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The Wisdom of Silence

August 24, 2010 12 comments

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. 

      Mark Twain 

When Twain made this remark he probably didn’t have American presidents in mind, but it captures an important lesson in an unintended way. Of course, Twain meant that if you’re a fool and you speak, your intellect will be more obvious to others than if you kept your mouth shut. Presidents often aren’t fools (yes, I did just write that) but speaking out even with wise words may be a foolish move. 

Over at The Economist’s “Democracy in America” blog, the writer, while staking out an odd position on gay marriage (one I happen to disagree with), observes that “for presidents, words are political actions.”

What would have been the actual political consequences of a decision by Barack Obama to come out in favour of gay marriage in the past year and a half? I don’t think there can be any doubt that such a move would have re-politicised an issue that, remarkably, has become steadily less partisan in recent years. Presidents can’t simply speak their minds. For presidents, words are political actions. A president who voices an opinion without considering the political consequences is acting irresponsibly. Presidents’ voiced opinions about social justice are very sharply constrained by whether voicing those opinions is likely to advance their visions of social justice at that political moment. And that means that presidents’ spoken views on such questions may lag far behind the pace of progressive opinion, and may become much less progressive when they are in power than they were before they were elected.

I happen to believe that Obama speaking out in favor of gay marriage would be beneficial to the cause (and would certainly put him on the right side of history), but it’s not preposterous to think that the opposite effect would result. There is no question that it would further politicize the issue just when a majority of Americans now believe in full marriage rights for gays and lesbians. 

On August 11th Matthew Yglesias wrote a post arguing that often presidential leadership can be counterproductive. He was talking about immigration, but this clearly applies to all issues. He was piggybacking off of Ezra Klein’s post on Francis Lee’s book Beyond Ideology which argues that “presidential positions” increase the partisanship on issues.

[The] American people — and the media — expect a lot of bully pulpit leadership. But that bully pulpit leadership polarizes the other party against the initiative, even when the messaging is effective.

Grasping this dynamic is key to understanding the wisdom of President Obama in not offering his full opinion of the Islamic center near Ground Zero. If anyone has any doubts of the effect, notice how the issue became more polarized when he just commented on the constitutionality of it. This isn’t to say that presidents shouldn’t ever speak out on controversial issues; it is to only notice that “A president who voices an opinion without considering the political consequences is acting irresponsibly.”

Given that, I think it’s unfair for writers on the left, right, and center to blast President Obama for being cowardly for not commenting on the wisdom of the choice or to give his personal opinion. Clive Crook’s latest FT column is a perfect illustration of this. This expands on his previous blog post on what Crook thinks Obama should have said. Of course, all this presumes Obama is, in fact, in favor of the mosque and thinks it is wise. If he thinks it is unwise and insensitive, does Crook still think it’d be unifying? Lee’s research suggests that had Obama spoken out by praising the wisdom of the mosque it would have made the polarization of the issue even worse. If he strongly argued that equating this mosque and Sufi Islam with the Islamic fanatics that attacked the US is completely irrational he would have been skewered for being insensitive to the 9/11 families. 

Presidents’ words also have effects diplomatically. Had Obama given too much sympathy for the sentiments of the 9/11 families by saying that it isn’t completely irrational to feel disgust at putting a mosque so close to the site of a horrendous attack by Islamic terrorists, how would that have played with our Muslim allies? To not consider the unintended consequences would be ill-advised. 

None of this is to argue that presidents shouldn’t take politically unpopular or politically dangerous stands if strong principles are at stake. Commentators just need to recognize the possible effects of a president’s words; after all, a president speaking out may be counterproductive to justice or diplomatic goals and these effects aren’t necessarily going to run in the same direction. Crook or Krauthammer or whoever can plausibly argue that the president should take a stand that they agree with because it is the right thing to do, but to argue that it is cowardly not to or that it would be “unifying” if he did is disingenuous or foolish – on this they’d be better off remaining silent. 



