Daryll versus David Duke

On Typos, Mistakes and Egregious Errors

by

Howard Adelman

Today there will be no biblical commentary, at least not one in any depth, the first time I have missed writing one in a long time. That is because I need to apologize for an egregious error in yesterday’s blog which three readers brought to my attention. I wrote Daryl Duke instead of David Duke. The version posted on WordPress has now been corrected..

David Duke is an anti-Semitic white nationalist, Holocaust denier, former imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and one of the foremost conspiracy theorists in the United States. The late Daryl Duke was a personal friend of one of my readers and a well known Canadian film and TV director. I knew of him first as the producer of “This Hour Has Seven Days.” Others may know him as the director of The Thorn Birds. Next week, my youngest son is coming out with his first major music video for a group on its way to world-wide fame; Darryl Duke was a pioneer making prototype music videos for Bob Dylan.

The error is egregious because I cannot claim ignorance as Donald Trump was prone to do when asked why he did not denounce the support he was receiving in his campaign from David Duke by replying so insincerely, “Who is David Duke. I don’t even know the man,” when the issue was not whether he knew him but whether he knew of him and knew about the widely-reported endorsement David Duke had given him. When David Duke’s views were brought unequivocally to Donald’s attention, for a considerable time he continued to fail to reject the endorsement and denounce the views of David Duke.

When he finally did so, it was clearly reluctantly in the tone, “So I denounce his support. There! Are you happy?” For example, back in 1991 when Donald Trump was asked by Larry King on CNN whether the fact that 55% of whites in Louisiana voted for Duke bothered him, Donald Trump replied: “I hate seeing what it represents, but I guess it just shows there’s a lot of hostility in this country. There’s a tremendous amount of hostility in the United States.” King, perhaps aghast at the answer, queried, “Anger?” Trump responded, “It’s anger. I mean, that’s an anger vote. People are angry about what’s happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they’re really in deep trouble. When you talk about the East Coast, it’s not the East Coast. It’s the East Coast, the middle coast, the West Coast…”

Trump did not deny that he knew who David Duke was at the time. However, he pivoted in the same way he has thousands of times in his campaign for the Republican leadership, for the presidency and as President of the United States. Sure, that behaviour is deplorable. But look what’s behind David Duke’s remarks – the loss of jobs and anger and resentment by whites and especially the white working class. The pivot is away from David Duke and his racism to explaining and excusing that racism.

In 2000, when Donald Trump was asked whether he would accept the nomination of the Reform Party, he said he would reject the nomination because David Duke had joined the party. Duke was a bigot and a racist and he would not want to be in the same party with David Duke. But in 2015 when asked by John Heilemann from Bloomberg whether he would repudiate David Duke’s endorsement, Trump replied, “Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I don’t know anything about him. Somebody told me yesterday, whoever he is, he did endorse me. Actually, I don’t think it was an endorsement. He said I was absolutely the best of all of the candidates.”

One has to be appalled at Donald Trump’s blatant lie – “I don’t know anything about him.” And then he turned the query totally around to himself. “I do not know him but he did say I was the best candidate.” In follow up interviews when journalists repeatedly asked about David Duke’s endorsement, Trump would repeat the same claim of ignorance when ignorance was no longer possible as a defence. “I don’t know anything about David Duke. Okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.” The man who claimed he knew more than all the American generals, knew more than the untrustworthy intelligence services of the United States, claimed ignorance about a matter which can be proven he knew about.

Sometimes Donald Trump pleads ignorance when a plea of ignorance is indefensible. “I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.” “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”

Unlike Donald, who persistently refuses to acknowledge and perhaps acknowledge errors and inconsistencies in what he says, I acknowledge my error in writing Daryl instead of David Duke. It was an appalling, even abominable error, both because Daryl Duke stood for values absolutely opposed to those of David Duke, but also because, in the current context, it is all the more incumbent to be both accurate and to not only acknowledge errors, but also to try to understand why the error was made. Was I being just sloppy? Not really an excuse. Was I being rushed and getting behind so that I was not sending my drafts to Alex Zisman to proofread before the blog is sent out. I think this is the case and I will revert to that practice, though not with this blog because of the urgency of making the correction.

But acts of contrition and efforts at correction are insufficient. It is still important to discover whether the error was, for example, a Freudian slip revealing a hidden animosity. Last night, actually early this morning, since I went to an excellent poetry reading last evening and did not get home until it was quite late, I could not sleep – rare for me. I could not extinguish the error from my mind. So I watched an old 2007 movie, Rendition, directed by Gavin Hood with an outstanding cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard. Omar Metwally played Anwar El-Ibrahimi, the Chicago engineer born in Egypt who came to America with his family at the age of 14 and became an assimilated American. As an adult professional with a wife and son and second child on the way, he was arrested upon his return from Egypt and sent back by the CIA to be tortured in Egypt because of suspicion that he had been involved with an Arab terrorist organization. The plot was based on what happened to Khalid El-Masri, a German/Lebanese citizen abducted in error by the Macedonian police rather than the CIA, but who was received by the CIA and flown to Afghanistan rather than Egypt to be imprisoned in a black site where he was interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, and subjected to inhumane and degrading torture of various varieties, including waterboarding. They were all on display in the movie.

The film is built around a number of moral tensions, primarily the tension between the CIA agent in charge of the case and overseeing the process of torture without being permitted to participate. He gradually becomes convinced of Ibrahim’s innocence and the uselessness of “torture.” But he is also sensitive to the pleas about both his professional responsibilities as well as the possibility that the torture might produce information that could save countless lives in a future terrorist act.

Truth and moral conduct are intimately linked. Is Ibrahim innocent or is he dissembling? If Ibrahim is part of a terrorist network selling chemical information that helps make explosives more powerful, then is the use of torture justified? Or is its use both morally and legally reprehensible. Now my error did not come anywhere proximate to that one, but it was an error. I not only confess it and correct the text, but also try to root out its source if there was one. And I will set procedures in motion to make such errors less likely in the future.

The Torah portion for today – Ki Tisa is about atonement for sins. Exodus 30:10 reads: “And Aaron shall make atonement upon the horns of it once in the year; with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement once in the year shall he make atonement for it throughout your generations; it is most holy unto the LORD.” This is immediately followed by the obligation to make a census of every individual among the Israelites, “then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. What is the relationship between the sin, atoning for that sin, a census of every individual and the prevention of a plague?

I do not believe this text is complicated. Every individual shall be treated as an individual with a soul. A sin against an individual is a sin against God for the Lord is visible in the face of every individual. Torture of that soul is torture of God. And when one deliberately hurts another to extract a truth, it is never worth it even if accurate information is extracted. The reason is not only the question of whether the information is unreliable and whether it was given up just to escape the torture whether true or not, but because the effort to extract the truth by coercion leads to a plague of dishonesty and a plague of hatred and a plague of terrorism.

Donald Trump is a serial liar. The President tweeted two weeks ago that he had just learned that Barack Obama as President had secretly wiretapped Trump Tower where he lived and where he had his campaign headquarters. “Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” This is but one of many tweets that made similar accusations. But since then, he and his apologists have tried to insist that he did not mean Barack Obama personally, but the Obama administration, that he did not mean wiretapping specifically but surveillance in general, and then yesterday both Spicer and he cited news sources to justify his claim when not one of the reliable ones did.

“Not that I respect The New York Times. I call it the failing New York Times. But they did write on January 20 using the word wiretap.” The story had nothing to do with Obama ordering wiretaps on Trump Tower. The heads of the Intelligence Committees in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, Republican and Democrat, said there was no evidence to back up such a claim. Former heads of intelligence at the time and the current head of the FBI currently said there is no such evidence.

But Donald Trump and his apologists says that no evidence does not mean absolutely no evidence or that evidence might not be uncovered in the future. Further, Trump diverts with a tease – information will emerge in the next two weeks. When he offered the same tease about his accusations that Obama was born in Kenya, he never followed through with either any evidence or even any effort to gather such evidence.

If we lie deliberately, if we commit a falsehood even in error (I am not discussing “white lies”), it is important to correct them and in someway express atonement. The lie or error may be small, but the consequences are serious. For lies set off a plague of lying, of dissembling, of cover-ups, of distractions, of further fabrications, all of which corrupt the social space in which every one of us lives. My error may have been relatively very minor compared to Trump’s outlandish lies one after the other, but any lie or error of this kind must be corrected. Apologies must be issued. Correction in habits must be introduced. And some type of atonement must be offered.

