The Soul of Another Culture

I found the articles “Lowering the Temperature,” by Dr. Ian Lustick, and “Music Lessons,” by Susan Frith [both Nov/Dec], to be a real triumph for the Gazette. Here we have a thoughtful analysis, writ large, of how American foreign policy with respect to the Muslim world needs to change; and a great example, writ small, of how Penn students are learning about the humanity of their Muslim neighbors through music. Every member of Congress ought to read Dr. Lustick’s book, or at least the excerpt, as they ponder changes to Middle Eastern policy. Then perhaps Dr. Muller could try to teach them to listen to the music, the words, the soul of another culture.

Steven Gayle C’71 Binghamton, NY

 

Predictably Fawning Portrayal

Susan Frith’s predictably fawning portrayal of Carol Muller’s ethnomusicology class visiting the Quba Institute of Arabic and Islamic elides some uncomfortable, but nevertheless patently obvious facts.

First and foremost is that Islam, unlike Christianity and Judaism, has never undergone a reformation. Basically, everyone is expected to be a fundamentalist. As such, the words of the Prophet as recorded in the Qur’an and Hadith are taken quite literally. This has unfortunate consequences for many different groups (e.g., gays, women, non-believers), particularly in countries ruled by Islamic law.

But since the focus here is music, or rather its complete absence, let’s hear it from the Umdat al-Salik, also known as Reliance of the Traveller: Classic Manual of Islamic Law: “Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of pre-Islamic ignorance. On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress” (Umdat al-Salik, r40.1).

Ouch! Did somebody say “Keep on rockin’”?

David Bolger D’79 Margate, NJ

 

Keeping the Temperature Hot

Thank you for Professor Ian Lustick’s essay. Loving New York, I felt “trapped in the war on terror” myself last summer, when the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his assistant police commissioner, a former CIA official, launched a shameful attack on the Fourth Amendment with their subway search program, still in effect. A check on riders’ bags and briefcases at no more than a handful of the city’s 400 stations on any one day was touted as essential to preventing a terrorist attack. Never mind that any terrorist could simply walk to the next station to avoid the bag inspection, or blow him/herself up as he approached the policemen. And never mind that violation of privacy on public property (as subway concourses are) is unprecedented.

Five subway riders brought suit. At trial, the assistant commissioner said, “The introduction of  the bag searches dramatically improves the security posture [of the subway system] … which I believe is a top-tier target … right now as we speak.” No one bothered to cross-examine this militant authority. The issue was too “hot.” The District Court Judge of the 2nd Circuit rejected the plaintiffs’ suit, saying, “it would seem foolish not to rely upon those qualified persons in the best position to know.” As Bloomberg nodded approval, all questions of right to privacy, probable cause, the use of scare tactics, and the blinkered avoidance of self-evident facts were swept away.

Similarly hiding basic democratic rights behind a shield of necessity, Bloomberg and his police force engineered the arrest of 1,500 citizens lawfully protesting the Republican National Convention in 2004. In the name of security and public safety, those arrested were kept in a filthy pier for over two days, until the convention had left town. All charges were subsequently dropped, in order to discourage lawsuits. Such are the tactics of “public servants” who keep people from the basic freedoms America stands for, using the shibboleth “necessity” to avoid thinking about their basic responsibilities. For them, keeping the temperature hot is a way to perpetuate themselves, at the expense of keeping Americans from thinking about democratic alternatives to what “qualified” authorities find convenient.

Jay Gertzman Ed’61 Gr’72 Philadelphia

 

Essential Statement of Realistic Opposition

Professor Lustick’s article is important and courageous. It is, as his book must also be, the essential statement of a realistic opposition to the current strategy.

An effort against terrorism must continue, though not as today, for today’s cannot succeed—the problem is not a military one. A new strategy must be defined, one that embodies not only our military strength, but also our military weakness; not only our fear of the unknown, but also our faith in the known; not only our financial depth, but also our ideological height. It must be informed by our democratic system and our judicial practice, not by the terrorist’s language and practice.

Else we will not win: We will lose both the battle and ourselves which is not what we elect our leaders to accomplish in our name.

Sven Borei C’64 Lerum, Sweden

 

More Injurious than Enlightening

I am dismayed by Lustick’s blatant partisanship. He makes his disdain for President Bush, and for the administration, very clear. I believe that I have the right to expect scholarly academic writing to be free from such political prejudice. His choice of the word cabal is pejorative. There was neither conspiracy, nor secrecy. The issue was out in the open, fully discussed—and ratified by a great many Democrats.