(image: abc news)

Religious Freedom Trumps Our Feelings, ctd

August 22, 2010 3 comments

Over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish, Patrick Appel posts a reader response to his initial post on “Atheists Vs The Mosque.” Here is the reader’s letter in full:

I think it needs to be said that many of us atheists part way with the louder atheists out there when it comes to Islam or other blanket condemnations of religious people.
Though I agree with 90% of what the “new athiests” say in regards to belief and doubt, the movement will never amount to anything, because they ostracize way too many like-minded individuals. Fair enough I suppose, because most atheists are happy not belonging to a group. But I have to ask myself what do Harris and Coyne wish to accomplish with their arguments? Even if they are 100% correct, what is the best case scenario from blaming moderate Muslims and for completely demonizing a people who, from my experiences in Turkey, are by and large peaceful people (or else we’d see jihadists everywhere).
There is no question that fundamentalist Islam is a problem, and addressing it pragmatically is the only solution.  Moderate Muslims are the only ones that will be effective in promoting a change, and trying to shame them seems completely impractical.
You can not fight unreason face-to-face with pure reason and expect to get the results you want. As an atheist in the South, I deal with this on a daily basis with Christianists, who, in my opinion, pose a much greater threat to our country than Islam. Inciting them has never been a practical solution to dealing with them.
The new atheists initial arguments were exciting to me, because I saw it encouraging closeted atheists to come out; however, it has devolved into a religion bashing group if the comments sections for the big websites are anything to go by.  Christianity got at least one thing right, “Though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.

I sent back a letter of my own with a few edits:

I think it needs to be said that many of us [homosexuals] part way with [the louder gays] out there when it comes to most Americans or other blanket condemnations of [full civil rights opponents].

Though I agree with 90% of what the [“new queers”] say in regards to [marriage and civil rights], the movement will never amount to anything, because they ostracize way too many like-minded individuals. Fair enough I suppose because most [queers] are happy not belonging to a group. But I have to ask myself what do [Sullivan] and [Lt. Choi] wish to accomplish with their arguments? Even if they are 100% correct, what is the best case scenario from blaming [the Human Rights Campaign] and for completely demonizing a people who, from my experiences in [Massachusetts], are by and large peaceful people (or else we’d see [bigots] everywhere).

There is no question that fundamentalist [bigotry] is a problem, and addressing it pragmatically is the only solution. Moderate [civil union proponents] are the only ones that will be effective in promoting a change, and trying to shame them seems completely impractical.

You can not fight unreason face-to-face with pure reason and expect to get the results you want. […] The new [queers] initial arguments were exciting to me, because I saw it encouraging closeted [gays] to come out; however, it has devolved into a [HRC/Democratic Party/religion/President Obama/moderate] bashing group if the comments sections for the big websites are anything to go by. [Andrew Sullivan] got at least one thing right, [“This is your liberal media ladies and gentlemen: totally partisan, interested in the truth only if it advances their agenda, and devoid of any balls whatsoever”.]

I actually shared my own issues with Harris’s piece here, but the reader and Patrick Appel just fail to grapple with the critique Harris is actually making. I hope my little bit of creative editing will make some of the reader’s fallacies and double standards more obvious. Here I’ll plunge a little deeper into what I find objectionable in the reader’s response.
He writes,

Though I agree with 90% of what the “new athiests” say in regards to belief and doubt, the movement will never amount to anything, because they ostracize way too many like-minded individuals.

This is one of the more common criticisms I hear of the “new atheists.” The problem with this argument is that no one has actually provided any evidence that it is true. There are a couple of dubious premises I see. First, if “the movement will never amount to anything” how does he square that with the idea that it is being counter-productive. Doesn’t he also notice that the movement has already generated quite a bit of talk and has attracted support from a large number of prominent scientists and thinkers? Also, even if someone doesn’t self-identify as a “new atheist” (or even an atheist (Sam Harris himself doesn’t like to)) the idea is to promote certain goals like reason and science and to break the taboo that religion can’t be criticized – I already see that taboo as beginning to crumble.


