Thursday, December 27, 2007

why i detest glenn beck

December 19, 2007
Lost in the Funhouse
The Mad Corporate World of Glenn Beck


When I picked up a ringing phone Monday morning, the next thing I knew a producer was inviting me to appear on Glenn Beck's TV show.

Beck has become a national phenom with his nightly hour of polemics on CNN Headline News -- urging war on Iran, denouncing "political correctness" at home, trashing immigrants who don't speak English, mocking environmentalists as repressive zealots, and generally trying to denigrate progressive outlooks.

Our segment, the producer said, would focus on a recent NBC news report praising the virtues of energy-efficient LED light bulbs without acknowledging that the network's parent company, General Electric, sells them. I figured it was a safe bet that Beck's enthusiasm for full disclosure from media would be selective.

A few hours later, I was staring into a camera lens at the CNN bureau in San Francisco while Beck launched into his opening. What had occurred on the "NBC Nightly News," he explained, "was at best a major breach of journalistic integrity." And he pointed out: "The problem isn't what NBC is promoting. It's what they're not disclosing."

A minute later, Beck asked his first question: "Norman, you agree with me that they should have disclosed this?" The unedited transcript tells what happened next.

* * *

SOLOMON: "It's a big problem when there's not disclosure. I'm glad you opened this up. And I wouldn't want any viewers of this program to be left with the impression that somehow General Electric is an environmentally conscious company.

"On the contrary, they have a 30-year history of refusing and actually fighting against efforts to make them clean up the Hudson River, which GE fouled with terrible quantities of horrific PCBs, other rivers as well. People told they can't fish in the Hudson River. General Electric still lobbying to not have to clean up.

"General Electric, even today -- and this report is very timely -- General Electric is lobbying to get Congress to pass $18 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for a huge GE product which is General Electric components for nuclear power plants. So we should not be fooled in any way by efforts to greenwash General Electric or any other company."

BECK: "You know what's amazing to me? GE has a bigger budget for -- special interest budget than all of the oil companies combined, and yet nobody says anything. Let me reverse this.

"Norman, do you think if I got on as somebody who says I don't know what we can do about global warming, I'm not sure man causes it, and I certainly don't want to have laws and regulations on this, if I got on and said that but I was being -- my corporate -- my corporate parent was Exxon Mobil, do you think I'd get away with that for a second without that being on the front page of the New York Times?"

SOLOMON: "Well, other networks, including General Electric's NBC, have been very slow on global warming. And in fact, General Electric has major interest in components and products used by the oil and gas industry.

"I think if you look across the board, all the major networks, even so-called public broadcasting, which has Chevron underwriting its 'Washington Week' program every Friday, there is a problem, as you say. I think your words are very apt, 'promoting' but 'not disclosing.'

"But let's be clear about this, Glenn. I have a list here, for instance, that I jotted down.

"ABC, owned by Disney. ABC doesn't disclose in their relevant news reports about Disney's stake in sweatshops.

"Fox News -- and now as of the last couple of days now, Wall Street Journal owned by the same entity, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp -- they don't disclose that the ownership is entangled with the Chinese government to the detriment of human rights but to the advancement of the profit margin of the parent company."

BECK: "See --"

SOLOMON: "We would be remiss, Glenn, if we left out CNN, because CNN has a huge multi, multibillion-dollar stake in Internet deregulation and the failure of the Congress to safeguard so far what would be called net neutrality. So every time CNN does a news report on the Internet, on efforts to regulate or deregulate or create a two- or three-tier system of the Internet, CNN News should disclose that Time Warner, the parent company, stands to gain or lose billions of dollars in those terms.

"And one more thing."

BECK: "Real quick."

