December 5, 2008

AP's terror photographer honored in NYC

By David Paulin

It was during Iraq's most savage violence that a former shopkeeper named Bilal Hussein proved an invaluable asset to the Associated Press as one of its hastily trained photographers. His chummy ties to terrorists --“insurgents” as the AP's stories called them – enabled him to produce remarkable close-up photos of them and their grisly handiwork. In 2005, one of Hussein's photos of the Battle of Fallujah helped the AP snag a Pulitzer Prize for a package of Iraq photos in breaking-news photography. Like other Iraqi AP photographers, Hussein had the uncanny ability to show up just as an attack occurred.

As Iraq was gripped by unspeakable atrocities and violence that many likened to a civil war, U.S. military authorities detained Hussein, citing what they described as his troubling links to terrorists and terror-related activities. They called him a “terrorist media operative,” much to the outrage of AP executives and lawyers.

What ever became of Hussein?

After two years in prison, he escaped the possibility of a criminal trial when he was freed under a general amnesty that took effect seven months ago. He did not, however, return in disgrace to his old life as a shopkeeper in Fallujah, selling phone cards and computers.

Instead, Hussein returned to the AP in good standing, and last week he was honored by a glittery audience of media elites and celebrities at Manhattan's posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Hussein spoke to the captivated audience on a subject dear to his heart – journalism ethics.

For the rest of the article, go to The American Thinker.

November 24, 2008

McDonald's Shows the way in France

By David Paulin

France has a problem: Its venerable cafes are going by the wayside.

How come? According to a recent article in the New York Times, it's all due to "changing attitudes, habits and now a poor economic climate."

The Times in particular singles out France's poor economic climate for the quickening demise of its venerable cafes. One red-eyed cafe owner relates: “People fear the future, and now with the banking crisis, they are even more afraid. They buy a bottle at the supermarket and they drink it at home.”

Yet who do you suppose is doing well all over France? Well, none other than America's most famous restaurant -- McDonald's! Indeed, a recent corporate statement from the all-American food retailer notes:

In Europe, strong performance in the U.K., France and Russia and positive results in nearly all other markets drove a comparable sales increase of 9.8%. Unique menu items and promotions as well as everyday value options continue to resonate with customers and drive results.
In fact, McDonald's says, its strong international sales are fueling much of its growth -- and thus making it possible to increase its dividend a whopping 33 percent!

None of this ought to be very surprising to anybody who has visited France in recent years. On the few times I've been there, I never found the traditional cafes to be all that customer-oriented and cheerful -- things that customers demand these days, whether in America or Europe. Yet just the opposite was the case at places like McDonald's! There, the service was great. The counter workers were efficient and friendly.

Could lousy service and the inability to adopt to their customers' tastes be the real reason for the demise of France's traditional cafes -- and all the bankruptcies being declared by their cheerless and sullen owners? It's an issue the Times does not address; and nor, interestingly, does the Times quote any anti-American types who blame the demise of France's traditional cafes on places like McDonald's. Perhaps nobody in an increasingly conservative France -- nobody with any credibility -- can put forth that argument anymore and be taken seriously.

Here's a suggestion: Have some of McDonald's managers take over publishing responsibilities at the financially troubled New York Times. Maybe they'll be able to put the paper on the road to once again paying its shareholders a decent dividend.

For a discussion, go to The American Thinker and FreeRepublic.

November 9, 2008

LinkHit-and-Run: Death in a 'Sanctuary City'

By David Paulin

It was one of the strangest hit-and-runs police had ever seen in Austin, Texas. Early last September, officers answering a call at 4:19 a.m. found a young man dead along a highway. They surmised he was a motorcyclist. He was, after all, wearing motorcycle garb – a helmet, black-leather jacket, boots. A few hundred feet from the body, officers spotted a single skid mark running down the highway, and disappearing from sight. Oddly, no motorcycle could be found. A check of the victim's driver's license revealed his name: Eric M. Laufer.

Laufer, 25, was a highly-regarded musician and songwriter in Austin – and unlike many musicians here, the graduate of Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music was politically conservative. Laufer's political leanings and interest in politics were a new passion, say his friends. He'd enthusiastically supported the presidential candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas who, among other positions, advocated a get-tough policy on illegal immigration and border security.

Laufer made no secret of his political views, even though open-borders Austin is a bastion of ultra-liberal politics -- and often extremely intolerant of Republicans. On his Harley-Davidson, he prominently displayed a campaign sticker: “Ron Paul for President 2008.” And even after Paul dropped out of the race months ago, Laufer continued sporting the sticker. It was on his motorcycle when he died – the victim, ironically, of an “undocumented worker” most likely from Mexico. Laufer's motorcycle was rear-ended by a SUV traveling at a tremendous rate of speed. He was killed instantly.

Laufer died amid an epidemic of deadly hit-and-runs in Austin, the state capital. It's being fueled in part by illegal immigrants and unassimilated young Hispanics -young men who, according to police arrest records, engage in drunk driving in this city of 740,000 much more frequently than other ethnic and racial groups.

For the rest of the article,
go to The American Thinker.






If to be found in your county and bring him before me, a Judge, at the Austin Municipal Court, Travis County, Texas, at my office in Austin, in the said county, Travis, then and there to answer the State of Texas for an offense against the laws of said state, to-wit


2nd Degree Felony

of which offense he is accused by the written complaint, filed before me under oath of Detective C. Francois #3371.



Undersigned Affiant, Who After Being Duly Sworn By Me, On Oath, Makes The Following Statement: I have good reason to believe and do believe that Jose Luis Dorantes, WM, 10-13-87, on or about the 4th day of Sept 2008, in the incorporated limits of the City of Austin, County Travis and the State of Texas, did then and there commit the offense of:

Manslaughter - 2nd Degree Felony

My belief of the foregoing statement is based upon information provided to me by Austin Police Report 2008-2480294 and follow up investigation. On Sept. 4, 2008 at approximately 04:19, APD officers responded to a crash in the 8400 block of Research north bound proper. The caller stated that there was a male down; he was possibly hit by a vehicle and he had possibly been riding a motorcycle. Officers arrived to find Eric M. Laufer, WM, 11-07-82, deceased on the side of the road.

In the lane next to the body was a single tire mark. This mark identified the area o f impact and direction of travel. There were no pre-impact skid marks. This skid mark continued for 6,168.5 feet, or 1.1 6 miles. At the end of this tire mark, on a traffic island near Burnet Rd., was a wrecked 2003 Harley Davidson motorcycle registered to Eric M. Laufer. It had significant rear end damage. The rear tire had been ground to the point that it lost structural integrity. Crumpled between the rear t ire and the frame of the motorcycle was a Texas license plate - Z23JXB. This plate returned to a 1995 GMC Yukon at 1904 Hearthstone #---, Austin.

