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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Attacks on Jews in NY and Media Double Standards. We Need to Talk about Black Antisemitism

Photo credit: Mark Lennihan. Source

Attacks on Jews in NYC and Media Double Standards
We Need to Change the Way We Talk about Black Anti-Semitism

December 26, 2019, the day after Christmas, those Americans who emerged from their holiday celebrations to check world headlines were in for a shock. Police reported several attacks on Jews in New York. Americans don't think of their largest city, a world center of finance and the arts, a cosmopolitan capital where one can enjoy cuisine from any continent at any hour of the day or night, as a place where Jews are unsafe on the streets. New York is the city of Seinfeld, of Woody Allen and three-time mayor Michael Bloomberg. Former Mayor David Dinkins famously called New York a "gorgeous mosaic" of diverse peoples.

But in fact, these Christmas-and-Hanukkah-week attacks were part of a trend. As bad as they were, worse was yet to come. On Saturday, December 28, Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg and his guests celebrated the closing nights of Hanukkah in Monsey, a suburb north of Manhattan. An intruder burst into the home and stabbed five people.

Recent attacks on Jews in New York City typically involve unprovoked punching, cursing, and hurling of objects ranging from soft drinks to large and potentially deadly stones. Victims range from children to the elderly, and include mothers accompanied by their babies. Attackers sometimes yell anti-Semitic comments.

Videos reveal that attackers are frequently black. In one startling video from November 4, 2018, a group of young African Americans congregate outside a Brooklyn synagogue, talk among themselves, hurl a pole through the synagogue window, and then run away. In another attack, a Jewish man is walking down the sidewalk when what appears to be a black youth runs up behind him and punches him hard in the head, nearly knocking him over. In a March, 2019 assault, an apparently healthy, young man kicks a toddler's stroller being pushed by the child's mother. Attacks are not always violent. In one videotaped confrontation, a black woman screamed verbal abuse at a Jewish man on the New York City subway.

On December 10, 2019, David Anderson and Francine Graham killed four people in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Deceased victims include Police Detective Joseph Seals, Leah Ferencz, owner of a kosher grocery store, Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student and a shopper at that store, and Douglas Rodriguez, a store employee and immigrant from Ecuador. Shooter David Anderson was an anti-Semite who had been influenced by the Black Hebrew Israelites, who claim that Jews are not really Jewish, and that the characters in the Bible were all really black. In this ideology, contemporary Jews are labeled "imposter Jews" and "so-called Jews." This idea is not limited to violent extremists. On December 14, Saturday Night Live comic Kenan Thompson referred to "historically correct black Jesus." Jersey City killer David Anderson used the word "imposter" to refer to modern-day Jews. Anderson and Graham's killings were classified as a terrorist incident and a hate crime. The New Jersey attorney general said that the killers "had a tremendous amount of firepower. They had a pipe bomb in their van."

In the wake of this attack, Jersey City school board member Joan Terrell-Paige appeared to attempt to justify it. Terrell-Paige called "jews," as she spelled the word, in lower-case, "brutes," and said that people should seek a "message" in the killers' actions.

Clearly, black anti-Semitism is a problem. It is found among juvenile delinquents, TV stars, terrorists, and those entrusted with educating the young. Black anti-Semitism has an articulated ideology. Not all black people who don't like Jews adhere to this ideology, but it's available to them. Today's Jews are merely "so-called" Jews, "imposter Jews," "usurper Jews," "interloper Jews," and "Johnny-come-lately Jews." In this ideology, the real descendants of the Jews of the Bible are African Americans.

Mainstream media often declines to identify the race of those who attack Jews. On December 27, 2019, media reported that an attacker hit a Jewish mother in the head as she walked with her son in Brooklyn. The attacker, an account reported, was 42 years old and female. But the account did not identify her race, and no mugshot was provided.   

Mainstream media's hand-wringing around the racial identities of attackers is evident in an October 31, 2018 New York Times article with the disconcerting title, "Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?" The "first inkling" of danger for Jews appeared in 2016, the Times reported, when the words "Go Trump" appeared in a playground alongside swastikas. Really? Trump's election was really the "first inkling" of trouble for Jews in New York City?

In fact, New York City hosted a deadly anti-Semitic pogrom in Crown Heights in 1991. According to one account,

"It was the most terrifying four days and nights in American Jewish history … with shouts of 'Kill the Jews' and 'Heil Hitler'; roving mobs in Crown Heights throwing stones at Jews; police standing passively; gangs breaking into homes with mezuzahs while Jews hid in closets. One Jew was murdered; others beaten to a pulp; an Israeli flag was burned."

In 1995, Al Sharpton fomented deadly hatred during his Freddy's Fashion Mart protests. One of the protesters killed eight people, including himself.

In 2002, Amiri Baraka, aka Everett LeRoi Jones, New Jersey's Poet Laureate, published a poem blaming Jews for the 2001 terror attacks.

No, the election of Donald Trump was not the "first inkling" of trouble for Jews in New York City.

The Times must confess that "During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group." The Times gingerly acknowledges "it is the varied backgrounds of people who commit hate crimes in the city that make combating and talking about anti-Semitism in New York much harder."

The reader comments section is not so careful to use the phrase "varied backgrounds." The most popular reader comment next to the above-linked Times article blames the "Many members of minority communities" who have participated in attacks. The second most popular comment is even more direct. "for left-leaning New Yorkers, anti-Semitism is an issue worth addressing only when the perpetrators of anti-Semitism fit their narrative. If a Nazi or white supremacist does it -- take note and take action.  If the perpetrator is less convenient to the Narrative (evil can only emanate from straight white males), like if the perpetrator is black or Muslim, then they play it down and ignore it."

National Public Radio surprisingly allowed Bari Weiss to speak bluntly in a September 21, 2019 broadcast. "To judge from the footage of many of these attacks, at least some of the perpetrators seem to be young black men or teenagers. And perhaps that's one of the reasons that so many people want to avert their eyes from what's happening in places like Crown Heights," she said.

What we are seeing here is the economy of truth. If it benefits the speaker to condemn white anti-Semites, the speaker will do so. If it damages the speaker to condemn black anti-Semites, the speaker will avoid doing so. This rhetorical game has nothing to do with respecting or helping black people. It has everything to do with covering one's own posterior, and hoarding one's own political correctness points.


My book Bieganski devotes a chapter to black anti-Semitism. The purpose of the chapter is to demonstrate a media double standard. I compare press coverage of two clusters of events that involved accusations of anti-Semitism. One cluster of events involved Polish Catholics; the other involved African Americans.

