Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Unions: Dues and don'ts," Nov. 30, 2002

Hunting terrorist kidnappers

Rebels in Colombia's 38-year civil war kidnapped one of Latin America's leading Roman Catholic bishops and a priest in the country's mountainous central region on Nov. 11. For the next four days and nights, the rebels forced Bishop Jorge Jimenez and the cleric on foot and horseback through storms and bug-infested forests, across streams, and up and down mountainsides. They traveled mostly by night, but the military wasn't far behind, feeding on tips from locals. On Nov. 15, a voice shouted: "Get down, Fathers!" The churchmen threw themselves on the ground. Soldiers opened fire. The troops killed one kidnapper, captured two, and sent more than a dozen others fleeing for their lives. They airlifted the clerics to a military base in Bogota, 50 miles away, and a joyous reunion with family members. "God has given me back my life, so I can be of service to my country," said Bishop Jimenez. He is president of the Latin American bishops conference, which sets church policy for the 22 nations of Latin America. Rebels kidnapped more than 3,000 people in Colombia last year, including dozens of politicians, as political pawns and for ransom.

Mindless Europeans

A few decades ago, Europe-the birthplace of Western civilization-was still the intellectual center of the world. Today, writes scholar Michael Ledeen in The American Enterprise, "the European intellectual scene has become almost unbelievably boring." Mr. Ledeen points out that only 12 of the last 50 Nobel winners in physics and chemistry were Europeans and that European literature and movies have become substandard-with American books and movies dominating the cultural scene even in Europe itself. The intellectual decline has coincided with European public policy turning inward and selfish, focusing on material comforts and ceding military responsibility almost completely to the United States. The European Union, for instance, "is simply not working through the question of how to deal with the threat from radical Islam," he writes. This is the root of European anti-Americanism, contends Mr. Ledeen: "Of course they are angry; we have shown them up badly. Our ability to dominate the world, intellectually as well as militarily, is the clearest possible proof of their own failure." Mr. Ledeen, a self-described "Europhile," notes that historically Europe has emerged from periods of decline to reassert itself intellectually and politically: "We can only hope this happens again soon."

Khomeini and the student revolution?

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Thousands of students in Iran have been protesting the death sentence of a university professor on charges of insulting Islam. Among the demonstrators, according to state-run media: H. Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic republic. He is a mid-level clergyman who looks after his grandfather's shrine outside of Tehran. Besides marching with protesters, he visited the teacher's family and expressed hope that the sentence would soon be reversed. Professor Hashem Aghajari received the death penalty from the country's hard-line judiciary after suggesting in a speech that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own, without clergy assistance. An ongoing power struggle in Iran pits reformists, many of them students, who seek more social and political freedoms, against Islamic hard-liners. The latter control the police, judiciary, and other levers of power.

Shaken, stirred stogie

James Bond will smoke again. The Sunday Times of London reports that Ian Fleming's brainchild smokes cigars in the new movie Die Another Day. "In the last Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, he had a 'No Smoking' sign in his car. In this one he appears savoring fat Havana cigars, and in one scene, discusses their quality with a Cuban gangster," reporter Lois Rogers writes. "The decision to feature cigars has drawn outrage from the anti-smoking lobby and will embarrass the British Lung Foundation, which is promoting the film in a fundraising effort."

A new paper chase

A politically correct speech code at a purported shrine of the First Amendment? Patrick Healy of the Boston Globe reports that a Harvard Law School panel is drafting a code "that would ban harassing, offensive language from the classroom." This comes after activists pressed for something called the Committee on Healthy Diversity to lobby for restrictions. The reporter noted that "a series of racial incidents" had ruptured the campus. One of them was a professor saying feminism, Marxism, and Black Studies "contributed nothing" to tort law. "At a law school known for its champions of the First Amendment, from the Supreme Court of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis to today's campus of Alan Dershowitz, Randall Kennedy, and Laurence Tribe, the notion of a speech code is noxious to some professors and students and unsettling to many others," he writes. Dean Robert Clark appointed the panel but expressed no enthusiasm for its proposed remedy. The Globe quoted a spokesman for the dean saying the boss would be "very reluctant" to go along with such a plan.

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