Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Washington University

ISNA’s Anti-Semitic, Anti-Bahai Speaker

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group which declares as its mission “to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America” and to “advance the cause of Islam in North America.” Well-funded, in part by donations from the Emir of Qatar and other elements in the Persian Gulf, ISNA not only has become an interlocutor with the White House despite its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terror finance case, but goes so far as to claim to be the credentialing organization for American imams, including Muslim chaplains serving in the U.S. military.

Over Labor Day weekend, ISNA sponsored its annual conference in Washington, DC. Among its featured speakers was Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University, who addressed a panel titled, “Interweaving Religion & Life in a Moral Society.” ISNA’s choice of Nasr to promote a moral society is deeply troubling. In October 2009, Nasr attended a reception at the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Interest Section in Washington, D.C. The Iranian press published an account of his comments there:

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The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group which declares as its mission “to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America” and to “advance the cause of Islam in North America.” Well-funded, in part by donations from the Emir of Qatar and other elements in the Persian Gulf, ISNA not only has become an interlocutor with the White House despite its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terror finance case, but goes so far as to claim to be the credentialing organization for American imams, including Muslim chaplains serving in the U.S. military.

Over Labor Day weekend, ISNA sponsored its annual conference in Washington, DC. Among its featured speakers was Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University, who addressed a panel titled, “Interweaving Religion & Life in a Moral Society.” ISNA’s choice of Nasr to promote a moral society is deeply troubling. In October 2009, Nasr attended a reception at the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Interest Section in Washington, D.C. The Iranian press published an account of his comments there:

Before the revolution all the chairs in Islamic studies were taken by the Jews and that now all the Shi’a studies chairs are taken over by the Bahai’s! Before the revolution I used my position to send professors from Iran to take over such chairs and I am pursuing the same goal today… Since I have access to the Dean of the George Washington University I have the opportunity to establish a chair in Shi’a studies and the preliminary phase of the course is also ready and I only need financial assistance from Iran in order to support the chair. If this does not happen before I become a pensioner this opportunity will be lost.

The Muslim Brotherhood has many differences with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Shi’ites in general. However, their invitation of Nasr shows that for ISNA, anti-Semitism and anti-Baha’i sentiment can be the ties that bind. So much for a moral society, but nevertheless insight into the values ISNA promotes in practice.

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Look Who’s Back at the White House

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

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The Conservative Moment

One of the more interesting facts surrounding the midterm elections is that Barack Obama, the most activist, liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, is presiding over a collapse of confidence in government.

According to ABC News, optimism in the country’s system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years. In 1974 — shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal — 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Today, 33 percent say that, the lowest number in nearly a dozen measurements taken through decades.

In addition, a Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll reported that 69 percent of independents say they have less faith in government now than they did just before Obama was elected.

A president who appears to have almost limitless faith in big government is the architect of growing public disdain for it. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1977, as the conditions were being put in place that swept her to the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom.

In America today we are seeing something similar occur. Mr. Obama’s unchecked liberalism, combined with a struggling economy and a growing sense of governing ineptness, is creating a new conservative moment. The most powerful political idea in America today — the one that is creating the framework for today’s election — is the need to re-limit government as a means to restore economic growth.

Over the next several years, the task of the GOP will be to demonstrate that they have a plan that matches the gravity of this moment. Whether they achieve this or not is an open question. But the fact that they have this opportunity is not. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Barack Obama — by discrediting liberalism — is creating a large new opening for conservatives. It is up to them to seize it.

One of the more interesting facts surrounding the midterm elections is that Barack Obama, the most activist, liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, is presiding over a collapse of confidence in government.

According to ABC News, optimism in the country’s system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years. In 1974 — shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal — 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Today, 33 percent say that, the lowest number in nearly a dozen measurements taken through decades.

In addition, a Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll reported that 69 percent of independents say they have less faith in government now than they did just before Obama was elected.

A president who appears to have almost limitless faith in big government is the architect of growing public disdain for it. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1977, as the conditions were being put in place that swept her to the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom.

In America today we are seeing something similar occur. Mr. Obama’s unchecked liberalism, combined with a struggling economy and a growing sense of governing ineptness, is creating a new conservative moment. The most powerful political idea in America today — the one that is creating the framework for today’s election — is the need to re-limit government as a means to restore economic growth.

Over the next several years, the task of the GOP will be to demonstrate that they have a plan that matches the gravity of this moment. Whether they achieve this or not is an open question. But the fact that they have this opportunity is not. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Barack Obama — by discrediting liberalism — is creating a large new opening for conservatives. It is up to them to seize it.

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Jews Go Nuts over a Counseling Group for Pregnant Jewish Teens — Really

It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.

So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.

The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:

We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …

We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future.  We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion.  We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.

Now could that be controversial?  How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable?  After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.

In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”

What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:

Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.

But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.

The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”

The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.

Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.

It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.

So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.

The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:

We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …

We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future.  We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion.  We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.

Now could that be controversial?  How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable?  After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.

In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”

What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:

Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.

But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.

The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”

The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.

Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.

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No End to It

Word comes that Sen. John Kerry may visit Tehran, in the Obami’s never-ending quest to engage the thugocracy that wishes not to be engaged. This report tells us:

Sen. John Kerry has suggested becoming the first high-level U.S. emissary to make a public visit to Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, a move White House officials say they won’t oppose. . . “The wrong message would be sent to the Iranian people by such a high-level visit: The U.S. loves dictatorial regimes,” said Hossein Askari, a professor at George Washington University and former adviser to Iranian governments.

