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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries since April 2011

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Chuck Norris, Randall Terry and the Baseless Sharia Law Theory that Won't Go Away

April 29, 2011 ·

My fellow Muslim-Americans (and our non-Muslim allies), rejoice! Actor Chuck Norris has decided to edify us all with a series for World Net Daily on how “Shariah is seeping into American society.”

To inaugurate his first column on April 18, this is how the former “Walker, Texas Ranger” star justified his decision to penetrate the Net with even more deluded theories—and in so doing, promoting greater ignorance--on Islam: “What concerns me in America is not only the growing disdain for Christian sentiment but also the increasing spread of Shariah law.” 

His main thesis about the spread of Shariah law to America boils down to this: “Where Muslim religion and culture has spread, Shariah law has shortly followed.” Where, you might ask with a straight face, is his evidence for such a frightening possibility, that the U.S. Constitution may soon face stiff competition from Islamic law derived from the Quran and the Sunna (Islamic customs and traditons)? For someone who wrote an entire book devoted to 101 of his “favorite facts and stories,” Mr. Norris doesn’t seem very compelled to provide us with any in his ultimately light, pseudo-exposé. But then again, it’s only Part 1, so stay tuned, readers!

In all seriousness, however, and despite his column’s analytical shortcomings, I couldn’t help but recall a similar, Islamophobic-infused diatribe that I heard on March 10 as I filmed Randall Terry outside the Congressman Peter King (R-NY) chaired House Homeland Security hearing on “the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community.” My collaborator, Zach Kreinik, and I made a short video about it, and the larger issue of Islamophobia, too.

Terry, a pro-life activist and founder of the so-called Society for Truth and Justice, used the term “Shariah law” more than once to justify his support of Congressman King’s first of several hearings, elaborating that “We need to view mosques and devout imams, at least conceptually, as outposts and ambassadors of a foreign power.” I asked him repeatedly about what Shariah law had to do with King’s objectives for singling out the American Muslim community in his hearings, without receiving a satisfactory answer. All he could do was blame the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the larger American Muslim “community” for promoting “radicalization” in the U.S. Behind the camera, and then watching the footage of my short interview with Terry later, it became clear to me that using the slogan, “Shariah law is spreading to America,” serves as one convenient pretext to promote a not so subtle Islamophobic agenda. It’s a way for Terry, Chuck Norris, certain Members of Congress and others to say, “I don’t hate Muslims, I just love our Constitution.”

But is hatred for other peoples, other faiths, really the American way? And what happens when more Americans start to believe the bogus Shariah law theory? An anti-Muslim rally held in Yorba Linda, CA on February 13 offered a chilling snapshot, with demonstrators chanting to Muslim passerbys attending a dinner to raise money for women’s shelters in the U.S., “Go back home, go back home.”  You can hear a woman on camera yell, “We’re patriotic Americans and we love our Constitution…We’re one nation under God, not Allah.”

Norris’ official website has a page devoted to all the pop culture “facts” about this beloved actor. Here’s one that jumped out at me: “Chuck Norris doesn’t lie. He rewrites history.”

When it comes to his expertise on Islam and Shariah law, I’d call that an incontrovertible fact.

Farrah Hassen is a writer and videographer based in washington DC. From 2008-2009, she was the Newman Fellow at IPS.

A Convenient Refuge: Review of "Will The Real Terrorist Please Stand Up"

April 29, 2011 ·

As the curious life and career of Luis Posada Carriles illustrates, justice is wielded when it is convenient for the institutions tasked with enforcing it. The 83-year-old has had a horrifyingly prolific career, including participating in the Bay of Pigs invasion, blowing up Cubana Flight 455 and its 73 passengers, and planting a series of bombs in Havana hotels that killed one and injured 11. He has dodged justice numerous times, always slipping by on his CIA connections.

Contrary to the stern declaration by George W. Bush that the United States would "make no Poster of Landau's film, distinction between terrorists and the nations that harbor them – and hold both to account," Carriles has found sanctuary in this country. Saul Landau’s new film “Will the Real Terrorists Please Stand Up?” explores the sordid history of U.S. support for violent counter-revolutionaries and regime change in Cuba, explaining why someone like Carriles could end up inside the United States.

