December 22, 2006

“Apocalypto” Enrages Leftist Elites

Mel Gibson’s epic about those fun-loving ancient Mayans and their fondness for human sacrifices has provoked cries of “racism” and “cultural insensitivity.”

By David Paulin

Filmmaker Mel Gibson has touched off a controversy with his violent epic, “Apocalypto,” but it has nothing to do with long-standing charges that he’s anti-Semitic. Members of the high-minded left are accusing Gibson of “racism” and “cultural insensitivity” for his allegedly unfair portrayal of ancient Mayan civilization. Much of “Apocalypto” revolves around the Mayan's charming predilection for internecine violence and human sacrifices.

Interestingly, some of “Apocalypto’s” harshest critics have offered few substantive complaints about the accuracy of the film’s gruesome scenes. What’s made them positively livid is that Gibson has violated a taboo that’s central to multiculturalism – the prohibition against criticizing other cultures, especially Third World and primitive cultures. This prohibition is especially applicable to Westerners – and to middle-aged white guys (like Gibson) in particular. Of course, there’s one exception to this no-criticism rule: You can vilify Western culture to no end.

"Culturally Insensitive’

Violating this no-criticism taboo is serious stuff in the minds of dedicated multiculturalists. Consider the toxic effect that “Apocalypto” had on Maya groupie Julia Guernsey, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas in Austin.

Guernsey saw “Apocalypto” earlier this month and was so outraged that she complained of an elevated heart rate right after the show. She went to “Apocalypto” with a movie reviewer from the Austin-American Statesman, Chris Garcia, who also hated the film and said as much in his review.

Garcia definitely had a good idea in inviting the professor to the local premiere. Right beside his review, he published a Q & A piece with Guernsey, "Apocalypto Is An Insult to Maya Culture, One Expert Says," which made for entertaining reading. The interview was done after the show.

“As we stagger out of a sneak peek of Mel Gibson's Maya historical thriller 'Apocalypto,' Julia Guernsey is visibly shaken,” Garcia wrote. He added, “I’m a little worried.” Talking herself into a frenzy as she unloaded on “Apocalypto,” Guernsey declared: “I can feel my heart beating faster talking about this!”

She went on, “I hate it. I despise it. I think it's despicable. It’s offensive to Maya people. It's offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own 21st-century Western ones but are nonetheless valid.” (Emphasis added).

Defending her beloved ancient Maya as a “very sophisticated culture,” Guernsey accused Gibson of one of the worst sins possible in the politically correct world – committing “really offensive racial stereotyping.” Gibson, she sniffed, also gave short shrift to the Mayans considerable accomplishments. They included sophisticated advances in astronomy, language, mathematics, and urban planning.

Gibson directed the film and co-wrote it with Farhad Safina. It has generally gotten positive reviews and generated strong ticket sales. The multicultural left, however, has gone frothing mad over “Apocalypto,” which focuses on Mayan civilization in the period before the Spanish conquest. Its criticisms are revealing.

Curiously, Guernsey admitted that “Apocalypto’s” scenes of bloody sacrifices got more things right than wrong. “We have evidence to suggest that there were group sacrifices. But it would probably have been done as a pious act with solemnity,” she said. (Emphasis added.)

Got that? The butchery was done with much piety and solemnity. I wonder what the sacrificial victims had to say. Would Guernsey also evoke the mantra of “cultural sensitivity” to excuse cultural practices unique to the Muslim world – “honor killings” and “female circumcisions”?

If morally neutral professors can excuse bloody human sacrifices, where might such thinking take future academics? A few hundred years from now, will professors like Guernsey look back on Germany’s Third Reich and be so awed by its engineering marvels, martial expertise, and social unity that they’ll overlook the evil zeal with which its leaders sent six million Jews to the gas chambers?

This is not to say, to be sure, that the Mayans were Nazis, but consider some parallels. The Mayans carried out human sacrifices to appease their Gods – a perfectly logical reason for their bloodlust, when viewed from a morally neutral perspective. As for the Nazis, they undertook the Final Solution for logical reasons of their own – namely, to protect the Fatherland and its heroic values from the pernicious influence of Jewish intellectual and genetic degradation. Who are we to judge them? Obviously, cultural and moral relativism can lead to some pretty absurd extremes.

Garcia, for his part, also favors looking at the Mayans from a morally neutral perspective. The important thing for him is to understand the Mayan's point of view. To make this point, his review criticized one scene in which Gibson contemptuously “sums up all of Maya evil.” This was where “terrified sacrificial victims are lined up to have their hearts cut from their chests by a distinctly satanic priest garbed in feathers and paint and human bones, with claw-like fingernails and wild eyes,” he wrote.

Incredibly, Garcia then attempted to legitimize such conduct with a paragraph that provides an astounding example of moral confusion: “It would be nice to get some context for the violence, but Gibson refuses to illuminate the cultural and religious forces behind the ritualized murder, the better to paint these people as barbaric monsters.” (Emphasis added.)

Incidentally, the title of Garcia’s review in one of the Statesman’s editions was revealing: “BARBAROUS/Rather than Maya achievements, 'Apocalypto' lingers on sacrificial slaughter.”

What kind of headline might Garcia come up with for a movie that was blatantly anti-American? Here’s one that I bet you’ll never see: “Rather than Focus on America’s Decency and Achievements, Its Critics Focus Upon Its Mistakes and Past Sins.”

Wounded Ethnic Pride

Another dimension of leftist outage over “Apocalypto” concerns Hispanic-Americans who feel the film has assaulted their “ethnic” pride. Roberto Lovato wrote in New America Media that “Apocalypto” left him “pondering the history of racism, pillage and apocalyptic war through my own blood and family history.

“Like many Central Americans born and categorized as mestizos (mixed Indian and Spanish blood), I watched Apocalypto as someone who consciously revered the Maya and other indigenous groups while subconsciously prohibiting himself any real identification with them,” he explained.

How interesting that “Apocalypto” has engendered such feelings among some Americans of Hispanic descent. Why should they feel that way? It’s no doubt because they see themselves as Hispanic-Americans, and in this hyphenated identity they see themselves as more Hispanic than American.

A generation ago, such identify problems were rare. My family members who came through Ellis Island reinvented themselves as Americans. Our family name was Anglicized: Good riddance, Europe! Unfortunately, nobody these days says “Good riddance, Mexico!”

Precisely what put Mayan civilization into decline in southern Mexico and Central America is open to debate. But one theory argues that it contained the seeds of its own destruction. In the film’s opening scene, Gibson suggests this by citing a quote from historian and philosopher William James Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Obviously, different people will see different messages in “Apocalypto.” Speaking at a film festival the ever controversial Gibson even drew some kooky parallels between the decline of Mayan civilization and America.

“Apocalypto,” on the other hand, also may reinforce the notion that not all cultures are equal, that America and the West are indeed the good guys – regardless of what the Maya-loving left may say. They demand “cultural sensitivity” of everyone except those who criticize America and Western culture.

After Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rant, I had little interest in seeing another of his pictures, especially after seeing “The Passion of Christ,” whose non-stop focus on Christ's torture had the feel of pornography. But given the kinds of people who hate “Apocalypto,” this is a picture I’m definitely going to see. It may just be a good antidote for these morally confused times.

October 20, 2006

Caribbean Jihad

Radical leftist British MP Puzzled Over Caribbean’s Links to Islamic-Inspired Terrorism

Diane Abbott never considers that her own hate speech and support of anything-goes multiculturalism is part of the problem

By David Paulin

Diane Abbott, a long-time member of the British Labor Party’s radical fringe, is well known for her anti-Semitic rhetoric, racially tinged identity politics, and venomous diatribes against Tony Blair and George Bush. Invariably, the British-born daughter of Jamaican immigrants can be counted on to view the world through a prism of race and post-colonial grievances. She contends terrorism has two “root causes”: America and Israel.

Now the controversial Member of Parliament has gone on record as acknowledging the existence of a strange trend: A number of young British men who are angry, black, and have Caribbean origins have been converting to Islam – and taking up jihad-inspired terrorism.

Abbott, 53, in a little-known
newspaper column she writes for a Jamaican newspaper, The Observer, admitted to being flummoxed at what’s causing the trend. She never considered it might have something to do with her own hate speech.

