Ilhan’s friends

Ilhan Omar

On April 30, outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., a group of protesters consisting largely of black women held a rally based on a false premise: that Ilhan Omar, the hijab-wearing Muslim Democrat who was elected to Congress last November from a district that includes Minneapolis and some of its suburbs, is the victim of racism and sexism on the part of President Trump, most of right-wing America, and even a few members of her own party. In fact, as we discussed on Tuesday, Omar is a virulent anti-Semite who, ever since her election, has been digging herself a deeper and deeper hole by saying in public what she thinks about Jews. Other prominent Muslims who have also been inculcated with hatred of the Jews do a better job of hiding their bigotry; in a perverse way, perhaps Omar deserves a degree of credit for being incapable of dissembling on the subject. In any event, she is no victim; a refugee from Somalia, she found refuge in America, a country that she routinely disses almost as viciously as she disses Jews, and managed to become one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, a status that has made her an instant star on the left. Of course the topsy-turvy notion of the Jew-baiting Omar as a victim is typical of our time, when a violent group like Antifa can be described in the mainstream media as peaceful and anti-fascist and when every act of jihadist terror brings another round of media hand-wringing over the possibility of anti-Muslim backlash by evil “Islamophobes.”

But back to the rally. One banner described it as “Black Women in Defense of Ilhan Omar.” Another banner read “Black Women in Defense of Progressive Women in Congress.” Those progressive women, of course, include not only Omar but her fellow Muslim, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only on the American left in the second decade of the twenty-first century can devout Muslims, one of whom wears a symbol of female subservience, be hailed as “progressive.” The other high-profile progressive Congresswoman, of course, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the former New York bartender who hates capitalism, hates ICE, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, sent the Senate a “green new deal” that was so wacky that absolutely nobody voted for it, and posted a video on social media in which she reported on her baffled encounter, in her new Washington, D.C., home, with a gizmo in her kitchen sink that made a scary sound when you flipped a switch. (She had never seen or heard of a garbage disposal before.) Also, although not a Muslim, she hates Israel almost as much as Omar and Tlaib do.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Anyway, the rally. One speaker described it as a gathering of “professors and labor leaders and artists and organizers.” Plus a whole lot of members of Black Lives Matter. The goal, explained one woman, was to “defend the right of black women to speak about and act upon what happens to black women in this country.” In particular, the idea was to stand up to Trump and the GOP, who had “put a hit out on Ilhan Omar,” who was described as a victim of “white supremacist violence” and of “racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, vitriol” on the part of white nationalists. But the protesters were also there to fight “Islamophobia” and to express solidarity with “trans people,” “black and brown people in the sex trades,” prisoners, migrants, and “our sisters and brothers in Palestine.” Attendees were told that the current crisis in Venezuela is the result of American foreign policy. They were also fed the revisionist version of Angela Davis’s criminal history, in which this felon is magically transformed into a victim. These were people for whom reciting chants like “let my people go” and “we aren’t going anywhere” and “hands off Ilhan” and listing the same dozen or so identity groups over and over again seemed to be a substitute for actual thought. America itself, of course, was depicted as an Evil Empire, a dystopia in which every problem ailing black women is the fault of racism and misogyny on the part of white people who are still, if only symbolically, “lynching” and “whipping” them. You would never have guessed that there exists any such thing as jihadist terror or black-on-black violence. All in all, a staggering display of ignorance, rage, willful refusal to face up to uncomfortable facts, and a claustrophobic, counterproductive fixation on group-identity labels.

The Code Pink chavistas

The Venezuelan embassy on Tuesday

This week, in Venezuela, lovers of liberty have been courageously taking to the streets in an effort to oust their illegitimate dictator Nicolás Maduro. Meanwhile, in a free country to the north – specifically, on 30th Street N.W. in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. – members of the far-left group Code Pink, a gaggle of mostly American women who, yes, believe it or not, fanatically support the Marxist tyrant’s brutal effort to cling to power, faced off at the Venezuelan embassy against actual Venezuelans who support the attempt by Juan Guaido, recognized by the U.S. and over fifty other countries as their homeland’s legitimate president, to oust the former bus driver and restore democracy to that long-beleaguered country.

Juan Guaido

For the past several weeks, it turns out, Code Pink has illegally occupied the Venezuelan embassy, which should by rights have been handed over to the Guaido camp after President Trump announced America’s backing for him. On Tuesday, while the citizens of dozens of Venezuelan cities braved gunfire and armored tanks to publicly declare their support for Guaido, freedom-loving Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in the Washington area made their way to their country’s embassy in hopes of being able to take back their embassy from the far-left American interlopers. Giuliano Gandullia, a Venezuelan-American, told Alex Pappas of Fox News that “We want to enter. We want to take over. And demonstrate that it belongs to us.”

