Am I Proud to be an American?

In late June, many weeks before Obama’s and the Democrats’ total capitulation to the lunatic Republican Party’s actions on the debt limit and budget (i.e., no taxes for the rich, just spending cuts that harm the middle and lower classes), I was driving my car when I saw a car in front of me with two bumper stickers.  My thinking about the stickers was very telling and leads me to wonder if I am proud to be an American.

The first sticker said “Proud to be an American.”  As stereotyping as it was, my immediate reaction was to think that the driver was a right-wing “Patriot,” the type of person who, contrary to the self-described title, thinks only of his or herself and how the country can be made to serve their specific classes of (usually) white males and reactionary females who think like the white males.  I am going to do some exaggerated, inordinate generalizations from here on out, but, in other words, I think of “Patriots” as people who care nothing about anyone other than people like themselves.  They care nothing about the United States itself and, thus, cannot even be true “patriots” whether or not that is even a good thing to be.  So, I had a deeply negative feeling about the driver of the car simply because he or she had a “Proud to be an American” bumper sticker.  In addition, I wondered if it even made any sense for someone to proclaim that she or he is proud to be an American.

But . . . then I read the second bumper sticker.  This one said: “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker.”  Seeing this, my impression of the driver changed completely.  I thought that this was something that a person could really feel proud about.  I now had a good feeling about the driver, even though I didn’t really know why.

After I got home,  I wondered about what definitions of “pride” the bumper stickers were meant to convey.  In, there are five meanings:

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
2. the state or feeling of being proud.
3. a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.
4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.
5. something that causes a person or persons to be proud: His art collection was the pride of the family.

For the “Proud to be an American” sticker, my negative, stereotyping thoughts led me to generalize that a person espousing that sentiment has “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority” and “a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character.”  In other words, it is all about the person’s feelings of superiority over others.  It has nothing to do with whether the person has actually accomplished anything.

In contrast, the “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker” sticker led me to believe that a person espousing that sentiment has “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.”  In other words, that person takes pride in something actually accomplished.

Those generalized feelings can’t be right, can they?  A requirement for legitimate pride can’t really be that the source of the pride has to have been something actually accomplished, can it?  For instance, can a person have pride in one’s college?  I think the answer to that is clearly yes since there is personal accomplishment involved.  But what about rooting for the college’s sports teams or for some professional or national team?  Can a person have pride in those teams?  According to the definitions above, I guess that the part of number four about civic pride is the one that would apply, although it seems rather conclusory.  One can have civic pride, but why?  What is it about a team that “reflects credit upon oneself”?

I think the answer is that it is not pride that is involved when you live in a country or when you root for a team.  Rather, I think that it is simply “identity.”  In other words, a person can identify with a team or identify with a sports team.  By coincidence, just yesterday I read an article by Sherry Wolf in The Nation about sports teams and identity.  (The article is about how the sports world remains “fiercely hostile to open participation by LGBT athletes.”  It’s a very good read.)  This is what she said about sports teams and identity:

As American society evolved from agrarianism to industrialism, a huge influx of immigrants settled in growing cities.  Sports were consciously used to win them over to a fabricated national identity. . . . In an increasingly mechanized world where the ethos of competition came to dominate, the rules, teams and nationalism of sports became part of the new “American way.”

And, so, let’s leave “pride” for some actual accomplishment like pride in a daughter or son, pride in putting together an art collection, pride in playing the guitar, pride in a job, or pride in one’s beliefs.  Let’s not say that a person is proud to be an American or proud to be a fan of some sports team, just that she or he identifies with it.

How would this work for an American when traveling or living in a foreign country?  If someone asks where you are from, do you say “I’m from America and proud to be an American”?  I certainly hope not.  Isn’t it good enough to just say that you are from America and, if a discussion about the pros and cons ensues, talk about the things you like and the things you don’t like.

And how does this work for me?  I’m an American.  That’s good enough for me.  And there are currently a LOT of things I don’t like about America.


