Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Moving Pictures

Cameras interest me - always have. The first one I remember was a Polaroid black-and-white belonging to a friend of my father. I can still smell the preservative he swiped across the surface of the photo after it was ripped from the camera and peeled off. That an image was created a minute after the event amazed me. The following Christmas, I got a box camera with 620 film, a flash attachment, and a carton of flashbulbs. After reading the directions, I loaded it and shot the whole roll using up all the flashbulbs. I remember how they smelled too. My mother put the exposed film in a high cabinet over the stove until it could be developed. That took years and I worried that the film would go bad. I felt responsible for the images that might be lost because of my procrastination. Finally, I got on my bicycle and brought them to the drug store to be developed after I got a paper route and started earning my own money. I was relieved to see that the images were preserved with only a little deterioration on the edges, but I don’t know where those pictures are today, forty-five years hence. I’d love to see them again.

My next camera was a gift from my wife during our first Christmas together thirty-five years ago. It was a very nice 35 millimeter Minolta SRT-101 and I still have it. We couldn’t really afford it back then, but she bought it for me anyway. I’m glad she did because that camera recorded what I considered important, or beautiful, or both, for three decades of my life until I got a digital camera - another Minolta. With that, I’ve taken almost three thousand shots in only two years. Those I keep on my laptop and I back them up on CDs stored in a fire-proof safe.

Very few movies of my life exist because movie cameras were even more expensive and nobody thought ahead enough to make the sacrifice and buy one except my Uncle Joe. He bought an early eight millimeter and took a few movies of my family when we visited 40-50 years ago. They’re still expensive, but I broke down and bought a digital video camera earlier this summer. I also bought a new laptop which could edit movies and burn them into DVDs. Together, the items cost me about $1500 - probably the equivalent to what my Uncle Joe spent.

It took me two weeks to shoot the first hour, then two days to figure out how to convert that hour into a 96-minute DVD with a musical sound track, a few stills, text for chapters and a menu with scene selections. The finished product wouldn’t interest anyone but me and the people who are in it - four generatons of my extended family. For two days, I watched clips of our get-togethers over that period. Again, I shot only the people and the things important or beautiful to me - not the world, but to me. That meant family - people I love, who, I think, love me back. That came through in the video, so much so that I got emotional as I worked on it. Moving pictures of my family were exactly that: moving.

The camera has a microphone that picked up sound better than I thought it would and the computer’s video-editing software had room for two additional soundtracks. I selected some Van Morrison from my CD collection and went to iTunes for two pieces. For scenes at the homes of my two married daughters, I used music they chose for father/daughter dances at their weddings - “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison for Sarah and “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong for Annie. There was a ten-minute clip of my son, Ryan, and daughter, Annie, talking with their grandfather, Ted, who turned eighty-five and was reflecting on what that feels like. Sinatra’s “My Way” seemed appropriate for that and the software could adjust relative volume of dialogue and music. There was room for a third sound track, but I don’t know what to do with that yet.

There are no smells associated with taking movies. The process is electrical and digital as opposed to mechanical and chemical as with older image-recording technology. Seeing my subjects move and hearing them at the same time is fascinating though. Watching my seven-year-old grandson, Riley, walk, run, swim and laugh - and then hearing it too is more profound than silent, still pictures. There’s more to composing a video than composing a static photo. My old cameras use one medium, but the video camera uses three. Or does it? There’s vision and sound, but is motion a medium? I think it is.

It’s only recently that I’ve learned to put still photos on my blog, but now I can put video on there too. I’m not sure when or even if that’ll happen, but the possibility intrigues me. Media is changing, and our lives are changing with it, for well or ill, but I’m optimistic. I think the changes will serve us because they decentralize media - and we humans are nothing of not creative.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Losing the Propaganda War III

Two previous columns in this series described Islamic propaganda in American public schools – middle schools, high schools and colleges – and some of the textbooks that are used, as related by Richard Thompson, president and general counsel for the Thomas More Law Center. This column looks at Thompson’s remarks on what he details as a double standard.

“Well, what you have here is a double standard, I think, where there is one standard for Christians and Jews and people of other faiths where you cannot promote religion in any fashion; and there seems to be a second standard for Muslims, who are allowed to get away with promoting their religion and their religious observances in the public schools, whether it be a university or a secondary school.

