Thursday, November 15, 2007

Some Potential Hypocrisy in Romney's Talk

Romney is weakened a bit in his potential to give a JFK-like straight-talk about his private religion – and how it should in no way influence people to discriminate against the job he could do as a public executive. This is because – despite his apparent sincerity and dedication in his private religious observance – he seems to be overlooking the gravity of one of his key public failings in that observance. And his advisors may actually be correct that consequently he would do better to play it down, rather than highlight it.

The sad fact of the matter is that Romney's own blatant discrimination against Muslims in general [for political gain] – and his facile echoings of the exaggerations, slanders, and lies leveled against Islam generally – have hobbled him as a moral authority in speaking of respect for religious freedom in American politics.

Without doubt, there would be some hypocrisy in Romney going before the American people and talking up the cherished freedom of religion that we all enjoy. It would be disingenuous to propose that he strictly embodies his own religious creed that
"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
In saying this, let me emphasize that I am not questioning his faithfulness as a Mormon. Indeed, I've commented many times that I think Mitt Romney is an excellent example of a faithful Mormon for the public eye. He is positive, cheerful, sober, intelligent, hard-working, and – very impressive to me as a father of four boys – appears to have the strong support of five remarkably successful sons. His relationship with his wife and children is a strong testament to me of his character. One that can simply not be dismissed.

Furthermore, contrary to some, I have been impressed with nearly every instance where I've seen him pressed on Mormon doctrine, culture, and beliefs. His knowledge, practice, and well-spoken answers leave me sincerely impressed with Mitt as one attempting to live as a "Latter Day Saint". It is no wonder that he has served in various ecclesiastical leadership positions and I am well satisfied that he has done as well as anyone can in those capacities – which is no small feat. And a great sacrifice which few outside the faith are likely to be aware of.

On the other hand, I've never met a perfect person and consequently I've never known a perfect Mormon. Tragically, one of the only public failings that I've seen evinced in Mitt Romney coincides bafflingly with the question of religious bigotry. [His other public failings seem inextricably linked with this. As much as I like Mitt the person, many of his weaknesses are right where I think our nation's leadership is most lacking at the moment.]

Following lock-step in the dubious advice of such Washington luminaries as Cofer Black (VP of Blackwater) and Norman Podhoretz (publicly "praying" that we bomb Iran regardless of diplomacy), Mitt Romney has made anti-Muslim-defamation a key plank in his presidential platform. As Massachusetts governor he proposed specifically wiretapping every Mosque suspected of preaching "hate" and investigating every University student from a known Islamic nation. As a presidential candidate he has talked numerous times about the imminent danger of a present war that will end only with a Muslim 'caliphate.' Consciously or not, he is a key figure spreading the fear that Muslims generally advocate the violent overthrow of the world's nations in order to unite under a pure Islamic leader. And he is using that fear to pander to the frightened for their votes.

There is something profoundly wrong with promulgating the known falsehood that the Muslim religion *itself* is filled with hatred, blasphemous genocidal justification, and dangerous fanatical calls to 'jihad' – and then asking the American people to overlook any of the probably over-wrought falsehoods about his own religion that they may have heard.

Indeed, almost every world religion can be painted as dangerous and full of fanatics. Ironically, Muslims share many of the same criticisms as the Jews and the Christians. The Old Testament has a great number of frighteningly black or white calls for God's People to entirely wipe out another nation, for instance, or stone – to death – an apparent sinner. Those passages are certainly not, in my opinion, precisely representative of the larger text. And neither are the few similar passages in the Koran.

Nevertheless, you can always find a modern rabbi, or Christian preacher [with an actual following] who emphasizes such frightening passages in ways that the majority of Jews or Christians would be quick to repudiate. Additionally, you don't have to look very far in the past to find Christian [or Jewish] leadership colluding with (or at least appeasing) evil madmen intent on murdering innocent populations of people to make political statements. The local Catholic leadership's relationship in Germany and Spain with Hitler and Franco, respectively, are just two well-known examples. Despite what some will say are crucial differences inherent in the Muslim faith that the 'politically correct' crowd is glossing over, it simply is not so.

