Monthly Archives: May 2016

re: “British Man Sentenced to 40 Years in Al Qaeda Plot”

 

 

 

re: “British Man Sentenced to 40 Years in Al Qaeda Plot to Attack London Airport”

The New York Times, May 27, 2016

 

According to the Times:

An operative for Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen who was trained in bomb-making by Anwar al-Awlaki and agreed to carry out an attack targeting Americans and Israelis at Heathrow Airport in London was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Friday [May 27, 2016) in Manhattan.

The operative, Minh Quang Pham, 33, never carried out the attack after returning home to Britain in summer 2011, and in a letter to the judge, he said he had only agreed to the plot in order to get out of Yemen and return home. Mr. Pham, who was extradited from Britain to the United States last year, pleaded guilty in January to three terrorism-related charges.

But the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said Mr. Pham had not carried out the attack because he knew he was under surveillance by the authorities after returning to Britain.

Mr. Pham traveled secretly to Yemen in 2010, swore allegiance to the terrorist group, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P., and worked on its online propaganda publication, Inspire.

Under questioning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said that while he was in Yemen, he approached Mr. Awlaki, an American-born radical Muslim cleric who had become A.Q.A.P.’s leading English-language propagandist, and volunteered to “sacrifice himself” in a suicide attack upon returning to Britain.

He said Mr. Awlaki taught him how to mix chemicals to make an explosive device, and even showed him how to tape bolts around the bomb to act as deadly shrapnel when the device exploded. Mr. Awlaki had also said to target the airport attack on arrivals from the United States or Israel.

The judge, Alison J. Nathan of Federal District Court, said she agreed with the government’s position that Mr. Pham had intended to conduct the bombing and condemned his role in what she called a “murderous plot.”

She said Mr. Pham had been a “trusted, skilled and, for a time, dedicated participant” in A.Q.A.P, and that she believed aspects of that continued even after he returned to Britain.

The government had suggested a 50-year sentence. Anna M. Skotko, a prosecutor, told the judge that there was no evidence Mr. Pham had disavowed his allegiance to the terrorist group. …

Mr. Pham, weeping at one point, told the judge that he had made a “very serious mistake.”

“My thinking was wrong at the time,” he said, adding, “All I can say is I have reformed.”

Mr. Pham, who was born in Vietnam, lived in Britain since childhood. His lawyer, Bobbie C. Sternheim, had asked the judge to impose a 30-year sentence, the minimum.

Ms. Sternheim noted that her client had willingly spoken to the F.B.I., had owned up to his mistakes and had not engaged in violence when he returned to Britain. She added, “We should be hopeful that people who make mistakes can reform.”

Judge Nathan, before imposing the sentence, noted that Mr. Pham, in his letter, said he had renounced terrorism and extreme ideology. “I don’t know whether these statements represent Mr. Pham’s true beliefs,” the judge said. “I hope that they do.”

 

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Please note the following letter to the editor of mine:

How can you get a 40 year sentence for something you did not do? Where is the justice in that?

Didn’t Jesus preach forgiveness for those who repent?

Should our legal system not make a distinction between committing a crime and planning one? If punishment is merited in this case, how can 40 years be called for?

It is cruel and unnecessary.

 

— Roger W. Smith, Maspeth, NY

letter to editor, The New York Times, May 28, 2016; not published

 
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Addendum:

Harriet Tubman is a heroic figure in American history who did many brave and noble things. She became, according to a Wikipedia article, “an icon of American courage and freedom.”

In April, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan for Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson as the portrait on the $20 bill.

Yet, since modern day self-appointed judges have no mercy for would be terrorists, consider that Tubman helped abolitionist John Brown plan and recruit for the raid he led at Harpers Ferry.

Brown was and is a hero in the eyes of many. But, would not the raid on Harpers Ferry be considered a terrorist act by today’s standards?

From a Wikipedia article at

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman

In April 1858, Tubman was introduced to the abolitionist John Brown, an insurgent who advocated the use of violence to destroy slavery in the United States. Although she never advocated violence against whites, she agreed with his course of direct action and supported his goals. …

This would be enough to convict Tubman, it would seem, and perhaps sentence her to 40 years if the same standards were applied to her as to Minh Quang Pham, the Vietnam born British citizen who has just been sentenced to that many years for agreeing to participate in, and participating in the planning of, a suicide bombing that he never carried out.