Affiant immediately went to this location and found said GMC with matching rear license plate and front end damage consistent with a motorcycle collision. The registered owner states that Jose Luis Dorantes, WM,10-13-87 had control, care, and custody of the GMC during the time in question.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2008. witness A. Coy stated that he saw a blue SUV exit Research at Burnet at 80-85 MPH. The SUV had a motorcycle attached to the front of it.

The Travis County Medical Examiner report states that Laufer's "mid brain is nearly transected near its attachment to the pons" and "the heart is avulsed from all of its vascular attachments and is lying free within the left pleural cavity. "

It was reckless of Dorantes to strike Laufer from behind. It was reckless of Dorantes to not engage in effective emergency braking before hitting Lafuer. It was reckless of Dorantes to be traveling at a speed excessive enough to rip Laufer's heart loose and nearly internally decapitate him. It was reckless of Dorantes to ignore the body of Laufer on the motorcycle and hood of his vehicle for approximately 317 feet. It was further reckless of Dorantes to drive for 6,168.5 feet with the motorcycle pinned upright to the front of his SUV after impact; ignoring the sound and smell of burning rubber and the riderless motorcycle just a few feet in front of his face.

Affiant believes Jose Luis Dorantes, WM, 10-13-87, violated Texas Penal Code 19.04, Manslaughter, by recklessly operating a 1995 GMC SUV and striking and killing Eric M. Laufer in the 8400 blk of Research, a public street, in Austin, Travis County.

--Austin Police Det. C. Francois, vehicular homicide unit

Author's Note: I removed the apartment number for Jose Luis Dorantes' friends at 1904 Hearthstone, although the number is contained in the original affidavit.

Where's a cop when you need one?

On a recent Friday afternoon, I was driving in stop-and-go traffic when I got rear-ended by a young man: He was driving an old Lexus with bad brakes, and he was for Mexico. For some reason, he preferred not to deal with the cops.

He needn't have worried: The cops never responded to a call for assistance.

I'd just stopped my prized second-generation Acura Integra in front of another car. I glanced into my rear-view mirror – at the same second the Lexus was barreling straight at me. The driver's mouth was a agape.

A loud thump. My car jolted violently, then careened into the car in front of me. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon on a busy traffic artery, Lamar Blvd. Nobody was hurt.

“Dame it!” I blurted out.

I unbuckled my seatbelt, and I got out. The driver hit me, a slight guy in his late 30s with curly dark hair, walked nervously up to me. Apologizing profusely, he offered me a handshake. But I pretended not to notice the gesture. I despise irresponsible drivers, and I was angry.

“What happened?” I said curtly.

He was talkative and seemed eager to establish a rapport with me – too eager, I thought. After a few minutes, he mentioned that his car – an aging weather-beaten red Lexus -- was borrowed. He also admitted that its brakes were bad; that's what had supposedly caused the accident. He mentioned he was from Mexico, noting this fact with a trace of pride. He spoke remarkably good English and could have been a Texan.

To my surprise, my Acura seemed not to have suffered any obvious damage. But that wasn't the case with the car I'd hit, which was in like-new condition. It had suffered some scratches, according to the driver and passenger. And who could argue with them: Both were lawyers.

The driver, a middle-aged woman with short brown hair, had been driving her boss to the same place where I was heading – Austin's Criminal Justice Center. They needed to get there in a hurry: Deadline-type legal matters, she explained. Coincidentally, I was driving there to get a copy of an arrest warrant for Jose Luis Dorantes – the alleged hit-and-run driver whom police say killed a well-known local musician, Eric Laufer.

The woman lawyer noted her colleague used a wheel chair, and so she pulled it out of the car's trunk and wheeled it to his door. He eased himself into the chair -- a middle-aged man with Asian features. He called the police on his cell phone.

The driver who'd hit me was growing increasingly nervous. He said he preferred not to deal with the police for various reasons. He didn't elaborate, but if there was any damage he said he'd be grateful if we could work something out.

I shook my head. I preferred to file a report with the police, I said. Surely, a cop would be by in a few minutes, I thought. After all, our three cars were blocking one of two traffic-choked lanes of Lamar Blvd. at about 3:30 in the afternoon. A line of bumper-to-bumper traffic inched past us.

As I stood by my Acura speaking with the Lexus driver, the woman lawyer walked up and handed me her colleague's cell phone. The police dispatcher was on the line, she said, so I could give her my information. Meanwhile, the lawyer took the Lexus driver over to her car, and together they inspected the scratches on her rear bumper.

As I gave the police dispatcher a blow-by-blow, I noticed the Lexus driver opening his wallet: He handed the woman lawyer some money.

Some 30 minutes after the accident, the lawyers left a business card with me, and they drove off. They had their deadline to meet. For my part, I was determined to report the accident: The driver who'd hit me should not be on the road, I felt.

I copied down his name and driver's license number from his Mexican driver's license. However, he kept asking me for a favor: Could we work out something, anything to keep the police form getting involved?

He'd given the lawyers $20, he said. He opened his wallet to show me a few more bills – a few tens and twenties. But I wasn't interested in money. I shook my head. I wondered how long I could keep him there, however. Obviously, he was anxious to leave. I'd been unable to point to any damage on my Acura.

Up and down Lamar, no patrol car was in sight. I didn't have my cell phone with me -- so I couldn't phone the police to see when they'd be coming. Finally, after 45 to 50 minutes, I lost my patience.

“OK, let's forget it,” I said. “Just be sure you don't drive behind me!” I added. He assured me he wouldn't.

I felt bad that an officer might be showing up at any minute, wasting his time after we'd gone. But what else could I do? Certainly, I couldn't hang around forever on Lamar Blvd., blocking traffic and keeping a guy there who was anxious to leave.

Nearly two hours later, after visiting the Criminal Justice Center, I drove over to the Austin Police Department, just a few blocks away. I wanted to report the accident.

At the front desk, a taciturn police officer spent a few minutes looking up the report I'd made. And then he shocked me with this admission: A patrol car had not yet been dispatched to the accident scene!

Incredibly, the officer not only said this with a straight face -- he said I needed to be understanding. The police department, he explained, had been undergoing a shift change when the accident was called in – and so delays were to be expected.

This was obviously one stupid cop, a guy who did not understand the first thing about “to protect and to serve.” But I just nodded and held my tongue. He seemed like the kind of cop with whom you shouldn't argue.

Look, I explained, I had all the information they might need for the accident: license plate numbers; the Lexus driver's name (Alejandro Patino Sanchez); his Mexican driver's license number, etc. However, the officer pointed out that all the parties had left the accident scene – and in such cases it was presumed the motorists had amicably resolved things.

Sensing my displeasure, the officer handed me a form to fill out: I took it, smiled, and walked out. Outside, I tossed it into a trash can. I was not going to waste any more of my time.

And so it goes in Austin, Texas.

