How do we explain Brussels?

A very nice person, who by profession is a psychiatrist, wrote in a directory listing that she understands human nature. Really? Then how do you explain Brussels and Paris and San Bernidino and Charleston and I could go on and on?

To me human nature is not comprehensible. It might be to an alien species, but for someone to claim he understands himself, much less the entire species . . . well, you might as well ask that person how many fish there are in the ocean. The exact number please.

That said, we can offer theories about behavior and I have a one about Brussels. You’ve read this far so you might as well stick around for the punch line.

Why would people kill innocent people in such a blood thirsty, or dare I say inhuman, manner? To me the problem is tolerance.

Tolerance is not natural. It’s a behavior that has to be taught. The natural tendency of children is to grab what they think is theres, not to share. Some people think tolerance is respect. That’s not true. Respect may require an aspect of tolerance, but it encompasses a lot more.

Europe after World War II thought they could prevent future wars and holocausts by being tolerant. As a result, when African and Arab Muslims started coming into Europe in large numbers instead of asking them to assimilate––to learn the language and to accept Europe’s rules and values, Europeans felt the need to be tolerant. It’s okay for you to treat your women like slaves they said; it’s okay for you to cheat and steal; it’s okay for you to form gangs and harass people on the street. It’s not your fault psychiatrists and others told the newcomers. It’s our fault.

So crimes were not prosecuted, mistreatment of children and women was ignored, and the response of all too many of these invaders was ANGER. Why? Because tolerance is very close to disrespect, to avoidance and to please don’t bother me. When a person or group are ignored, they become angry; when they are treated like children, they become even angrier and when they are appeased, their anger turns outward.

The appeasers of the Islamic ideology that preaches death to infidels are to blame for today’s situation. Western societies have put their collective heads in a guillitine of guilt for our accomplishes and successes. We’ve said please chop off our heads, and angry young men have complied.

I’m not saying we should respond to violence with violence. I’m saying lets enforce our existing laws; and if there are not enough laws to prosecute people for marrying off children at age 12 or stoning women because they went outside without a hajib, then pass new laws.

And Europe needs to do something about mosques and Islamic schools that teach hate. I’d require all children to attend public schools at least through age 14. Religious schooling can be done after regular school hours, and that includes Jewish schools. By being tolerant, we allow hate mongers to indoctrinate children to commit acts of violence against us. It has to stop.

Europe also needs to go back to requiring people to produce identification in order to travel from country to country. It needs to fund greater resources for anti-terrorism operations. It needs to violate what some people think is their privacy. They’re wrong. Privacy does not permit you to build bombs in your kitchen or even download diagrams to do so off the Web.

And the U.S. needs to do these things as well because the next Brussels could take place on the D.C. Metro or a NYC airport or a farmers’ market in downtown Chicago. And please people take those tolerance stickers off your cars. Treating people with respect is not being tolerant. In many cases, it’s just the opposite.

AIPAC’s new president wrong-foots her role

Coming off two days at my first AIPAC (American-Israel Political Affairs Committee) Policy Conference, I had nothing but good things to convey. That sentiment was shattered this morning when I received an extremely off-putting email from AIPAC’s new president Lillian Pinkus.

Pinkus objected to the standing ovation Donald Trump received when he said, “with President Obama in his final year––Yay!” She wrote that AIPAC does “not coutenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied at the President of the United States from our stage.”

Pinkus had already turned me off in her “acceptance speech” as AIPAC’s new president. She spoke to us in a condescending manner like a mother telling her children why they needed to eat their vegetables even before we had pushed them off the plate.

Later today, a new statement was issued by AIPAC. The only difference between the first and second versions was that she had claimed in the first to be speaking on behalf of the chairman of the board, the CEO and Vice Chief Executive Officer. Those names were missing from the second version, suggesting they had not been shown the document or agreed to have their names included and wanted to separate their names from her statement, which I applaud.

