“No, I’m Not Going to Stand Somewhere Else.”

October 14, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Molly, if you’re reading this – you still have a choice. You can try to run away from what you know you’re called to do, but Victor Laszlo is right: like Rick Blaine, you’re trying to run away from yourself, and you will never succeed. Or you can rejoin the fight from wherever you are now; the Internet makes it possible to do your part to save the world from any computer station, anywhere.

In case you missed the news, Molly Norris, the cartoonist who came up with the idea for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, was admonished by the FBI that she needed to erase her identity and go into hiding, and she has done so. As Mark Steyn and others have observed, it appears that the United States law enforcement apparatus is now, effectively, working for the other side. Terrorizing people into abandoning their freedoms is precisely what the enemy is trying to accomplish. Now the FBI is helping them.

This is not the same thing as doing this for a witness in a criminal trial. You send mob informants into hiding because for them, hiding is what they need to do in order to fight the enemy. You can’t testify against the mob if the mob can kill you before you get to the stand. And if they get to you after you take the stand, the next informant won’t testify.

But for people like Norris, not hiding is what they need to do to fight the enemy. If mob informants go into hiding, we win. If Molly Norris goes into hiding, the enemy wins.

Earlier this year, when Norris cancelled her proposed Everybody Draw Mohammed Day out of fear for her life, I expressed my disappointment and she showed up in the comments to ask where all the people who were supposed to be protecting her had gone. It was a very just question! And she was thinking only of politicians and intellectuals, not the police. Who knew, then, that even the police would turn against her?

Yet we can’t give up. We can’t become cowards just becasue the FBI has done so. We are still human beings, and there is no escape from responsibility.

That’s why, in the tradition of Fasi Zaka, I’m proud to nominate Wim Nottroth for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.

The Gates of Vienna blog recounts the story:

Back in the fall of 2004, just after Theo Van Gogh was murdered, an artist named Chris Ripke painted a mural on a Rotterdam street with the text: “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. A scriptural quote, but universally accepted, one would think, and not at all controversial.

Needless to say, local Muslims complained, and the municipality ordered city workers to remove the mural. A video reporter [for a local TV station] named Wim Nottroth stood in front of the mural in an attempt to prevent its removal, but he was arrested by police.

The authorities also ordered all news videos of the operation destroyed, but at least one survived and was uncovered by the diligent detective work of Vlad Tepes.

The mural was on private property. The owner of the property had approved the mural. No laws were violated. But the police destroyed the mural and confiscated all videos of their crime (or so they thought) and erased them.

Four months later, it was revealed that an imam from the mosque that demanded the destruction of the mural was connected to terrorist organizations and inciting his followers to violence. He was deported for being in the country illegally.

Nottroth had been sent to the scene in his capacity as a journalist. His job was to film the police destroying the mural. But as the moment of destruction approached, Nottroth realized that although he was a journalist, he was a human being first. And nobody else was going to do what needed to be done by somebody.

So he went and stood in front of the mural. And he stood there until the police arrested him.

The translation from the Dutch is awkward in some places, but it’s impossible not to hear the courage and integrity behind the awkwardness: “We all do agree to that, don’t we? Thou shalt not kill, we all agree to, isn’t it?…If this goes away there will be more misery than there would be if you leave it.” He couldn’t have been more eloquent if he’d quoted Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration or Milton’s Aeropagetica.

This exchange encapsulates a lot in a short space:

Nottroth: It should be possible here in a democratic…

Policeman: You rather go stand there.

Nottroth: Well then, I will remain standing here.

Darn straight.

Each and every one of us must be ready to say that at any time, when our duty as human beings calls upon us. For reminding the world that standing for freedom, even against your own government when necessary, is every person’s responsibility, I nominate Wim Nottroth for the 2010 Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Separated at Birth? Carl Newman and Mark Steyn

May 2, 2010

Which one is the cool Canadian indie-rocker and which one is the cool Canadian columnist?

It’s “Nobody Draw Mohammed Century”!