SOLOMON: "A major -- a major advertiser for CNN is the largest military contractor in the United States, Lockheed Martin. So when you and others --"

BECK: "I got news for you, Norman. Norman --"

SOLOMON: "-- promote war -- when you and others promote war on this network --"

BECK: "Norman -- Norman --"

SOLOMON: "-- we have Lockheed Martin paying millions of dollars undisclosed. So I would quote you --"

BECK: "Norman -- Norman --"

SOLOMON: "Promoting but not disclosing is a bad way to go."

BECK: "Norman, let me just tell you this. First of all, Lockheed Martin is not a -- not a corporate overlord of this program."

SOLOMON: "It's a major advertiser on CNN."

BECK: "That's fine. That's fine. Advertisers are different. But let --"

SOLOMON: "Well, it is fine, but it should be disclosed."

BECK: "Norman, let me just tell you something. If you think that it's warmonger central downstairs at CNN, you're out of your mind. But that's a different story."

SOLOMON: "Well, upstairs, when I watch Glenn Beck, in terms of attacking Iran, it certainly is. It's lucrative for the oil companies, as well as for the major advertiser on CNN, Lockheed Martin."

BECK: "But we're not talking about advertisers. We are talking about --"

SOLOMON: "Well, you don't want to talk about it. So let's talk about the Internet stake."

BECK: "No, no, no. Norman --"

SOLOMON: "Let's talk about the Internet stake that the owners of CNN have. Huge profits to be made or lost by the parent company of CNN depending on what happens in Washington in terms of Internet regulation."

BECK: "Norman, let me tell you something."

SOLOMON: "That should be acknowledged, don't you think?"

BECK: "Absolutely. And if it was on this program, it would be acknowledged.

"I thank you very much for your time.

"That just goes to show you, you've got to beware of everybody who you're getting your news from. Wouldn't it be nice if once in a while somebody came on and said, you know, I don't really have an agenda except the truth? It's my truth. If you don't like it, you should go someplace else."

* * *

During the back-and-forth, I'd understated the present-day role of Chevron as a funder of key news programming on PBS. Actually the Chevron Corporation, which signed on as an underwriter of "Washington Week" last year, no longer helps pay the piper there -- but the massive energy firm does currently funnel big bucks to the most influential show on PBS, the nightly "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."

The corporate funders of the "NewsHour" now include not only Chevron but also AT&T and Pacific Life. There must be dozens of journalistic reports on the program every week -- whether relevant to the business worlds of energy, communications or insurance -- that warrant, and lack, real-time disclosures while the news accounts are on the air. Meanwhile, over at "Washington Week," the corporate cash now flows in from the huge military contractor Boeing and the National Mining Association.

And that's just "public broadcasting." On avowedly commercial networks, awash in corporate ownership interests and advertising revenues, a thorough policy of disclosure in the course of news coverage would require that most of the airtime be devoted to shedding light on the media outlet conflicts-of-interest of the reporting in progress.

And what about Glenn Beck? The guy is another in a long line of demagogues riding a bull market for pseudo-populism. Brought to you by too many corporate interests to name.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Lost Jihad: Love in Islam

The Lost Jihad: Love in Islam
The many words and meanings for love in Arabic are reflective of Islam's comprehensiveness and depth


"At the heart of all things is the germ of their overthrow," wrote Egyptian author Adhaf Soueif in her Booker-nominated novel, The Map of Love. She was indulging in a very beautifully written digression about Arabic grammar, comparing words derived from the same root: in this case, qalb, "heart"; and enqilab, "overthrow". At this level, where the interplay of meaning and construction is visible, Arabic becomes an extraordinary language, forcing into cooperation concepts and ideas that are entirely unrelated in English.

Despite the tremendous conceptual range and utility provided by the root-and-pattern system of the language, there is a common assumption among non-speakers that Arabic-and thus, Islam-lacks an equivalent of agapé, a Greek term used by Christians to mean the boundary-less, self-sacrificing love between believers, or between a believer and God. More passionate than filia, less explicit than eros, agapé is love stripped of expectation, in which the lover is humbled and disciplined before the beloved. Running a Google search for 'agapé' and 'Islam' yields literally hundreds of Christian sites claiming there is no such term in Arabic, and painting Islam as a cold, dispassionate religion in its absence.