Jay Michaelson’s column in the Daily Beast explains Pinkus’ response as part of AIPAC’s attempt to restore its credibility with the Democratic Party after its strong condemnation of the Iran Deal. That may be, and in theory I am 100 percent behind AIPAC’s overall strategy of winning bi-partisan support for a “strong U.S.-Israel alliance, BUT to condemn the people who paid good money to attend the conference, many of them traveling a good distance to do so, for a spontaneous reponse to Trump’s comment is hitting below the belt.

Trump’s remark was an attack on the individual and not the office of the Presidency. So to write “While we have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the President of the United States and our President Barack Obama,” is a misguided attempt to suppress criticism of the individual because he is President. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and others tried that approach. It won’t work. It shouldn’t work.

Pinkus knows she can’t control Trump and let me advise her that she can’t control her members either. That’s not what good leadership is all about. Good leaders articulate a mission and set a good example. Slapping our hands when we deviate from what you think is proper, Ms. Pinkus, will not win you friends, members or contributions.

The Crisis at Oberlin: The Case of Joy Karega-Mason and the larger issues it raises

As an Oberlin College graduate (class of 1965), I was dismayed to learn of blatant anti-Semitic and anti-American Facebook shares and posts by a member of the Oberlin faculty. The things Joy Karega-Mason put up on Facebook should disqualify her from any teaching job at any high school or university in the country, but I believe this is the tip of the iceberg and that a deeper problem exists that cannot be ignored.

What did Karega-Mason post that would lead me to the conclude that she ought not remain a teacher? Shortly after the massacre at the offices of the satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, she shared a graphic of an ISIS terrorist pulling off a mask portraying Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting Netanyahu is some kind of front for or ally of ISIS. She went on to claim that Netanyahu came to Paris not to mourn the victims but to make sure French President Hollande knew the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, was behind the attacks.

In another post she indicated her support for Louis Farrakan’s allegation that Jews were behind 9/11. On another occasion, she repeated slanderous accusations about the Rothschild banking family. In her words, “the Rothschild-led banksters exposed and hated and out of economic options to stave off the coming global deflationary depression, are implementing the World War III option.”

Further, she criticized the Obama administration for a grant given to Holocaust survivors, suggesting Obama was nothing but a tool, accused Jews of being behind the shooting down of the Malaysian airline over the Ukraine, and she repeated the notion that ISIS is run by Mossad AND the CIA.

Academic Freedom and the First Amendment

Doesn’t the first amendment protect posting these types of views on Facebook? The first amendment only protects her from governmental attempts to silence her, but that’s not what’s at stake. We’re talking about whether the things she posted disqualify her from her job as a college instructor.

What about the concept of academic freedom? Does academic freedom protect her right to post or share documents that lack any factual basis and that are hurtful to a group of people?

Some argue academic freedom protects her right to have unpopular opinions, but again that’s not what’s at issue. Having unpopular opinions is one thing, posting them on a public social media site is another. Some believe academic freedom protects those posts if she keeps her views out of the classroom. I disagree on both counts.

Facebook posts are public, and as such they are available to students at the college as well as to those considering applying to Oberlin. To see such beliefs expressed by a faculty member is clearly deleterious to the college’s reputation. Further, they might intimidate all but the boldest Jewish student from speaking up in class on virtually any subject for fear of being attacked while other students might feel the need to convey to Karega-Mason that they agree with her in order to obtain a passing grade. Finally, what does it say about someone who believes such calumnies that Israel/Jews (she conflates the one with the other) were behind 9/11? How can Oberlin trust Karega-Mason, whose position is in the department of rhetoric and composition, to distinguish for students what is propaganda and what is reasoned argument when she fails that test herself?

If a janitor or cook had posted such materials, s/he would certainly be disciplined and probably fired. Why? The college must protect students and faculty from a person who might take such beliefs to the next level and engage in violent acts against Jewish students or faculty. Does not the college have an equal obligation to protect the minds of its students from someone who cannot distinguish the mad ravings of Louis Farrakhan from rational, fact-based analysis of an issue?

