The last trip to France was more than eight or nine years ago – two weeks in Paris in December in the cold rain, as the quiet solitary observer. Kicking around on your own, left to your own devices, is the best way to fall into the feel of the place quickly. It clears your head, fast – you don’t fall back on your own cultural habits every few minutes, as there’s no one but the French around you. And you use your instincts and what language skills you can muster to manage getting through all the everyday stuff of another city. It’s kind of fun – sort of an immersion thing, but it was always more like washing yourself clean and waking up. Now and then it’s good to scrape off the cultural barnacles. You end up sailing faster, with a clean hull.
But those trips there once or twice a year are long gone – things go a bit sour and then the whole economy collapses. It happens. But that’s okay. Hollywood is full of French nationals – Disney hired a lot over the years as did the rest of the entertainment industry, and there’s the high-end fashion stuff and the chic restaurants that really should be run by and staffed with French folks. And the top French filmmakers drop by for the annual City of Lights festival one block down the street at the Directors Guild, and you might catch a glimpse of Johnny Hallyday or Patricia Kass having lunch down on Sunset Plaza. Hell, Hallyday almost died here last year, down the hill at Cedars Sinai hospital. It ain’t Paris here, but the Parisians do drop by.
Still, it is hard to get into the French thing here. It’s hard to remember the courteous formality – with all the precise rules, that one just knows of course – and the quiet almost unspoken national pride – having to do with arts and literature and science and philosophy – that seemed to be the core element of that culture. That would be over there, not here. We are not a quiet, formal people, and we are proudly outspoken. And it is also hard to get a handle on how the slow but substantial increase in the Muslim population in France in the last eight or nine years has so riled up the French, who must sense the core of who they are, and why they are, could be lost.
So it’s not surprising that one or two French friends forwarded a 2004 newspaper editorial to their distribution lists. It’s from a Spanish paper – All European Life Died in Auschwitz – and the gist of it is this – “We killed six million Jews and replaced them with 20 million Muslims. In Auschwitz we burned a culture, thought, creativity, talent. We destroyed the chosen people, truly chosen, because they produced great and wonderful people who changed the world.”
And what have the Muslims done for us lately? The viral email adds this – “It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate the message to the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.” It’s making the rounds.
You see where this is heading, but there is the matter of history. Down in Spain there is the Alhambra – what the Muslims once gave Europe, and Spain in particular, was not exactly chopped liver. And of course Muslim scholars preserved all of Greek thought and science while Europe had its Dark Ages and threw it all away – we only got Euclid and Aristotle back because of them. And they invented algebra – an Arabic word of course. And this writer does not mention 1492 – Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain sent Columbus off to see what was out there to the west that year, and that same year Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all the Jews from Spain – every man, woman and child. Ask any Sephardic Jew about that. Yeah, yeah – El Cid is the Spanish national hero. He took care of those Muslim bastards. And further north Charles Martel took care of them at the Battle of Tours. But it’s not so simple. No one has clean hands. It’s always the sorrow and the pity – Marcel Ophüls’ famous film was about no one having clean hands. That Spanish editorial was pretty much saying oops, we killed to wrong six million people. It was an eliminationist piece.
That’s where one might part ways with the French who are circulating the six-year-old Spanish editorial. Eliminating any block of people is a bit creepy, as a concept, although some might feel that way about Lutherans, or lawyers. But out here in California, someone once asked the essential question, “Can’t we all just get along?” Of course he was an imperfect messenger – Los Angeles went up in flames anyway.
But we are working on it. See People of Diverse Faiths Pursue A Lofty Goal In A Peace Hike Up Mt. Baldy:
The mountain was supposed to impart energy to its pilgrims, but as he neared the top, Ashraf Carrim wasn’t feeling it.
Slumped on a boulder not far from the peak of Mt. Baldy, the Muslim imam from Torrance laughed when asked how he was faring on his hike. “Badly,” he replied. A few feet away, the Rev. Jeffrey Utter of the United Church of Christ was girding himself for the final push. “I was naive about what was involved,” he admitted.
