The Classics

January 7, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Der Spiegel:

Young Muslim women are often forced to lead double lives in Europe. They have sex in public restrooms and stuff mobile phones in their bras to hide their secret existences from strict families. They are often forbidden from visiting gynecologists or receiving sex ed. In the worst cases, they undergo hymen reconstruction surgery, have late-term abortions or even commit suicide.

Gülay has heard it from her mother so many times: An unmarried woman who has lost her virginity might as well be a whore.

Gülay, 22, lives in Berlin’s Neukölln, a district that is home to a high number of Muslim immigrants, and has little in common with the cliché of the “girl with the headscarf.” She wears tight jeans, low-cut blouses and has long hair that she doesn’t keep covered. She is self-confident and looks people in the eye. Gülay plans to begin a training program to work as an airport ground hostess next year. At first glance, she comes across as a poster child for successful integration.

Nevertheless, she is adamantly opposed to seeing her name in print, just as she would never meet a journalist for an interview in one of the hookah bars in her neighborhood that are so popular among Arab and Turkish immigrants. She is worried that someone could overhear her talking about her family’s strict morals, and about the rigid code of honor in her social environment that prevents girls from having sex before marriage and forbids them from having boyfriends.

Gülay is thinking about how best to sum up her dilemma. She nervously stirs her tea before launching into a litany of complaints. “The boys can screw around as much as they want, but if a girl does it she can expect to be shot,” she says. “That’s just sick.” She first had sex five years ago, and it completely changed her life. Since then, she has been deathly afraid of being branded by her family as a dishonorable girl — or, worst yet, punished and cast out.

A Constant Tug-of-War

Hardly any other issue is as fraught with prohibition and fear among Germany’s Muslim immigrants as sex. Many Muslim families adhere to moral values from a pre-modern era, and the separation of the sexes affects almost all aspects of daily life. At the same time, young female immigrants are faced with the temptations of a free life unrestrained by religious and cultural traditions. Their daily lives are a constant tug-of-war between two value systems.

Many of them suffer from this contradiction, and some crack under the strain. Doctors and social workers report on desperate young women coming to them with requests to reconstruct the hymen or perform late-term abortions. The elevated risk of suicide among young immigrant women even prompted Berlin’s Charité Hospital to establish a suicide prevention initiative for women from Turkish immigrant families. In a multi-year study, the group hopes to discover why the suicide rate within this population is apparently twice as high as it is among ethnic German women of the same age.

The consequences of living this double life have been poorly studied. Almost no governmental and non-governmental organizations, from family and education ministries to immigration authorities and self-help groups, can offer reliable figures or well-founded conclusions on the issue.

“The problems these women face are caused by the patriarchal and traditional structures in families,” says Berlin’s commissioner for integration and migration, Günter Piening. According to Piening, youth welfare agencies, government offices and schools have been educated on the issue for years, “but a lot remains to be done.”

Being Home by 8 p.m.

Of course, these problems do not exclusively affect Muslim groups. Young women in other social groups also suffer as a result of strict moral codes and domestic violence. And there are also Muslim families in which the daughters lead a modern, self-determined life, a fact that Piening and other politicians are quick to point out.

But doctors, social workers and the operators of crisis hotlines and youth clubs often experience a different reality. They note that, like in Turkey, equal rights are usually only experienced in families in academic or artistic circles. Otherwise, strict traditions dictate that fathers and brothers control the lives of their sisters and daughters.

This helps to explain why many girls with Turkish and Arab origins are so candid about their double lives, but only as long as they are not named.

One of the places where they are more likely to speak their minds is a Berlin youth club for girls from devout families, which is strictly off-limits to boys — the perfect place for Gülay and her girlfriends to meet. Otherwise, they are not permitted to go out. Going to a party is tantamount to turning tricks, and girls who are not home by 8 p.m., when shops close, need a good excuse to explain their tardiness.

The only freedom these girls enjoy is at school, while shopping or in youth clubs. “When I go home I hide my mobile phone in my underwear,” says Sibel, giggling as she extracts a mobile phone from her bra. “I’m not allowed to have a mobile phone or talk to boys. What else should I do?”