April 30, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today, Mark Steyn posts a letter he recieved from cowardly lioness Molly Norris, along with his absolutely devastating response. Not to be missed if you’ve been following the bru-ha-ha over Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

Steyn does leave one thing out of his response, though. Asked to explain why he and others are so contemptous toward Norris, he offers a number of unassailable demonstrations that it’s because her behavior is contemptible. But Norris’s betrayal of her own professed principles was not only a missed opportunity, as Steyn stresses. It was a unique kind of missed opportunity.

For one person or one partnership or one organization – like, say, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or Kurt Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten, or Ezra Levant and his team at the Western Standard – deliberately says something calculated to push back against a violent threat to freedom of speech, that is nothing short of heroic. They take all the risk, and all the rest of us reap the reward of their bravery as parasitic free riders.

But you can’t build a civilization on heroic virtue. Civilization has to be livable for the ordinary person. If a civilization is going to be characterized by freedom, it has to be built in such a way that the ordinary person can enjoy freedom without having to demonstrate heroic virtue.

Kurt Westergaard (Photo by Daily Mail)

Don’t get me wrong – heroic virtue such as has been demonstrated by Parker, Stone, Westergaard, and Levant – and Mark Steyn – will always be necessary. But that’s just another way of saying heroes will always be necessary. And you can’t have a whole civilization populated by nothing but heroes. In other words, heroes are a necessary but not sufficient condition for a free civilization. By all means, let’s affirm that the ordinary person can’t be free unless heroes make his freedom possible – but he also can’t be free if freedom for heroes is the only kind of freedom we have.

So what else, besides heroes, is necessary for the freedom of the ordinary person? A mutual defense pact.

We need a culture in which it is expected that when one person’s freedom is threatened, others will rally to his defense. If it’s everybody for himself, the enemies of freedom can pick us off one by one. Or if nobody but the government is responsible to defend those whose freedom is threatened – well, how well does anything work out if it’s a government monopoly? But if we come to each others’ defense, then defending freedom doesn’t require heroic virtue. It’s hard to be the first person to stand up for freedom – that’s why we need heroes, or nobody can be free. But it’s not so hard to be the tenth, or hundredth, person to stand up for freedom – that’s why those who aren’t heroes can be free, too.

It’s not necessary for everybody in the whole world to come to everybody else’s defense. But it is necessary that those who are morally and culturally proximate to the threatened person come to his defense. By “morally proximate” I mean those who have a special duty toward the threatened, whether by natural relationship (such as being a friend or family member) or for some other reason (such as by professional responsibility – doctors have more responsibility to care for the sick than others, because they are more able to do so and have voluntarily accepted the professional responsibility). By “culturally proximate” I mean those who best understand the social situation of the threatned person because they themselves inhabit a similar social situation.

And that’s what makes Norris’s abdication especially galling. The idea of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day was a fantastic way for all of us who are – as professional producers of social commentary – morally and culturally proximate to those whose freedom is threatened here to exercise a mutual defense pact. Steyn himself has articualted on numerous occasions the imperative for professional producers of news and culture to rally to fight off the threat to free speech from political Islamism. Well, this seemed to be, for a few brief shining moments, a way for some of us to do that.

But not now. Nobody else can make EDMD happen the way Norris could have. Yet it appears that being hip – i.e. not being even remotely associated with anything her elite-lefty social circle finds declasse – was more important to her than striking what could have been one of the most powerful blows for freedom in our generation.

Steyn Nails the Buildingpalooza

March 23, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the back of the new National Review, Mark Steyn’s column absolutely nails the giant new gusher of money for school buildings. Subscribers can read it online; for everyone else – well, for everyone else, online subscriptions to NR are cheap and you should have one. But here’s a taste, just in case you don’t believe everything I say implicitly:

Steyn follows up on the supposedly awful school bulding in Dillon, S.C. highlighted recently by the president and finds a number of holes in the story, such as:

Incidentally, you may have read multiple articles referring to the “113-year-old building.” Actually, that’s the building behind the main school — the original structure from 1896, where the school district has its offices. But if, like so many people, you assume an edifice dating from 1896 or 1912 must ipso facto be uninhabitable, bear in mind that the central portion of the main building was entirely rebuilt in 1983. That’s to say, this rotting, decrepit, mildewed Dotheboys Hall of a Gothic mausoleum dates all the way back to the Cyndi Lauper era.