There is no gray area in the Iraq invasion. There are only two choices. Lustick is telling us that the United States, and the world, would be better off if Saddam were still in charge. That is the only alternative to our being there. I will not accept that Saddam remains the better choice.

Lustick further tells us that Europe deals with terror “productively and much less disruptively as a law enforcement issue.” Is that why we have been free of terrorist attacks since 9/11, and Europe has had to deal with one incident after another?

It is a war. It is an all-out war, decades old, really older, and still not fully recognized by far too many here at home.

When a third of all Americans believe that 9/11 was a CIA plot, or, even worse, a Mossad plot, obviously we are woefully ill-informed. If the WAR on terror fuels public anxieties, that is preferable to public complaceny.

Lustick’s writing is far more injurious to our defense against terrorism than it is enlightening. What makes us great is the right to express our opinions. Unfortunately, Lustick needs to reconsider his.

Bill Rautenberg W’51 Boca Raton, FL

 

Bush Had the Obligation to Proceed

When the United Nations agreed to apply “all necessary force,” when the U.S. Congress agreed as well, Bush had the obligation to proceed with the invasion of Iraq. I believe that had there been a Democratic administration in power, they would have done the same. Though Wolfowitz and others may have seen such a war as necessary in the 1990s, this was secondary to the inevitability of it based on Saddam’s actions, and there was no devious plot, as he implies, only necessary planning that any responsible administration should do.

Yes, we must accept terrorism as inevitable, but we cannot use the professor’s naive logic as a solution when he asserts our “blundering” War on Terror makes things worse, and that we should guard against acting “hysterically” should we be attacked again, implying that we have already done so. The more I read his excerpt, the angrier I get at his anti-Bush agenda, saying we need leaders who act “out of courage and discipline, rather than impulse and bravado,” the implication glaringly obvious. He prefers the appeasement route of some, as opposed to the assertive action of others.

Howard Fluhr D’74 Lafayette Hill, PA

 

We Must Wage War

Unfortunately, Dr. Lustick falls in the same trap as most academics today, mistaking moral relativism and a blame-America-first mentality for critical thought. As a veteran of military operations in Afghanistan, I’ve seen the War on Terror, more appropriately called the War on Islamic Fascism, up close, as opposed to the view from an office off Locust Walk.

The fact that Dr. Lustick would rather have terrorism framed as a law-enforcement problem shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the problem facing not just the United States, but Western Civilization as a whole. We face a large number of motivated fighters, Islamic extremists who desire the end of democracy, our way of life, and Judeo-Christian values. The fact that they are not facing us as nation states, but using the asymmetric tactic of terrorism, does not make it any less of a war, or less of a struggle for our existence.

America did not start this fight, but with continued strong leadership from the President and continued resolve of the American people, we will be the ones who end it. Military action will not be our only tool; diplomacy, law enforcement, clandestine action, foreign aid, and financial pressure are among our other resources. However, I can be sure that the ones who bring us that victory will not be college professors writing books and articles, but men and women with guns.

Semper fidelis.

Carl Forsling W’95 Sneads Ferry, NC

 

Suicide Bombers Can’t be Deterred by Law Enforcement

The excerpt from Professor Lustick’s book was quite provocative. Lustick makes two main points, and they both seem to be dead wrong.

First, Lustick thinks that terrorism is “primarily a law-enforcement problem.” He believes we should “pursue, prosecute, and punish” terrorists. The problem, of course, is that suicide bombers and other would-be martyrs can’t be deterred by threats of prosecution, because they are quite willing to die for their cause. And they can’t be punished afterward, because they are already dead. So Lustick owes us some explanation of how his “law-enforcement” approach would actually work.

Second, Lustick thinks the United States should “redeem its image among average Muslims.” How? By “quickly orchestrating a solution [to the Arab-Israeli conflict] acceptable to the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis.” In other words, we should pressure Israel to accept another “land-for-peace” deal with the Palestinians. This is cynical at best, because most of the Arab world doesn’t care about the Palestinians, as Lustick admits. More important, his approach would further erode Israel’s security by enabling the Palestinians to launch even deadlier attacks at even closer range. Indeed, Lustick’s suggestion that we harm Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, in the hope of somehow appeasing “average Muslims” borders on the amoral.