Abbott’s column described a number of terror plots and attacks with Caribbean ties that occurred after the Sept. 11 attacks five years ago. She echoed much of what was published here several weeks earlier.

In addition, Abbott noted the Caribbean emerged in mid-August in yet another jihad-inspired plot. This was the aborted suicide-bomb plot targeting as many as 10 trans-Atlantic airliners, possibly over U.S. cities, by detonating explosive chemicals hidden in carry-on bags. British authorities arrested 25 suspects, including some with Caribbean origins. In the plot’s aftermath, airline flights were disrupted worldwide.

Abbott’s column is noteworthy because it’s apparently the first time a prominent official has publicly endorsed the notion that several terror plots with Caribbean links represent more than an odd string of coincidences.

They are, Abbott contends, an ongoing trend.

Caribbean Terror Links

In the aborted plot targeting airliners, most of the alleged plotters were young British-born Muslims of Pakistani origin. However, Abbott noted, a “few Muslim converts of Caribbean origin have popped up in key roles.”

She mentioned
Brian Young, 28, a former Rastafarian who adopted the name Umar Islam three years ago on becoming a Muslim. A bus inspector, he was married to a young Muslim woman with whom he recently had a child. The British press appears to have reported no additional information about him, perhaps because of Britain’s rules limiting pre-trial coverage.

“Six of the people arrested live in my community in Hackney,” noted Abbott, a graduate of Cambridge University. In 1987 she became the
first black woman elected to Parliament.

Young men of Middle Eastern origin, to be sure, are bound to figure overwhelmingly into future Islamic-inspired terror plots, as they have in those plots with Caribbean links. But Abbott nevertheless observed that, “even though they may only be a handful, I will not be surprised to see other young men of Caribbean origin involved” in Islamic-inspired plots.

Why are such men drawn to jihad?

Abbott drew a blank on that, saying only, “These young men obviously need something to believe in. And radical Islam gives them this.”

She overlooked an obvious factor: They may be influenced by the hate-filled rhetoric she and like-minded politicians, intellectuals, and academics regularly spout in Britain and the Caribbean.

To be sure, that possibility was discussed in the article published here, “
The Caribbean: A Playground for Jihad?” The leftist elite and Islamists, it suggested, use some of the same talking points, revolving around dark conspiracy theories and loathsome broadsides against America, Israel, and even Western culture.

Moreover, Abbott and like-minded public figures in Britain have spread these ideas to Britain’s middle-class since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to political observers who cite a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate-filled Israel bashing.

Besides describing most of the plots with Caribbean links mentioned here, Abbott in some cases provided extra details of her own. The Caribbean in varying degrees has emerged in at least six terror plots and attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.

Among the participants: at least 14 young Muslim converts with ties to the region. Curiously, Jamaica had ties to every plot but one – the home-grown
Miami-area terror plot that authorities broke up in June 2006. It involved six men of Haitian origin and one with ties to the Dominican Republic.

What makes these links especially strange is that the Caribbean is overwhelmingly Christian. Most if not all of the plotters were young black men. They had converted to Islam.

Besides the plot targeting trans-Atlantic jets, others with Caribbean links included:

*The foiled
plot in Canada involving 17 alleged terror plotters, including one from Trinidad and another with Jamaican origins. The other suspects had Middle Eastern origins.

*The attempted “shoe bomber” attack by
Richard Reid aboard an American Airlines jet bound from Paris to Miami in December 2001. Richard Reid was the British-born son of a Jamaican father and British mother.

*The Washington-area
sniper killings in October 2002 involving Jamaican-born Lee Boyd Mavo, then 17, along with his 41-year-old partner, John Allen Muhammad who had lived in the Caribbean. Abbott neglected to mention this plot.

*The London
suicide bomb attacks on July 7, 2005 by three British-born men of Pakistani descent along with Jamaica-born Germaine Lindsay, a 19-year-old Muslim covert. Lindsay killed 25 subway riders, making him the deadliest bomber. The attacks killed 52 commuters and injured more than 700.

Lindsay may have fallen under the spell of one of London’s notorious hate preachers with Jamaican origins:
Sheik Abdullah el-Faisal. His sermons, Abbott related, also may have influenced Reid along with two other would-be jihadis: Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin; and Earnest James Ujaama, an American imprisoned for providing support to Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Abbott and Jihad

In the plot targeting trans-Atlantic airliners, British authorities moved in after detecting some members making “martyrdom videos.” They had been monitoring the group with phone taps and listening devices. On the videos, the suspects complained of a “war against Muslims” in Iraq and Afghanistan. They sought revenge against the United States and its “accomplices” – Britain and the Jews, related a lengthy article in
The New York Times.

Such bizarre accusations, of course, reveal much about the pathologies animating the Muslim world – not to mention those who migrate from it to Western Europe. Yet such views also are consistent with those promoted by Abbott and her intellectual soul mates.

Consider some of Abbott’s past statements:

*On the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq: “The war aims are above all to
secure Iraq’s oil for the US oil companies that put George W. Bush in the White House.”

*On Israel’s recent invasion of Lebanon: “I have no doubt that what Israel is doing in Lebanon is a war crime” that killed “innocent women and children,” she told a massive
anti-war rally in London as protesters chanted, “We are Hezbollah!”

*On the “root causes” of terrorism: “There are no
excuses for terrorism but there is a political context. Politicians have to acknowledge that British and American foreign policy in relation to Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, have (sic) embittered Muslims around the world.”

Anti-Western loathing, to be sure, often animates such ideas among the leftist elite in Britain and America. Among Britain’s middle-class, moreover, such attitudes have grown far more socially acceptable since 9/11, according to British author Melanie Phillips. She blamed Britain’s leftist elite – leftist politicians, liberal newspapers, the BBC – for serving as “an all-too willing conduit for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel poison and propaganda.”

Phillips, in
an essay about this trend, recalled participating in a BBC panel discussion in which Abbott made anti-Semitic remarks and the audience’s visceral anti-Israel hostility was palpable and unnerving.

She was especially shocked at the reaction she evoked among the audience when she described Israel as a democracy.

“They laughed.”

Like Phillips, I’ve seen Abbott up close. When I lived in Jamaica nearly two years, I watched her deliver an impassioned speech at the University of the West Indies, where she whipped up hundreds of Kingston’s well-dressed elite. She evoked thunderous applause when she declared George Bush’s impending war in Iraq was about only one thing: oil.

The admiring crowd welcomed her as a returning local girl who had done spectacularly well in the wider world, but who had not forgotten her roots.

That Abbott got such star treatment was to be expected. Many of Jamaica’s elites embrace the same anti-American and anti-Western sentiments as she does. Most ordinary Jamaicans, on the other hand, reject such sentiments. Their main concerns: good jobs and crime-free streets.

Both are in short supply after years of misrule by the leftist government. Jamaica’s political leaders, for example, have
never gotten serious about dismantling violent “garrison communities” where “dons” control the drug trade and other illegal activities – all while delivering votes to politicians.

Could young men saturated with the sort of hate talk spouted by Abbott and others be predisposed to embrace similar idea – albeit in an Islamic context?

Abbott fails to consider this. But she nonetheless makes some interesting points.

Islam and Racial Politics

Attempting to explain radical Islam’s attraction for angry young black men with Caribbean origins, Abbott's column noted that a generation ago they might have become non-violent Black Muslims or joined black-led churches or Pan-African movements. Now, inexplicably, they’re drawn to a strain of Islam preaching holy war and suicide bombings, one that is “quite different from the US Black Muslims or the Muslim faith as practiced in parts of Africa.”

Obviously, such a conversion is preceded by an identity crisis. What triggers it? Again, Abbott overlooks the obvious: It’s the multiculturalism she champions – all while simultaneously vilifying Western culture and British history.

In Britain and Jamaica, such notions have gained increasing credibility, thanks to leftist influence in academia and the news media. In Jamaica, slavery and colonialism are among the
most popular subjects at the University of the West Indies, which influences the region's intellectual thought.

Plunged into multicultural Britain, it’s no wonder some young black man suffer identity problems. They can’t very well feel “British” – not when they’ve been taught only the negative aspects of Britain’s history, without a mention of its pivotal role in creating and spreading liberal democracy and in abolishing the worldwide slave trade.