There is a real connection between lying and the plague of antisemitism, for antisemitism is founded on a foundation of outright lies.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Trump Antisemitic Facilitator – Part II: The Iranian Dimension

Donald Trump Antisemitic Facilitator – Part II: The Iranian Dimensionby

by

Howard Adelman

SUMMARY

Connecting a non-antisemite (Trump) to a charge that the same person contributes to the rise of antisemitism is very difficult in the best of worlds. However, given the toxic discourse of the American political scene, it is even more difficult. I bracket Donald Trump initially and begin with a detailed case study of two writers, both Iranian-Americans, who accuse four other American writers of aggregating Donald Trump’s anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric, thereby adding to and exacerbating an atmosphere of intolerance generally. That, in turn, foments antisemitism. I analyze the charge in detail to demonstrate that the accusers are, at a minimum, guilty of gross distortion and unsubstantiated allegations that open up the possibility that they may themselves be contributors to antisemitism even if that may not have been their intent, raising the question of whether, both because of those targeted, the manner of their argument and their substantive declared objective, they may be border-line antisemites or even unconsciously deeply antisemitic.

If Donald Trump is unequivocally not an antisemite of any type, does Donald Trump bear some responsibility for the increase in antisemitic incidents? He has often expressed antisemitic tropes, targeting other groups. He also refused for the longest time to condemn the racists who supported him. Moreover, he is also prone to Jewish stereotyping, once referring to Jews at a Jewish event as a people focused on making money and, like himself, dealmakers. He called the people in the room, “negotiators” and said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money.”

However, among the political right, antisemitism is a dying creed, especially since the antisemitism targeting the billionaires who “control” the economy of the world as well as the media outlets has now become a major component in the ultra-left wing of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, there is still more than enough coming from the right. A TV ad aired in Trump’s campaign for the presidency pointed a finger at “a global power structure that that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class and stripped our country of its wealth.” And who were the villains? All Jews – billionaire currency speculator George Soros, Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve and Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Unleashing xenophobic furies possibly creates an atmosphere which makes hatred of minorities more acceptable. But the connection to antisemitism can be more indirect where actions in the name of criticizing hate stir reactions. I am not referring to the extremists on the right, such as David Duke, who greets every attack by Donald Trump on Muslims with loud cheers.  I want to raise the subtler case of border-line antisemitism which may contain a strong strain of prejudice and distortion that could readily be interpreted as antisemitism.

In a Kansas bar in February, Adam Puriton shot and killed one Indian engineer and wounded another thinking they were Iranians. In response, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, (NIAC) and Tyler Cullis, a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (a different NIAC) legal fellow at the National Iranian American Council, wrote a piece in The Huffington Post called, “Trump Didn’t Start The Anti-Iranian Fire.” The article began by connecting the Puriton incident to Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric. However, the article went on, insisting that the problem predated and went deeper than Donald Trump and declared Trump “nothing but the most outward symptom of an affliction that has long plagued our country.” In other words, there was a “deep state,” or, at the very least, a “deep society” behind the Trump anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The article then named the culprits at the deeper level. “For more than a decade, there has been an organized effort on the part of groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), The Israel Project (TIP), Secure America Now, and United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and propagandists like Michael Rubin, Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and Josh Block to push war with Iran in the most hyperbolic terms, all the while defaming those – most particularly, those in the Iranian-American community – who urge a peaceful resolution to the historical tensions between the two countries.” Their thesis was that these culprits had demonized the Iranian regime and were thereby responsible for provoking Puriton’s murderous intent and actions.

I was puzzled by the attack. What do the well-known anti-Iranian positions of the above institutions and, more specifically, Michael Rubin, Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and Josh Block, have to do with arousing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric? Michael Rubin wrote a comment in Refugees Deeply (https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2016/11/04/expert-discussion-president-donald-trump-and-the-refugee-crisis). The comment appeared right after those of my pro-refugee colleagues’ strong criticisms of Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric. The three preceding criticisms of an anti-refugee bias were written by Michelle Mittelstadt from the Migration Policy Institute, Lavinia Limon, president and CRE of the U.S. Committee for Refugees who coined the phrase “warehousing” to depict the refugee camps (holding pens is a more accurate phrase) funded by the international community, and Jessica Brandt, a fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Rubin then wrote: “Trump’s deference to dictators – be they in Syria, Turkey or Russia – may convince them that they can commit atrocities without consequence. This might have the net effect of increasing refugee problems. And, because stemming immigration has been such a central part of his populist appeal, the willingness of a Trump White House to address refugees beyond basic provision of aid seems unlikely.” Though not in the same league as the three other denunciations of Trump’s anti-refugee policy, it is almost impossible to read this comment as an endorsement of Trump on refugees.

In Eli Lake’s 2015 article, “Crisis Looms for Refugees Taken in by Iraq’s Kurds,” (Bloomberg), he wrote, “The current refugee crisis created by the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars has received significant attention in recent weeks as hundreds of thousands of refugees have sought new lives in Europe. But it’s the countries in the Middle East that are suffering the most as a result of the ongoing war.” Again, this is virtually impossible to interpret as an anti-refugee screed.

Adam Kredo, on the other hand, did write a number of pieces about vetting refugees and expressed a concern, similar to Trump’s, that the Obama vetting procedures were not known and could be inadequate. He also wrote about a Texas decision to withdraw from the refugee program because of concerns over terrorism, criticized claimed plans under the Obama administration to cut screening times, and, most seriously, claimed in an 8 January 2016 piece that a member of a terrorist cell captured in Texas allegedly entered as a refugee without providing a piece of evidence to substantiate the allegation. The piece supposedly implied that the 113 individuals thus far implicated in terrorism were evidence of a flawed immigration and vetting policy.

Josh Block, as far as I know, has not written on refugee policy. He has written about the connection between Islamicism and, more specifically, ISIS and terrorists attacks in the U.S. particularly the San Bernardino killings. That earned this response by the Iranian-American writers in an article, “Top Israel advocate uses San Bernardino killings to attack Islam” (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/12/advocate-bernardino-killings)

“Josh Block, who is paid to be an advocate for Israel, spends much of his Twitter feed attacking Muslims wherever they are. The more time he spends attacking Muslims, the less his audience can reflect on occupation/dispossession.” But all the quotes were about extreme Islamicists and terrorists, not Muslims. Further, the terrorists who killed 14 and wounded 22 others were Muslim extremists. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were, according to the FBI, “homegrown violent extremists” inspired by jihadism. There was nothing said in the article about refugees, about immigrants or about Muslims in general.

Adam Kredo wrote an article for the Washington Free Beacon in January (http://freebeacon.com/national-security/muslim-brotherhood-ally-falsely-smears-senator-block-terror-designation-bill/) allegedly criticizing CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations billed as a Muslim advocacy group, for its intervention with Congress to prevent lawmakers from designating the Islamic Brotherhood as a supporter of terrorism. However, even the most superficial reader of the article soon learns that the criticism was of CAIR’s claim, quoting CAIR directly, that the author of the Cruz legislation was a disgraced former FBI agent “who made a career out of bashing Muslims and Islam.” Based on the evidence cited, the article concluded that there was absolutely no connection between the legislation and the former FBI agent. It was not an anti-Muslim article. The article was not an anti-Muslim screed.

Eli Lake did write an article in the National Post (10 February 2017) that criticized the link between Trump’s “ban” and abetting radical Islam. However, the argument made by the Iranian-Americans was against the straw man claim that Trump’s ban directly enhanced Islamicist terrorism. The charge was that Trump’s proposed ban (stayed last night by a Hawaii judge who reiterated that it was anti-Muslim based on Trump’s own words) contributed to the Islamicist ability to attract more adherents.

Michael Rubin also has been attacked as an Islamophobe in pieces in ThinkProgress and identified with a “fringe undercurrent of right-wing anti-Muslim bigotry.” (https://thinkprogress.org/the-american-enterprise-institutes-islamophobia-problem-690f500df285#.rin0xyq7c) “Rubin has long maintained relationships with Islamophobes.” The charge was guilt by association. No evidence was offered for Rubin being anti-Muslim.

Look more closely at the culprits. Michael Rubin’s PhD thesis from Yale University was entitled The Making of Modern Iran, 1858–1909: Communications, Telegraph and Society. It won the John Addison Porter Prize in history. He has since published books on Islamic extremism in the Middle East. Rubin is a former Pentagon official now at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, and instructs military officers scheduled for deployment there. Rubin is not a detached observer, not just in the ideological sense, but has drawn his conclusions on Iran not only from scholarship but from direct experience with the Iranian regime. He lived in post-revolution Iran (1996 and 1999) after six months in 1995 in Yemen, taught in pre- (2000-2001) and post-war Iraq, and even lived with the Taliban before 9/11. He knows a thing or two about Islamic extremism.

