The blogs of InTheFray Magazine.
On Thursday, President Bush visited Dr. Martin Luther King's grave in Atlanta on the way to a fundraising event. While the President may have sincerely sought to honor Dr. King on the 75th anniversary of the civil rights leader's birth, his visit provoked deep skepticism among blacks. As Lance Grimes, a black social worker from Decatur, Georgia, told The New York Times
, “‘Bush was not invited . . . It is a desecration for him to lay a wreath at the tomb of Dr. King. He is diametrically opposed to everything Dr. King stood for.’”
For those who have suffered the brunt of Bush's presidency, a brief fifteen minute visit to MLK's grave couldn't excuse the administration's slighting of minorities the other 364 days of the year. With Bush making little concrete effort to improve the plight of minorities in the U.S. the rest of the year, protesters across the Southeast construed Bush's visits to MLK's grave in Atlanta and to a predominately black church in New Orleans on the same day as nothing more than a public relations move.
Last year, right around MLK's birthday, Bush took a stand against affirmative action
in college admissions at the University of Michigan. With the help of the Right's depiction of MLK
as an opponent of affirmative action and a proponent of colorblindness, Bush characterized his agenda as a fulfillment of the civil rights leader's political vision.
One year later, Bush is at it again, exploiting King's legacy for his own political gain. Less than ten months before the presidential election, Bush, the self-declared “compassionate conservative,” is still struggling to garner support from blacks and other minorities, who have statistically higher unemployment rates under the Bush administration than whites. Much like Bush's proposal for immigration reform
, which many people—regardless of party line—see as nothing more than a political ploy to win the support of Latino swing voters, Bush's attempts to honor MLK and appeal to black religious leaders to win support for his faith-based social welfare proposals appeared to be a last-ditch effort to secure votes from black voters. According to The New York Times
, only about eight percent of black voters
voted for Bush in 2000. Despite a lack of support from racial minorities, polls suggest that Bush would get re-elected
if the election were held today. Bush doesn't want to take any chances, though. If the opposition to Bush's visits to MLK's grave and a New Orleans church yesterday are any indication, many blacks don't seem too keen on taking a chance on Bush either.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
New York Times
columnist David Brooks recently attempted to map the best route for an immigrant community to succeed in America. He did this by juxtaposing the pre-1960s Jewish and post-1960s Puerto Rican experiences in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago’s near northwest side. To represent the Jewish experience, he taps Saul Bellow’s Augie March
, a fictional character whom Brooks applauds because he “never settles for the near at hand.” To represent the Puerto Rican experience, he looks to Jose E. Lopez, a community organizer who heads the Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional Puertorriqueño (or MLN), the public face of the FALN, a group devoted to ending Puerto Rico's U.S. commonwealth status. “The biggest difference between the neighborhood in Bellow’s day and now,” concludes Brooks, “is that then, the path to success was through assimilation, whereas now it is through ethnic self-determination.” Brooks votes decidedly in favor of the former. “Instead of encouraging people to spend their lives around the same few streets,” he argues, assimilation “opens up the wide possibilities of America.”
As evidence of the pitfalls of resisting assimilation, Brooks recounts the story of “Paseo Boricua,” a mile-long stretch of Humboldt Parks’ Division Street, which was re-invented in the 1990s as a space that would be “permanently Puerto Rican,” a barricade to the tides of gentrification that had already forced the Puerto Rican community west for decades. Chicago already had its Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, and La Villata (Mexican), so why not a “Little Puerto Rico?”
Today Paseo Boricua is a reality. Just west of the trendy new Division Street shopping strip the scene changes abruptly. As you pass under a giant Puerto Rican flag forged into a gateway of steel, the high-end restaurants and hipster boutiques give way to the Puerto Rican “walk of stars,” salsa music, and cement tables for playing checkers. While Brooks concedes that the street is now “clean and safe,” he goes on to report that “stubborn problems remain,” such as gangs and poor school performance. The reason for this failure, he argues, is that “few venture out.” Downtown Chicago is only 10 minutes away, he laments, “but is also a foreign country.”
On the surface this may seem like a pragmatic argument in favor of the American Dream — go to the big city, kid, and make something of yourself. Indeed, Brooks credits Bellow with nothing short of “Redefining American heroism.” But beneath the patriotic mythologizing (remember, Brooks uses a fictional character as his poster child), he seems to say that organizing around community and identity is a path to stagnancy. The key to success, rather, is to shed your community bonds, or better yet, to physically move away from those “same few streets.”
