February 17, 2006

Let No Topic Be Sacred

Opinion writer Tariq Ramadan’s call for calm among Muslims is much needed and appreciated (“A Muslim Call From Europe For Faith in Civility,” February 10). However, in dismissing the notion of a clash between the values of the Enlightenment and those of religious zealotry, he ignores the fact that the right to blaspheme is in fact protected by freedom of speech.

The Danish cartoons are no more or less insulting than the “Piss Christ” exhibit that ran some years ago in Australia, or the recent cartoon from the United States depicting a menorah transforming into a cross accompanied by lines spoken by Jesus during his crucifixion.

Arguably, they are less so: apart from the infamous bomb turban and “72 virgins” cartoons, most of them depict Muhammad in a neutral and innocuous manner and do not question Islam’s nature or teachings. The uproar over them indicates that some Muslims are unwilling to allow their religion and ideas to come under the same scrutiny as other ideas, or indeed the same scrutiny that Muslims apply to other religions.

In the West, the right to say what is technically blasphemous has been tacitly recognized and protected since at least the time of Mark Twain’s “The Mysterious Stranger” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead. It is completely disingenuous and outright dangerous to suggest that a society that has free speech and a free market of ideas must refrain from discussing religion in the name of tolerance — especially since free speech, freedom of conscience and tolerance are very difficult to find in the Muslim world.

Declaring religion immune from the same discussion, analysis and criticism that all other ideas are subjected to is not tolerance. It is theocracy. We rightly reject repressive theocratic ideas when they come out of Iran or Indonesia. We should reject the same ideas when they are suggested in the West.

David Fanany

Melbourne, Australia

Synagogue Isn’t Enron

I was disappointed to read opinion columnist Ami Eden compound the tragic consequences of the downfall of Enron by unfairly tarnishing the reputation of a good and decent synagogue community (“Passion of the Texans,” January 20).

The Fastows, while members of Or Ami, have never been major contributors to the synagogue or to the Rabbi’s Tzedakah Fund, and they did not participate in the capital fund drive to build our new synagogue facility. As for standing by my congregants, I am confident that other rabbis and non-Jewish clergy similarly would have provided religious, spiritual and emotional support for a member in crisis — as I did — without assuming the role of judge and jury.

My comments about Fastow reflected my knowledge of him as a member of the congregation — not as CFO of Enron.

Rabbi Shaul Osadchey

Congregation Or Ami

Houston, Texas

Infighting in Canada

The February 10 article on the impact of the recent federal election on Jewish community advocacy organizations, with its insulting assessment by Rochelle Wilner of B’nai Brith Canada regarding Canadian Jewish Congress’s relationship with Stockwell Day and the Conservative Party of Canada, distorts the reality (“Jewish Canadians, Loyal Liberals, Lose Insider Statues”).

It is simplistic to suggest that the Canadian Jewish Congress has lost influence with the new government and Wilner’s accusation that we disparaged an entire political party is just wrong.

The Forward ascribes great significance to the fact that B’nai Brith Canada issued a press release congratulating the Conservatives for their electoral victory, while noting in a dismissive aside that the Canadian Jewish Congress sent its congratulations to the new prime minister in the form of a letter instead of a press release. This is a nonsensical distinction — surely a personal letter of mazal tov is at least as genuine an expression as an impersonal press release.

Canadian Jewish Congress spokespeople were repeatedly quoted in the Canadian media as warmly welcoming Stephen Harper and noting the significance of his victory to the Canadian Jewish community.

As to Wilner’s accusation that the Canadian Jewish Congress disparaged the Conservative party in the past, this is without merit. Aside from the countless meetings with individual Conservative parliamentarians over the years, Canadian Jewish Congress President Ed Morgan has met regularly with former leaders Preston Manning and Stockwell Day and has conducted on-going briefings with key caucus critics. Indeed, the Canadian Jewish Congress invited Day as a keynote speaker to its most prestigious gathering, the Triennial Plenary Assembly held in Toronto in 2001.

