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July 06, 2004 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2004-07-06

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* Left, Right and Blue

The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, July 6, 2004 - 5
Too little too late

Now, for a brief period in high
school, I would have been one of
the progressives I refer to who
actually do hate America ... how
listening to too much Springsteen
changes your politics!
Patriotism is a distinctly
human emotion. However, an
abstract love for one's country is
too subtle and too complex for a
dog or a Democrat, as one of
today's prevailing political myths
alleges, to understand. I am not
sure when people started believ-
ing conservatives are patriotic
and liberals are not. The Pledge
of Allegiance was written by a
socialist, and the folk-singer
Woodie Guthrie, who wrote
"This Land Is Your Land," was
about as liberal as they come.
Yet in today's political climate,
and especially since Sept. 11, the
stereotype that only conserva-
tives are patriots has become so
common as to be offensive.
Like many stereotypes, this
view may have originated from a
loose basis in actual facts. Statis-
tically, die-hard Republicans are
probably more likely than Democ-
rats to fly the American flag at
their homes or describe them-
selves as strongly patriotic. And a
small proportion of progressives,
appalled by the effects of what
they see as American military and
cultural imperialism, probably
would say they hate America.
(Never mind that this sample is
about as representative of the
mainstream Left as the Timothy
McVeigh brand of extremism is of
the mainstream Right). Lest some-
one has not absorbed the stereo-
type enough, let the wise words of
law school alumna Ann Coulter
guide them: in her book "Trea-
son," Coulter writes, "Everyone
says liberals love America, too.
No, they don't."
The problem here is a simplifi-
cation, a tendency to conflate
patriotic symbols and support for
government actions with patrio-

tism itself. It is certainly unfair to
pick on the the noted political
pundit Britney Spears for her
blind support of President Bush as
portrayed in Michael Moore's
"Fahrenheit 9/11." Yet it seems
that the uncritical mentality she
displays is shared by many conser-
vatives. While few conservatives
would likely agree with the flat-
out statement "My country, right
or wrong!" many do feel that it is
unpatriotic to criticize the govern-
ment in a time of war. This, to me,
seems foolish at best. I cannot
believe patriotism requires, should
the ship of state run aground, that
we cheer.
Fundamentally, one's patrio-
tism is based on one's respect for
the values which the country rep-
resents and is displayed in one's
actions to fight for those values.
Yet it should go without saying
that the particular American val-
ues a person finds worth defend-
ing will vary with the person's
political views; after all, it is
impossible to find, even in the
writings of the Founding Fathers,
a clear, distinct list of what alone
qualifies as American values. In a
democracy, patriotism should be a
motivating force behind individu-
als' actions to serve and improve
the country as they see fit, not a
partisan characteristic. Liberals,
perhaps afraid of being perceived
as jingoistic nationalists, have
shied away from publically pro-
fessing their patriotism and have
practically allowed conservatives
to adopt the American flag as a
GOP symbol. In this regard, liber-
als are partially to blame for the
stereotype that they are unpatriot-
ic. Liberals could start to lay this
idea to rest by putting an Ameri-
can flag up in the yard with the
John Kerry sign, to help remind
conservatives that, Ann Coulter's
rhetoric aside, all Americans have
something to celebrate on the
Fourth of July.
Zbrozek is an LSA junior and a
member of the Daily's editorial board.

raqi Culture Night
in the Green
. ..LZone? When I
first read it in The
Washington Post I
flinched. There was
no way that the skepti-
cal eye of an already
poised international
media was going to
overlook this story's tragic irony: One year
and three months into the occupation, the
U.S. military, hamstrung by its tactical
miscalculations and general cultural illiter-
acy, belatedly begins the process of
instructively acclimating U.S. soldiers to
the Iraqi socio-political dynamic.
As the reconstruction period has pro-
gressed, the Coalition's fundamental
incomprehension of the Iraqi theatre has
grown all the more apparent. The mili-
tary's prewar assessment of Iraq's numer-
ous ethnic blocs as politically vulnerable,
rudimentary splinters that would capitu-
late to U.S. strong-arming was indeed a
crude one. And no group has brought the
Bush administration more anguish for its
one-dimensionality than the religious
leadership of the country's largest ethnic
faction, the Shiites. In particular, the
shadowy Grand Ayatollah, Ali Al-Sistani,
unmistakably the nation's most influential
figurehead, has come to represent a per-
petual headache for the Provisional
Authority. The Coalition's relationship
with the cleric has grown gradually more
lopsided as the mullah uses his unbound-
ed political clout to circumvent one U.S.
policy after another.

A professed political moderate, from
the very beginning Sistani was flagged as
a cooperative liaison between Bremer and
the embattled Shiite majority. His support
was considered critical, not only as a
powerbroker, but as an icon of legitimacy.
Disappointingly, the only thing that ana-
lysts underestimated more than Sistani's
obstinacy was his loyalty. The sheik's
unyielding demand for an electoral sys-
tem based on direct representation has
been grounds for constant U.S.
backpedaling and has left a vulnerable
Iraqi government exposed in the eye of a
political hurricane.
Sistani's first eruption came last fall
after Bremer entrusted the task of craft-
ing a permanent constitution to the soon-
to-be-appointed Provisional Authority. A
symbol of stability to the Bush adminis-
tration, a permanent constitution was a
post-war necessity - a cornerstone
promise Bremer never saw himself break-
ing. But to Sistani, the idea was an affront
to democratic sovereignty, and the sheik
threw flames until the U.S. proconsul
gave ground. Sistani's next casualty
would be Adnan Pachachi, a former For-
eign Minister and Bremer's trophy pick to
fill the Presidential spot in the forthcom-
ing regime. Pachachi, however, declined
the executive reigns; a startling move that
numerous sources maintain was the result
of outside pestering from Sistani.
In the wake of the June 28 handover
the cleric's stonewalling is likely to
intensify. Just weeks ago, Sistani locked
horns with Kurdish leadership over the
language of a recent United Nations res-