In addition, such men may feel uncomfortable in defining themselves by a particular ethnic or racial group. Abbott along these lines has urged that
“people of color” come together, claiming this is an antidote to Britain’s racism and urban unrest, including rioting in Birmingham between Jamaican and Pakistani immigrants; not to mention the tendency of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to assert “their separate political identities.”

For young men bewildered by all this, Islam fills the void. It offers identify, belonging.

Radical mosques may appeal to them in another way. The grievances preached there – revolving around hatred of America, Israel, and Western culture – are things they’ve heard before. This makes the new religion familiar, and relevant.

No wonder some are attracted not to the church – but the mosque.

Abbott overlooks something else. Lindsay, Reid, and Malvo all had
unstable upbringings – a factor that could have contributed to low self-esteem and identity problems. They’re like many young men in Jamaica, where single women head nearly 50 percent of households, and where most births are out-of-wedlock.

Some Jamaicans have observed that the country’s heavy reliance on remittances forces mothers and fathers to work abroad, leaving youngsters with little adult supervision.

How surprising that Abbott fails to recognize this given that she is herself a single-mother. In fact, British conversvatives have criticized her for this, believing that single-parent households are a factor in Britain’s social problems.

Backlash Against Multiculturalism

In the aftermath of London’s suicide bombings, Abbott has fought a growing backlash against years of Britain’s anything-goes policies on immigration, asylum seekers, and multiculturalism. She derides those who disagree with her as being

“The British media love to play up the Caribbean origins of any terrorist suspects, even though they may be British citizens. Associating black men with terrorist violence is obviously irresistible,” Abbott noted in The Observer.

The Observer, incidentally, often serves as a vehicle for
anti-American and anti-Semitic rants, along with the occasional piece suggesting America got what it deserved on 9/11. Ironically, it’s published by Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who heads the Caribbean’s iconic Sandals and Beaches resorts that depend on American tourism.

In London, Abbott also has condemned British newspapers for frightening readers with front-page stories featuring “big pictures of menacing, non-white men in beards.”

This carries “the subliminal message that all Muslims are a threat,”
she argued.

However, opinion polls – not racism – probably play a bigger factor in the public’s jitters. In the London Times recently, one
poll revealed some discomfiting statistics: One in ten British Muslims regard London’s suicide bombers as “martyrs,” while 16 percent (150,000 adults) condemned the attacks but felt “the cause was right.”

Obviously, many British are worried about their country and its future; not to mention their personal safety. But at an international workshop held in Ghana last March, Abbott was preoccupied with two of her favorite concerns: Slavery and colonialism.

Abbott also spoke on a third favorite subject: herself – or, specifically,
her emergence from “colonial influences and slavery to become the first and only black female British parliamentarian." It’s a fact she likes to trumpet every chance she gets.

Africa First, a Minnesota company promoting "global dialogue," sponsored the workshop along with Ghana’s government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO). “All the citizens of the world were invited,” Africa First proclaimed of the “International Workshop of History, Slavery, Religion, Culture, Art and Music.”

Conference goers rolled up their sleeves and addressed a number of
complex issues, including:

“To investigate whether political instability particularly in Africa and Latin America, and illiteracy, poverty, health disparities, diseases, drug abuse and violence in the Caribbean, America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, especially within minority communities, are the direct results of colonization and slavery, and if so what can and should be done to correct them.”

Conference leaders even managed to work Jews into their discussions by addressing this issue:

“To investigate whether the deliberate looting, killings, raping, kidnappings and trading of Africans, America Indians, Asians, Aboriginal people of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island as slaves and human commodities by Europeans, can be compared to the atrocities committed against Jews in Nazi German camps in Europe, and if so, whether their descendants are entitled to reparations?”

Apparently, conference leaders have not yet published their conclusions. How might Abbott have voted?

In London, meanwhile, some of Britain’s Muslims demanded that Pope Benedict XVI be
beheaded in yet another raucous demonstration to avenge the latest “insult” to Islam. Meeting with top British officials, some Muslim leaders demanded sharia law for Britain’s Muslims.

Abbott has faced issues of a more personal nature. They included awkward questions about revelations that she had sent her son to a fancy
private school costing more than $18,500 annually. Members of the left and right called her a hypocrite – and for good reason. In the past, she’d criticized other politicians for the same thing.

Abbott also faced criticism regarding
her earnings outside Parliament over the past year – a whopping $159,000 for articles, speeches, and television appearances.

All in all, Abbott has done well for herself in Britain, despite all the country’s faults, unsavory history, and problems she has encountered as a minority.

As a single-mother, it’s doubtful she could have done as well in Jamaica, certainly not as the daughter of working-class parents: Her father was a welder, her mother a nurse. In Jamaica, people in such fields struggle to make ends meet.

One thing about Abbott is certain: She’ll be a rich woman when her reparations arrive. What’s less certain is whether she’ll want to live in the “Londonistan” she helped create.

October 3, 2006

Hugo Strikes Out – For Now

Hugo Chávez's U.N. rant revealed that his anti-Americanism is really about one thing: Hugo Chávez .

Hugo Chávez defines and empowers himself with his anti-Americanism – the foundations of which he laid during the Clinton administration’s soft-line approach toward him. Chávez knows less about America than he thinks, however. His controversial U.N. speech revealed some of the Venezuelan leader's weaknesses and contradictions. It also underscored the threat posed by his oil-rich regime.

By David Paulin

In Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela it’s a crime to “insult” the president. The offense became part of the penal code in March and mandates prison terms of up to two and one-half years.

How fortunate for Venezuela’s president that no such laws exist in America, and that President Bush never fomented the kind of political violence and polarization here that Chávez has introduced into his country.

Otherwise, imagine one scenario that might have played out: Federal marshals escort Chávez to a detention facility for the “insult” President Bush suffers after Chávez brands him a “devil” while waving around a Noam Chomsky book on America’s alleged malevolence. Across the country, meanwhile, gangs of Republican toughs shoot up and trash Venezuela’s Citgo outlets. Wielding baseball bats, others chase down U.N. delegates to avenge their applause and smirks over Chávez ’s rant to the U.N. General Assembly.

Ah, yes, wishful thinking, but there is a point here. In Venezuela, the left-wing populist has unleashed similar sorts of political violence by demonizing political opponents and polarizing Venezuelans along class and political lines.

Clinton’s Chávez Policy

Chávez pretended his anti-American rants in the U.N. and Harlem were about the “devil” Bush. In fact, Chávez's most outrageous conduct started during the Clinton administration. Its point man in Caracas, U.S. Ambassador John Maisto, peddled a soft-line approach on Chávez , viewing him as a late-blooming democratic reformer; no matter that the former Army lieutenant colonel, just six years earlier, orchestrated a bloody military coup and had a long history of radicalism.

A career diplomat with an academic bent, Maisto explained away Chávez’s anti-Americanism by saying, “Watch what Chávez does, not what he says.” The so-called “Maisto Doctrine” encapsulated Clinton-era wishful thinking about Chávez , according to Paul Crespo, a military attaché in Caracas during Maisto’s tenure. Chávez , meanwhile, was a man of his word. He quickly closed ranks with Cuba; sought alliances with Middle Eastern dictators; and expressed solidarity with imprisoned Venezuela-born terrorist “Carlos the Jackal.” In addition, he expressed veiled sympathy for Colombia’s Marxist narco-guerillas; it's also likely that he clandestinely provided them material support.

It was not until Chávez denounced the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as a "slaughter of innocents" that the Bush administration undertook a belated post-9/11 reassessment of Chavez and soft-line "Maisto Doctorine" that astute observers had harshly criticized.

Venezuela’s law protecting El Presidente from “insults” is one of many examples of how democratic safeguards and respect for human rights and press freedoms spiraled downward early into Chávez ’s nearly eight-year rule. Many of the abuses occurred under Maisto’s watch, and of course while “Monicagate” distracted the Clinton White House and Congress. In the last few years, Chávez has used the foundation he laid during those years to undertake a huge arms build-up and meddle in regional politics. At home, he has veered into anti-Semitic rhetoric and harassment of Venezuela’s Jewish community. To some political scientists, the left-wing populist exemplifies a new form of democracy: “elected autocrat.”