Nicolas Maduro

But Code Pink wouldn’t budge. Police closed the street and Secret Service officers formed a barrier between the Code Pink activists and the Venezuelans. Signs and banners at the embassy, and posts on the radical group’s Twitter account, spelled out their take on the issue. No, they insisted, it wasn’t socialist economic policies that, first under the late Hugo Chavez and then under his protégé, Maduro, had steadily transformed one of the world’s richest countries into one of its poorest. The cause of this drastic decline was – what else? – Trump. No, they don’t do a very good job of explaining how Trump had managed to destroy Venezuela, or why he would want to. Nor do they take into account the fact that Venezuela was already sliding downhill fast well before Trump became president. But no matter. Forget the facts: in the ideologically rooted view of Code Pink, the collapse of Venezuela and the movement to transfer presidential authority from Maduro to Guaido are nothing more or less than part of a cynical effort by the Trump administration to steal Venezuelan oil.

A Venezuelan supermarket

The motives of the Venezuelans who gathered outside the embassy were also clear. “Venezuela wants Democracy…not another Cuba” read one sign. The whole thing was striking: at the heart of the action by the Code Pink women was the claim that Trump was a bully out to impose his will on Venezuela. In fact it was the Code Pink women themselves who were the bullies in this situation. They had taken over the embassy of a country that most of them had probably never been to and with which they had no particular connection, and they were denying entry into it by actual citizens of that country. It is ironic to note that, according to the academic identity hierarchies to which Code Pink surely subscribes, these American women (most of whom, to judge by photographs, were white) were privileged members of an ethnic oppressor class who, like their imperialist, colonialist ancestors, were subjugating members of a recognized victim class. Clemente Pinate, another Venezuelan-American who spoke to Pappas outside the embassy, expressed appropriate ire at the intrusion of the Code Pinkers into Venezuelan affairs. “They are communists, socialists with Maduro,” he said. “I’m anti-Maduro. And I’m here representing my people.”

From palace to prison

It’s fun to be a British royal in Cuba.

Vanity Fair apparently found the whole thing delightful: “With make-your-own mojitos and stylish sunglasses, the future King of England proved that diplomacy can be fun.” The occasion in question was a four-day Cuba trip in late March by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. As VF put it, they “decided to mix work and play,” seeing the island’s “nicest sites and activities” (translation: their hosts took them on what used to be called a “Potemkin tour”), “embrac[ing] Cuba’s love for vintage cars” (as if the superfluity of junky 1950 vehicles were a product of taste and not of necessity), “spoke to artists about their response to a tornado that hit Havana in January” (these were, of course, government-approved artists, not dissident ones who are languishing in jails as political prisoners), and “met with activists who work on issues connected to domestic violence” (again, they certainly didn’t meet with pro-democracy activists).

Charles, meet Che.

Town and Country was so excited by the royal drop-in that it ran a glossy spread featuring “the best photos” of it – for example, an image of the heir to the British throne posing in front of that famous mural of Che Guevara in Havana. Interesting, isn’t it, how these high-class magazines devoted to capitalist comfort are so charmed by one of the world’s few remaining Communist dictatorships? Town and Country, by the way, was one of several publications that included a photo of a bench with a statue of John Lennon seated on it. Nobody bothered to comment, however, on the appropriateness of the Lennon figure: for the fact is that the end result of the political views articulated in Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” is always a terror state like the Castro’s.

Imagine there’s no Windsors.

Then there were the British newspapers. The Express focused on a supposedly whimsical part of the tour, when Charles and Camilla were shown how to use a large press to crush sugar cane to make mojitos. In a classic photo op, the Prince of Wales tried his hand at the press, quipping, apparently to the delight of the press contingent on hand, that he was certainly “cheap labour” – riotous humor for somebody visiting a country that is, in essence, an island prison. The august Times was presumably amused too, running a headline about the wonderful success that had been achieved by the royals’ “mojito diplomacy.”

Making mojitos.

Recall that when Donald and Melania Trump visited Britain last summer, Prince Charles and his older son, Prince William, both refused to meet him, obliging the Queen to greet the President and First Lady alone. When Charles referred to the Holocaust in a speech and lamented the fact that hatreds of the kind that motivated the Nazis are still alive and well, many observers got the distinct impression that he was alluding to Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” Prince Harry, Charles’s second son, has also publicly badmouthed the American President. Curious how key members of the House of Windsor are so eager to be on jolly good terms with Caribbean tyrants but don’t mind insulting the elected leader of their country’s strongest ally and protector.

