Saturday, January 02, 2016

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXIII: Saudi Executions

Saudi Arabia recently executed a Shi'ite cleric (along with 46 other people), eliciting a strong protest from Iran. This isn't wholly surprising on the part of either party: Iran is a Shi'ite majority nation and Saudi Arabia has been on a bit of an execution roll this year. But what's, well, also not that surprising is who Iran cast the blame on.
In a strongly worded statement, the [Islamic Revolution Guards Corps] said Saudi Arabia's execution...was 'a Zionist conspiracy' to 'intensify sectarianism' among Shi'is and Sunnis.
Because when I think "places Jews have leverage over", I think Saudi Arabia.

What am I saying ... Jews have leverage over everyone. My mistake, carry on.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Worshiping Different Gods

I have a confession to make. In the context of interfaith relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, I really don't like it when people say "we worship the same God."* In part, it's because I have no idea what this statement means or how it could be verified. At what point does adding Jesus into the mix (or name your other sectarian division) mean the God has changed? No matter how you slice it, the theology in this debate seems like it is being driven by the politics (whether the politics are "we're all fellow-travelers on spaceship Earth" or "I'll be damned if I share anything in common with those evil Muslims/Christians/Jews").

But the bigger problem is that making "the same God" the trump card argument for interfaith solidarity doesn't exactly inspire much confidence in our ability to respect those religions who unquestionably worship different Gods (Hindus, for example), or those that don't worship God at all (atheists, many Buddhists). I really do wonder what Hindu-Americans think when they hear progressives make this argument as the centerpiece of their calls for religious tolerance. It must be profoundly alienating at best, deeply worrisome at worst.

The better thing to say is that it doesn't matter whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu, Atheists, or anyone else share a God in common or not. We're all entitled to respect, we're all entitled to be treated equally, and we all should be free to practice (or not) our faiths as we see fit. A constructed sameness of the Abrahamic faiths -- if it even is real -- is worse than unnecessary, it's deeply harmful and exclusionary.

If one does want to make an argument of this sort, I vastly prefer the Talmud's formulation, as articulated by Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer
The Talmud tells us: “The righteous of all nations are worthy of immortality.”
....There are many mountain tops and all of them reach for the stars.
* Needless to say, I do not support any forms of retaliation or sanction against persons -- particularly academics -- who do make this argument.

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year's Resolutions: 2016

It's time for everybody's favorite annual Debate Link feature: New Year's Resolutions! We begin, as we always do, by assessing our performance over the previous year.

Met: 1 (two articles? Try four articles!), 2,  4 (retitled), 7, 8, 9 (by the barest of technicalities), 12, 13, 14.

Missed: 5 (peaked at 11).

Pick 'em: 3, 6, 10, 11 (neither Jill nor I can remember if I bought any new pants).

That's a strong year! Can 2016 top it? That probably depends on how carefully I phrase the resolutions below:

(1) Win a bet on a boxing match.

(2) Successfully teach a course in Energy Law.

(3) Take, or be scheduled to take, at least one subfield examination.

(4) Have a dissertation committee (or have a clear idea of who will be on said committee).

(5) Submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal.

(6) Read a considerable work on Mizrahi Jewish political thought.

(7) Regularly attend law school events and workshops.

(8) Have Dismissal accepted for publication.

(9) Attend a Sharks game with Bay Area friends.

(10) Work on not assuming that, if I am unfamiliar with a person's or group's argument, they must not have one.

(11) Work on listening to and considering arguments that I'd normally not listen to or consider.

(12) Hang or otherwise display my sports memorabilia.

(13) Beat Witcher 3.

(14) Attend a party.

(15) Do some form of stretching, yoga, or physical therapy designed to address my ludicrously tight muscles.

Seems like a good set to me. Happy New Year to all, and here's to 2016!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Adventures in Conservative Safe Spaces: An Infinitely Ongoing Series

The Albuquerque Journal reports that a free speech lawsuit filed against the University of New Mexico has been dismissed. The plaintiff, a UNM student, claimed she was kicked out of class for expressing opposition to lesbianism.

Before we proceed, this case is an excellent reminder to consult your lawyer friends before having opinions on any legal developments. The article reports that the presiding Judge, the Honorable M. Christina Armijo, had initially refused to dismiss the case, but changed her mind as additional evidence demonstrated that the professor in question "offered [the student] numerous opportunities to rewrite her essay to adhere to academic standards or to take alternative academic routes to achieve her class grade."

Litigation proceeds in steps, and in the early stages judges are obliged to generally accept a plaintiff's allegations as true. Hence, when a judge "refuses to dismiss a case", all she's saying is that -- without looking at anything but what the plaintiff is asserting in her complaint -- there is judiciable case in front of her. Later, once both sides have adduced evidence through discovery, either party can move for "summary judgment", where the judge decides whether -- taking all disputed facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party -- a reasonable factfinder could rule in their favor. Again, in both of these steps the judge is obligated to simply assume (within reason) that the disputed facts are as one side or the other says they are. So denying either of these motions does not and should not imply that the facts are actually as they are stated.

While I haven't found the opinion itself, that seems to be what happened here. Initially, the court had to consider the case simply as it was presented by the student. And you can imagine how that looks: a demure, God-fearing Christian, tentatively questioning whether lesbianism was an ideal family structure. The evil hippie professor immediately screaming at her to "Get out you bigoted wench!", before snapping a cross over her knee and using her bra to light a Bible on fire as  all the PC children in class laughed and laughed.

But as litigation progresses, the other side gets to present its case too.  And once the judge saw the undisputed content of the professor's contact with the student, things take on a different light. It seems that the professor's comments on the student paper contained nothing more than the normal critical feedback challenging both word choice (use "childless" rather than "barren") and critical support (urging her to back up statements that lesbianism is "perverse"). And when the student complained that viewing movies with lesbian themes was "unendurable", the professor simply told her that there would be more such films as the course progressed.

What it seems we have here is a classic case of conservatives wanting "safe spaces" in college. The student was uncomfortable with lesbian themes in a film class ("unendurable"). She didn't want her views on lesbianism (that it was "perverse") to be challenged, she was outraged that she needed to defend them critically. Of course, lots of people share this vice. But it is not clear (or perhaps all too clear) how demanding a "safe space" when you're a conservative becomes a free speech issue (whereas when liberals do it, it is of course the greatest threat to academic freedom and open expression the world has ever seen).