Twenty Minutes in a Public Bathroom

A small group of teenagers has congregated in the youth club kitchen. The girls are talking about sex, and almost all of them have something to say, something about their families that upset them. “The first thing our parents think is that we’re up to no good,” says one of the girls. Nevertheless, most have boyfriends, and even a visit to a gynecologist would be unthinkable for many of these girls, for fear of being spotted by relatives who would automatically conclude that they are there to get the pill — and are therefore sluts. “There are girls who would rather die from the pain,” says Gülay.

Sex education in school is also taboo for many young Muslim girls, says Gülay, who was the only one of 15 Muslim girls in her grade who attended the classes. Her fellow female students from the most devout families, says Gülay, “asked me all kinds of questions about how to use a condom and how to get the pill. Some of them didn’t know anything at all.” And some, according to Gülay, believed that all they had to do after having sex was to rinse themselves thoroughly with water. Others, especially “headscarf girls,” only engage in anal sex with their boyfriends, believing that in this way they can protect their “honor,” says Gülay.

Taking a boy home would almost be suicidal, say the girls at the youth club. The thought alone is so unheard-of that it triggers hysterical laughter. They rattle off the places where they have their rendezvous: hallways, park benches or the public restroom on Boddin Square in Neukölln, where person can get 20 minutes of privacy for 50 cents. Some girls are lucky enough to have a boyfriend with his own car or who can at least afford to pay €20 ($27) for a hotel room.

Connecting with a Hotline

And what happens then?

Papatya, a Berlin crisis center and shelter for girls of Turkish origin, provides neither an address nor a telephone number on his website. For more than 20 years, Papatya has been offering protection and shelter to young immigrant girls and women fleeing domestic violence. The organization is careful to keep its identity and whereabouts a secret. When it comes to injured family honor, anyone who so much as helps the girls can quickly get into danger.

Those who want to contact Papatya are asked to leave a number on an emergency hotline. A short time later, a social worker or a psychologist calls the girls.

One of the staff members at the center is a woman named Leila. In the eight years she has been working at Papatya, she has heard the same complaints again and again. Her list runs the gamut from girls being kept at home and barred from going to school to forced marriage and acts of violence committed on behalf of parents. In her counseling sessions, the girls repeatedly talk about their virginity, and about the fact that their happiness, or lack thereof, can depend solely on a few millimeters of skin…

Read it all.

The Weekly Standard:

Last month, the Canadian journalist Richard Klagsbrun drew attention to a newly submitted Master’s thesis at the University of Toronto’s ed school: “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.” Proud author Jennifer Peto told a reporter for the Canadian Jewish News that Canada’s Jews push the Holocaust narrative because only “a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state.”

Of course there is nothing novel about Peto’s view that Jews exploit the Holocaust, as can be seen in a casual rifle through past issues of the London Review of Books or the writings of left-wing scholars like Norman Finkelstein. The beauty of Peto’s formulation is that it can be used without alteration both by Holocaust-affirmers (like Peto) and Holocaust-deniers: The Jewish Lobby has been deploying Holocaust history (whether faked or real matters not) only to obscure the Gestapo-style tactics used to oppress Palestinians. But the real genius of Peto’s attack on Canadian Holocaust-educators is that it can produce the same effects as Holocaust-denial. The many admirers of the immediate object of her study​—​a long-established Holocaust-education tour of concentration camp sites in Europe​—​were hurt, shocked, and enraged.

Peto and her comrades in the anti-Zionist Israel-Apartheid movement don’t really care whether Holocaust education is disinterested or not. Their aims are bolder: the bloody dissolution of the state of Israel, among all the countries of the world. Distracted by Peto’s cruelty, the outraged defenders of the March of Remembrance and Hope pleaded (accurately) that their tour teaches “universal lessons of tolerance and empathy.” But they neglected to refute the underlying claim of the anti-Zionist movement: that Israel as a state deserves to be annihilated and its citizens dispersed; that Jewish citizens of Western democracies are bad Jews and disloyal citizens (of America, or Canada, or Sweden) if they believe Israel ought to exist; and that they are good Jews and good citizens only as long as they regard Israel as malign and unconnected to themselves (I cannot claim credit for the elegant terms “good Jew” and “bad Jew”​—​I borrow them from Professor John Mearsheimer).

