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Winter 2003
 
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Steer Clear of Smears

To the editor:
A bit of advice for Harry Stein [“How I Was Smeared,” Autumn 2002]: if you are accosted during a Q&A session, calmly ask, “Could you tell me what you heard me say?” Pause. The questioner will reveal a number of things, including his biases, because he has now been asked a question. He wanted to make a statement, not answer (or even ask) a question. Don’t assume the questioner seeks an answer based on your speech, or that you define terms in the same way. Just an idea—an effective technique I’ve used for years.

The Star Telegram reporter who smeared Stein and Bob McTeer hid behind his editor’s skirt. His behavior richly illustrates why I quit reading the Texas newspapers—and the New York Times and Washington Post. Journalism today is news crafting, not news reporting.

James A. Glasscock
via e-mail

To the editor:
Harry Stein’s “How I Was Smeared” omits one relevant fact: he works for a neo-con think tank whose agenda is to bash liberal thinking wherever it is found. Now, perhaps, you can better understand liberals who have been consistently misquoted and libeled over the years by conservative bullies.

Hank Bunker
Brewster, MA

Harry Stein replies:
Mr. Glasscock’s plan is brilliant and I fully intend to follow it during my next mugging. As for the bitter Mr. Bunker (who, by the way, has his “one relevant fact” wrong—unless the Manhattan Institute has been sending me regular checks I haven’t received), I would refer him to Mr. Glasscock and the scores of others who wrote to express their dismay at what liberalism has come to.

Tear Down That Wall

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald’s detailed article [“Why the FBI Didn’t Stop 9/11,” Autumn 2002] is 100 percent right about the problematic FISA backdrop to 9/11. The “Wall” pontifications beginning in the mid-1990s recall those medieval philosophers who spent their time calculating the number of angels that could fit onto the head of a pin. I take a slightly broader view of the problem than Mac Donald, however, due to the FBI’s overly legalized, commonsense-defying world; and I do think there were other factors in play at FBI headquarters regarding the blocking of the Zacarias Moussaoui investigation. Things are never completely black and white, and there’s a lot of blame to go around. Part of the reason I wrote my letter, however, was for people to unravel the reasons behind the failures, and she has definitely hit upon one of the biggest—if not the biggest—one.

Coleen Rowley
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis, MN

Build Up That Wall

To the editor:
It is unfortunate that in trying to make a vital case—for the separation of religion and politics in the Middle East—James Q. Wilson has chosen to do so from such a weak position [“The Reform Islam Needs,” Autumn 2002]. He ignores the long tradition of religious toleration under the Ottoman Empire. He then ignores the established link between that empire’s failed successor states and the rise of political Islam in the 1970s and 80s. The angry letters Wilson will receive from Islamists and moderate Muslims offended by the tone of his argument will contain sound points to which he will be unable to respond except to claim ignorance. Simplistic reasoning combined with a patronizing attitude can only further entrench moderate Muslim opinion into supporting the link between Islam and politics that is at present so damaging.

The lack of separation of religion and politics is an important factor in the Middle East’s troubles—troubles that have now spilled onto the world stage. The root cause has little to do with Islam’s posited lack of intellectual development—“centuries behind”—but with the more quotidian failings of Middle Eastern states. Weak states seek legitimacy from higher authorities: in the 1950s and 60s, it was Nasserism; now, it is political Islam.

On the flip side, religious involvement in politics stems not from the meddling exhortations of Islam, or the imperatives of the Qur’an and shari’a law, but from its role as an organ of political opposition and social provision in failing regimes.

The needed reform is not of “Islam,” but of the Middle Eastern state system. The complication is that reform imposed from outside won’t stick. Exhortations like Wilson’s only weaken the hand of reformers like Iran’s Khatami as they try to confront the Islamists.

Conrad Smewing
Foreign Policy Centre
London, England

James Q. Wilson responds:
Mr. Smewing’s letter bears little relationship to my article. I did not say that religious freedom failed because of “Islam’s . . . lack of intellectual development,” nor did I suggest that the “meddling exhortations of Islam” or “the imperatives of the Qur’an” produced religious involvement in politics, and I never suggested that reform should be “imposed from the outside.” The reason that Mr. Smewing invents these criticisms may possibly be found in his personality or the needs of the organization he represents. Only he knows.

On one matter, however, he is partially correct: I did not dwell on the long tradition of religious toleration in the Muslim world. Why? Because the observance of that tradition is increasingly rare. After the second (failed) Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, Muslims began to feel threatened by religions they had once ignored and so started to reduce the toleration they had once supported. That lessening of toleration easily occurred because there was no legal or constitutional support for tolerance. It was to explain the lack of such support that my essay was written.

Puzzled About Paris

To the editor:
I read Theodore Dalrymple’s “Barbarians at the Gates of Paris” [Autumn 2002] with interest, but I also found it puzzling at times.

Dalrymple opens with a striking anecdote: two youths are vandalizing parking meters in broad daylight. People walk by; hardly anyone seems to object to their behavior. He explains the public’s indifference as rooted in fear of the youths’ reaction if challenged, or disillusion with the French judiciary’s ability to deal with such cases. Both feelings can account for the lack of reaction among passersby, but Dalrymple fails to consider other explanations.

One explanation is the fact that the youths are vandalizing parking meters—symbols of that most reviled form of state intervention: taxation. Tax evasion being a national pastime in France, I suspect some passersby looked on the whole scene not with apathy, but with sympathy. I am surprised that Dalrymple—who presumably understands the French, and who is himself no fan of taxation—did not consider the possibility.

Another of Dalrymple’s theories simply beggars belief. Noticing only older people challenging the youths, he wonders if younger generations have been so brainwashed by liberal sentimentalism that they think the youths are not to blame for their behavior, that poverty and a lack of education make their behavior understandable. Dalrymple fails to consider that the indifference of the younger generations may be just indifference—a failure to get interested in what lies outside their own lives. As someone famously said: there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals. Dalrymple surely knows the author of that dictum; her ideology still has its attractions for him. Do Dalrymple’s affinities with the Thatcherite Right explain why he casts about for other reasons for the public’s indifference—reasons that allow him to blame the French Left for all the problems he describes?

Raphaël Ingelbien
Louvain, Belgium

Theodore Dalrymple responds:
Mr. Ingelbien is perfectly correct in implying that all human actions are capable of more than one interpretation. Another possible reason for the French indifference he describes is that, having parted with so large a proportion of their income, they understandably no longer feel involved in or responsible to society, having by means of their taxes deputed others to do everything for them. Ferociously high taxes encourage egotism, not altruism.

Mr. Ingelbien name-callingly accuses me of an association with the Thatcherite Right, which is to think in slogans rather than to think about real and pressing problems, and is, in effect, the avoidance of thought. Mrs. Thatcher was in many respects a mirror-image Marxist—that is, an economic determinist—who, however, had far less effect on the structure of the welfare state than is usually supposed. In any case, France has not followed Thatcherite policies very closely, so Mr. Inglebein is attempting to throw sand in our eyes so that we may not see what is before our faces, and which he would obviously rather not see. Not that even he denies that it is there.

 

 


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