Today, a young man with issues that he'd prefer to keep from the police may be driving around a Lexus (Texas tags: DJX095) with bad brakes. With guys like that in Austin, you can understand why Austin's vehicular homicide unit is so busy.


Austin Police Crack Down on Dangerous Motorists

Motorists and pedestrians in Austin face two big hazards, according to the police – drunk drivers and motorists who run red lights. Now, the police are targeting both offenses.

Recently, Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that motorists who declined to take a breathalyzer test – 50 percent refuse -- would have their blood drawn. And what if they refuse the blood test? The police chief said they'd face even more charges than they otherwise would have faced.

Predictably, rights activists are calling the new policy a violation of civil liberties. So are some local attorneys who specialize in defending drunk drivers and getting them off on legal technicalities.

Why do lots of motorists drive drunk in Austin? According to the police chief: "Life is about choices, and sadly too many Austinites, too many Texans and too many Americans are making bad choices when it comes to drinking and driving."

He added, "Our hope is to save lives, to prevent destruction and to change behavior." He made no comment on police statistics regarding which group of Austin residents has the biggest problem with drunk driving.

To combat motorist running red lights, the city also has been installing cameras at various intersections, with the idea that they'll snap photos of motorists – and their license plates – as they race through a red light. Some civil libertarians are upset with that initiative, too.

According to some Austin residents, if the police did a better job of traffic enforcement, the cameras wouldn't be necessary.

October 1, 2008

Caracas: Murder Capital of the World

By David Paulin

Caracas now ranks as the world's No. 1 murder capital, according to Foreign Policy magazine. It's an assessment that will surprise few credible Venezuela watchers. During President Hugo Chávez's tumultuous ten-year rule, Venezuela's quality-of-life indices have been in an ongoing tailspin – thanks to epic levels of corruption and mismanagement; not to mention El Presidente's increasing concentration of power in his own hands.

When I was a Caracas-based journalist in the 1990s, Colombia's Bogotá was the world's No. 1 murder capital. But in the years before Chávez's election, high-crime Venezuela was catching up, boasting South America's “fastest-growing” murder rate. Now, it has replaced Bogotá as the No. 1 murder capital -- thanks to Chávez's vision of “21st Century socialism.” The city of 3.2 million is plagued as well by food shortages (unprecedented during an oil boom) and increasing numbers of human rights abuses.

Violent crime has been a No. 1 concern of Venezuelans for years. Under Chávez, however, “Venezuela’s official homicide rate has climbed 67 percent — mostly due to increased drug and gang violence,” noted Foreign Policy. Venezuela's “official” murder rate is 130 per 100,000 residents, but “some speculate” it's actually closer to 160 per 100,000, according to Foreign Policy, for as the magazine explained,

...(O)fficial homicide statistics likely fall short of the mark because they omit prison-related murders as well as deaths that the state never gets around to properly “categorizing.” The numbers also don’t count those who died while “resisting arrest,” suggesting that Caracas’s cops—already known for their brutality against student protesters—might be cooking the books.

All in all, Caracas has resembled a war zone in recent years, and that raises an interesting question: How might Venezuela's murder rate compare to the rate of violent deaths in Iraq? Indeed, as Iraq's violence soared in 2006, Venezuela was itself a combat zone with 12,557 reported murders. That amounted to 34 murders per day – or the rough equivalent of the lives snuffed out by a typical suicide bombing in Iraq; it population is about the same size as Venezuela's 27 million.

During 2006, plenty of naysaying journalists and pundits were on the Iraq death watch, pronouncing it a hopelessly “failed state.” Yet none were rushing to make similarly pessimistic pronouncements about Chávez's worker's paradise.

According to Foreign Policy's reckoning, Venezuela's murder rate is well ahead of four other top murder capitals that (in order of those boasting the worst rates) are: Cape Town, South Africa; New Orleans; Moscow; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

In mid-September, Venezuela got another black eye when New-York based Human Rights Watch issued a a 230-page report: “A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.” Rights abuses under Chávez's reign had “undercut journalists’ freedom of expression, workers’ freedom of association, and civil society’s ability to promote human rights in Venezuela,” the report explained. The rights group's director for the Americas, José Miguel Vivanco, observed:

Ten years ago, Chávez promoted a new constitution that could have significantly improved human rights in Venezuela. But rather than advancing rights protections, his government has since moved in the opposite direction, sacrificing basic guarantees in pursuit of its own political agenda.

Vivanco and fellow deputy director Daniel Wilkinson got more than they bargained for when perhaps somewhat foolishly (or as a testament to their intestinal fortitude), they released the report at a Caracas news conference. According to a statement from the rights group,

Vivanco and Wilkinson were intercepted on the night of September 18 at their hotel in Caracas and handed a letter accusing them of anti-state activities. Their cell phones were confiscated and their requests to be allowed to contact their embassies were denied. They were put into cars, taken to the airport and put on a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil...

Yet despite such thuggish behavior, Chávez remains an admirable figure among fashionable liberal elites, with celebrities such as Danny Glover, Cindy Sheehan, and Naomi Campbell beating a path to Caracas, heaping praise upon El Presidente and his socialist paradise. So, who might they be rooting for in the upcoming presidential election?

As to those other top murder capitals:

In the so-called “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa (as political elites like to call it) Cape Town suffered a 12.7 percent spike in its murder rate from 2006 to 2007. And that has got “local politicians worried, especially as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup,” Foreign Policy noted. Fortunately, athletes and spectators are unlikely to encounter the violence (62 murders per 100,000) in the city of 3.5 million, for as the magazine noted:

The city’s homicides usually take place in suburban townships rather than in the more upscale urban areas where tourists visit. According to the South African Police Service, most of the Cape Town area’s violent crimes happen between people who know one another, including a horrific case last year in which four males doused a female friend in gasoline and lit her on fire.

And then there's New Orleans, which Mayor Ray Nagin famously declared would be rebuilt as a “chocolate” city after Hurricane Katrina. “You can't have New Orleans no other way.”

Despite the mayor's racially tinged bluster, it's been downhill for New Orleans ever since. Just how bad is debatable, however. For just as in disorganized Third World countries, getting good statistics about New Orleans is problematic. Foreign Policy observed of the city's murder rate: “Estimates range from 67 (New Orleans Police Department) to 95 (Federal Bureau of Investigation) per 100,000.”

Why is New Orleans so violent? Referring to the city's post-Katrina crime surge, Foreign Policy explained that “drug dealers have been fighting over a smaller group of users, leading to many killings.” But the magazine offeed other theories for the violence, too. Revealing a shockingly naïve liberal worldview, its editors soft-peddled the reasons for New Orleans' dysfunction, claiming: “With its grinding poverty, an inadequate school system, a prevalence of public housing, and a high incarceration rate, the Big Easy has long been plagued with a high rate of violent crime.”

