Protecting God from fundamentalists (like

Protecting God from fundamentalists (like Ashcroft — and Osama, too)
– Am I the only one (besides Oliver Willis) who’s frightened and appalled by John Ashcroft lusting after Germany’s new law that allows its government to “ban religious organizations“?

After screeching about that the other day, I got thoughtful email from Dr. John Snawder pointing out an important distinction — that the German law allows them to ban religious organizations “used as fronts for extremists.” Says the good Doctor: “I mean there’s that whole slippery slope argument here but, I think the real emphasis of this law is the latter” — the support of extremists — and he cites the recently raided Holy Land Foundation in Texas and Army of God as fronts for terror.

I agree that there are plenty of bad allegedly religious groups out there and that they should be watched and arrested and tried like any other dangerous secular slime. Note the blind Egyptian cleric from my local Jersey City mosque now serving eternity in our prisons thanks to his masterminding of the first World Trade Center bombing. Note Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, responsible for the deaths of almost 1,000 poor-chump souls in the ’70s and treated with kid gloves before that because of his religious glow — can’t offend, you know. Note Heavens Gate and the idiots who died in their sneakers waiting for their spaceship — but they believed in something, didn’t they?

Investigate? Absolutely. Haul off? Of course. But ban? No. That is the well-oiled slope, that is the unconstitutional wish of the man who’s supposed to protect our Constitution, John Ashcroft.

The problem is: Who’s to say which religious organizations should be banned? If you gave me that job, I’d look at Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and see organizations that promote hate speech and bigotry, organizations that use religion as a shield to make money and push politics. Ban ’em! If Ashcroft were doing the banning — a distinct possibility, God save us — he could look at my tolerant little Congregational church and sneer; our forebears the Pilgrims faced a ban of their own only a few centuries ago.

No, when you support religious freedom you have to support it wholly, good with the bad, good even with the evil. And our attorney general, of all people, should know that.

– See also a column by Daniel Yankelovich on challenging us to know what we’re fighting for in this war. In the cold war, he says, our side, capitalism, won over the other side, communism, on the merits. “In the jihad with Islamic fundamentalism,” he writes, “what will count most are our spiritual values, especially those core values that distinguish our culture from Islamic fundamentalism.” He then lists what he counts as those differences:

First, separation of church and state: “The founders of our nation understood that both religion and politics stir human passions. Kept separate, these passions can fuel great civilizations. Mixed together, they fuel hatred, prejudice, and a destructive sense of purity that tolerates no dissent.”

Second, the value we place on diversity: “Our success in creating a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lifestyle culture is of immense historic significance. A great achievement of our civilization, it collides head-on with the intolerance and bigotry of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Third, our belief in equality of opportunity: “Nothing seems to offend Islamic fundamentalists more than full equality of opportunity for women.”

But notice that these all point to the strongly held tenants of our secular society. And yes, that secularism does mystify and offend our Islamic enemies today — just as it mystifies and offends the prayer-in-school, religion-everywhere religious right (Ashcroft’s ilk). But by defending our secular values and rights we do nothing less than defend God against those who would use a government’s power to give Him a bad name.

– This weekend, Reid Photodude Stott added eloquently to my disagreement with Andrew Sullivan over whether bin Laden’s “faith” is proof that this is a religious war. Another sentence or two here: Bin Laden hiding behind Islam does not make this a religious war. We cannot give him credit for faith or justice or legitimacy of any sort.

He does not have religion on his side any more than he has justice on his side (that is, we can’t argue that he has a legitimate reason to attack the U.S. for any past U.S. sins and we cannot argue that he has any legitimate reason to attack us out of his religion; bin Laden has no legitimacy of any sort). So bin Laden does not make this a religious war.

Yet that’s not to say that this isn’t a religious war; Sullivan is right about that. But bin Laden’s not the proof — the behavior of others is the proof. I remain shocked that we did not see a universal and strong condemnation of bin Laden by religious and political leaders in the Muslim world — but we didn’t. Now, we see only an embarrassed silence around this defeated and discredited terrorist and his despot pal. That indicates that there is a fault line along religious and cultural strata; that indicates more difficulty ahead.

Rat trap- Newsweek says John

Rat trap
Newsweek says John The Rat Traitor Superdoofus Walker was more than just a geek given a gun. “According to administration sources, he also admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda and training at its camps, where he participated in terrorist exercisesóincluding learning to use explosives and poisonsóand met with visiting Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden. Walker also admitted having been instructed in how to act in airports so as not to attract police attention. ‘He was no innocent bystander,’ said one official. ‘This wasnít like learning to be a soldier in Pattonís Army. He was training to commit terrorist acts.’ ”

Help: a geek interlude
– Two bits of geek help, please:

– First, what hosting service do any of you recommend? I want to host my blog, four domains, and a couple of email addresses without any heavy load on them. Recommendations for a safe and easy and inexpensive choice?

– Second, this template makes Netscape 4.7 (arrrgh) crash. Any Netscape tricks?

Please email me with the link to the right. Much thanks.

