Firebrands Unite

From this morning’s New York Times: the print headline reads: “Anti-Muslim Firebrands Are Arrested in Britain.” For what? Well.

Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, was detained in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the group said, where he was accompanying his deputy, Jayda Fransen, to her court hearing on earlier charges related to using “threatening, abusive, insulting words or behavior” during an anti-Islam speech in August that prosecutors said could qualify as incitement to racial hatred. She has denied the charges.

Shortly after her court appearance, British news media said she was arrested again, this time as part of a police investigation into “an incident at a peace wall” in Belfast on Wednesday.

Earlier, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said on Twitter that detectives investigating speeches made at the Northern Ireland Against Terrorism Rally on Aug. 6 “have arrested a 35-year-old man in the Belfast area today.” The post did not identify Mr. Golding or the offense.

Gee, sounds familiar in a weird, mirror-image kind of way. Naturally, it’s completely unclear what the suspects did or said: the police won’t say, the journalists don’t know, and so, the rest of us are in the dark. “An incident at a peace wall.” What kind of incident? “An incident at a peace wall” almost sounds like a second invasion of Poland. Never mind, though: this sort of opacity is Standard Operating Procedure for the 21st Century Thought Police. And there are people who like it this way. Some even regard themselves as bien pensant liberals. Continue reading

Underexposed

From a letter in today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

Not to be overlooked in this stunning victory is the role of the investigative reporting done by The Washington Post. Despite constant excoriation by President Trump and the extremist Steve Bannon, the free and fair press exposed an alleged child molester. This played no small part in Roy Moore’s defeat.

The need to vigilantly support truth and accuracy in the media gets stronger every day.

ADAM STOLER, BRONX

Can you really expose an alleged child molester–as opposed to giving exposure to allegations of child molestation? To “expose” something is to reveal what had previously been hidden. But if someone’s status is alleged, what is said about him remains hidden. It makes no sense to say that you’ve exposed the hiddenness of what is hidden. But nonsense has now become par for the course on the subject of allegations.

I’m glad that Roy Moore was defeated. I’m not glad that we seem to have lost even a vestigial sense of the fact that an allegation is an assertion in need of proof, that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that proof is easier in the asserting than in the doing. But apparently we have, and solecisms like “exposed alleged child molester” are the result. The issue here isn’t Roy Moore per se, but the widespread loss of the skepticism required when allegations of wrongdoing are made, whether criminal or otherwise. (Incidentally, I for one wouldn’t celebrate at the thought that the only reason Moore was defeated was that he was alleged to be a child molester. Doesn’t that imply, pathetically, that had no such allegations been made, he would have won?)  Continue reading

Congratulations to Gurbir Grewal

Congratulations to Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal for his nomination to the position of Attorney General of New Jersey by Governor-Elect Phil Murphy.

I got to know Gurbir last year when he spoke at the series on “Race and Criminal Justice in America” that I organized at Felician University; I was deeply impressed then, and remain impressed now, at his capacity to walk the fine line between prosecutorial toughness about enforcing the law, and moral sensitivity to considerations of justice. It’s a tough balancing act, but I sleep better at night knowing that someone knows how to pull it off. Because I certainly don’t.

Gurbir Grewal speaking at Felician University, December 5, 2017

Continue reading

Now’s the Time for “Never Again”

A piece of advice: if you see a sign like this on a telephone pole in your neighborhood, rip it down.

A “Blood and Soil” sign in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Photo credit: Dario Gal

Don’t just leave it up and take a picture of it, and don’t bother calling the police to investigate. No one has a right to put a sign of any kind on a telephone pole without authorization of the owner, much less a sign of this kind. You’re not violating anyone’s rights by taking it down. If you have a genuine “civic duty” as an American, it’s to express your rejection of the politics of “Blut und Boden“–Blood, Soil, and Master Race–before it takes hold more powerfully than it already has. Continue reading

One Little Victory

Most of the news we’ve recently been hearing about immigration in the United States has been bad, but every now and then a bit of good news emerges. Here’s an instance of the latter.