These “like-minded individuals” also aren’t so “like-minded” if they think moderate faith is entirely benign – if the “loud atheists'” message is uncomfortable to them, well, that’s the idea.  Finally, the implication that “new atheists'” message will somehow crowd-out other pro-science, pro-reason, anti-fundementalist messages is completely lacking in evidence and actually seems a bit ridiculous, especially considering that this reader thinks “the movement will never amount to anything.”

But I have to ask myself what do Harris and Coyne wish to accomplish with their arguments? Even if they are 100% correct, what is the best case scenario from blaming moderate Muslims and for completely demonizing a people[…] (my emphasis)

This just screams, “not interested in truth” to me. He says he agrees with “90%” of the new atheists ideas, but presumably the 10% for him includes valuing truth even if offends the sentiments of many. It appears the reader missed one of the core messages in that 10% he rejects. Not sure what the 90% is. If it’s just that he doesn’t believe in God, he’s almost entirely missed the point of Harris’s writings – his 90-10 split should be reversed. Also, Harris and Coyne don’t “demonize” an entire people or blame moderate Muslims for 9/11 or terrorism. I’ve never read or heard that from either of them anywhere. They may blame moderates for failing to adequately confront the reality of terrorism inspired by Islam. Is it really demonization to challenge moderate Muslims to look at their own scriptures and question them on the messages found in them? Is it demonization to notice that the Islamic doctrine of jihad (not invented by extremists, but found in the messages of the Koran and hadith) has dangerous effects on our world.

There is no question that fundamentalist Islam is a problem, and addressing it pragmatically is the only solution.  Moderate Muslims are the only ones that will be effective in promoting a change, and trying to shame them seems completely impractical.

Harris has actually acknowledged on multiple occasions that he’s not the best ambassador to Muslims communities, and has called for tactical alliances when dealing with larger problems such as terrorism. How Harris or Coyne or anyone else is preventing moderates from being effective isn’t said. I’m not positive shame is the best approach to get them to confront the objectionable realities of many in their religion, but it’s at least possibly one approach. If someone, reasonably, feels that moderates aren’t being loud enough now with all the coddling going on, maybe it’s time for a little shame. Here’s the type of shame Harris is advocating – something he calls “conversational intolerance.”

Good and civil people are made to feel shame for unthinkingly using words like “fag” and for treating homosexuals as undeserving of full civil rights and respect – is it obvious to anyone that shame didn’t help nudge people to behave better? Just two days earlier this video was on The Daily Dish.

I’m not prepared to say it’s a bad thing to shame moderates into being more outspoken condemning women’s rights abuses in the Muslim world or acknowledging that, for example, close to 1 and 3 British Muslims would prefer to live under sharia law, or just admitting the horrors found in their holy texts. What exactly will it take to get moderates of most religions to notice that religion can actually have negative effects? Just for the record Harris was mostly trying to get “well-intentional liberals” to discuss the realities of much in Islam despite the demagoguing of the political right.

You can not fight unreason face-to-face with pure reason and expect to get the results you want.

Well, if you wanted a good example of condescending to those you wish to persuade, look no further. No one is  advocating being impolite in every circumstance, just honest.

The new atheists initial arguments were exciting to me, because I saw it encouraging closeted atheists to come out; however, it has devolved into a religion bashing group if the comments sections for the big websites are anything to go by.

Let me quote Jerry Coyne responding to Phil Plait’s talk that similarly criticized the “dickish” attitude of many new atheists.

He surely has instances of “bad behavior” in mind—indeed, he says so.  And yes, you can find them in the comments section of several atheist websites.  But I find the claim of pervasive bad behavior unconvincing. If you look at the major voices of the skeptical movement, at least those that I read regularly, I think you’ll see very, very few cases of opponents being called “brain damaged” or “baby rapers”.  In general, the discourse is not about name-calling, but about facts and rational argument.