Osama bin Hoffa
– So Tora Bora has fallen! Let’s hear a victory grunt! But no Osama? Think he’ll ever be found? Or will he become the Hoffa/Elvis/Earhart legend of our times?

As Sgt. Schulz said, I know nossing…
– The Sunday Times of London says lawyers fear the bin Laden tape could hurt the prosecution of his terrorists because binny says many of his dupes did not know the details of the terror plot before they executed it.

– Also from the Times: Close ties between bin Laden and the terror murderers who attacked the Indian parliament this week.

Badda bin!
– The Observer says the bin Laden tape is genuine but may be the product of a CIA sting. They hint that the gimpy Gumpy — Ali Saeed al-Ghamdi — who’s kissing bin Laden’s ass on the tape may have been “turned” by intelligence agents — just as the FBI “turns” a Mafia turncoat — to take part in getting the incriminating tape. If so, I’ll take back the bad things I said about the wipe.

– Also from the Observer: Authorities in Afghanistan found detailed plans for a remote-control truck bomb vs. London.

God’s war? No such thing
Reid “Photodude” Stott adds to my (one-sided) argument with Andrew Sullivan over calling this a religious war on the basis of bin Laden’s “faith.” I’ll let Stott speak for himself… But I’ll say more on religion and the war and John Ashcroft tomorrow…

Everybody needs 15 minutes of PR
– I’ll know I’ve arrived when Tim Blair includes me in his daily blogwatch.

– Via Moon Farmer, a journal if Blackberry email to and from one law firm as they tried to track down all their colleagues in the World Trade Center.

So much for moving to Canada
– The National Post says bin Laden operatives are as thick as maple leafs up there.

Pompeii- I was listening to

– I was listening to NPR this morning (yes, former pacifists still can listen to NPR) when I heard an interview with the man who is wielding the wrecking ball at the World Trade Center. He spoke, as all the good people who work down there do, of the strain and stress on the soul. He also gave me an image I cannot erase from my mind. He said that the bodies of the victims they are recovering now are completely enveloped in concrete dust, so completely enveloped that they are not even decomposing. This is our modern Pompeii.

There is that dust again. Two months ago, I wrote about my relationship to dust, how it is the thing that haunts me most, that dust that we inhaled, that dust that covered us and the world around us that day, that dust that made me sick. Now we have this terrible image of the dust suffocating its victims, encasing them, entombing them.

Every time I think I can get an inch away from the terrible images, I can’t.

– I am glad to see that they are going to preserve the two largest pieces of the facade of the World Trade Center that were left standing after the collapse for possible use in a memorial. This is the image that I think stays with most of us in the aftermath of that day and whether literally or figuratively, it is appropriate to include them in the memorial.

They should also save the dust.

And as I said earlier, I hope they save the fire still burning under the rubble to light an eternal flame.

Mr. Ashcroft, exactly what does

Mr. Ashcroft, exactly what does America mean to you, then?
– Something very scary here from an AP story: “U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Friday praised Germany’s newly enacted law that allows authorities to ban religious organizations used as fronts for extremists, saying it was a necessary measure in the war on terrorism.”

Woa, boy! “Ban religious organizations!?” What the hell — or should I say, what in God’s name — do you think is the very foundation of our Constitution and country? Religious freedom, damnit — or should I say, darnit.

John Ashcroft — who’s better known for his prayer than for his success as prosecuting terrorists and protecting us from them — is now looking enviously at the idea of banning religous organizations. That is frightening.

I don’t mind if he spies on them. I want him to arrest terrorizing clerics. But if civilization has learned nothing in the last 200 years, at least, it’s that you can’t ban religion and legislating it only gets you in trouble.

Besides, it’s just plain unconstitutional — from the guy who’s supposed to protect our Constitution.

But I actually hope he keeps saying stupid things like that — and the things he said to Congress last week — and that he keeps messing up his real job of catching the bad guys so that soon, he can be seen as the liability he is and Rudy can get his job!

Let’s go to the videotape
Andrew Sullivan comes away from the bin Laden tape with two conclusions: “The first is that anyone who doubts the genuineness of this manís faith, the inextricability of a twisted fundamentalist Islam with this form of terror, is simply in denial. The second thing thatís obvious is that the only thing bin Laden respects is power. Notice how he predicts that there will be mass conversions to Islam after the massacre. He believes that people, especially those in his own backyard, suck up to the powerful…”

I’m going to dare to disagree with the first. I know that Sullivan is buttressing his own argument that this is a religious war and he’s not wrong about that. But to call what we see in bin Laden “faith” gives him misplaced credit and it gives God and Allah both a bad name. Along with “faith” of any stripe one has to see some moral structure, some belief in a greater good, some assumption that there is a divine will or plan or set of laws that rule what you do and why you do it. There is none of that here. Quoting scripture of one flavor or another is not an indication of faith. No, what is clearly genuine about bin Laden is only his hate — his engineered evil — and the religion is merely a thin veil over that.