In November, 1993, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, made a speech at Kean College in New Jersey. Muhammad said, inter alia, that Jews were not related to the main characters in the Bible, who were black (although, somehow, black Jesus' killers were Jews), that Jews hold economic, cultural, and political control of American and African blacks, which they use to torment and oppress blacks, that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust because of their obnoxious behavior in Germany, that Jews control the press worldwide, and that Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was a ploy to get blacks killed.

These charges were leveled in non-standard, frequently obscene and contemptuous language. For example, when Muhammad accused Jews of controlling the world gem trade, he said, "That's why you call yourself Mr. Rubenstein, Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Silverstein. Because you been stealing rubies and gold and silver ... we say it real quick and call it jewelry, but it's not jewelry, it's Jew-elry, 'cause you're the rogue that's stealing all over the face of the planet earth." When ridiculing Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights movement, Muhammad imitated a Yiddish accent. Muhammad, in future speeches, called for death to all Jews: "Never will I say I am not an anti-Semite. I pray that God will kill my enemy and take him off the face of the planet Earth."

In response to such research-grade anti-Semitism, mainstream press accounts did not begin with full-throated condemnation. In fact, mainstream press articles about Muhammad's speech and attendant controversies are so formulaic that they appear more like the scripture of some obsessive religious doctrine than the result of a free and vigorous press.

One of the refrains of this formula was reference to black suffering. The following quotes, though all similar, are taken from different articles, authors, and sources. Some listed: "drugs, violence, high rates of teen-age pregnancy, poor schooling and poor discipline," "unemployment, alienation, drugs, violence, health care, education, and lack of economic opportunity," "poverty, hopelessness, and despair," "drugs, poverty, hopelessness and crime," "crime, poverty, and inequality," "drugs, poverty, and bitterness," "misery, drugs, crime, poverty, and dying hope," "bitterness, alienation, and mistrust," "the bank that refuses to lend a dime to the inner city to the boy who lives next door and carries a pistol, a crack vial and a heart turned to stone by disappointment and hopelessness" as being responsible for misbehavior.

Other articles recounted black suffering in more intimate detail, often using vivid anecdotes: "The teen-ager pulled up his shirt to show the bandage on his lean belly and the round hole on his back that had been sealed shut. He had been shot the other week, walking down the street to buy a hamburger." "The year was 1948 and the laws of segregation were in full force. For Muqaddin, who is black, it was a shattering experience that left him seething with rage against white America." A Black Muslim woman was asked to remove her veil while shopping in a mall. The woman reported: "she was 'humiliated' by the encounter with the St. Paul police, who forced her to uncover her face. 'I don't want men lusting after the way I look or sound. It's like someone else being made to pull down their undershorts in public.'"

Many references to black suffering went without amplifying commentary. The reader was invited to use his own devices to weigh black suffering in some ethical scale against anti-Semitism. Other writers offered more guidance, and advanced complex rationalizations as to why black suffering ought either to dilute or erase focus on anti-Semitism.

Notre Dame American Studies chairman Robert Schmuhl spun references to black suffering into support for Ishmael Reed's argument that the real story was the threat to blacks and Jews posed by white Christians. The Times argued that since blacks were suffering so much, they needed to embrace and support each other, regardless of ideology. The Times pointed out that blacks, consumed by their suffering, might be "too politically unsophisticated" to differentiate between ideologies. Writer Thulani Davis repeated this view in Time. One African American woman was quoted as saying that since African Americans faced so many threats from white society, it was necessary to choose a force that could protect them, and that that force was the Nation of Islam, regardless of its anti-Semitism. This need for protection was also stated in The Christian Century.

USA Today argued that black suffering made blacks hate all whites, not just Jews. The Humanist argued that the traumas of slavery created a mythic vacuum that NOI was filling. Benjamin Chavis, in the Times, argued that the suffering of blacks "has created an ... alarming chasm of attitudes and perceptions"; thus, whites could not judge people so different from themselves. He also explicitly stated that black suffering, not the racism of NOI, was the real story, the story the press should be covering. This was repeated in several articles, by several authors, including in Time and Maclean's, and by Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Great care was taken to avoid condemnatory headlines and to provide headlines that strove to represent "both sides," without, somehow, stressing that one side was eliminationist anti-Semitism. With the use of such headlines and such "balance," America's mainstream press changed the story. Muhammad's anti-Semitism was not the issue on which focus needed to be trained; focus needed to be trained, rather, on an effort to hear the "other side." An article in which Farrakhan alluded to blood libel and a Jewish conspiracy to destroy him was headlined, "Farrakhan Softens Tone."

Readers were invited to focus on white haters, not black ones. The Progressive compared Muhammad to David Duke. Shelby Steele, in the Times, compared him to Meir Kahane and the KKK. Bob Herbert in the Times compared him to "[Theodore G.] Bilbo and [George] Wallace in blackface." Henry Louis Gates, also in the Times, summoned memories of those who watched Kitty Genovese die and repeated a vivid quote by a rabbi at Baruch Goldstein's funeral: "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail." New York magazine ran one issue with two covers; one featured an anti-Semitic NOI preacher; the other, conservative radio personality Bob Grant. The magazine's editor-in-chief, Kurt Anderson, said, "This idea of parallel covers began to make sense and seemed like a way to demonstrate that they go full circle to illustrate the different strident ends of the spectrum."

These comparisons were not buried towards the end of articles, but appeared up front, to confront the reader head-on. The important event to focus on was not the anti-Semitism of a black man, but racism in general. The New York Times entitled one Muhammad-inspired editorial with a generalized headline: "The Stew of Hate." The lead sentence never mentioned Muhammad: "Religious and racial bigotry never recede entirely, witness the ebb and flow of Klan membership." Yes, condemnation of the Klan is laudable, but the Times was changing the subject to one easier to discuss.

Publications simultaneously engaged in a contrary tactic: anti-Semitism among African Americans was dismissed as unworthy of note. "Less news than soap opera" comparable to the competition between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, reported a political science professor. "Just a pimple" said Franklyn Jenifer, president of Howard College, in US News and World Report. "I don't get so upset by Farrakhan," yawned Michael Lerner in Time. Jews are never mentioned in the annual Ebony poll of urgent issues, sociology professor Raymond Mack reminded his readers. "Forget Farrakhan" ran a headline in the Times, under which Bob Herbert advised: "It's time to turn to other matters."