I don’t really think the comment sections of atheist websites are really going to sway Muslims one way or the other. All this gripping about tone is mostly just a way for critics of Harris, Hitchens, and others to ignore their actual arguments.


These types of criticisms always seem to be so concerned with the ability of the new atheists to persuade. Maybe I’m going out on a limb, but it seems more likely these critics don’t want the new atheists to persuade. Continue to be cognizant of the fact that these critics never provide evidence to their claims that these loud atheists are hurting the cause. I’d don’t have much evidence that they’re helping much, but it seems unlikely they are hurting the cause considering that more people, not less, are identifying as nonreligious since the Harris and others first started speaking out. This graph was at The Daily Dish just today.
Religion_switching
And many people are already familiar with the declining rates of religion in America.


Harris and others are pointing out that certain Islamic beliefs conflict with many of our Western values. He’s also trying to counter many well-meaning political figure’s and intellectual’s notion that Islam had nothing to do with 9/11.

There is no such thing as Islamophobia. Bigotry and racism exist, of course—and they are evils that all well-intentioned people must oppose. And prejudice against Muslims or Arabs, purely because of the accident of their birth, is despicable. But like all religions, Islam is a system of ideas and practices. And it is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their co-religionists believe.

I’m fine with Park51, I think living out our liberal values by allowing the community center is more important than any message it may send to many Muslims that “liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.” But the suggestion that Harris is demonizing moderates or that atheists are hurting the cause of reason are faith-based beliefs – that is, they are utterly lacking in evidence.

Quotes That Could Be From Me

August 18, 2010 3 comments

Should I hide the person who said the quote until you click the link or is this format better? 

“I believe that Thomas Jefferson said, “”If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?”” – Glenn Beck, responding to a question by Bill O’Reilly if gay marriage hurts the country. He’s been criticized by the right harshly after that one. 

“I know some people reading this post are very hostile to the talk radio right, others are as hostile to the left, and still others are hostile toward me. What I want to insist is that this enterprise of talking to one another is nevertheless worthwhile — conducted the right way, something none of us has a monopoly on, it can be productive indeed. America is our shared neighborhood, one where broken windows cause everyone to behave a bit more badly to one another…” – Conor Friedersdorf on engaging with those you disagree with. 

A reader of mine has reminded me to not fall into the trap of only condemning one side of the debate or only seeing the good in my own “side.” Glenn Beck, who I more frequently than not disagree with, took a respectable position for respectable reasons, I shouldn’t hesitate to point that out.  Conor’s argument fits nicely with the mission of this blog to engage with those we disagree with to help us reach closer to the truth. 

Under Construction

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

This blog is under construction until any official move. Many of the links don’t work and the content is not up-to-date. To view the current blog click here.

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Elephants In Yellowstone

August 17, 2010 4 comments

Generally I stay away from the Huffington Post’s treatment of all faith or science related topics, but physicist Victor Stenger has a column and I suppose I can make an exception. In it he blows up the cliche that Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence. He’s right; sometimes if there is no evidence for something – that is evidence that something isn’t there.

I can think of many cases where absence of evidence provides robust evidence of absence. The key question is whether evidence should exist but does not. Elephants have never been seen roaming Yellowstone National Park. If they were, they would not have escaped notice. No matter how secretive, the presence of such huge animals would have been marked by ample physical signs — droppings, crushed vegetation, bones of dead elephants. So we can safely conclude from the absence of evidence that elephants are absent from the park.

[…]

That is the situation with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. Until recent times, absence of evidence for his existence has not been sufficient to rule him out. However, we now have enough knowledge that we can identify many places where there should be evidence, but there is not. The absence of that evidence allows us to rule out the existence of this God beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now, I am not talking about all conceivable gods. Certainly the deist god who does not interfere in the world is difficult to rule out. However, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, whom I identify with an uppercase G, is believed to play such an active role in the universe that his actions should have been detected, thus confirming his existence. Let me present four examples. 