Yet as Foreign Policy's editors ought to know, the relationship between poverty and crime is tenuous. Poor countries are not necessarily violent ones. For example, after a devastating typhoon swamped parts of Indonesia, there were no reports of runway crime -- no widespread looting, not tourists and residents being raped and shot – even though police and security forces were utterly disorganized. Yet that's what happened in Ray Nagin “chocolate” city following Hurricane Katrina, though not to the extent, to be sure, that the news media originally claimed.

Foreign Policy's suggestion that a “high incarceration” rate has anything to do with New Orleans' high murder rate is especially puzzling. Obviously, putting violent criminals in jail ought to decrease the murder rate!

Then there's Moscow's murder rate, an “estimated” 9.6 per 100,000. It's “nothing compared to Caracas or Cape town, but the city still ranks way above other major European capitals,” Foreign Policy noted. “London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid, for instance, all had rates below 2 murders per 100,000 in 2006.”

And there's an interesting aspect of Moscow's crime, too -- a surge in the kind of crime that many liberal America haters have been noticeably silent about – hate crimes. Foreign Policy writes:

The Russian capital’s homicide rate is down 15 percent this year from last, but the recent surge in hate crimes—including the deadly beating of a Tajik carpenter by a gang of youths on Valentine’s Day — suggests that the lull might be temporary. Sixty ethnically motivated killings have already happened this year, part of a sixfold increase in hate crimes committed in the city during 2007. Several of the murders have been attributed to ultranationalist skinhead groups like the “Spas,” who killed 11 people in a 2006 bombing of a multiethnic market in northern Moscow. The Russian government has finally stepped up to combat the problem, assisting migrant groups and cracking down on street gangs. Still, the continued rise in extremist attacks is worrisome. And along with migrants, journalists and other high-profile people in Moscow might also want to be a little wary in Russia—62 contract murders took place in the country in 2005, according to official statistics.

In Papua New Guinea, the murder rate was 54 per 100,000, according to official 2004 statistics. The violence is driven by gang activity and “high levels” of police corruption, according to Foreign Policy, which observed:

...(L)ast November, five officers were charged with offenses ranging from murder to rape. And in August, the city’s police barracks were put on a three-month curfew due to a recent slew of bank heists reportedly planned inside the stations by officers and their co-conspirators. Rising tensions between Chinese migrants and native Papua New Guineans are also cause for alarm, as are reports of increased activity of organized Chinese crime syndicates.

September 13, 2008

Set for publication next month, “The Jewel of Medina” may enrage conservatives and liberals alike


A new novel may enrage conservatives and liberals alike.

Random House's cancellation of “The Jewel of Medina” ignited a furor last month – all when a Op-Ed article in the Wall Street Journal revealed why the historical novel was pulled by cowed publishing executives. They feared it might push Muslim fanatics into a murderous frenzy, similar to what occurred during Europe's infamous “Cartoon Riots,” and after publication ten years ago of Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses." The episode provided a “window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world,” Asra Q. Nomani, a college journalism professor and Muslim, wrote in her tell-all WSJ Op-Ed.

What was author Sherry Jones' novel all about?

Amid the right-to-publish scandal ignited by Random House's decision, nobody knew much about “The Jewel of Medina.” Only that it was, as Jones put it, a meticulously researched “love story” about the Prophet Muhammad and his favorite wife, the child-bride A'shia.

Earlier this month, publishers in the U.S. and Britain announced that they'll release the 46-year-old journalist's debut novel next month. Random House aside, Western publishers ultimately stood up to potential Muslim bullying. So Jones career as a novelist is back on track, and bedrock Western values ultimately prevailed, more or less.

Now, however, a new controversy is likely to emerge -- at least if comments that Jones made to this author during an e-mail interview are anything to go by. They concern her views on Islam, religion, and even the Bush administration. Interestingly, political conservatives and oddball liberals alike may cringe over “The Jewel of Medina,” though for totally different reasons. Jones, for her part, said she hopes the novel and it sequel well set about “building bridges” between the West and Islam, with what she called “this other, demonized culture.” (Excerpts of the Q&A interview with Jones are provided below.)

Publishing executives on both sides of the Atlantic are upbeat about the book that Random House thought was too hot to handle. In America, “The Jewel of Medina” is being brought out by Beaufort Books of New York, an independent publishing house (the one handling O.J. Simpson's demented “If I did it”).

And in Britain, the novel will be published by prestigious publishing house Gibson Square. Publishing director Martin Rynja said he was “completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays. I immediately felt that it was imperative to publish it. In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear.”

Gibson plans to bring out the sequel next year. The publisher has a formidable list of authors and titles, many appealing to conservatives, including presidential candidate John McCain's book “Faith of My Fathers.”

The publishing deals, of course, were terrific news for Jones after her disappointment over Random House's cancellation. The publisher had paid her a $100,000 advance, money she got to keep. But considering her six years of hard work, it was not a lot: She'd anticipated handsome royalties, she said. Jones had expected as well to have embarked last month on a national tour of her novel, a pick of Book of the Month Club. It was supposed to have coincided with “The Jewel of Medina's” publication.

None of this ever happened, of course.

Random House executives, egged on by a politically correct University of Texas professor of Middle Eastern studies in Austin, decided “The Jewel of Medina” was too risky to publish. And after the WSJ's attention-getting Op-Ed, Jones quickly found herself in the center of a controversy over a book that, much to her irritation, nobody had even read! Suddenly, her career as a novelist seemed to be in a giant stall. A veteran journalist, she'd been reporting from Spokane, Washington, for the Bureau of National Affairs, a news agency.

Gibson Square's announcement came a few weeks after a Serbian publisher pulled 1,000 Serbian-language editions of “The Jewel of Medina,” and apologized for releasing it, after a Muslim group expressed anger over the novel. In Spain, Italy and Hungary, publishing rights have been lined up, too, Jones said.

A new controversy?

Jones and her novel may be reviled by two of the most antagonistic groups imaginable: political conservatives on the right, and their strangest counterparts on the left – all those oddball post-modern liberals. They're the ones, of course, who loath America and even Western Civilization itself -- and yet they positively adore non-Western cultures; and the more brutish those cultures, then so much the better!

Last month, one of these post-modern liberals, Denise Spellberg (the politically correct professor of Middle Eastern studies), was widely cast as one of the villains in the “right-to-publish” scandal. All after nervous Random House executives got Spellberg's edict about “The Jewel of Medina,” which the professor was asked to review. The novel, Spellberg declared, was inflammatory, unfair to Islam, and unfit to publish! Apparently, Random House's “security experts” also agreed with Spellberg's assessment that the novel could spark violence, even become a “national security” issue.

What promoted Jones to write “The Jewel of Medina” and a sequel? Her inspiration, she explained, came from the 9/11 attacks, which prompted her to delve more deeply into Islam.

