his own interpreters:
Armed men arrived at the school in the Sayed Karam district of Paktia province and grabbed a 16-year-old student and dragged him outside.

“Taliban militants took the boy out and killed him outside the school just because he was teaching English to his classmates,” said General Esmatullah Alizai, the police chief of Paktia province.
Being a little evil myself, I find it amusing to imagine an interpreter who could make Jack make sense to the Taleban.

God bless the soldiers giving their lives fighting this evil.

Wretchard at Belmont Club has an interesting post on the history of Western liberals' engagement with Sharia fundamentalists. Is Jack Layton the Gladstone of our times? OK... I'll stop now; I just want to let any readers know that this lull at Covenant Zone is hopefully temporary. We're just having a little time out to rethink and refocus. More soon.

Technorati Tags:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Vancouver Remembrance Day ceremony

A little rain and a lot of cold did little to dampen the spirits of those in attandance at the 2007 Vancouver Remembrance Day ceremony held once again at the Cenotaph. This view above is the vantage point from which I observed the event this year.
The construction site across from the park paid their respects to the veterans, serving troops as well as members of the police and firefighters as they parade past the memorial.
Following the event, comes the unofficial custom of citizens solemnly paying their individual respects over the various wreaths laid around the base of the Cenotaph during the ceremony itself.
World War II veterans in attendance filed past the wreaths and paid their respects to our troops fallen in Afghanistan, each leaving a flower, as pictured above. One particular older gentleman, his hands and body shaking with the tremors of age, nonetheless steadied himself for a rigid and determined salute as he laid his tribute within the wreath at left, and that's when the tears started flowing for me. God Bless these people, and Godspeed to their families.

I don't know if this is customary in other parts of the country, or even in other parts of our province, but here the tradition is to leave your poppy affixed to a wreath which has special meaning or connection for the observer. Mine gets left in memory of the child survivors of the Holocaust, courageous souls who dared to embrace life despite their memories of being surrounded by death, memories the likes of which I cannot begin to imagine.
The ceremony, and Remembrance Day as a whole, serves as a humbling reminder of our duty to prove ourselves worthy of the great gift that has been bestowed upon us, that of being Canadian. We can say "thank you", but it's mere words unless one also acts thankful. We can say we remember their sacrifice, but it's hollow praise unless we act on that memory, recognizing our debt by acting upon our gratitude, by building a good life worthy of the sacrifice others have made on our behalf.
To whom much has been given, much is expected. Now, we carry the torch; long may we hold it high, so that it's light may remind us of a shared commitment to help to keep our land glorious, and free.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lest We Forget: a thought for Remembrance Day

"But there was many a man for whom the brief moment of exhilaration was followed by years of depression. Of the third or more of the expeditionary force that had returned wounded, many were incapacitated permanently, and although no country exceeded Canada in efforts to salvage the human wreckage of the war, the broken soldier became a familiar sight. Not only that, the spiritual wounds that many men received were as serious as the physical. Many old veterans found it hard to settle down again to hum-drum civil life, were hard to please or resentful of employers who had stayed comfortably at home. Civilians began to use the term "returned man" as signifying a difficult, unadjusted, barey respectable individual. That cut. It was a good number of years before authority officially admitted the situation and made provision for "burned out" veterans. The phrase was graphic and the condition behind it real enough: during the late `20's and early `30's the deaths of ex-service men in their forties were reported with inescapable frequency. The veternas had not been entirely re-absorbed into civil sociey by the beginning of the second World War, and the Veterans' Guard formed at that time enabled them to recapture, after a fashion, the days when, a generation before, they had really lived."

Arthur M. Lower, Colony to Nation. A History of Canada (1946), 459-60.

What we ask of our soldiers is often tragic, to live the rest of their lives with memories of great violence, of killing and watching their friends be maimed and killed. But humanity has yet to find a way to banish war as the ultimate means of checking unacceptable resentment and aggression. It remains for us to do what we can to support our troops, both those fighting today and those old men, the last survivors of the last century's great wars.

Remembering to keep faith

November is the time of year when Canadians proudly wear our red poppies, in memory of those fellow Canadians having made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

This year it seems that I can't so much as ride in an elevator without a well-meaning stranger making a gentle inquiry about the significance of our "red pins". I've been asked about it dozens and dozens of times. (I must have a welcoming face..!)

Not making this observation to complain, but to instead declare the opposite: I feel so lucky to have been given so many chances this year to explain the symbol's meaning to newcomers and visitors to our country. Remembrance Day, with its roots in gratitude, humility and faith, grows in importance and deepens in meaning as the years crawl ever onward. In our little corner of the country, attendance at the ceremony held in downtown Vancouver seems to attract an increasing number of participants each year. Sadly, there is also a matched growth in the number of commemorative wreaths graciously placed at the Cenotaph memorial... a sign that the more that is given to us, the more that shall be expected from us.

We who have been so blessed in Canada, owe at least a moment of silence to those whose service is to be remembered on this most special of days. We also owe the continuing commitment to keep faith in our nation's resolve to live for more than the lesser of evils, but to struggle to lead a good life, in order to prove worthy of fellow Canadians whose souls are honored through Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae's immortal poem, In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— John McCrae

I can't hope to match the lasting power of Lt-Col McCrae's words. Still I have tried, in my video honoring the veterans of World War II, to touch my fellow citizens' souls in the same way as his poem has forever touched me.

We Remember You, and give thanks.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shelby Steele on White Guilt

Among my many backlogged projects is a desire to show readers something of Shelby Steele's recent important essay in the Globe and Mail. Unfortunately, the Globe only makes it available online if you pay. So, I'll quote from my print copy, with some comments interspersed for fair use (see also Margaret Wente's interview of Steele.

