Anti-Socialist Tendencies

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Historians Without a Clue

Though the American labor movement has historically had a strong aversion to radicalism (thanks largely to the clear-sightedness of Samuel Gompers and George Meaney) it seems that American labor historians insist on seeing its history through Marx-colored glasses. Historian Anders Lewis found ample evidence of this through his involvement with a labor history Internet discussion group, as he reports here. Lewis there discovers a den of ideologues far more committed to the Marxist politicization of their field than the search for historical truth.

Speaking of biased Marxist historians, Eric Hobsbawm has been skewered again, this time by esteemed historian of the Soviet Union Richard Pipes (father of the notoriously un-PC Middle East expert Daniel Pipes). If you didn't get enough entertainment at Hobsbawm's expense last time, definitely check it out.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Sure, he makes for a cool t-shirt, but how many Che groupies know how bloody-minded this Latin American Stalin-wannabe really was? Sadly, Che Guevara as whitewashed romantic pop icon will only continue thanks to some upcoming cinematic hagiographies, as Lawrence Osborne reports. Along the way, Osborne only pens a quick sketch of Che's dark side, but what he provides is certainly at odds with adolescent revolutionary fantasies:

[T]he former British ambassador to Havana... commented that while Castro was an "amiable rogue," Guevara was a "cold-blooded hypocrite."....

The young Che comes across as something of a feckless social climber, good at buttering up useful people, ever ready to drop the family name, charming but also socially ruthless. He’s part stereotypical shallow Argentine playboy, part budding Errol Flynn....

But what about Che’s genuflections to Comrade Stalin? A bit less sexy. He once signed a letter "Stalin II." Will that be in the movie?....

His thought was a hackneyed rip-off of the European revolutionary tradition, about as indigenous as the East German notebooks he wrote his Bolivian diaries in. Guevara’s early Stalinism had implications for his lifelong public attitudes and actions. What appealed to him in Marx, Stalin and the young Mussolini, after all, was a strain of visionary apocalypse, of globalized conflict, which effortlessly opened the door to jejune gangsterism....

He wanted to create "a hundred Vietnams" all over the continent, beginning with Bolivia. If a few thousand Bolivian peasants died in the process, well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, as thugs always say.

Osborne also mentions one very surprising member of the Cult of Che:

Three years ago, for example, Presidential hopeful Gary Hart [!] published a novel called I, Che Guevara under the pseudonym John Blackthorn. It’s a thriller set in Cuba, in which a shadowy figure somewhat resembling the long-dead Che roams that miserable isle looking for a "third way" between Castro’s Communism and Miami vice. But oddly, given Che’s actual history of affection for totalitarian methods, this fictional Che turns out to be a fan of Thomas Jefferson and the ideals of the Republic. Mr. Hart’s fantasy of Che Guevara, in other words, is a suave projection of the average, decent, middle-class white American liberal’s political sensibility. Then again, how could he be anything else?

Read the whole thing as they say, as Instapundit likes to say.

Monday, June 09, 2003

For today's self-styled "sophisticates," the charge of being "sexually repressed" seems to rank among the most damning. Simply calling an opponent this is nearly enough by itself to make him an object worthy only of ridicule. Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr is a prominent example of a target of this attack, where his endlessly mentioned straightlaced nature seemed almost a worse sin to his detractors than his detrimental investigation of Clinton. Add to this the insinuation that, beneath the prudish exterior, the target has been warped into a sex-obsessed maniac slavering for the very same sexual delights he publicly condemns, and you've got a sure-fire means of destroying your opponent's credibility in the eyes of fellow "liberated" people.

This mindset is precisely what Michael Bronski of the Boston Phoenix exhibits in his latest column, Arabian Night Sweats. Bronski discusses the plans of Christian missionary groups such as Samaritan’s Purse and Covenant World Relief for relief work in Iraq, attributing their inspiration not to humanitarian or religious impulses, but rather feverish fantasies of a "sexualized Islam":

But this renewed focus on converting Muslims to Christianity is motivated by something besides religious faith: a hatred of what’s seen as the sexualized aspects of Islam.

