Nutter’s Victory May Inspire Others In City to “Stop the Foolishness”

I read your recent story on Mayor Michael Nutter W’79 [“The Man Who Would Never Be Mayor,” Jan|Feb] with interest and delight. I’ve known Mike for years and was delighted to see Penn recognize his unique past and his potential for continuing to make great contributions to the future of Philadelphia as its new mayor. I have one comment and a suggested correction.

The corrective suggestion first: The article intimates that Nutter’s predecessor as mayor, John Street, was a racially partisan darling of the black community by quoting his “We are in charge” chant after his initial election in 1997. However, by the time Street ran for reelection in 2001, he was all but vilified by some of the same racial demagoguery that sought to plague Mike in his bid for the Democratic nomination. In fact, even as a city-council president, Street’s work in support of the continued revival of Center City was characterized as pandering to Center City (read, white) interests. I recall the same questions of blackness, or better put, the same “quantification of blackness” foolishness mentioned in the article, being raised on any number of occasions with respect to Street.

This leads to the comment: Philadelphia has long been a place where, despite the best intentions of many, racial politics, racial demagogy, and racial/ethnic balkanization have been used as tools by those who know better to exploit the worst fears of those who should know better. At their best the city’s leaders have boldly risen above that fray. At their worst they’ve led the charge in exploiting these differences. As a by-product, the likely positive contributions of many fine citizen leaders have been lost to the city because they simply refuse to subject themselves to this “racial litmus test” attack scenario. The use of, and easy access to, the base weapon of racial divisiveness as part of the common political arsenal is a blight on the city’s past and a real threat to its future progress.

Let’s hope that Mike’s stunning victory for competence and common sense will inspire other talented leaders in the city to stop the foolishness. Let’s hope they will come to the table and aggressively work together to solve the city’s big problems, creatively build on the city’s many existing strengths and lovingly establish for the city the national and international urban showcase status it deserves.

Thanks for a thought-provoking article.

James H. Swain GL’86 Miami, Florida

 

No Faith in Faith-based

John DiIullio [“Keeping Faith,” Jan|Feb] is intelligent, compassionate, and seductively articulate. John and I grew up in the same era, same neighborhood, and attended the same kind of schools. Our common heritage makes his advocacy of the faith-based movement more disturbing than the prospect of a preacher president.

When I attended St. Monica’s in the 1960s and La Salle High in the 1970s (without tuition vouchers) my parents and teachers assured me that secular derived from the Latin saeculum (of the present world not the next). They taught that I lived in a secular democracy that tolerated all religions and beliefs that did not infringe on the rights of others. In the 1980s my Penn professors supported the notion that secular did not connote amoral communist savages intent on destroying democracy, but merely meant “without religion.” Apparently I was misinformed. According to the Gospel of John I live in a “Godly Republic.”

I’ve practiced psychology in North Carolina for a dozen years. Our state dismantled its community mental-health system, divested itself of directly caring for its citizens. Now “we the people” pretend to fulfill our social contract to each other by writing shrinking checks to growing numbers of mom-and-pop agencies. I’m no longer a citizen providing evidence-based care to the “least of my brothers” within a community health system. I am an “entrepreneur” within entrepreneurial agencies. Practically none of the agencies is affiliated with a religion. Practically all of the moms and pops profess to be “people of faith.” I work with them because they are “people of compassionate action” working for the common good.

I also volunteer with the Full Belly Project. Jock Brandis and his garage band “think tank” work for the common good by developing locally sustainable technologies to feed and fuel the hungry. Full Belly is unaffiliated with any religion and doesn’t have faith in free-market solutions. Jock’s inventions are not patented for profit; they are placed in public domain. If Full Belly has any faith it has faith that reason, persistence, and compassionate action of common men benefit the common good.

I doubt the faith-based movement has anything to offer that reason, persistence, and compassionate action does not already accomplish more effectively. Compassionate action is professed by most religions, but effectively promoted by none. It is not yet prohibited by the Constitution.

DiIullio doesn’t want the playing field tilted against faith-based organizations and he is proud to have gotten faith-based initiatives into the vernacular. As for me, my thought experiment concludes that if all religions were taxed as the businesses they are, most sanctuaries in strip malls next to porn shops would disappear, but the work of those defining compassion and morality as verbs, not religious rhetoric or Ivy League abstractions would continue unimpeded. I am proud to be still living under the Constitution, our original series of reason-based initiatives. The faith-based movement is a blemish on our democracy, but I have faith that like all pimples, it will clear in time.

Mark F. Basquill C’83 Wilmington, NC

 

No Heavenly Quid Pro Quo Needed

Throughout history, the ideological and religious strife John Dilulio laments has been largely a product of godly, faith-based societies. The civic compassion he champions should not have to be contingent on hope for a heavenly quid pro quo, or fear of supernatural retribution. Goodness should be its own reward.

Bart Vinik W’71 Worcester, MA

 

Not Controversial, Extreme

In “Blogging Against the Machine” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb] you describe Juan Cole as a history professor whose career may have suffered due to his “controversial Web posts on Middle East politics.” The real story is far more interesting than that.