To continue, from Wikipedia:

… as he began recruiting supporters for an attack on slaveholders, Brown was joined by “General Tubman”, as he called her. Her knowledge of support networks and resources in the border states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware was invaluable to Brown and his planners. Although other abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison did not endorse his tactics, Brown dreamed of fighting to create a new state for freed slaves, and made preparations for military action. After he began the first battle, he believed, slaves would rise up and carry out a rebellion across the south. He asked Tubman to gather former slaves then living in present-day Southern Ontario who might be willing to join his fighting force, which she did.

On May 8, 1858, Brown held a meeting in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, where he unveiled his plan for a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. When word of the plan was leaked to the government, Brown put the scheme on hold and began raising funds for its eventual resumption. Tubman aided him in this effort, and with more detailed plans for the assault.

Tubman was busy during this time, giving talks to abolitionist audiences and tending to her relatives. In the autumn of 1859, as Brown and his men prepared to launch the attack, Tubman could not be contacted. When the raid on Harpers Ferry took place on October 16, Tubman was not present. Some historians believe she was in New York at the time, ill with fever related to her childhood head injury. Others propose she may have been recruiting more escaped slaves in Ontario, and Kate Clifford Larson suggests she may have been in Maryland, recruiting for Brown’s raid or attempting to rescue more family members [Kate Clifford Larson, Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004]. Larson also notes that Tubman may have begun sharing Frederick Douglass’s doubts about the viability of the plan.

The raid failed; Brown was convicted of treason and hanged in December. His actions were seen by abolitionists as a symbol of proud resistance, carried out by a noble martyr. Tubman herself was effusive with praise. She later told a friend: “[H]e done more in dying, than 100 men would in living.”

Why are Tubman’s actions in this respect totally forgotten and ignored? It seems that they should matter to the self-appointed judges who want to lock up Minh Quang Pham and throw away the key.

But, then, it’s not politically to correct criticize Harriet Tubman, a modern day saint — a black woman, no less — who is about to be honored by being pictured on a twenty dollar bill.

 

Roger W. Smith, June 3, 2016

 

 

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A reader response:

 

“Roger, thanks for sending the relevant articles from the Times. After reading all of them, I am inclined to side with the New York judge who thought that Pham’s claims of reform and renunciation of terrorism were rather disingenuous. His admitted admiration for Anwar al-Awlaki, his enthusiasm for and participation in Al Qaeda’s activities in Yemen and his avowed willingness to “martyr” himself in order to kill Americans and Israelis at Heathrow are more believable than his later claims that he said all that just to get out of Yemen and return to his family, which he had previously abandoned. He was, after all, a mature and educated adult, not some adolescent or post-adolescent who went off the track briefly and then realized his mistake.

“This is an example, among many others, of why I am essentially non-religious. I consider established religion to be one of the most divisive, most antagonistic influences in human affairs and history.”

— posted by a relative of mine on Facebook, May 29, 2016

 

 

Roger W. Smith:

I appreciate the response and your thoughts.

I think young people can do very stupid things, then change and regret them.

I did some stupid, wrong things in my late teens and twenties that I would refrain from now.

Pham did engage in planning a suicide bombing, but he didn’t carry it out. In view of this, I think a 40 year sentence is way excessive.

You apparently noticed my remark about Jesus preaching forgiveness.

Hardly anyone practices true Christianity today.

I regard myself as a Christian and appreciate the religious upbringing and training I had. I respect religious people. But I am not religious and do not observe or practice religion.

a view with which I fully agree

 

 

I am not a Donald Trump supporter.

But, for what my opinion is worth, I think it’s high time that people came to their senses about issues raised, supposedly, in an article published in the The New York Times of May 14, 2016

Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private

By Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey

 

 

See letter to editor of The New York Times below, plus additional comments of mine, which follow.