As it turns out, however, Brooks’ advice may in fact be a recipe for failure. Those community bonds, those traits that set groups apart, may in fact be intrinsic to a community’s ascent. “Immigration is a network-driven phenomenon,” explains UCLA Sociologist Roger Waldinger, “with newcomers naturally attracted to the places where they have contacts….” The power of ethnic networks cannot be underestimated. To varying degrees they form the bank, realtor, employment agency, school and social club for new arrivals. Yet, it is just such networks that Brooks ignores when he presents Augie Marsh’s supposedly steady march of assimilation. The problem is that he looks at Bellows’ character in isolation, while treating the Puerto Rican community as a whole. Only by glossing over the vital role of Jewish social networks in the success of that community and by downplaying the very real successes of the Puerto Rican community, is Brooks able to argue for assimilation.
What he misses in his heavy-handed polarization are the manifold ways in which differences (ethnic, religious, national origin, race) actually produce and support successful communities. He presents the story of the Jews of Humboldt Park as if they all caught a bus downtown and then sublimated into a colorless, creedless America. What he neglects to say is that the Jews of Chicago still largely reside in a handful of enclaves and still maintain an impressive array of cultural, religious, and political institutions. It’s just that they’ve shifted from the west side to the far north suburbs.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
In order to curry favor with his conservative support base in an election year, President Bush will soon be promoting “healthy marriages.”
The President is ostensibly working to develop supportive and nurturing relationships — at the cost of $1.5 billion — for the benefit of couples, children, and the nation at large. Yet the motivation for this project may be to undermine the recent Massachusetts precedent which upholds gay marriages. In November of 2003, the highest court in Massachusetts declared that the state’s constitution allows for same-sex marriages. This ruling has had the unhappy consequence of Republican lawmakers demanding a constitutional amendment
that would ban same-sex marriages in all states.
This healthy marriage initiative comes at a politically opportune moment for President Bush; it should pacify those who fear that traditional marriages are under attack. Bush has yet to acquiesce to the calls for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, but this initiative will certainly signal to his conservative support base that traditional marriages enjoy the blessing of the government. Indeed, Bush has stated that marriage is a union between man and woman.
Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, all federal funds allocated for marriage promotion will be off limits to gay couples.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
At a time when public sentiment towards the U.S. forces in Iraq is turning increasingly sour,
particularly with the recent incident in which American soldiers opened fire on an Iraqi family traveling in a car, Japan is sending forces to Iraq. Japan’s presence in the region is notable because this is the first time since the end of World War II that Japanese Self-Defense Forces have been ordered into a combat zone. The Japanese constitution prohibits the existence of a standing combat-ready army, just as it prohibits troops from being dispatched to a combat zone. It is thanks to a law that was enacted in the summer of 2003 that Japanese troops are legally able to enter non-combat zones in Iraq. As The Japan Times
rightly notes, those critical of sending the Self-Defense Forces argue that no such non-combat zones currently exist in Iraq. While the war may officially be over, the deaths and casualties continue to mount.
According to a poll
published in The Japan Times
, the residents in the city of Samawah, located in southern Iraq, may be very welcoming or very opposed to the Japanese troops, depending on their purpose. Should the Japanese SDF aid in the reconstruction of Iraq, they will be welcome. Should the Japanese forces appear to support and abet the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, the welcome will be significantly more tepid.
Given that many Japanese are wary, if not outright opposed, to the deployment of SDF troops to Iraq, the Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba would do well to consider the purpose and extent of the Japanese presence in Iraq.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Welcome to PULSE.
This space is devoted to an animated, ongoing discussion of contemporary politics, culture, and society. Hosted by InTheFray editors (along with a few guest bloggers on occasion), PULSE will bring to your attention news items concerning identity and community. We provide the incisive analysis and thoughtful insights; you provide the withering criticism and rigorous debate. The end product will, we hope, be a lively exchange among readers and editors that is a tad serious, and a tad not. The PULSE page will be updated on a daily basis, so please check back frequently.
To post an entry, visit the submission form
on our site. Make sure you select PULSE" as the Topic. Alternatively, you can email your entry to pulse-at-inthefray-dot-org. In either case, the post should be no more than 1,000 words. We do not permit spam, libelous or defamatory posts, or other abuses. Please make sure that you are logged into the ITF website when you submit your entry. You may use a pseudonym, though we encourage people to use their real names.