Cole’s opinions—the primary basis of his reputation—are those of an extremist. His views are feverishly anti-Israel, bordering on anti-Semitic. For example, on January 2, 2004, he wrote: “We don’t need any more U.S. buildings blown up because our government is coddling cuckoo [Israeli] settlers who are stealing other people’s land to fulfill some weird religious power fantasy.” So the real question isn’t why Yale declined to hire Cole in 2006, but why they ever considered him in the first place.

By the way, Cole’s writings strain to portray Islamic society as tolerant and peaceful, a culture where Christians and Jews are respected and where violence is used only in self-defense. Would that it were so, Professor Cole.

Michael W. Steinberg L’77 Bethesda, MD

 

I Know What I (Don’t) Like

Re “The Sculptor’s Ark” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb, reporting on a campus visit by the artist Richard Serra]: When I first saw Serra’s rusting steel sheets in downtown St. Louis, it seemed to me that someone in municipal government had been the victim of a cruel hoax, a sort of artistic “gotcha.” Then, when it was learned that Mr. Serra scored again in New York, I began to realize what a remarkable salesman he was, and that he had probably established steel-mill connections as well. It also became abundantly clear that the tale of the emperor having no clothes is more than myth. On reflection, one ponders how fortunate it would have been if rolled steel “art” had been in place in American cities earlier, say in the 1930s. Then when WWII came along, Henry Kaiser would have had all that wonderful raw material just sitting there waiting to be converted into Liberty Ships. Oh well, who can say what the future will bring?

Philip N. Baker W’52 St. Louis

Word Play

Thank you so much for your pertinent, thought-provoking article.

To Play or Not to Play” [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb] was filled with phrases such as: “activity is considered,” “list that prizes,” “motivation to learn,” “bolstering,” “serves some purpose.”

All these phrases inform the ancient Greek and Medieval idea of the intellect ratio (mental focus or effort directed at a goal or purpose, work). The other intellect of human knowing power was called intellectus (perception without directed effort, non-work).

Intellectus’s “listening in to the being of things” (Heraclitus) often brings exuberant joy and excitement such as that of a child’s wonder over a “Jack Frost”-coated windowpane, joy at the explosion of brilliant sunlit drops while running through a sprinkler, the fascination of a child looking through colored cellophane. An adult senses the same wonder watching a glorious sunset. When one sits still, there is no such thing as a “simple sunset.”

A society selects a focus for its members for its own self-promoting benefit. As suggested by Josef Pieper, our technological society seems to label non-work (purposeless) as bad.

“Does children’s play have its own adaptive”—insinuating purpose—“out-comes?” This seems to suggest a ratio (work) bias.

Is it possible that undirected play is the intellect intellectus informing a child of the great joy “of the being of things” … including himself?

Perhaps your article has an unconscious ratio bias?

Thank you again for a wonderful readable issue.

Mildred M. Wintz FA’55 Huntingdon Valley, PA

 

The Premise is Wrong

Our Nov|Dec article “Prisoners, Poems, and Principles”—about attorney Marc Falkoff C’88’s representation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and a book of their poems he shepherded to publication— prompted an outpouring of angry letters in the Jan|Feb issue. Here, Falkoff responds.

In its last issue, the Gazette printed two pages of letters attacking my representation of 17 prisoners at Guantánamo. The letters accused me of being naive in believing that my clients are innocent, and impugned me for personally profiting from a book of prisoner poetry that I edited.

The premise of each of the letters is that all of the men who have been detained at Guantánamo (some for more than six years) are in fact associated with al Qaeda or another terrorist organization. The premise is wrong.

To begin with, recall that of the roughly 775 Muslim men who have been detained at Guantánamo, only 10 have been charged with a crime and only one has been convicted—Australian David Hicks, who received a nine-month sentence to be served in his home country in exchange for a guilty plea. (As part of his plea agreement, Hicks was remarkably forced to retract his accusations of abuse at Guantánamo and to forego his right to talk to the media for a full year after his release.)

Consider also that the current population of Guantánamo is now roughly 275 prisoners. What happened to the other 500 of the “worst of the worst?” What happened to all of those men who, according to General Richard Meyers, would “gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down?” The answer is that these men were sent back to their home countries in Europe, in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in Afghanistan, where almost without exception they were released into freedom. Could it be that the Administration doesn’t believe its own rhetoric about the dangerousness of the prisoners at Guantánamo?

We have been told repeatedly by members of the Bush administration, including Vice President Richard Cheney, that the “people that are there are people we picked up on the battlefield, primarily in Afghanistan. They’re terrorists. They’re bomb makers. They’re facilitators of terror. They’re members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

But nearly two years ago, the law school at Seton Hall University analyzed documents released by the military pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Seton Hall ignored altogether anything that we lawyers had to say about our clients, and instead relied entirely on the military’s own catalog of accusations against the detainees. Their findings: Only 5 percent of the detainees were captured on a battlefield. Only 8 percent were accused of being al Qaeda fighters. Fully 55 percent were not even accused of engaging in a hostile act against the United States or its allies.

