Reactions to a country in shock.

Reactions to a country in shock.

Reactions to a country in shock.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Nov. 13 2004 9:33 PM

Holland Daze

Reactions to a country in shock.

Scott MacMillan's reportage on the Nov. 2 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose " controversial 11-minute film" depicts a veiled Muslim woman, generated a spirited debate among fraysters about Europe's attempt to integrate its immigrant populations.

The national profile of the suspect Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old extremist Muslim of Dutch-Moroccan descent, led to a broader discussion about the (increasingly violent) clash between Europe's traditionally secularist values and the religious beliefs held by Islamic communities living within the borders of European nations.

AdamMorgan gets the ball rolling here with his own examination of foreign press articles on van Gogh's murder:

What struck me about the articles is a type of code that, as an American, I found difficult to understand. All of the articles, for instance, mentioned the words "integration" and "assimilation" of "immigrants". Almost all of them, also, mentioned that Muslims in Europe are hostile to "Western values", such as gay marriage.

First, the word "immigrant" seems to be misused. Is it possible to be a second-generation immigrant, as many of these minorities seem to be (or an even later generation)? It is, I suppose, if your racial features prevent you from being accepted as Dutch. An immigrant, clearly, is someone who has moved to another country and permenantely settled in that country. If the European media refers to minorities as "immigrants", which they have at least in these stories, this suggests that 1) regardless of how "assimilated" you are, you're still considered an outsider and 2) the language in Europe is so decayed that Europeans can't even seem to accept these minorities as, well, "minorities" and not newcomers to their country. ...

To explain Europe's tagging of its foreign populations not as "minorities" (as American political discourse tends to do) but as "immigrants," grax weighs in with this Latinate distinction between the European and American approaches to citizenship:

The nations of the world recognize two principles on which the citizenship is based and accorded, IUS SOLI (law of birthplace), and IUS SANGUINIS (law of blood heritage).
For Americans, with their Ius Soli, it is unthinkable that a person could be deprived of his citizenship in the country in which he was born. For many other nations, the absence of blood and cultural heritage weighs much more than an accidental birth on their soil. We have many children of wetback claiming our citizenship, with all its corollaries, yet without a proof of being raised in our socio-political values.
As to the social fabric's strength, Ius Sanguinis is undoubtedly more effective and natural.

In another helpful post, oldE sums up the European Union's immigration policies, as more countries on the Continent are absorbed into this über-government:

There are two processes underway: free circulation and the right to establish and work freely within EU countries, signatories of the Schengen treaty. In time to include the new Eastern member countries and eventually Turkey. But in parallel, immigration pressures from less developed countries is such that the European Union is setting more stringent barriers to keep out, or at least selectively admit those from outside the area.

oldE also responds with a point-by-point clarification of AdamMorgan's inquiry on journalistic code in the European press, noting that "in simple terms, 'western' is used in most of Europe as a quasi-synonim for laic, secular as opposed to muslim's theocentric systems." AdamMorgan doesn't necessarily buy this equation between assimilation and secularism, pointing out the contradictions in Europe's definition of the term here.  

As Macmillan explains, van Gogh's murder has cut directly against the grain of Holland's national perception of itself as a "normally placid country at the heart of Europe's self-image of tolerance." Writing from the other side of the transatlantic divide, Glasgowboy disputes here the notion that the Netherlands' much-touted ethic of "tolerance" vis-à-vis controversial social experiments such as gay marriage and prostitution is somehow attributable to its political exceptionalism or some kind of libertarian streak:

But many people, including many here in Britain, misunderstand the Dutch situation. The historic reason for their tolerance is not ideological conformity but rather the experience of being a highly divided society. Having emerged from the European religious wars, the Dutch - with their heady mix of Calvinists, Catholics and Jews - opted for the tolerance route, not from any vapid "anything goes" attitude but from a realisation that anything else has shown itself to end in violence.

What shocked the Dutch about this assassination was that it was a brutal attack on this tradition - not of ideological conformity - but of a polity which has successfully institutionalised Voltaire's famous maxim: "I hate what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it"...