The two men were among about 100 people of various faiths who set out last Saturday on a hike for peace, with the goal of reaching the top of Mt. Baldy, the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Ah, this is an odd place, and this is the Aetherius Society:
Aetherians believe that “spiritual elders from other worlds,” known as Cosmic Masters of the Solar System, are attempting to help the Earth solve its problems, but that their efforts have been rebuffed by political and religious leaders. The extraterrestrials did find a willing accomplice in a British yogi, George King, who founded the Aetherius Society in London in 1955 on their direction.
King wound up moving to the United States, where he died in Santa Barbara in 1997. From 1958 to 1961, the society says, he “charged” 18 mountains around the world with cosmic energy, much as one might charge a battery. One of these was Mt. Baldy. Aetherians have made pilgrimages to the top ever since.
Well, we are strange out here. Visit the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake near where Sunset meets the sea in Malibu for some serenity – or think of Aldous Huxley living the last decades of his life in his house near the Hollywood sign, writing about the doors of perception and peyote. We do have our eccentrics. But our hearts are in the right place – and if the Aetherius Society wants to lead an interfaith hike up the tallest mountain out here, where Muslim and Christians have a fine old time and get along famously, then there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, it might do some good. But on a clear day you can see Baldy from the window here. It doesn’t seem to have an aura of cosmic energy you can see.
Of course that might give the wrong impression of Southern California, as down in Riverside County there is Temecula – a nice enough place, and home to a lot of military families from nearby Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar – the Top Gun school used to be there, like in the Tom Cruise movie – and the March Air Reserve Base in San Bernardino and the all the naval bases in San Diego. There’s also the Pechanga Resort and Casino – the Indian reservation is next door. And there is the annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival – yep, it’s wine country too. And Erle Stanley Gardner wrote most of his Perry Mason novels, more than a hundred of them, at his Temecula ranch.
A small group of protesters took over a patch of grass across from the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley on Friday for a vocal but relatively tame protest against a proposed mosque, though they were greatly outnumbered by supporters from area churches who were there to support the Islamic Center.
The rally was held during the Islamic Center’s Friday prayers and, at the urging of organizers, a few protesters brought their dogs, which many Muslims would consider an insult.
“This is America. This is a Christian country, this is not a Muslim country,” said Zorina Bennett, 50, of Temecula, one of about 20 who attended the anti-mosque rally. “They are known terrorists. Read the Koran. They are trained to kill people from the time they’re in their youth.”
Bennett took her dog Meadow to the protest, knowing that many Muslims believe that the saliva of dogs is impure.
This was not the same crew that climbed Mount Baldy, of course.
And this LA Times article goes on to quote a retired Methodist pastor, who joined about sixty others who were there to support the Islamic Center and its plans for a new mosque, and to denounce the demonstrators – “I don’t think they represent Temecula at all. They’re a fringe group, and they use fear as their main ingredient. It’s ignorance. It’s sad.”
The irony was this guy’s name was David French. He’s obviously not Jean-Marie Le Pen. It’s just a name.
But this protest wasn’t much:
Supporters of the Islamic Center sat peacefully on fold-out chairs in front of the center – though a few supporters walked across the street for sporadic shouting matches with the protesters. A member of the center created a stir when he and his wife tried to hand out roses to the protesters, with many refusing to accept the home-grown flowers.
The protest lasted a little less than two hours and no arrests were reported. One of the most heated moments came around 12:20 p.m. when Fred Carlson, a heavy equipment operator from Temecula, drove his pickup truck past the Islamic Center twice, calling Muslims “pedophiles” and hurling a few curse words.
“They should step forward and denounce terrorism 100%,” Carlson said later, calling Islam a “Stone Age” religion.
Yeah, well – whatever. The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley is moving ahead with plans to build a large mosque on a vacant four-acre plot in northeast Temecula, and the proposal had met with hostility in this conservative and heavily military community – folks said they feared the new mosque would bring unwanted traffic and noise, and also attract Islamic extremists. They seem to agree with the heavy equipment operator. You know how these Muslims are.
But there were the denials:
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, called many of the protesters’ accusations “plain ignorance.” He said American Muslims strongly denounce terrorism, saying it is contrary to true Islamic beliefs, and he predicted that Friday’s protest would do little to influence the city’s review of the proposed mosque. “Fear and hysteria are like the scum on top of water – it will float away,” he told the crowd of Islamic Center supporters.