The mainstream press used cautious and trivializing vocabulary to report anti-Semitism among African Americans. Maclean's trivialized: "the Jews took a special shellacking, not much of a surprise." Professor Doris Wilkinson asked whether or not it was even possible that there be such a thing as "black anti-Semitism." In the lead sentence of one article, the Times reported that "Black racism" is, for some blacks, "a laughable oxymoron." Some articles began with "balanced" rhetorical questions, as in this profile of the leader who invited Farrakhan to an NAACP summit: "Who is Benjamin Chavis Jr., and what in the world is he trying to do to the venerable NAACP? Is he a brash and brilliant innovator, pumping life into a sclerotic organization whose glory days are past and whose current relevance is questioned? Or is he an unrepentant radical and a peripatetic neophyte?" When Farrakhan made classically anti-Semitic statements, echoing blood libel: "The same people opposed to [Jesus] are opposed to me. It's the Passover season. It's the right time;" the Times said merely that these statements "may register on many ears as patently anti-Semitic." Time said that Farrakhan "appeared" to be putting down other people; that he was "misunderstood."

Statistics and anecdotes were cited to indicate that black anti-Semites were not representational of the black population. This in spite of other statistics that showed that African Americans are more anti-Semitic than the general population, and unlike the general population, become more anti-Semitic as they become more educated

Reports of anti-Semitism among African Americans were, it was posited, part of a hidden, nefarious, anti-black agenda. Charles Rangel suggested that the ADL might have been milking Muhammad's speech for money and publicity. The Amsterdam News accused the ADL of "willful and cynical exploitation of a people for the purpose of raising money from Jews by frightening them." Michael Lerner also suggested that Jews were using accusations of anti-Semitism among African Americans, in this case as "an excuse to deny our own racism toward blacks" and as "justification for some Americans to declare themselves 'disillusioned with the oppressed'" and to cut social programs for the poor. The Times repeated this; charges of African American anti-Semitism were allegedly "an excuse for doing little to reduce inequalities."

Writer Thulani Davis, in Time, wrote that accusations of anti-Semitism among African Americans were "attempts to set the terms of the discussion of racial conflict solely on African American xenophobia. Like all litmus tests, this one is reductive and promotes self-defense rather than thought and disclosure."

Davis also pointed out that in the litmus test atmosphere, "African Americans do not even feel comfortable to debate in public ... in such a delicate public discussion it is dangerous to risk having words taken out of context, ideas abbreviated into unrecognizable and harmful sound bites ... If the issue is used simply to identify enemies, few will step forward." Davis further stated that media reports of anti-Semitism among African-Americans were part of a wider effort to create negative images of black people that fed off of whites' fears of "black hate." "Black hate, though, is only a new wrinkle in the increasingly negative portrayal of blacks as a whole," she wrote. This fear of black hate is taught to "each group of new immigrants settling in the big cities of America."

A letter to the Times denounced as "racist" and "paternalistic" A.M. Rosenthal's request that blacks denounce Muhammad. Rosenthal, implied the writer, was not just to blame for his whiteness, he was also a parvenu who told African-Americans, "in their own country" "what to do and say ... even by those that just arrive on these shores."

Accounts veered into victim blaming. Blaming Jews for the anti-Semitism of blacks goes back at least to Michael Lerner's 1969 manifesto in Judaism, where he wrote: "black anti-Semitism ... is ... a tremendous disgrace to Jews, for this is ... rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks in the ghetto. In short, this anti-Semitism is in part an earned anti-Semitism." Lerner was ready with similar accusations to explain anti-Semitism among African Americans in 1994: "Jewish neoconservatives at Commentary and neoliberals at the New Republic have led the assault on affirmative action" and Jews have "delighted in the prospect of throwing black women and children off welfare as soon as possible." Others also blamed Jewish opposition to affirmative action for alienating blacks.


This is but a brief summary of my comparisons of press accounts of accusations of anti-Semitism among African Americans, versus press accounts of accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against members of other demographics, especially persons or groups most associated with Catholicism. In this brief summary, one can discern a pattern.

For months now, the media has presented alarming reports of random, innocent Jews aggressively attacked on New York City streets. The attackers, video suggests, are often African American. This is a problem, a problem that needs to be addressed with courage, frankness, and dedication. If members of less-protected demographics, Catholic high school boys from the American South, for example, were attacking Jews on the streets, there would be an international outcry, a flood of tweets from average citizens as well as celebrities, television broadcasts, academic conferences and articles, and demands for an immediately available curriculum to educate bigoted persons. A review of the above paragraphs outlining my research on how media reacted to an overtly genocidal African American anti-Semitic speaker suggests a reason why so few have been willing to state the obvious. No, not all African Americans are anti-Semites, but some are, and those that are include some who commit violent crimes, including murder, in the name of anti-Semitism. This hatred, and these assaults, are not random, but are supported by a detailed and deeply rooted ideology that declares that Jews are "imposters," "interlopers," "Johnny-come-lately Jews" and "usurpers" who have co-opted black people's real identity.

Further, apologias for these assaults rely on a competition for victim status created by leftist ideology. The left awards its certified victims with virtue, innocence, authority, and tangible benefits through programs like Affirmative Action. As long as being the biggest victim is valuable, some African Americans will resent Jews, perversely, for the Jews' own victimization.

"The black holocaust is one hundred times worse than the so-called Jew holocaust," said Khalid Abdul Muhammad on the campus of Howard University. This articulated hatred must be described, denounced, and deconstructed. There should be forthright academic articles, conferences, and curricula, now, condemning this murderous anti-Semitism. Those who take on this task face daunting odds. Those odds make this work no less vital and urgent.

Yes, African Americans have suffered grievous harm. Yes, statistics indicate that African Americans today are, as a group, poorer, less educated, less healthy, and more likely to be incarcerated than white Americans as a group. Yes, all Americans must do everything they can to close the gaps between whites and blacks.

But separate systems of ethics for blacks and whites are no more moral than separate water fountains for blacks and whites. Human decency should not be emblazoned with a "whites only" sign. It is not imperialist or racist for people who aren't African American to speak out against black anti-Semitism. It is paternalistic for mainstream media to resort to transparent weasel words when reporting on vile street attacks on Jewish elderly persons, women, children, and toddlers in strollers. If hitting an old man in the head with a ten-pound paving stone is behavior that is beneath contempt for a white person, it is also beneath contempt for a black person. Those who refuse to say so clearly are guilty themselves. Let us not rewrite Martin Niemoller's famous warning to read, "Then they came for the Jews / And I did not speak out / Because I did not want to risk being accused of being politically incorrect."

 This piece first appeared in Front Page Magazine here 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Rise of Skywalker: Should Have Paid Attention to the Bad Reviews

This is a review of "The Rise of Skywalker" written by a non-fan. This review contains spoilers.

I saw the first three Star Wars movies because my sister was a fan. I watched the second three because I write and teach about popular culture. After that I'd had enough, and I refused, for a long time, to watch the "The Force Awakens."