Also contributing an European perspective on the issue, voorst, presumably of Dutch background, provides a plausible explanation as to why cultural assimilation in the Netherlands might be considered particularly difficult even for a native:

Americans don't understand that every village, city, province, hamlet, south, north, east, west, have their own dialects. If an Amsterdammer moves to lets say the east of the Netherlands, then in a way he will be also an immigrant. He will never be able to shed his "Amsterdam" accent, unless he speaks ABN (General Civilized Dutch). But even then he will never fit in, because he doesn't speak the local dialect. Some of those local dialects are impossible to learn, they can be very nasal, guttural etc, etc. They sound like German but aren't. Something in the vain of that weird Luxemburg lingo. Now multiply this over ALL European countries. You get the point? 

An appreciative nod to svoloch for the sharp eye in correcting here my unintentional factual error regarding Pim Fortuyn's assassination in May 2002, which I claimed in my initial fraywatch editorial was the first of two "recent murder[s] directly attributable to the burgeoning forces of Muslim extremism in the Netherlands." As war-not-terror specifies here, the culprit was in point of fact "Volkert van der Graaf, 'native' Dutchman, Christian, and animal rights activist" whose motive was apparently unrelated to Pim's confrontational approach to immigration issues. In the atmosphere of national hysteria the days following the assassination, many had suspected a Muslim extremist of Pim's murder, and this widespread misimpression (I was spending the year in Paris at the time) had lingered in my own memory. But I firmly stand by my broader, original point: "Pim's List," as his party platform was known, advocated an eclectic mix of liberal positions on social issues and an aggressive immigration policy that challenged the Dutch government to bring its Muslim minorities into the cultural mainstream. Dubbed "anti-immigrant" at the time, Pim's List seems in light of van Gogh's murder more an (urgently necessary) acknowledgement of current political realities than a racist attack on foreigners along the lines of France's right-wing Front National party. AC10:33am

82_horizontal_rule

Thursday, November 11, 2004

In her analysis of "low-carb" diets, Amanda Schaffer attempts to dispel some of the myths surrounding the health benefits of America's latest and most popular weight-loss regime. One of her central targets is the substitute ingredients in these foods, which are often deceptively labeled to obscure their otherwise high caloric content—a marketing practice the FDA has thus far declined to crack down on.

Apparently, all of Schaffer's talk about sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners put some readers into a state of verbal hyperglycemia. In response to his earnest question " How can all Atkins foods contain sugar?,"  Munky gets a mouthful from MoreCarbMoreSugar here and comes back with this high-pitched (perhaps maltitol-induced?) rant:

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I called the people who sell regular sugar under the alternate title of refined cane juice cons. They do it just to fool health conscious (but naive) consumers into thinking organic 'cane juice' is more healthy than regular sugar—which it is not.

Which begs that Shakespearesque question: Would sugar by any other name taste as sweet?

Other fraysters offer a range of prescriptions to their weight-conscious peers, with SourMash_PLH advocating more sex and libertarian07 promoting   body-building as part of a balanced regime. KristaBelle stays belle through a diet of moderation, and suggests that the cost of these specialty foods is reason enough to stay away.

TheCincinnatiSquid proposes " the simple solution: be skeptical" and points out the semantic ambiguity of marketing catchphrases:

I think the "Carb Conscious" label is the funniest. All it is saying is the manufacturer is aware there are carbs in its products. Bacardi 151 is alcohol conscious, too. Doesn't really mean a damn thing and those who think otherwise are the marks the marketing people love.

Much of the confusion seems to arise from the different types of carbohydrates. Eager to distinguish themselves from their rival Atkins, South Beach partisans such as ValkyrieWannabe argue here that not every carb should be treated the same.

And last but not least, bluewomanredstate puts the debate into cultural perspective here:

So much of what is wrong with the "low carb craze" and the low fat craze that came before it, is somehow endemic to the American way of eating and of marketing food. The Europeans laugh at us, since they eat bread (sometimes even with Nutella!!!) every day, and we are fatter than they. I lived in Europe of a few years, and I can tell you that they just don't overdo it. There are no Snackwells, no CarbSmarts, and while they have their share of processed foods (Erdnuss Flips, jemand?!), they tend not to consume anything, other than alcohol and cigarettes, in excess.