Given his religious heritage, I find it especially disturbing that Romney would embrace such obvious distortion and bigotry about another faith. A century and a half ago, his religious ancestors found such fears and slanders of their own beliefs magnified to the point that the surrounding populations in Missouri and Illinois were agitated to violence against the Mormons generally. Much of it was later found to be orchestrated by evil-intentioned politicians and mis-informed, but well-intentioned, religious people.

If Mitt Romney wants to offer "True Strength for America's Future", he would do well to consider if the founders had divine inspiration in protecting diverse religious freedoms and why it was that stunning portion of Joseph's Smith's letter [written to John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat – and containing a resolute defense of the sanctity of individual religious thought in Article 11 –] was canonized in his personal religious tradition.

Unfortunately, it is clear that Romney is so far down the road of defamation against a particular religious tradition – so contrary to both his own private religious conviction and what he must ask of the general populace for himself – that he cannot in all sincerity speak of it effectively during this campaign.


Toadicus Rex said...

Interesting post. I agree with you about Romney's character, I think he is an excellent role model for Mormons. He has been very forthcoming with respect to his religion, and I think his camera presence and obvious political and social acumen is an indirect benefit to his church and their visibility and acceptability. I do find it disturbing in the extreme that Romney's religion is even an issue in this election. Though they may disagree on many points of doctrine, I fail to see why his Church's doctrine has earned them the disgust and animosity that many of other faiths have expressed publicly about Romney, prompting such discussions as "the electability of a Mormon".

Indeed, religious bigotry is hardly extinct in our country. Since you cited the Mormon church's position on religious bigotry (Article of Faith 11), I will merely reference that here. However, I fail to arrive at the same conclusion you have (based upon your premises). Romney is not condemning Islam. He is not advocating genocide, nor is he suggesting that Muslim mosques (even those suspected of fomenting terrorism within our borders) be attacked, or its members tarred and feathered, or leaders thrown in jail for preaching Islam or the Koran. Neither is he suggesting that a member of said faith is unelectable as President of his country.

Wiretapping and surveillance of mosques suspected of militant Islam is not an affront to the religion itself. It is not preventing anyone from respectfully "worship[ping] how, where, or what they may". So how does one draw the hypothetical line across which an innocuous church/leader becomes dangerous to the very fabric of the society in which it/he practice(s)? It would appear that you are suggesting we simply ignore the fact that some within the global Muslim community are advocating Jihad against our nation.

Discrimination is a basic and inherent human tendency, and it is ridiculous to assume otherwise as those within the "political correctness" movement have suggested. People constantly make value judgments of those with whom they come in contact. These value judgments are (in most cases) beneficial to them; if you see a man with a knife coming at you with a “murderous look” in his eye, it is wise to take defensive action rather than imagine that you are merely being offensive by having the inescapable adrenaline rush.

It is similarly inescapable that there are known militant Islamic clerics practicing here in the United States, advocating Jihad and attempting to influence members to be willing to die in the “cause”. Is it in our best interest to merely imagine that we are being discriminatory rather than take action? I see absolutely nothing wrong with surveillance, especially when a risk is identifiable (as many are; our “PC” movement and collectively guilty conscience has already allowed these clerics to advocate their views openly and in many cases publicly). Therefore, I do not see how Romney’s acceptance of this church tenet is in question. Let’s turn the tables. Should an LDS bishop be suspected of encouraging his congregation to join a militant uprising against the United States, would Romney suggest ignoring said bishop? I think not. I think Romney would suggest surveillance and acquisition of enough evidence to arraign and remove said bishop from his position of influence. It is hardly bigotry. It is acceptance that a suspected threat may be an actual threat.