It was an understandable reaction, of course. After 9/11, many Americans wanted to know more about Islam. And many pondered the dark side of political Islam (“Islamofacism” as some call it) not to mention backwardness of the Middle East. Jones -- a self-described feminist brought up as a Baptist – related that Islam's oppression of women particularly fascinated her, prompting her to take a scholarly journey into the religion's earliest period.

And to her surprise, she liked what she saw!

Jones found an Islam she could relate to, an Islam she could understand. In its beginnings, Islam did not oppress woman, she concluded. Women were liberated! Early Islam's women, she explained, prayed side-by-side their men; fought with them in battle; and even advised them on important issues.

And the most remarkable women of all was A'isha. Jones said she was “particularly captivated with A'sha's wit, intelligence, generosity, courage, and leadership.”

A'isha, the Prophet Muhammad's favourite and youngest wife, elicits much controversy today, most of it revolving around her precise age when she married Muhammad; not to mention her age when their marriage was consummated. Some apologists for men who enjoy sex with pubescent girls say A'isha's age is irrelevant. Muhammad could not possibly have been a paedophile: He was merely following God's command.

Jones, for her part, praises A'isha as a brave warrior, scholar, and a valued adviser to Muhammad. She even finds A'isha inspiring, considers her a kindred soul-mate. Accordingly, she related, “I felt driven to tell (A'isha's) story because it empowered me, and I hoped -- and still hope -- it will have the same effect on others, male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim.”

Of course, some Muslims and oddball liberals – some taking their cue from Columbia University's late Edward Said and his self-pitying book “Orientialism” -- will complain that no white Western woman like Jones has any business writing about about Islam and A'isha. People like her, after all, could never be objective: By nature, they're racist and presumptuous, brimming with cultural superiority and imperialism!

To make such claims against Jones, however, could be problematic; for despite her Baptist upbringing, she no longer embrace any particular religious viewpoint, she says. And there can be little doubt about that: She demonstrates none of the self-confidence that many, if not most, Muslims express about their religion and culture.

She explains: “I embrace all religions now as containing Truth. I believe God is Love. My years as a devout Christian helped me in the writing of my books because I still remember what it is to pray constantly and ask myself what God would want of me in any particular situation. I still rely on my spiritual self -- my inner A'isha -- for comfort, wisdom, and moral guidance.”

A'isha, interestingly, also is an endearing figure to Spellberg, the university professor of Middle Eastern studies, who has devoted much scholarship her. A'isha does, indeed, appear to have been remarkable woman for her time, even if she was on the wrong side of history, based on what the Muslim world looks like today.

That said, something seems rather odd about A'isha's groupies in the West, people like Jones and Spellberg. Specifically, it's their enthusiastic embrace and identification with strange foreign cultures and dead civilizations, and the most illustrious figures inhabiting them.

Certainly, it's not as if there are a dearth of admirable figures (potential soul-mates for today's feminists) in Western Culture and its earliest beginnings. The Bible, after all, is full of strong, remarkable, and intriguing women who played major roles in shaping Christianity and Western culture. And if it's female military leaders Jones fancies, then what about the Old Testament's Deborah? Commanding an Army of 10,000 Israelites, she faced “900 chariots of Iron” when defeating the Canaanite general Sisera.

Well, maybe Jones was home sick when that story was taught in Sunday School. For her, it seems, there's only A'isha, her kindred soul-mate. Then again, perhaps Jones does not say such things because she deeply believes them -- but because it's what she believes will sell. Make what you will of this muddle; of what might be called part of the cultural and spiritual malaise afflicting so many self-doubting Westerners, especially in Europe. There, low birth rates represent a kind of cultural suicide, the subject of Mark Steyn's depressing bestseller, “America Alone: The End of the World as We Know it.”

Bush Derangement Syndrome

The story of Jones and her novel gets stranger, though. Yes, it gets downright weird!

Understandably, Jones was upset over Random House's self-censorship. But whom did she blame for her bad luck, for Random House's cowedly cancellation? Incredibly, it was not Random House -- first and foremost. No, Jones blamed a far more sinister force...the Bush administration!

As Jones explained:

We in the U.S., particularly in New York where the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack occurred, are living in a culture of fear brought on by the World Trade Center attack and fear mongering from the U.S. government. Other countries are more accustomed, I think, to strife and war, since they are not geographically isolated as we are.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not naive. I know there are violent factions within the Muslim community. However, if I let fear stop me from speaking and writing and trying to make a difference in the world, what kind of life would I be living? There are things worse than death. And I have never believed my books -- written with respect and regard for Islam and its Prophet -- would incite violence.

Jones right-to-publish rallying cry is, of course, what you'd expect from any responsible writer. But it's obviously wacky beyond belief to blame the Bush administration for Random House's self-censorship. Responding to her display of Bush Derangement Syndrome, I dashed off an e-mail to her in a pique: “It's interesting that you blame the Bush administration's "fear mongering" for Random House's decision. I'm surprised this angle did not come out in the long WSJ piece, which had set the tone for this whole controversy.”

Jones replied:

No, I blame the culture of fear we live in, which is due in part to the Bush administration's "fear mongering." Please don't confuse the two, and I'm sorry if I was unclear in that regard. Random House made its decision because of very real fear inspired by the 9/11 attacks (they do, after all, live in New York); I'm just saying that our entire culture now walks in fear that's fueled in part by "orange alerts," loss of privacy, rhetoric about an "axis of evil," etc. that we have dealt with since that horrible day. Random House's decision is the latest in a series of decisions made out of fear of offending Muslims (such as the Dunkin' Donuts/Rachael Ray fiasco) which, if I were a Muslim, I would find offensive in itself.

Jones' reference to Rachael Ray concerned the controversy touched off by the television personality when she adorned herself with an Arab headscarf (like the one favoured by the late and wily Palestinian strongman and terrorist Yasser Arafat) in her Dunkin' Donuts television commercial.

And what about charges that the “Jewel of Medina's” love scenes are trashy? Jones' 14-year daughter Maria resolutely defended her mom's novel. Writing to a blogger who had some issues with it, she declared: “My mother's book (which I have actually read), is anything but 'Trashy'. How could anyone, who has not had the opportunity to read this book, judge it without concern. Denise Spellberg ruined my mother's dreams and hard work. She may not have realized to consequences of doing so, but being a member of the Jones family, I do.”

She added: “My mother is a respectable person.”

How might yet another controversy affect sales of “The Jewel of Medina”? Call me a cynic, but I'm betting all those liberals who share Jones' worldview will make “The Jewel of Medina” a best seller.

Excerpts from a Q&A interview in mid-August with Sherry Jones:

DP: “I don't believe I've ever seen a comment from you as to what inspired you to write the novel? Would you elaborate a little on that?