These finding are perfectly in accord with what I know about my own clients, most of whom were taken into custody not by American troops, but by Pakistani security forces at the Afghan-Pakistan border, at a time when the United States was offering bounties of $5,000 for any “al-Qaida and Taliban murderers.” (In his autobiography, Pakistani President Purvez Musharraf brags about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Pakistan made thanks to those bounties.) Of course, not all of my clients were picked up on the border: One was arrested while he was sleeping in a residential home in Karachi, Pakistan. Another was arrested after attending a business meeting in Cairo, Egypt. None of the 17 was picked up on anything remotely resembling a battlefield.

Am I contending that no one at Guantánamo is associated with al Qaeda? Of course not. But I can assure you that we have made literally hundreds of mistakes at Guantánamo and that hundreds of innocents have been detained there. This really should be no surprise. In previous conflicts, like Vietnam and even the first Gulf War, the military conducted field hearings (required by Army Regulation 190-8 and Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions) to determine whether persons captured in civilian dress were in fact enemy soldiers or—as they often turned out to be—real civilians. Our military conducted no such hearings during the Afghanistan conflict.

I do contend that many of my Yemeni clients are demonstrably innocent. I know this not just from speaking with them, but also from reading the classified evidence against them and from my own investigation. But I don’t ask you to take my word for it, any more than I expect you to unquestioningly accept the Administration’s blanket assertions of my clients’ guilt.

I respectfully suggest that a federal judge should be given the opportunity to look at the government’s evidence and decide whether the continued detention of my clients is legal. Let the judge determine, for example, whether the medical records that I’ve gathered prove or do not prove that my client Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif was in Afghanistan receiving medical care for a head injury he suffered in a car accident.

The judge can weigh that evidence against that of the unidentified witness who claims to have seen Adnan at an al Qaeda training camp. The judge might, if he learns the witness’s name, ask whether he was “waterboarded” by the CIA before giving his evidence.

I’ve got another client, Mohammed Mohammed Hassen, who was cleared by the military to be released from Guantánamo years ago. I’ve got an email from the military to prove it. Why hasn’t he gone home? Because the United States and Yemen have not reached a political accommodation concerning the treatment of the prisoners upon their repatriation. Why else have only 12 of the 107 Yemenis been repatriated over the course of six years? Is it because they are more dangerous or guilty than the prisoners from other countries? The assertion beggars belief.

One of the letters published in the Gazette warns that “a real Al Qaeda fighter is trained to lie, and some are probably good at it.” That may be true, but the point proves too much, since it’s not only terrorists who claim, for example, to be aid workers, but it is also aid workers who claim to be aid workers. And what if I am “wrong as often as not” about my clients’ innocence? Wouldn’t that mean that half of my 17 clients who are in prison right now are in fact wrongly detained civilians?

Another letter suggests that my clients are practicing taqiyya, the “Islamic doctrine of deliberate dissimulation about religious matters (such as jihad).” The letter-writer, who mischaracterizes the doctrine, has to my mind issued a slur against Islam that does not dignify a response.

Finally, contrary to the assertion of another correspondent, I am not profiting from the release of Poems from Guantánamo, a book in which I published poems that I had gathered from present and former Guantánamo detainees. As Samuel Hughes noted in the original Gazette article, I have designated all proceeds from the book to go to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the human-rights law firm that has spearheaded this litigation.

Marc Falkoff C’88 DeKalb, IL

Letters Left a Bad Taste

Wow, did the letters section of the Jan|Feb Gazette fill me with depression and angst. Amid a handful of intelligent comments on Penn hockey, national health care reform, and the Bush administration’s lack of respect for the Constitution were a series of letters from alumni who seem alarmingly preoccupied with the “danger” posed by the unfortunate and unaccused inmates of the shameful prison at Guantánamo.

 I’d wager that if any of these four frightened men had a friend or relative locked up indefinitely and in defiance of American law, they’d be busy writing letters of an entirely different sort. But apparently we can’t take for granted that our Penn degrees go hand-in-hand with the capacity to see the bigger picture and to place oneself in another’s shoes.

One of the four fearful fellows even worked in a complaint about the injustice of the mere “two column-inches” of recent “Alumni Notes” coverage of a fancy award he received. I hope that letter writer enjoyed seeing his name and his achievement trumpeted in back-to-back Gazette issues—perhaps it helped him understand why Guantánamo detainees might appreciate Marc Falkoff’s heroic efforts to publish their poetry.

As for me, I had to quickly page past the letters to the always enjoyable “Notes From The Undergrad” column to remind myself of the wondrous character inherent in so many of my fellow Quakers.

 Shane Finneran W’99 San Diego, CA

 

Correction

The headline and text of our Jan|Feb “Gazetteer” article on Rhodes Scholar Joyce Meng incorrectly referred to her as a “Wharton senior.” Ms. Meng is actually a student in the Huntsman Program in International Studies & Business, an integrated curriculum that awards its graduates with a bachelor of arts in international studies from the School of Arts and Sciences and a bachelor of science in economics from the Wharton School. Our apologies to Ms. Meng and SAS for the error.


Liking Mike, doubting faith-based, Marc Falkoff responds.

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