On that self-loathing note, we might also add that Europeans tend to limit their portion sizes and live in compact urban centers where they walk more and naturally get more exercise.  A multitude of recent studies have actually begun to document the link between obesity and the sprawl characteristic of American cities. Hopefully, our diets are something we won't be exporting anytime soon. AC6:29pm

82_horizontal_rule
Advertisement

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Secular Zealot: Christopher Hitchens' ambiguous endorsement of John Kerry for president last week followed by his spirited defense of President Bush's crackdown on Islamic fundamentalism here has readers frothing over the apparent contradictions in his position.

Hitchens sees Bush as a stronger defender of secularist values in the war on terror than the self-proclaimed secular left, which he claims has made excuses for religious fanaticism abroad while attacking the president for being beholden to his evangelical Christian base here at home.

Does this alleged double standard on the question of fundamentalism make liberals, as represented by Kerry's candidacy, hypocrites? Deleo rebuts this argument with two points:

1. Kerry never apologized for Al Queda, he just thought there was a better way to fight them. In fact, Kerry wanted to keep the fight centered on the religous extremists and not divert attention to the socialist, non-religious nation of Iraq. You don't seem to understand that Osama hated Sadaam as much as anyone. He hated secular leaders in the Arab world. I would even go as far to say that Al Queda formed because secular leaders took hold in the Arab world. So again, how does Bush attacking the secular nation of Iraq deal a blow to religous extremism, especially when an Extreme Islamic group could take hold of the nation after the U.S. leaves? Didn't something similar to that happen with the Taliban after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

2. Those of us who are worried about the Religious Right tend to focus on domestic issues (even though the idea of a world war pitting extreme Christianity versus extreme Islam is not a pretty thought). But the more immediate issues are with our own Constitution, which up until this point has been based on the Rule of Law. What happens when you cross the Constitution with the Bible? Unfortunately we may be about to find out.

Advertisement

Richard_Calucci sees Hitchens' exclusive focus on the religious roots of terrorism as oversimplified and takes umbrage at the monolithic characterization of Democrats as the "loud-mouthed, far-left" Michael Moore crowd:

But we [Democrats] also recognize that these crimes are being committed in the name of political and economic causes, and as long as those issues are still angering Middle Easterners, there will continue to be individuals who turn to terror as a way of showing their anger. This is not an apology for criminals—this is an appeal for sensible foreign policy so that we can sweep the rug out from under criminal organizations like Al Qaeda by taking away their base of popular support.

Turning Hitchens' history-based argument on its head, phlebas-tex reminds us that secularism is no panacea or guarantee of a peaceful world, if we consider that the very regimes in the 20th century responsible for genocide and mass murder are those founded on secularist principles:

We need a post-mortem on the 20th century since it seems to be entirely overlooked. The 20th century was the high water mark for secularism. Darwinism ascendant, the policy makers of fascism and the policy makers of communism leaving 10s of millions dead from the gestapo to the chekas, the concentration camps to the gulags. The secularist century was a murderous century with no supra-biologic or supra-political ethic. Once defined as less than sacred, lives were easily sacrificed for the greater good, for the ubermensch or uberstate to come.

Advertisement

And concludes

If there is a post election, new century wisdom, maybe it's time to respect that balance between left and right, permissiveness and legalism, secular and sacred, are a necessary dialectic, but don't just fear the middle ages, fear a return to our bloodiest century: the last one.

Finally, I_Scream's objection to Bush lies not so much in his offensive against fundamentalist Islamic regimes as in the injection of religion into his decision-making process as president:

I want to believe my President understands when he makes decisions that are right or wrong, that it is he, not God, who must own up to the consequences of his decisions. I don't want to even imagine he makes world decisions, divined from a religious "Quiga Board", or that he relies soley on his intuition, and "instincts" to make foreign and domestic policy. In short, I want to know he uses rational, higher-ordered thinking not supplanted by aides, or Billy Graham, or through consultation with his God, alone. I want a President who thinks independently. And when he puts his faith in the Lord, I hope that's where it starts and stops.