Before Chávez's New York rant, most reasonably informed Americans knew about his vaunted “social programs,” not to mention his frequent and outlandish accusations: Washington wanted to invade Venezuela, kill him, and had played a role in a failed coup against him. The funny thing about such unsupported allegations is that they often had a ring of credibility, thanks to how the mainstream media reported them – for the most part soberly written up and juxtaposed against vehement U.S. denials.

Chávez : Warts and all

To truly understand what the telegenic Chávez is all about, he must be seen up close, unedited, warts and all. Television news certainly has its shortcomings. But in respect to Chávez's U.N. rant, give it credit for showing that the Emperor had no clothes. Many Venezuelans figured that out soon after Chávez ’s landslide presidential victory in December, 1998.

Months into Chávez's term, many Venezuelans got their fill of him during the regular television appearances he started making. In unscripted monologues similar to his U.N. rant, Chávez rambled on for hours, sprinkling his running commentary with personal anecdotes and baseball metaphors; and he regularly demonized political opponents.

Venezuelans eventually complained they were missing their favorite “telenovelas.”

After his New York performance, Americans at long last got a clear picture of Chávez ’s irrational and toxic anti-Americanism. They also sensed his narcissism -- the way adoring U.N. delegates obviously nourished and energized his ego.

Now, all those outraged Americans boycotting Citgo outlets know what Venezuelans have been suffering. Most Venezuelans reject Chávez ’s anti-Americanism and confrontational foreign policy.

Broken Promises

Nearly eight years ago, Chávez , a political outsider, won a landslide election by pledging to end rampant corruption and declining living standards. Voters, however, saw what they wanted to see in Chávez, who promised different things to different constituencies. To slum dwellers he was a rabble-rousing populist offering paternalistic handouts. Middle-class audiences saw him as a reasonable reformer. To them Chávez spoke about a Venezuelan version of a “Third Way” between socialism and capitalism.

Under Chávez , however, corruption, crime, and poverty all have worsened, according to the most credible accounts and statistics. And that’s despite record oil prices that have traditionally lifted the oil-dependent economy. The majority of 25 million Venezuelans are poor.

Chávez nevertheless wins elections and referendums with slim majorities – thanks to his populist programs, soaring oil prices, and fact that he controls the levers of power under a rewritten constitution. Political opponents settle on some choice descriptions of him: vulgar, irrational, a bully, a charming narcissist.

Rejects American Disaster Relief

One year after his election, Chávez demonstrated his willingness to put prickly nationalism and anti-Americanism above the needs of ordinary Venezuelans. In December 1999, he brusquely turned away U.S. Navy vessels steaming toward Venezuela to render assistance to victims of one of the worst natural disasters in Latin America's recent history. Heavy rains had triggered massive mudslides in and around Caracas, the capital, killing tens of thousands of people, leaving untold numbers homeless, and burying roads and villages.

A top Venezuelan military official had signed off on a major U.S. relief effort, prompting a Navy ship to start steaming toward Venezuela with hundreds of military engineers and heavy equipment. But Chávez , during a shoot-from-the-hip news conference, startled U.S. officials by rejecting the aid.

Chávez officials, meanwhile, also downplayed or ignored search and rescue operations being undertaken by U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters that arrived shortly after the disaster. I described this early manifestation of Chávez's anti-Americanism for The Washington Times, while a foreign correspondent based in Caracas.

The thin-skinned Chávez and other officials also eagerly sought out malevolence in any U.S. action or comment. Then they would bluster on about Venezuela being a “sovereign” country and how bilateral relations should be guided by “mutual respect.”

Chávez , in contrast, welcomed suggestions and help from his friend and mentor, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Cuba’s security services and advisors began playing significant roles in Chávez ’s government, which must have heartened top Chávez officials such as Alí Rodríguez , Venezuela’s oil minister, and later head of the state oil company, and then foreign minister. A lawyer and former leftist Congressman with an intellectual demeanor, Rodríguez fought in a failed 1960's Cuba-backed insurgency against Venezuela’s government, then a democratic beacon in Latin America.

Oil Diplomacy

To the international left, however, Chávez can do no wrong. The day after his U.N. speech, for instance, Chávez got a hero’s welcome at a Baptist church he visited with activist-actor Danny Glover. The event in Harlem focused on yet another initiative in which Venezuela is selling discounted home-heating oil to low-income people in the Northeast and Western Europe.

There is a huge irony in these initiatives. In his first presidential campaign, Chávez promised to put Venezuela’s oil wealth to work for poor Venezuelans, contending previous governments had failed to do so. He has indeed instituted a number of social programs, but poverty experts contend the patchwork of efforts fails to qualify as a serious poverty-reduction program. They nevertheless provide Chávez with plenty of political mileage.

In addition, Chávez has approved sweetheart deals to oil customers in Latin America and the Caribbean – all calculated to give Venezuela influence in the region. Cuba is the most outrageous example; in a barter arrangement it provides Venezuela with doctors and athletic trainers in exchange for oil.

Chávez's Harlem cheerleaders applaud such initiatives, believing they shame corrupt Western capitalism. They overlook the fact that Chávez is giving away the patrimony of his own impoverished country. Ultimately, these programs reveal Chávez to be as venal as previous Venezuelan leaders.

Presumably, Chávez was riding high over how U.N. delegates applauded him, followed by his big Harlem welcome. What came next surely surprised him: consumer disgust with Citgo, followed by 7-Eleven’s announcement that it was dumping the brand (citing Chávez ’s past conduct as a factor in what nevertheless was mostly a marketing decision).

And Chávez must have been stung by those unusual public rebukes by two influential Bush-hating Democrats: Charles Rangel of New York and Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. Chávez was an “everyday thug,” Pelosi fumed. Surely Chávez was taken aback. After all, didn’t his comments echo the talking points of many Bush-hating Democrats – not to mention the great intellectual Noam Chomsky?

One of Chávez’s weaknesses is that he moves by all accounts in an insular world of fellow America haters, both in Venezuela and on his frequent road trips. As an elected autocrat, moreover, he faces far fewer checks and balances, nor vexing issues such as accountability (to the degree that this concept is truly understood in Latin America). So he can think and behave as he wants.

Chávez’s hubris may have hurt him, too. His amazing powers to read and persuade audiences have never let him down in the past.

In 1992, for instance, Chávez convinced a group of soldiers to join him in a bloody, disorganized, and failed military coup (although Chávez, to be sure, was apparently never in the thick of the fighting in which scores of civilians and soldiers died).

Widely condemned, the coup failed to inspire a civilian uprising or wider rebellion among the military. Chávez spent two years in jail. In winning the presidency, he convinced Venezuelans that he had traded the ballet for the bullet.

One thing the mainstream media oversimplifies about Chávez is to call him a hero to the poor. True, he draws most of his support from the poor, but not all of the poor support him. Moreover, this overlooks the fact that many middle class and even wealthy Venezuelans voted for him in 1998; they, too, were fed up with the nation’s two mainstream political parties, which were widely blamed for ruling irresponsibly and in their own self-interest.

Indeed, I meet a number of well-to-do, intelligent, and decent Venezuelans who saw Chávez as a reformer who would restore pride to Venezuela. During exit poll interviews I did in the wealthy La Floresta section of Caracas, I was surprised that most voters said they'd voted for Chavez. Like poor Venezuelans, they wanted sweeping changes. Ambassador Maisto, to be sure, wasn’t the only educated person who got suckered.

A handful of wealthy Venezuelans, of course, has remained on Chávez’s bandwagon, engaging in the sort of corruption that traditionally benefited politically connected business people who enjoyed no-bid government contracts and sweetheart deals. Most, however, quickly saw Chávez for the irresponsible and dangerous demagogue that he is.

Now Americans have seen Chávez for what he is, and they are registering their opinions by passing up Citgo outlets.

Good riddance.

September 21, 2006

In Perspective: Hugo’s Anti-Americanism

Hugo Chavez’s America-bashing rant at the U.N. stems from Venezuela's dysfunctional oil culture. To understand Chavez, stop thinking of Venezuela as a Latin American country. It has more in common with the Middle East.

UPDATE: See Thomas Lifson's comments on this article at The American Thinker.


Hugo Chavez’s bizarre anti-American rant at the United Nations has got Americans asking, “What makes Chavez tick?”

To understand him, stop thinking of oil-producing Venezuela as a Latin American country. Think of it as a dysfunctional Middle Eastern petro-state. Doing that is the key to understanding Chavez and Venezuela.