While I am dismayed by Karega-Mason’s anti-Semitism and by her willful refusal to accept that label as a legitimate criticism of her posts, what concerns me to a greater degree is what this situation says about American higher education in general and Oberlin in particular.

The Big Picture

When I was an undergraduate, faculty didn’t express their personal political beliefs in the classroom. I didn’t know whether my teachers were Democrats or Republicans, or even how they felt about the civil rights movement, which was prominently in the news. They kept their beliefs to themselves for a reason. College faculty are in a position of power vis-à-vis their students. They can exert undue influence on their students, influence that could damage the students’ career prospects as well as their relationships with other students and their family. An instructor’s mission is not to indoctrinate students into whatever political or social principles they hold to be true, but to give students the tools to make their own reasoned decisions.

To demonstrate that the problem at Oberlin is not just one assistant professor’s being beyond the pale, what can be said about a course that’s being offered under the title, “Ideal vs Practice of US Democracy: Gender, Race, and the War on Terror?” Here’s the first part of the course description: “This course examines the fundamental sociopolitical tension resulting from the discrepancy between democratic ideals and democratic practice in the U.S.”

Let me clear, I do NOT object to studying the tension resulting from our failure to achieve our ideals. I do, however, have a problem with the word “fundamental” because it suggests a fact that ought to be one of the questions up for discussion. I also find the lack of any time frame to be problematic. An open-ended time frame for the topic invites the danger of imposing today’s morality on the past. In fact, I suspect that’s intentional on the part of the instructor who designed the course. S/he wants to condemn American democracy by judging past events by today’s standards.

Here’s the rest of the description, “Through an in-depth study of three themes – gender, race, and the War on Terror – we will analyze the gaps between the democratic system of government we imagine ourselves to have, and the reality of historical and contemporary discrimination, exclusion, and curtailment of rights.”

Do you see the problem? The description states very clearly that the instructor has already reached a conclusion about the subject matter, which is what the students who take the course will “learn.” The instructor might as well have included the following statement in the description: “Students will not be allowed to form their own opinions. Anyone disagreeing with the thesis that our democratic system of government is imaginary and that the reality is discrimination, exclusion and curtailment of rights, will fail the course.”

 The Proper and Improper Way to Teach

This is not education. It is indoctrination.

Need I remind readers that the social sciences are built around theories? It’s the theories not the facts that college students need to be exposed to, and they need to learn the tools of analysis pertinent to each field they study. Even when interpretations of events are supported by data––demographic or financial, for example––competing theories are always possible. The goal of instruction should be to help students learn how to use various techniques of investigation to support their own explanatory theories.

In the case of discrepancy versus reality of American democracy, the instructor might offer readings from authors offering a variety of opinions and then ask students to marshal facts in support of or against one of the competing positions. The instructor should focus on what makes a good argument, and not tell the class her/his position on the topic.

The class description of the Ideal vs Practice of American Democracy suggests the instructor plans on teaching her conclusions to the class as fact. That is a fundamental violation of the mission of college instruction. I don’t know the name of the instructor, but I assume this is not the only course taught at Oberlin that violates this basic principle

My intuition on this point is supported by Ms. Karega-Mason’s having been hired in the first instance and by Oberlin President Krislov’s initial response to learning of her Facebook posts. Admitting the posts were hurtful to him personally, Krislov wrote Oberlin “respects the rights of its faculty, students, staff and alumni to express their personal views.” By that statement, Krislov abdicated his role as a college administrator, which in part is to assure that a member of the faculty is not violating the college’s mission!

Oberlin and American higher education are in deep trouble. The social sciences, history, philosophy and other disciplines are being taken over by commissars, by ideologues, by educational activists who have little regard for the notion that students need to learn skills and knowledge, not be taught opinions as if they were facts. It will be interesting to see whether these events lead Oberlin to address the deeper problem or try to resolve the Karega matter as if it is an anomaly.