Stenger’s piece demonstrates that science can indeed weigh in on the supernatural. One often hears appeals to non overlapping magisteria or that science cannot measure the immaterial, only the material world. Besides the fact that we only have reason to believe we live in an all material universe (very broadly defined), Stenger’s argument shows to me that even if science couldn’t study immaterial objects (whatever those would be) it can study immaterial objects effects on our material universe. Since theists believe that immaterial/supernatural beings affect the material world there should be evidence for that. Unfortunately for their case, there is not. Emptiness has never glared so much. 


(image)

Religious Freedom Trumps Our Feelings, ctd

August 16, 2010 17 comments

In my previous post on this topic, I laid out my argument and others’ for allowing the proposed mosque to be built. President Obama courageously and dutifully addressed the nation and also supported the religious freedom of Muslims to build a mosque on private property.

I completely agree when the President says,

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.  And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.

He or I did not, however, comment on what he calls “the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”

Well Sam Harris tries to thread the needle by distancing himself from “many who oppose the construction of this mosque [that] embody all that is terrifyingly askew in conservative America—“birthers,” those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories). These people are wrong about almost everything under the sun.” He’s attempting to jab his carefully threaded needle into the wisdom without puncturing the liberal values of America’s founding and its citizens’ constitutional rights. Outside the piece he explains that he wrote this article before President Obama gave the speech – the editors wrote the title and lead in. Within his essay, I do think he bursts President Obama’s diplomatic statement that “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.” I do worry that careless readers with fall into the trap of thinking Harris is too easily grouping moderates and extremists; failing to discriminate. Further in however Harris’s thread comes close to falling out.

And the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice. This may not be reason enough for the supporters of this mosque to reconsider their project. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps there is some form of Islam that could issue from this site that would be better, all things considered, than simply not building another mosque in the first place. But this leads me to a somewhat paradoxical conclusion: American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.

Harris might be right that it is unfortunate that these peaceful American Muslims would want to build their mosque so close to Ground Zero if they are actually interested in easing tensions between communities (clearly that isn’t working yet), but I’m not sure he’s right that it shows that “liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.” Even if some terrorists overseas view it that way, in my mind it highlights the strength of our values to withstand even what a majority of our citizens find “offensive.” I don’t want to be held hostage to whatever religious terrorists may think about our decisions or values. Furthermore, allowing the construction stands in stark contrast to how many in the Muslim world treat things they find offensive. Christopher Hitchens spotlights that gambit.

A widespread cultural cringe impels many people to the half-belief that it’s better to accommodate “moderates” like Rauf as a means of diluting the challenge of the real thing. So for the sake of peace and quiet, why not have Comedy Central censor itself or the entire U.S. press refuse to show the Danish cartoons?

This kind of capitulation needs to be fought consistently. But here is exactly how not to resist it. Take, for example, the widely publicized opinion of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Supporting those relatives of the 9/11 victims who have opposed Cordoba House, he drew a crass analogy with the Final Solution and said that, like Holocaust survivors, “their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” This cracked tune has been taken up by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who additionally claim to be ventriloquizing the emotions of millions of Americans who did notsuffer bereavement. It has also infected the editorial pages of the normally tougher-minded Weekly Standard, which called on President Obama to denounce the Cordoba House on the grounds that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans allegedly find it “offensive.”

Where to start with this part-pathetic and part-sinister appeal to demagogy? To begin with, it borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail. Claim that something is “offensive,” and it is as if the assertion itself has automatically become an argument. You are even allowed to admit, as does Foxman, that the ground for taking offense is “irrational and bigoted.” But, hey—why think when you can just feel?