Many oil-rich Arabs have a sense of cultural superiority and entitlement. So do many Venezuelans: Chavez is one of them. The 52-year-old former Army lieutenant colonel grew up during Venezuela's oil boom years in the 1970s. That’s when the South American nation seemed poised to attain First World status; or so many Venezuelans thought in the era of "Saudi Venezuela."

Chavez and most Venezuelans still entertain the notion that God blessed Venezuelans with fabulous oil wealth. Indeed, they regard themselves as special because of this. Yet 80 percent of 25 million Venezuelans live in poverty and endure rampant crime and corruption. These indices appear to have
worsened under Chavez's administration – all of which Chavez denies.

Venezuela’s oil wealth can no longer pay the bills as it did in the 1970s, when Venezuela had half the population as today, and significantly less debt and fewer social problems. Yet the myth of Venezuela’s oil wealth persists. Ultimately, it’s a source of Chavez’s inner conflict – and his anti-Americanism.

Like many Venezuelans, Chavez grapples with this contradiction – the myth of Venezuela’s oil wealth and reality of its poverty. And like many Venezuelans, Chavez blames outsiders for the country’s mess – gringos, oligarchs, whomever. He blames everybody, in short, except decades of statist polices and corruption that have been Venezuela’s undoing over the years. Chavez has continued to follow these policies while attacking the nation’s democratic institutions, press, and civic organizations.

As Chavez blames Third World poverty on everybody but the Third World, he has done little himself to address his own country’s monumental problems. His anti-poverty efforts amount to a patchwork of populist programs. They ensure his popularity. But they fail to form a comprehensive poverty-reduction program, promoting growth and diversifying the oil-dependent economy.

When Chavez bashes America and calls President Bush “the devil,” one also must hold up a harsh light to Venezuela. The oil-producing country survives on its oil revenues. It imports much of what it needs; and it creates very few of its own goods and services -- at least not any that most Venezuelans would want.

Until the mid-1990s, for instance, Venezuela’s phone system barely worked -- until the gringos at GTE Corp. took over, broke up corrupt unions, dismissed inept and elitist Venezuelan managers, and got the system up and running in a few short years. These gringos grate on the nerves of proud Venezuelans like Chavez. Deep down, however, Chavez must realize that Venezuela could never have accomplished anything like this on its own. No doubt, Chavez would prefer the inconvenience of lousy phone service rather than letting the gringos show him up.

A prominent Venezuelan sociologist once told me that many Venezuelans “are like the guy who should have made it but didn’t.” They're unable, he said, to accept responsibility for personal and collective failures. Instead, they blame others.

In Chavez’s case, he blames America. It’s a natural target. After all, for all his anti-American bluster, America is still the standard by which many Venezuelans judge themselves. In doing so, they are shamed at the thought that, for all their sense of entitlement, they could never match the Americans in respect to their management savvy, creativity, and smarts.

Ultimately, Chavez and Venezuelans like him want attention. They want to be players on the global stage. Oil wealth, they figure, entitles them to this.

Chavez’s anti-Americanism, moreover, achieves the recognition he never could attain by providing mundane things such as decent public services, crime control, and serious anti-poverty programs. It’s no wonder that Chavez gets along so well with oil-rich Middle Eastern thugs, who also are adept at the blame game, as they accuse Israel, America, or whatever they can come up with to excuse their dysfunction.

No wonder so many Third World delegates in the U.N. applauded Chavez's anti-American rant. They, like Chavez, find it easier to blame America than to accept responsibility for their personal and collective failures.

Author's note: This article received minor copyediting after it was posted. There were no factual changes; however, the expression "Saudi Venezuela" was inserted in one sentence.

September 17, 2006

Snubbed Again

NYT Article on Iraq’s Rogue Cops Fails to Mention Steven Vincent

By David Paulin

In the old Soviet Union, leaders who fell into disfavor with the Stalinist government invariably had their images air brushed out of official photos.

And out of history.

Something similar is going on at The New York Times in respect to Steven Vincent, the only American journalist to have been murdered in Iraq.

The latest example may be found today in the Times' lead story, “Iraq Stumbling in Bid to Purge Its Rogue Police.” The article focuses on the problem of Shiite militiamen and criminals who are “entrenched throughout Iraq’s police and internal security forces.”

In an astonishing omission, however, the 2,300-plus word piece fails to mention Vincent – even though there would have been ample reasons to do so. Vincent, after all, was a New Yorker; he had lived with his wife, Lisa Ramaci, in the East Village. Moreover, he was one of the first journalists to report on the issue of police corruption in Iraq. He wrote about it just over one year ago in an Op-Ed in The Times.

On top of that, Vincent’s killers probably were rogue police who may have been retaliating for that Op-Ed, published just two days before his murder on Aug. 2, 2005. Vincent and his translator, Nour Itais, were abducted off a street in the southern port city of Basra by what witnesses said may have been a rogue police unit.

In short, Vincent is inseparable from this story. Yet the article fails to mention him. How come?

Certainly it's not some unintentional oversight. After all, lead co-author Edward Wong was the reporter who wrote his paper’s story on Vincent’s murder. On Aug. 3, 2005, Wong wrote:

“An American journalist from New York who was writing about the rise of conservative Shiite Islam and the corruption of the Iraqi police was abducted and shot to death Tuesday evening in the southern port city of Basra, American and Iraqi officials said today. The reporter's interpreter was also shot and is hospitalized in serious condition.”

And Wong made sure to note the role that Vincent’s Op-Ed may have played in his death:

“On Sunday, The New York Times printed an article on its op-ed pages that Mr. Vincent had written about the British military in Basra, in which he sharply criticized the British for allowing religious Shiite parties and clerics to take control of Basra and populate the security forces with their followers.

"He wrote that a police lieutenant had confirmed for him that a few fellow officers were carrying out assassinations of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, apparently in revenge for the oppression of the Shiites under his rule.

'"He told me that there is even a sort of 'death car': a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment," Mr. Vincent wrote."

The Times has snubbed Vincent previously. Just ask his widow. Recently, Ramaci had a letter to the editor in The Times, complaining that an Op-Ed published on Sept. 6, "Iraq's Endangered Journalists,” overlooked her husband's death.

You can be sure Times’ Op-Ed editors scrutinized every word of that Op-Ed. Yet Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi physician-turned journalist, wrote something that was obviously false: “As dangerous as Iraq is for foreign reporters, they at least have the advantage of being considered untouchable by the Iraqi police and security forces.”

What about Vincent?

Ramaci told me in a recent e-mail that she felt the slights had to do with the fact that Vincent was a freelancer -- not worthy of any respect from The Times. No matter that he left behind an impressive body of work, published in places like National Review and FrontPage Magazine, not to mention a wonderful book, “In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq.”

Of course, the types of magazines for which Vincnet wrote tend not to espouse political views that are popular at The Times.

One of Vincent’s strengths was that he, unlike Times staffers, moved freely about Iraq without bodyguards. He provided a unique perspective, one that was not filtered through a prism of daily suicide bombings or “mounting casualties.”

On the other hand, most mainstream reporting out of Iraq has relied heavily on Iraqi stringers. Many have little journalism training, and their loyalties are open to question.

“The Western news media could not function in Iraq without the dedication of Iraqi journalists,” wrote Fadhil in the Op-Ed piece that raised Ramaci’s ire. “Many of the biggest stories were either written by Iraqis or reported by them.”

The Times has snubbed Vincnet on other occasions. Last March, Ramaci noted, the paper ran a big series about the ongoing problems with the Iraqi police and security forces, yet Steven’s name was never mentioned. And in an earlier article, the paper even misspelled Steven’s first name, she noted.

The reporters and editors at The Times, of course, are not Stalinists. But many seem to have a mentality that shares attributes of the extreme left and right -- attributes now found in the post-modern fascism of multiculturalism and political correctness. One of those attributes is a sense of elitism. Mavericks like Vincent are square pegs who don't fit anywhere into the world according to The New York Times.

No wonder that increasing numbers of people read The Times not for its news -- but for its spin. Vincent was a writer for the New Media, however, not the old. The Times may forget him. His devoted readers will not.