Consider the rather prurient focus on Islam of evangelical leaders like Dr. Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, and a former president of the SBC. Last June, he announced at the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting that "Islam was founded by Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives -- and his last one was a nine-year-old girl."

Two major screwups already, and the article's hardly started. First is Bronski's curious and faulty separation of religious faith from moral judgments regarding sex. From where but the tenets of their Christianity does the condemnation of these "sexualized aspects" come, after all? There is no justification for searching farther than this for an explanation, unless you have some other agenda. These Christians "hate" these aspects because their religion holds that they are immoral, and the fact that they see these immoral acts as justified by Islam cuts to the root of why they believe Muslims need to convert to Christianity. But making this division is useful for Bronski because it allows him to bring a certain postmodern concept into his argument, as we will see shortly.

The second mistake is that Bronski ignores both the broader purpose of these criticisms and the existence of non-sex-related criticisms alongside them. These folks are, quite simply, trying to make the other side look bad, in order to defeat it in the battle of ideas. The easiest rhetorical tactic for this is to simply associate your opponent with things that are guaranteed to resonate negatively with the audience, rather than directly counter his arguments. For example, if your audience is smugly superior Leftists, you can portray evangelical Christians as repressed-but-obsessed sex maniacs. These Evangelicals harp on the alleged sexual immorality of Islam because they know their audiences consider it reprehensible. But it is only one of a suite of such topics used by them for this tactic. Another is in that very quote from Vines: Mohammed's supposed demonic possession. This is not a throwaway insult, but rather refers to the issue of Mohammed revealing the "Satanic Verses". Far more significant and common than either of these, however, are the topics of jihad and the bloody birth of Islam, though to judge by Bronski one would assume they are never mentioned. Naturally, if you dishonestly portray someone as focused solely on one subject, you make him look obsessed.

Well, OK, Bronski isn't totally unfair here. He does admit there's another, non-sexual motivation for the missionaries: Racism! And he proves it... er, sort of:

This isn't to say that "sexualized" Islam is the only thing motivating the evangelicals. There's good old-fashioned racism at work, too. For instance, as his source of knowledge about Islam Vines cites the recently published book Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs (Kregel Publications, 2002), by Ergun and Emir Caner -- two brothers, apostate Muslims who are now fundamentalist Christians and teach at religious colleges in the South. But take a quick look through their arguments and you see that they rely on selective readings and interpretations of the Koran and the Hadith (the accepted, authoritative life of Mohammed).

Let's see if I've got this straight: Because Vines cites a book written by apostate Muslims, and these former Muslims pick the interpretations that put their former faith in a bad light... Vines and his ilk are racist. Sorry, Bronski, I'm not seeing the logic here. Wait, what's that? You say I'm only halfway through his argument? OK, maybe we'll find the logic in the remainder:

Ergun Caner stated that "some Muslims want to allegorize their own scriptures because they don't want to defend jihad. But if you take the Koran at its word, or Mohammed at his word, then you'll find physical jihad." The Caners insist that they have the definitive interpretation of the Koran -- and isn't it surprising that theirs is a fundamentalist, literal interpretation that dovetails very nicely with conservative -- well, fundamentalist -- Christian ideas and political agendas? But as is well known, allegorical readings of religious texts are common in all religions. As with any religious text -- or any book, for that matter -- interpretation is subjective. Jews, Catholics, and Protestants have major disagreements about how to understand and interpret the Hebrew Bible and the later Christian writings we call the New Testament. Catholics and Protestants, after all, slaughtered millions [sic] over these matters of interpretation. And today, Sunni and Shiite Muslims have bitter and sometimes deadly religious fights over how to read the Koran.

Yes, it's all clear to me now: Failing to acknowledge that other interpretations of religious texts exist is at the heart of racism. How could that have ever slipped by me?

Mocking aside, it seems Bronski simply slapped the "racist" label on without coming up with a good justification first, knowing that all "right-thinking people" wouldn't need one to declare these folks now doubleplus anathema. "Yes, you're right Bronski, of course they are racist, they are redneck fundies after all!" The only sense I can make of this is that he thinks the Caners are claiming Arabs have an inherently corrupt nature, but he's done an illogical and piss-poor job of proving it. It's yet another example of the cheapening of "racist" into an all-purpose slam against conservatives.

