Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barbarians at the Gate

If you heard about the legislative efforts in Oklahoma, Tennessee and elsewhere to ban Islamic sharia law, you may have asked yourself, as I did: What. The. Fuck. Are they seriously concerned that sharia law is somehow threatening to engulf the American heartland? Did al Qaeda land some seats in the Tennessee state legislature? Have the Taliban opened a campaign office in Oklahoma? Whence, precisely, arises this imminent danger?

Tracing the history and personalities of this phenomenon, today's New York Times piece, "The Man Behind the Shariah Movement", paints a troubling picture of anti-sharia hysteria in the US. The author, investigative reporter Andrea Elliott, "has reported extensively on Islam in a post-9/11 America", according to the Times.

Elliott tracks the anti-sharia scare to the offices of one man, Brooklyn attorney and Chabad Lubavitcher David Yerushalmi. In 2006, Yerushalmi founded the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), dedicated to fighting a "war against Islam and all Muslim faithful". SANE's platform is anti-sharia, anti-immigration, and anti-Muslim, even proposing that promoting sharia law (perhaps by selling halal meat, for example? It's hard to say) should become a "felony punishable by 20 years in prison".

Common sense suggests a reasonable level of concern with the rise of Islamism around the world and its propensity for oppression, violence, and fanaticism. Furthermore, it's important to recognize the problem of mainstream Muslims in the US who preach co-existence and tolerance, yet offer political, moral, and financial support to terrorists overseas. (More on them in a moment.) But Yerushalmi and his ironically named organization have crossed the bright line from thoughtful awareness into paranoia and racism.

According to the ADL, Yerushalmi has written that "most of the fundamental differences between the races [are] genetic," and that African-Americans in particular are a "relatively murderous race killing itself". Unsurprisingly, he has also suggested that liberal Jews, such as your humble blogger, are "anti-American". Even more shocking, for an organization founded by a Jew, is SANE's recommendation that undocumented immigrants be detained in "special criminal camps" for three years before deportation.

So we've learned that Yerushalmi is a bad guy, and that SANE is anything but. But that doesn't mean we should close our eyes to the kernel of truth hidden within their giant pile of manure.

Early in the 2800-word article, for instance, the author refers to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The unstated irony is that what Yerushalmi would have us believe is true of virtually all American Muslims may in fact be true of CAIR. Painting itself as a civil rights defender, CAIR stands accused of working for the benefit of Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. For example, according to the century-old human relations organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), CAIR "undermines efforts by federal law enforcement authorities to stem the flow of funds from this country to terrorist organizations".

(By the way, kudos to Elliott for her description of CAIR as a "Muslim advocacy group", disregarding the phrase "civil rights organization" used by CAIR and too often parroted by the press. While even "Muslim advocacy group" doesn't paint nearly as dark a portrait as CAIR deserves, it is, at least, technically accurate.)

Elliott also quotes a handful of Islamic studies scholars. But an examination of the funding and organization of Islamic studies in the US suggests that a certain amount of skepticism is definitely warranted. At the University of South Florida, a former Islamic studies scholar went on to lead a Palestinian terror organization. Yale's faculty includes two of the leading American proponents of the Iranian regime. The influence of Islamists in American universities is as undeniable as it is disturbing.

At the end of the day, it appears that everybody agrees that the barbarians are at the gate. But exactly who are the barbarians? Islamic extremists, bent on dominating and, ultimately, destroying Western society? Or the xenophobic, alarmist, religious fundamentalists raising the alarm? Rational Americans are fighting a two-front war to defend our values and our way of life against these opposing threats.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jake's Vision

[Note: I wrote “Jake's Vision” for a contest.  As it did not win (I know—I was shocked, too!), I thought I'd share it here with you.  Enjoy.]

By the 18th floor, we were breathing pretty heavy.  The trucks were staged outside, but the ladders could only reach as high as the 10th floor.  So we grabbed our gear and headed up the stairwell, clearing casualties and trapped victims as we made our way to the top of the smoke-filled, 25-story apartment complex, one landing at a time.

Jesse was on point, as usual.  He wasn't the senior guy, but ever since we were kids his air of leadership had been as undeniable as his lanky build and blue eyes.  "How many cops does it take to get a cat out of a tree?"  Jesse's voice betrayed none of the effort of our ascent.

Somebody groaned.  Most of the guys knew this routine already, Jesse using humor to distract us from the heat, the stress.

"Two.  One to call the fire department and one to fetch the donuts."

Hoarse laughter crackled through the speakers as we turned and started up the next flight of stairs.  A small, crumpled form came into view through the haze as we approached the landing.  "Jake!"

"On it."  I scrambled up the remaining steps and knelt beside the tiny figure, setting my medical kit on the ground.  "She's unconscious.  Nine, ten years old."  I leaned over her, took her pulse, watched her chest rise and fall.  "She's breathing.  Thank God."

Jesse reached the landing.  "Same God trapped her in this hell-hole, little brother?"

A long-running disagreement, one that would never be settled.  "Same God that left her right here where we'd find her."  That's how I saw it, anyway.

The last casualty had suffered a broken ankle, couldn't make it down the stairs.  Didn't occur to her to remove her heels when escaping a burning building, I guess.  One of the other guys carried her down, but the kid was going to need a paramedic to stay with her, make sure she kept breathing.

"Think you can handle her alone, Jake?"  More ribbing:  the girl weighed maybe 60 pounds soaking wet.

"I'll manage."

Preparing to head back downstairs, I slung my med kit over my shoulder and picked up the limp child, oxygen mask snug on her face.  Along the way, her eyes opened.  Terrified, tears streamed down her cheeks.  I tried to soothe her, but she refused to be comforted. 

At least the kid was awake, active.  One for my side.  Despite her squirming, I managed to keep hold of her long enough to reach the windows on the tenth floor.  I handed her off to another firefighter just as a voice came over my radio:  "Jake, they're starting to pile up down here.  We need you."

"On my way, captain.  Jess, you copy that?"

"Roger.  See you in a few."

Swinging around, I grabbed the ladder and started my descent.  I was still climbing down when the explosion blasted out the windows somewhere high above me.  The concussion blew off my helmet, threw me to the ground ten feet below.  I blacked out.

Eventually my vision began to clear.  As though in a dream, the building rose up before me, its upper floors engulfed in a cloud of smoke.  Firefighters raced up and down the ladders with renewed urgency.  The cloud swallowed them up as they ascended, sometimes reappearing with one of their own slung over their shoulders. 

Well, big brother, I thought, a lump forming in my throat.  Looks like we're gonna settle that argument after all. 

I laid my head against the hard asphalt and waited.