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Issue Date:  September 10, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

The Super Bowl of politics

I must admit at the outset that I spend too much time watching political conventions. I have often wondered how hideous they must look to people outside the United States. They must appear the political equivalent of, say, the Super Bowl: excessive, overly scripted, self-indulgent and light on content. A foreign exchange student who, to the best of my knowledge, jumped at the chance to study in the United States, was heard to comment after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech, “I don’t like him.”

Asked why, she replied, “Because he thinks America is better than any other country.”

I suspect any of us who have experienced returning longingly from somewhere in the developing world, aching for the benefits and comfort of home, might respond, “Isn’t it?”

But that would be misunderstanding the reaction of someone made to feel inferior. Aw, it’s just political jingoism, one could argue. It’s also, however, a condensed version of what we do and how we appear in the larger picture. It’s what, more and more, people think of us.

~ ~ ~

Excess aside, I get hooked. Certainly it takes some suspension of reality and skepticism. So that’s why I was watching the Terminator-turned-governor rhapsodizing, rather eloquently I thought, about what his coming to America meant.

Another thought intruded, however, and cut through the reverie. For even as Schwarzenegger was speaking, I knew, people from other lands were being kept out of our country for no apparent good reason.

Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim scholar, was in Geneva when he should have been in South Bend, Ind., teaching at the University of Notre Dame.

As he explained in a compelling op-ed piece that appeared in The New York Times the day after Schwarzenegger’s speech, he had received clearance to come to the United States in May, after “meticulous clearance procedures.” But little more than a week before he was to arrive, his visa was revoked.

The State Department gave no reasons for the revocation; they told him he could reapply if he wanted to. Classes have begun at South Bend. The intellectual life of that campus, and by extension, the wider society, will be poorer for Ramadan’s absence.

Two weeks ago, we ran a story about a renowned Finnish theologian at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., who was forced to leave the United States.

Veli-Matti Karkkainen did not understand why he was being forced to leave. “If a theology professor from Finland can’t stay here, there is something wrong with the administrative process,” he said.

I thought of the story we ran last week about the government’s wish to get more involved in overseeing university courses in international studies.

Wasn’t there a time, I wondered, when such blatant interference with academic life would have caused a firestorm of protest?

Perhaps too much of that sort of thing is happening to sort it all out in a hurry and react against it piece by piece.

~ ~ ~

Real debate, laced with religious content, was happening mostly outside the convention hall. Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent (see story), and long-time contributor Patricia Lefevere (see story/see story) did a masterful job catching up with much of it. Catholics, of course, were found on all sides of the political/theological divides, and some were distributing a pamphlet claiming to have the list of nonnegotiables and, of course, all the answers.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 10, 2004

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