Rubin is certainly a neo-con and a hawk with respect to both Iraq and Iran. He is a hardline supporter of Netanyahu’s and Trump’s criticism of the Iran deal. So are Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and, to a much lesser extent, Josh Block who is neither a neo-con nor a hawk.

At least three of the four grew up in Pennsylvania. At least three of the four grew up in Jewish leftist households. Michael Rubin was even sent to a Quaker School for fourteen years. All appear to have started out left of centre. But the most common feature of all four is that they are all Jewish. There are a plethora of non-Jewish neo-cons. Why are the only four named critics of Iran and the nuclear deal Jewish? Why are they falsely identified with anti-refugee and anti-Muslim positions?

“A decade of messaging like this, though, has now had its payday: Adam Purinton walked into a bar and shot to kill what he believed to be Iranians,” wrote Parsi and Cullis. The implication of the article can easily be interpreted to mean that Jews were to blame for the killing the Indian engineer and wounding of another just as they were behind the movers and shakers of the economic order, especially since none of the myriad of non-Jewish neo-cons were mentioned, and that the criticisms were identified with a defence of Israel.

Anyone who has read my writings knows that I am far more sympathetic to the political positions of Parsi and Cullis. I have defended the Obama nuclear deal with Iran and criticized the neo-con opposition. I opposed the war in Iraq and am certainly opposed to any pre-emptive attack on Iran. But all my reading, in spite of all my criticisms of the positions of Rubin, Lake, Kredo and Block, would never suggest that anyone of them was anti-refugee or anti-Muslim even when I may criticize some points they may make on these issues.

The question is, are Parsi and Cullis guilty of fostering antisemitism when they falsely accuse the Jewish-four of being anti-refugee and anti-Muslim?

With the help of Alex Zisman

To be continued.

The Choshes – Breastplates

The Choshen: Breastplates – Terumah תרומה

Exodus 25:1-27:19

by

Howard Adelman

This portion largely focuses on the detailed architecture for the Tabernacle (Mishkan), including the chattels: the Ark, the Table and accessories (not for the tablets, but for the lechem hapanim – showbread – arranged on it in two tiers of six loaves each), the Menorah, the roof coverings, the walls, the two chambers and an outer courtyard. The Mishkan is the place to which the Israelites will bring gifts (Terumah) for God. Terumah is also translated as “uplifting.” The gifts are to be freewill offerings, not dues. The gifts may be of any kind that the heart of an Israeli moved him or her to bring and which, in turn, are intended to raise the spirit of the giver.

The initial listing of materials required includes shosham stones and gemstones for setting in the ephod (אֵפוֹד) and in the breastplate. The ephod, made of linen with gold, blue, purple and red threads, is the priestly garment which has rings sewn into it by which straps attached by golden chains to the breastplate can be tied. The Urim and Thummim, precious stones were inserted into the breastplate. Sometimes the ephod was carried and not worn (I Samuel 2:28) and scholars suggest either it was used as a packet to carry the jewels or as a talisman.

My question is why would a priest wear a breastplate? Why do we adorn our scrolls in our synagogues with breastplates? Are breastplates nt defensive armour used in warfare? Further, what does a gift or freewill offering have to do with a breastplate?

If you watched the Netflix series, Marco Polo, the Empress of Kublai Khan’s Mongol empire is seen before the critical battle to defeat the Chinese Sung empire sewing leather as a lining for the breastplate to better protect the soldiers against the Chinese arrows, especially since the leather extended upwards to protect the neck. Further, the Mongol warriors wore protective silk garments underneath as well. Covered in layers of lacquer, these breastplates were much lighter than the metal ones worn by the Mongol’s enemies and allowed the Mongols to move deftly and with skill to overpower their foes as well as reduce the weight on their horses so they could ride much faster and for longer distances.

What is a military protective breastplate doing in a sanctuary? And why is that breastplate bedecked with jewels?

Armour to protect the chest is almost a constant all over the world. Currently police and tactical units wear kevlar sleeveless jackets or vests. You can buy a Coolmax bullet proof vest currently for only $US210. Body armour is no longer the exclusive property of the upper guardian class to reduce damage caused by impact or limit the penetration of a bullet, spear or arrow. Because of UEDs, kevlar vests now extend to cover the torso. Kublai Khan wore a breastplate. Alexander the Great did so as well.

Soldiers in armies, ancient and modern, all over the world have worn breastplates. Sarmatians advancing westward out of Eastern Iran from the time Athens was becoming a centre of civilization until the 4th century when they joined the German Goths and Vandals advancing from the north to harass the Roman Empire, wore breast plates. When soldiers in armies did not wear breastplates, such as the Khmer soldiers from the Cambodian empire centred at Angkor, they were slaughtered by the Mongols in spite of the protection of their jungles. The absence of personal armour, as well as theory and discipline to fight strategically, doomed the military might of the Angkor Empire.

In contrast, William the Conqueror, the only military leader who ever conquered the British Isles, wore chainmail as a breastplate. But it has been shown that the Mongol glaive, a polearm with a blade at the end, could plunge through chainmail armour cutting not only through the armour and the sternum, but piercing right through to the spine and smashing it as well. However, the Danish axe, if it could get behind the glaive, could cut it off, making it useless. The Norse depended on their aggressive weapons more than on their defensive armour, and even more on the composite crossbow than the axe, for it was the crossbow that killed Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, though this most deadly weapon was useless if it struck a breastplate.

However, the Mongol recurve bow with its faster reload time and greater penetrating power was superior. But this essay is initially about defensive armour and the significance of the breastplate. In the Philippines (The Philippine islands, 1493-1803), volume 36 describes the portrait of a monarch “on the ball at the center of the cupola, a proud and spirited figure of Monarchy – armed gracefully but heavily with breastplate…” The reality was otherwise, for the islands were marked by war and insurrection, volcanoes spewing forth ashes and famine, economic collapse and the terrible earthquake of 1644. The archipelago was not the landscape of William Wordsworth’s ode to daffodils in the British Lake District, where, walking with his sister, he saw “a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

In times of violent conflict, as in the Philippines, breast plates also become religious garments, especially in Catholicism, to protect the breast from the penetrating swords of evil and the arrows of a life that is nasty, brutish and short. “We put on Your righteousness, O Christ, as our breastplate. And the hope of salvation, As a helmet for our head. Father we take up faith, As a shield which is able to put out, All the fiery darts of the enemy.”

We are approaching St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March, celebrating the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s most famous prayer is one in celebration of a breastplate. For the breastplate was the protector against seduction and evil enemies who would lure one astray.

Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

In Judaism, the problem is not so much temptations and the snares of demons and that which would undermine your virtues. For Judaism is more a religion of laws than virtues and vices. By this week’s portion, the Israelites had just gone through the battles with the Egyptians. The Egyptians had worn breastplates only to be defeated by a superior defensive strategy of a much weaker foe. Brains had bested brawn and the best armoured troops of the ancient world at the time had been defeated. Those breastplates were, for the military leaders, adorned with jewels, either as a bejeweled brooch atop the breastplate or implanted into the breastplate with thematic statements drawn from Egyptian mythology and culture and serving an iconographic function.

The Israelites won the battle against the Egyptians, not because of superiority in arms, but because, according to text with God’s guidance, superiority in strategy. They now had a decentralized system of administrative justice and a long set of laws and regulations. They had to send out the message that their essential body armor was intended to ward off assaults on its laws – hence the breastplate on the Torah in our day – and deficiencies in following those laws. The Israelites knew that the prime source of failure would come from within and, as they saw it, not by giving into desires, as was the case of the Christians who emerged later, but for failing to uphold the legal system.

Centrally located in the mishkan was the breastplate bedecked with jewels as a symbol of the centerpiece of a religion and a culture which would serve to ward off evil, a very different evil than St. Patrick described, but an evil nevertheless. In the Netflix series I discussed in an earlier blog on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the seventeenth century nun, writer and intellectual so repressed by the Catholic Church, the archbishop, as well as bishops, sisters superiors and other church officials, wore breastplates with pictures of their Lord, Jesus Christ, on them, to communicate a message that they had sworn allegiance to a higher power than the vice-regal governors who ruled over the colonies of the new world. In the power struggles with the authorities in the secular world and their own internally repressed passions, the breastplate was intended to ward of threats both from without and from within.