My sister and I used to watch cinema classics together, films directed by powerhouses like Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, John Frankenheimer, Billy Wilder, D. W. Griffith, David Lean, and others. She told me that there was this new movie that I HAD to see. I sat next to her in the theater, excited and delighted. After the lights went up, I looked at my sister as if she had been possessed by aliens. I realized I didn't know my sister as well as I thought I did. How could my highly intelligent sister like this childish cartoon?

Star Wars movies don't work for me because nothing is at stake. In a movie I can care about, a person with circumscribed assets and flaws faces a defined problem and uses his assets or even his flaws to attempt to overcome the problem. Maybe a shy person learns courage and takes on a powerful opponent, and even wins. I like watching that process.

In Star Wars movies, if the scriptwriter wants to give a character flight, ESP, invisibility, levitation, or speed faster than light, all of a sudden the character has those qualities. The same process applies to the villains. If the scriptwriter wants to make the villains immortal, omnipotent, or omniscient, suddenly the villain has that quality. If the movie is almost over and it's time for the protagonists to win, then suddenly, defying any internal logic whatsoever, the omnipotent villain stubs his toe and is defeated.

All planets have oxygen, liquid water, the exact, carefully calibrated gravitational pull that makes life possible, and everyone speaks English. Everyone, including rebels who are meant to be outside society, is capable of travel faster than the speed of light. Light speed travel has no impact on these folks' biology or chronology.

To engineer and fuel a vehicle that can travel faster than light would require a massive, communal effort. Rebels living in the woods would never be able to manage such a feat. The villains could squash them like bugs. There'd be no resistance.

How can a viewer care about any of this? Evidently billions of people do, and I realize, not only that I did not know my sister as well as I thought I did, I do not know my fellow humans as well as I thought I did.

Somehow I managed to watch the second installment of the current Rey-centered trilogy, "The Last Jedi." "The Last Jedi" actually featured qualities I value in film: star-power actors, literate scriptwriting, and compelling conflicts.

Daisy Ridley as Rey turned me into a Star Wars fan – for two movies, anyway. Ridley is beautiful in a real girl kind of way. She doesn't have gigantic boobs or a slutty air. Rey is smart, dignified, decent, and independent. Star Wars never does to Rey what it did to Carrie Fisher. It never makes her the almost naked sex toy of Jabba the Hut.

I also loved to hate Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, one of my favorite movie villains. Kylo Ren wipes out a village, tortures a resistance fighter, and kills Han Solo, his own father and a very appealing character. I really wanted to see this villain vanquished with extreme prejudice.

It's undeniable that Adam Driver is an attractive guy, and that there was sexual tension between him and Rey. Scriptwriters gave Kylo Ren some great lines. He insists on honesty in a way that other Star Wars characters don't. He seemed to be visiting from better, deeper space opera, one penned by Edward Albee. Driver delivered these taunting, truth-telling lines with mature conviction. His voice alone was like a sticky honey trap. That made me hate him even more. I didn't want him to get his evil, seductive mitts on beloved Rey!

I liked "The Last Jedi" so much I went back and watched "The Force Awakens," and I looked forward to the final film that, I hoped, would feature Kylo Ren dying the painful death he earned, at the hands of Rey, a warrior who knew when it is necessary to be merciless. Femininity would not weaken this heroine!

Long story short: I should have paid attention to the bad reviews, and saved my money and time. "The Rise of Skywalker" was as boring as any other Star Wars film. Endless chase scenes. No scene lasting longer than two minutes (how it felt; I did not use a stopwatch). No real dialogue, wit, depth, characterization, stakes, point to it all other than ticket sale cash. The carefully curated multicultural cast – an Hispanic, a black, an Asian – given nothing to do. I wanted to see more of Poe, Finn, and Rose, and they were sidelined.

Palpatine is alive again. He used to be dead. Remember what I said about how things happen not because of any internal logic, but because the scriptwriter wants them to happen? Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter. So, yeah, a scavenger can't be a hero. You have to have evil, royal ancestors to be a hero. Kylo Ren is a bad guy, till Rey heals him of a wound. Then he turns into a good guy. She kisses him and he dies. The end. Meh. I didn't get the Old Testament justice I craved, and all those misguided fangirls out there didn't get the extended hot-tub Reylo payoff they've been cooking up in fan art.

PS: Fans compare Star Wars to Greek mythology. Please. Read Greco-Roman mythology. Homer, Aeschylus, Ovid and Virgil have no competition to fear from Star Wars.

Monday, December 23, 2019


When I was a kid, there was a family in our town. Bad things happened to this family. There was a deadly chronic illness, and cancer, and a terrible accident, and more.

These were good people. Nice, smart, caring, good neighbors. Cool people. People you wanted to be around. Tall, slim, good-looking, erudite. Working class heroes. One disaster after another.

I remember standing in St. Francis Church during the funeral of one of the children. He was a couple years older than I. He knew he was going to die young. His disease name was hard to pronounce. I remember, during the funeral, thinking, this kid was smarter than me, cooler than me, better looking than me, more loved than I'll ever be. And he's dead.

The question: why?

As in Auschwitz, there was no why. These were good people. Yes, they lived in toxic Jersey, but we all lived in toxic Jersey. We all got cancer, too, but usually older. And it was more than cancer with this family. It was one lightning strike after another.


Friday I was making out Christmas cards. I took a break, checked emails, and learned that I lost my job. I've been teaching on the same campus for fifteen years.

I had just gotten this email from a student about a week ago.

"I want to say that this class was really cool actually! I'm really glad that I signed up for it and took it! You're an awesome professor and really made the class interesting! I know I stumbled a little bit near the end of it but I couldn't have done it without you. You're an awesome professor and really thoughtful to go out of your way and help calm your students like me when I was freaking out with random stuff. Thank you for a really fun class this semester."

And this email earlier in the month

"Thank you for everything... your teaching made me the person I am today."

I'm crushed.


Two answers.

The first answer is low enrollment. I am an adjunct. We have no job security. We are hired and fired on a semester-to-semester basis.

When the economy is good, enrollments go down.

But that's not really the answer.

I have a PhD, my dissertation is a prize-winning book, and I never got the security of a tenure-track job.

I was told I was the wrong ethnicity. I was told I wrote a "controversial, sensitive" dissertation. I was told I was "too right-wing." I was eventually told I was too old.

None of this politics would matter if there were fewer candidates for the available tenure-track jobs, but there is a glut of candidates. When a thousand people apply for one job your chances are slim, no matter your politics.

Adjuncts could tell you stories.

We are hired if we please our bosses.

I know an adjunct who was once in a car with her boss. Her boss said that America should be damned. Those words exactly. "America should be damned."

If the adjunct disagreed, she risked losing her job for the next semester. She did disagree, She is currently unemployed.