He then moves on to the larger issues:

If a schoolhouse has peeling paint and leaking ceilings, what’s the best way to fix it? . . . Dillon, S.C., is a town of about 6,000 people. Is there really no way they can organize acceptable accommodation for a two-grade junior high school without petitioning the Sovereign in Barackingham Palace? . . . The issue is not the decrepitude of the building but the decrepitude of liberty. Maybe the president can spend enough of our money to halt the degradation of infrastructure. The degradation of citizenship will prove harder to reverse.

Obama Compares AIG to Suicide Bombers

March 20, 2009


Photo from the LA Times

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

A while back, a certain secretary of education compared the teachers’ unions to terrorists and got in super-major hot water. Remember?

I just wanted to put that on the table so everybody bears in mind the standard for civil discourse that was established during that episode. Of course that standard would apply equally to both parties, right?

The LA Times is reporting that at a California town hall meeting, President Obama compared AIG to a suicide bomber:

Well, OK, that all made sense, but then he compared AIG to a suicide bomber, and at that, we really perked up.

“Same thing with AIG,” Obama said. “It was the right thing to do to step in. Like they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger, you don’t want them to blow up, but you’ve got to ease them off the trigger.”

And the president held out his arm and pantomimed a hand on a trigger, and we were rapt, waiting for what would happen next.

But then he called for a final question from the crowd.

HT Campaign Spot.

When he’s off the teleprompter, he’s really off the teleprompter.

Steyn is telling Hugh Hewitt that now he’s recycling all the jokes Frank Sinatra used to do about Bob Hope’s reliance on cue cards as Obama teleprompter jokes, and they’re going over really well.

School Boards and the Media

March 18, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’ve argued before, against federalism cops and state-level ed reformers alike, that the biggest monkey wrench in the government school system is the local school board. The union demands that do the biggest damage to children – the uniform, performance-blind pay scale and the extraordinary obstacles to firing bad teachers – are enforced at that level. And while higher levels of government set the broad budget outlines, it’s the school boards that manage the budgets at the detail level – making them the primary people to blame for the tremendous wastefulness and zero accountability of the system.

And (as I argued to the federalism cops) that’s what we should expect, because local power is structurally more susceptible to these problems than state or federal power. If you run a scam at a high level, the scam is big and that means the suckers (that’s you and me) are more likely to 1) notice and 2) be willing to pay the price to stop it. But if, like the unions, you have your tentacles in thousands of tiny little school districts across the country, you can steal a little here and a little there and end up with a much bigger pile of swag, all while flying under the radar.

Well, yesterday Mark Steyn posted on NRO’s Corner about his experience serving on a school board subcommittee. Two stories he told got me thinking about a new aspect of the school board problem.

Story #1:

After one somewhat difficult meeting, I got back to find a telephone message from the reporter at the local paper: “Hi, Mark. I couldn’t make School Board but I have to file my story this evening. Did anything happen that I need to know about?”

Happily, no. And her non-attendance proved no obstacle to filing a bland happy-face report on the event.

Story #2 (the subcommittee was negotiating with a nearby town to build a joint high school):

On another occasion, I absentmindedly forgot it was a public meeting and launched a blistering attack on a neighboring town. As the evening ended, the nice lady reporter said to me, “Don’t worry, Mark. I won’t put any of those controversial things you said in the paper.”

School boards get a free ride from the relevant media. The broadcast media don’t have time to cover them – they’re too busy with more important stories, like whoever is the new Brangelina this week. And the local papers are at best too lazy to do their jobs (note that in Story #1 it was a “difficult meeting” about which the reporter filed a “bland happy-face report”) and at worst too cozy with the board members – who are, after all, the reporters’ neighbors and pillars of their communities – to report a big story even when it bites them right in their assignments.

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