About a year ago, a journalist told me the story of a young Pakistani immigrant in a terrible situation, asking me to write a letter of support that might help her get out of it. I contacted the person in question, heard her out, sat down to write her a letter of support, and sent it off to her lawyer. A few weeks ago, the woman told me that her application to remain in the United States had been accepted, and the orders to deport her had been lifted. With her permission, I’ve reproduced the letter I wrote for her, one of several she used to make her case to the immigration authorities. In the interests of privacy, I’ve changed her name. 

As I see it, the case demonstrates the complexity (or alternatively, the vacuity) of the idea of “following the law” in immigration cases. Absent a substantive, non-positivist conception of justice, the prescription to “follow the law” is as consistent with deporting an immigrant as it is with allowing her to stay. Introduce a substantive conception of justice, and you introduce the considerations that give the law meaning, while giving legal decisions their point. Justice obviously demanded allowing Sarah Ibrahim to stay in the United States, and thankfully, the law allowed it as well. So it appears that she’ll stay. I’m happy to have made a small contribution to the outcome.  Continue reading

A Memo to Friends and Colleagues

I wanted to take a moment to thank the many friends and colleagues, especially those at Felician University, who have expressed their support for me following my police detention of Wednesday, November 29th. I deeply appreciate the support you’ve sent my way. Indeed, my gratitude extends to the many jokes–some of them pretty funny–that have been made at my expense, my personal favorite being someone’s description of my detention as “something out a sitcom co-written by Michel Foucault and Flavor Flav.”

My brother’s idea of “moral support”

For now, suffice it to say that I was involuntarily detained on that date for several hours by the Lodi Police Department and Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, involuntarily transported to the Lodi police station, held and questioned there, and asked to give consent to search my car and “premises.” Continue reading

Free Speech for the Mum

Consider the following scenario, a commonplace of academic life. A professor decides to devote part of his ethics class to the ethics and economics of higher education, with readings on the value of the BA degree, and on the place of athletics in higher education. To focus the conversation, the professor cites examples drawn from the students’ experience at their home institution. In the course of doing so, the students give voice to complaints about the institution. The professor acknowledges the complaints, not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with them.

Taking the acknowledgement as agreement, students give voice to their grievances against the university on social media, citing what they take to be their professor’s support for those grievances. The university’s administration, sensitive to PR issues, catches wind of the student’s claims, and notes the apparent support for those claims offered by members of the faculty. The faculty member is then called before the Dean and a witness to give an accounting of the affair. Continue reading

Traveling in the Right Circles

From a letter to the editor of today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

Re “The Truth About the Cost of War” (editorial, Nov. 24):

I was in a unit in Vietnam in 1969 that called in air and artillery strikes on “free fire zones” in III Corps, northwest of Saigon.

I asked an Army officer how we knew that the people we fired on were all the enemy. “By definition,” he said, “if we kill them, they are the enemy.”

Part of the truth in your editorial isn’t that civilian casualties are underreported but that their deaths in battle are seen as irrelevant.

BRUCE W. RIDER, GRAPEVINE, TEX.

Cold As ICE

From an article about a deportation proceeding in Monday’s New York Times:

Adding to the sting, immigration officers refused to let the twins or his wife give him a final hug goodbye, Ms. Hopman said.

“They told us they no longer provide that courtesy,” she said, “because they don’t like emotional scenes.”

In other words, federal law enforcement officers can’t seem to do what police officers, paramedics, firefighters, doctors, nurses, therapists, family-law attorneys, and funeral service workers do every day: deal with honest expressions of intense emotion. They have no problem breaking up families; they just have trouble observing the emotions that arise when they watch the effects of their handiwork.

The right likes to taunt “Social Justice Warriors” as “snowflakes,” but the SJWs I know are a lot tougher, and a lot less hypocritical, than officers like these. And yet it’s law enforcement that keeps making its insistent demands for our “respect” in a climate of opinion supposedly stacked against them.

Well sorry, but I can’t respect people like this–people too cowardly to endure the emotions that arise when they break up other people’s families. It’s hard to respect people who demand Stoicism of the victims while demanding a “safe space” for those who victimize them. The people responsible for these policies should perhaps remember that there is no “safe space” from moral judgment. They can’t seem to endure tears. Perhaps they should confront contempt.