But of this was more than a local story, as organizers of the rally posted announcements on websites affiliated with the “tea party” movement in southwest Riverside County. But then the leaders of tea party chapters in Temecula, Murrieta, Hemet and Menifee said their organizations had no involvement with the mosque protest, and they condemned both the use of dogs to harass Muslims and also the Council on American-Islamic Relations for insinuating that tea party members were behind the rally and are racists. Of course he didn’t say that. He just said the organizers of this rally were ignorant. And he didn’t mention the Tea Party. But these folks are touchy about racism for some reason.
It didn’t help that that the protest organizer said she has been active in both Murrieta and Temecula tea party events, but then had to add that the rally was held by “concerned citizens” and was not an official tea party event. The two were not related of course. Yep, they got to her. She had earlier denied that she was directly involved in promoting the demonstration, but she had to fess up that she was the one who put it together. It was quite a mess, but she had her point to make:
She criticized area Muslims for being part of a “national political movement” to impose Sharia law in America, saying the religious doctrine allows for the mistreatment of women and undercuts American values. “We already have Al Qaeda cells in Southern California…”
We do? Al-Marayati then said Muslims are loyal Americans and strong believers in equal rights and equal justice, and those ideals are exactly what attracted many Muslim immigrants to this country. That’s why they left wherever and came here – duh! And the Temecula Islamic Center has been in the city for more than a decade without incident. Someone needs to climb Mount Baldy.
But this is not that uncommon:
On September 11, 2010, the extremist evangelical Dove World Church – whose pastor, Terry Jones, has written a book called “Islam Is of the Devil” – plans to host “International Burn a Quran Day,” when it will burn Muslims’ sacred text and encourage others across the world to do so as well. Church member Wayne Sapp has even posted an instructional video that explains how and why to burn the Islamic text.
CNN host Rick Sanchez invited Jones on his show to ask him about the inflammatory action…. Jones later went on to explain, “What we are also doing by the burning of the Quran, we’re saying stop, stop to Islam, stop to Islamic law, stop to brutality. We have nothing against Muslims – they are welcome in our country.” When Sanchez asked him how he would feel if Muslims burned the Bible, Jones admitted he wouldn’t like it but emphasized that it was his “right” to burn the Islamic text because “we live in America.”
It seems the anti-Muslim, Quran-burning preacher wants us to believe he has “nothing against Muslims.” That is odd.
And see this:
“Why would we burn the Koran?” he says in a video the church posted to YouTube last week. “The Koran, the holy book of Islam? Because we’re Christian.”
Prior to the whole book burning scheme, Dove World Outreach Center was best known for using the slogan “Islam Is of the Devil,” which it has plastered across its website and in large signs outside the church’s headquarters. Sapp says in the video that Islam’s devilishness is why the Koran must burn.
“Being Christian does not mean you go to church. Being Christian does not mean you believe in God. Being Christian means you are Christ-like, or at least attempting to go in that direction,” he says. “And Jesus, the Christ, he was sent – he appeared – to destroy the works of the Devil. So that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Sapp then proceeds to put his money where his mouth is and sparks up a copy of the Koran, spraying lighter fluid on it as it catches fire.
The video is here – and YouTube will say it is restricted and make you confirm that you really want to watch this thing. It’s your choice. It’ll make you familiar with the book-burning Jesus, everyone’s hero. The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest body of evangelical Christians, has denounced Dove World’s efforts. They never heard of the book-burning Jesus.
Of course this is Florida, not California, and the Dove World Church is a bit strange:
The church, which was founded in 1986, has long been controversial in Gainesville. The Koran-burning protest is just the latest in a string of high-profile “protests on other issues, such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and abortion,” Religion News Service reports. But it seems clear that taking on Muslims is the one of the church’s central goals. The church’s leader, Dr. Terry Jones – who before heading up the Dove World Outreach Center ran a sister church in Cologne, Germany – has published a book entitled “Islam is of the Devil” and last year posted a large sign outside his church that offered passing commuters the same message. Last year, members sent their kids to public schools wearing “Islam Is of the Devil” t-shirts (the students were sent home, creating more headlines.)
And they may soon lose their tax-exempt status – the whole thing seems to be commercial enterprise. Pastor Jones and his wife, Sylvia, in addition to a school and a food bank, operate a bunch of for-profit businesses, mostly through eBay. The businesses sell vintage furniture on eBay. Yes, Jesus was a carpenter, but still….