And what of those democracy protesters in the streets of Tehran, who’d prefer not to help solidify the mullahs’ reign of terror? Well, they’d rather Obama once again not cut their legs out from under them:

Many opponents of Tehran’s regime oppose such a visit, fearing it would lend legitimacy to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a time when his government is under continuing pressure from protests and opposition figures. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again this week to voice their opposition to the government following the death of a reformist cleric.

Those perpetually in search of a savvier, tougher and more resolute Obama, will again have their hopes dashed, it seems. No, this is a president who is “bearing witness” but sparing no opportunity to convey that democracy is not at the top of our agenda—nor is, apparently, moving ahead toward those “crippling sanctions.” We are perpetually in search of the unattainable deal, all the while providing the mullahs with time to proceed with their nuclear-weapons program and cementing the impression that this president is not determined to stand in their way.

Word comes that Sen. John Kerry may visit Tehran, in the Obami’s never-ending quest to engage the thugocracy that wishes not to be engaged. This report tells us:

Sen. John Kerry has suggested becoming the first high-level U.S. emissary to make a public visit to Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, a move White House officials say they won’t oppose. . . “The wrong message would be sent to the Iranian people by such a high-level visit: The U.S. loves dictatorial regimes,” said Hossein Askari, a professor at George Washington University and former adviser to Iranian governments.

And what of those democracy protesters in the streets of Tehran, who’d prefer not to help solidify the mullahs’ reign of terror? Well, they’d rather Obama once again not cut their legs out from under them:

Many opponents of Tehran’s regime oppose such a visit, fearing it would lend legitimacy to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a time when his government is under continuing pressure from protests and opposition figures. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again this week to voice their opposition to the government following the death of a reformist cleric.

Those perpetually in search of a savvier, tougher and more resolute Obama, will again have their hopes dashed, it seems. No, this is a president who is “bearing witness” but sparing no opportunity to convey that democracy is not at the top of our agenda—nor is, apparently, moving ahead toward those “crippling sanctions.” We are perpetually in search of the unattainable deal, all the while providing the mullahs with time to proceed with their nuclear-weapons program and cementing the impression that this president is not determined to stand in their way.

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Effete Europeans in Beijing

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

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Sunshine on a Rainy Week

You may not have heard the exciting news, but this is Sunshine Week.

According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the sponsor of this occasion, we should spend these seven days engaged in “dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” Who could be against that?

But let’s dig a little deeper. Among the things exercising the advocates of “open government” these days is the fact that, on the basis of security concerns, the Bush administration has been withdrawing from circulation lots of official documents–more than a million of them–from the National Archive in Washington D.C. Some of the withdrawn documents apparently are old. Some more than a century old.

The Associated Press told the story in a March 13 dispatch. “In some cases, entire file boxes were removed without significant review”; inside them may have been a wealth of innocuous materials. Tom Blanton, who runs the National Security Archive at George Washington University, finds this to be “a scandal, a case of misplaced priorities.” Patrice McDermott, who heads up a web-based organization called OpenTheGovernment.org, calls it “a questionable use of tax dollars.”

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You may not have heard the exciting news, but this is Sunshine Week.

According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the sponsor of this occasion, we should spend these seven days engaged in “dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” Who could be against that?

But let’s dig a little deeper. Among the things exercising the advocates of “open government” these days is the fact that, on the basis of security concerns, the Bush administration has been withdrawing from circulation lots of official documents–more than a million of them–from the National Archive in Washington D.C. Some of the withdrawn documents apparently are old. Some more than a century old.

The Associated Press told the story in a March 13 dispatch. “In some cases, entire file boxes were removed without significant review”; inside them may have been a wealth of innocuous materials. Tom Blanton, who runs the National Security Archive at George Washington University, finds this to be “a scandal, a case of misplaced priorities.” Patrice McDermott, who heads up a web-based organization called OpenTheGovernment.org, calls it “a questionable use of tax dollars.”

And it certainly does sound questionable, perhaps even worse.

But there is more to this story.

The AP report goes on to inform us that many of the documents removed from circulation “include the presumably dangerous, such as nearly half an enormous database from the Federal Emergency Management Agency with information about all federal facilities.” They also encompassed about “80 cubic feet of naval facility plans and blueprints.”

The entire effort to remove official documents from public view was set in motion after September 11 to safeguard “records of concern,” i.e., reports, blueprints, material pertaining to nuclear-technology, photos or sketches of sensitive installations, anything else that could be useful to terrorists.

Yes, a lot of perfectly mundane information was caught up in the sweep, including architectural drawings of LBJ’s presidential library in Austin, Texas. But as archive officials told the AP “We just felt we couldn’t take the time and didn’t always have the expertise” to review them all. The more urgent task was to get the sensitive ones–like information about the vulnerability of chemical plants and recipes for making biological warfare agents–off the shelves and away from terrorist hands.

Is this a scandal? Is the Bush administration wasting taxpayer money to pursue its obsession with secrecy? Or is it something else?

We certainly do need more dialogue about open government in the age of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. A nuclear explosion over New York would be brighter than a thousand suns. Let’s use the occasion of Sunshine Week to engage in seven days of dialogue about that.

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