Posts from December 20, 2004

Think, Time

Think, Time

: If Time had any sense, they’d put up the entire blog-of-the-year story (and not just this) online for all to see. Come on, Time, think.

Omar and Mohammed meet Howie

Omar and Mohammed meet Howie

: Howard Kurtz interviews Iraqi bloggers Omar and Mohammed in the Washington Post today. To those who say that they saw only the right-wing on their American visit, note that they fearlessly faced the supposedly liberal media at the Washington Post and at NPR’s WNYC. (I should add that I made the introductions for both interviews.)

“People outside Iraq are more worried than the Iraqis themselves,” says Mohammed.

Still, given the level of violence, aren’t they worried about using their real names on a provocative blog?

“We decided not to be afraid anymore,” Omar says. “We’re tired of being afraid.”

And God rolled His eyes

And God rolled His eyes

: There is a debate supposedly emerging — even raging — in this country:

One side says that religion is under attack in America.

Another side says America is under attack from religion.

I say both sides are trivializing faith and the First Amendment. And what would God say? I think He would roll His eyes.

There are too many places on this earth today where religion is most certainly under attack: start with China. There are many nations under attack from religion: start with Iran and Saudi Arabia. And, Lord knows, there are too many places where people are attacked because of their religion: try being a Jew or a Christian in the wrong place; try being the wrong flavor of Muslim in the other guy’s turf.

Here in America, we are fortunate enough to have a First Amendment that guarantees our freedom to worship — or not — without government interference, a guarantee millions around the world would die — yes, die — to enjoy. And yet we squander that fortune, that blessing, with silly, egotistical, show-off squabbles.

Here in America, some people think a fight over a creche in the town square is a fight over religion. No, it’s a fight for the sake of a fight. On the one hand, we do enforce separation of church and state — to guarantee freedom of religion from government — and so there is no divine right to put a creche in front of the city hall; I want to tell those folks, put it anywhere else. On the other hand, the bureacrats who stop it as if they are standing between America and jihad are being just as ridiculous; a creche or a Christmas tree next to a mennorah is harmless and is part of the diverse culture of America. Similarly, it’s right for a school to prohibit proselytizing but it’s silly to disallow an instrumental version of a Christmas ditty, as recently occurred in New Jersey. You want to slap both sides in these annual squabbles and just tell them to grow up and count their blessings.

Then there are those in the so-called Parents Television Council who argue that any joke that mentions God is an attack on religion. That’s just crap. Freedom of speech goes hand-in-hand with freedom of religion — that’s why they are both protected in the First Amendment — and there’s nothing with a joke about God. It’s not a sign of a war on God.

And then there are those who say that America has been taken over by a red-state religious jihad because the other side won the election and because a bogus made the insulting presumption that some of us don’t have moral values and because the afore-dismissed PTC manufactured complaints about pop culture the way Tootsie makes Rolls. The truth, as I proved, it that it is a phantom army of the few on the fringe.

I want to slap them all back to their senses. But I also want to slap the media who act as if all these alleged religious wars are real news, worthwhile stories, true trends. No, the truth is that once a year, we get the fake stories about wars over Christmas carols; whenever the PTC puts out another press release or the FCC another fine, we get the fake stories about religious outrage at indecency; whenever the right wins an election, we get the fake stories about the revolt of the religious conservatives. All these stories act as if America — you, me, and your neighbors — changed overnight into surburban Sunnis vs. Shiites.

There is no religous war in America. That ended more than two centuries ago. And now we enjoy the benefits of that struggle. We should be grateful for that and stop squandering it with squabbles.

: There is plenty of reading material on the topic from just the last few days:

: Here is The New York Times Week in Review asking whether Christmas needs to be saved:

But the demands to bring back Christmas are not simply part of an age-old culture war, with the A.C.L.U. in one corner and evangelicals in the other. There is also a more moderate force, asking whether the country has gone too far in its quest to be inclusive of all faiths. Why, they ask, must a Christmas tree become a holiday tree? And is singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in a school performance more offensive than singing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel”? “It’s political correctness run amok,” said Lynn Mistretta, who with another mother in Scarborough, Me., started “I’m not for offending anyone, but we’re excluding everyone, and everyone feels rotten about it.”