Over the years, Sufi Muslims have co-opted many of the romantic Arabic words for love and made them serve an ideal very much like agapé: Rumi feels hayam for the absent Shams; al Ghazali explores 'aishq as the union between a worthy believer and a higher Beloved, Allah. The poetry of 10th and 11th-century Sufis helped inspire the troubadour culture and ideals of courtly love that flourished in the medieval kingdoms of southern France, Navarre and Aragonne; one of the positive artistic developments to arise from contact between Christian Europe and the Muslim Near East during the Crusades. But many of the greatest Sufi thinkers, including al Ghazali, were themselves influenced by Platonic, Neoplatonic and Gnostic Christian ideals of love, kept alive in the medieval Middle East by the translation of Greek, Roman and Byzantine texts into Arabic and Persian. The question remains: we know the Prophet Muhammad meant Muslims to love and serve God, but did he mean them to be in love with God-and to reflect this love and service among each other?

The answer is, simply, yes. Though it has classically been overlooked by Islam's detractors, there is a word for agapé in Arabic. It carries the same non-specific 'boundary-less' connotation as the Greek word, and is used contextually in the same way. Better yet, it is entirely original; not borrowed, adapted, or modeled on a word from another language. The Arabic word for agapé is mahubba, and it is fascinating for two reasons: one, because it comes from hub-in its feminine form. Two, because of the prefix ma. Adding the letter mim to the beginning of a word in Arabic means "one who is/does", "that which is/does", or "in a state of" the word that follows it. Junun is mad, and majnun is "one who is mad" or "in a state of madness"; baraka is a blessing, and mubarak is "one who is blessed" or "in a state of blessedness"; Islam is submission, and Muslim is "one who submits" or "in a state of submission". Thus, mahubba is quite literally 'in love', but it is rarely used in an erotic sense. It can describe either love among people or love for the divine, and is used most commonly in a spiritual context in both cases. Implicit in mahubba is service; the lover puts the beloved at the center of the discourse, and submits to his/her demands. Author Fethullah Gulen describes mahubba as "obedience, devotion and unconditional submission" to the beloved, quoting Sufi saint Rabi'a al-Adawiya's couplet, "If you were truthful in your love, you would obey Him/for a lover obeys whom he loves."

While it is, again, primarily Sufis who have propagated the ideal of mahubba over the centuries, the word and the concept have roots in mainstream Islamic tradition: verse 3:31 of the Qur'an is sometimes called 'ayat ul'mahubba', and reads "Say: if you do love Allah, follow me, and Allah will love you." Even ibn Taymiyya, one of the founders of the Wahhabi movement, said of this verse, "There can be no clearer recognition of mahubba than this, and this recognition in itself increases love for Allah. And people have discussed (at length) about mahubba: its causes, its signs, its fruits, its supports and rulings." A hadith qudsi included in the Muwatta of Imam Malik is even more explicit: "God said, 'My love [mahubbati] necessarily belongs to those who love one another [mutahubinna] for My sake, sit together for My sake, visit one another for My sake, and give generously to one another for My sake'."

Mahubba differs from agapé in one crucial respect: because serving and approaching the beloved is a form of ongoing personal struggle, mahubba is a form of jihad. A far cry from the violent and indiscriminate "small jihad" preached by militants, mahubba is a form of al-jihad al-kabir, the greater jihad, or jihad against one's own ego. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that in an age of lesser jihad mahubba has fallen out of practice and almost out of memory; it is so universally neglected that when Islam is accused of lacking a concept of divine brotherhood, few Muslims have the intellectual wherewithal to protest. But Adhaf Soueif is right: at the heart of all things is the germ of their overthrow. The struggle to serve God out of love, and one another out of love, is the jihad of human potential against the jihad of violent ideology; if resurrected, it has the power to change the world.