And then there are student complaints. Tell students they have to attend class with some regularity in order to get a passing grade? You will get complaints. The adjunct who put forth that demand on her students? Currently unemployed.


And then the weekend's second lightning strike.

As I've mentioned on this blog, in all the named pain of the past eight years, the two hurricanes, the four cancer diagnoses, the two deaths, the many surgeries, there was the nameless pain.

After a surgery three years ago, I was stricken with over-the-top pain. Torture-level pain. It comes and goes. I am not in pain most of the time. I am in fear of this pain most of the time. It's overwhelming.

I've been to about ten doctors. They all mean well but are limited. They can see me, evidently, for only about ten minutes at a time. They ask a few superficial questions. I'm no health care professional, but it's obvious to me that there are questions they should ask that they do not ask. Why do I have pain at some times but not others? I want the answer to that question.

I've been given many tests. No definitive answers.

Finally I did something I had been hesitating to do. I wrote to a world-famous man. He wrote a book about his own Christian faith and I sent him fan mail several years ago. We have kept in touch, on and off, ever since.

He is not primarily an author. He is, rather, someone who has some power when it comes to science and medicine. I described my symptoms and medical history to him. I begged for help.

He wrote back almost immediately. He contacted experts. He found a doctor in my state.

That doctor's office phoned me this morning to tell me when I'd be seeing that doctor. A few weeks from now.

Here's the bad news. The words "rare," "incurable," and "drugs."

What they think I have is, they say, rare and incurable, and it requires many drugs to treat.

Right now I feel like I've just been hit by a truck.

Mind: I've had this, whatever it is, for three years now, and in that time I've taught, and written, and published, cleaned house, cooked dinner, gone hiking, and dealt with horrific pain. Will it get better or worse? I don't know, and given that it's "rare," maybe they don't know, either. 

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Ford v Ferrari: Good Flick for Fans of Vroom Vroom

The trailers for "Ford v Ferrari" are very stylish. I thought the entire film would be as stylish and that I'd like it, even though I knew it was mostly a guy flick about cars. Well, not so much.

"Ford v Ferrari" is a lot of vroom vroom, men with motor oil on their faces, guys punching each other, guys clapping each other on the back, guys bonding over car guts, guys drinking beer, guys giving each other death stares, guys insulting each other, guys daring and double daring each other, guys modifying car hoods, car brakes, car doors, and car weights, and some more, a lot more, vroom vroom.

There is a woman – just one – and she mostly stands off to the sidelines looking fondly, proudly, and tearfully at her man. Yeah, I got bored, but I woke myself up for the final stretch.

"Ford v Ferrari" depicts Henry Ford II's effort to defeat Enzo Ferrari's cars at the 24-hour Le Mans race in France during the 1960s. Christian Bale gives a fun performance as Ken Miles, the WW II veteran and race car driver who drove the Ford car at Le Mans. Matt Damon is rather bland as Carroll Shelby, former racer, engineer, and Ken Miles wrangler. Tracy Letts, the playwright who wrote "August Osage County," gives an understated but arresting performance as Henry Ford II.

Josh Lucas, who was so good as the romantic lead in "Sweet Home Alabama," plays a villain version of Leo Beebe, a Ford executive. I knew nothing about Beebe but I found his depiction in the movie to be cartoonish. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story headlined "Philly Friends Of Leo Beebe Say ‘Ford V Ferrari’ Gets The Ford Exec Wrong." The article quotes a slew of people who knew Beebe and who say he was a great guy. Shame on "Ford v Ferrari" for turning him into a cartoon bad guy in what may be the only movie to feature him as a character. And please make Josh Lucas a romantic lead again.

Overall, a good movie, but not so good that it could keep me, not a car lover, fully engaged. The lengthy scenes of Bale as Miles driving for 24 hours around the track at Le Mans gave me a sense of why racers enjoy what they do.

Bombshell 2019: Literate Script, Fast Pace, All-Star Cast, Important Topic, Terrific Movie

"Bombshell" has a literate, fast-moving and yet profound script and an all-star cast acting out a morality tale that concerns every thinking American. It's a terrific movie. This movie is so good it actually surprised me. It didn't fall into the predictable traps I expected.

"Bombshell" is about Roger Ailes' sexual harassment of female talent at FOX news. Ailes' behavior is depicted as utterly repugnant. John Lithgow's Ailes is a disgusting, rotting hulk of a man, obese, bald, flabby, and reliant on a walker.

In a cringe-inducing scene, Ailes, a putrescent blob in a big chair, orders Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a naïve true-believer in FOX News, to lift her skirt higher so he can see her legs. Pospisil is wearing a miniskirt. She has to lift her skirt up over her underpants. As she does so, Ailes becomes aroused. The look on Kayla's face tells us that she is realizing what's going on, she recognizes that she's doing this for a job in TV, and she suddenly hates herself and everything that is happening.

But "Bombshell" takes a while to get to that scene. Before that scene, Ailes is shown as a stalwart support to female star Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). He gives Kelly good advice and she is grateful to him. "Bombshell" doesn't demonize Ailes. Ailes is a fully rounded character. Surprising.

Megyn Kelly, similarly, is complex. She is a protagonist, but she's not perfect. When Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) speaks out about her sexual harassment, she hopes for support from other women at FOX. Support is slow to come. Though Ailes had harassed Kelly years before, Kelly is slow to come forward. She doesn't want to hurt her career, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of her family and her show's producers.

For a movie that moves this quickly to be so complex is a rare feat. The script was co-written by Charles Randolph, who won the Academy Award for co-writing "The Big Short" script. The film is co-written and directed by Jay Roach, who has received a slew of awards and nominations.

The cast just never stops. Just when you think you're already awash in big names giving award-worthy performances, Alison Janney pops up as Susan Estrich, Roger Ailes' attorney, and Malcolm McDowell walks in as Rupert Murdoch. Kate McKinnon shines in a small role. Actors depicting Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, Harris Faulkner, Judge Jeannine Pirro and Kimberly Guilfoyle accessorize the sidelines.

The Kayla Pospisil character is a fictionalized composite of various accounts of how Ailes would sexually harass women. She is clearly young, naïve, and ambitious. She comes from an Evangelical family that worships FOX news and all it stands for. She wears a cross around her neck. She's also a lesbian. She's the only woman actually depicted giving in to Ailes' perversions.

Is the Kayla character a Christophobic one? In creating her, are script-writers Jay Roach and Charles Randolph implying that FOX news viewers are hypocrites? After all, Kayla is a lesbian but has taken sides with folks who condemn lesbians. Evangelicals, of course, value sexual purity, and she is the only female character depicted actually selling her body for airtime.