Sullivan is instead quite right in his second conclusion: It’s all about power, about him and his side winning. Why did he do this? He believed it would impress his masses and bring them to his side, amplifying his power.

This is megalomania not theology.

– I haven’t seen the guy’s name in writing yet — sounds like “Gumby” — but the asskisser on the tape with bin Laden will have to go down in history as the biggest brownnoser in history. What a wipe.

– Best tabloid headline so far, the Mirror: YOU GLOATING BASTARD

– Bad news/good news in the L.A. Times analysis of the tape:

Several officials said Bin Laden’s claims that most of the hijackers didn’t know one another or even know the game plan until the final hours indicates Al Qaeda enforces strict need-to-know operational security. That makes early detection extremely difficult.

“It shows that unless you get to the right people at the right time, it’s tough to get at these guys and prevent an attack,” a U.S. intelligence official said. “We could have captured some of the hijackers on Sept. 9, gotten them to tell us everything, and we still wouldn’t know what they were going to do.”

But analysts also say Bin Laden’s detailed foreknowledge of the plot–assuming he spoke truthfully during what appeared to be an off-the-cuff dinner nearly two months after the attack–suggests he and a few key aides maintained some degree of direct operational command.

That means their capture or death in the Afghan war could significantly undercut Al Qaeda’s ability to launch major new terrorist attacks in the near future.

More video
– A show analyzing how the World Trade Centers collapsed was a surprise huge hit on TV in Britain, with a quarter of the audience.

– I agree with Joshua Marshall today that (a) the Indian terrorist attack is bigger news than the play it’s getting and, regarding The Tape, (b) “Not since Pamela Anderson has an ill-considered home video caused its subject so much grief.”

Terrorists strike India- Terrorists attack

Terrorists strike India
– Terrorists attack India’s parliament. They had been warned of bin Laden attacks. MSNBC report. Times of India report. Photo: Violence in the shadow of Ghandi’s statue at Parliament.

Hitler’s home video
– The government just released the bin Laden party tape. He’s sitting, eating, grinning about the Sept. 11 attacks. He says he knows about the time between the attacks and he gloats that our government thought a coup was underway. He calculates the death. The smoking jet:

UBL: (…Inaudible…) we calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. (…Inaudible…) due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for.

Shaykh: Allah be praised.

For a complete transcript of the tape, click here (it’s a PDF file).

HTML version of the tape transcript here.

– I’ve not cried once since Sept. 11 but I’ve come close a thousand times — especially, every day, when I read the profiles of the victims and heroes of our tragedy in the New York Times, an endless, I’m afraid, collection of heart-wrenching stories of the lives lost. Here the numbing numbers of 9/11 become individuals again with stories to tell and with widows and children who are left with memories. Then, yesterday, I had on Fox News at work and ended up watching the internment of Charles Burlingame, the pilot of the jet that was crashed into the Pentagon. There have been so many funerals in New York that they’ve become one stream of tears and bagpipes. But because of the news surrounding this funeral — the fact that rules were waived so he could be buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery — there was coverage on TV and, again, this became the story of an individual. You can’t see his widow and hear Taps without feeling the sorrow in your soul. Now, this morning, I pick up the Times and read the story of Patricia Flounders, a widow of 9/11 who could not bear the loss of her husband. She committed suicide.

Here is the story from her hometown, New Orleans.

Get me rewrite
Matt Welch has an in-depth (we journalists just love that phrase) look at the state of journalism and columnizing in the post-weblog world, with lots of smart (of course) things to say about old and truly new media:

What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not? Iíd say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s, unchecked joy at discovering clever people, a readiness to admit error, tendency to write with passion and emotion, a radar attuned to personal responsibility, a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review Ö

I think he left out one thing. I was talking on IM one night with my blog mentor, Nick Denton, marveling at how great (albeit economically impoverished) weblogging is and and why that’s so and Nick summed it all up in two words:

No editors.

And I is one. But he’s right. So much of the appeal of blogdom is its immediacy, honesty, and unsanded, unvarnished, rough-edged but personal and passionate individuality. That can’t work in many print publications; the genius of People is that it has a voice as a magazine and creates a tremendous economy of words and pictures (I learned more about tight writing there than I did at a tabloit). That’s right for People. Blogs are right for the Web, the medium we the audience own. Anyway, speaking like the old war horse that I am, this reminds me of the day a dozen years ago when I was trying hard to hire (I presume he won’t mind me telling the story) Stephen Hunter, now the Washington Post movie critic and a thriller writer, a straight-shooter if I’ve ever met one. We asked him what he thought about editing and at first he started to kiss our rears about how enriching the editing process is. But then he stopped himself, shook his head and said: No, I don’t believe that. You know, I shoot guns. I like guns. I think a bullet is a beautiful thing. Too beautiful to waste on an editor….

– And here a good Glenn Reynolds Fox News column that inspired Welch.

If the web had a laughtrack
– Great line from Little Green Footballs on a Chronicle article about John Walker, the rat traitor superdoofus: ìNever mentioned in this article is the psychological impact of naming your child after a famous brand of Scotch…”