Iranian Women’s Soccer Team Banned from Chance to Compete in Olympics because of the Wearing of Headscarves

Politics and sports and women. Again we have the intermingling of the powerful men in a world sports organization with women athletes and politics. Last week, in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan, FIFA (the world soccer governing body) officials refused to allow the Iranian national women’s team to compete in a match with Jordan because they were wearing headscarves that covered their necks.  Thus, Iran forfeited the game and lost out on any chance its women players would have to compete in the Olympics.

Iranian Women's Soccer Team with the "unsafe" head scarves

According to FIFA, the reason for the ban on wearing headscarves was “safety.” FIFA had implemented a new rule last year that allows women to wear “a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but which does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Of course, there is no logical reason why a cap that goes to the hairline is safe but a headscarf that goes to the neck is unsafe. And, so, why has FIFA implemented this rule? Well, as frequently happens with FIFA, no one seems to know the real reason. For example, FIFA supposedly has a rule that prohibits players from wearing clothing that has religious or political symbols.  However, as an exception to that rule, FIFA accommodates Muslim women and gives them the choice of wearing long pants instead of shorts.

Iran is certainly complicit in what has occurred. For example, it previously accepted the rule on headscarves when, last summer in Singapore, it had the players on one of its youth teams cover their heads but not their ears or necks.  Interestingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a soccer fan and has previously interjected himself into soccer disputes. He even, in 2006, lifted a ban on women watching soccer matches in Iranian stadia, but was overruled by “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei. Now, Ahmadinejad has vowed to “seriously confront” FIFA about the ban on headscarves.

The losers in all of this, of course, are the female athletes.  (Isn’t it always?)  They want to play soccer on the world stage and now cannot. According to Shahrzad Mozafar, the team’s former head coach, “This ruling means that women soccer in Iran is over. . . . Headscarves are simply what we wear in Iran.” She said that if FIFA no longer allows Iranian women to wear scarves, the Iranian government will no longer send them abroad for competitions.

Almost certainly, if you ask the players, they would say that it was their choice to forfeit the game because they cannot violate their religious tenets. But can anyone really believe that?  After all, the youth team competed without wearing regular head scarves. No, this is simply another case of patriarchal officials imposing religiosity on its citizens.

I have written previously that I concur with France’s decision to ban the burqa.  But wearing a head scarf is far less dehumanizing than wearing a burqa. It is tempting to think that forcing the women’s team out of international existence will cause Iran to change its patriarchal beliefs. Maybe some additional compromise can be reached. But I think the only realistic move that will allow these women to compete will be for FIFA to eliminate the rule.

Bob Dylan’s Missed Chance in China

It’s been a long, long time since Bob Dylan has had any credibility as a singer of protest songs.  His one-time reputation as the figurehead of protest is long gone.  (To be fair to Dylan, he may never have wanted the reputation of being considered as the voice of the 1960’s civil rights and anti-war movements.  But if he didn’t want that, it’s a huge rip off for him to keep singing those songs and making money from them.)  But he keeps going on—doing a seemingly continual series of concerts even though all he does is get on stage, sing in an almost incomprehensible voice, have no communication with the audience, and get off so he can get his money.  (He also constantly changes the tempo and sound of his classic songs, which I actually like.)

But, boy, in recent days, has he ever missed a chance to do some actual good and cause some actual changes.  He is currently in China.  He performed one concert a few days ago and is scheduled to perform another one on Friday.  The kicker is that he capitulated to censorship from the Chinese government by agreeing to leave out any songs the government decided were not to be performed.  Thus, for example, Dylan did not perform “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Desolation Row,” or “Times They Are a-Changin’.”  (He had performed those songs in Taiwan just two days prior to the China concert.)