“And a part of this that concerns me is the overall agenda that a lot of these Islamic political action committees have: and that is, although they do not want to assimilate in America, they don’t want to be Americans – they want to maintain their Islamic culture – they are willing to use American politics, the Constitution and American law to seek accommodation and continue to force the majority to accept the religious propositions of the minority.

“You may have heard this quote from Omar Ahmad, who is the head of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Back in 1998, he said: ‘Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.’ This is an organization that promotes itself as a Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Its representatives have been used on a lot of mainstream media to talk about the Islamic affairs and what’s happening in our culture. They’re not there to be equal to us. They’re there to be dominant, and if you look at what history does – what history instructs us – is that when they do become dominant, that they then persecute every other religion.”

“You may have heard that they were planning to put foot baths at the University of Michigan, Dearborn campus,” Thompson continued. “When that became public, we [started] obtaining the facts to find out how those foot baths are going to be funded, and there is a good possibility that we may bring a lawsuit against the University of Michigan for utilizing, again, public taxpayer money for a specific religious purpose.

I asked if the university had any plans to put in holy water fonts alongside the foot baths. “Well, baptism fonts…I mean you can go on and on and on, but if the law in fact says that publicly-funded universities and schools cannot promote a particular religion, then that should apply to everybody.”

“It would seem pretty simple on its face,” I said. “But apparently it isn’t.”

“Well first of all, we’re dealing with universities and you probably know that the Saudi Arabian government or princes from Saudi Arabia are giving out a lot of money to these universities developing these Middle Eastern departments which then, you know, spout out their propaganda.

Some colleges and universities remove American flags because they may be “offensive” to foreign students. The College of William and Mary removed a cross from its chapel because it made students from other religious traditions “unwelcome.” Meanwhile, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) is pushing for “accommodations” for Muslims attending American schools both public and private. According to a July USA Today article: “At least 17 universities have foot baths built or under construction, including Boston University, George Washington University and Temple University, and at least nine universities have prayer rooms for ‘Muslim students only,’ including Stanford, Emory and the University of Virginia, according to the MSA's website. The association did not return calls seeking comment.”

Most of the September terrorists were Saudis, but an increasing number of terrorists planning and carrying out attacks in Western countries are home-grown. They get radicalized in mosques and madrassas in Europe, Canada and the United States. “Back in 2000,” said Thompson, “a sheik by the name of [Muhammad Isham] Kabbani said there were about 3000 mosques in the United States and 80% of the mosques are controlled by extremists. . . . [and] a great percentage of those mosques are being funded by Saudi Arabia.”

Should we be concerned? If only 10% were controlled by extremists, we should be concerned, very concerned. Two years ago, then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney suggested that we should be monitoring what is said in extremist mosques in the United States, even if it means wiretapping them. His suggestion was condemned by CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper in a Washington Post article: “It's irresponsible for the top elected official in any state to suggest blanket wiretapping of houses of worship.”

CAIR has since been named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a Texas case where a CAIR affiliate, the “Holy Land Foundation,” is accused of funding the Radical Muslim terrorist group Hamas. Meanwhile, Romney has become a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

American schools and other institutions are bending policies to accommodate Muslims while they purge accommodations associated with other religions. About this, Attorney Thompson said: “What is concerning me is that, in one of the states, it was ruled that a person could swear on the Koran rather than the Bible and make an affirmation. And then, I understand this congressman – the first congressman who is Muslim, swore on the Koran, right? Well, it’s interesting to note that the Koran itself approves of lying.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. There’s a word called “kitman” or “taqiyya” which means lying or deception. And it has been ruled by their theologians that it is appropriate for them to lie if it is in the interest of achieving an objective for Islam. That’s in their own, in the Koran.


“So, they’re taking an oath on a book that approves lying.”

The idea of “taqqiya” is indeed quite different from our own “Thou Shalt Not Lie”; and it is equally different from the attribution to George Washington, father of this country, “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree.” So for those of us who are not in familiar territory when it comes to denial, deceit and dissimulation, we are at a distinct disadvantage in this propaganda war.

