- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Sports and culture

"If you follow [sports] the right way, they can lead you into some amazing places. They can bring you close up to the history of this country, good and bad. They can bring you close up to the sinew and marrow and bone of this culture, good and bad. You can look race and class and all the other shadows in the bushes right in the eye if you do sports right, if you follow them where they most desperately want to take you. They will make you understand that ours is the only culture ever evolved that could produce a Babe Ruth or a Charles Barkley or a Little Richard or a Coltrane or a James Madison. Follow sports into the small, winding places and sports will even make a patriot out of you.

"It's not that one should ignore the games. The games are still great human theater. [Bostons] Fleet Center had steamed [during the NBA playoffs] the way the Garden once did. Allen Iverson of the 76ers had stepped into the role played previously by Chamberlain, Erving, and a dozen others, and he'd played it all the way up to the rafters. Thousands of men have played Hamlet, but Hamlet never dies."

Charles P. Pierce, writing on "The Last Sports Column," in the September issue of Esquire

Violent history

"Islam has a long history of violence. This dates back to its founder Muhammad in the 7th century; he talked peace at the beginning, but once he gathered enough military power he started launching raids and eventually conquered Mecca. Muslim clerics went on to expand the conditions that justified force, until aggression against any non-Muslims justified by the need to create a single Islamic state became the norm. So it remained until the last 300 years or so, when militarily superior Western powers rendered expansionist jihad increasingly impractical. Today's militance is no historical aberration, but a resurgence of the pattern that's characterized most of Islam's existence.

"There is a difference between Christianity and Islam. Christian history contains violence, but the faith isn't founded in violence; it spread peacefully for its first several centuries and on the whole it hasn't employed coercion to anything like the extent Islam has. Islam has always spread primarily by the sword, and its regimes are pretty universally intolerant.

"My point here is to warn against a reflex that's common in today's multicultural, pluralistic America: the lazy, 'I'm-OK-you're-OK' assumption that pretty much every major population group, and belief system, is essentially compatible with the others."

Matt Kaufman, writing on "The Real Islam," Aug. 8 in Boundless at www.boundless.org

Popular populist

"Nearly a year after September 11, enough music has been recorded in reaction to the events of that day that it could form a sort of mini-genre. But of all the songs that have appeared, none has had the impact commercially speaking of country singer Toby Keith's 'Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).' Largely on the strength of that single, Keith's album 'Unleashed' recently debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 chart.

"Interestingly, Keith made a bold prediction of No. 1-level success for the song back in June.

"Keith, like any self-styled populist, sees himself as expressing things that lots of people think but few had dared articulate. He knew that there was likely to be controversy about what he had chosen to say and how. Most of all, he knew there would be an audience for this sentiment, expressed in this way. And he was right."

Rob Walker, writing on "Toby Keith," Monday in Slate at www.slate.com

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