Advertisement

In a related but slightly different vein here, Demosthenes2 argues that faith and citizenship need not be mutually exclusive:

Hitchens claim that secularism is not just a smug attitude but is 'a way of democratic and pluralistic life that can only exist when the hold of the clergy is ruthlessly smashed' does little to address the inconvenient fact that many people of faith both follow their religious beliefs and their obligations under the social contract to a secular democratic republic, all because they wish to make sure that their prerogatives are not interfered with nor adopted as state approved.

As the newly anointed frayeditor05, I want to thank you all for your warm welcome. Fortunately for me, it is a far easier job to summarize your thoughts here than it would be to formulate equally original ones on my own.  I look forward to getting to know you better these next few weeks ... AC10:02pm

82_horizontal_rule

Monday, November 8, 2004

Advertisement

Parallel Parking: Dahlia and Alex Lithwick present a questionnaire for disenchanted Americans contemplating the move north of the 49th Parallel. MarkEHaag, who loves the idea of a "United States of Canada," already has his bags packed, and even has a couple of proposed modifications:

you might have to cut off Illinois somewhere south of Joliet. ...

In line with our arctic-egalitarian principles, we will work out a rotation system according to which every frozen resident of the Contiguous Provinces who needs it will get x amount of beach time in LA-San Diego-Miami Dec through March, subsidized…

I'm so happy!! This is the perfect solution—

Oh Canada, Our Home and NativeLand,
True to God and all our countrymen,
Oh
Canada, Glorious and Free!

Excuse me, I have to go look up the capital of Newfoundland ...

According to RMolineaux here, old-timers need not apply:

Canada actively discourages sedentary retirees like myself from attempting permanent residence. This is understandable when you consider that what they really need are energetic young people who can make a positive contribution to an economy under constant threat of unemployment. They see no reason to encourage a heavier burden on their universal health care system from newcomers who have made no positive contribution to it. To qualify for "investor" status, one must have a net worth of C$800,000 minimum.

Other fraysters submit alternate geo-political blueprints. Gtompkins1 proposes that ...

For the good of both countries ... the US must annex Canada. ...

Think of the invasion and assimilation of Canada as a symmetric offset, and needed antidote, to our annexation of the South in 1865. We never really assimilated Dixie, it has now assimilated us. The same would happen after we annexed Canada. Canadians would gradually, but inexorably, take over the greater whole. Or, if not take over, at least counteract the Dixie antibodies.

DuraLexSedLex suggests that we could kill two birds with one stone by creating a liberal American-Mexican worker immigration program—a plan even conservative Republicans could support:

That way, INS can replace every disenchanted liberal with a Mexican citizen who desperately wants to live & work in our country to better themselves and their families.

And for those who can't pass Canada's immigration test, MutatisMutandis offers this "Transcontinental Alternative" as a safety school, of sorts. Here's a hint:

Everybody is allowed to wear white sneakers with jeans, or worse. At work or at social occasions, people dress much more informal than Americans.

Finally, vi has had enough, and thinks that games like these are increasingly dangerous to the national discourse.

Guardian of Democracy: A Londoner in the Fray weighs in on the Clark County, Ohio, matter.  

Directionally Challenged: Those debating whether the Democratic Party should move left or center following Tuesday's defeat are not asking the correct question. The left-right axis is no longer the continuum that matters in American politics.

Instead, Democrats should be measuring their talent on the Technocratic-Moral axis. Does a candidate frame his message in programmatic terms, like Al Gore and John Kerry, or in moral terms, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

Case in point: While Democrats were wringing their hands over the defeat of Kerry, Tom Daschle and statewide candidates across the national landscape, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin coasted to an easy 11-point victory, running 5-points ahead of Kerry in a state that's regarded as increasingly rouge.

So how did this Jewish Harvard Law grad—the only senator in a hundred to vote against the Patriot Act—do in rural Wisconsin against a Gulf War vet? He won a majority.

How did this proud liberal—one of a handful to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act and a staunch opponent of the death penalty—do in small Wisconsin towns of populations between 10,000 and 50,000? He won a majority.

