Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
Egypt and the Obama Administration
A million people are standing in Tahrir Square in Cairo protesting against the government and arguing Hosni Mubarak must go. The military representing the most stabilizing influence in Egypt, has immersed itself into the protest, at least to some indeterminate degree. The nation's most notorious prisons have been emptied of criminals and Islamic extremists and roving bands have destroyed art treasures and looted private property.
While words of freedom and liberty are in the air, there is the distinct danger these protests could result in less freedom for Egyptians than what they have known, especially if those who harbor Islamist goals (read: the Muslim Brotherhood) gain a foothold in government.
Despite the confusion surrounding these protests, Foggy Bottom was completely blindsided. On one occasion Secretary Clinton said "Mubarak is a friend"; on another occasion Vice President Biden denied Mubarak is a dictator. But as the protests persisted, Washington's tone changed. Now the State Department refers to an "orderly transition" as "a democratic, participatory government."
But there is still not an unequivocal call for liberty consistent with the president's Cairo speech. In fact, President Obama has put a greater emphasis on engagement than freedom as his tactics with the Iranian government suggest. Admittedly a democratic election in Egypt could result in one vote, one time with the Muslim Brotherhood gaining control and, like their Hamas cousins, instituting religious dominance of the nation.
Of course, not everyone views the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat. Bruce Riedel, at the Brookings Institution, argues the Brotherhood might be troublesome, but not a cause for anxiety. This position overlooks the Brotherhood's basic attitude to subjugate women and the threat to the 30-year peace with Israel.
As I see it, Brotherhood power in Egypt, even if exercised behind the political curtain, would be calamitous for U.S. interests in the region. For the Brotherhood, violence is justified when it is consistent with the cause and that cause is jihad. History is written in blood, not Western law. In 2007, so-called reform-minded leaders argued that all government decisions must be vetted to ensure they are consistent with Islamic law.
However, it is not clear how much influence the Muslim Brotherhood has among the protestors or the military forces or even among the peasantry. Therefore, keeping your powder dry seems a reasonable position, until the movement of historical forces carries events away on the tide of change. The problem, at the moment, is it is not clear what the Obama administration has in mind. On the one hand, it is calling for stability that could be interpreted as endorsing Mubarak; on the other hand, it is continually making reference to "transition," which suggests Mubarak must be ousted.
Clearly the U.S. wants, or should want, a stable, civil society in Egypt that is aligned with U.S. regional interests. If that is not possible, the U.S. should curtail its economic and military assistance in excess of $1 billion and bolster the only enduring democracy in the Middle East neighborhood, Israel.
Should Egypt become dominated by extremist forces, the likelihood of war increases, and the resultant chaos will work to the advantage of Iran. Even though it is a Persian nation distrusted by Arabs, and a Shia state distrusted by Sunnis, Iran is the strong horse in the region that garners support through its messianic belief in violence.
If the evolving Egyptian story reveals anything, it is how destabilizing a weak and ineffectual U.S. can be. At another time in the distant past, the U.S. would have recognized its interests and have known exactly what it must do to secure stability. This, however, is not that time and the U.S. no longer recognizes its strategic interests or how to protect them.
Coptics Under Siege
The remorseless and sanguinic Joseph Stalin once noted, "the murder of one is a tragedy; the murder of millions, a statistic." Alas if recent events are any indication, there is truth in this perverse claim. Recently there have been random attacks on Christians in Egypt and the Middle East.
On New Year's Day a bombing took place in Alexandria at a Coptic church that left 23 dead. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after threats from an al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq and a deadly attack on a Baghdad cathedral on October 31.
At the same time as Pope Benedict has called on Egypt and other Muslim nations to protect their Christian minorities, a new round of violence has emerged. An off-duty police officer in upper Egypt checked train passengers for the green cross tattooed on the wrist of Coptic Christians in Egypt. After identifying those who were Copts, he killed one and injured five others, firing his handgun at innocent civilians simply because they are Christians. According to eyewitnesses, the gunman sought out Christians on board the commuter line and shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God Is Great) as he opened fire.
What are we to make of this break with the code of civility? A police officer discharged with the responsibility of protecting all citizens of the state including the Christian minority, takes it upon himself to kill Christians wantonly, seemingly because they are Christian. Moreover, it would be one thing if this were the random act of a crazed, lunatic. However, the assailant is an officer of the law, there to provide stability.
