Money Jungle extra: “Battle of the Mediocrities”

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[Melissa Ross, host of the stellar “First Coast Connect” show on WJCT-89.9 FM, issued a standing invite to deliver some pithy guest commentaries on the issues of the day. I’ve not taken her up on that offer yet, being perhaps too-careful to find just the right topics. I’d like to be entertaining, but without courting any extra controversy, as I have concluded that the status-quo (for better or mostly for worse) is basically acceptable to the majority of the population in my city, and it’s simply self-defeating to attempt any further challenges to that dynamic. Below is a revised-and-extended version of the commentary I’d planned to deliver about the Ahmed/Yarborough dust-up; it would have aired today. However, it doesn’t make much sense to criticize city government, so close to budget-time; after all, we all know that such budgets are used primarily as political tools. So, instead, I post it here, where only that narrow fraction of fresh thinkers would ever think to look. Self-censorship, done right!]

On Tuesday, the City Council votes whether to accept the nomination of Parvez Ahmed for a spot on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, a nomination being challenged by councilman Clay Yarborough. Like many of you, my first thought was “Who Cares?” Here in Florida, we’ve developed a special gift for meaningless political scandal, and this is a case in point.

Instead of talking about how Jaguar management stomped on the hearts of their fans by not only throwing away Tim Tebow, but leaving him to be drafted by a conference rival, we’re stuck watching a schoolyard spat between cultural stereotypes. And it’s not like our council isn’t bush enough, between threatening to fire loyal civil servants and ducking corruption charges related to widespread misappropriations of public funds. This JHRC gig is the kind of no-work job mobsters get.

Is Ahmad qualified for the position? Absolutely. After all, he holds a degree from Harvard; Bush and Obama have shown us how useful they can be. A cynic might use the bin Laden scholarship fund endowed at Harvard Law to make a blanket condemnation of its entire student body, and do real damage to many people’s careers. That is how these politics work; guilt-by-association works like a double-edged sword, yielded by a lunatic.

The savage violence—the cold-blooded, indiscriminate brutality—associated with Radical Islam represents a threat to all of humanity. Hundreds of Jews, thousands of Christians and millions of Muslims are dead now, and those numbers are growing by the minute. Extremists have been empowered, as moderates are cowed into silence. The only winners are demons and demagogues, many of whom live right here in America.

Organized religion has earned the widespread skepticism and overt hostility that seems its destiny in this century. The Vatican has only recently begun to face the real, dollars-and-cents consequences of their ritualized system of child-rape, which goes back farther than the living memory of any priest. Of course, many saints and martyrs of the faith were killed by the church itself—an irony lost on our current Pope, who couldn’t even be bothered to burn the pictures of himself in a Nazi uniform. (Maybe he should have married Sandra Bullock!)

Anytime one finds oneself ceding the moral high ground to Madonna, a serious inventory is in order, but the Catholics have had this process forced on them by their enemies. The Baptists are moving in the same direction, but faster. The so-called “evangelical right” has shown remarkable clumsiness in its many failed attempts to engage Islam on its own terms. It’s not just that their arguments were ill-conceived and poorly argued; in many cases Christians have worked aggressively against their own interests.

The most notorious example may be in 2002, when Dr. Jerry Vines, the then-leader of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville (which has been a leading force in the city for most of its century-plus in business), disastrously dissed the Prophet Muhammad as a “demon-possessed pedophile with nine wives, the last of whom was 12 years old”. Coming just months after the most brutal terror attack to ever occur in the western world, Vines knew exactly what dark forces he was invoking with such loose talk. Ultimately, the entire city was endangered by Vines’ loose lips, much as the “South Park” crew deliberately risked their lives, and the lives of their families and colleagues, just to pop a rating for their nasty little show. Why the reckless provocations?

A few months earlier, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, members of the editorial board of the once-great National Review magazine openly floated the idea of bombing Mecca, as part of a larger-scale nuclear assault on the major cities of the Islamic world. NR has since scrubbed the references from its website, and would have you believe their own  idea was first proffered by Tom Tancredo, years later. Good job, losers!

Unfortunately, when the finally time came for a serious reckoning of the issues lingering between Islam and Christianity, all the best talent from both sides was already dead. We should be so lucky to boil these conflicts down to debates between Billy Graham and Ayatollah Khomeini, or even Fulton Sheen and Freddie Mercury. If the dais included Christ, Moses, Muhammad and Buddha, there might be no disputes at all. We might be having these discussions on the moon, or Mars, or maybe at the center of the Earth. Instead, we’ve got Parvez Ahmed and Clay Yarborough at City Hall. Kitty Kelley was right: The blood really does get thinner as you go down the line!

Yarborough is holding down Council District 1, for now, but he has done himself no favors. No one’s filed to challenge him yet, but that will change. No Muslim is going to seek elected office in Northeast Florida, but Yarborough’s done a great job reminding liberal voters that Barack Obama’s election has little or no effect on their own political fortunes. That the White House is clearly unsure whether to back Kendrick Meek, who helped Obama win Florida, or Charlie Crist, whose tax cuts helped tank Florida’s economy, making Obama’s victory possible, speaks against the best hopes of local progressives. But Clay Yarborough is no Charlie Crist.

It’s one thing to make needless hay of Ahmad’s past and present associations, but it’s another to go too far in making inferences. Surely in the struggle waged by Muslim groups to control the PR damage wrought by 9/11, etc., a few bad apples may have gotten into the bunch. The question at hand is: Has Parvez Ahmad ever knowingly dealt with people he knew were either directly or indirectly engaged in terrorism?

Short of some smoking guns (literally), there’s no way to know for sure, but to job the guy out of such an cozy gig on what is currently hearsay and speculation creates a precedent that will undermine the political relevance of the Muslim community in this country. It’s would be like banning anyone who ever attended a Black Panther rally, or the inevitable crackdown on the inevitable shady right-wing domestic terror provocation. Or saying Klansmen can’t serve in the Senate. If you start running such people out of politics, we’ll have nothing left but Dennis Kucinich.

Here’s a bold idea: Dissolve the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, and then dissolve the City Council. If you took all the taxpayer dollars being wasted on these groups, piled it all up and set it on fire, you could at least make ‘smores!

sdh666@hotmail.com; April 22, 2010

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