On the other hand, they are sponsoring International Burn a Quran Day, and have posted an instructional video. Perhaps those on the French email distribution lists will join in. And then maybe they will buy some vintage furniture too.
Of course everyone knows Florida is a strange place. Remember the butterfly ballots and the befuddled seniors and how George Bush won the presidency? Enough said.
You’d think the folks up in New York City would be more sensible. But you’d be wrong:
The nation’s leading Jewish civil rights group opposes the planned mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero, saying more information is needed about funding for the project and the location is “counterproductive to the healing process.”
The Anti-Defamation League said it rejects any opposition to the center based on bigotry and acknowledged that the group behind the plan, the Cordoba Initiative, has the legal right to build at the site. But the ADL said “some legitimate questions have been raised” about funding and possible ties with “groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.”
“Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right,” the ADL said in a statement. “In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.” The Cordoba Initiative did not comment Friday.
See Time Magazine’s Joe Klein:
The journey of the (Anti-) Defamation League from beacon of tolerance to slightly potty geyser of toxic foolishness continues apace. Two years ago, Abe Foxman – the ADL’s very much over the hill president – accused me of anti-Semitism for pointing out the Israel-first tendencies of more than a few neoconservatives, especially when it came to plumping for war with Iran. …Then, earlier this year, Foxman accused David Petraeus of being anti-Israel for making the indisputable point that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t make life any easier for US troops fighting in the region. And now Foxman has hit the jackpot…
And Klein cites New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg – “What is great about America, and particularly New York, is we welcome everybody, and if we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us?”
During the high-tide of anti-Semitism, and then again during the civil-rights movement, and often since, the Anti-Defamation League transcended its Jewish origins to stand as a courageous American voice against prejudice. But now, it’s making a mockery of its original mission and, in the process, it has sullied American Judaism’s intense tradition of tolerance and inclusion. I miss the old ADL and so does America. Foxman should be fired immediately.
And as for causing unnecessary pain, see the New York Times’ Paul Krugman:
Translation: some people will feel bad if this thing is built, and we need to take these feelings into account, even though proponents “have every right to build at this site.”
So let’s try some comparable cases, okay? It causes some people pain to see Jews operating small businesses in non-Jewish neighborhoods; it causes some people pain to see Jews writing for national publications (as I learn from my mailbox most weeks); it causes some people pain to see Jews on the Supreme Court. So would ADL agree that we should ban Jews from these activities, so as to spare these people pain? No? What’s the difference?
One thing I thought Jews were supposed to understand is that they need to be advocates of universal rights, not just rights for their particular group – because it’s the right thing to do, but also because, ahem, there aren’t enough of us. We can’t afford to live in a tribal world.
He calls the whole thing shameful and stupid.
And see Jeffery Goldberg:
This is a strange war we’re fighting against Islamist terrorism. We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations. We must do everything possible to avoid giving them propaganda victories in their attempt to create a cosmic war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Muslim civilization. The fight is not between the West and Islam; it is between modernists of all monotheist faiths, on the one hand, and the advocates of a specific strain of medievalist Islam, on the other. If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith, Muslims of good faith will join the other side. It’s not that hard to understand. I’m disappointed that the ADL doesn’t understand this.
And see Adam Serwer:
Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a non-partisan organization.
And at the Economist, there’s the blogger Democracy in America:
You cannot “categorically reject appeals to bigotry” and then back precisely the outcome those bigots back. You are in essence saying you agree with the bigots but just wish they would be a little nicer about it. You are in essence saying that the right to worship and assemble peaceably should be curbed when exercising those rights might run counter to “strong passions” and “keen sensitivities”. You are in essence saying that grievance trumps first-amendment protections. This is a position unworthy of an organization that claims to defend civil rights.
And there is one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers:
It might be worth pointing out to the knuckleheads who are protesting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero that there’s been a Japanese Shinto Shrine very close to Pearl Harbor for a very long time. I’d also be willing to bet that there are German Lutheran churches in NYC close to where German submarines were sinking US merchant ships in WWII. Somehow the Greatest Generation managed to deal with these things. Why can’t we?
That’s good question. Maybe we’re really French. Who knew?