 
— Roger W. Smith

      May 17, 2016

 

 

 
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Your article about Donald Trump and women is truly laughable. So the man likes pretty women — that is front-page news? Your reporters interviewed dozens of women who had worked with or for Mr. Trump over four decades, and this is what you found: He likes women, promotes them, mentors them and comments on their appearance. Tell us something we did not know!

Jeanne Hosinski (letter to The New York Times, May 17, 2016)

 

 

 

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The following is an exchange I had on Facebook with a relative who responded to and commented on the above post of mine.

 

a relative:

How about the recent times when he publicly and gratuitously insulted women on national television?

 

 

response from Roger W. Smith:

I acknowledge that Trump did do this (insult women via the media) and that it does not speak well for him. You are right to bring it up. But the article in the NY Times never mentioned these recent instances and instead delved into Trump’s past to show, for example, that he was known as a ladies’ man in high school (as if this proved something).

I felt it was full of trivial information that they dredged up pointlessly, which the letter writer put well. There was no substance to the article.

I feel that there is underlying point that is being made in the article – that there is something wrong about men being attracted to women. This is a point of view with which I disagree.

Walt Whitman, “A Carol Closing Sixty-Nine”

 

A CAROL CLOSING SIXTY-NINE.

A carol closing sixty-nine—a résumé—a repetition,
My lines in joy and hope continuing on the same,
Of ye, O God, Life, Nature, Freedom, Poetry;
Of you, my Land—your rivers, prairies, States—you, mottled
Flag I love,
Your aggregate retain’d entire—Of north, south, east and west,
your items all;
Of me myself—the jocund heart yet beating in my breast,
The body wreck’d, old, poor and paralyzed—the strange inertia
falling pall-like round me,
The burning fires down in my sluggish blood not yet extinct,
The undiminish’d faith—the groups of loving friends.

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, The Deathbed Edition, 1892

 

 

first draft of my Russian essay on Tolstoy (and how it came to be written)

 

 

biographical sketch of Leo Tolstoy

 

 

Posted here is a handwritten student paper by me, written in Russian, about Leo Tolstoy.

It was written by me for a Russian course at New York University.

The way this came about was as follows.

I was taking a noncredit course in Russian at NYU — I believe it was in 1977. I had enrolled for advanced Russian. I was underqualified to take the course, having so far completed only first year Russian. But, I wanted to be challenged. I had done some extra studying of the language on my own.

I seemed to be the weakest student in the class. Our instructor, a Russian woman who was an adjunct professor, commented after a few classes that I didn’t belong in the class.

I was a Slavophile and a big fan of Tolstoy, among other Russian writers. One evening, our instructor was discussing Tolstoy briefly. She made the suggestion, off the top of her head, that perhaps someone in the class would like to write an essay on Tolstoy.

No one volunteered, so I raised my hand. It was clear that she did not think I should or could do it, but she begrudgingly agreed, by default, to let me.

In the next class session, I read my essay, which was twelve pages long, handwritten on loose leaf paper. (See downloadable PDF file, above.)

At the end of my presentation, the instructor said– maintained adamantly — that I must have copied the essay from somewhere.

No, I insisted, I had written it myself. I said to her in Russian,”Я сам написал” (Ya sam napisal),” meaning “I wrote it myself.” This was slightly incorrect. The correct Russian is Я написал это сам: Ya [I] napisal [wrote] eto [it] sam [myself]. (Note the Russian word sam, meaning myself. It is a root of the Russian word samizdat, which means self publishing.)

She still didn’t believe me. She said that in the next class I should present the essay again, this time without reading from my written text. I’m sure she thought she had me!

The day of the next class arrived. It was in the evening. I got to NYU about a half an hour early and took a stroll in Washington Square Park. I had not prepared, had not memorized the essay!

I walked in circles around the park for a half an hour or so with the handwritten essay in my hand. I was reading and reciting it to myself. I found that it was not hard to memorize. I think this was because of the fact that I had put such effort into writing it, had slaved over it with an English-Russian dictionary close at hand. I remembered stuff from having drafted it.

After a while, I said to myself: I’ve got it. I can do it.