But I knew that backup in the form of a specific higher authority would soon be surfacing. As I made my way through the article I could feel it coming... definitely, he has to show up any moment now... Yes! It's Edward Said and his anti-Western postmodern ranting!

FROM PEDOPHILIA TO homosexuality, from polygamy to a bevy of perpetual virgins, Western culture cannot get enough of this sexualized Islam. But that should come as no surprise, since for over a century Western cultures have eroticized not only Islam, but the Near and Far East in general. In his groundbreaking 1978 book Orientalism, Edward Said charted how European (and to a lesser degree, American) culture has depicted the "exotic" East... in art, theater, novels, travel books, opera, philosophy, and architecture. Said's basic argument is that "the Orient" doesn’t exist -- it is a figment of the West's imagination, invented from endless, often sexualized, fantasies... Orientalism, Said argues, enabled European culture to gain "in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even an underground self." In other words, the sexy, exotic Orient allowed Europeans to experience -- through the imagination -- sexual desires their own culture forbade them, as well as to set clear boundaries between their own moral culture and an alien amoral one. By displacing their own sexual fantasies onto the Orient, Europeans could double their pleasure by imagining the best, then labeling it the worst.

His invoking a member of the Holy Leftist Trinity of Chomsky, Zinn, and Said is revealing in itself, and a warning to turn up the setting on your bullshit filter to high. But putting aside a critique of Said, citing him allows Bronski to complete the "sexually repressed" caricature as outlined in my opening paragraph. Having crudely hacked the Evagelical's sexual morality out of its Christian context, he can now connect it with "Orientalism." Now Evangelicals are not merely uptight about sexuality, they are actually full-blown hypocrites filled with secret longings for the twisted sexual pleasures they so vociferously condemn.

All along, however, I suspected that Bronski's animosity was rooted primarily in something else, and sure enough, at the tail end of his article it comes out:

Falwell and Vines's "greatest concern is to see all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ." That they are allowed to pursue that vision -- which is profoundly disrespectful to the lives and beliefs of Muslims and antithetical to an contemporary American idea of tolerance and cultural acceptance -- with the tacit acceptance of the media is a sorry sign of American culture today.

So there it is: The evangelical missionaries are bad because they believe in a Truth, and want to convince others of that Truth. Bronski obviously holds to the liberal view of tolerance, which is not merely a refraining from violating the rights of those with whom you disagree, but a requirement to affirm other views as equally good to your own. It's the view of beliefs as lifestyle, the "ethnic restaurants" model of diversity... natural enough to hold, if you see religions not as claims to Truth but rather styles of being that you don and strip at whim. But of course in realms where Bronski and his compatriots at ZNet (his other gig) think some truth is at stake -- or at least worldly power -- this goes out the window. Thus it is perfectly acceptable to Bronski to proffer this pop-psych smear that is "profoundly disrespectful to the lives and beliefs" of evangelical Christians and "antithetical" to the traditional "American idea of tolerance" in order to score some points.

Varenius' View

None of this is to say that there are no problems with what these groups are doing. Are they, like many of their fellow Americans, poorly informed about Islam? Quite likely. Are they being unfair in their claims about Islam? Often, yes. American evangelical missionaries do appear at times to do a very poor job educating themselves about the countries they wish to evangelize, such as when they flooded into Russia after the Soviet collapse seemingly oblivious to the country's Orthodox Christian heritage. And any attempt to convert a nation while it undergoes deep and wide-scale distress requires very careful and humble consideration, and overwhelmingly so when the evangelism is intertwined closely with humanitarian aid -- the possibility of conversions being "bought" is an immeasurably destructive risk for all involved. But a serious and fair grappling with these substantive issues is not Bronski's goal, since that would detract from an opportunity to smear his ideological opponents.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

While poking around the Urban Legends Reference Pages for interesting tidbits, I found this entry evaluating the claim that unemployment rates only measure those collecting unemployment insurance. (The significance, if true, would be that those who do not file claims or whose insurance payments have run out would not be tallied for these rates.) I had heard this before and assumed it was probably true, but it turns out that it's not. The rate is actually determined by sampling households via surveys each month, not the number of current unemployment claims. Good to keep in mind.