UPDATE: Steven Vincent was one of two freelance journalists honored in 2006 with the Fifth Annual Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism. Vincent was recognized posthumously for his work revealing the existence of police death squads in Iraq. Vincent’s widow, Lisa Ramaci, will receive the award and a $5,000 prize during ceremonies in London. The Kesher Talk blog has more here and here.

Also, see my earlier article about Steven Vincent, "Soldier With a Pen."

September 10, 2006

Steven Vincent: Forgotten by The New York Times

The freelance journalist's brutal murder may have been triggered by his Op-Ed in The New York Times. Why did the paper's editors forget this?

By David Paulin

Steven Vincent, the only American journalist murdered in Iraq, left behind an impressive body of work that is noteworthy for its incisive analysis and moral clarity. His book, “In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq,” drew on a number of fine articles, written mainly for conservative magazines such as National Review and FrontPage Magazine.

The quality of Vincent’s work owed much to the fact that he traveled alone, outside the Green Zone. He avoided the mainstream media’s formulaic reporting; it viewed the war, insurgency, and reconstruction through a prism of “mounting” casualties, suicide bombings, and prisoner abuse scandals.

When Vincent was murdered just over one year ago in the southern port city of Basra, the mainstream media responded with extensive coverage. His killing, it was widely noted, may have been in retaliation for an Op-Ed piece that Vincent published, two days earlier, in The New York Times.

Vincent described how the British Army had ignored the infiltration of Basra’s police force by Iranian-backed Shiite militias and political groups, including those loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. This coincided with a spike in fundamentalist violence in the southern port city.

He noted as well that police vehicles apparently were used to abduct and kill people. Coincidently, two days after that article ran, a vehicle similar to what Vincent had described intercepted the writer and his translator, Nour Itais, off a Basra street.

Later, Iraqi police found Vincent’s battered body on the outskirts of town with a gunshot wound to the head. Nour was shot and left for dead; but she survived.

Forgotten by The Times?

Today, the Times’ Op-Ed editors appear to have forgotten that Vincent’s Op-Ed piece may be the thing that got him killed. In an Op-Ed the Times ran on Sept. 6, "Iraq's Endangered Journalists," author Ali Fadhil overlooked Vincent’s death when writing about Iraq’s beleaguered journalists.

You can be sure Times’ Op-Ed editors scrutinized every word of that Op-Ed. Yet Fadhil, an Iraqi physician-turned journalist, wrote something that was obviously false: “As dangerous as Iraq is for foreign reporters, they at least have the advantage of being considered untouchable by the Iraqi police and security forces.”

What about Steven Vincent?

The most outraged New Yorker to read Fadhil’s Op-Ed was Vincent’s widow, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent. On Saturday, Sept. 9, the Times published a letter from her, calling attention to Fadhil’s oversight:

To the Editor:
While reading "Iraq's Endangered Journalists," by Ali Fadhil (Op-Ed, Sept. 6), I was shocked by his claim that "foreign reporters have the advantage of being considered untouchable by the Iraqi police and security forces."

Might I remind Mr. Fadhil that on Aug. 2, 2005, my husband, Steven Vincent, an American journalist living in and writing from Basra, was kidnapped and killed by five men in police uniforms?

Two days before Steven's murder, The New York Times ran an Op-Ed article he wrote in which he disclosed how the British Army was ignoring both the infiltration of the Basra police force by Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and the resulting spike in fundamentalist violence. He specifically mentioned the white police vehicles used to abduct and kill an ever-increasing number of people; two days later, one of those vehicles came for him.

Steven thus has the dubious distinction of being one of the few foreign journalists in this Iraq conflict specifically targeted for execution.

Lisa Ramaci-Vincent.
New York, Sept. 7, 2006

Just an Oversight?

How could the Times forget Vincent? Perhaps it was a simple oversight, completely innocent. Ostensibly, that’s probably the case. But such oversights often occur for unconscious reasons – the result of unconscious biases and ideological agendas.

Along these lines, consider that Fadhil’s harsh critique of Iraq’s news media fit neatly into the Times’ view that the Bush administration, besides embarking on an illegal and unnecessary war, has totally bungled Iraq’s reconstruction.

As to innate biases, deep down the Times’ Op-Ed editors probably fail to see Vincent as a serious journalist. He was not a tried and proven staff writer but a freelancer. Even worse, Vincent was a blogger, which merits little respect in the mainstream media.

No matter that Vincent’s blog had a large and loyal following, as demonstrated by the “blog burst” honoring him on the first-anniversary of his murder. Above all, Vincent’s biggest liability for Times' editors is probably that he was a hawk on the war (though he never, to be sure, voted for George Bush). They may have dismissed him, at least subconsciously, as a misguided crank.

The Belmont Club also saw something strange in the Times’ oversight: “(W)hy did the NYT leave him off the books? Beneath them or not one of them?” And it also offered some interesting speculation on the Vincent’s murder:

The most innocent explanation is that he was "outside the pattern". The regular journalists know the drill: when to work out of a hotel and work through stringers; when to "arrange" an interview which will provide the journalist with protection; and maybe, through the grapevine, know which stories not to cover unless you have recently bought a lot of life insurance.

When foreign journalists operate outside of the envelope as in the case of mainstream news anchors who made unscripted descents from American patrol vehicles, their risks increase dramatically. When Eason Jordan described his arrangements with Saddam for "access" he was probably stating a fact of life. If you don't have your own tank and infantry company along, a camera and a press pass provide scant protection.

It’s not just the Times that has a bad memory. Apparently, not a single newspaper or wire service article noted the one-year anniversary of Vincent’s death: August 2, 2005. It would have been the perfect occasion to update the status of his murder investigation; editors commonly run such stories on the anniversaries of headline-grabbing murders like Vincent’s.

Questions about Ali Fadhil

Aside from the Times’ slight to Vincent, Lisa Ramaci, and those who admired his work, there are questions worth asking about Ali Fadhil and his Op-Ed.

See letter (below) from reader identifying himself as Ali Fadhil, author of the NYT Op-Ed, who has complained about errors in this section of the article.

Certainly Fadhil is an interesting figure, both for his harrowing experiences in post-Saddam Iraq and his meteoric rise in journalism. The former physician, who is in his mid-30s, saw there was money to be made when big-time media outlets arrived with the U.S.-led invasion.

Switching from medicine to journalism, he ended up making a good living as a controversial pro-American blogger (supported with “private donations” from overseas groups) and as a writer and “media assistant” for a variety of news outlets.

As the war become unpopular, Fadhil went onto write for left-wing British publications. He produced a film and wrote articles about the U.S. assault on the Sunni-controlled rebel stronghold of Fallujah – portraying it as a vibrant city that U.S. forces destroyed, so to speak, in order to save it.

Fadhil, incidentally, was born a Sunni Muslim but last year he downplayed this fact. “I don’t look at myself as one now,” he told The New York Times, in a story about his controversial pro-American blog.

In his Op-Ed, Fadhil wrote: “The Western news media could not function in Iraq without the dedication of Iraqi journalists.” In fact, “Many of the biggest stories were either written by Iraqis or reported by them.”

And what stories might those have been? It’s an interesting question in light of ongoing concerns about the mainstream media’s biased coverage of the war, insurgency, and reconstruction. Part of the blame has been laid on the mainstream media’s heavy use of stringers, people with limited journalism experience and questionable allegiances.

Interestingly, people with Fadhil’s journalism experience – or lack of it – would not have a prayer of landing a newsroom job at the Times if they visited the paper’s personnel office and filled out an application. Yet in Iraq they played major roles in stories.

Moreover, Fadhil noted, such work put them on dazzling fast-track careers with Western publications and broadcast companies. He’s now a Fulbright fellow at New York University. Vincent, in contrast, struggled on a freelancer’s salary, earning maybe $300 to $500 per story. Sales of his book were ho-hum but picked up considerably after his murder. He was starting to think of himself as a failure, his wife recalled.

Perhaps Fadhil’s transformation from pro-American blogger to a darling of Britain's anti-American press reflected heartfelt convictions, not opportunism calculated to give editors what they wanted. There’s no shame in changing one’s mind. Vincent himself had doubts about the war at the time of his death. But he also felt it was imperative to stay the course.

Troubling Issues

Fadhil’s Op-Ed also raised some troubling concerns. Iraq’s news media, he argued, is now heading toward media models like those in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Syria.