Of course this was an aberrational act, noted Egyptian authorities, but how random was it? It didn't trigger a response from the Cairo paper and it did not generate a stir in the media. In fact, the only noticeable response came from the Coptic population in which 200 went to the hospital where the wounded were taken and were later dispersed by the local police.
When the Pope's emissary raised an issue about the safety of Egyptian Christians (numbering about ten percent of the population), the Mubarak government reacted by recalling the ambassador to the Vatican and noted "We will not allow any non-Egyptian party to intervene in our internal affairs under any pretext." Presumably that includes the targeting of Christians for slaughter.
The brazen manner in which Christians are targeted throughout the Muslim world from Sudan to Iran and Egypt to Afghanistan should be a source of concern for the United Nations. However, the rights of minorities are only honored in the breach among Muslim states. When the reverse occurs, when a Muslim minority in a non-Muslim state is mistreated, it becomes an issue for the Muslim bloc nations and is immediately inserted into the Security Council agenda. However, I am sure the recent murder of Christians and the Pope's appeal will fall on deaf ears.
Clearly, it is time for Christians to assert themselves, by speaking out against the continued abuse in Muslim nations. Mubarak may have lost control in Egypt, but it is not too late to restore order in other Muslim nations. In some cases, the Copts are pawns to promote civil unrest with political realignment the ultimate goal. But whatever the motives, these murderous conditions should not be permitted to prevail.
Abbas Reveals His True Agenda
In a recent discussion of the anticipated Palestinian state, Mahmoud Abbas, leader in the territory, said he "would not tolerate one single Jew in his new country, Palestine." Speaking before journalists in Ramallah, he clearly and unequivocally noted:
We have already said completely openly, and it will stay that way: If there is a Palestinian country with Jerusalem as its capital, we will not accept that even one single Jew will live there.
Abbas rejected any suggestion that Jews in Judea and Samaria, who have lived in their homes for decades, could remain under Palestinian rule. Meanwhile in all negotiations, the Palestinian position is that "Palestinian refugees" have the right of return to Israel. Therefore, according to the Abbas proposition, Israel should open its borders for Arabs while Palestine closes its borders for Jews.
Here is the unvarnished truth. Arabs can live in Israel as full fledged citizens with all the rights that status confers. They can have their own political parties, settle in their own communities and represent about twenty percent of the total Israeli population. But on the other side of the political ledger not one Jew, including those who reside on the West Bank, can remain once Palestine becomes an independent nation.
What more does one have to know about the Arab mentality? Sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. There is and will remain different standards for Arabs and Jews. Hence, what precisely is a two state solution? An Arab state immediately becomes a threat to the very existence of Israel since Jews are recognized as the enemy and, by virtue of law, must be ostracized.
To make matters even more absurd, Abbas is considered an ideological moderate. After all, he doesn't call for killing Jews, only for a form of apartheid, of absolute separation. Should such a Palestinian nation be created, how long would it take for open hostilities between the two states to break out? Can an Israeli government that encouraged its citizens to move into the West Bank after the culmination of the 1967 war, now tell these residents that they must depart? Is the government prepared to extricate 250,000 people from this region?
These questions, and a host of others, will have to be addressed to meet the demands of a two state solution. But even more fundamental is the attitude of the Palestinians themselves. If Jews aren't permitted there, then presumably Jewish tourist dollars and investment capital are not welcome either. Where does one draw the line?
Clearly modesty is in order. If Abbas didn't have to mollify radical sentiment in the West Bank, these unmistakably racist comments would be an embarrassment and uttered only in private, if then. But his are the views of a radical sensing that the tide of world opinion is with him. Alas, he may be right since condemnation from the media elite over his forthright apartheid stance has not been forthcoming.
If this Palestinian state is created, Israelis should not have any illusions about what it will mean. Further isolation, increased hostility, border tension and suicide bombers are all in the cards. In fact, the deck is stacked against Israel and Abbas has made that fact patently clear.
Multiculturalism in Retreat
At long last an European politician, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, lifted the curtain on the pernicious dimensions of multiculturalism. After several decades of homegrown terrorism and an acceptance of separation by Muslim groups in the United Kingdom, the prime minister said, "enough."
A new course will be charted that moves from accommodation to integration. There may be a risk of xenophobia with the Cameron approach, but it is a worthwhile trade-off if terrorist impulses are thwarted.
Mr. Cameron called his strategy "muscular liberalism," to wit: confronting extremist Islamic thought and challenging those efforts that attempt to undermine Western values. For example, the prime minister made special mention of zero tolerance for the subjugation of women, a practice permitted because of Islamic separation and application of Sharia.