For the Israelites, the main domestic threats did not come from without or from within, but between, from relationships that descend from differences, disputes, conflicts and wars. The real protection against these threats were laws, so the breastplate became the talisman to signal that it was the Torah, the book of laws, that needed the most protection. For the heart of Judaism is not within but between, in relationships and in institutions that bind together a society in peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Israelites brought to the Mishkan, not just their levies for the upkeep of the Tabernacle, but freewill offerings intended as much if not more so for uplifting the spirit of the giver. Gifts that protect the institutions of law and justice are more important than any other. For Jews are not saved by giving over their life in bondage to their one Lord and God through his only so-called son Jesus, but in celebration of life and freedom from bondage in service to and protected by a set of law-based rules and institutions. These are more important than the politicians that run the state, for they are the a priori principles upon the foundation of which, any peaceful political system must rest.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

Three weeks ago, on 6 February 2017, Donald Trump issued a list of 78 terror attacks that had allegedly been under or not reported by the media. He left off that list numerous and almost daily terrorist attacks against Muslim targets. Not one terrorist attack in Israel was included. The attack against a mosque in a Quebec City suburb on 29 January 2017 by an Islamophobe was omitted. Most on the list – the Paris Bataclan attack, the Nice truck killings, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, received massive worldwide coverage. When Sean Spicer was specifically asked for names of attacks that were not reported by “the very, very dishonest press,” he promised to provide a list later, insisting there were “several instances,” “a lot of instances,” but no list was ever produced.

Two weeks ago, on 16 February 2017, two particularly heinous and destructive terrorist attacks took place. In Baghdad, at a very popular used automobile market in the southwest corner of the city, a car packed with explosives blew up killing at least 45 and wounding hundreds of others. In Pakistan, in a relatively small city in Sindh Province, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the very famous Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and killed at least 88, including many women and children, and wounded many more. The victims were virtually all Muslims. The perpetrator in both cases was the Islamic State.

On that same day of these two attacks, Trump held his first sole, and spontaneous, one hour plus bizarre press conference as president. Rant is probably a more accurate description of what took place. Sometimes Islamophobia is best revealed by silences and omissions rather than overt hate speech. While Trump once again berated the “dishonest press,” in a discussion of terrorism, Trump failed to mention either the Iraq or the Pakistan attack. He offered no condolences to the victims’ families or the nations in which these large number of victims died at the hands of terrorists. Nor did he tweet about it later. For, in his view of terrorism, Islamicist terrorists only target Western – i.e. non-Islamic Judeo-Christian civilization – when, in fact, the vast majority of targets of these terrorist extremists are themselves followers of Islam.

Donald Trump had cited the Center for Security Policy to justify his migration ban in his 27 January Executive Order, the same centre that honoured Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), as a “defender of the home front.” Jasser is a doctor of internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, Arizona and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. navy. He served two years (2012 and 2013) on the Congressional U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is a strong advocate for the separation of mosque and state and opponent of both political and radical Islam. His focus has been radicalization in the Islamic community in America. He narrated a notorious PBS film Islam v Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, which PBS banned from the air following pressure from Muslim organizations which widely interpreted the film as anti-Islamic, even though its focus is radicalization. Jasser is a poster boy for Trump’s contention that he is not anti-Islam.

Within the U.S., attacks from the far right far outnumber any Islamicist terrorism. One example occurred just two weeks ago. Adan Purinton, in the Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, after calling for the men he assaulted to return to their home country, shot and killed an Indian man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and seriously wounded an American bystander, Ian Grillot, who tried to intervene. Alok Madasani, who also had been attacked, survived his wounds as well. The attack took place just prior to the sentencing of two Kansas men for an attack on three Somalis.

Nonie (originally Nahid) Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights advocate, a former Muslim and convert to Christianity, founder of Arabs for Israel even though her father as an Egyptian military officer was a victim of a targeted killing by allegedly Israeli agents, has been another leading voice. She is president of AIFD, wrote several books:  Now They Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. She has led the effort to broaden what has been dubbed the U.S. Islamophobia network and called for the defeat and annihilation of Islam. Mosques, she declared, are the sources for initiating the war against America. In such cases, how do you separate the right to free speech and the right to be critical of Islam from Islamophobia?

This trope of Islam and not just Islamism as a clear and present danger is complemented by a depiction of Islamic countries and Muslims as hypocrites. Muslims, critics contend, argue for freedom when they are a minority but repress the freedom to practice Christianity when Muslims are the majority. Muslim countries love and admire non-Muslims who champion freedom for Muslims in non-Muslim countries, but either actively or by turning a blind eye discriminate against non-Muslims in their own countries. Muslim countries condemn discrimination against Muslims while they perpetuate not just discrimination but oppression of minorities.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Numan Kurtulmuș, insisted that, “rising Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-immigrant feelings” lay behind Trump’s travel ban against seven countries. Yasin Aktay, the chair of Turkey’s ruling party called the ban “racist” and a violation of human rights. Both ignored the rising tide of persecution of individual Christians and Christian institutions, particularly Protestant ones within Turkey. (See the report of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey which documents the increasing persecution of Christians in 2015 in its Human Rights Violations Report.) Over 100 Evangelical Christian pastors have been expelled from Turkey.

Christians have been cleansed in huge numbers from the Middle East where those communities have existed for two thousand years. Saudi Arabia has a travel ban limiting where non-Muslims can travel in the country. The public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited.

Islamophobia is not simply the disagreement with or dislike of Islam as a religion, though that is specified in the dictionary, but prejudice against that religion and its adherents that is expressed in the public arena in a myriad of negative ways. It includes an irrational fear of Islam. Donald Trump does not explicitly and unequivocally express his Islamophobia in this way, but in his actions and his policies, he certainly acts as the “new sheriff in town” with the objective of cleaning up the hombres that has been interpreted as signalling to Muslims that they are unwelcome. Trump associates with groups who would not only ban hijab-wearing women from working in any government position, but would insist that all Muslim government employees sign a loyalty document that they reject Sharia law. For them, Sharia is not a set of legal texts and religious practices subject to interpretation, but the foundational code for converting America to the Muslim faith.

Stephen K. Bannon, perhaps his closest political adviser and the former executive chairman of Breitbart, described Muslim American groups as “cultural jihadists.” He contended that their intention is to destroy American society from within. He wrote a documentary film script ten years ago with this theme; it was called Destroying the Great Satan.

This depiction of Islam as an insidious agency assaulting the American way of life is a sentiment echoed by organizations such as ACT for America which argues that the “jihadists wearing suits” are more insidious and dangerous than radical Islamicists. The organization, with 17 full time staff and a half million members, depicts Islam has having a mission of Islamicizing America. ACT claims that the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIA) is “working to infiltrate the U.S. government and destroy American society from within,” a domestic extension of a very active and determined international conspiracy. (See Trevor Loudon’s documentary, Enemies Within.) ACT volunteers train local communities on how to object to mosques being built in their neighbourhoods and to push for banning existing ones unless they denounce Sharia.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired after only a few weeks as Donald Trump’s security adviser, sits on ACT’s board of directors. When he was fired, ACT dubbed it the work of “rogue weasels” and “shadow warriors” within the depths of the government. ACT vigorously campaigned to defend Trump’s executive order banning entry to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. One cannot hear Donald Trump’s slogan, “America First” but recall, if you have ever looked at it, ACTs website that claims, “we are the greatest nation on earth” and “if you are an American you must be an American first.” ACT, of course, ardently supported Trump’s ban against travelers from seven Muslim majority countries, but also opposed the resettlement of any Muslim refugees in the U.S.

ACT labels supporters of the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the U.S. as fanatics. The concept of “Islamophobia” is “fake news” and part of the international conspiracy’s propaganda campaign that uses liberals as fronts. The push for combating Islamophobia by these apologists for Islam is but a front for the perpetrators of evil against which good Christians in the name of the good must fight back.

In Europe, political parties have built their central base in the fight against Muslims. On 15 March, there will be parliamentary elections in The Netherlands. In Holland, 6% of the population is Muslim – mainly Turks and Moroccans. Geert Wilders’s populist Freedom Party (PVV) has made migration and Islamisation the core of his campaign. The PVV is expected to increase its number of seats from 10% to at least 20% and is currently the frontrunner among the many competing Dutch political parties, though it will not likely be included in any coalition. Wilders denounced the number of Moroccans in the country, whom he has referred to as “scum,” and has been convicted by Dutch courts of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. Wilders vowed to appeal and denounced the court’s decision as suppressing free speech. Wilders has stated that Islam is potentially more dangerous than Nazism, especially since the Koran includes more anti-Semitic hatred than Mein Kampf.  Wilders supports closing all mosques and Islamic schools and banning the sale of the Koran (Qur’an).  Recall that two far right Dutch activists have been assassinated in recent years – Pim Fortuyn and then filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical, Mohammed Bouyeri.