: Frank Rich in the same edition of The Times argues soberly that there is a more serious religous confrontation brewing:

As we close the books on 2004, and not a moment too soon, it’s clear that, as far as the culture goes, this year belonged to Mel Gibson’s mammoth hit. Its prurient and interminable wallow in the Crucifixion, to the point where Jesus’ actual teachings become mere passing footnotes to the sumptuously depicted mutilation of his flesh, is as representative of our time as “Godspell” was of terminal-stage hippiedom 30 years ago. The Gibson conflation of religion with violence reflects the universal order of the day

A blogal citizen

A blogal citizen

: I like to call this new medium of ours citizens’ media. “Citizen” connotes belonging and that is why I like the word as a substitute for the old-fashioned, one-way notions of readers, viewers, listeners, consumers. Citizens belong. Citizens join. Citizens own. Citizens act.

So I ask myself: Citizen of where? Citizen of what?

A personal irony is that after September 11th, I began to think of myself more as an American citizen than I ever had. It’s not that I didn’t have pride in the land of my birth before, but it was passive and I was wary of the dangers of putting nation over humanity. But once I was attacked because I was American, I found new belonging, new pride, new resolve. I hang a flag on my lapel and my front fence as a matter of defiance.

At the same time, I started blogging and I came to more new answers to the question, citizen of where? This new medium has, at once, made me feel more local and more global. There are neighbors in town I rarely get to speak with who read and sometimes comment on this blog. And, of course, I’ve had the privilege of building some bridges to other countries and of crossing the bridges others have built. It was honestly thrilling at Harvard to meet the people on the other sides of those spans: Hoder from Iran, Omar and Mohammed from Iraq, Jeff from Maylasia… I hope at the next one, I get to meet more from Germany, Russia, eastern Europe, Asia….

But before I start talking like a citizen of the globe, I have to answer the next question: Citizen of what? In meeting all those good people and joining with them was I truly acting like a global citizen or simply like a blogal citizen? (And, yes, I do enjoy the anagrammatic fun of that.) Which community mattered more? Was one community possible only because of the other? This is not just about blogging as a special interest. This is about feeling a sense of citizenship — belonging, power, responsibility — in blogs as a result of the world and in the world as a result of blogs. The internet (and blogs) make that possible.

: As I continued to mull the importance and impact of last week’s Harvard session, I read Timothy Garton Ash in Friday’s Times practically declare the death of the nation-state:

Why is it that Americans do not understand the power of the European Union? Is it because they are simply not well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals? Or is it because, as citizens of the world’s last truly sovereign nation-state, Americans – and especially American conservatives – find it difficult to acknowledge the contribution of a transnational organization based on supranational law? It’s as if they can conceive of power only in the old-fashioned terms of a classical nation-state.

Old-fashioned? The world’s last sovereign nation-state? I think Ash is getting a bit ahead of his times … but perhaps not too far ahead.

Garton Ash isn’t completely off: New means of creating alliances — nation to nation, or person to person without regard to nationality — mean that the the nation-state as the globe’s organizing principle begins to fade, perhaps. And our own sense of citizenship — and our relationship to other citizens — broadens to include more people, more places, and more dimensions.

Some will say that this ability to find people of like minds and goals will create “echo chambers.” The corollary in media is the complaint that more choice creates “fragmentation.” These people see these as bad things.

I don’t. I see them as positive developments. More choice in media equals more control for citizens. More communication, information, and conversation across boundaries and interests online equals more connections among citizens and a greater connection for each citizen to a broader (and, at the same time, more local) world.

That is what I witnessed and experienced last weekend at Harvard and before. That is why I am so excited — and optimistic — about these bridges and the effort to expand the tools that build those bridges to anyone and everyone in the world.

Then we can move one step beyond Garton Ash’s premature prediction: Nations won’t be sovereign. Citizens will be.

Is it premature for me, too, to predict all this? Of course, it is. But a blogger can hope, can’t he? And are there dangers? Of course, there are. But I have to trust my fellow citizens — of wherever and whatever — to use these tools of speech and freedom, in the end, for good.

If this works, we don’t just change the world. We redefine the world.

: As Jay Rosen would say, here is some after matter:

: See Jay’s wonderful post about all this, including links to Olav Anders

The complaint factory

fccchart.gifThe complaint factory

: CNN/Money’s site has a year-end piece on the indecency kerfluffle this year and with it came this chart demonstrating nothing more than the efficiency of the so-called Parents Television Councils’ complaint factory and certainly not any change in the essence of pop culture or American values. It’s simple testimony to the easy of clicking the “send” button.