The sad truth is that a real “hegemon” needs followers​—​and, measured by its effects, Holocaust education has none. Jennifer Peto is dead wrong: Far from being the creation of sinister Jews who wanted to be regarded as victims rather than “white,” Holocaust education was to be a gift from the Jewish community to the world at large. European Jewry was destroyed, but its legacy would be a redemptive technique that was intended to prevent future genocides of others. Kofi Annan described the ideal of Holocaust education perfectly last year in an op-ed: “a vital mechanism for teaching students to value democracy and human rights, and encouraging them to oppose racism and promote tolerance in their own societies.” The former U.N. secretary-general confesses that he thought Holocaust education should have helped “to prevent future acts of genocide,” but it has not: The op-ed murmurs the words Cambodia, the Congo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Annan proposes to look into “better teacher training.”

The idea of Holocaust education really took off in 1993 with the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. The notion is simple, and there is something ineffably ’90s about the enterprise. Vice President Al Gore​—​an iconic ’90s figure​—​explained how it was to work in a speech on the first anniversary of the museum’s opening: “In order to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again, those who care must tell the story.” And that would be it. Give me a child, the Holocaust education movement said to the world, and after passing through my exhibits and taking one of my courses, I will give you back a woman like Samantha Power or a man like Warren Christopher or even Kofi Annan​—​a warrior against future genocides, or at least a person immunized forever against racism and the desire to murder thousands of civilians with a stroke of the pen…

Read it all.

City Journal:

On Sunday, Bloomberg’s Blizzard saved a suicidal Hell’s Kitchen man who jumped nine stories, not to his death but into a cushion of trash bags, which hadn’t been picked up because the previous week’s snowstorm had postponed trash collection. Coming a few weeks before budget season starts, could the storm also save New York from its suicidal spending? Only if state and local politicians identify the true culprit behind the botched post-storm cleanup: the misguided idea that management expertise can overcome the benefits costs that are consuming the city budget.

If money could melt snow, Mayor Bloomberg would be basking in victory over the storm. When he took office in 2002, Gotham spent $1.3 billion annually on the Department of Sanitation. Today, the city spends more than $2.2 billion on “New York’s Strongest.” That increase during Bloomberg’s tenure was almost three and a half times the inflation rate. It follows that we should have a sanitation army well equipped to clean the white stuff up fast. Not quite. Today’s budgeted sanitation force—from supervisors to garbage collectors—is 392 people smaller than it was nine years ago, a 4 percent decline even as population is up. And the department is shrinking further, as Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith knocks 200 people off the rolls to save $21 million by moving supervisors into front-line jobs.

So where has the city’s swelling sanitation budget gone? Not into better services but into workers’ health care and pensions, as well as borrowing to fund infrastructure, which would otherwise be unaffordable because of those sky-high benefits. Taxpayers now spend $144,000 on salary and benefits for each sanitation worker, up from $79,000 nearly a decade ago. Nine years ago, taxpayers contributed about $10.5 million annually to support sanitation pensions; this year, they’ll cost $240 million—a more than twentyfold increase (the final number may be lower, though, as some changes to the pension funds, which push up contribution rates, may not go into effect until next year).

As for sanitation debt, it has grown from $119.6 million in 2002 to $265 million today. Borrowing is fine if you use the money to improve productivity or to serve a growing population. In recent years, for example, New York has borrowed $355 million to invest in two garbage-transfer stations, and it will soon borrow $230 million for similar investments, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. New York is also borrowing $370 million to build a new garage for sanitation trucks on the West Side of Manhattan. But borrowing without benefits reform just helps the city avoid the reality of its enormous personnel costs.

Bloomberg knows full well that public workers’ benefits are creating a permanent crisis for Gotham, as pension and health-care bills consume resources that should be paying for city services. As the mayor has said, “The time has come to bring our municipal pension system in line with reality. . . . It’s costing taxpayers a fortune, and they’re not getting any services or benefits from it.” The problem is that Bloomberg made that observation two years ago. Sanitation and other uniformed workers continue to retire after just 20 years, with overtime money to pad their pensions. To be fair, the mayor has stopped giving out big raises without asking workers for anything in return—and he does need Albany’s help to curb the pension madness (though not to rein in the health benefits)…

Read it all.

What They Heard

January 7, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Now Would Be A Good Time

January 7, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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