Samuel L. Jackson, Twitter militant

Samuel L. Jackson

We have to admit that we misinterpreted the headline at the Fox News website the other day. “Samuel L. Jackson,” it read, “doesn’t care if his Trump stance costs him fans.” Given that virtually everybody in Hollywood these days is an open, all-out, full-throated, full-time critic of President Trump, we assumed that Jackson must be an exception. Nope! He’s a member of the chorus, accusing Trump of “ruining the planet” and comparing him to a plantation owner.

It’s not clear why this is suddenly news, because a little research shows that Jackson, in addition to being an big Hollywood movie star known for such films as Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Django Unchained, has been pursuing something of a side career as a dyspeptic political commentator for a long time.

Stokely Carmichael

And before he was an actor, he wasn’t just a man of words – he was a man of action. At Morehouse College in the Sixties, he was a real live student radical. In 1969, he and several confrères held some of the college’s trustees hostage – yes, you read that right – in an effort to force the administration to make curricular changes. Later he got involved with Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. “I was in that radical faction,” Jackson told People magazine in 2008. “We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle.”

H. Rap Brown

Fortunately for Jackson, his mother slapped some sense in him. He ended up studying drama and “decided that theater would now be my politics.” So instead of ending up in prison, like H. Rap Brown, he now lives in the gated community of Beverly Park, California, in a Tudor-style house that’s been profiled in Architectural Digest, and until last year also owned an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that was listed for $13 million. Now, instead of armed struggle, his personal revolution takes the form of political rants delivered via Twitter or in media interviews.

Back in 2012, for example, he told Politico that he’d voted for Barack Obama in 2008 “because he was black.” But in the end Obama hadn’t proven to be black enough for him. “Because, what’s a [N-word]? A [N-word] is scary. Obama ain’t scary at all. [N-words] don’t have beers at the White House. [N-words] don’t let some white dude, while you in the middle of a speech, call [him] a liar. A [N-word] would have stopped the meeting right there and said, ‘Who the **** said that?’”

Too black, or not black enough?

In an interview the next year, however, Jackson seemed to feel that Obama had become too black. According to The Independent, he“took issue with the US President dropping the ‘G’s at the end of his words.” Jackson offered the President this advice: “stop trying to ‘relate’. Be a leader. Be ****ing presidential.” He went on: “Look, I grew up in a society where I could say ‘I ain’t’ or ‘what it be’ to my friends. But when I’m out presenting myself to the world as me, who graduated from college, who had family who cared about me, who has a well-read background, I ****ing conjugate.” Jackson also predicted that “If Hillary Clinton decides to run, she’s going to kick their ****ing asses, and those mother****ers” – the Republicans – “would rather see the country go down in flames than let the times change.”

P.T. Barnum?

When Donald Trump stepped onto the political stage, Jackson was quick to compare him to P.T. Barnum. There ensued a Twitter war between the actor and the real-estate mogul, who in more congenial times, it turned out, had been golf buddies. Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jackson said that “If that mother****er becomes president, I’m moving my black [posterior] to South Africa.” (After Election Day 2016, however, he said he wasn’t moving anyplace.) Visiting Dubai in December 2016, Jackson expressed concern that Trump would “destroy Hollywood.” Yes, destroy Hollywood. “Hopefully we will be able to keep working and he won’t shut Hollywood down,” he said. “You know he could say, ‘Hollywood didn’t support me,’ so that’s it. Who knows what could happen.” There was no sign that Jackson was kidding.

In an April 2017 ad for a congressional candidate in Georgia, Jackson said: “Stop Donald Trump, the man who encourages racial and religious discrimination and sexism.” Last June, the actor sent the President a sarcastic happy-birthday tweet in which he implied that Trump and several of his closest associates, including Rudy Giuliani, were gay. In other tweets, Jackson has called Trump a “Hemorrhoid,” a “Busted Condom,” and a “canker sore.”

Lying Fratboy?

People with a connection to Trump have also incurred Jackson’s wrath. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Jackson tweeted about the judge’s “Lying Fratboy [Posterior].” He’s also harsh on black conservatives, comparing his character in Django Unchained, a house slave who believes in slavery and loves his master, to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Jackson poses as a tough-talking, street-smart guy who’s saying the gutsy things that nobody else dares say. In fact, nothing that he says about politics deviates in the slightest from the Hollywood party line. Nothing he says will ruffle the feathers of any of the friends and colleagues whom he encounters on movie sets and at awards ceremonies and at chic Beverly Hills eateries. But of course he’s not just another Tinseltown robot: he’s a guy who came frighteningly close to having a short and sanguinary career of beating people up and killing cops. So Donald Trump, and others whom Jackson despises, should count themselves lucky that his weapon of choice these days is not a 12-gauge shotgun and a Twitter account.