Let’s do another case study. If you apply to a university to advance your studies, is it not in the best interest of the university to determine your acceptability as a candidate? Do they not investigate you and your background? What if you have lied about your test scores? What if you have failed to achieve the necessary proficiency that is required for university attendance? Should they admit you anyway, ignoring their own rules of discrimination against the unqualified? What if they discover that you have advocated or are associated with groups known to advocate violence toward the faculty, students, or alumni of the university? Should they pretend they have not found something warranting further investigation? The United States accepts thousands of applications yearly from students around the globe. If a student comes from a country with a track record of supporting terrorism, should the United States merely shrug off the possibility that the student may not be “just a student”?

It is time to shrug off the burden of “political correctness”. It is time to act wisely, and not merely pretend that we do not feel the surge of adrenaline.

Doug said...

I *do* agree with you that sometimes insane actions (or inactions) are taken because of 'political correctness' and thus its pejorative connotation for people like you and me. That said, I do not believe this is one of those times.

Here's my problem. Romney consistently paints Muslims with a broad brush. He makes the same mistake that our national news media often does with the "fundamentalist Mormons" who practice polygamy and certainly are not "Mormons" in my book. I simply do not buy the idea (so popular on hate-radio these days) that the Muslim religion in general is a primary cause of terrorism.

If Romney was out there saying "Hey! Let's track down Osama bin Laden and Al Queada. Lets investigate college students with links to his training camps. Lets have some guys look into this particular cleric who spent ten years with him and just set up shop in Maryland or whatever then *that* would be acting wisely.

Rather than discussing the actual nature of the enemy, a huge bait-and-switch has occured where we have swapped the entire Muslim religion and at least the entire MidEast for a particular disgruntled group that actually *did* attack America.

We are *less* safe when most Americans and local law enforcement know practically zero facts about who al Quaeda is, how they started, what their complaints are, who might sympathize with them, etc. and instead use their attack to make new enemies abroad and at home as well.

Toadicus Rex said...

You know, all I have seen is commentary regarding that which Romney has said. I read/watched the links from your post, but I have yet to see anything that would lead me to the conclusions you have reached.

Let me enumerate where I think Romney has been misconstrued:

1) For us to wiretap/monitor an Islamic center or mosque, there must be REASON TO SUSPECT terrorist activity. I don't think he's suggesting just wildly monitoring every mosque in the nation. However, every commentary I read seemed to jump to that conclusion. I think that's pretty irresponsible, and out of context.

2) Monitoring non-US students, particularly ones from out of the country is not "against civil liberties" granted them by the constitution - they AREN'T U.S. CITIZENS. While it may be intrusive, that's the choice a non-resident will have to make, knowing the enhanced education that they can receive. Note that nothing has been said about wiretapping or monitoring U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslim.

That said, I don't see how you jump to the conclusion that Romney is in any way "anti-Muslim" - I think that's unsupported by what has been said.

Stating that Islamic Fundamentalists want an Islamic Caliphate is just a statement that reflects what the terrorists have attempted to do already (see "Taliban"). That is precisely their motive, and I don't believe Romney is off in stating such.

Toadicus Rex said...

I need to coment on this last bit too.

We are *less* safe when most Americans and local law enforcement know practically zero facts about who al Quaeda is, how they started, what their complaints are, who might sympathize with them, etc. and instead use their attack to make new enemies abroad and at home as well.

Starting with the beginning:

1) ... when most Americans and local law enforcement know practically zero facts about who al Quaeda is... : You're right. I don't think we know our enemy. But I wouldn't limit it to Al Qaida. In fact, that makes me nervous. The problem isn't one terrorist organization, the problem is the widespread acceptance of such, as well as utilization of such by petty dictators and other governments.

2) they started... : Not really that relevant.

3) ...what their complaints are... : Just watch the news. This is called "buying the propaganda". The complaints are not real, never have been. They are a front for recruiting and making themselves appear legitimate.

4) ...who might sympathize with them... : a.k.a. who buys the propaganda, or is a supposed beneficiary of their actions.

