When Muslims saved Jews

December 22, 2010

I regularly (and justifiably) criticize Islam and its apologists for the antisemitism and Jew-hatred that’s hardwired into the faith. But there are exceptions, and these need to be borne in mind so that we don’t cross the line from reasoned, valid criticism to a mindless bigotry that just mirrors our Salafist enemy. Such an exception is the following story, which tells the tale of Albanian Muslims who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis:

“I’ll never forget this – when we were at this guy’s home and he was looking at us sort of like angrily and he said ‘What are you doing here?'” says Gershman. “We said, ‘Well, your family saved this Jewish family,’ and he looked at us and said, ‘So what? Any Albanian would have done the same thing. We did nothing special,’ and he meant it.”The Albanians have a word for this: Besa. It translates as ‘word of honor,’ and is a cultural precept unique to Albania.

“The word Besa in Albanian is kind of protection of when they host a guest, the Albanians, it’s a rule, they protect them with their own lives,” says Alberto Colonomos, a Jewish man born in 1933 in what was then Yugoslavia. He was 10 years old when his family fled to Albania.

“There were about 7,200 Jews living in that area. They deported them to the concentration camps and they deported them all the way to Treblinka. They killed them all, nobody came back. But about 50 families escaped a week or two weeks before the deportation.”

The Jewish family that lived with the Kazazi family (pictured) escaped the Nazis during searches by scrambling through connecting doorways to other homes. “Our parents were not very religious, but they believed in the Koran and Besa,” the grown Kazazi children say. “Without the Koran there is no Besa. Without Besa there is no Koran.”

A wealthy man who worked in a tobacco factory took in the Colonomos family. Unlike many Jews in other parts of Europe who survived the war in cellars and attics, Jews in Albania were given Muslim names and treated as honored guests. Colonomos explains that under Besa, Albanians put their guests before their own family.

“They really hid us with their lives. They knew that the Germans – the consequences if they catch them were very, very stiff. So they would be shot. But when they have that Besa, they will not denounce their guests. They were amazing people.”

Be sure to read the whole thing. I’ll not stop criticizing Islam, but this is a reminder of the good that can be found among all people, and it’s fitting for the season. I hope the exhibit comes my way; I’d like to see it.

via Joshua Treviño

UPDATE: Mr. Gershman has a web site devoted to his exhibit, with photos and stories from the time.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Restraining Leviathan II: spending limits

December 22, 2010

A few weeks ago I wrote about the proposed Repeal Amendment, a change to the Constitution that would allow the states to repeal any federal law or regulation on approval of two-thirds of the state legislatures. The idea would be to allow another avenue of pushback against bad legislation, such as ObamaCare, and regulations that threaten our individual liberties, such as the recently announced assumption of regulatory power over the Internet by the FCC.

In an article at The Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson uses the example of ObamaCare to argue that the Repeal Amendment isn’t enough, for several reasons: first is the difficulty of getting enough legislatures to agree on repeal. Even after the sweeping Republican victories in state elections last November, enough state legislatures remain in Democratic hands to block repeal, even if just in theory. To be honest, I consider this a feature, not a bug, since the pwoer to overturn federal law should require an overwhelming consensus. And, I suspect, that consensus exists in this case.

The other problem he mentions is more serious: that, to prevent a repeal, Congress and the administration could, in essence, bribe state legislatures with federal money in return for voting the right way. We saw examples of this during the debates over the health care law, as Senators Nelson and Landrieu, were (and let’s be blunt here) bought off with the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase. If it can be done to a US senator, it can happen with a state senator.

Anderson’s proposed solution is a amendment that caps spending at the federal level. He explains it thusly:

While we do have a federalism problem (as in too little of it), what we mostly have is a spending problem — and, thus, what we really need is a spending amendment. Such an amendment should limit spending based on 2008 figures and then prevent Congress from increasing real (inflation-adjusted) spending by more than 2 percentage points annually. Exceptions should be made for defense spending or if three-quarters of the state legislatures grant an exception requested by two-thirds of both houses of Congress. Over time, such a Limited Government Amendment would dramatically reduce federal spending as a percentage of our gross domestic product.

In the process, it would also greatly reduce the federal government’s ability to buy off the states. Thus, a spending amendment would not only do a great deal to check federal spending, it would also increase the effectiveness of a repeal/federalism amendment. In combination, these two amendments would profoundly limit federal spending and control, while helping to reestablish the federalist system that’s so essential to securing our rights.

It’s an interesting idea; Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute has argued that simply limiting spending growth to two-percent would balance the budget by 2020. (Presumably surpluses beyond that could be used to pay down our debt.) And one could reasonably argue that a constitutional amendment is required, given Congress’ natural propensity to spend more of our money (or borrow it) regardless of need.

Perhaps it’s odd, but I’m more wary of this proposed amendment than I am of the Repeal Amendment, since I’m wary of tying the government’s hands in a time of emergency. While military spending would be exempted, what about a natural disaster that devastates a whole region? Time would be of the essence for any response, yet the two-thirds/three-fourths provision for an exception to the limit strikes me as too cumbersome.

Still, there’s no doubting the federal government has grown too powerful and needs to be restrained and pared back. Anderson’s proposal is at least worthy of serious debate.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)