It’s clear that Professor Lustick isn’t a fan of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. But it’s far from clear that he has anything better to offer us.

Michael W. Steinberg L’77 Bethesda, MD

 

Practical Suggestion for Two-State Solution?

In Samuel Hughes’s interview with Professor Ian Lustick, he quotes Dr. Lustick as saying, “But a crucial part of making that process work will be vigorous U.S. policies to finally bring about a Palestinian-Israeli peace based on two real states.”

Former President Bill Clinton tried to do this. Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Arafat was in the White House and the West Wing more often than any other foreign leader during the eight years of the Clinton administration. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a peace proposal at Camp David in July 2000. Chairman Arafat rejected the offer. He did not make a counter-proposal. Instead, he went home and began preparing for the intifada that erupted in September 2000.

In January 2002 the PA tried to smuggle Katyusha rockets, mortars, sniper rifles, bullets, anti-tank mines, anti-tank missiles, as well as over two and a half tons of pure explosives into Gaza aboard the Karin A. The ship was intercepted by the Israeli navy. The captain of the vessel was Omar Akawi, a Fatah activist since 1976 and a member of the PA, who supposedly left the organization two years previously because he had become “disillusioned” with its direction. The reported purchaser of the weapons, Adel Salameh (aka Adel ‘Moghrabi,’ because he carries a Moroccan passport) was also a member of Yassir Arafat’s staff.

In August 2005 Israel removed its settlements from the Gaza strip. Since then, hardly a day has gone by without Katyusha and Kassam rockets being fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

It seems clear to me that the Palestinians do not want a state, they want to destroy Israel. Does Dr. Lustick have any practical suggestions for implementing his planned two-state solution?

Arthur Rosenthol ME’58 Bala Cynwyd, PA

 

Taking Reason and Logic to a Suicidal Extreme

Professor Lustick in “Lowering the Temperature,” recommends keeping our cool in the War on Terror—we tolerate 5,000 workplace deaths and 50,000 auto-accident deaths per year, so we are irrational to get so bent out of shape over a few deaths from Islamist slaughter. This was nutty enough, but I nearly fell out of my chair when I got to the end when he said “even if the worst occurs,” (a nuclear blast, not a dirty bomb, with 30 mile radius blast!) we should act with “courage and discipline rather than impulse and bravado” because we “might render the planet unsafe for Americans for generations.” So New York or Los Angeles or West Philly might have been rendered uninhabitable for a half life, but we should be cool and stay calm. This is taking reason and logic to a suicidal extreme.

Steve Balog WG’79 Morristown, NJ

 

Reasonable Tone in a Hysterical Debate

Ian Lustick’s analysis of our clumsy approach to the terror problem strikes an appropriately reasonable tone in an otherwise hysterical debate. His view that we should respond with a measured law-enforcement approach, as Europe has, is a welcome message as we spend billions, sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in a seemingly unwinnable war, and gut the very civil liberties that make our country great.

Thanks to Penn for publishing such a courageous article. I’m glad my wife, Rachel Ellis W’91, is an alumna so I can read her subscription.

Mike Ellis, spouse Bensenville, IL

 

Inappropriate Attempt to Shame and Punish

I was concerned about the article about Professor Scott Ward [“Gazetteer,” Nov/Dec]. As a student of Professor Ward back in the mid-1980s, I appreciated his excellent work in the classroom, and know that he had continued to serve the University community well as a respected instructor over the years.

While I can’t assess the recent serious allegations against Professor Ward in the article, I do question why it was necessary for what seems to me to be a legal and internal personnel matter to be shared in such detail with the whole community of Penn graduates. The article does not seem to indicate that Professor Ward was in any way inappropriate with Penn students (past or present), or that his presence on the Penn campus has resulted in harm to the adults that he was teaching there.

It seems to me that the Gazette owes Professor Ward the courtesy and sensitivity that should be afforded to any staff member being disciplined or dismissed to be allowed to maintain their dignity and reputation. The comprehensive discussion of present and past allegations against Professor Ward in the article seemed to be unnecessary and inappropriate, and felt like an attempt to further shame and punish Professor Ward before the Penn community. It seemed like kicking a man when he is down.