But just as others use our laws to harm us, we can use our laws to protect ourselves. Attorney Richard Thompson said: “We are a public interest law firm and I would hope – hopefully in your article someplace you will mention that we’re willing to look at cases and file lawsuits.”

If you see or hear anything suspicious where you live, contact Richard Thompson at Thomas More Law Center.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Losing the Propaganda War II

Islamist propaganda has a foothold in American schools at all levels. I didn’t realize how pervasive it was until I interviewed Richard Thompson, president and general counsel of the Thomas More Law Center. Last week’s column described inroads into middle schools in California and New York City (The NYC school principal has since resigned under pressure after distributing “Intifada in NYC” T-shirts). This week, I report Thompson’s comments about textbook publishers and universities.

When I asked how parents might monitor who teaches what in our schools, he said, “Well, right now there are several web sites out there [for information], but on a personal level, they have to look at the textbooks their children are bringing home. What do they say about Islam? About Christianity? . . . For instance, a textbook published by Houghton Mifflin, a reputable publisher, was talking about how tolerant Muslims were of women. If anything, they’re probably the most intolerant when it comes to women. And, in another place, they talk about how tolerant Muslims were toward Jews and Christians.”

I told him about my visit to the Holy Land last May where our Palestinian Christian tour guides told us how Palestinian Christians had been the majority in Bethlehem and in Nazareth for centuries, but that’s reversed in just the past few years. Palestinian Christians are persecuted by Palestinian Muslims and moving away from their ancestral homelands. Similar things are happening in several other Middle East venues as Radical Islam gains strength.

“It reveals what the long-range plans are,” Thompson said, “and although they may put a friendly face right now to their activities, their ultimate aim is to become dominant, and once they become dominant, they are going to persecute every other religion.”

As for how parents could monitor things, Thompson continued: “They have to write the school and say, ‘I think this book is inaccurate’ and show where. You can also put pressure on the publishers themselves. Teachers should do that too. Publishers will react. You can do is find out where teachers are getting their instruction. Check out training seminars for subjects such as Islamic History. Are these seminars being put on by organizations funded by some Saudi Arabian prince?”

That brought us to what is going on in American universities. “There was a study done,” said Thompson, “I think by someone from Fordham University - that showed how some of these Arab princes would fund public relations firms who then would get professors [to teach] seminars on . . . Islamic history. And these seminars were basically pro-Muslim and anti-Christian. So [parents can check on what qualifies a] teacher to teach Islamic history. Have they gone to any seminars? What seminar did they go to? Then they’d have to research the seminar to find out if it is funded by some Arab prince, or whether it is a legitimate seminar that is going to teach Islamic History in an objective fashion.”

“Is the US Department of Education involved in any of this?” I asked.

“That’s another ironic situation,” he said, “because the federal government developed these curriculum standards K-12 and the public school system tried to perform those standards . . . the federal government gave them money, gave them a stamp of approval, and university Middle East Study Centers would train teachers to teach Middle Eastern History. But they were, in fact, paid for by the Saudis.”

“Yikes,” I said.

“[Many] universities have compromised their objectivity because they are getting large sums of money from Saudi princes. There was an effort in Congress back in 2006 to have universities report the amount of money that they were getting from Saudi Arabia in their Title VI International Education bill - it was House bill 609 and it was sponsored, I believe, by Indiana Representative Dan Burton. It didn’t get passed and I don’t know there has been a similar bill introduced, but this would have been an easy way for Americans to [check up on universities]. I know there was one Saudi prince who donated $40 million to Harvard and Georgetown Universities - $20 million each.”

“Those are huge sums,” I said.

“Yeah. They’ve already tainted Harvard University with that money. Now Harvard goes out and taints a bunch of innocent school teachers [who are] thinking that they’re getting the best kind of information from a superior school and it’s basically promoting Saudi Arabia propaganda. A lot of universities are that way. It’s not just Harvard and Georgetown - there are lists of universities. . . . I know that there are some really good web sites out there, again, like ‘Campus Watch’ that monitor these studies.”

“Here’s the concern I have,” Thompson continued. “We have Americans fighting Islamic terrorists all across the world, yet we are inviting them into our schools and universities to taint our own students and to destroy our civilization and our culture from within.

“We’re not putting enough resources into the propaganda war,” I suggested.