How did this pinko, who voted to fund overseas abortions in military hospitals and who opposed his own party's homeland security package, do in the suburbs where evangelical congregations are flourishing? He won a majority.

How does Feingold do it? He listens. He takes traditionally Republican issues and imbues them with an ecumenical morality that transcends party or religious affiliation. Liberals will want to point to Feingold as evidence that the party should move left. But Feingold's appeal isn't his ideology. It's his presentation.

One Man's Activism … :As the left-leaning punditry looks for scapegoats and those on the far right trumpet the election as a corroboration of their brand of faith, we continue to hear the refrain: "activist judges" in Massachusetts. And how do we know they were activist judges? Because they subverted the will of the majority, apparently.

Are strict constructionists suggesting that justices should be mindful of transientpublic sentiment when reaching an opinion? Should a state supreme court take a poll of the electorate before they render a decision? Would it have been okay for the Massachusetts Supreme Court to rule accordingly if, say, 51% of the public supported gay marriage? Would the elements of the case have been any different? And precisely when would strict constructionists have justices integrate popular opinion into the decision-making process? Doesn't judicial restraint—by its very definition—require jurists to render a decision based solely on the constitutional merits of the case, irrespective of which way the cultural wind is blowing?

They can't all be Sandra Day O'Connor … KA5:25 p.m.

82_horizontal_rule

Friday, November 5, 2004

New readers have come out in record numbers to take part in the post-electoral debate in Politics Fray, and to spar with Slate's luminaries of Democratic introspection.

Face Smiley: Jane Smiley is taking a lot of heat in the Fray for her  diatribe against the "ignorance" of Red America. Davidari reads her the riot act:

Jane Smiley's bigoted screed is commentary best suited for the Dearborn Independent. She ascribes the act of supporting Bush as the behavior that must also appear hand-in-hand with a vicious bloodlust, a below-average grasp of situational complexity, and incapable of self-introspection.

In the sociological and psychological world, Miss Smiley, this is referred to as delegitimization and dehumanization. Should you agree to show me the decency owed every human being, I would gladly discuss the thought process behind my vote with you.

Or has your mind already begun the process of dismissing me, as you assume every Bush voter is likely to do with your ideas? Are you perhaps "clinging to your ignorance", as you put it?

A host of Bush voters in the Fray take umbrage with Smiley's charge. Brian13, here, will take Smiley on in a game of Trivial Pursuit anytime, anyplace:

Please, please keep calling all those people in the red states ignorant…

I am as much an intellectual as any on the left. I have read my Aeschylus and Dostoyevsky and Steinbeck. However, I also have read my Kant, Aristotle, and Aquinas. I come to the table with a real background, not a pseudo-intellectual one. I say this because I am one of the "ignorance-induced" people that Smiley dismisses. I hope that the Democratic party listens to her until the Republicans get at least a 60-seat majority in the Senate.

Well, Smiley has at least one giddy fan

Pots & Kettles: Most Kerry voters in the Fray recognize what Smiley doesn't. Here's AnnaS, a "lefty" living in a red state:

Demonizing the other side is fun, but it's rarely accurate--whether you're talking about Iraqi insurgents or evangelical Republicans. And it's hard for even those ignorant masses to miss the irony of throwing rocks at people in the name of reason and liberalism.

If there's an advantage to living in a state that was called for Bush before 8pm Tuesday night, it's that we see the other side up close. They're our coworkers, our neighbors, members of our family. We can't paint them with broad strokes, can't point to them and call them stupid or willfully ignorant or cheaters. By and large, they're good people--in some cases, spectacularly good people--and we hold more values in common than not. The biggest difference? They're scared, and they've been victimized by a political party that ruthlessly preys on those fears. And this sort of mean-spirited "us-and-them" name calling only makes it worse.

TarheelJag, too, wants to turn down the volume:

From Jane Smiley to Surfergirl, there is a strong message, sometimes explicit, other times implicit, that anyone who voted for Bush is an ignorant idiot. Far from the rationale and thoughtful discourse that I normally expect from Slate, these demeaning articles only serve to heighten the divide between liberal and conservative. How can you criticize Bush for polarizing America when you so pointedly put down the opposition in a manner that isn't going to win you any friends, much less sway an "undecided" to think that you are right. I'll stop short of a Rodney King-esque "Can't we all just get along," but I will close with this--if you want someone to listen to you, calling them ignorant is a poor place to start.