In recent local elections in Germany, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), captured almost 14% of the vote in recent local elections. Stories of a mob of Arab men rampaging through the streets of Frankfurt and assaulting women were widely reported worldwide, but the stories turned out to be “fake news.” Local police subsequently determined that the stories were “baseless.” But the story spread like wildfire because an old refrain of the “foreign sexual offender” is a deep part of German as well as Dutch culture.

“False news” is pervasive in Europe, some originating in the U.S. Breitbart news reported that a mob of 1,000 chanting “Allahu Akhbar,” this past New Year’s Eve, had attacked police in Dortmund and set fire to what Breitbart reported was the oldest church. It never happened. Further, St. Reinold is not Europe’s oldest church; the Cathedral of Trier is and this was where fireworks from a celebrating crowd accidentally set off a small roof fire. Racism is once again on the rise in Germany with a multitude of assaults by neo-Nazis against foreigners who looked Arabic – a passenger getting out of a taxi and an attack against a biracial boy in the safe Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg by four neo-Nazis. These take place in spite of strong laws and vigorous enforcement by the German state against neo-Nazis and the racism they espouse. That racism runs contrary to the born-again sense of tolerance now pervasive among Germans which allowed Angela Merkel to admit over a million Middle East refugees into Germany.

Marine Le Pen in France is a strong competitor to Wilders’s Islamophobic messages. For Le Pen, France must choose between being French and continuing its self-destructive trip as a multiculturalist country. Since the infamous Paris and Nice radical jihadist attacks, the fear of Islam and migrants as central mainstays of her National Front party have become more mainstream. Like Trump’s supporters, like Wilders, Le Pen insists that France is threatened both from within and from without by Islam and not just radical Islam. Trump’s ban barring migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries was applauded, but did not go far enough since the ban was only temporary for only six Muslim countries; the ban should have been applied much wider.

Islamicism is bred among Muslim immigrants as well as brought to France from the outside. And its source is Islam itself, though Le Pen, like Trump, initially adopted a far more limited focus on “foreigners who preach hatred” and advocated stripping Islamicists, not Muslims, of their citizenship.

Canada has established itself as an exception to a more general tide of rising Islamophobia, but is not immune from the virus.

With the help of Alex Zisman

e Principles of Persuasion

The Principles of Persuasion
by
Howard Adelman

Reason (and history as I argued in my thesis) begins not with explaining events or actions, but with incongruencies, with different and incompatible ways of interpreting events. That means that in persuasion we must set up procedures to offset a confirmation bias, the propensity to simply use and even twist information to reinforce strong beliefs. And it can be a matter of life or death. I just watched part of a television show on Pearl Harbour and, in part, it dealt with the question of why the information Washington had in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbour wasn’t sent to the naval base there, if only to take precautions. One major suspicion is that there was a propensity to disbelieve such information because it contradicted previous analyses of what the Japanese in 1941 would and would not do.

One heuristic technique to get around confirmation bias is to have the two sides conduct the discussion with each party arguing the other’s position. The argument can be about a complex but still rather specific problem, such as the efficaciousness of voucher school programs on costs and results. Or it can be about whether evidence pointing to a Trump campaign-Russian link was a real problem or one concocted by the Democrats. Advice: avoid such complex or even intermediate problems and begin by sticking to ones that are reasonably easy to solve – such as massive voter fraud in the presidential election. Does the data support such a claim or refute it, or does the claim have very different meanings?

However, as soon as one tries to do this, one recognizes the merit of Gorgias’s second goal of rhetoric – but not expressed as a positive aim of acquiring power, but as a negative one of preventing being taken advantage of by the other with whom one is in discussion. Socrates was a whiz at this, pleading ignorance and then leading the other down well-trod paths to contradicting himself. This is a central problem and why, perhaps because of evolution, winning arguments and, therefore, status and power, becomes more important than reasoning together towards the best resolution of a problem.

Further, that propensity can be correlated with another – the more we have a vested interest in an issue, the more we are likely to dig in our heels and insist we are correct. The more intense one feels, the less willing one is to put one’s own views under a microscope. The following guidelines are about inverting inclinations.

Topic      Inclination         Guideline

Goal   Necessary truth     Freedom to choose
Power over others Prevent being                                                      disempowered
Explain Clear and Distinct Equivocation                         Ideas
Action/Events      Incongruencies
Standard Indubitability     Analytic truth is not
persuasion
Confirmation (Bias) Falsifiability
Conditions More we know More we know                        better off               less we can trust
Group thought      Group thought                     reinforces belief   undermines belief

I have already clarified the first four inclinations and the suggested guidelines to override them. Let me expand on the last four. Plato over the archway entrance to his academy had the slogan, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.” It was important for he used analogies – such as the metaphor of the divided line – to convey different degrees of conviction or knowledge. Further, the highest form of knowledge was viewed as mathematics for its conclusions were certain. This was a modern trope from Descartes onward who sought knowledge that was certain and indubitable.

As I explained in my last blog, mathematics is not a model for persuasion for it leads, not to making choices, but to only one true answer. Persuasion is intended to establish the better choice when there are at least two real options. Rhetoric is based on dialectic and not deduction and deals with the skills of persuasion on any subject of debate – excluding mathematics and pure physics. The art applies to virtually all other subjects.

Torture is not an art of persuasion but a means of intimidation which sometimes extracts knowledge, but perhaps as often or even more often merely extracts what the torturer wants to hear. Evidence given under oath or verified by science are also not part of rhetoric itself, but merely methods of providing material for the art of persuasion. External factors may be used to assess the quality of evidence offered or the integrity of the person offering the evidence based on his or her character, but these are not guidelines on how to persuade, but about the conditions that will make the art of persuasion more likely to lead to assent.

In that regard, the character of the person offering the evidence may be critical. But it is also true, as can be seen in the relationship between Trump and his followers that believers in Trump will simply disqualify evidence offered by critics who insist he is not telling the truth, and then use the criticisms to reinforce their beliefs. What is intended to falsify is inverted to become evidence to verify prior beliefs.

Therefore, contrary to what Aristotle believed, credibility may not be, and most often is not, a factor in enhancing persuasion. It may be a consequence of what we already believe rather than a condition of forming a belief. Thus, if the liberal press is considered an enemy of the people, the columnists will lack credibility in the eyes of Trump supporters whatever their stellar records as journalists and interpreters of events.  That is why cited examples, just as in the case of the character of the speaker, can be used to reinforce confirmation bias rather than undermine it. We argue by offering examples. However, we should argue by questioning the examples on offer. It is best if arguments are not used to confirm what we already believe, but as a tool to try to falsify what we think is true.

There is another very different conviction that leads us into error. Socrates believed we should start with the premise of our ignorance. René Descartes urged us to begin an inquiry by initially doubting anything that we could not immediately believe to be certain. But the process of developing false convictions is not undermined by scepticism, but reinforced by knowledge. The more knowledge we have and the more knowledge seemingly at our disposal, the less we are inclined to question what we know. We must reverse the starting point – not starting with a tabula rasa, but by acknowledging that the more we know, the less we can trust. Further, contrary to Aristotle’s belief that we should start with self-evident truths, we must start with the conviction that no proposition entailing choice is self-evident. That is a characteristic only of the analytic propositions.

Ask yourself how a toilet works. Ask yourself why sleep is beneficial. Most persons will offer an opinion and many with considerable certainty. There are a myriad of questions about day to day knowledge of working and operating something – especially if the activity in question is direct and rather simple and very familiar operations – where an assured answer will come forth which, on further inquiry, can be shown to be totally erroneous. The take away: the more we know, the more we must distrust that we know. Familiarity should breed scepticism.

Finally, the more our friends and associates agree with us, the firmer we hold to such beliefs. Hence the expression: different groups live in different bubbles and only listen to what confirms previous biases. What we must do is use groups to question, not reinforce, our beliefs and to use a network of thinking to develop sounder grounds for a conviction.

Let me end with a story. It appeared in the latest Tablet in Mark Weitzmann’s essay, “Is the Shoah Memorial in Paris Home to a Racist? The troubling case of Holocaust historian Georges Bensoussan, on trial for ‘incitement to racial hatred,’ pits French anti-racists against anti-Semites.” As will be discussed in a subsequent blog, the latter conclusion after the depiction of the case, that it “pits French racists against anti-Semites,” is a mistaken description.