To read the latest PULSE entries, click here
—The PULSE staff
QUOTE OF NOTE
“It shows how frantically the ruling class is rushing toward a revival of militarism.”A statement by the North Korean state radio agency, Korean Central Broadcasting, regarding Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine on New Year’s Day. The shrine serves as a memorial to Japan’s war dead, including convicted World War II war criminals. While Koizumi has stated that this was a personal visit, various governments in East Asia have objected to the visit on the basis that the shrine celebrates Japanese militarism.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Last updated: 11/25/2006
InTheFray Magazine is becoming the talk of the Internet. The following sites have recognized ITF's work:
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- Parker Eshelman's photo essay In the shadows has been republished in Greener magazine. (11/25/06)
- Emily Alpert’s story "Gender outlaws" has received second place in the online journalism category of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s 2006 Excellence in Journalism Awards. (First place went to an article by Newsweek.) Congratulations to Emily on winning this prestigious award for her eye-opening work on transgender prisoners! (11/9/06)
- Catherine Hoang's article, "Choosing uncertainty" has been republished on MixEye.com. (10/7/06)
- Two of Emily Alpert’s articles, “Gender Outlaws” and "Debajo del arcoiris" have been nominated for a Media Award (Best Digital Journalism Article) from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). (1/24/2006)
- Ayah-Victoria McKhail's piece for THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, "Full disclosure", has been republished by the blog NaturistMusings. (11/7/05)
- Laura Nathan's PULSE entry, “A Texas-sized constitutional mistake”, has been republished by Portside. (11/6/05)
- Alexis Luna’s article, “The joy of six milligrams,” has been republished on AlterNet. (3/8/2005)
- Emily Alpert’s article, “Rainbow and red,” has been nominated for a Media Award (Best Digital Journalism Article) from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). (2/26/05)
- Laura’s Nathan's interview with Christi Lake (“Sexx, Lies, and Videotape”) has been republished on CounterPunch.org. (12/12/04)
- Victor Tan Chen’s essay “Onward, progressive soldiers” was featured on the political listserv portside. (11/17/04)
- Anthony Vaccaro’s piece “Who owns the forest?” was featured in Utne's Webwatch newsletter.
- Laura Louison’s PULSE story “Democracy in action?” has been republished on Zogby International. (10/10/04)
- Mimi Hanaoka’s PULSE story “Bollywood lesbians” has been linked to Utne's website.
- Laura Nathan’s PULSE story, “Lessons from high school,” has been republished by AlterNet as “Can a movie ‘save’ America?”
- Laura Nathan’s article, “Traversing Chisholm's trail,” was republished by AlterNet. (5/18/04)
- Danielle Allen’s essay “A lackluster golden anniversary” was republished by Portside and listed on the site of the University of Chicago News Office. (5/17/04)
- Laura Nathan’s interview with Rachel F. Moran (“Making a nation of difference”) has been republished on Alternet. (5/5/04)
- Robert Jensen’s personal essay “Illusions of superiority” has been republished on Alternet. (5/4/04)
- Dustin Ross’ photo essay “A walk in the dark” has been nominated for The Best of Photojournalism 2004. (4/11/2004)
- Daniel Wolff’s “Spiral Railway” is linked on Counterpunch.org. (4/11/2004)
- Tania Boghossian’s story “Left/right love” is linked to Political Theory Daily Review. (4/11/2004)
- The latest issue of Utne online features a piece on Adam Lovingood's article “The Other Side of Lawrence,” which INTERACT featured in 2003. (2/22/2004)
- Keith Porter, Globalization Guide for About.com, mentioned "The battle after Seattle" (ITF, December 2003) in his blog and newsletter: "In the four years since anti-globalization protesters made headlines in Seattle, the movement has matured both in focus and in organization. Victor Tan Chen has written a great summary of this effort in the new issue of In The Fray. The new movement is making specific policy proposals and turning some of its perceived weaknesses into emerging strengths." (1/14/2004)
- The Moving Ideas Network, a project of The American Prospect magazine, is featuring ITF as this week's "Site to Watch." (1/9/2004)
- Coolstop has added ITF to the list of "noteworthy cool sites" in Coolstop's Portal Cool Zone.