SJ: “I was inspired by post-9/11 news accounts of women's oppression in the Middle East. A feminist, I began reading for more information and discovered that women's roles and situations in Islam's early years, under Muhammad, were much different. Women fought alongside men in battles, prayed with the men in mosques, and advised Muhammad as part of his inner circle of Companions. A'isha, his youngest wife, particularly captivated me with her wit, intelligence, generosity, courage, and leadership.

“She was the first female Islamic scholar, with an extensive knowledge of the Qur'an; she could recite from memory more than 1,000 poems; she advised Muhammad and his successors; and she led troops into battle in the first Islamic civil war, which began the Sunni-Shi'ite rift. I felt driven to tell her story because it empowered me, and I hoped -- and still hope -- it will have the same effect on others, male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim.”

DP: “Were you raised in any particular religion? Would you comment on that?”

SJ: “Yes, I was raised a Baptist. I embrace all religions now as containing Truth; I believe God is Love. My years as a devout Christian helped me in the writing of my books because I still remember what it is to pray constantly and ask myself what God would want of me in any particular situation. I still rely on my spiritual self -- my inner A'isha -- for comfort, wisdom, and moral guidance.”

DP: “As I recall, you got a seizable advance from Random House for the book, $100,000. What happens now? Do you have to return that advance under the contract?”

SJ: “My contract allowed me to keep the advance money I had received and to collect the rest. It may seem seizable until you take into account the fact that I worked six years on both books, and am still working now!”

DP: “Have you gotten what could be described as "hate mail" or any threats? Anything that is of concern to you?

SJ: “I have received some very insulting mail, but not a lot. My only concern is the criticism of me and my books by people who have not yet read them.”

DP: “Presuming you find another publisher for the U.S. market, do you think all the publicity triggered by the cancellation may be a blessing in disguise because of all the free publicity you've gotten?”

SJ: “It will be a blessing if it helps draw attention to my books' messages of women's empowerment and peace, and if it enables my books to reach a wider audience so the work of building bridges with this other, demonized culture can begin. It will not be a blessing if it continues to provoke divisive, hate-filled, racist rhetoric, and if it continues to spread misperceptions about my book.”

DP: “It's interesting that you hit a temporary roadblock in the U.S. -- and yet you've got publication rights in three European countries. How do you explain that?”

SJ: “We in the U.S., particularly in New York where the Sept, 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack occurred, are living in a culture of fear brought on by the World Trade Center attack and fear-mongering from the U.S. government. Other countries are more accustomed, I think, to strife and war, since they are not geographically isolated as we are.

"Don't get me wrong; I'm not naive. I know there are violent factions within the Muslim community. However, if I let fear stop me from speaking and writing and trying to make a difference in the world, what kind of life would I be living? There are things worse than death. And I have never believed my books -- written with respect and regard for Islam and its Prophet -- would incite violence.”

DP: “It seems that your blog is down. Did you take it down or do you have a technical problem? What's going on in respect to your blog?”

SJ: “I took it down because I did not want to offer a forum for discussion of my book by people who have not read it. I realized that it was taking up a lot of my energy and time for a discussion that was not progressing because there is no published book to debate, and I decided that people should use another forum for this discussion. When the book is available to the public to read, I may resume my blog.”

DP: “I was amused to see the response your daughter wrote, and posted on a blogger's site who had criticized your novel. If you don't mind sharing some personal information: Are you married or a single mom? How have your other family members reacted to all of this?”

SJ: “I want to leave my family out of this, please.”

A slightly different version of this article was originally published at The American Thinker. Click here for readers comments on that article.

September 4, 2008

Obama-style program PAYS failing students to get free tutoring!

By David Paulin

In ultra-liberal Austin, Texas, an Obama-style high school program has been unveiled: It pays poorly performing students $6-a-hour to get free after-school tutoring!

Interestingly, Austin's school district already provides free tutoring to under-performing students, thanks to requirements mandated by the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law. But sadly, those initiatives have failed to perform as expected. Indeed, the Austin-American Statesman's article had an interesting tidbit about the existing program, one that called up the old saw about leading a horse to water. “Austin pays more than $1,000 per student for the service...(but) few eligible students — less than 2 percent in years past — take advantage of it,” the paper noted.

Now former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, a Democrat, has put forth his pay-you-to-learn program: It will turn underachievers into achievers, unlike the free tutoring program spurred by No Child Left Behind, he contends. His $375,000 initiative -- apparently the first of its kind anywhere -- will be funded by the private sector. That's certainly good news for taxpayers. They'd surely riot if they were hit up for the money, judging by the public's initial and overwhelmingly negative reactions to the initiative.

Todd's program is aimed in particular at a local high school that is notorious for its under-performing students. Among its problems have been high truancy and drop out rates. In one article, the Statesman noted that “more than 600 of (the school's) 760 students had more than 10 unexcused absences in the 2006-07 school year — nearly 80 percent of students missed two weeks of class or more.” Overwhelmingly Hispanic and black, the school was closed last June after failing for five straight years to meet state standards pertaining to maximum allowable dropout rates and testing standards. This month, it was reopened under a new name.

Why are some students failing so badly in politcally liberal Austin despite generous programs such as No Child Left Behind? Todd and other excuse-making liberals blame the problem, in large part, on the fact that many students come from low-income households and, as a consequence, must work part-time jobs to support their families. "These kids,” Todd observed,” sometimes have to make a choice between not eating, not having the things that many of us enjoy, or studying." Yet curiously, neither Todd nor other left-leaning elites offer any hard evidence to support these claims. And not surprisingly, they carefully avoid mentioning a factor that many hard-working and middle-class Austinites see as a significant reason for failing students: It's due to “cultural issues” of various kinds in the liberal “open borders” city.

Consider, for example, the groups of Hispanic students who wait every morning for their school bus, not far from where I live. None of the boys in baggy trousers and loosely fitting T-shirts ever carries school books -- yet more than a few have I-Pods and even cell phones. Usually, it's only girls who carry back packs that, presumably, are stuffed with books. Alternatively, visit a low-income Hispanic neighborhood. In the driveways of apartment complexes, there's no shortage of late-model vehicles, especially brawny pick-ups with fancy hub caps that are popular among illegal Mexican immigrants and their offspring.
Could the owners of any of these pick-ups be the heads of any of the economically disadvantaged families being targeted under the pay-to-study program?

Granted, these observations are hardly scientific. But neither are those being offered by Todd and other liberal educational reformers in Austin. All of them, of course, are part of a long liberal tradition dating to President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs – throwing money at social problems without having much understanding of some of the pathologies contributing to those problems.
In the Statesman's story about the pay-you-to-learn program this week, the readers comment section was filled with disgust and outrage. “Well, it was pretty inevitable, wasn't it?” complained one reader. “We pay farmers not to grow crops, we pay people to have illegitimate babies...” Another declared: “Responsibility starts at home with the parents. Why not pay the parents too? Is this what our educational system has come to? Pay the kids to go to school?”