The notion that different groups within a society should be encouraged to pursue their own cultural paths is a formulation based on religious tolerance. But as George Santayana, among others, noted, the first duty of the tolerant man is to exercise intolerance for intolerance. In other words, a proverbial line in the sand must be drawn when religious groups use societal tolerance to promote intolerance.
For at least two generations Europeans have failed to integrate immigrants into their societies. These are recent immigrants who don't speak the language of the host country and have not accepted the basic historic and cultural background of the nation in which they now reside.
After observing the corrosive influence of multiculturalism a consensus is beginning to emerge. In addition to Cameron's comments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism a "total failure." Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets on mosques. French authorities have issued a prohibition on burqas and other full body robes worn by some Muslim women. And the Swedish Democratic Party, which had almost no influence in the politics of the country, gained 5.7 percent of the vote in national elections after campaigning on a platform of anti-multiculturalism.
France, which has about 10 million Muslims, has introduced mandatory courses for all immigrants on "French values," women's rights, and an overview of the national history. Whether national identity can be imbibed or transcend religious imperatives remains to be seen.
From a sociological perspective integration represents a compromise between the traditions of the mother country and the host nation. Presumably one can be French, share the tradition of liberalism and at the same time be a Muslim. But is this compromise realistic? Will Islam allow for Sharia to coexist with liberal traditions?
On the other hand, assimilation demands the acceptance of the host nation's values and the shedding of the past. This is an all or nothing position that forces a stark and unalterable choice. Put bluntly, "if you want to join us, you will do so on our terms. After all, no one has forced you to enter our shores."
Clearly Europeans have a right, some would argue an obligation, to defend their Christian heritage against an onslaught from radical Muslim intrusion. The question is how best to defend those traditions. Cameron's well-stated diatribe against multiculturalism is the sound of national tocsin, a battle cry to preserve British culture. On this side of the Atlantic it is a welcome statement that sets the tone for the challenges the West now face and will be facing in the decades ahead.
What Are Undergraduates Learning?
By now almost every American has heard the lamentation about American primary and secondary education: our children are failing to meet even minimal standards of performance. However, it was widely believed that higher education is different. If one relies on the claims made by almost all colleges, students are expected to synthesize knowledge, interpret data and make arguments coherently. But in a newly published book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the authors contend that student performance on basic skills generally does not improve during their college years.
The authors, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that more than a third of the college seniors in their study (more than 2000 were in the study population) were no better at reasoning and writing than they had been in their first semester.
If one were to consider the findings in this study, the conclusions are hardly surprising. On average, students do not invest much time in studying. Many students avoided demanding courses. Students in science and math, social science and humanities tended to make stronger gains in their writing and reasoning skills than those majoring in education, business, communication, and social work.
Despite claims of methodological bias, the professors engaged in this study without a preconceived idea of student attainment. But the evidence drove them to incontrovertible conclusions, conclusions I might add, that were borne out by my 38 years in the Academy.
At least 45 percent of students in the sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in College Learning Assessment performance during the first two years of their four year program. In addition, 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years. Hence the title of the book, Academically Adrift.
Clearly many, if not most of those in the study will graduate, but having a degree does not mean these students have developed higher-order cognitive skills, presumably the goal of a college education.
For many, the college experience is a rite of passage having more to do with social development than learning. Very few institutions place more than modest academic demands on their students. The so-called core curriculum has increased exponentially, including popular culture courses, to accommodate the lack of student seriousness.
While we should not ignore the fact that limited learning in colleges has a long and venerable history, students today are competing with others across the globe. As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address our competitive edge is dependent on innovation and technical acumen that emerge from institutions of higher learning.
In fact, the changing global context facing contemporary college graduates suggests that "limited learning" qualifies as a major problem and impediment to future economic success. Yet curiously, none of the actors in this higher education system are interested primarily in undergraduates' academic growth. Administrators are concerned with retention, admissions, and, of course, the bottom line. Professors are eager to pursue their own scholarship and professional interests.
Decades ago Thorstein Veblen argued that most college students are "trained in incapacity." If one were to rely on the Arum, Roksa study, it doesn't appear as if students today are trained in any way, shape, or form. The university experience has become a trivialized way to enter adulthood or perhaps attenuate adolescence. But on one point there isn't doubt: undergraduates are actually learning very little and if one were to consider this learning a precondition for competitiveness, the United States is falling behind other nations, even as the number of graduates increases. *