Quoting now from "The age of white guilt" by Shelby Steele (Globe and Mail, Oct. 25, 2007, A15):

In America, our racial history broadly defines the terms of our politics.

We may think of "liberal" and "conservative" as ideological designations that refer, ultimately , to a classic battle of ideas - social engineering versus free markets; group entitlements versus individual freedom, and so on. But in the United States today, political ideas like these, and the political identities of liberalism and conservatism, have moral reputations that are often more important than the ideas themselves. And these reputations come almost entirely from the idea's association with, or disassociation from, America's long practice of white supremacy.

"Diversity," for example, is a golden word today because it disassociates those who embrace it from white supremacy. "Meritocracy," on the other hand, is verboten because it associates its advocates with racial inequality. It is an idea with a bad moral reputation. Political correctness is simply a language of dissociation, a manner of speaking that helps whites (and institutions) distance themselves from their reputation for racism. This is because we live today in an age of white guilt.

What is white guilt? It is certainly not guilt of conscience. Understandably, whites never tire of telling me that they "don't feel guilty" for the oppression of blacks have endured. Many point to the illogic of feeling guilty for a sin they played no part in. Not long ago, a woman told me she was descended from Yankee abolitionists. What did she have to feel guilty about?

But white guilt does not work by logic or truth; it works by stigma. It is the experience of being stigmatized as a racist simply because one is white. Blacks were stigmatized as inferior also without regard to reason or truth.


Today, whites have a reputation for being racist even if they are descended from abolitionists.

The age of white guilt began back in the 1960s, when the United States owned up to its long and virulent history of racial oppression. To admit a sin is to become stigmatized with it.... No white person can be seen as decent, and no American institution can be seen as legitimate, without openly dissociating form racism. I call this white guilt because when people are in flight from stigma, they behave guiltily - whether or not they are actually guilty.

[Truepeers: this, it seems to me, is one of the keys to understanding White Guilt: that it is a religion that turns on signs or stigmas of the sacred and sacrificial. Whites are now stigmatized because whiteness is seen as having been, historically, what Eric Gans calls an "unmarked" status. To be "white" is to have been among those not marked for victimization. (I put "white" in quotations because even middle-class blacks may now be seen as being or acting "white", in the sense of appearing unmarked, of having assimilated into the mainstream.) White Guilt, in turn, sacralizes, makes desirable - indeed it make almost essential - some kind of historical victim status by which, or on behalf of which, one can gain entry to the public stage, where politics almost requires its players to make righteous public claims on all those unmarked "white" institutions and individuals that are seen, simply by the logic of their normal, everyday, operations, to have been, historically, against the victim.

The alleged problem with all that is normal is that the normal is seen to be a way of whitewashing, or covering up, some inherent or "systemic" logic of our social system, a logic that requires victims. The normal, according to White Guilt, is really a hidden conspiracy against all those who don't have a successful place, for whatever reason, in the white male capitalist system. The "free" market is really a sham; it's only free for the privileged.

This mode of religious thought allows the advocates of White Guilt to disassociate themselves from responsibility for the virtues necessary to defend, reproduce, and represent the free market system and the system of independent nation states that are ultimately the free market's political guarantors. And, as Steele argues, below, this scapegoating of the whites thus comes back to haunt the blacks and other "victim" groups. The attack on the normal denies "victims" the freedom to find a way to succeed in the free market system. White Guilt offers instead a model of a world run by transnational bureaucratic elites setting about to rectify all the excesses of the normal. But by the very logic of the religion, these excesses and their rectifications are never ending. Any form of capitalism or freedom must create an eternal need for affirmative action. The liberal elites who take this affirmative task upon themselves become the new gods and idols on whom the "victims" depend for any success in this world.]

White guilt is a profound tension and force in American life that affects everything our society now does, from admitting young people to college to fighting wars. In whatever we do, we must first show ourselves redeemed of our bigoted past. So, in the first years of the Iraq war, we were more preoccupied with building roads and schools than with winning the war. We admonished our soldiers not to shoot rioters, not to torture, not to allow collateral damage - not to do any of the things that white Western societies used to do with impunity. Whatever one may think of this, it only makes the point that even war is now contained by white guilt. Moral legitimacy now rivals military victory, and may even supersede it, as the first goal of war.

White guilt has given the West a new international "redemptive" liberalism - not a classic liberalism of freedom but one that ties moral authority to dissociation from past sins. Today's left is after virtue more than freedom, and it is quite willing to use government as an instrument of "the good". Multiculturalism, diversity, tolerance, pacifism - these words have a good reputation today precisely because they seem to redeem the past. When Barack Obama says he would use diplomacy with Iran instead of rattling his sabre, he is practising liberalism's new blueprint for power: virtue as the means to power: Does he really believe that diplomacy sill contain Iran's nuclear ambitions? Hard to say... [white guilt] allows him to ask for power in the name of Western redemption.

All this has left the language of freedom to conservatives, who now sound a lot like Martin Luther King did in 1963. They stand simply for the freedom of the individual, without regard to race, class or gender.

They are informed by a more humble truth than liberals: that government can never redeem society of its past sins, that lost innocence is indeed lost- that it is better, in any case, to be chastened than innocent. The true conservative understands that "diversity" is only a dreamy projection of white innocence that threatens freedom in the same way racism did. In America today, we impose affirmative action on black students whether they want it or not. So, a society guilty of denying freedom to blacks for centuries once again denies it to them, and for the same underlying reason: white aggrandizement.

Race, this old culprit, thus pushes U.S. politics into something of a paradox. It leaves us with a liberalism that buys a good reputation for institutions with a willingness to sacrifice freedom and it leaves us with a conservatism that endures a bad reputation in order to encourage freedom... today's liberalism... fails to see blacks as free men and women; rather it exploits us as a means to an impossible national redemption...