The essay begins: “This is a story about permissible and impermissible ways to use words in post-terror France.” The premise of Georges’ editorial work at the Shoah Memorial in Paris was that the genocide of the Jews was a result of collective cultural history rather than an anomaly. The book that brought him to notoriety was called, Les Territoires perdus de la république. In it, principals and teachers testified that anti-Semitism, sexism and racism were rife in the banlieues of Paris among students from North African Muslim countries. Was this an exercise in Islamophobia or a revelation of a new cultural source for anti-Semitism? Jews and Muslims lined up to defend Georges, but political correctness produced a whole host of accusers. Events outstripped the debate as anti-Semitic incidents mounted in both frequency and severity.

As Georges publicly denounced this new source of atavistic anti-Semitism, quoting a source described as an Algerian sociologist to reinforce his position, he insisted that, anti-Semitism among North African Muslims “is suckled along with mother’s milk.” The expression became a plain for fierce intellectual battles and eventually for charges being laid against Georges for what we in Canada term “Islamophobia,” especially when the very sociologist he cited, Laacher, denied he had said or implied that there was any “biological” system of transferring anti-Semitism from one generation to another. Further, he resented the use of a metaphor to summarize his findings which were about the persistence of anti-Semitism passed on from parents to children by using the term “Jew” as an insult.

Let me quote from Weitzmann: “in French the same word – la langue
designates both language and the physical organ.” “Language,” Laacher told me, “is the collective component through which the individual expresses himself. It speaks us as much as we speak it. And it never speaks randomly; it is always meaningful. As we are spoken by the tongue, collective values and feelings, what we call a culture, is being passed on. Of course, this includes the passing on of negative feelings and passions such as hate.”

If the metaphor is at all accurate, then what is passed on through a mother’s milk cannot be expelled; it is part of your very being. If, however, it is part of a language code, human beings are capable of altering that code. Further, Laacher resented being called an Algerian since he was born in France and even needed a visa to do his research in Algeria. The irony was that Georges, a Jew, was born in Morocco. So Laacher filed a libel suit against Georges.

Only in France one might say, only in the land that worships clear and distinct ideas, only in the land where intellectuals are mostly wedded to a world of Truth versus Falsehood, to status in the intellectual world, to explaining events rather than puzzles, a country where indubitability is the holy grail, a country plagued by the disease of French intellectuals of confirmation bias, a country where intellectuals glory in displaying how much they know rather than the greater ignorance that accompanies greater knowledge, a country that celebrates intellectuals as stars and celebrities instead of recognizing that all good thought as well as bad is reinforced by a collective enterprise.

In other words, in the use of words, in the display of rhetoric, whether about words themselves or about wearing a headscarf, France is culturally disposed to oppositional intellectualism rather than dialogue and conversation. There are, of course, many exceptions. Emmanuel Levinas stands out as a prominent example. But the condition is deeply rooted in the French cultural fabric.

This may help explain why two scholars, who are 99% on the same side, would come to intellectual and legal blows. Or it may not. For they smoked a peace pipe over their differences, only to see the matter taken up by a Muslim institution, CCIF, the Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France.

Empirical investigation may point to a totally non-intellectual and non-cultural cause of the dispute. But the controversy hopefully both takes us away from the land of Trump while revealing the destructive work of rhetoric and the tools of persuasion while, paradoxically, extolling the positive value of rhetoric. Further, it will serve to introduce two forthcoming blogs, one on Islamophobia, where I will return to the Georges versus CCIF legal dispute when the government took up CCIF’s complaint and charged Georges with “incitement to racial hatred.” I will also write a second blog on anti-Semitism to understand how rhetoric can both confound as well as clear up gross misunderstandings, and how anti-Islamophobia may possibly be connected with anti-Semitism as the League Against Anti-Semitism and Racism. France’s B’nai Brith, joined the battle, initially backing Georges, but eventually joining CCIF in the suit. Only in France!

I cannot apologize enough on behalf of all philosophers and intellectuals for how absurd the world really is.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Persuasion: Who and Whom

Who Persuades and Who Should be Persuaded? Gorgias and Socrates

by

Howard Adelman

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in different ways undermined the importance of sophists because the latter concentrated more on argumentative technique and less slavish subservience to what they considered an elusive goal, tying those techniques to virtue. In the contemporary world, ironically, in the teaching of humanities, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are far more revered as stars in the stellar universe of the Athenian intellectual world than Protagoras or Gorgias, Thrasymachus or Cratylus, even though the premises of the sophists dominate in the contemporary world. Excellence is now attached primarily to the methods used to advance knowledge rather than to a general ideal of how to develop virtuous souls.

The sophists fell into disrepute for many reasons, but perhaps the most important one was the war waged by their philosopher allies to undermine them. Further, a number of sophists had, in turn, used their techniques to teach how a public could be manipulated and not just influenced. They were ancient precursors to our current set of psychometric gurus who employ mass data and feedback loops. Teachers like Socrates used this reality to paint all sophists with the brush of corruption, with catering to populism rather than the pursuit of truth, as if those two were the only dichotomous options.

The reverse was more descriptive of reality. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, all apologists for an aristocratic political system from different perspectives, used rhetoric to turn the term “sophist” into an epithet of abuse, to heap contempt upon these teachers. They accused the sophists of being servants to false facts in service and subservience to undercutting ideals and traditional values. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, in their turn, became apologists for what we would now call the resurgent right.

Look at the case of Protagoras, perhaps the greatest of the sophists who taught relativism in opposition to a search for absolute Truth, Beauty and Justice. Reality was a matter of interpretation. Each person experiences the world in a different way and understands that world differently because of the frame brought to understanding the world. What we know are constructs. “Man is the measure of all things,” was the distillation of his most famous aphorism. More fully, he claimed that, “Of all things, the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not.” The rules of determining what is true and what is not true are constructed and made by humans. So, one might conclude, there is no Truth.

In fact, sophists were generally agnostic on that question. The more important issue was not whether the standards for establishing Truth were absolute, but that both the Constructivists and the Realists by and large generally adhered to a common body of rules. The methods for establishing truths as distinct from falsehoods were shared. In the end of days, whether knowledge was a matter relative to experience, judgment and interpretation, or about absolute values, did not have to be determined.

In Plato’s dialogue, Gorgias, like the dialogue Protagoras, there is a conversation between Socrates and his sophist rivals. The topic of Gorgias is rhetoric itself. It is about the art of persuasion. Gorgias himself happened to be a foreigner who had immigrated to Athens, attracted by its intellectual and artistic reputation as well as its political solidity. The nub of the debate was Socrates’ contention that rhetoric had to be subservient to philosophy; without the guidance of philosophy, rhetoric disaggregated into techniques of flattery and manipulation. Proper persuasion can only exist within a moral frame, Socrates argued. Otherwise rhetoric only serves the making of money and the acquisition of power and not a higher purpose.

Sounds familiar? In Plato’s telling, Socrates traps Gorgias and the sophists by insisting they first provide a definition of rhetoric. If Plato had not been telling the tale, they would have replied, “Look at our practices.” You cannot define hockey or baseball or basketball with a simple definition. Each sport is a set of practices and rules. The same is true of rhetoric. But Plato’s Socrates in the dialogue Gorgias reveals his true colours. He no longer professes his ignorance as a technique for sucking his opponents into self-contradictions and incoherence. Socrates reveals himself as an evangelist for Truth. In his discussions with three sophists, first Gorgias, then Polus and finally Callicles, Socrates ends up preaching and exhorting rather than arguing and persuading.

However, that is not how he starts out. Speaking of Gorgias, Socrates states, “I want to learn from him what is the scope of his art and just what he professes and teaches.” (447c) So the conversation begins with Socrates asking Gorgias to introduce himself, to say who he is and what he does. And when reading the answer, we immediately sense a set-up. For Gorgias comes across as an arrogant know-it-all, as someone who can answer any question posed, and do so concisely; further, Gorgias insists, that he has not been asked a new question in years.

Socrates begins with an argument very familiar from other dialogues – the analogue of expertise. A doctor is called a doctor because he has an expertise in medicine, in treating and healing patients. A shoemaker is designated as such because he has an expertise in making and repairing shoes. Polus agrees and says, “There are many arts…experimentally devised by experience, for experience guides our life along the path of art, inexperience along the path of chance.” (448c) We know then and there that we are into a rip-roaring discussion, for Socrates was the last to allow experience to serve as the arbiter of Truth, Beauty and Justice.

Socrates then makes a vital distinction, one between dialogue and rhetoric with the clear implication that he, Socrates, is wedded to dialogue in contrast to the Sophist reverence for rhetoric. At the same time, Socrates uses the distinction to put down Polus before Gorgias, his teacher, and to use irony and sarcasm to put down Gorgias. Socrates is clearly not fazed by dissing his opponents.