Certainly, if true, these allegations are worth investigating. Fadhil blames the problem on the dismantling of U.S.-backed programs that had once supported Iraq’s nascent post-Saddam news media. At the same time, however, his Op-Ed had some points that appeared problematic – and contradictory.

“Today journalists in Iraq face death threats from all sides,” he warned.
He complained as well that Iraq’s “prime minister threatened to close any news media outlet that insufficiently supports the Iraqi government in its fight against sectarian violence.”

But what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps the Times and Fulbright selection committee would disagree, but in the face of a monstrous nihilistic insurgency and Islamic fanatics, it hardly seems unreasonable to close down publications that fail to support efforts to stop sectarian violence.

Moreover, it’s perplexing that Fadhil would suggest that such a crackdown would help move Iraq’s press freedoms toward the media models found in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Syria. Presumably, the greatest threat to Iraq’s journalists is from insurgents and extremist Islamic groups that – horror of horrors – the prime minister is attempting to marginalize by denying them publicity, even if that means journalists lose the freedom to be irresponsible.

Come now, Dr. Fadhil, you can’t have it both ways. Except, perhaps, in the fairy tale world of New York’s academic and media elites in which Fadhil now moves.

Trigger Happy Troops?

Fadhil at one point nearly repeats former CNN news chief Eason Jordan’s career-ending slander that U.S. forces have deliberately targeted journalists:

“(T)he American soldiers who were so helpful to us in the early days of the occupation now have a different attitude. By 2005, if an Iraqi journalist aimed a camera at a United States Army convoy, the soldiers’ rules of engagement allowed them to shoot. American soldiers have been responsible for the deaths of about 14 journalists in Iraq, the majority of them Iraqis.”

What could have made those soldiers so nasty? Perhaps it was the nature of Iraq’s insurgency and suicide bomb attacks? Not to mention the avalanche of negative media coverage that, according to most soldiers, consistently failed to capture progress which they saw being made.

Along these lines, consider a story in online magazine Salon, "The Victim and the Killer," written by Phillip Robertson, a longtime foreign correspondent. Intent on finding the U.S. sniper who killed a friend, an Iraqi doctor-turned stringer who worked for Knight-Ridder, Robertson got himself an embed slot. He snooped around. After two weeks, he came upon a likely suspect: a “tall, good looking man,” he wrote, who was part of the 256th Brigade Combat Team.

Chatting with the sniper about his work, Robertson nudged him to talk about the death of Yassir Salihee, 30, who was mistaken for a suicide bomber as he drove erratically one night toward a Baghdad intersection.

The sniper became nervous, wrote Robertson, telling him, “I really hope he was a bad guy.”

The shooting was justified, according to a month-long military investigation that included an interview with an Iraqi witness. Editor & Publisher, the trade magazine that covers the newspaper industry, called Robertson’s piece “the most remarkable” of the war.

But author Greg Mitchell, well known for his odd left-wing views, quoted a Knight-Ridder editor as saying that "it bothers me somewhat" that Robertson was "not being totally honest... embedding with the military with the purpose of doing his own investigation into this. Give Mitchell credit for at least adding some balance to the story.

Fadhil has had his own run-in with U.S. troops. In his Op-Ed, he mentioned the night troops stormed into his home after they “blew out the doors with explosives and shot several bullets into the bedroom where my wife, 3-year-old daughter, 6-month-old son and I were sleeping.

“They destroyed our furniture, and I was hand-flexed, hooded and taken to an unknown place. It turned out that the raid was connected to the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who had been abducted in my neighborhood the day before. The Americans apologized and gave me $500 for the time I spent with them and $1,000 for the damage to the house. I was released the next morning.”

No doubt such stories are told and retold at New York University as Fadhil relates Iraq’s grim realities. One hopes that, for balance, Fadhil also mentions some of the abuses he suffered under Saddam’s rule; or perhaps his Sunni background spared him such indignities; or perhaps Saddam’s men provided him with better compensation than the Americans when he was the victim of mistaken identify.

UPDATE: Steven Vincent was one of two freelance journalists honored in 2006 with the Fifth Annual Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism. Vincent was recognized posthumously for his work revealing the existence of police death squads in Iraq. Vincent’s widow, Lisa Ramaci, will receive the award and a $5,000 prize during ceremonies in London. The Kesher Talk blog has more here and here.

Also, see my earlier article about Steven Vincent, "Soldier With A Pen."

Author's note: "Steven Vincent: Forgotten by The New York Times," received some copyediting shortly after the original post. Also, the phrase "anti-British" was changed to "anti-American."

August 10, 2006

Who is Nick Turse?

Author of L.A. Times Vietnam Atrocity Story Is Dedicated Leftist

"(T)he DoA (Doctrine of Atrocity) did not originate during the Vietnam War, but instead was part of a long legacy of the U.S. military's conduct during wars against racial Others over the prior 100 years."

--Nick Turse, Columbia University PhD dissertation: "Kill Anything That Moves: U.S. War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965-1973" (Photo from Mother Jones)

By David Paulin

The Los Angeles Times made quite a splash with its lengthy article detailing how American troops allegedly committed atrocities during the Vietnam War 40 years ago. Left-wing bloggers have been swooning over the Sunday showcase piece, "
Vietnam: The War Crimes Files." And no wonder. The whopping 4,400-word article, describing alleged atrocities as if they happened only yesterday, was not really about Vietnam: It was about Iraq.

Only the most obtuse reader could miss that. The authors slipped "Iraq" into the narrative after 400 words, with mentions of alleged atrocities and prisoner abuse there.

To date, conservative bloggers and readers have paid little attention to “The War Crimes Files.” Presumably, they glanced at it and quickly dismissed it as more agenda-driven reporting aimed at stopping “Bush’s War.”

In their cursory look, however, those readers missed an intriguing element in the story – and perhaps its most important element. The lead author,
Nick Turse, is not a staff writer like co-author Deborah Nelson. He is “a freelance journalist living in New Jersey” who, as an editor’s note mentioned, had uncovered archival material on Vietnam War atrocities “while researching his doctoral dissertation.”

What the editor's note omitted is that Turse also has a long history of supporting radical leftist causes and writing for radical websites and lefty publications such as
Mother Jones and The Village Voice. So extreme is Turse's anti-Americanism that he even praised the Columbine shooters. To him, they were idealistic anti-establishment figures; kids who challenged the "educational system" in the spirit of the 1960s' radicals. Hiring him to research and write a piece on Vietnam War atrocities was comparable to hiring a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to pen a major news article on affirmative action and race relations.

Indeed, for a major newspaper to hire a freelancer to research and write a controversial showcase story is highly unusual if not unprecedented. One wonders how Turse pulled it off: whether he made a good impression on some like-minded Times editors, or whether he parlayed his supposed expertise on Vietnam War atrocities into a prestigious freelance gig. Perhaps it was a little of both.

Turse found the old atrocity stories among files in a “once-secret archive,” while researching his doctoral dissertation at the National Archives in College Park, Md., “The War Crimes Files” related. Collected by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, the materials “confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known,” said the story. Atrocities were not limited to “rogue units” but “were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.”

Given the U.S. military’s situation in Iraq, these allegations are obviously troubling and politically sensitive. This raises the question of why the Times trusted a freelancer like Turse to take the lead in writing and researching such an important story. He apparently had never written any major news article for the Times or other large mainstream newspapers, according to a Factiva news search.

Who Is Nick Turse?

Lots of newspapers use freelancers, to be sure. But untested freelancers seldom if ever play prominent roles on major stories, with the notable exception of foreign freelancers and stringers – especially all those “local hires” in Iraq who are dying in large numbers.

In light of the disturbing allegations in “The War Crimes Files,” an important question arises: Who is Nick Turse?

It takes only a little Internet sleuthing and Googling to learn of his ties to radical leftist causes and publications, ties that Times editors surely knew about. Knowing about this background explains much about Turse's apparent obsession with atrocity stories – just so long, to be sure, as it's U.S. troops committing atrocities and not North Vietnamese troops and the Viet Cong. Their
terror tactics were widespread, part of official strategy and policy. It's almost certain they killed far more civilians than U.S. forces. The Democracy Project website pointed this out by citing detailed statistics, and it raised questions of its own about Turse and the Times' tendency to focus mainly on U.S. misdeeds.