Kamala’s Castroite conquest

Sen. Kamala Harris

In the view of CNN, the news amounted to a triumph for Kamala Harris. In an “analysis” posted on February 14, Nia-Malika Henderson, the news network’s Senior Political Reporter, said that the just-announced endorsement of the first-term California senator by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was the presidential candidate’s “biggest endorsement to date” and represented “an undeniable boost.” Lee, noted Henderson, had not only thrown her support to Harris but also agreed to co-chair her California campaign.

Rep. Barbara Lee

To underscore the importance of Lee’s backing, Henderson described Lee as an “all-around anti-war and social justice activist star” and “progressive icon” and observed that she “has been called ‘the House’s lefty conscience.’” She was, Henderson pointed out, “the only member of Congress to vote against authorization for the use of force in the days after 9/11.” By teaming up with Harris, Lee was helping the senator to “burnish her progressive credentials.” Moreover, Lee’s announcement “might also foreshadow a show of force” by other “progressive stalwarts” such as Maxine Waters.

The tone of Henderson’s “analysis” of the Lee endorsement was not unique. Other mainstream news media also depicted it as a great leap forward for Harris, and described Lee in similarly glowing terms.

What Henderson omitted, and what many other media reports also chose not to mention, was the – shall we say – complex reality behind the carefully cultivated image of Lee as “icon” and “conscience” and “star.”

Armed Black Panthers at the State Capitol in Sacramento on May 2, 1967

For one thing, this is a woman who began her career as a member of the Black Panthers – and who, as recently as 2017, supported the use of funds from the National Park Services (NPS) budget to pay tribute to the Panthers’ memory with something called the Black Panther Party Research, Interpretation & Memory Project. When the NPS decided not to spend its resources on the project, Lee issued a livid statement that described the Black Panther Party – that violent group of murderous revolutionary thugs – as “an integral part of the civil rights movement.”

Judge Richard Goldstone

Lee also voted against condemning the so-called Goldstone Report, that scandalous United Nations document that whitewashed Palestinian terrorism while falsely accusing the Israeli Defense Forces of deliberately targeting Arab civilians. Even the report’s lead author, South African judge Richard Goldstone, ultimately withdrew his imprimatur from it – but not Lee.

Perhaps most appalling, Lee has been a stalwart supporter of the Cuban Communist regime and was personally chummy with Fidel Castro. Over the years, she visited Cuba more than twenty times and met with Fidel on eight of those occasions.

The now infamous picture of Elian Gonzales being removed by U.S. federal agents from the home of his Miami relatives on April 22, 2000, so that he could be retuned to Cuba.

It was Lee who played the key role in the reprehensible return to Cuba, in the year 2000, of six-year-old Elian Gonzales, whose mother had perished at sea in her effort to bring him to freedom in the U.S.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2014 on a 2009 memo by Fidel documenting a five-hour meeting at his Havana home with Lee, who was there to serve as a liaison with the new Obama administration.

“We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”

When Fidel died in November 2016, Lee said that she was “very sad for the Cuban people” and claimed that Fidel had brought “social improvements” to the island. Yes, she admitted, Cubans had experienced hard times, but Lee put a bright face on them: gasoline rationing forced them to ride bikes, and that brought down “their rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.” Calling Fidel “a smart man” and a “historian,” Lee said: “We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”

But that wasn’t all: when then President-elect Trump issued a statement calling Castro “a brutal dictator” whose “legacy” was “one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Lee lit into him, saying his comments on Castro were “not presidential at all….This not how you react as a world leader.”

This, then, is the “icon” who has now joined up with the presidential campaign of Kamala Harris. Make of that development what you will.

No, Cuba is not getting better

Fidel Castro

One country we haven’t neglected on this site is Cuba. We’ve written about American TV reporter Lisa Howard’s romance with Fidel Castro, about Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about their liaison, about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s affection for Fidel Castro, about a celebration of Che Guevara in Norwegian Air’s inflight magazine, about a big, splashy fashion show held by Karl Lagerfeld in Havana, about a movie about Hemingway that whitewashed Cuban Communism, about a USA Today whitewash of Cuban Communism, about an Agence France Press whitewash of Cuban Communism, about a Time Magazine whitewash of Cuban Communism…and so on.

Obama in Havana

If we’re particularly attentive to Cuba, it’s partly because it’s so close to the U.S. and partly because its Communist regime has long been an object of affection for many stateside useful stooges. Many people on the left who would readily acknowledge that the Soviet Union and Mao’s China were unworthy of admiration nonetheless had a soft spot for Castro and his cronies. These same people warmed to one of the major initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidency, the opening to Cuba, which they presented as evidence that the island nation was transitioning, slowly but surely, to something resembling democracy.