“We’re winning the war on the battlefield,” said Thompson, “but we’re losing the war in Washington, DC and in the ivy halls of learning.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Losing the Propaganda War

Imagine a public school teacher telling his/her students, “For the next few weeks, you’re all going to become Christians.” Imagine that students had to wear crosses, memorize Christian prayers and recite them, memorize Christian concepts of the Eucharist and celebrate them, fast during Lent and chant “Jesus is the Messiah!” How long would it take for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit? A week? A day? A minute? As we’ve seen many times, it would be immediate and very expensive for the school district, which, when it lost, would have to pay huge legal fees to the ACLU.

In 2000, a seventh grade teacher in California’s Byron Union School District (about fifty miles east of San Francisco) forced her seventh-grade students to become Muslims for three weeks. Students wore a star and crescent, memorized Muslim prayers, verses and the five pillars of faith, fasted during lunch period as if it were Ramadan, chanted “Allah Akbar!” and played a dice game called “jihad” (defined as “struggle against oppression”). What did the ACLU have to say about this? Nothing. Not a peep. Christian parents were outraged and filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school with the assistance of the Thomas More Law Center.

I interviewed Richard Thompson, president and general counsel for the Thomas More Law Center last week. The lawsuit against Byron Union School District was one of the earliest to call attention to increasing Muslim influence in our public schools. He said, “[T]he judge dismissed the case saying, well, this was a typical educational program. The activities were not overtly religious, that would raise any ‘establishment clause’ concerns. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that dismissal in a non-published opinion.”

“Non-published?” I asked. “Is that typical?”

“No,” he said. “And this was a very neat trick that they pulled. Because it was non-published - at the time the rule was that any non-published opinion could not be used as precedent - so what they basically did was, give the Byron Union School District a pass on the fact that they were in fact involved in overtly religious education. But it would not be used as a precedent so that Christians could say, okay, well you’ve done it for the Muslims - now we’re going to be able do it for Christians. That was our first involvement in a school - a public school - overtly promoting the religious faith of Muslims.”

The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court which, last October, declined to intervene. I asked then if there were any other cases of this nature he knew of. “There are some very suspicious things going on in the city of New York,” he said, “with this new school [Khalil Gibran International Academy] - a charter school - that the city has approved. What is of concern is that it is really a cover for a madrassa, right there in Brooklyn where, under the guise of just being a charter school for Arabic-speaking students, it is really going to be cover to promote Islam, to inflame hatred towards Christians, Jews and other religions? And it’s going to be funded by the taxpayers of New York? And when you look at the people on the board of directors - you have, several of them, imams or Muslim clerics - you have a suspicion that this is going to have a religious taint to it. Now there’s nothing wrong - if you want a religious school in the United States, you can have a religious school - but you can’t pay for it with public funds and that is the constitutional issue there. . . . the New York public school system was very secretive about the programs of the school and one of the things that this parents’ group [Stop the Madrassa Coalition] is trying to find out is what are the objectives? What [will be taught in] the classes?”

The parents’ web site published a link to a Monday New York Post story which begins: “Activists with ties to the principal of the city's controversial new Arabic-themed school are hawking T- shirts that glorify Palestinian terror, The Post has learned. The inflammatory tees boldly declare ‘Intifada NYC’ - apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple. . . . [The school’s principal, Dhabah] Almontaser downplayed the significance of the T-shirts. ‘The word [intifada] basically means “shaking off.” That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic,’ she said.”

Parents are skeptical according the Post: “‘Intifada is a war. Isn't that what Arafat had?’ said Pamela Hall, a Manhattan mom opposed to the academy on the grounds that it violates separation of church and state.”

The Post article ended with: “A Department of Education spokeswoman defended Almontaser, saying her link to the T-shirt was tenuous.” Somehow I expected that.

Is this all part of a new front in Radical Islam’s propaganda war? Are we losing? Attorney Richard Thompson said: “[T]here are a lot of great questions [and] I don’t have all the answers, but we are a public interest law firm and I would hope - hopefully in your article someplace you will mention that we’re willing to look at cases and file lawsuits.”

My interview with Richard Thompson ranged further into Muslim propaganda in our secondary and post-secondary education system, public and private. More next week.