- Google News now includes articles from InTheFray Magazine.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2004
My parents and I just took a walk around their southeastern Virginia neighborhood and I was struck by the excess of everything that this holiday generates. Yes, I realize this isn't at all a new cultural phenomenon, but I feel I'm seeing the situation with fresh eyes since I spent the last two Christmases living in a country without a Christian majority. In my parents' neighborhood dozens of homes are dripping in millions of — admittedly dazzling — lights. I like those lights, I do. But I even saw a brite-lite-looking Santa Claus perched from a basketball hoop. Funny, true, but is that really necessary? Every trash can and recycling bin is stuffed with paper, boxes and ribbons. A sign the economy is recovering? We can only hope. Anyway, from discussions with friends I get the feeling that every generation thinks the one before it experienced more meaningful Christmases. Reading at least to the middle of this article
and you'll see it just ain't so.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
As we all celebrate the holiday season with our friends and families, let's not forget the holiday news sent from out of this world. The European Space Agency continues to wait
for a signal from the Beagle 2, the British-made spacecraft meant to analyze the surface of planet Mars. Although the Beagle has yet to make contact with planet Earth, scientists from around the world continue to hope for a holiday gift
from outer space.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, gave a speech this week in which she criticized the Bush administration's foreign policy — more or less in its entirety. Some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism as a pretext," she said. A adapted version of the speech was published inThe Globe and Mail
, a Canadian newspaper.
Here's one particular quote from Ebadi's essay that deserves re-reading:
I am a Muslim. In the Koran, the Prophet of Islam has said: "Thou shalt believe in thy faith and I in my religion." That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, Iran's civilization and culture have become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war ... The discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states, whether in the sphere of civil law or in the realm of social, political and cultural justice, has its roots in the male-dominated culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam.
Commentators like to blame Islam for creating suicide bombers, oppressing women — even, as bizarre as it might seem, encouraging pedophila
. As is the case for most religions, of course, Islam the faith is a lot different from Islam as the faithful practice it. After all, Christians found ways that the teachings of the great pacifist, Jesus Christ, could be used to justify burning alive thousands of Jews and Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition — it doesn't take many aspiring demagogues before a religion of peace starts spawning legions of hatemongers. Thankfully, questions are beginning to be raised these days about the un-peaceful practices of certain religious extremists (during the Cold War, the United States found it useful to ignore the Muslim ones
). Scholars are even questioning whether conventional translations of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, are accurate about some rather important points — is it seventy-two "virgins" or seventy-two "fruits"
? (Not to be outdone, scholars of the New Testament are also raising some crucial questions
In spite of what the fundamentalists (of all faiths) might say, religion is a quite malleable thing — the devil, so to speak, is in the details, and who decides those details matters a great deal. The face that Islam will show in this new century will depend on which leaders take power in Muslim countries. Which brings me back to Shirin Ebadi. She is the kind of leader that Western countries should be encouraging — a Muslim feminist who implores other Muslims to remember their faith's humanitarian spirit, its vision of global unity that the Iranian poet Rumi once described in this way: "The sons of Adam are limbs of one another/Having been created of one essence." If Ebadi and other like-minded Muslims can gain power in their countries, they could do much more than the hordes of CIA agents and Special Forces commandoes embedded abroad presently seem capable of doing — that is, sweeping away the terrorist-inspiring hatred that has become America's bugbear ever since it clawed its way across the ocean on September 11. Even the more neoconservative figures in the Bush administration — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance — are finally coming to the view that, in addition to dropping bombs, it might be a good idea to start peddling a "kinder and gentler" Islam abroad
The problem is, of course, that even liberal-minded Muslims like Ebadi are being alienated by the "shock and awe" foreign policy of the Bush administration. Ebadi asks: "Why is it that some decisions and resolutions of the UN Security Council are binding, while other council resolutions have no binding force? Why is it that in the past 35 years, dozens of UN resolutions concerning the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel have not been implemented — yet, in the past 12 years, the state and people of Iraq were twice subjected to attack, military assault, economic sanctions, and, ultimately, military occupation?"
These are troubling questions — for the extremists, without question, but also for those Muslims who want to see an end to the fanaticism. If the United States truly wants to stop terrorism, it needs people like Ebadi on its side. But as long as the Bush administration stubbornly clings to its current policy of hyper-aggressive unilateralism — a policy that has created only more enemies in the Muslim world
— liberal Muslims will have a hard time convincing anyone in their countries to listen to them. And that does not bode well for the sanctity of Islam, nor for the security of Americans.
—Victor Tan Chen