Dilettante68, a "recovering Progressive," rolls up her sleeves with a constructive platform for Democratic revitalization. Among the six-point outline:

1. Get off your knees and quit blowing the Europeans. Inferiority has had a long history among US intellectuals. Face it, the intellectual, cultural, scientific, economic, and political center has long left our cousins across the sea. They have been without new ideas since the death of Camus. Their welfare state simply freezes the classes into their current positions. Why leave a comfortable cave?

2. Quit the demagoguery. Maybe I am naive but I don't think CEOs eat children for breakfast. Those evil corporations are made up of us. You don't like what your company does; kiss ass, move up and change it.

And…

6. Finally, go south and listen instead of preaching. Monsters are easily created from darkness. They do not withstand the light of knowledge. That goes both ways.

Similarly, Isonomist- believes that Dems have become tone-deaf to the South … but Iso, unlike most Demopolitans, understands that it's far more complex than just race and faith:

For 140 years, the North has treated the South like a retarded stepchild. From cartoon characters lampooning Southern accents to signify stupidity, to intervention in state's rights (for better or ill, that's not the point), to caricaturing in politics, society and business, the war between the states never ended, it just went underground. Issues and values important to Southerners are ignored or derided. Southern candidates for national office are sneered at as naive hicks.

What did you think would happen? Eventually someone figured out how to speak to the conquered, in the language they understand, and they responded. You may not like the agenda, or the results, but you have only your own 140 year history of treating half the country like an occupied territory, instead of embracing them, teaching them, and inspiring them. "Whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers" you end up reaping for yourself.

And it's not just Southern whites getting bulldozed by the Yankee attitude. Southern blacks feel just as disenfranchised, derided and disdained, when groups decide to co-opt their status in order to achieve their own agenda at the expense of African American values and beliefs. How many times have you heard black people complaining on the news, that the only time they see white politicians in the neighborhood is right before the elections?

Until the North learns to speak to the South with respect and a desire to understand, sic semper tyrannis.

Check Around Your Seat for Values: Why did "moral values" emerge as a defining issue in this campaign? ViciousMiniSchnauzer has a fascinating theory rooted in the erosion of public and private space:

people think we are less moral because you see more immorality. a kid can play a rather tawdry video game like "leisure suit larry" right in front of you now where 40 years ago the alternative would have been playing doctor with the girl next door, and probably out of your sight. whereas you might only have heard about hollywood drug use or whatnot through some gossip column years ago, you now have 24-7 surveillance of these people and multimedia distribution of their failures and foibles. you can't get away from it, but that does not mean human nature or morality have really changed.

this is nonetheless grist for the mill of social conservatives. if people feel like there is a problem subjectively, they may think there is an objective problem that needs to be fixed, even if nothing has really changed, beyond ease of access.

Thrasymachus thinks the values question is bunk:

To hear the pundits go on, you'd think that Bush had just gotten elected on the basis of a 2-year campaign about morality, and that his victory in this election was therefore the nation's verdict on abortion, gays, prayer in school, faith in public life, and the media.

Forgive me for asking this, but. .. . what campaign were they watching?

Bush ran -and won- on a promise to keep the nation safe from terrorists and resolve the mess in Iraq. Those were his issues. The christian right provided him with a lot of his support, but truly, they were just along for the ride.

For the Religious Right to claim, now, that their agenda was the centerpiece of this election is simply bizarre. It's like the bat boy for the Red Sox telling his friends that, really, the World Series was actually all about him.

From BOTF:  The Dems lost message, says TheAList here; GeoffPneuma's post-election analysis is here; Demosthenes2 speculates on what kind of payoff the Republicans' religious base will receive in the second term; here, locdog debunks the "myth of a deeply divided nation."

Department of Astral Affairs: Yep, we're going to give it another go, albeit provisionally … KA9:00 a.m.