One thing is certain: Austin represents the future under an Obama presidency.

This was originally published by The American Thinker.

August 14, 2008

Scandal over Britain's military echoes critique of murdered journalist Steven Vincent

By David Paulin

Three years ago this month, American freelance journalist Steven Vincent was kidnapped and murdered in Basra, Iraq, a port city then under British military control. His murder occurred as Britain's military – as Vincent had earlier reported -- was turning a blind eye to the rise of menacing Shiite religious groups, including those of bellicose rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Now, three years later, the ineptitude of British forces in Basra has boiled over into a full-fledged scandal in Britain, as today's Wall Street Journal notes in an editorial, "Basra and the Brits.” The scandal concerns the failure of British military forces to lift a finger to help Iraq's Army prevail in a pivotal battle earlier this year. Explains the WSJ:

...(W)hen the Iraqi military ran into trouble at the start of their operation this year, the 4,100 Brits remained in their garrison at the airport outside the city. The Iraqis had to call in the Americans from the north for air cover and other support to help defeat radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. It was the first time the U.S. had deployed to the British-controlled region of Iraq in five years. The operation turned into a major success, with the Mahdi Army routed and the Iraq government in control.

But the British failure to act was an embarrassment, even a humiliation, and explanations have begun to emerge. All point to a failure of political leadership. It turns out that last September the British had struck a deal with Mr. Sadr, essentially ceding him control over Basra and releasing some 120 militia regulars from custody.

In exchange, the Mahdi Army let U.K. troops beat a retreat from their base inside Basra to the airport unmolested. The Times of London reports that under the deal no soldier could set foot back in the city without express permission from Defense Minister Des Browne. Reports from Iraq add that the British performance has led to significant cooling of relations between the U.S. and British military forces in Iraq.

The Brown government implicitly acknowledges the deal with Mr. Sadr -- albeit without apologizing to the people of Basra who were terrorized for half a year by the Mahdi Army.

Vincent, had he lived, would hardly have been surprised by such revelations. The art critic-turned-war reporter was the among first journalists to criticize Britain's peacekeeping effort. In an Op-Ed he published in the New York Time on July 31, 2005, “Switched off in Basra,” Vincent noted that religious groups were infiltrating civic life in Basra, including its police force; and they were, reportedly, participating in political assassinations. It was occurring while the British military sat on its hands. Vincent wrote:

...(T)he British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists' claim on the hearts and minds of police officers. This detachment angers many Basrans. "The British know what's happening but they are asleep, pretending they can simply establish security and leave behind democracy," said the police lieutenant who had told me of the assassinations. "Before such a government takes root here, we must experience a transformation of our minds."

What accounted for such a poor performance by America's closest alley? In a sense, Britain's military was paralyzed by political correctness and a lack of ideological will, according to Vincent's account three years ago. He wrote:

Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination: in my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society. Nor did I see anyone question the alarming number of religious posters on the walls of Basran police stations. When I asked British troops if the security sector reform strategy included measures to encourage cadets to identify with the national government rather than their neighborhood mosque, I received polite shrugs: not our job, mate.

Two days after Vincent's Op-Ed appeared, he and his Iraqi translator, Nour al-Khal, were snatched off a Basra street, shoved into a car, and driven off by men that, it's thought, may have been rogue police officers. The 49-year-old Vincent was brutally beaten. He was shot in the back. Nour, who's about 30 years old, was shot and left for dead. A year ago, Vincent's widow, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, brought Nour to America, making a home for her in her Manhattan apartment. She thereby honored her husband's pledge to remove his translator, an aspiring poet, from harm's way in Iraq.

Vincent, a former art critic, answered his calling as a war reporter after watching the 9/11 attacks from the rooftop of his Manhattan apartment. Much of his perceptive reporting may be found in his book, “In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq.” Unlike Britain's current political leaders, he leaves a legacy that will endure as a testament of physical courage and moral clarity.

This was originally published by The American Thinker. The article and readers comments my be found here.

August 11, 2008

Edwards Sex Scandal Enrages Huffington Post's Gal Pundits

By David Paulin

Over at the lefty Huffington Post, John Edwards' confession of being a cheat has, interestingly, provoked fury among some of the gal pundits. They're mercilessly trashing the pretty boy populist -- spitting a toxic venom that even their like-minded male counterparts cannot match. Some, incredibly, are even digging their nails into Edwards' wife Elizabeth (who is battling cancer) for having aided and abetted her husband's public lies.

What's going on?

Could these ladies be writing with some deeper understanding of the issues at play, perhaps having suffered, like so many American women, at the hands of philandering boyfriends or spouses? According to one survey, 50 to 60 percent of married men have broken their marriage vows -- compared to 45 to 50 percent of women. Perhaps the columnists are subconsciously tapping into their outrage over the humiliation that their sister, Hillary, suffered in the White House.

However, perhaps their outrage underscores something really profound: Yes, America is in the midst of a culture war -- but marital infidelity, it seems, is definitely not an issue that any longer divides many Republican and Democratic women -- if it ever did. Indeed, none of the Edwards-hating Huffington Post lefties reveals a trace of the sophisticated “European attitude” about cheating husbands: the belief that flawed marriages with wandering men are not a big deal, even with all those lies (both public and private) that usually go along with keeping mistresses and fathering “love” children.

What a C.R.E.E.P” declares Huffington columnist Nancy Snow, sniffing that the Edwards scandal distracted her from writing about the Olympics. “Now the 300 million dollar extravaganza in Beijing will have to wait as I contemplate the rise and fall of the 400 dollar haircut man.”

"Infidelity affects the daily rhythm of life,” columnist Jill Brooke thoughtfully observed, before letting loose some choice words: “It's easy for many women to say, 'I'd dump the bastard,' until it actually happens to them.”

Imagine being Elizabeth Edwards,” she wrote. “Not only is she battling terminal cancer, but she now must muster the strength to deal with the news that her husband had an affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter.”

And then there's Bonnie Fuller, whose column is perhaps the most perceptive of the lot:

It's easy to understand why John Edwards first felt he was entitled to cheat on his wife and family, and then second, thought he could keep it secret from the American public. He is a self-admitted "narcissist", and narcissists believe they are entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want it. As psychologist Cooper Lawrence told me, "they always think some other poor schnook will get caught, not them.”

On the other hand, there's Jane Smiley: Parting company with her sister columnists, her column argues that the that the sex scandal is much ado about nothing. After all, there are things “a lot worse than adultery,” such as “denying people health care, swindling the taxpayer, starting an unnecessary war by forging documents and lying, and stealing the oil belonging to other nations..."