A Canadian Jewish Congress delegation met with Day this past year on the issue of Darfur, and had conference calls and meetings with the Conservative’s new attorney general, Vic Toews, as well as with Harper — just last month, during the election campaign. The new finance minister, Jim Flaherty, is an old friend of the Canadian Jewish Congress from his days as a Cabinet minister in Ontario.

As with any change of power, the Conservatives’ electoral victory last month presents the Jewish community with opportunities and challenges. The Canadian Jewish Congress has praised the Conservatives as being in tune with Jewish community concerns on an assortment of policy issues, from foreign affairs to domestic anti-terrorism measures, and at the same time will continue to challenge the new government to adopt policies supportive of Jewish community positions on a variety of social welfare fronts. The Canadian Jewish Congress would rather focus its efforts on capitalizing on those opportunities and meeting those challenges than on fighting yet another internecine battle.

Bernie Farber

Chief Executive Officer

Canadian Jewish Congress

Ottawa, Ontario

An Immigrant Slave?

Gus Tyler states in his February 3 opinion column that, “Unless you are a descendant of one of the native ‘Indian tribes,’ you are either an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant” (“A Nation of Immigrants”). I can only assume then that Tyler would call a captured, transported and traded slave an immigrant as well, no different than one choosing to flee their homeland due to war, famine or racism.

He even calls this “fact” that all Americans except those of indigenous descent are immigrants an “obvious truth.” By this reasoning, I’d have to assume that Tyler would also call a Jew who’d been captured during World War II in say, Italy, and sent to a camp in Poland an immigrant as well.

Buddy Niederhoffer

New York, N.Y.

Abramoff Whitewashed

David Klinghoffer asks in his January 27 opinion column whether it is possible to discover any grounds for sympathy with Jack Abramoff (“The Skewering of Abramoff”). The answer should be a resounding “no” from anyone who cares about democracy.

Abramoff isn’t a guy who made a few bad judgment calls. Klinghoffer completely disregarded the essence of Abramoff’s role in Washington: He ran a massive, illegal slush fund used to consolidate power in the hands of the Republican Party at the expense of good policy, competent government and our democratic process itself. Thanks to Abramoff and Tom DeLay, Congress has been turned into Tammany Hall — a political machine in which influence is for sale and nothing is more important than party loyalty.

Abramoff has publicly apologized, and perhaps even repented as well. Good for him. But he should get absolutely no sympathy from anyone until he has done everything he can to undo the damage to our country and our democracy that he wrought, including cooperating fully with prosecutors, revealing where all the money went and speaking out against the cesspool politics he helped create.

Jack Lerner

San Francisco, Calif.

Brandeis Was Judged

The February 3 Wonders of America column relates Louis Brandeis’s bruising confirmation ordeal and his apparently warm reception onto the court once confirmed (“Talk About a Bruising Confirmation”).

However, the column didn’t mention that Associate Justice James McReynolds, for one, refused to sit or stand next to Brandeis.

Martin Epstein

West Hartford, Conn.

Know Hamas Agenda

Yossi Alpher asks in his February 10 opinion column, “What is it we don’t know about Hamas that led us to so badly underestimate its appeal?” (“Know Thine Enemy”).

Hamas’s victory tell us how much the majority of the Palestinian people value the everyday concerns they share with many others. They do not want corrupt government. They want a predictable economy with jobs; access to social, health and education services; and safe communities in which their children can grow up.

However, it also tells us that decades of living with an abysmal infrastructure, especially with regard to education and communication with the world, has robbed many Palestinians of their discernment. They do not understand fully, or perhaps do not see any political alternative to, the long-term agenda of Hamas and its eventual goal of sending Palestinian children into many future conflicts. Once Hamas controls the Education Ministry, the long-term danger to Israel increases dramatically.

Maurice Elias

Professor of Psychology and Jewish Studies

Rutgers University

New Brunswick, N.J.

February 17, 2006

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February 17, 2006

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