After Noam Chomsky, the academic for whom I have the most contempt is probably historian Howard Zinn. In my experience, Zinn's popular text A People’s History of the United States is second only to the Chomster's rantings in its culpability for turning naive college students into anti-American ideologues. Thus I was glad to see this well-researched smackdown of Zinn over at Frontpage. That Zinn is truly a propagandist rather than a historian is shamelessly admitted by the man himself:

While every historian has his biases, Zinn makes no effort to overcome his. What is considered vice by most historians -- politically motivated inaccuracies, long-winded rants, convenient omissions, substituting partisanship for objectivity -- is transformed into virtue by Zinn.

“Objectivity is impossible,” pop historian Howard Zinn once remarked, “and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.” [emph. mine]

And what does the good professor believe will "advance causes of humanity"? Why, Marxism, of course!

If you’ve read Marx, there’s no reason to read Howard Zinn. In fact, reading the first line of The Communist Manifesto makes a study of A People’s History of the United States a colossal waste of time. The single-bullet theory of history offered by Marx -- “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle" -- is relied upon by Zinn to explain all of American history.

The article goes on to explore reasons for the book's popularity (as with Chomsky, clueless rock stars is one) and catalogue many of the falsehoods proffered by Zinn. Read it all, it's definitely worth your while.

The "People's" Fad

On second thought, perhaps rather than reading this article we need merely follow Mean Mr. Mustard's advice to know what Zinn is all about: "Ask yourself what other human endeavors have names that proffer their dedication to 'The People,' (always to the detriment of millions of the people), and you'll have an idea where his ideological foundations lie." A timely rule of thumb, given that "The People's" seems to be returning as a popular part of titles these days. Here in Santa Barbara we are being plagued by The People's Coalition for Economic and Social Justice, although I have yet to figure out how Jim Hightower, Not in Our Name, the owner of The Body Shop, and a bunch of college Leftists making up a group based in one of California's playgrounds for the rich and famous can be thought of as representing "The People." (Yes, yes, I know, they are the embodiment of the class consciousness that The People are too stupid downtrodden to develop on their own.) I was also dismayed (but not too surprised) to learn that my own field of geography has been infected with "People's" fever as well, in the form of The People's Geography Project. If the name and the picture of the fist smashing out of the globe don't give you a clue, it's an invention of Marxist and PoMo academics, designed to bring their "insights" to the "people"... After all, who better than lifelong denizens of the Ivory Tower subscribing to a discredited ideology to give the working man practical, relevant advice?


Photon Courier has a great satire (??) on the post-litigation future of the restaurant industry: No Steak for You! Perhaps it's a little far-fetched, but considering the growing popularity of "Warning: Hot coffee is hot!"* lawsuits, I'm not so sure!

* The actual warning printed on the Jack in the Box coffee cup... you certainly can't say they lack a sense of humor.

Monday, June 02, 2003

As much as I like Front Page, I have to say that the quality of David Horowitz' personal blog there has been fairly uneven. I was reminded of this when reading his entries for today, wherein he quotes (without attributing the source) from a popular benign spam e-mail describing the alleged conditions of life in the 1500s and common expressions that supposedly resulted from this. For example:

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

These stories are cute and sound believable, but the e-mail is a hoax, as the Urban Legends Reference Pages shows in this dissection of a slightly longer version of the e-mail. The ULRP analysis makes for great reading, and I encourage you to go through the entire thing although it's a bit lengthy.

I don't mean to be too harsh with Horowitz on this, since it's a mistake that's easily and often made. (I've passed on e-mails like this myself in the past, before I made it a habit to always fact-check them first.) The reason it bothers me is that his opponents on the far Left are eager to seize on anything that erodes his credibility, and although this incident is admittedly a minor one (i.e. it doesn't offer anything rhetorically useful) it is suggestive of a lack of prudence that might provide them something in other situations.

UPDATE: The entry has now been removed, so Horowitz must have been notified that the e-mail is a hoax.