Ultimately, however, messy details about the enemy's terror tactics are unlikely to trouble Turse, a dedicated leftist in the spirit of the 1960’s radicals he admires. Like so many in today’s left, Turse’s blame-America-first philosophy undoubtedly leaves him unable to put historical events into the proper focus as he portrays American troops as savages. In another era, most newspaper editors would have looked at Turse as problematic, but not today. His seamless move to the Times from radical web sites and lefty magazines says much about mainstream journalism today – and about newspaper editors who, having come of age in the 1960s, now control the levers of power.

"Kill Anything That Moves"

Like many people with such political views, Turse, ironically, appears to live a comfortable and privileged life. As a PhD student at Columbia University’s Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health, the title of Turse’s dissertation in 2005 was appropriate: "
Kill Anything That Moves: U.S. War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965-1973."

Interestingly, the Times' biography of Turse mentioned only that he uncovered details of Vietnam atrocities “while researching his doctoral dissertation." No mention was made of his dissertation’s title, which presumably defined his focus: atrocities committed only by American troops.

Nor did the editor’s note mention two intriguing aspects of Turse's dissertation. One is its obviously false claim that U.S. troops committed atrocities during the entire war as a matter of military “doctrine” – what Turse called a “Doctrine of Atrocity.” Moreover, Turse claimed this atrocity-producing doctrine "was part of a long legacy of the U.S. military's conduct during wars against racial Others over the prior 100 years."

Ultimately, the abstract for “Kill Anything That Moves” reads like it was lifted from any of the angry books and articles of the Vietnam War years, notwithstanding, of course, its obligatory reference to Columbia's late Edward Said and his controversial book “Orientialism,” (1978).

No matter how bad Vietnam was, Iraq is not Vietnam in spite of how much Turse, his fellow travelers, and Times editors want it to be. The pathologies that existed in that war, during some time periods and in some places, are in fact not evident in Iraq among professional and well-trained military forces.

A list of Turse’s academic interests and accomplishments may be seen here. However, he appears to lack credentials in Vietnam studies, observed Democracy Project. The same may be said of his dissertation advisor,
Amy L. Fairchild.

Anti-War Protester

When Turse was not immersed in archives derived from investigations undertaken by the military and nation he despises, he spent some of his time at anti-war demonstrations. At New York’s 2004 Republican National Convention, he writes of being “
illegally arrested” and hauled to a detention center dubbed “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”

However, Turse appears to have spent most of his time outside of academia working as a freelance journalist, a trade he continues to practice. Don't look for any of his work in mainstream publications, however. His only mainstream news piece, according to a Factiva search, was his recent atrocity story in the Times. On the other hand, Turse’s byline regularly pops up on various leftist and antiwar websites and publications. On some of them, his
biography describes his journalistic expertise as the “military-corporate complex, the homeland security state, and various other topics.”

Praised Columbine Shooters

And what might be those “various other topics”? In a truly bizarre article about the massacre at Columbine High School, Turse idealized troubled teenage shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, portraying them as modern-day radicals. No matter that seven years ago, they murdered 12 fellow students, a teacher, and wounded 24 others – before committing suicide.

Americans were horrified, but not Turse. He argued that the teenagers had “good reason” for “fighting the American educational system and, by extension, the so-called American way of life.” His article, "
New Morning, Changing Weather: Radical Youth of the Millennial Age,” was published in the winter 2000 issue of the online academic journal 49th Parallel.

“Approve or disapprove of their methods, vilify them as miscreants, but don’t dare disregard these modern radicals as anything less than the latest incarnation of disaffected insurgents waging the ongoing American Revolution.”

“I propose that kids killing kids may be the radical protest of our age, and that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may be the Mark Rudd and Abbie Hoffman figures of today.”

Turse concluded that “the struggle in which these boys are engaged may be as fundamentally important as ending the war in Vietnam (or imperialism, or racism, etc.) was to the hippies, Yippies, Diggers, and Panthers of the bygone era.”

Given the foregoing, it’s easy to see why Turse is so intent on rehashing every brutish incident that occurred in the Vietnam War and digging up and publicizing new ones – an endeavor, to be sure, that he’s been able to undertake thanks to the U.S. military’s own investigations. It’s the same military, ironically, that Turse despises.

It’s hard to know what to make of Turse, a young man with some odd contradictions. He’s upset at 40-year-old reports of atrocities allegedly committed by U.S. troops, yet he seems positively gleeful over the Columbine massacre.

Gaining a better understanding of the Vietnam War is clearly important. However, it seems unlikely Turse has the intellectual flexibility and openness to balance the war’s moral complexities and put the role of the U.S. military in an appropriate context. He sees what he wants to see. One wonders how he interpreted archival materials on alleged U.S. atrocities; perhaps co-author Nelson provided some balance.

L.A. Times: Help Wanted

All of which leads to another question: How did Turse convince editors at the Times to hire him as a freelancer? Did he find a kindred spirit in the newsroom, a true believer who shared his political views? Or perhaps he was hired based on the strength of his writing portfolio?

To land a freelance gig or staff position at a newspaper – any newspaper – applicants normally must impress an editor that they can write well, accurately, and in a balanced and intellectually honest fashion. (Well, OK, maybe the last two criteria no longer apply as much, but let’s say they still do for the sake of argument.)

Which one of Turse’s articles might have impressed the Times' editors?Perhaps it was one he wrote for the website “Unknown News”: "
Marine Atrocities in Iraq War Provide Link to Brutal Past.”

Wrote Turse: “Atrocities are...a long-held Marine Corps tradition, as evidenced by the commission of atrocities by U.S. Marines during the Philippines Insurrection, the “Banana War” interventions in Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the Pacific theater during World War II and in later conflicts.”

Or maybe Times editors liked an article he co-authored at that compared war-ravaged Iraq to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, claiming that both are “morphing into a single entity.” They will be “devoured by the same limited set of corporations, let loose and overseen by the same small set of Bush administration officials” asserted the article: "
Corporations of the Whirlwind; The Reconstruction of New Oraq.”

“In George Bush's new world of globalization, first comes the destruction and only then does one sit down at the planetary table to sup.”

In another article Turse accused the U.S. military of brainwashing children by carrying out a “a full-scale occupation of the entertainment industry.”

“Through toys, especially videogames, the military and its partners in academia and the entertainment industry have not only blurred the line between entertainment and war, but created a media culture thoroughly capable of preparing America's children for armed conflict,” Turse wrote in "
Bringing the War Home: “The New Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex at War and Play,” published by in October, 2003.

Perhaps Turse had some sort of inside track to a Times editor, a possibility given some of the folks who invariably are found at the Times and other major news outlets. One example is
Mary Beth Sheridan, a former Times reporter who now writes for The Washington Post.

Last year, Sheridan told a “first-amendment breakfast” at Columbia University that, as a result of being an imbedded reporter in Iraq, she realized U.S. troops were in fact “
not blood-thirsty maniacs.” They were “really decent people” and even “sweet,” she said. On the other hand, a senior reporter at the Times, who also has visited Iraq, told me in a private conversation that U.S. soldiers were essentially jocks and "killers."

Perhaps Times editors were impressed that Turse was quoted as an expert on Vietnam War-era atrocities in a New York Times article in December, 2003. "
Report on Brutal Vietnam Campaign Stirs Memories.” The article dealt with an investigative series by The Toledo Blade on alleged Vietnam War atrocities. Written in the run-up to the war in Iraq, it provided no new and significant insights about the Vietnam War, yet it won a Pulitzer Prize.

Perhaps one of Turse's writing awards impressed Times editors. In February, 2004, he won the "
Stakhanovite of the Month" prize from "The Voice of the Turtle,” an online journal of leftist politics and culture.

“Comrade Turse,” as the journal called him, was cited for his poetry and other writings.

Having published his Times story on Vietnam War atrocities, Turse has joined the ranks of big-time mainstream journalism. He’ll undoubtedly get another “Stakhanovite” award. His editors at the Times deserve one too. Turse couldn’t have done it without them.

Author's note: “Who is Nick Turse?” was originally published at ModernConservative. This post has a few additional paragraphs dealing with Turse’s PhD dissertation. The Free Republic website provides a rough-and-tumble discussion of the ModCon article. Also, for additional analysis of "The War Crimes Files" see For incisive media criticism of this and other issues, visit Antimedia.