The path to logical ruin for the sophists begins with the admission that many arts have to do with words, not just rhetoric, but medicine does not have to do with just words, the skill previously ascribed by Gorgias as characteristic of rhetoric. Therefore, the mastery of the use of words is not specific to rhetoric. Thus, Socrates concludes, “rhetoric is not concerned with every kind of words.” (449e) The difference, Gorgias claims, is that rhetoric deals exclusively with words. But then he commits hara-kiri when he asserts, compatible with the character Plato gives him, that the subject matter of rhetoric is “the greatest and noblest of human affairs. (451d) Once Socrates has moved Gorgias from the safe ground of technique to a claim to serve the highest values, Gorgias is finished and Socrates metaphorically murders him with his own words deliberately, systematically and without mercy.

There is a major lesson here. In discussing how to deal with the phenomenon of Trumpism, stick to technique and do not get into debates about the highest and most important values. Stick to falsifying and establishing facts. Stick to the formal and informal rules of argument. Do not get into a debate over values. And the reason is rather simple. If you debate values, one party in Camp B holds the ones they esteem with far more dedication and commitment than you do. For you consider values to be debateable; they do not. They are mostly unbudgeable on those values, especially in dealing with those who have such a weak dedication to ultimate values. Stick to arguments about civility and process, values which many of them share.

In sum, if the persuaders spend their time undercutting one another, the true opposition will move in to occupy the territory left in the vacuum.

In the case of the other party in Camp B, our contemporary cynics, note the following. They can be subdivided into four groups – Tom Friedman in the NYT 22 February 2017 suggested five, but two were the same group looked at from different angles – Trump as entertainer and monopolist of the news day and the essential Trump who holds loyalty to himself as an absolute, exclusive and highest value. These are but two sides of his malignant narcissism.

The second group led by Stephen Bannon, the Rasputin of the White house, along with Stephen Miller and others, represents what Friedman calls Trump crazy. We are not certain to what degree they are part of the backdrop to make Trump look like a relative moderate, or whether they have Trump under their spell with their combination of cynicism and apocalyptic vision or the degree to which Trump is an integral member of that group – a position I tend to take. I believe it is important to make the distinction, but it is one irrelevant to the discussion of persuasion. For Trump and his acolytes and Bannon and his fellow crazies, all are unreachable.

There is another group, not really separable from the Trump narcissistic ideological camp, the incompetents – Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Price, an ex-orthopedic surgeon, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Ben Carson, another retired surgeon, Secretary of Housing. They are different members of the crazies in the Trump camp, milder, not so mad, and not as bent on general mayhem and destruction, but more focused in the service they are willing and eager to perform. A few of them possibly could be reached, but it is questionable whether it is worth the effort.

It is the other two groups that are of greatest interest. Friedman conflates two different mismatched groups. There is the clean-up crew, who appear on television, bask in the shared limelight and manage to share extensively in Trump’s lying and deception, who are Trump’s acolytes. They ae but appendages to Trump’s malignant narcissism. They should not be conflated with the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the UN. The latter two are NOT clean-up crew. They are independent voices who serve as correctors – a very different function – to Trump’s statements, often overtly contradicting his policy preferences. The Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, and The National Security Adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, belong in the camp of correctors and offsetters to the madness and chaos of the Trump enterprise. They will all listen to reason and conduct policy with the same attention to facts and logic as the members of Camp A.  They have strong convictions, but are open to communication. This suggests that foreign affairs and defense may be the least to suffer least, at least on the ground, from Trump’s rambling, inchoate and dangerous musings.

The other group that is more difficult to make cognitive contact with are members of the traditional Republican Party, including the Tea Party members, who supinely bowed to Trump both before and after his unwanted takeover. Reince Priebus represents this group in the White House and it is questionable how long he can last among the chaos of the competing groups since his greatest quality, his willingness to be a supplicant, is the last one needed to bring discipline and order to the White House. But that is a matter strictly to the benefit of the opposition. For the real centre of power for the party members in the takeover are in Congress. Their pact with the devil to get their favourite priorities through Congress – tax cuts, dismantling Obamacare, appointing right-wingers to the Supreme Court, deregulation – will mean that most of them, except for the bravest such as John McCain, will stay loyal to Trump as long as he advances their domestic agenda.

The bottom line – foreign affairs and defense seem to be in safer hands than the domestic agenda. But the two are conflated when it comes to immigration and refugee policy. Does John F. Kelly belong to the cluster of incompetents in the Trump camp eager and willing to serve as his surrogate in his main enterprise of bashing aliens? Or, given his military record as a Marine Corps General and former commander of the U.S. Southern Command, there is every indication that he is both a loyal and obedient soldier to his Commander-in-Chief and an independent individual, like Mattis and Tillerson. He also has considerable political experience having served as the Commandant’s Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives starting in 1995. However, he has little respect for the “chattering classes” and those who push a softer approach to ISIS. But he does know and understand Islam.

The real danger is that these independent thinkers and doers will be alienated by the opposition if they are regarded simply as Trump supplicants. They are not and will not be. Further, they have their independent and various definitions of what is greatest and noblest in human affairs – from courage and service to country to the ex-Goldman Sachs boys in the Trump entourage who I have not discussed who “judge wealth to be the greatest blessing for man.”

Recognizing all of this, how and who can be persuaded to deviate from the mad Trump enterprise if rhetoric is indeed in its sum and substance, the art of persuasion? (452e and 453a) As mentioned above, the constituencies discussed and analyzed above are divided in accordance with whether, and to what degree, they can be appealed to through persuasion. But I must return to the prior issue – the persuaders, for they too are a motley crew and some of them are as likely to undercut the enterprise of persuasion as advance it. I mention here only those who disrupted the meetings of members of congress when they returned to their home constituencies and proved they were more devotees of chaos in their commitment to resistance than to victory for reason and civility.

On the other hand, I listened to the debate among the candidates vying to be chair of the Democratic National Committee. The debate made clear that the issue of how to confront Trump and his supporters and how to develop a unified strategy in Camp A will require much more work. I was very encouraged by the civility, the reasonableness, the understanding of the various candidates and their comprehension from different perspectives of the challenges they face. I did not choose a favourite, though I had my inclinations (they tended to come from the second level rather than the first or third level candidates), but I would be happy with any one of them as leader of the Democratic Party.

I did agree with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, Indiana, that it would be a mistake if too much focus was placed on Trump, which the tactics of the two leading contenders, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, seemed to stress. I found the Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party to be very winning. Generally, they all recognized the need to peel away support from Republicans in general at the grass roots level through hard work and dialogue in areas that the Democratic Party had neglected. The defence of democracy seems to be in good hands.

If the liberals concentrate on expanding their base rather than fighting among themselves, peeling away support from Trump and Republicans rather than insisting on total and absolute resistance and non-cooperation, they can rebuild the opposition into a victory machine. At the same time, they must enter into dialogue in areas and with persons who are reasonable even when they are not Democrats. The commitment to reason, the commitment to civility, the commitment to institutions, all must take priority over partisanship.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Wronging and Opp Strangers

Wronging and Oppressing Strangers: Mishpatim Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

by

Howard Adelman

Is it serendipity that we read such a text between Donald Trump’s aborted cruel, inhuman and unconstitutional Executive Order dealing with migrants and the delayed promise to issue a revised order next week? When immigration enforcement officers were previously restricted to rounding up illegal aliens in the U.S. found guilty of serious crimes, is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when restrictions on U.S. immigration officers have been lifted and they are now instructed to round up illegal aliens found or even alleged to be guilty of any conviction (going through a red light) and not just a criminal let alone a serious criminal record?  Guadalupe García de Rayos, was arrested in Phoenix and ordered deported; she is the mother of two American-born children and had been in the U.S. ten years and was registered with the American Immigration Service to which she reported dutifully twice per year. But she had been found guilty years ago of carrying and working under a fake ID.

Is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when refugees in the dead of winter have been crossing the undefended and usually unprotected land border between the U.S. and Canada at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec or near Emerson, Manitoba or in British Columbia at unmanned border crossings such as in Surrey where a Honduran family recently entered Canada? RCMP officers may monitor banks of screens receiving data from surveillance cameras, but that only tracks and does not stop claimants from crossing into Canada. Once on Canadian soil, they are assisted by Quebec provincial police, RCMP officers, Canadian Border Services agents or volunteers to be taken to a centre where they can make a refugee claim. In January alone, 452 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec and over 400 into Manitoba. To repeat, this has been in the dead of winter. In another month, we can expect the numbers to greatly increase so that I will not be surprised, if the circumstances do not change in the U.S., to see up to 40,000 asylum claimants cross the border into Canada illegally in 2017. And this could turn out to be a gross underestimate.