Or, are the scriptwriters not mocking FOX viewers, but highlighting how FOX viewers, often poor and working class, are cheated, duped, used and discarded – metaphorically f----- by men like Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump? Men who cajole these masses into betraying the ideals represented by the crosses worn around their necks? I don't know the answer to that.

Baba Ram Dass RIP

My senior year of college I was beaten and sexually assaulted by a member of my household.

I threw on some jeans and a shirt and sneakers, no socks. I ran into the street. 

I phoned desperately. 

I had previously told a fellow college student, Nancy, about the domestic violence. I phoned her and she offered me a roof. 

I slept here and there, ate this and that, and got straight A grades my final year of college. 

The event knocked me off my feet, though, and it took me a long time to recover. 

Other than Nancy, people weren't really helpful. 

I phoned a battered women's shelter and  the intake person was contemptuous and snotty, telling me that I didn't sound traumatized. I wish I could find that person. Actually, I'm glad I can't. I'd do things to her that I'd have to pay for later. God or the state would punish me. 

A professor I confided in was a total idiot. I can say that now. Couldn't say that then. I thought she was superior and my problems were just proof of what a lousy person I am. 

I went to a priest and he gave me a brown paper bag with boxes of uncooked spaghetti inside. 

I hung out a lot at the Catholic campus center he ran. It was nice having a roof, rugs underfoot, a fireplace. 

I read the books from the shelves. I read Baba Ram Dass' Be Here Now. It was helpful to me. It wasn't the whole ball of wax, it wasn't everything I needed to learn, but it offered some good insights. 

I never got into drugs and I did not convert to Hinduism, so I didn't really sign up for the whole Ram Dass agenda, but I vividly remember reading that book and how reading that book was a good thing that  happened that year of disintegrating shoes and sleeping outside and eating out of dumpsters and crying my eyes out alone. 

So sad that so many people never discover what it is to have a reading life, a life with books and authors. 

Baba Ram Dass' NYT obit is here

Friday, December 20, 2019

Unveiled by Yasmine Mohammed: Buy It, Read It, Share It

"My whole body was suffocating. My head throbbed, and my skin oozed sweat from every pore … dressing like the kuffar was evil. I would go to hell if I dressed that way … when the Caliphate rises, if you're not wearing hijab, how will you be distinguished from the nonbelievers? If you look like them, you'll be killed like them … wearing a niqab [face veil] you feel like you're in a portable sensory deprivation chamber. It impedes your ability to see, hear, touch, smell. I felt like I was slowly dying inside … I didn't even know who I was anymore – if I even was somebody at all."

Yasmine Mohammed is a spitfire, a term once applied both to World-War-II-era combat aircraft and to superstars like Jane Russell who played hotblooded women who didn't let anyone push them around. Yasmine is a forty-something Canadian ex-Muslim, atheist, educator, and activist. (I'm going against convention here and referring to the author by her first name. She shares a last name with Islam's prophet and founder, and I want to avoid confusion.)

Yasmine was raised by a strict Muslim mother who was the second wife of an equally strict stepfather. She was in an arranged marriage to an Al-Qaeda member. She left Islam and she is now married to a non-Muslim. Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam is her first book. And what a first book it is. Unveiled is a can't-put-it-down instant classic. Authors Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Kate McCord, Jean Sasson, Nawal el-Saadawi, and Phyllis Chesler, move over. There is a new star in your literary firmament.

The subtitle of Unveiled, How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam, is a bit misleading. Yes, Yasmine takes on actor Ben Affleck's October, 2014 appearance on Bill Maher's Real Time HBO show. On that broadcast Maher and Sam Harris, both atheists and critics of Christianity, bemoaned their fellow liberals' attacking them for also criticizing Islam. Ben Affleck exploded – no pun intended. Affleck, a normally cool and ironic actor, devoted a freakish amount of zealotry to shielding from analysis clitoridectomy, throwing gay men off roofs, and suicide bombings. Affleck yelled, waved his arms, furrowed his brow and interrupted. Any criticism of Islamic doctrine is "gross, racist, ugly." Affleck offered zero facts. Facts are not necessary. Become apoplectic, smear any critic of jihad or gender apartheid as racist, pose and preen and signal your own superior, culturally relative virtue, and the good liberal is done. We've all met versions of this Islamapologist, though most are not as good looking as Affleck.

Affleck's Islamapologism outraged Yasmine Mohammed. She notes that Affleck made a film, Dogma, that mocks Christianity. She insists that liberals like Affleck do great harm to real, live human beings. "It was unforgiveable for Ben Affleck to deflect criticism of this ideology that has caused so much suffering in the world … no one in the West cares if Muslim women were being imprisoned or killed … for not covering their hair … that bloggers in Bangladesh were being hacked to death … because they dared write about humanism … this seemingly well-meaning, white-guilt ridden man was standing in the way!" Affleck's immorality, cowardice, narcissism and ignorance, so paradigmatic of Islamapologists, prompted Yasmine to write her book. Unveiled, she says, "is for anyone who feels a duty to defend Islam from scrutiny and criticism … you are deflecting the light from shining on millions of people imprisoned in darkness."

"At times Western corporations actively support the very things brave women fight against. The 2019 Sports Illustrated featured a burkini." Nike put a swoosh on "religiously prescribed modesty clothing … How can we fight Western patriarchy while simultaneously supporting Islamic patriarchy?" Yasmine asks.

Liberal Islamapologists' constant shielding of Islam from critique is not merely a debate question for Yasmine Mohammed. Decades ago, young Yasmine told her teacher, Rick Fabbro, that she was being abused. She showed Fabbro bruises on her arms, caused by her stepfather's beatings with a belt. Her stepfather wasn't punishing Yasmine for any wrong-doing; he was merely taking out his own personal frustrations on her body. Fabbro reported the abuse. A Canadian judge ruled that Islamic culture allowed severe "corporal punishment." "I never felt so betrayed in my life … how disgusting to allow a child to be beaten because her abuser happens to come from another country!" Children are being abused, Yasmine reports, "because their government is hell-bent on cultural and moral relativism."

Yasmine is not alone. In 2010, a New Jersey judge refused a restraining order to a teenage Muslima who was raped and tortured by her arranged husband. The husband told the wife, "this is according to our religion. You are my wife, I can do anything to you. The woman, she should submit and do anything I ask her to do." The judge agreed, asserting that spousal abuse is sanctioned in Islam. The Islamapologism of useful idiots like Ben Affleck causes real harm to real victims.

Though Yasmine opens and closes with mentions of Ben Affleck, The bulk of the book is not about liberals empowering radical Islam. Rather, it is a riveting memoir of child abuse and recovery. Yasmine's mother is one of the most vile characters I have ever read about, and I've read a fair number of books about Nazism. "Mama" quite literally tortures her daughter, all in the name of making her a good Muslima.