Yet Smiley in her way reveals some feminine outrage, too, observing that she'd “never thought adultery was a big deal in the abstract, because, as we all know, I am a liberal...” Well, Ms. Smiley, if adultery is not a big deal in the “abstract,” what might it be like if it really did happen to you? And interestingly, Smiley's not-to-worry conclusion is out of sync with her column's title: “Hiding the Scumbag.”

Regarding Edwards' wife, Fuller offers these trenchant observations:

The bigger question is "why did Elizabeth Edwards drink her husband's Kool-Aid? How could she have possibly believed that her husbands affair would remain a private matter when he was running for President of the United States? Hello, the National Enquirer had already broken the story last fall. Why in fact, did she knowingly encourage her spouse to even enter the campaign when she had been fully informed about the affair for over a year? And she helped support and propagate John Edwards' image as a devoted husband and family man.

No, Elizabeth Edwards had to be in some extraordinary form of denial and that's why she became her husband's "ambition enabler," when she supported his recent run for the presidency. My belief is that after almost thirty years of marriage she too had become so invested in his political ambitions, his cause, that she couldn't give up either, even after he cheated and she knew there was a chance his affair could be reported in the mainstream press.

His success, now defined her success, so she was willing to go along with the fraud that that their marriage was fine," believes psychologist Victoria Zdrok, currently working on a book titled," Dr. Z on Straying."

Her terminal illness may actually have also played a role in her decision to publicly stand by her man and his presidential ambitions, according to Zdrok. "When we seek death, we often seek to achieve a symbolic immortality. And becoming a presidential wife could have been that for her.

In any case, Elizabeth Edwards was a victim when her husband cheated. She did nothing to deserve that and as a wife she had every right and many reasons to forgive the jerk. But the decision to stand behind him and publicly broadcast his staunch family values image was her own doing. As courageous and admirable as she has been in dealing with her cancer, she is now the latest member of the Publicly Humiliated Wives Club, and she has no right to complain about the public's interest in knowing exactly what has happened. She helped get herself in this situation.

The title of Fuller's column: “Elizabeth Edwards Drank Her Husband's Kool-Aid And Became his 'Ambition Enabler.'”

As for Arianna Huffington, she endeavors to look at the big picture:

I've long pushed for a giant border fence separating public life and private lives. But the issue here wasn't Edwards' infidelity, it was his lying directly to the American people. The last thing we need is a sexual purity test for our politicians, but we desperately need political leaders whose word we can trust.

Well, it's interesting that telling the truth, in this context, is now so important for Huffington, one of the left's de facto spokespersons. This criteria, after all, was not one that most Democrats (including women in the party) used to judge Bill Clinton when his cheating scandal broke; and nor was it a criteria Democrats applied to Clinton when he was running for office and was known, at the time, to be a serial philander, and lier, in respect to his womanizing in Arkansas.

Could it possibly be that Huffington, a native of Greece who lived for years in Europe, has shed some of her sophisticated views about such things, too?

All in all, it will be interesting to see if the gal pundits on the conservative side of the fence muster as much venom over Edwards martial infidelity as the lefties at the Huffington Post.

This was originally published at The American Thinker, which offers up readers comments along with the story.

August 8, 2008

Fearing Muslim backlash, Random House scraps novel


Nearly three years ago, millions of Iraqi voters participated in historic parliamentary elections. They shrugged off Al-Qaida suicide bombers and pro-Saddam reactionaries, and they headed to the polls in heavy number -- proving their courage and commitment to democratic values.

Sadly, both qualities were absent in Random House's decision last May to cancel publication of “The Jewel of Medina,” a novel by 46-year-old journalist Sherry Jones. Egged on by a politically correct professor of Islamic studies, publishing executives feared the debut novel could provoke the kind of violent backlash among Muslims that was touched off by Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel “Satanic Verses.” And they nervously recalled the Danish "cartoon riots" in Europe and the Muslim world.

The full story of Random House's cowardly self-censorship – a story of how “fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world” - was the subject of a Op-Ed column in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal by Asra Q. Nomani , the noted Muslim journalist and author. In her column, Nomani described a depressing story of intellectual cowardice and academic perfidy among members of America's intellectual elite. Jones' canceled novel focues on Aisha, a young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Some of the novel's scenes are described as being “racy” in the tradition of the controversial film “The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel by Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis;” the film portrays Jesus and Mary Magdalene as a married couple consummating their union. In her column, "You Still Can't Write About Muhammad," Nomani related:

Random House feared the book would become a new "Satanic Verses," the Salman Rushdie novel of 1988 that led to death threats, riots and the murder of the book's Japanese translator, among other horrors. In an interview about Ms. Jones's novel, Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now." He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
Who was the source for this ominous warning?

It was a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Texas in Austin, Denise Spellberg, whom Jones had innocently thought might write a blub for the book. Instead, the professor hated it. She regarded it as an “ugly, stupid piece of work”-- one that “made fun of Muslims and their history,” according to Nomani's account. Indeed, the professor thought the book could prove to be a “declaration of war...a national security issue” much worse than the violence provoked by the “Satanic Verses” and Danish "cartoon riots."

Nomani reveals a bit about Prof. Spellberg's academic background. But the most revealing profile of her may be found at her own
at the University of Texas. Not surprisingly, she earned her PhD in Islamic Studies from Columbia University in New York City -- a place where radical leftists and advocates of the pro-Palestinian cause (including the late Prof. Edward Said), have for years gotten a warm welcome. Among her recent publications: "Inventing Matamoras: Gender and the Forgotten Islamic Past in the United States of America."

Spellberg, who apparently believes most outraged Christians behave as many outraged Muslims, recalled going to the “Last Temptation of Christ,” released in 1988. She was quoted as saying: "I walked through a metal detector to see 'Last Temptation of Christ.' I don't have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography."

That's funny. I went to “Last Temptation of Christ,” too. But there were no metal dictators at the theater in southwestern Connecticut where I saw the film. But I do recall standing in a long line on a chilly and drizzly evening. Near the theater door, movie-goers walked past a polite and gentle Baptist minister. He was obviously outraged by the film. Yet he wished me and other movie-goers well. He handed me some literature that he said I might want to read. As much as I disagreed with him, I could not help but respect him. He had quiet dignity. There was no anger in his voice or demeanor.

Accordingly, I have to wonder about Prof. Spellberg's account of seeing the film. Her remarks about her movie-going experience are no doubt as suspect as her alamist remarks about “The Jewel of Medina." And they're obviously filtered through a radical leftist political view in the spirit of Edward Said. Now that Iraq is becoming increasingly calm, perhaps Prof. Spellberg and Random House's editors should visit Iraq and talk with ordinary Iraqis. If they learn nothing from the courage and convictions of those Iraqis, perhaps they will at least become aware of their own perfidy and cowardice -- and feel shamed.

Then again, maybe they'll see only want they want to see.

This article also was published by The American Thinker and FrontPage Magazine. For those articles and readers comments, click here and here, respectively.