5)...and instead use their attack to make new enemies abroad and at home as well... : See "a.k.a. those who buy the propaganda".

6) Missed one. Which governments make use of them like the rich wimp utilizes his friend in the mafia. A.k.a. where the terrorists are getting their sustenance. A.k.a. not our friends.

Doug said...

You have a good point that with the wiretapping reference, I linked to commentary *about* Romney's statements instead of his statements. I tried to balance that with Romney's more recent campaign video to kinda give both sides of the discussion.

Fundamentally, I think our minor difference here is that I am absolutely convinced that Romney is blowing the fear of 'fundamentalist Islam' *way* out of proportion. And you're not so sure that his fearmongering is not mis-placed.

I would liken it to hysteria about other fundamentalist groups in the country. For instance, Timothy Mcveigh was a white, reportedly "Christian extremist" guy. He (and I don't know who else) succeeded in a horrific attack against America in Oklahoma. And yet, after that attack, I did not fear rednecks driving by in U-haul trucks (well anymore than I normally do anyways). I also didn't go around bashing Christian ideas like the Millenium, or heaven, or hell. I suppose those ideas are pretty dangerous in the wrong hands (and minds) but it isn't the religion itself that I fear.

When I was in Syria for an entire month in early 2002 [after September 11th] (and after George Bush clearly identified the nation as an integral part of the "axis of Evil") I didn't fear Muslim extremists and terrorists. Even when I got jumped by a guy in a dark apartment building yelling "I am Osama bin Laden! Give me all your money." I knew the guy was making a very poor joke and I got the joke. [Though I told him not to do that again.] It was absolutely absurd to paint all the Syrians as being somehow in cahoots with and sympathetic to the Taliban.

I'll respond to your numbered points:

1a) I wouldn't limit it to Al Qaida

I believe you could. Targeting 'terrorism' instead of Al Qaida is like targeting 'evil' instead of evil-doers. It's sounds great, but meanwhile Al Qaiada grows stronger and gains new allies while bin Laden goes free.

1b) The problem isn't one terrorist organization, the problem is the widespread acceptance of such

Arguably, terrorism wasn't as accepted – back when we declared war on it instead of Al Qaiada. In fact, many areas of the world were finally succeeding in kicking the terrorist elements out. Unfortunately, desperate elements in the tragic mess we have created in Iraq have popularized the ideals of terrorism more than ever now.

When I was a missionary in Spain I once lived in an entire neighborhood that was extremely supportive of the terrorist Baque-separatist ETA group. It blew my mind to talk to teenage kids that were so filled with hate that they supported the random detonation of bombs in Madrid. Remember these were Catholic western European kids, not fundamentalist Arabs. It would have been an abject failure to target 'violence' or 'terrorism' instead of ETA. The kids I talked to thought the government was violently terrorizing the Basque country [and no I did not, nor do I now, agree with that twisted thinking] and sometimes there were indeed violent clashes between heavily armored police (even tanks, actually) and protesting teenagers.

But, from what I understand, the government *did* target the vitriolic ETA leaders specifically and their twisted talking points instead of abstract concepts. It wasn't too many years ago that I read of massive marches *against* ETA and their horrific terrorist tactics in the very same neighborhoods that had supported them so militantly. That was very encouraging to me.

The Irish Republican Army is another example of a non-Arab terrorist group that spent decades terrorizing an area of Western Europe. There are more. It is uninformed to try to paint all extremist terrorists with a broad brush.

Finally, in much of the Muslim world, the horrible idea that some chickenhawk dictator like Arafat could ask others to go blow themselves up was being soundly renounced more and more often - not so long ago. Before the US decided to respond to the al Quiada thugs with a general war on the MidEast, "terrorism", and North Korea I saw quite a number of opinion-makers in the Arab world voicing the kind of reasoning that de-popularized ETA in Spain and the IRA in Northern Ireland.