I have to admit, when I first heard that they were building a “Ground Zero Mosque” I assumed it was going to be in the new Twin Towers. Viscerally and immediately I opposed that; but once I learned it was being built on private property and off the site of the Twin Towers, I couldn’t find any reason for restricting the freedom of fellow Americans. Now I still don’t think I’d argue in favor of putting a mosque there if I was making the decision (fortunately in America we don’t allow the opinion of random citizens to decide such questions), and I can’t help but understand the emotional appeal of people like this 9/11 firefighter in opposing the mosque’s construction (which I watched as I sat in the ER). I don’t agree with all his arguments but I can empathize with his perspective. This puts me in a difficult place. How can I on the one hand give his argument from offense weight while actively instigating offense in campaigns like “Draw Mohammed Day” (e.g. here and here)? Well to me it illustrates the essential difference in supporting freedom in practice to just giving it lip service. Conor Friedersdorf puts the opposition to the test.

Imagine a suburban street where three kids in a single family were molested by a Catholic priest, who was subsequently transferred by the archbishop to a faraway parish, and never prosecuted. Nine years later, a devout Catholic woman who lives five or six doors down decides that she’s going to start a prayer group for orthodox Catholics — they’ll meet once a week in her living room, and occasionally a local priest, recently graduated from a far away seminary, will attend.

Even if we believe that it is irrational for the mother of the molested kids to be upset by this prayer group on her street, it’s easy enough to understand her reaction. Had she joined an activist group critical of the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the molestation, it’s easy to imagine that group backing the mother. As evident is the fact that the devout Catholic woman isn’t culpable for molestations in the Catholic church — in fact, even though we understand why her prayer group upsets the neighbor, it is perfectly plausible that the prayer group organizers never imagined that their plan would be upsetting or controversial. In their minds (and in fact), they’re as opposed to child molestation as anyone, and it’s easy to see why they’d be offended by any implication to the contrary.

Presented with that situation, how should the other people on the street react? Should they try to get city officials to prevent the prayer meetings from happening because they perhaps violate some technicality in the neighborhood zoning laws? Should they hold press conferences denouncing the devout woman? Should they investigate the priest who plans to attend? What if he once said, “Child molestation is a terrible sin, it is always wrong, and I am working to prevent it from ever happening again. I feel compelled to add that America’s over-sexualized culture is an accessory to this crime.” Does that change anything?

I’d certainly side with the woman who wants to hold the prayer group, and her fellow orthodox Catholics.

Does anyone think any of those talk-radio hosts opposing the mosque would similarly oppose the Christian prayer group? What about Gingrich or Palin? Certainly, the mosque case is more extreme in degree, but I fail to see any difference in principle.


I still believe that once tensions simmer down, America will be stronger for allowing this construction. As I argued before, we’re not so fragile that we can’t live with this. We must remember that even if it is unadvisable or unwise for these Americans to build their mosque here, they aren’t responsible for 9/11. Feelings aren’t permanent, freedom should be. And, hey, we can always support building a gay bar next to it.

Turkish Police Detain Journalist Jake Hess

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment
Jake Hess, a 2007 Suffolk University graduate, moved to Turkey two years ago as a human rights activist.

I’ve sat on commenting on this for a little while now, but I think it’s appropriate that I give attention to this important story. I’ve collected a few news reports and material to give readers a sense of the story. I want to acknowledge that I got most of these sources from the facebook page of fellow Clark alumni Chris Caesar, a personal friend of Jake, that’s been cataloguing the news reports as they appear. 


[Personal note: Although I don’t know Jake Hess personally I once sparred with him in an alternative newspaper at Clark University on the science of climate change and hurricanes. From what I know, he’s a good journalist and a caring person. I hope he gets home safely. Anything I can do to promote the safe return on Jake Hess I’m happy to do. I encourage others to do the same.]


Chris Caesar’s Press Release:

ANKARA, Turkey – A freelance journalist with ties to the New Hampshire Seacoast and Boston has been arrested in what appears to be a politically-motivated act of retaliation by the Turkish government, watch-dog groups reported Friday.