Jose Marti International Airport in Havana

Obama may have reneged on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but he made a great show of opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana since the Cuban Revolution. He authorized the resumption of commercial air flights, holiday cruises, and mail service between the U.S. and Cuba. He allowed the Cuban government to open bank accounts in the U.S. and removed it from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. And in March 2016 he made a high-profile visit to the island.

U.S. Embassy in Havana

At first Obama had said he would make such a visit only if there were real signs that Cubans were being given more freedom. But he ended up going even though such indicators as the number of arrests of political dissidents turned out to be on the rise. A Boston Globe headline in February 2016 read “Obama Breaks Pledge – Will Visit Cuba Despite Worsening Human Rights.” His Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, even went so far as to dispel suggestions that Obama was out to encourage an end to, or softening of, Cuban Communism: if past U.S. policies had sent the message “that the United States was seeking to pursue regime change” on the island, said Rhodes, “Obama will make clear that the United States is not a hostile nation seeking regime change.” Well, full points for honesty, if for nothing else.

Ben Rhodes

In point of fact, Obama’s Cuba policy gave a great deal to the Cuban regime and asked virtually nothing of it. U.S. officials admitted that the thinking behind Obama’s one-way generosity was that it would somehow encourage reforms – an assumption that was, at best, remarkably naïve and ill-informed. Among the critics of Obama’s new approach was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate said that the sight of the U.S. President “laughing and shaking hands with the only dictatorship in the western Hemisphere” made him think of Cuban dissident “Berta Soler of the Ladies in White and her fellow human rights and democracy advocates.”

Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams, who has held major diplomatic posts under several presidents, agreed with Menendez, writing that Obama’s visit to Cuba “weakens the chances for freedom in Cuba because it is organized around encouraging the current regime rather than pressuring it for change.” Abrams added: “There is no evidence that the president will meet with the key–and incredibly courageous–dissidents who struggle at enormous sacrifice for freedom in Cuba. There is no evidence he even comprehends that most of the economic benefits of his opening to Cuba are accruing to the regime and the armed forces.”

Miguel Diaz-Canel

President Trump reversed many of Obama’s Cuba policies – and was criticized severely for it by those who shared Obama’s view that the way to make dictators nice is to make nice with dictators. Unfortunately, many blinkered folks in the U.S. and elsewhere actually believe that Cuba is undergoing serious reforms. As evidence of this proposition, they point to the selection of a new Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in April of last year. The fact that Díaz-Canel is not a member of the Castro family is cited as a sign of hope – although the fact is that Raul Castro remains head of the Communist Party and thus the nation’s de facto leader.

Diaz-Canel with Maduro

In reality Díaz-Canel’s ascent to the presidency means nothing. The first foreign leader he met with after his inauguration was Nicolás Maduro. On February 4 the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (COHR) reported that at least 179 arbitrary detentions had taken place in Cuba during the month of January. While the already horrible economic situation in Cuba is deteriorating, oppression is intensifying. A new Constitution – which is presented by the government as some kind of advance over its predecessor but which makes only cosmetic alterations while reaffirming the Communist system of government – has been a focus of protest, and the COHR expressed concern in its report “about the increasing aggressiveness of the police against activists who peacefully demonstrate NO to the Constitution” and about the more general effort to “crush any dissent surrounding the new Constitution.”

More dire news arrived on February 10. Cuban activists announced on social media that Claudio Fuentes Madan, a photographer and campaigner for freedom in Cuba, had been missing for two days. One report stated that he had been arrested. Also missing was Antonio G. Rodiles, founder of a dissident think tank. So much for the callow belief on the part of Obama & co. that their Cuban counterparts were committed to gradual democratization.

Reza Aslan, phony & hater

Reza Aslan

Born in 1972 in Iran, Reza Aslan was brought by his parents to the U.S. seven years later when they fled the Khomeini revolution. He grew up in the Bay Area, where as a teenager he converted from Islam to Christianity and then converted back. He earned degrees in theology, writing, and sociology, and over the past decade or so has become a leading voice on religion, a subject he has discussed frequently on CNN, Fox News, and other TV networks and on which he tries to sound very modern.

No religion, he argues, is objectively true; on the contrary, each is a set of “symbols and metaphors” that represent one’s sense of connection to the divine and eternal and ineffable. He admits to identifying as a Muslim, but is at pains to insist that this is more a matter of cultural or aesthetic affinity than of thinking that Islam is “truer” than Christianity, Hinduism, or any other faith. Indeed he has said, in effect, that all religions are ultimately the same and that “we are all God.”