Landau grabs some startlingly candid interviews with the major players in the bloody drama. What emerges is a portrait of men who are accustomed to a culture of total impunity and who operate solely through the application and threatened application of violence.

A perfect example of these characters is Orlando Bosch a former CIA backed operative and head of Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations. In an interview, Bosch – described by the FBI as an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organization – dismisses his killing of innocent civilians as “unfortunate”. Declassified documents in 2005 show Bosch likely collaborated with Carriles to carry out the airline bombing. Landau turns the camera on Carriles, showing him strutting through the Cuban exile community in Miami, treated like a hero and grinning from ear to ear.

Throughout, Landau keeps things interesting and quickly paced. He narrates, relating how his personal history intersects with the history of Cuba (the set of his film Fidel was even bombed by members of a terrorist group). It helps to give the documentary structure and a relatable point of view. There is a large cast of characters, but effective titles help to keep everyone identifiable.

By the time the Cuban Five come into play, Landau has made the case that these men were responding to a legitimate threat coming from the exile community in Miami. Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up? is an effective and at times chilling portrait of one of the last Cold War conflicts still playing out. 

Zach Kreinik is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies and an undergraduate student at Evergreen College.

Japan's Nuclear Catastrophe Leaves Little to Celebrate on Children's Day

April 29, 2011 ·

May 5 is Children’s Day, a Japanese national holiday that celebrates the happiness of childhood. This year, it will fall under a dark, radioactive shadow.

Japanese children in the path of radioactive plumes from the crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station are likely to suffer health problems that a recent government action will only exacerbate.

On April 19, the Japanese government sharply ramped up its radiation exposure limit to 2,000 millirem per year (20 mSv/y) for schools and playgrounds in Fukushima prefecture. Japanese children are now permitted to be exposed to an hourly dose rate 165 times above normal background radiation and 133 times more than levels the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows for the American public. Japanese school children will be allowed to be exposed to same level recommended by the International Commission on Radiation Protection for nuclear workers. Unlike workers, however, children won’t have a choice as to whether they can be so exposed.

This decision callously puts thousands of children in harm's way.

Experts consider children to be 10 to 20 times more vulnerable to contracting cancer from exposure to ionizing radiation than adults. This is because as they grow, their dividing cells are more easily damaged — allowing cancer cells to form. Routine fetal X-rays have ceased worldwide for this reason. Cancer remains a leading cause of death by disease for children in the United States.

On April 12, the Japanese government announced that the nuclear crisis in Fukushima was as severe as the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Within weeks of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, the four ruined reactors at the Dai-Ichi power station released enormous quantities of radiation into the atmosphere.

According to the Daily Youmiri, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) announced that between 10 and 17 million curies (270,000- 360,000 TBq) of radioactive materials were released to the atmosphere before early April, a great deal more than previous official estimates.

Even though atmospheric releases blew mostly out to sea and appear to have declined dramatically, NISA reports that Fukushima's nuclear ruins are discharging about 4,200 curies of iodine-131 and cesium-137 per day into the air (154 TBq). This is nearly 320,000 times more than d radiation the now de-commissioned Connecticut Yankee nuclear power plant released over a year. NISA's estimate is likely to be the low end, given the numerous sources of unmeasured and unfiltered leaks into the environment amidst the four wrecked reactors. On April 27, Bloomberg News reported that radiation readings at the Dai-Ichi nuclear power station have risen to the highest levels since the earthquake.

With a half-life of 8.5 days, iodine-131 is rapidly absorbed in dairy products and in the human thyroid, particularly those of children. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years and gives off potentially dangerous external radiation. It concentrates in various foods and is absorbed throughout the human body. Unlike iodine-131, which decays to a level considered safe after about three months, cesium-137 can pose risks for several hundred years.

Measurements taken at 1,600 nursery schools, kindergartens, and middle school playgrounds in early April indicate that children are regularly getting high radiation doses. Radiation levels one meter above the ground indicate that children at hundreds of schools received exposures 43- 200 times above background. And this is outside of the "exclusionary zone" around the Dai-Ichi reactors, where locals have been evacuated. Japan's Ministry of Education and Science has limited outdoor activities at 13 schools in the cities of Fukushima, Date, and Koriyama Cities.