There is a way to circumvent these riskier crossings. Allow claimants to cross at legal entry points and make a claim there. That would mean suspending the definition of the U.S. as a Safe Third Country. For that provision presumed that asylum claimants would be protected by U.S. law. There are justifiable fears that this is no longer the case, not just by sympathetic Canadians, but by supporters of refugees in the United States, many of whom have volunteered to take the asylum claimants to areas where they can walk across the border at a terminus of a new underground railway network into Canada.

Many Americans and Canadians are taking Justin Trudeau at his word when he tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” This week, Canada welcomed into Manitoba another group of the 1,200 Yazidis due to arrive in Canada this year as humanitarian refugees who will not have to be processed through the Convention refugee claims system.

Canada is on the outer fringes of the refugee movements, especially the hundreds of thousands crossing into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. This past week, we read of 87 bodies recovered from a capsized boat off the cost of Libya; the smugglers had removed the motor and allowed the boat to be swamped. Last week I learned that the son of an Israeli friend, a diver who inspects underwater pipelines, found numerous bodies trapped under the pipeline at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Several weeks ago, a visiting Israeli rabbi talked to a group of us about the refugees arriving in Israel from Africa and the Middle East and discussed the “Extradition of Refugees According to the Jewish Tradition.” He quoted Deuteronomy 23:16-17 dealing with the treatment of bondsmen who should not be returned to his master and, instead, should be allowed to dwell with one who found him or her. That escaped bondsmen should be allowed to live in freedom within the gates of the city and no wrong should be committed against him.

Mishpatim (laws) deal with both slaves and strangers. Though Genesis 14:19 enjoins Israelites to “love the stranger for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Mishpatim is the first time this moral injunction is put into a legal code posed as a negative as distinct from a positive moral injunction of action that is just, These Covenantal laws, Sefer HaB’rit, are not as generous as the Deuteronomic Code or the Holiness Code found in Leviticus, but just as Moses upon the advice of Jethro made a beginning in the administration of justice and introduced a more decentralized system of administering law, one in which the magistrates were to be chosen based on moral criteria without direct guidance from God (see my blog from last Friday), much more specific and clearly man-made laws well beyond the Ten Commandments had to be introduced. If we take the position in the text as reflecting a time when the laws were introduced (unlikely), these laws were promulgated before Moses disappeared for forty days and forty nights.

It is telling that the very first laws are those applicable to Hebrew slaves and then to property. Only then, and very briefly, do we read, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (22:20) I thought that Rabbi Plaut had told me that this injunction was the one most repeated in the Torah and was cited 27 times, but my memory must be incorrect because the visiting rabbi said that, in fact, he had counted and it was repeated 36 times. As everyone knows, and as the Babylonian Talmud reminds us (Bava Metzia 59b), the more repetition, the greater the significance. It isn’t as if there is a causal relationship between the experience of slavery in Egypt and the obligation not to wrong or oppress strangers, but, as many know who have undertaken research on those who assist refugees, the closer the connection in the family history with the experience of refugees, the greater the motivation to help. Having been a stranger is neither an adequate nor a necessary motive for helping refugees, but, statistically, it increases the likelihood of offering such assistance. Even more importantly, it established a fundamental identity between the person offering assistance and the refugee. History and memory must be reinforced to ensure hospitality for the stranger.

But the Israelites were not just strangers in Egypt; they were slaves. The section Mishpatim begins with slaves as an echo of Genesis, “Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs; they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13) Refugees are often treated worse even than slaves, for they often lack the protections of the larger society or state in which they live. However, if we are to understand what it means in the instruction not to wrong or oppress the stranger, it is helpful to look at the initial and first try at dealing with slaves, not slaves who are non-nationals, but Hebrew slaves.

Hebrew slaves in Exodus were debt slaves, though in Leviticus (17-26) they are simply called debtors. Reduced to impoverishment, they became slaves to compensate for debts. But as Hebrews, they were not Other. Further, there was a maximum limit to their enslavement – 6 years unless the master provided a male with a woman to wed and they had children. (The Deuteronomy Code – in reality more an incomplete collection of common law rather than a systematic code, but I will use the latter as a term of convenience – renames the debt slave as a brother and goes further, requiring the master to release the debt slave with part of his profits from his years of labour to allow the debt slave to get a new start -15:13) In the latter case, in the Exodus Code, the wife and the children continue to remain slaves belonging to the master, but they were also released in the improved Deuteronomy Code. If a man does not want to be separated from his wife and children, he may voluntarily stay as a refugee for the rest of his life, a status to be marked by an awl pierced through his ear.

Note that this part of the code had to do with male slaves. The code was based on gender discrimination. Daughters could be sold by their fathers (not their parents) but as “wives,” not as slaves, but only under the Exodus Code. But if the male tired of a woman he kept as a concubine, he either had to let her go free, especially if he violated her rights, or provide for her for the rest of her days. He could not sell her. If his son married her, then she had to be treated equally as any other woman chosen to be a wife. (Exodus 21:2-11) So there is a hierarchy of Others – male slaves, female concubines and strangers. The greatest number of injunctions by far apply to the treatment of strangers.

This does not mean that there was a correspondence between the law and actual behaviour. As is well known, there is often a gap between the moral aspirations of a society and its conformity to those ideals. Abuse of debt slaves, of women in slavery and of strangers increased as the gap widened between the protections offered to those at the bottom of the ladder and the rewards taken and presumed by those at the top widened. That is, as societies became more corrupt, as the prophet Amos pointed out, the greater the mistreatment of debt slaves, of women and of strangers. That mistreatment is often a by-product of that corruption and/or used as a distraction from it.  The results were often horrific.

For example, a widow cried out to the prophet Elisha:

ד:א וְאִשָּׁ֣ה אַחַ֣ת מִנְּשֵׁ֣י בְנֵֽי־הַ֠נְּבִיאִים צָעֲקָ֨ה אֶל־אֱלִישָׁ֜ע לֵאמֹ֗ר עַבְדְּךָ֤ אִישִׁי֙ מֵ֔ת וְאַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתָּ כִּ֣י עַבְדְּךָ֔ הָיָ֥ה יָרֵ֖א אֶת־יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וְהַ֨נֹּשֶׁ֔ה בָּ֗א לָקַ֜חַת אֶת־שְׁנֵ֧י יְלָדַ֛י ל֖וֹ לַעֲבָדִֽים: 4:1 A certain woman, the wife of one of the disciples of the prophets, cried out to Elisha: “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know how your servant revered Yhwh. And now a creditor is coming to seize my two children as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)

This ruthlessness, obviously, is not restricted to the ancient world. When the very people who caused the mortgage crisis and economic collapse in 2008 were rescued, the hundreds of thousands who owed money on many of those mortgages on properties that were then financially underwater were not given relief by and large, but were foreclosed upon and thrown out of their homes because the system “sold the just for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Ruthlessness became even more the order of the day.

When we do not take care of our own needy (evvon), it is much more difficult to take care of the needs of strangers. The innocent, the just, the idealists (tzaddiqim) are swept aside and everyone out for himself becomes the ruling ethos. The poor, the needy, have indeed been cheated by the system as their incomes decline and they fall into poverty. It is no wonder that many are willing to follow a leader who displaces the blame on foreigners, on strangers, for often, this is a distraction to hide even more deep-seated corruption.

The stranger is not to be treated wrongly or oppressed. These are not the same, but there is contention about the difference. Some argue that a wrong falls under the law – someone is wronged when he or she is treated other than in the way the law requires. A person oppressed is a victim of society. In another interpretation, a wrong is a monetary infraction for which there can be compensation. There can be no compensation for oppression. Alternatively, a wrong is a verbal slight, an expression of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia for which there can be no financial compensation. Oppression is a specific action of exploitation. In a fourth and somewhat complementary conception, a wrong is corrected by writing and applying just law; oppression can only be corrected through empathy by a native-born for the stranger.

Whatever the differences, a ger stranger is not a visiting foreigner (nochri), but an alien living among us who is not yet a citizen. The Torah demands that the ger be treated with all the rights we have and, as well, with a welcoming hand and smile. Xenophobia is the precise opposite to this treatment.

 

I am grateful for the insights into debt slaves to the commentaries of Professor Marvin A. Sweeney (“The Bible’s Evolving Effort to Humanize Debt Slavery”), Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy”), and Dr. Aaron Koller (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Reading the Law Collections as Commentary”) who contends that the three different versions apply to three different types of servitude and that Deuteronomy fills in lacunae rather than develops the law in a more benign direction. On the principle of treating the stranger, see Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s commentary from 2 February 2008 entitled “Loving the Stranger.”

 

With the help of Alex Zisman