Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Protecting our values

The enactment of a “Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding” presented by the European Parliament is another preposterous attempt at politically correct kowtowing (“Charting disloyal tides,” Commentary, Friday). The charter would call upon Muslims to “Respect non-Muslim religions and issue a fatwa (an Islamic religious decree) prohibiting the use of force, violence or threats to their followers; … Respect all civilizations, cultures and traditions and promote the understanding of the precedence of national laws over Shariah law;… Respect Western freedoms.”

What good is the signature of a Muslim fundamentalist on this charter? Consider that Islam encourages the tactic of “taqiyya” or “kithman” — lying, deception, deceit in waging jihad. Muslims are encouraged to lie if, in the opinion of the liar, telling the lie will be good for Islam.

In no form or fashion am I an authority on any religious dogma. I’m simply an individual privileged to have been born in a country where I can, without restraint and in relative dignity, develop intellectually. In our society, and I oversimplify, it goes without saying that any individual is free to say, think or do just about anything so long as no other individual, group or property is harmed or damaged.

This is not the case in the much-proscribed world of Islam. No charter will sway the Muslim extremists from remaining resolute in following the fundamental tenets of the Koran, which is, in fact, intolerant of other forms of religion. If you don’t believe it, I challenge you to read the Koran. “Because they Hate,” a book by Brigitte Gabriel, says: “Throughout the Koran and the Hadith, harb (‘war’) and qita (‘killing,’ ‘slaughter’) are ordained by Allah (God) as the unavoidable and immutable punishment for refusing to convert or submit to Islam.” If you are not Muslim, then you are an infidel.

Until there are dramatic shifts in the fundamental tenets in dogma and societal/cultural norms of Islam (which will take generations), we all need to stay informed and protect our Western values.


Colonial Heights, Va.

Point of clarification

I returned about six weeks ago from a weeklong trip to Germany with 27 high-school students from the school that I teach at in suburban Chicago. The group was comprised of members of the high-school chorus and students who were taking a Holocaust history class.

No story here, right? Just a run-of-the-mill trip with students, albeit to Germany, to visit Holocaust sites and perform two concerts. Truthfully, it was a remarkable experience for the students and for the adults, highlighted by a concert performance at the Jewish Museum of Berlin. It was an experience none of us will forget.

What I didn’t realize, until I read the Op-Ed “German history after the Holocaust” (Thursday), is that our trip was actually the precursor of the decline and fall of American civilization.

As a result of our trip, apparently there are now grave concerns about what is being taught in U.S. schools and the growing disinterest our students (and teachers, by intimation) have for the study of Cold War history. There are fears that we are not focusing enough of our time or energy on teaching about the historical importance of what happened in Berlin less than 20 years ago or the inner workings of East Germany. I can say with all the truthfulness I can muster that my students know and appreciate the importance of the opening of free passage through the Berlin Wall in November of 1989 and the anniversary that took place during our recent trip. The anniversary that occurred in November marked the fall of the wall, not the tearing down of the entire wall. That took weeks to accomplish.

Never mind that the article doesn’t have the facts straight about our trip; and never mind that it was a trip to study the Holocaust and perform a piece that was intended to be about the Holocaust and genocide in general, not deal with the legacy of exploitation that follows the German Democratic Republic.

As the person that wrote the script for the piece that was performed at the Berlin Museum, and as the chair of the history department at the school, I can assure readers that students in U.S. history and European history courses learn about the Berlin Wall and the legacy of Eastern bloc communism.

But students in a Holocaust class study the Holocaust. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

Readers need not worry about what students in my classroom and my school are being taught. No child will be left behind. We are teaching them about building bridges, not walls. We are teaching them about respecting other people and learning to talk with them, just like the members of the choral group did that morning in Berlin. We are teaching them that listening is just as important as talking, and that living in the world doesn’t mean you always get your own way.

The young people I traveled with were superb ambassadors for our school and this country. They exemplified the best of what we have to offer. That is why we got the reception we did in Berlin from the German people, students and staff. My students were not “peppered … with questions” and no teacher “ruefully conceded” that we were unaware of the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. It was not the focus of our trip and not why we were invited to perform at the museum.

As our guide in Berlin, herself an East Berliner, said to us, “we don’t spend much time thinking about the wall; we prefer to spend more time looking in the mirror.”


North Shore Country Day School

Winnetka, Ill.

The State Department and Iraq

The article “Bidders unready for jobs in Iraq” (Page 1, Thursday) gave the mistaken impression that the Department of State is having difficulty filling positions in Iraq. In fact, we have been very successful in staffing our mission in Iraq.

I recently had the opportunity to visit our embassy in Iraq, and I saw men and women there who are doing inspiring work under difficult conditions. They are a dedicated team of highly motivated professionals. I am enormously proud of their record of service.

In the two months since the start of the assignments cycle, the department has successfully filled 80 percent of the positions opening in Iraq in summer 2007. We expect to make additional assignments before the end of the month. For those positions that are yet to be filled, we continue to actively recruit and expect qualified employees to be assigned well before the summer. I am pleased to say that we are far ahead of last year’s process, when we successfully filled all the jobs in Iraq.

It is grossly inaccurate to say that “nearly two-thirds of the 276 Foreign Service members who volunteered to serve in Iraq… were found unqualified.” Those not assigned to positions in Iraq were either not at the right grade level or did not have the specific skills required for the individual jobs being filled. Moreover, some positions had more than one person volunteering for the job, meaning a selection had to be made.

It is also inaccurate to say that “all assignments to other foreign missions have been put on hold.” The assignments cycle is proceeding exactly as planned, with assignments to other unaccompanied posts (such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) taking place simultaneously, and assignments to “other foreign missions” due to be made beginning the end of January.

It is my intention to correct the record and to cease the spread of misinformation that, if allowed to stand uncorrected, does a disservice to the women and men of the State Department and our country’s Foreign Service who have volunteered for extraordinarily difficult work in a dangerous part of the world.


Director general

U.S. Department of State


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