Wouldn’t it have been great to see Dylan agree before the concert not to perform the songs and then go on stage and sing them anyway?  Now, that would have been a protest!  What would the Chinese government do, put him in jail?  Keep him from leaving the country?  No, it would be almost impossible to believe they would do that.  After all, when Bjork performed in concert in China in 2008, she yelled “Tibet! Tibet!” during her song “Declare Independence.”  She was allowed to leave the country.

Bob Dylan, don’t you at least think about doing something that would make those who at one time idolized you think that you are still capable of making a difference?  You have another chance on Friday.  What are you going to do?

Still Only Words (but No Action) from Hillary Clinton as USAID Pulls Back on Goals for Helping Afghan Women

Two days ago, I wrote about how Hillary Clinton, after promising last year that the United States would never “abandon” the women of Afghanistan, has said nothing about moves by USAID (United States Agency for International Development) that, in fact, are precisely abandoning the rights of Afghan women.  Well, now, Clinton has said something, but, as has been the practice of Barack Obama (e.g., the recent cave-in on Guantanamo), she has given idle words without taking any action.

In response to the Washington Post article about the abandoning actions by USAID, Clinton (again) said the right things to a House panel: that the U.S. government will not back away from supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan, that the U.S. commitment to Afghan women remains undiminished, that “[w]e believe strongly that supporting women and girls is essential to building democracy and security, and that the United States is “currently providing more support than at any time in our government’s history” for education, health-care and political empowerment programs.

But they were words only.  And she did not even address the actions by USAID.  So, it appears that Clinton likes to say that they U.S. supports women’s rights in Afghanistan, but is content to look the other way when the U.S. takes actions that are completely contrary to improving those rights.  Like Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton.  Apparently, promises aren’t meant to be kept.




No Comment from Hillary Clinton as USAID Pulls Back on Goals for Helping Afghan Women

In May 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the United States would never “abandon” the women of Afghanistan by allowing President Hamid Karzai to make any deals with the Taliban.   Specifically, Clinton told three senior female Afghan officials that “we will not abandon you. . . . [I]t is essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.”  Clinton also said that she had promised Karzai that the U.S. would not “abandon Afghanistan in its quest for peace and long-term stability and we will not. And I make the same pledge to the women of Afghanistan. We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always.”  And last month, Clinton promised that the United States “will not . . . support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.”

However, Clinton has made no comment as USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has eliminated provisions in contracts that would have ensured at least some help for Afghan women.  Even though this is not in the context of Karzai making deals with the Taliban, it seems awfully clear that this is an abandonment of the women.  Why are we hearing nothing from Clinton?  As I said in that July post, “Hillary Clinton, please remember your pledge to the women of Afghanistan.”  Clearly, she has forgotten that pledge.

In March 2010, USAID sought bids for a $140 million land reform program in Afghanistan.  The bid required that the winning contractor meet specific goals to promote women’s rights: “The number of deeds granting women title had to increase by 50 percent; there would have to be regular media coverage on women’s land rights; and teaching materials for secondary schools and universities would have to include material on women’s rights.”  However, before the contract was awarded, USAID removed all of those specific requirements.  Similarly, in a $600 million contract for a municipal government program, USAID removed all specific provisions related to women’s rights.

The reasons given by U.S. government officials for these changes are extremely troubling.  The director of USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs says that the elimination of specific women’s rights provisions were done because they were not “realistic”:  “If you’re targeting an issue, you need to target it in a way you can achieve those objectives.  The women’s issue is one where we need hardheaded realism. There are things we can do, and do well. But if we become unrealistic and overfocused . . . we get ourselves in trouble.”

Another senior government official (anonymously) says that the reason for the changes is because there is a “desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict” and that “[g]ender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities.  There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.”

So, in the words of that official, women’s rights in Afghanistan is a “special interest” and a “pet project.”  Ms. Clinton, do you agree with that?  If not, why are you not commenting?

And, Ms. Clinton, what do you think about President Karzai drafting new rules that would “bar private safe houses for women who are fleeing abuse and place new rules on those seeking refuge in the country’s 14 public shelters, including forcing women to submit to medical examinations and evicting them if their families want them back”?  Isn’t that also an abandonment by the U.S.?