Consequently, I would respectfully disagree with points 2-6. I believe that it matters very much which enemies actually attack us, why they claim to be doing it, and who we should target specifically when they do.

Doug said...

And you're not so sure that his fearmongering is not mis-placed.

Er, I think I mean that you don't seem sure that his fearmongering is, indeed, misplaced. Lol. Dang double-negative.

Toadicus Rex said...

Alright, I'll bite.

I think you're emotionally embedded. I don't mean that in a derogatory fashion. Let me explain.

You likened the hysteria to a supposed hysteria against Christian Radicals like Timothy McVeigh. However, you took it out of context, in a way that appears to strengthen your argument but does not. If I were to put it in context, I postulate that if you knew that the redneck driving in a U-haul truck next to you was a Christian Radical in Timothy McVeigh's close-knit group of like-minded individuals, and not just any old redneck, and all signs pointed to the possibility that this redneck not only vocally supported McVeigh but encouraged others to do likewise, you might just experience a moment of fear. And you'd be justified.

Romney is not stating that Islam is evil, or anything like it. I have listened to him on a number of occasions and never once has he said (or given the impression) that all Muslims are evil or should be feared. He's stated that Militant Islamic Fundamentalists (and often this is further qualified by stating "that have hijacked a peaceful religion" or something like it) are the root of the problem. Not exactly a parallel with any old random u-haul driving redneck.

Your experience in Syria further proves my point. I haven't been to Syria, and I sure fear to go there. Because of Militant Islamic Fundamentalists? Well, partly. I wouldn't want to be in the wrong part of town there, and not being familiar with the country, language, customs, or anything like it, I'd probably be pretty nervous. But no different than I'd be if I didn't know the villas in Argentina (slums) where I went on my mission, and wandered into one late at night. Chances are pretty good that it would be a quicker death than I'd experience running into militant islamic fundamentalists in Syria on a dark night in a bad part of town.

That said, in response to your points:

1a) Come on. If I were in the military, and I was pointing my gun at someone and pulling the trigger, I'd be shooting that person, not shooting my entire enemy. Yeah, I agree with your point, but it appears to me that we're getting a declaration of war every time we go to war against a new branch of terrorists... i.e. Congress authorized Iraq. So we named another enemy. To me, the blanket statement "War on Terror" refers to our intent, rather than an actual war (with the possible exception of Afghanistan, after which it was clearly revisited).

1b) Hold on. If terrorism wasn't "as accepted", how did they pull off 9-11 and the numerous terrorist activities prior to that atrocity? I can't reject enough the idea that our being in Iraq "popularized the ideals of terrorism more than ever". And I think you'd be incredibly hard pressed to justify that statement, considering that it's next to impossible to get an accurate count of the number of recruits all terrorist organizations acquire, much less graph that over time (i.e. being able to get an accurate count consistently over time). We could listen to them, they're always so jubilant about their growth... oh, wait. They don't have a motive to lie, now do they? Oh, yeah, they do. If they demoralize civilized nations so that they think that inaction will render the terrorists inert and make them go away, then they can regroup and strengthen their numbers. And if you were a 16 year old Iraqi boy, you might be much more willing to join up if you thought that there would be a pretty good chance of survival, and if you thought they were winning.

Yeah, it takes the people to stand up and declare that they don't want the terrorists there. I am also encouraged by marches against the ETA and really reduced the IRA as well.

However, even you painted them with a broad brush. By calling them Terrorists at all, you are stating that you can group them together; their methods are similar whether it's the IRA, the ETA or Al Qaida. It's that uncivilized, evil approach to politics and power that links the terrorist groups together (figuratively speaking), and it is that that must be eradicated.

So for my points 2-6, I'll hold to my position. The important thing is to discourage and eliminate those that would attempt to seize power through terrorism, not sit and quibble over whether or not we were being mean and that's what made them do it.

That's a little like saying a child rapist is less guilty of his crimes because his dad beat him when he was little. I don't buy it. If he rapes a child, he should receive the same punishment without respect to his childhood experience. That's a "rule of law" thing.