Paul Moss WG’87 White Bear Lake, MN

 

Equality, Health, and Prosperity for All

In his Nov/Dec letter responding to the article, “Out of the Engineering Lab and into the Village” [“Gazetteer,” Sept/Oct], discussing Penn Engineers without Borders’ sustainable development and engineering work conducted in partnership with the community of Terreritos, Honduras, John D. Leith states that, “it might be more helpful to small villages if the visiting students could assist in promoting population restraint, rather than planning for growth.”

Leith must have missed the article’s opening statement that some villagers did not receive running water, or that those that did received insufficient quantities for basic sanitation and drinking needs. Children had developed a scarring skin condition due to the water sanitation situation. The water shortage was a painfully real and present-day problem for these villagers.

Leith’s calls for birth control could be one piece of the puzzle to solving certain communities’ future ills, but the water project in Terreritos was a carefully researched response to a current and real problem. Furthermore, accounting for projected population growth in designing sustainable development projects is not only standard practice, but responsible, and it was the right thing to do in Terreritos.

What could be more helpful than enabling people such as those in Terreritos to live healthier and more productive lives? Leith’s answer is birth control and, “Malthusian population controls,” for people not born in the U.S. Unlike Leith, Penn EWB shares in the UN’s vision, embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, that people from all walks of life deserve equality, health, and prosperity, and Penn EWB will continue to work towards these goals.

Alex Mittal EAS’07 W’07
President, Penn Engineers without Borders

 

Great News, But Why Hide It?

When I read the piece about Penn’s U.S. News & World Report ranking slipping [“Gazetteer,” Nov/Dec], I was thrilled to read in the same article that The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students’ rankings of gay-friendly campuses ranked Penn number one! It’s such an achievement that in the little over a dozen years since my graduation the school has gone from people being afraid to wear jeans on Gay Jeans Day to being ranked number one in gay-friendliness.

I have to say, however, that I was really disappointed to see such great news tucked away the way it was. I would love to read an article about what the campus has done to change attitudes so dramatically.

Jennifer Jarett C’93 New York

 

Warmed by Penn’s Environmental Consciousness

I was impressed to read about Penn’s use of wind energy, and incredibly proud to read further that Penn is “the largest retail buyer of green power of institutions of higher education” [“What’s Red and Blue and Green?,” Sept/Oct]. I had no idea that Penn was so environmentally conscious!

My home is totally solar-powered and all my water is from rainwater collection off my various roofs. There is no inconvenience to this, and I can run everything I need, while not using up anything. In this world of overpopulation and consumerism, I feel it is essential that each of us be attentive to our energy usage. That my alma mater is so thoroughly in support of this warms me to the core. Yay Penn!

Judy Eron SAMP’70 Terlingua, TX

Praise for Hedge Funds was Sickening

The paean of praise by Aaron Short for the hedge-fund people was sickening [“Betting Their Hedges,” Sept/Oct]. Here is a group of people whose only purpose is to make the rich richer, who contribute nothing to society or the economy, who are basically parasites, sucking the wealth out of the economy. And you think that that is great and deserves accolades? Finance of that type is a zero-sum game, and for every dollar they “earn,” someone, usually a small investor, loses a dollar.

Wealth for wealth’s sake is an abomination. It is the worship of wealth that leads to the myriad of scandals we have been afflicted with: Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, and on and on. Here is a group of wealthy people who have no hesitation in robbing investors or employees in their pursuit of “more.”

As Robert Sarnoff said: “Finance is the art of passing money from hand to hand until it disappears.”

Werner S. Zimmt G’81 Tucson, AZ

 

Give Harnwell His Due

It would be inappropriate to characterize Penn President Amy Gutmann as a cheerleader. However, her Sept/Oct “From College Hall” column, “Ever Stronger,” with its subtitle, “From research to real estate, how Penn connects,” certainly has that flavor with its bold, splashy, buzz-wordy picture of Penn’s eastern-campus development.

It would have been more appropriate if Gutmann had pointed out that the foundations of any new direction at Penn, whether it be in “research” or “real estate,” were laid down in the mid-1950s by President Gaylord P. Harwell, who the Gazette so inappropriately characterized as that “tweedy, pipe-smoking, white, male” in the photo and and caption titled “Yesterday’s Plans for Tomorrow” [“Window,”Sept/Oct].

Ross S. Preston C’62 Gr’67 Perth, Ontario, Canada

 

President Gutmann played no role in our selection of the photo of President Harnwell for our piece, or in its description of him—which was certainly not intended to slight his many accomplishments as Penn president from 1953 to 1970.—Ed.


Triumph or travesty?

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