Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Four Freedoms

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's January, 1941, State of the Union Address is known for his vision of a better world. He wrote:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms."

How well have we done on accomplishing this in the 76 years since Roosevelt read this text to Congress? Well, the biggest threat to freedom of any kind in 1941 was the Nazi regime in Germany, which was of course defeated with great sacrifice. After the war, Americans committed to a process of honest striving to create a world like Roosevelt envisioned. But these freedoms were never really delivered worldwide.

Norman Rockwell's famous depiction of the Four Freedoms motivated the War Bond campaign in World War II. (Wikipedia)

Today, in 2017, these freedoms are seriously threatened for at least some people who live in America. Specifically, Roosevelt said:

"The first is freedom of 
speech and expression -- everywhere in the world."

Currently, freedom of speech is threatened for nearly everyone by many new laws that criminalize protest, and by a variety attacks on the press.

"The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world."

In recent years, freedom of worship in our country has been limited more and more to Christians. Our executive branch has announced its policy to persecute Muslims, including Muslim Americans. Our President employs in high positions supporters/inciters of terrorists and vandals who burn mosques, paint swastikas on Jewish institutions, destroy Jewish cemeteries, and bully minorities. Official concern for a vision of worldwide freedom of worship has often been reduced to concern for Christian minorities in non-Christian countries.

Further, in the US, this freedom has been corrupted by changing the term from "worship" to "religion" and then extending this "freedom" to the freedom to deny other people rights because they supposedly conflict with someone's religion. Court decisions have upheld the "right" of corporations to violate anti-discrimination laws because of the corporate owners' claimed religious objections.

"The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world."

Freedom from want was never fully accomplished, but many government programs in the last 75 years have been enacted to feed the hungry, provide medical care for the needy, and provide shelter for the homeless. All these programs are now on the chopping block.

"The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world."

Freedom from fear is being cancelled in America today for gay people, black people, brown people, immigrants in many minority groups, transsexuals (especially school children), Muslims, Jews, and political dissidents. Our highest leaders encourage mobs to chant threats, look the other way when police are brutal, and make excuses for vandals and terrorists who burn mosques etc. The first federal agencies to be enlisted are the Department of Homeland Security and the INS, with imprisonment of people in airports, raids on homes of immigrants, and direct targeting even of citizens with many generations of ancestors who are American citizens (like Mohammed Ali's son).

Rising militarism and isolationism, along with growing bigotry, is another potential source of fear in American society, as is the looming disaster of rising oceans, terrible storms, and other effects of climate change -- all denied by our leaders.

Roosevelt summed up his hope, which I wish was still our collective hope:

"That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called 'new order' of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Hate Crime Act as a Crutch for Bigots

The Hate Crime Act is very specific about the evidence needed to accuse and convict an arsonist, a shooter, a stabber, or a vandal under its definitions and terms. This is a perfectly reasonable way for American law to function. However, the result is that the “false flag” argument about crimes against Jewish, Black, or Moslem individuals and institutions are being supported.*

Here are some examples:
  • A teenager has been accused of setting a fire to a Mosque in Pittsfield Township, Michigan, but the authorities say they don’t have enough evidence to charge him with a hate crime. The fact that a climate of Islamophobia and hatred for Muslims probably influenced this individual to choose the mosque as his target is important in understanding what’s happening, but the haters on the right claim that the lack of evidence for the specific legal charge means this was a “false flag” – and that it proves something about liberals who discuss the climate of hatred.
  • Over 100 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers – which mainly serve as schools and daycare centers – are interpreted as part of an antisemitic climate and probably as a campaign to create a climate of fear among Jewish people whose children are regularly threatened. Only one person, who made 8 of the calls, has been caught, and his motive was to frame his girlfriend – so it’s not legally a hate crime. Though his choice of actions clearly reflected the antisemitic climate, and was undoubtedly a way for him to magnify the attention he received, the haters interpret this as another example of exaggeration by Jews and others who classify it with antisemitic attacks. Just a “false flag,” another example of Jews exaggerating, they say.
  • When police investigating vandalism at Jewish cemeteries said they didn’t know if it was a hate crime, right-wing haters thus dismissed all discussion of the antisemitic atmosphere that clearly inspired the vandals. This dismissal goes to the highest levels of our government.
  • For years, police who shoot black teenagers or other black people have been defended by people who say they are justified, and blame the victims. A lot has been written about this, I won’t try to elaborate.

A quote:
"Anti-Semitism doesn’t require individuals who participate in it to hate Jews, or even to care about Jews. Anti-Semitism is a way to structure hate and violence. Once the structure is in place, anyone can participate, whether they are personally invested or not. Prejudice doesn’t require intent. You don’t have to hate Jews to commit anti-Semitic acts." (source: "GamerGate Can Teach Us About Anti-Semitic Attacks" by Noah Berlatsky, March 9, 2017.)