He presents himself as a man of high moral character with a deep interest in the divine; as a clear-eyed observer of and expert in religions; and as someone who respects all belief systems and is eager to focus on their similarities and not emphasize their differences. In practice, however, he consistently puts his finger on the scale for Islam. In his 2005 book No God But God, he depicts Islam as inherently benign, blaming pretty much everything that’s negative about it on Western imperialism. In another book published four years later, he strives to distance Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, to draw at least something of a moral equivalence between jihadist murder and the American “war on terrorism,” and to distinguish sharply between jihadism and Islamism. Indeed he actually defends the latter, making the ridiculous claim that the answer to “extremist Islamism” is “moderate Islamism.” Nearly two decades after 9/11, the absurdity of all this should be obvious to any halfway intelligent individual in the Western world. But instead Aslan’s fanciful, friendly picture of Islam has won plaudits across the U.S.A. and elsewhere.

Aslan hasn’t been satisfied with merely whitewashing Islam. In his 2013 book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, he sought to alter established views of Christianity; two years later, he produced and hosted a CNN series, Believer, in which he purportedly sought to take viewers on tours of Christian, Jewish, and Hindu doctrine and practice, at both their ugliest and most beautiful. As Alexander Waugh noted in the Spectator,

Each episode featured the sensational and disgusting practices of fringe groups connected to Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism, which, unsurprisingly, offended mainstream Hindus, Christians and Jews who did not care to be associated in the public mind with their pee-drinking, brain-eating, death-worshipping sub-sects. No discreditable customs of any Muslim sub-sect were shown. Since Aslan has elsewhere gone out of his way to dismiss Islamic terrorism as less of a problem than ‘faulty furniture’; has described jihadism as a mere ‘pop culture’; and has denied any link between the Islamic religion and female genital mutilation, he soon found (no doubt to his delight) that he had sharply divided America’s liberal progressive movement.

Waugh went on:

Aslan explained that the purpose of his Believer series was to reveal to the world how everyone is ‘the same’. His detractors interpreted this to mean that Christians, Jews and Hindus should stop complaining about the unappealing practices of Muslims because there are people doing equally appalling things in the name of their religions too.

Indeed, many of Aslan’s erstwhile fans began to feel that he was at once a shameless apologist for Islam and an eager denigrator of other religions. Even as he slickly denied the established connections between Islam itself and certain abominable practices that are considered matters of faith by its adherents, he exaggerated out of all proportion the prevalence of certain unpleasant aspects of other faiths.

What’s more, professional historians of religion began to look more closely at his academic record and noticed that his claims to be a credentialed historian, a professor of religion, and a Ph.D. in the history of religion were all bogus.

For all his efforts to represent himself as a man of faith, moreover, Aslan has certainly said things about various public figures that are, shall we say, rather deficient in what we in the West used to quaintly call Christian charity. After the 2017 terrorist attack on London Bridge, Aslan wrote a tweet in which he condemned not the terrorists but President Trump, whom he called “a piece of shit” for having refused to mince words about the danger of Islamic terror. (That tweet lost him his CNN series.)

That’s not all. Aslan has maintained, risibly, that women enjoy equal rights in Muslim countries where that is quite plainly not the case. Aslan has not only misrepresented the extent of female genital mutilation but also savaged the comedian Bill Maher when he condemned that practice and dared to acknowledge its connection to Islam. After he appeared on Good Morning America, his interviewer posted online a breathless summary of what she had “learned” from him about Islam:

Did you know Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet and a messiah? I didn’t. Did you know Muslims actually rank Jesus higher than the Prophet Muhammad? Again, I didn’t.

If we’ve decided to give a bit of critical attention to Aslan now, it’s because of his latest headline-making act. Last month, when that group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were harassed outside the Lincoln Memorial by a group of fanatically racist “black Israelites” and by a drum-banging Native American “elder,” the boys were demonized throughout the mainstream media, even though, as it turned out, they were the victims in that encounter, not the bad guys. Aslan was one of those celebrities who piled on, and he did so in a particularly nasty way, retweeting a picture of the most prominent of the Kentucky boys, Nick Sandmann, and writing: “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”

It was one of those comments that give the whole game away. After years of promoting himself as a sober, sincere, and thoughtful student of religion, and as a builder of bridges between different faiths and cultures, and as someone who is, therefore, by definition, a decent human being and a man of peace, Aslan, with this one tweet, shattered that image forever. Sandmann is sixteen years old, a boy from Kentucky who did nothing wrong and who, in a TV interview after the Lincoln Memorial episode, acquitted himself with quiet dignity and intelligence – qualities missing entirely from Aslan’s tweet. Reza Aslan wanted to punch a teenage boy, someone’s child, presumably because Aslan didn’t like what he thought he saw in the look on the boy’s face. And this is supposed to be one of America’s leading teachers of religion? No, thank you.