CNN’s Biased Poll About the New York Mosque

President Obama did the right thing at first by essentially saying that he supported (or at least was not opposed) to the building of a mosque a few blocks away from “Ground Zero.”  But then, unfortunately, he attempted to distance himself from his remarks by saying that he had only meant to voice his support for freedom of religion and was not taking any stance on whether building a mosque there was the right thing to do.  This led CNN to publish an article titled “Critics say Obama’s message becoming ‘incoherent’.”  And, then, Senator Harry Reid took the political stance of saying that he does not think a mosque should be built there, thereby starting a probable trend of other Democrats distancing themselves from Obama’s first remarks.  (Can anyone imagine a time when politicians do what they think is right rather than do what they think will get them reelected?)

All of the people who are against the mosque are doing so without adequate facts to back them up.  The following facts paint a different story than the sound bites voiced by opponents of the mosque.  First, the mosque is blocks away from Ground Zero.  Second, there is an existing mosque that is about the same distance away.  Third, the proposed mosque is more than a mosque; it is planned to include a fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, bookstore, performing arts center and food court.  And, according to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, most importantly, the mosque’s organizers have “made clear that the whole point of the project is to provide a high-profile platform for mainstream, moderate Islam — and to stridently reject the warped, radical, jihadist worldview that produced the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.”  Daisy Khan, one of the organizers, has said that “[the mosque] will have a real community feel, to celebrate the pluralism in the United States, as well as in the Islamic religion.  It will also serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies. It will counter the extremist momentum.”

So, the real fallacy of the opponents’ argument is that they equate the 9/11 terrorists with ALL Muslims.  They think that anything related to Islam (as opposed to the tiny subset of Muslims who happened to be terrorists) should be nowhere close to Ground Zero.

Many are quoting a CNN poll that showed 68% are opposed to the mosque.  But this is how the poll question was worded:

As you may know, a group of Muslims in the U.S. plan to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand.  Do you favor or oppose this plan?

68% said they were opposed and 29% said they were in favor.  But, as Eugene Robinson said in his column today, imagine how different the poll results might have been if the question was something along the lines of whether “a group of Americans” should be allowed to build “a center promoting moderate, peaceful Islam.”  It seems to me that the CNN poll is showing the same bias as the opponents of the mosque, that is, equating all terrorism carried out by a tiny number of Muslims with the entire (multi-billion) Muslim population.

Afghan Couple Stoned to Death by Taliban Order

In perhaps the most telling example yet of the consequences of the Taliban’s increasing return to power, a 19-year old woman and a 25-year old man were stoned to death pursuant to Taliban orders.  The two were in love.  They eloped when the man was unable to persuade family members to allow him to marry the woman.  The woman was engaged to marry a relative of her lover, but was unwilling to do so.

The death sentence for adultery was imposed by a religious “court” under Shariah law.  Horribly, the deaths were carried out by hundreds of the victims’ neighbors and even family members.  All of the people doing the stoning were male.

While many authorities condemned the stonings (A spokesman for the provincial government said: “It is against all human rights and international conventions.  There was no court. It was cruel.”), the supposed “mainstream religious authorities” in Afghanistan appear to be cowering to the Taliban.  In one example, a local head of the national Ulema Council said that stoning to death was the appropriate punishment for an illegal sexual relationship.  And, on August 10, a group of 350 religious “scholars” and government officials issued a joint statement “calling for more punishment under Shariah, apparently referring to stoning, amputations and lashings.”

Of course, none of this should be surprising.  The Taliban and their religious law were horrible when they were last in power.  When they started to resume power, they promised to curb their worst disgraces and then (certainly not surprisingly) resumed the oppression and brutality.  The Afghani government has made overtures to reconciliation and giving the Taliban even more power.  Maybe these stoning deaths will quash those overtures.