*Note: A “false flag” is a seeming hate crime or act of prejudice whose perpetrator in reality is not motivated by bigotry, and in some cases is said to belong to the attacked group. This hypothetical perpetrator or provacateur acts to obtain sympathy or other advantage for the group. Attacks on minority individuals or institutions (like mosques, Black churches, or Jewish cemeteries) are thus classified as random, “ordinary” crimes, and thus of no importance. The “alt right,” which is now in charge of parts of the US government, has been using the “false flag” accusation for quite a while to dismiss efforts to identify and oppose organized bigotry.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Interesting insights into current antisemitism and other bigotry

"The person, or people, responsible for the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers plan to frighten Jewish people. They also want to make terrorizing Jewish people into a normal, everyday occurrence. Harassment campaigns work in part to lower the barrier for entry to hate. 
"That’s part of why President Trump’s suggestion that the threats were hoaxes intended to damage him proved so dangerous. If the threats are just a hoax, why not prove they’re a hoax by calling in a hoax threat yourself? If hate isn’t serious, people who aren’t serious about hate can participate too."
Vandalized Jewish cemetery in University City, Mo.
where my mother, grandparents, and many other relatives
are buried. But it's not just personal!
This insight into antisemitism seems very useful to me. I am deeply troubled by the recent and rapid spread of antisemitism and bigotry -- as of course are many other Americans. The clear encouragement of such attitudes by the current administration is even more troubling. The article  "GamerGate Can Teach Us About Anti-Semitic Attacks" byNoah Berlatsky, from which this quote is taken, offers a number of insights into what's most problematic:
"Anti-Semitism doesn’t require individuals who participate in it to hate Jews, or even to care about Jews. Anti-Semitism is a way to structure hate and violence. Once the structure is in place, anyone can participate, whether they are personally invested or not. Prejudice doesn’t require intent. You don’t have to hate Jews to commit anti-Semitic acts."
Police investigating a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in
Ann Arbor where I live. But it's not just personal!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Racism, Revisited

Among many racist acts taking place at all levels of society this week, the gratuitous insult to a group of Black college presidents was notable, because it happened right in the White House (or should I say the Presidential Palace)?

At Howard University, students chose several ways to protest the participation of Wayne A. I. Frederick, the president of their college, in this meeting. One example of their protest: the graffiti shown at right (photo from New York Times):
"It was a scalding message, painted on a university campus sidewalk this week: 'Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A. I. Frederick.'"
Howard is one of the most prominent of the historic Black universities, founded in the post-Civil-War era when Black Americans were struggling to find their rightful place in society. In the twentieth century, numerous important leaders graduated from Howard: Thurgood Marshall, first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court; Andrew Young, Congressman from Georgia, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and Mayor of Atlanta; Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature; Zora Neale Hurston, author; Kamala Harris, recently elected US Senator from California, and many more. I believe the students there now, as they are expressing themselves, includes more individuals of this caliber.

About the protest, the New York Times wrote:
"The student backlash came after Dr. Frederick and more than 60 other leaders of historically black colleges and universities gathered for a meeting on Monday with top officials of the Trump administration, including the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. As the meeting was getting underway, participants said, it was interrupted to invite them to an impromptu visit with President Trump in the Oval Office. 
"A photograph of the black leaders smiling and chatting with Mr. Trump around his desk was widely circulated and instantly became a flash point for students who believe the administration has been insensitive to the needs of black Americans." (source)
Students from other universities whose leaders participated in the White House event also protested, and the leaders offered a variety of excuses to explain their presence. The article continued: "The students saw the meetings as political cover for Mr. Trump, and some awkward details of his administration’s encounter with the black academic leaders only reinforced their skepticism."

I'm currently reading W.E.B DuBois's 1903 book The Souls of Black Folks. It's an interesting discussion, especially in the light of Betsy De Vos's clueless characterization of traditionally Black universities as an example of "choice."

From DuBois, himself a graduate of Harvard University, I read the following idealistic discussion of education in the South.
"Sadly did the Old South err in human education, despising the education of the masses, and niggardly in the support of colleges. Her ancient university foundations dwindled and withered under the foul breath of slavery; and even since the war they have fought a failing fight for life in the tainted air of social unrest and commercial selfishness, stunted by the death of criticism, and starving for lack of broadly cultured men. And if this is the white South's need and danger, how much heavier the danger and need of the freedmen's sons! how pressing here the need of broad ideals and true culture, the conservation of soul from sordid aims and petty passions!... Let us build, too, the Negro universities:— Fisk, whose foundation was ever broad; Howard, at the heart of the Nation; Atlanta at Atlanta, whose ideal of scholarship has been held above the temptation of numbers. Why not here, and perhaps elsewhere, plant deeply and for all time centres of learning and living, colleges that yearly would send into the life of the South a few white men and a few black men of broad culture, catholic tolerance, and trained ability, joining their hands to other hands, and giving to this squabble of the Races a decent and dignified peace?"(Kindle Locations 1034-1043).
 On the whole, I think our society has progressed in the last century, but I fear the current situation will set us back. I've learned much more from reading The Souls of Black Folks, but hesitate to go on at too much length.