An end to chavismo?

Venezuelans queue up to buy groceries that may or may not be on the store shelves

Since we’ve devoted so much space at this site to the plight of Venezuela under chavismo, it’s only right for us to acknowledge – and celebrate – an extraordinary turning point in the history of that country.

We need hardly go into detail here about the devastation wrought upon Venezuela, once one of the richest nations in the world, by hard-core socialism. That the land with the world’s largest oil reserves should decline into such terrible poverty – to say nothing of the steady erosion of individual liberty and human rights – is a classic lesson in the horrible consequences of socialist policies.


Juan Guaidó

On January 5, Juan Guaidó, a fierce opponent of chavismo, was sworn in as President of Venezuela’s National Assembly. Five days later, Nicolás Maduro, who had succeeded his mentor, Hugo Chávez, as President of Venezuela, in 2013, was inaugurated for his second term after being re-elected in what was widely considered an illegitimate election. The next day, Guaidó led a massive rally, attended by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, at which it was announced that, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, he would be assuming the presidency. On January 15, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Guaidó headlined “Maduro is a usurper. It’s time to restore democracy in Venezuela.”

Nicolas Maduro

“We are living in a crisis without precedent in Venezuela,” the op-ed began. “We have a government that has dismantled the state and kidnapped all institutions to manipulate them at will.” Truthfully enough, Guaidó called Maduro a dictator, but a dictator with a difference, who had “ties to drug trafficking and guerrilla groups,” but whose nation continued to have “a functioning, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly,” which enjoyed “the backing of the international community and the majority of Venezuelans.”

On January 23, Guaidó formally declared himself President of Venezuela. Almost immediately, he was recognized as the country’s legitimate head of state by U.S. President Donald Trump. By the end of day, he had been recognized as President by the Organization of American States as well as by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. In all of Latin America, only Communist Cuba and socialist Bolivia reiterated their full support for Maduro, while Mexico’s new left-wing leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, criticized Guaidó but instead of totally backing Maduro called for “dialogue.”

Mauricio Macri

The swiftness with which so many Latin American governments endorsed Guaidó’s ascent to power is a reflection of the degree to which socialism in that region has, in a relatively short time, given way to a renewed wave of democratic capitalism. A few years ago, for example, Cristina Fernandez, then President of Argentina, would surely have stood behind Maduro; now, her successor, Mauricio Macri, took to Twitter and explicitly cheered on “all efforts toward rebuilding democracy in Venezuela and reestablishing conditions of life worthy of all its citizens.” Likewise, in Brazil, the new president, Jair Bolsonaro, widely known as the Trump of Latin America, tweeted that “Brazil supports politically and economically the transition back to democracy and social peace in Venezuela.”

To be sure, it’s all easier said than done. At this writing, Maduro seems determined to stay in Miraflores, the White House of Caracas. He still enjoys the support of the military, of the Supreme Court (which he has packed with cronies), and of the powerful and notoriously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. So it will be interesting to see how things develop in the days and weeks to come.

A rocky start for 2019 in South Korea

Moon Jae-in

In South Korea, the year has kicked off with a bang. On January 8, the South China Morning Post reported that President Moon Jae-in had made some drastic changes in his administration. Moon, who was scoring big in the polls in the months after his inauguration in May 2017, has seen his popularity erode along with his country’s economy.

How to turn things around? Fire some people. Moon has dismissed his chief of staff, his senior political affairs secretary, and his senior press secretary. No sign, however, of him doing what he actually promised to do when he took office – namely, tame the chaebols, the corrupt, family-run business empires that are at one the engines and the anchors of the South Korean economy.

Trump: taking the opposite approach

On January 10 came another tidbit of news from the Blue House (which, of course, is Seoul’s answer to the White House). While Trump was slashing taxes and regulations, reported the Australian Financial Review, Moon was trying to cure his country’s economic ills by doing the opposite. Surprise! “So far,” wrote Michael Schuman, “it has not worked out as planned.”

Joblessness is up. Growth is down. Wages are flat. Both employers and employees are restive. And small businesses are suffering. Their costs are rising, but they’re not in a position to pass those costs on to buyers. Consequently, they’re shedding employees and finding other ways to cut corners.

The Blue House

All this might have been prevented if Moon had kept his promises and tackled the Great White Whale – the chaebols. But he chickened out. He would probably reject that characterization, pointing out that his budget for 2019 contains policy changes that are intended to reduce the power of the chaebols and help out smaller enterprises.