Although the extent of long-term contamination is not yet fully known, disturbing evidence is emerging. Data collected 40 kilometers from the Fukushima's nuclear accident  show cumulative levels as high as 9.5 rems (95 mSv) — nearly five times the international annual occupational dose. Soil beyond the 30-kilometer evacuation zone shows cesium-137 levels at 2,200 kBq per square meter — 67 percent greater than that requiring evacuation near Chernobyl.

Three-fourths of the monitored schools in Fukushima had radioactivity levels so high that human entry shouldn't be allowed, even though students began a new semester on April 5.

The Lineup: Week of April 25-May 1, 2011

April 25, 2011 ·

This week's OtherWords editorial package features a column by William A. Collins that puts the Libya intervention in context and a cartoon about a retirement home for dictators.

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  1. Same Old from the Nuclear Gang after Fukushima / Saul Landau
  2. America Needs a Single Payer Health Care System / Kay Tillow
  3. Want to Cut Federal Spending? Go Where the Money Is. / Jeff Blum
  4. Squandering Our Tax Dollars and Ocean Resources / Wenonah Hauter
  5. Why are we the Tea Party's Hostages? / Donald Kaul
  6. From Democracy to Plutocracy / Jim Hightower
  7. Libya: It's All about the Oil / William A. Collins
  8. Retired Dictators / Khalil Bendib

Retired Dictators

Don't Get Fooled Again: Writing Our Own Economic Future

April 25, 2011 ·

On April 1, I sat down with a group of my neighbors — members of a newly formed Common Security Club in our Boston neighborhood — to watch Inside Job, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the 2008 economic meltdown. We were going for an April Fools Day theme: “Don’t get fooled again” by the bankers and executives who caused the crash.

For a lot of us, the theme hit home: “I have a feeling they are going to fool us again,” one person said. “We have the same CEOs, the same regulators. Are we just going to go around and around, from crash to a mild recovery to the next crash?”

It’s a level of vulnerability many of us just can’t feel comfortable with. In community centers, living rooms, and churches around the country, more than forty other groups gathered to view and discuss the documentary that day, seeking to better understand why the economic crisis happened—and how to make their communities more resilient in the future.

Inside Job exposes devastating greed and incompetence at the highest levels of government and the private sector. With a relentless barrage of facts, it shows how the “smartest people in the room” created theconditions for a huge economic collapse that they had no idea how to stop—but never paid a price for the destruction they caused in the lives of millions of Americans.

After the film, my neighbors and I talked about how difficult it is to be hopeful when the same exact people who caused the crash are still running the economy. We’re also concerned that the story we tell ourselves about the economy hasn’t fundamentally changed. So many of us expect things to go back to the way they were: an economy based on cheap oil and unbridled consumption.

But many others know that’s not an option. At my club the following Sunday, we talked about whether or not we want a “recovery.” People were clear that we want more jobs, fewer foreclosures, and less debt. But: “I don’t think we can go backwards to get what we want,” said one participant, the pastor of the church. “We need to take stock of our reality now, and figure out how to make it better.”

We have been told that the experts know best, and that even though they crashed the economy, they’re still the experts. We’re told that we should be patient, not question things we don’t understand, and by all means, keep shopping. “These kinds of messages work to keep us paralyzed and isolated, and keep us from seeing other possibilities,” says Linda Schmoldt, a Common Security Circle facilitator in Portland, Oregon. “We must envision a new economy and society based on real wealth, and create a new story about what is possible.”

Still, though my club knew things needed to change, it was hard to imagine a large-scale vision of something different.

But it was easy to imagine how we could begin to change things in our own neighborhood: “What if we had a garden here at the church?” asked the pastor. “It would be something else for people to do, besides watch TV and shop. I’d need help, but we could do it. We could involve the teenagers at the community center and share all the food.” Others chimed in: “Let’s use Freecycle to find old things instead of buying new ones.” “Let’s set up a website to list recipe ideas and grocery saving tips and things we can share.”

What’s your vision for the new economy? What are you doing to turn it into a reality? There’s so much to do: you can help organize a Common Security Club for your community; get involved in a Transition Initiative; build local resilience alongside your neighbors; take steps to increase your independence from Wall Street’s phantom wealth traps by buying and investing locally.

One way to get the conversation started is with your own Inside Job screening — the movie is now available for online screening. The experts got it wrong; we can kiss their old story goodbye and start writing our own.

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