Islamapologists will no doubt hit upon this aspect of the book. "Yasmine Mohammed's critique of Islamic gender apartheid and jihad can't be taken at face value. She was raised by an abusive mother and molested by her mother's male companions. Child abuse is her problem, not Islam," they'll say. Further, some will accuse Yasmine of stoking the flames of xenophobic hatred. "By speaking in such detail about your abuse, you make all Muslims look like monsters!" they'll say.

No, Yasmine does not stoke the flames of xenophobic hatred. In fact, Yasmine dedicates her book in part "to those of you who feel compelled to demonize all Muslims. I hope you will see that we are all just human beings and we battle our own demons." She rejects racist terms like "sandn----r" and insists that no one should misconstrue her "personal journey out of faith as an invitation to be hateful to those still in it." After reading this book, I felt great compassion and fellow feeling for Yasmine Mohammed, a woman who lived most of her life as a devout Muslim. Yasmine will, no doubt, arouse that same compassion and fellow feeling in many readers.

It's also very true that horrific child abuse occurs in non-Muslim societies as well as Muslim ones. There are several features, though, that distinguish Muslim child abuse and non-Muslim child abuse.

In her book Wholly Different, Nonie Darwish discusses the Islamic emphasis on hiding sin. Darwish contrasts this emphasis with the Judeo-Christian tradition of confession of sin and subsequent redemption. Darwish heard an Egyptian sheikh say on TV that if a follower of a sheikh witnesses the sheikh committing a sin, the follower should say, "it is my eyes that committed the sin" for having witnessed a power figure do wrong. The holy man is "masoom," infallible or free from sin. The Islamic view of public exposure of sin feeds a culture based on pride and shame. The Koran is replete with references to "shame," "disgrace," "humiliation," and "losers." These concepts contribute to thwarting attempts at rescuing abused children. If you can't see, or talk about child abuse, you can't address it.

Another cultural factor: submission to an overwhelming sense that everything "is written." "Any effort to try to create your own destiny is meaningless … your whole life is written before you take your first breath," Yasmine writes.

Yasmine describes Islam as a pyramid-shaped power structure, with unquestioning obedience required at all levels. Men submit to Allah, women submit to men, and children submit to adults. Yasmine cites a hadith that describes power descending from the ruler, to the man, to the woman, and then to the servant. There are ethnic pyramids of worth as well. Rich Gulf Arabs are superior to poor Muslims from Pakistan and India.

In such a system, "women rarely support one another. Each woman is too concerned with saving her own skin … We hold down our screaming five-year-old daughters and allow a woman to take a razor to their genitals because a man will prefer her that way." Girls are close to the bottom of the pyramid of power. Yasmine mentions the 2017 Norwegian film What Will People Say. In the film, the main character, a child of Pakistani parents growing up in Norway, abuses a cat. Why? Because she's on the bottom. She's been taught that you deal with frustration by abusing the person, or animal, beneath you on the pyramid of power. The cat is the innocent and defenseless target.

The Allah who is the pinnacle of the Islamic pyramidal power structure is a sadist whose graphic torments are detailed in the Koran. Don Richardson, in Secrets of the Koran, writes that one in every eight Koran verses is a threat of damnation. Hell is graphically described as a place with vivid tortures. By contrast, according to Richardson, the Old Testament mentions Hell once in every 774 verses, and it is never described so graphically.

In the Koran, Allah burns off the skin of the damned. They grow new skin, and that skin, in turn, is burned off, for all eternity. Young Yasmine dared ask her mother, "Won't I eventually get used to it?"

No, her mother replied. "Allah will make sure that every single time it hurts as much as the first time."

The hadiths, as well as the Koran, contain graphic tortures of Hell. In one hadith, Mohammed reports that he saw women hanging by their hair, with their brains boiling. Their crime? They refused to wear hijab.

Total, unquestioning obedience under pain of eternal damnation is pounded into Muslims several times a day, with the daily prayers. Islamic prayer indoctrinates Muslims in mindless obedience and group, not individual, behavior. Yasmine details the robotic movements that must accompany each syllable. These syllables, she says, are meaningless to most Muslims, who don't understand classical Arabic. They must merely memorize syllables and repeat them over and over to the point where the mind is numbed. When praying in a group, they must stand touching other Muslims. This physical contact provides an extra layer of surveillance. If a Muslim shirks a given, required movement, other Muslims will not only see it, they will feel it. Too, Muslims are assured that their prophet is watching them pray, "Make your rows straight for I can see you behind my back." Any deviation from prescribed activity is automatically a ticket to Hell. If you don't touch another Muslim while praying, you leave room for Satan, and you will be punished. "Do not leave any gaps for the Shaytaan. Whoever complete [sic] a row, Allaah will reward him, and whoever breaks a row, Allaah will forsake him."

"The prayers are mind-numbingly repetitive. There is no room for the slightest variation. Every ceremonial motion and every word is specific and methodic, stripping … Muslims … of any individuality. Get in line. Follow the herd. No distractions … The meaning [of prayer] was never discussed … Questioning only lead to anger and admonishment," Yasmine writes. Islam is so thorough in outlining how Muslims are to live that there is a specific ritualistic way to cut fingernails and dispose of clippings.

When Yasmine finally does learn the meaning of the words she's been repeating, she realizes she's been indoctrinated. "Nearly twenty times a day, I was referring to non-Muslims as the enemies of Allah. I was chanting that Muslims who became friends with non-Muslims were doomed to Hell, that non-Muslims were the vilest of animals, only fit to be used as fuel for the fires of Hell, that Jewish people were sub-human … I remember one of my aunts lamenting that the cucumbers were smaller this year because the Jews were putting cancer in the vegetables … At least five times a day over a billion people are droning on, calling for the death of all non-Muslims."

Yasmine describes her younger self being bound, whipped, caned, and locked up. Mama tells little Yasmine that she has no value whatsoever. Indeed, Yasmine is told again and again that she is a slut, prostitute, and whore, even though she is a chaste virgin, and, later, a dutiful wife in an arranged marriage. Don't worry that reading a book about graphic child abuse will be too upsetting. Yasmine's descriptions are searing, but brief. The reader never forgets that the author of these nightmarish accounts is an adult powerhouse who managed to break free both of her tormentors and the Islam that her tormentors cited as justification.