Others might argue that these initiatives are too little, too late. That Moon, take him for all in all, is essentially kicking the ball down the field. And allowing the South Korean economy to continue experiencing the consequences of his relative inaction.

Yang Sung-tae

Then, on January 11, Choe Sang-hun of the New York Times reported on a unprecedented development in South Korea. Yang Sung-tae, a former justice of the Supreme Court, had been confronted by prosecutors over charges that he had “conspired to delay a case that could upset relations with Japan.”

The case was brought by a group of South Koreans who, during the Japanese occupation, were subjected to forced labor by such firms at Mitsubishi. Yang will probably be indicted – a first in the voluminous annals of modern South Korean corruption.

Moon’s government, then, is on shaky ground. The South Korean judiciary has experienced a major embarrassment. The country’s small businesses are even more precariously positioned than they were a couple of years ago. And the ordinary citizens of South Korea are having more and more trouble making ends meet.

But amid all this loss and insecurity and scandal, the chaebols, as always, continue to stand strong.

AFP whitewashes the Castros

Exotic Havana

From time to time on this site, we’ve examined various public figures who had a soft spot for the Castro regime in Cuba and media organizations whose reports from Cuba routinely focused on its purported charms rather than its totalitarian government. We’ve written about director Bob Yari, who filmed a movie in Cuba; designer Karl Lagerfeld, who used Havana’s crumbling buildings as a backdrop for a glamorous fashion show; and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who, notwithstanding his own wealth, made a point of castigation capitalism while celebrating the Castros. We’ve told the tale of Fidel’s affair with compliant ABC reporter Lisa Howard, noted the chummy relationship between Jesse Jackson and the Castros, and, not least, the shamelessness and fatuity with which Time Magazine, again and again, has glorified the island prison.

Jair Bolsonaro

On January 2, Agence France Press demonstrated that the perverse impulse to whitewash the Cuban regime is not dead in 2019. Under the headline “Cuba celebrates 60 years of revolution amid challenges and change,” AFP described Cuba as a longtime “source of inspiration for leftist Latin American governments,” but added that the nation faces “increasing isolation in a region dominated by a resurgent right,” notably the new Brazilian government led by “far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.”

AFP reported that Bolsonaro had “made a point of not inviting” the new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro to his inauguration, a decision that some of us might consider principled but that AFP seemed to want readers to regard as churlish.

Nicolas Maduro

Typically, AFP labeled Bolsonaro – a pro-American, pro-Israeli conservative who has been dubbed the Latin American Trump – as “far-right,” and characterized Argentina, Chile and Peru as having “all swung to the right in recent years, unseating leftist governments.” A more objective media outlet might have put it a bit differently – might have said, that is, that the voters of those countries have rejected socialism in favor of democratic capitalism.

Evo Morales

Meanwhile, in its references to Cuba’s leaders, AFP was careful to avoid the word “dictator,” obediently referring to Raul Castro as “[e]x-president” and as “first secretary of the Communist Party,” identifying the late Fidel Castro as “Cuba’s revolutionary leader,” and giving the current thug-in-chief, Miguel Diaz-Canel, his official title of “President.” AFP also reported that Maduro had “paid tribute to the ‘heroic Cuban people,’” whom he praised for their “’resistance and dignity’ in the face of ’60 years of sacrifices, struggles and blockade.’” In addition, according to AFP, “[a]nother surviving leftist leader, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, said Cuba’s revolution gave birth to ‘the light of hope and invincible will for the liberation of the people.’” This effusive rhetoric by Maduro and Morales was presented by AFP without context, so that an ill-informed reader would never know that the Cuban people have spent the last six decades not as stalwart patriots who have bravely resisted a U.S. blockade but as downtrodden subjects of a totalitarian tyranny.

Fidel Castro

To be sure, the word “dictator” did eventually appear in the AFP article – but only as a means of describing Castro’s predessor, Fulgencio Batista. To its credit, moreover, AFP also mentioned, toward the end of its article, that Cuba is a communist state. It also quoted a dissident, but that dissident, as it happened, was not an anti-Communist who opposed the Cuban Revolution from the start but a diehard Communist named Vladimiro Roca, whose father was a sidekick of Fidel Castro, who himself had run afoul of authorities and spent several years in prison, and whose complaint was therefore that the Cuban Revolution “died a long time ago.”

Donald Trump

Moreover, while AFP acknowledged that Cuba “has faced heavy criticism” abroad, it presented the Cuban people not as decades-long victims of a brutal autocracy but as having “had to contend with an increasingly hostile administration under Trump these last two years.” There’s no hint that the Trump administration is hostile not to the Cuban people but to their unelected masters. In 2019, alas, such full-scale misrepresentation continues to be par for the course for all too many Western media.