Doug said...


It's not fair to imply I don't agree with rule of law. We're on the same page there. If somebody commits a violent act – and especially the kind of pre-meditated, non-self-defense, large-scale, atrocious acts that most people call terrorism then there is no doubt that the perpetrator should be punished. And in the case of suicide bombers [where the perpetrators are beyond the reach of the law] then I think it quite reasonable to locate and mete out justice to whoever orchestrated the crime and is guilty of murdering their own kamikaze pawns in addition to the innocents.

That said, in relation to your rapist example, it seems as if you are arguing that somehow the abusive father is somehow innocent of his own crimes simply because they should not be a mitigating factor in punishing the crimes of his son. Where is the logic in that? Just because I agree [completely, btw] with you in your application of justice in that case, it does not mean that I would be against abuse prevention programs or punishing the father for his own crimes [and not adding the weight of his son's crimes].

Futhermore, the reason we would need 'separate declarations of war' is because it is one of the most important checks that the founders put in place in order to ensure some semblance of this idea of 'law and order' that I suspect we both esteem to be a good principle.

The United States is one sovereign nation. Despite our expanding empire, unsurpassed military, and 900-pound gorilla status in organizations like the UN, we are *not* the world's police. If we exercise undisciplined vigilante rule, it undoes much of what America stands for. We don't have the right to invade every nation, every home, every building in the world willy-nilly.

If our intelligence forces have actionable intelligence leading them to believe that criminal activity - a gathering of notorious terrorists perhaps - is occurring on Downing Street in London then - despite what you see in movies - the consequences of unilaterally sending an MX missile into that British block without following accepted procedures would be disastrous. Rather, we contact the British authorities since they are a sovereign nation. If we find that they are unco-operative then we could - if we deem it necessary - declare war on Britain. But we don't have any right to simply declare a "war on terrorism" in every nation and amongst every people - thus putting every citizen of the world on notice that they have no rights to privacy, due process, or even citizenship in their own nation if the big ol' bad USA has reason at all to suspect that they've crossed a line somewhere.

And yet that is precisely how we are acting. Many of those in Guantanamo, for instance, are there because US forces invaded a community, found someone in charge, and starting offering $500 per head for anyone they claimed was a Taliban or anti-US sympathizer. That is why so many have been released with no charges and why only one inmate has actually been convicted of anything (see for details).

And yet Romney boasts proudly that he would "double the size of Guantanamo". I give him the benefit of the doubt here and truly believe that he has no idea what he is talking about.

Doug said...

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Romney is giving "the talk" this evening and despite the points I refer to in this blog entry I do actually wish him well. Despite what I think is some hypocrisy when he sometimes disparages Arabs and their dominant religion generally, I don't believe he has ever sincerely thought that through and probably he doesn't even make the connection with tonight's speech. Maybe he will, actually, – it'll be interesting either way.

But in general, I am hoping his speech helps guide the nation back to our revolutionary principles of religious tolerance - and even generates more respect for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints specifically. I believe he could help a great deal in that good work, warts and all lol.

Doug said...

[Apparently I was misinformed and Romney gave his talk this morning.]

That was a great speech. It seemed very sincere to me and I absolutely loved the clear and unabashed references to religion in both the lives of our founders and also the many different faiths of our current populace. He focused on common beliefs, bore a sincere testimony, didn't back away from his beliefs, and truly delivered . . . maybe Paul could use him in his cabinet. :]

Heck, I was impressed enough this morning that I'd vote for him to take Cheney's place in a heartbeat. Paul-Romney lol. Hmmm . . . might need to work out a couple issues first. But I can't deny that Romney did indeed deliver an even better speech on the revolutionary idea of religious freedom in America than I had even hoped. Kudos to him!

[Now if we could just get him to think through his general foreign policy as well as he appears to have thought out 'religion in America' . . .]