olution - a minor illustration of what
seems to be an inoperable stalemate. The
cleric has denounced Kurdish petitions
for regional autonomy and has managed
to flush any special concessions to the
Kurds out of the recent resolution. In
recognition of Shiite opposition, the
authors of the carefully worded docu-
ment shied away from explicit references
to the Transitional Administrative Law, a
set of statutes that devolve veto power to
ethnic Kurds over the merits of a perma-
nent constitution.
Riled by the resolution, Iraq's two
most powerful Kurdish officials wrote a
scorching letter to President Bush threat-
ening to withdraw from the new govern-
ment if issues of federalism were not
adequately addressed. Then, in a rare
demonstration of hostility for a customar-
ily docile community, thousands of ethnic
Kurds traveled north in a collective strug-
gle to repossess territory that was taken
from them under the Baath regime. Add
to that the 1.7 million Kurds who signed
a ballot initiative in support of holding a
regional referendum on independence,
and a troubling pattern appears.
As newly appointed Prime Minister
Allawi cautiously considers the hand he
has been dealt, he does not see a bud-
ding democracy, he sees a ruptured and
deadlocked populace - a nation on the
brink of a succession crisis. Isn't it a lit-
tle late for Iraqi Culture Night in the
Green Zone?
Singer can be reached at

A different side of the world

tf +'s rio d +0 have A-ie power
n y b nckinor Tvvr = hands. -
s ~

My sister has
been teaching Eng-
lish in Japan for the
past nine months.
When I recently
went to visit her
there, I had no idea
what to expect. For
me, Japan has
always been foreign
and far away by definition, a place I
never dreamed I would actually see. My
only preconceptions came from random
passages of Lonely Planet and scenes
from "Lost in Translation."
When I first arrived, I was surprised to
discover that many Japanese stereotypes
are actually true. For example, schoolgirls
really do wear those short plaid skirts you
see in Anime. The schoolboys wear suits
to match. (After school, they untuck their
shirts, loosen their ties and strut through
the city like little punk businessmen.) And
everything is one size smaller than its
counterpart in the United States. I swear
that seats and couches are half the height. I
banged my head on the top of multiple
doorframes. Even at Starbucks, there's a
"short" size, which is smaller than a "tall."
As I stayed longer, I was struck by how
Westernized Japan is. Although I knew
that Japan has been heavily influenced by
the United States since World War II, I was
not prepared for the reality of it. Simulta-
neous progress and preservation of culture
has created a strange mix of ancient and
modern. In Tokyo, temples serenely sit
next to skyscrapers. Women in kimonos

chat on cell phones. At the Meiji-jingu
Shrine, I saw two Buddhist monks direct a
BMW into a garage.
Western influence extends even further
than this. The West is not simply a pres-
ence, but a fashion statement. Random
English words spring up in advertise-
ments. Many people dye their hair shades
of brown and blond. In kimono stores,
almost all the plastic models are white. At
a crepe stand in Toyama, the cashier wore
a nickel around her neck as an exotic
touch to her outfit. In Japan, the West is
cool and trendy, my sister explained.
Despite all this, it is definitely not cool
and trendy to actually be white. As cau-
casians, my sister and I stood out like
white elephants in their homogeneous
population. It started as soon as my sister
met me in Tokyo's Narita airport. As we
walked through the terminal, a group of
Japanese schoolgirls began to giggle hys-
terically. "Hello! Hello!" one of them
called. "What's the joke?" I asked my sis-
ter as we rushed past. "We are," she said.
And that was only the beginning. On
the subway in Sapporo, a girl by the door
stared at us wide-eyed and open-
mouthed. We looked at her. She stared.
We looked away. She moved to the seat
across from us and stared some more. I
was unsure if she was even blinking.
Most probably, we were the first white
people she had ever seen.
Of course, not all Japanese people are
like this. Although we did receive count-
less sidelong glances, for the most part,
they were extremely friendly. The Japan-

ese have turned common courtesy into an
art form. Even in the midst of our Ameri-
can ignorance, they bowed and smiled per-
sistently. Shopkeepers welcome everyone
who passes by. As my sister and I left one
restaurant, the entire kitchen crew stopped
to thank us. I had never felt so popular. It
was nice, even if its artificiality became
stifling after about a week.
When you think about it, their attitude
makes sense; with so many people
packed onto four small islands, they have
to be thoughtful and considerate to sur-
vive. They have to smooth over conflicts
because they can't run away in their
SUVs like Americans can. At the same
time, though, their courtesy seems to be
based on something deeper than calculat-
ed flattery. Security is lax. On the
overnight trains, there are no doors to the
sleeping compartments. In other words,
they have faith in humanity. It is unclear
if this is the cause or result of their sur-
prisingly low crime rate.
By the end of the trip, I had seen
another side of the world. I had tasted
what it's like to be a minority, an outsider,
someone living in a country that's being
culturally and economically taken over by
another. There are a million different per-
spectives in this world. The sad part is,
we'll never even be aware of a fraction of
them because we're all so blinded by our
own small lives. It's humbling, really.
That's exactly the point of traveling.
Kellman can be reached at

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