Jake Hess, 25, formerly of Hampton, was detained by Turkish police after publishing a series of articles critical of the Turkish government’s treatment of Kurdish refugees. Officially, the government alleges Hess has collaborated with the Kuridstan Worker’s Party, or PKK, a militant group outlawed by the Turkish government.

Hess’s attorney, Serkan Akbaş, said Hess “wrote several articles that angered the authorities,” adding that the timing of the arrest “clearly shows that they got annoyed with his articles.” His latest piece (http://original.antiwar.com/jake-hess/2010/08/04/kurdish-refugees-were-not-living-just-not-dying/print/) for the Inter Press Service news agency – examining the displacement of civilians after Turkish attacks – was published on August 4.

Antiwar Article:

SULEYMANIYA, Iraq – Compared to most internally displaced Kurds in northern Iraq, Shamal Qadir is almost lucky. Since the Turkish army devastated his village, Kuzine, in a bombing raid Jul. 1, he’s been living in a schoolhouse, where room temperatures are comfortable and basic amenities are accessible.

“Our family bought land and started building houses in Kuzine in 1996. We did it for our children, so they’d have a place to live in the future,” Qadir tells IPS. “Now, our dreams have been destroyed.” 

Qadir is one of roughly 6,500 people who have been driven from their homes by Turkish and Iranian bombings of Kurdish border villages in northern Iraq since May 24. About two-thirds of the displaced are currently living in dusty tent camps scattered across barren mountain ranges, their essential needs barely being met by international aid agencies and local authorities. 

Boston Globe

Hess was detained late Wednesday on allegations of collaborating with Kurdish activists accused of having links to terrorism, his lawyer said.

Lawyer Serkan Akbas said Hess will probably be deported rather than charged or jailed for an extended period.

Hess is accused of collaborating with the Union of Kurdistan Communities, the KCK,, which is allegedly an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK.

[…]

Akbas said Hess had not been taken to a court for questioning — a sign he would be deported.

“He is a good, peaceful, and principled guy,’’ Caesar said. “The idea he is helping the PKK is simply beyond ridiculous, not to be cliché. We’d crack up if he wasn’t in a Turkish prison.’’ 

Washington Post

Kurds, who make up roughly 15 percent of Turkey’s population, have increasingly been demanding cultural and social rights.

Local journalists who pursue stories on problems facing the Kurdish community are routinely harassed by authorities. Hess’s case highlighted the state’s continued uneasiness with reporting on the issue despite efforts by Turkey’s ruling party to build bridges with the Kurdish minority.

Democracy Now:

Johann Hari

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Journalists Without Borders have both issued statements calling for his immediate release. He is a legitimate journalist of extremely high integrity. The idea that he would have any alliance with, or sympathy for, a terror group is utterly absurd. Yet he is currently being held at the Diyarbakir Anti-Terrorism Branch.

Please take just a minute to call the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC on +1 202 612 67 00 +or email them at contact@turkishembassy.org and politely explain that you expect this outstanding US citizen to be treated with decency, and released at once. A country that calls itself a democracy should not be imprisoning journalists for telling the truth.

Everyone should stand in solidarity with Jake Hess and other journalists bullied by those fearful of truth.


(photo: Boston Globe)


[update Aug 17]: Jake Hess refuses help from US. CNN

U.S. diplomats say Hess rejected their offer of assistance after he was taken into custody.

“We have spoken with him on the phone regarding his situation, and he specifically asked us not to share any information on his case,” said Deborah Guido, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. “He did not sign a privacy waiver. We can take an oral privacy waiver [by phone], and it was his choice. He did not want to be helped.”

Asked why he rejected the American offer, Hess answered that “the U.S. is an imperialist country, and I disagree with U.S. policy towards Turkey and the Kurds. It would be hypocritical to support an American journalist who is persecuted for human rights journalism while at the same time supporting the Turkish policy of criminalizing Kurdish political activists.”

Interesting. 

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