Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.
Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.
At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.
Those wondering why we haven’t seen any domestic incidents of terrorism since 9/11 might turn for some answers to the new Pew Research Center survey of 55,000 Muslims in America. Compared to Muslims in Europe, the survey found, American Muslims are less numerous, wealthier, better educated, more assimilated, and more mainstream in their political and religious views.
Two statistics jumped out at me. First, the Pew center found that there are only 1.4 million Muslims aged 18 or older in the U.S. (there are another 850,000 under 18), or about 0.6 percent of the population. (Other studies have suggested the figure is as high as 6-7 million.) That compares to 10 percent or more in some European countries. Second, only 2 percent of them are low-income, compared to 22 percent in Britain, 18 percent in France and Germany, and 23 percent in Spain. There is simply not a large, alienated Muslim underclass in this country as there is in so many European states.
Should Michael Bloomberg run for President? He was elected mayor on the strength of his reputation as a business executive and a technocrat who gets things done. His popularity is high in New York. But is his sterling reputation as chief executive officer of the city based upon achievement or on the appearance of achievement?
I raise this question in an op-ed in today’s New York Sun. The Sun also published two of my photographs suggesting that appearances of one of the mayor’s signature projects are not what they should be. These photos are only available in the printed edition of the Sun, not on its website. But contentions has them below the jump. The full op-ed can be found here.
Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Damascus in defiance of the express wishes of President Bush. In response, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s spokesman praised her “courageous position” and expressed the hope that it would inaugurate a dialogue between “the people of the United States” and the Syrian regime, despite President Bush’s efforts to isolate it. Pelosi explained her unusual action by saying that she was trying to “build some confidence” between Americans and the Assad government.
Apparently she has succeeded, after a fashion. Assad, at least, seems to have gained confidence that he can behave as brutally as he wishes without incurring too much international opprobrium. In the month since Pelosi’s visit, he has ratcheted up repression, all but snuffing out the lingering embers of the “Damascus spring” that followed his accession to power seven years ago. Six prominent dissidents were packed off to prison for sentences ranging from three to twelve years, the longest term being given to Kamal Labwani for “communicating with a foreign country,” i.e., the United States. “It’s back to the 1980′s, to the worst days of his father’s rule,” commented the exiled dissident Ammar Abdulhamid.