After each incident is described, Yasmine offers a corresponding quote from Islamic sacred texts that is used to justify such tortures. Young Yasmine must kneel at her mother's feet and kiss them. This is because Islam teaches that "Paradise is under the feet of mothers." Mama determines whether Yasmine will go to Heaven or Hell. Yasmine is bound and hung upside down from a hook used to hang the lamb sacrificed for the Eid holiday. A woman, a sacrificial animal, little difference. "Hang your whip where members of your household (your wife, children, and slaves) can see it, for that will discipline them," says one hadith. Another, "Teach your children to pray when they are seven years old, and smack them if they do not do so when they are ten."

Yasmine does not cite Koran 18:65-81. In this passage, Musa, meant to be the Biblical Moses, is depicted as following and learning from Khidr, a "slave of Allah." Khidr murders an innocent child. Musa objects. Khidr reprimands Moses for objecting. Khidr explains that the boy's parents were Muslims and "we feared lest he should make disobedience and ingratitude to come upon them." In the place of the child Khidr murdered, Allah "might give them in his place one better than him." The Koran itself offers a passage often interpreted to mean that Muslim parents have the right to life and death over their own children.

When discussing honor killing, Robert Spencer reminds his readers that, "A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that 'retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.' However, 'not subject to retaliation' is 'a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring.' ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law."

I admire Yasmine for being so frank as to recount how long she stayed loyal to her abusive mother, and to religious observance that she felt to be destroying her very sense of self. Again and again the door swings open and Yasmine walks past that open door and back into the sick, twisted prison of her mother's oppressive hold. Again and again, Yasmine sees utterly plainly how destructive her mother is, and yet Yasmine continues to live with her and crave her love, a love this poisonous viper would never bestow on her precious daughter.

Yasmine marries the man her mother tells her to marry, though she does not love him. This man, Essam Marzouk, beats Yasmine so badly she miscarries their second child. Eventually, slowly but surely, Yasmine breaks her conditioning, leaves her family, abandons her veil, and marries a non-Muslim man. The reader rejoices for her.

This reader has one problem with Unveiled and other media produced by some Ex-Muslims, including the Ex-Muslims of North America. These ex-Muslims decide, "I discovered that Islam is oppressive, therefore, all religion is oppressive nonsense." Their dismissals are based not only on scanty knowledge of the scripture and dogma of other faiths, but also ignorance of how other faiths have influenced society.

Yasmine says, again and again, that her encounters with non-Muslims were like encounters, as she herself puts it, with "angels." There's a reason that the non-Muslims Yasmine encountered treated her with concern and decency. That reason is their training, very different from her own. They were raised in a Judeo-Christian society, that upholds Judeo-Christian values.

In the Old Testament, God orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God stops the sacrifice. For hundreds of years, Jews and Christians have understood this story as separating God's chosen people from the surrounding Canaanite society, where child sacrifice to Moloch was practiced. Archaeology confirms Biblical accounts. Various Phoenician societies around the Mediterranean, including the Canaanites and Carthaginians, left evidence of child sacrifice. Child sacrifice was also practiced by several Native American cultures, including Chimu, Inca, Maya, Aztec, Mississippian and Pawnee; it possibly occurred in Ancient Greece, and child sacrifice occurs today among Hindus in India.

Contemporary scholars debate whether or not the Isaac story was originally understood as a stand against child sacrifice, but Christians and Jews themselves understand it that way, and that interpretation was explicitly advanced by a Jewish scholar eight hundred years ago. In any case, Biblical verse after verse condemns parents killing their own children.

The New Testament could not be more dramatic in emphasizing the value of children. God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, enters time in the body of a helpless infant born of a lowly peasant girl, among stock animals in a stable. Jesus famously says, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as little child shall in no wise enter therein."

Pregnant with Jesus, Mary recites the Magnificat, "He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek." Jesus says, "The last shall be first, and the first, last," and "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Again and again, the Bible overturns the pyramid of power.

Early Christian critic Celsus, a Greek Pagan, dismissed Christianity as a religion that attracted those on the bottom. Christianity, Celsus sneered, is a religion of women, of children, and of slaves. The Pagan Roman legal code attributed to Romulus allowed for the murder of female children, and female infanticide was common in the ancient, Pagan world. A Greek comedy from the third century BC records, "Everyone, even a poor man, raises a son; everyone, even a wealthy man, exposes a daughter." Rodney Stark theorizes that Christianity's remarkable success can be attributed partially to Christianity's remarkable respect for the personhood of women and children, even female infants. "Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born," said the Didache, "a first century manual of Church teachings." Early Christianity's valuing of young, female human beings is unforgettably depicted in The Acts of Paul and Thecla, about a Pagan girl who converts to Christianity and boldly asserts her own full worth in the face of murderous Pagan opposition. Finally, of course, Christianity mandates confession and repentance, rather than the hiding of sin.

Non-believers have only a partial picture when they refuse to consider how Judeo-Christian teaching and Christian faith have fostered the features they value in Western Civilization. Yes, child abuse occurs in Christian families and institutions as well as in Muslim ones. But there is a difference between, say, Jordan, a relatively modern Muslim-majority country, and the United States. In Jordan, honor killing is a perpetual problem. Families practice it; authorities look the other way. The ancient Koran story of Khidr, a revered Muslim character who killed a child because the child might someday embarrass his devout Muslim parents, is carried out daily in Muslim countries. In countries with a Judeo-Christian heritage, killing your child because the child might embarrass you is not supported by the wider society. Some cultures provide guardrails and tools that can be used to dismantle human dysfunction. Other cultures provide scriptures that uphold hate and abuse.

Not just honor killing oppresses Muslim women and girls. Clitoredectomy, child and forced marriage, and polygamy are all part of day-to-day life. Sharia dictates that women inherit half of what men inherit, and the testimony of two women equals the testimony of one man. Women cannot pray when they are menstruating. In a hadith, Mohammed himself cited the ban on women praying during their menstruation as proof that women are "deficient in religion" and make up the majority of the damned in Hell. A woman, Mohammed insisted, must satisfy their husband's demand for sex, even while riding on a camel's back. One could go on. Denigration of the value of the lives of girls and women is deeply embedded in the Koran and hadiths.

Rodney Stark ended his book The Victory of Reason with a quote he attributes to a Chinese scholar. "One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this."

I hope (and pray) that the aversion that immersion in Islam taught ex-Muslims to feel for all religion does not blind them to the impact of the Judeo-Christian tradition on what they value in kuffar society – including the right to self-identify as an atheist, and not be killed for doing so.

Yasmine Mohammed's book is receiving terrific reviews on Amazon. Yasmine deserves more. Krista Tippett hosts On Being on National Public Radio. Tippett markets a soft-focus, touchy-feely Islam. Terry Gross frequently features memoir authors on Fresh Air. Tippett, Gross, the New York Times, all should provide Yasmine Mohammed with a platform. Truth and courage demand it.