I went to the class and recited the essay word for word off the top of my head, without reading from my paper.

I think the professor was flabbergasted; certainly, she was surprised.

To be honest, I myself was surprised that I could do it.

 

 

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I have posted a revised version of my essay, typewritten in Cyrillic characters, on this blog:

Roger W. Smith, “биографический очерк Льва Николаевича Толстого” (Biographical Sketch of Leo Tolstoy)

It can be accessed through the category “Tolstoy”: on this blog.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     May 2016

 

my paper on “Platero y yo”; Luciana de Ames’s Spanish class

 

 

paper on ‘Platero y yo’ (in Spanish)

 

 

The short paper on the prose poem Platero y yo (Platero and I) by the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez — it amounts to an appréciation — that I have posted here (downloadable file above) was written by me in an introductory Spanish course at Columbia University in the 1970’s.

I have been a great admirer of Jiménez since my teenage years, when I found out about him from my older brother. He was reading Jiménez’s classic in an English translation and greatly admired it.

Platero y yo is a simple, semi-autobiographical account, written in the first person, about a poet and his donkey. It evokes the region of Andalusia and the town of Moguer, the author’s birthplace (which I have visited).

Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881–1958) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956.

 

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My instructor for first year Spanish was Luciana de Ames. I believe she was Italian.

She was gorgeous. It was an all male class. It seemed like the whole class was in love with her. I certainly was.

She was a great foreign language teacher.

I got an A in her course in the spring of 1974 and an A plus from her in the second semester of the course.

I attended a lecture in Spanish that she gave to the Spanish Department. I did not understand most of it. It was on the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo (1892–1938), who was the focus of her scholarly interest.

Her literary enthusiasms also included Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Márquez, which had recently been published. Mrs. de Ames raved about the book.

Mrs. de Ames was married with a son about five years old. I ran into her walking with her son one day in Riverside Park. She was eating from a bag of potato chips. She was very friendly and didn’t seem at all fazed by meeting me in a different setting.

She was a natural. Open and unaffected. Extremely energetic and enthusiastic as a teacher and scholar, a lover of language and literature — it was so much fun being in her class.

 

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Because of the energy crisis, daylight savings rules had been instituted year round. Our class was at 8 a.m. We would be gathered in front of the Casa Hispanica on West 116th Street waiting for Mrs. de Ames to arrive. She would always seem to be running down the street breathlessly, just in time, and would unlock the front door of the building, fumbling with the keys. It was always dark because of daylight savings, not usual for that hour in the morning.

Mrs. de Ames also liked the Nicaraguan writer Rubén Darío (1867-1916). She introduced us to Darío’s poem “Walt Whitman,” which begins:

En su país de hierro vive el gran viejo,
bello como un patriarca, sereno y santo.
Tiene en la arruga olímpica de su entrecejo
algo que impera y vence con noble encanto.

(In his country of iron lives the grand old man / beautiful as a patriarch, serene and holy. / He has in the Olympian wrinkle of his brow / something that prevails and conquers with noble charm.)

In one class, Mrs. de Ames asked, spontaneously — without there being any connection to the lesson — “Quien escribiò Hojas de yierba?” (who wrote Leaves of Grass?). I answered quickly, “Walt Whitman.”

The rest of the class had no clue as to the question. I didn’t either — at first. But it was the kind of question upon which my brain operates fast. I thought, “escribiò”: the word must have something to do with writing — escribir is a Spanish verb meaning to write and has the same root as the English word scribe.

“Hojas de yierba” stumped me for a nanosecond. Then, I thought: “yierba,” sounds like “herbs”; must mean something like grass. So the question must refer to someone who wrote about grass. (I didn’t know what “hojas,” leaves, meant.) It could only be Whitman. Who else wrote about GRASS?

Mrs. de Ames was impressed. So was the rest of the class. There was a bright, friendly law school student in the class. He was rubbing his forehead and asked me with incredulity, “how did you ever get that one?”

 

— Roger Smith

      May 2016

 

Postscript: I have wondered what became of Mrs. de Ames: what her academic career was like and where she might be now. I have been unable to locate her.