Posted tagged ‘islam’

Another Deity Insulted?

December 19, 2014

Barry Goldwater said it, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”. Over the years Americans have come to see this politically charged line from several different angles. More recent examples from Dick Cheney’s assault upon human rights and individual privacy to the extreme right’s decision to shut down the US government, make it clear that extremism should be viewed very skeptically. This week, in another arena, the world was smacked in the face with an even greater hypocrisy.

In far away Burma, three individuals, were arrested and hauled off to prison. These commercial business operators were charged with “insulting Buddhism” Who is buddhism? And what did the insult look like?

It seems the accused displayed a picture of the long gone buddha wearing ear phones. OMG. How could anyone be so crass?

The Muslim world often needs little (like even a cartoon) to accuse individuals of insulting Allah or insulting the Islam. Thai officials on occasion charge to odd fellow with “insulting the King”.

In the western world, insulting someone is not unknown. And for sure insults can evoke anger from the recipient. But in the case of Allah, Islam, Buddhism, or even the King of Thailand, charges were not filed by the one alleged to have been insulted.  This clearly indicates that other parties consider themselves worthy to guard the offended ones reputation.

Hmmm, seems like that is also an insult.

I have often thought that many of the political personalities frequenting elected office these days are (or were) dumber than a dog. I will now have to be more careful writing this, since that could be construed as an insult… And I don’t want to raise the anger of animal rights groups representing dogs.

Pass The Bullets

November 16, 2014

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Martin Dempsey, candidly testified before Congress that he would look favorably upon a request to send ground (read combat) troops into Iraq. Their purpose, to take back ground already taken by ISIS. So is General Dempsey just being honest or is he trying to goad his superiors or subordinates to make the request?

It would appear that General Dempsey knows his role. The military is suppose to carry out civilian orders.  The military’s role includes recommending the most appropriate strategy and executing it to accomplish these civilian goals. Anyone who has been in the business as long as General Dempsey also knows that in a political world, he can influence sometimes both the goal and the strategy. Maybe that what’s behind the General’s comments.

Whether the US should pursue ISIS is not a trivial decision. Pursuit requires resources and attention that could have been placed elsewhere. Were there to be more important uses for the military, for example confronting other situations which actually represent threats to vital national interests, America’s response might not be as good as necessary.

The current “pro-fight ISIS” cohort sound similar to those who argued for invading Iraq or doubling down with the “surge”. Behind every tree could be a terrorist and if we want to prevent that, the US must take the fight to them. Hmmm.

This argument raises skepticism. There seems to be no end of these groups who hate the West (especially the US) and love Allah (their way). Today the concentration of these Muslim extremists lies from Afghanistan to Libya. Less publicized groups, however, lie scattered across Africa and South East Asia including the Philippines. Are we to look forward to decades of “crusades” to strike down each of these religious zealots once they figure out how to hold others hostage for ransom?

America has traditional been an isolationist country. WWI and WWII shook the nation out of this way and since then, America has accepted the role of world policeman.

The fundamental business model being used by the likes of ISIS, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Boko Harum do not need religion to thrive. In the past we have label similar groups as insurgents, pirates, or renegades. There seems to always be one of these groups active someplace in the world. Should the US prepare to fight them all?

With the inevitable rise of China and the apparent resurgence of Russia, America needs to lead with diplomacy rather than the military in order to secure its commercial ambitions. To that end, there is also no better time than now to focus on North America and South America to foster civil relationships. In this way, America can focus upon how to deal with opposing economic philosophies so that the American economy can continue to grow.

Recognition that dealing with the ISIS crowd is irrelevant in the pursuit of American economic growth might be a good place to start.

Do You Hear Dick Cheney Calling?

August 21, 2014

The media is abuzz with what to do about ISIS. ISIS, ISIL, or just IS (Islamic State In Syria) has captured the media’s attention with a fresh, but not original marketing plan aimed at making the 5th and 6th century look attractive.

With ISIS, women know their place, and unless someone is a follower of ISIS strict Koran interpretation, that person is a subject for elimination. Does not sound like an attractive proposition to me. Hmmm.

Even more astounding, pundits are contrasting ISIS with al Qaeda and claiming ISIS is much worse. Hmmm.

The most recent ISIS stunt was the video beheading of an American journalist. Previously, ISIS had distinguished itself with wholesale religious or ethnic cleansing, slaughtering those who did not convert or did not leave quickly enough. Nice guys.

Now the President’s staff is hinting about using “feet on the ground” to stamp out this extreme brand of Islam. Apparently, a fair number of Muslims living in western countries (including the US) have been recruited by ISIS. Once trained, these jihadists, carrying western passports, could slip back into their home country. Once home, the “sky in falling” crowd worry that all hell will break out.

So the answer is to reoccupy parts of the Middle East? No way.

This is the time to think. Isn’t it the choice of Middle East residents to choose their own leaders? And what makes anyone think that an ISIS state could meet basic needs of its governed? Isn’t it more likely that if ISIS could gain control of a place like Syria, ISIS would need to morph into a less radical state.

The neoconservative crowd with their icon, Dick Cheney, are poised to shout encouragement for a US military return to the Middle East. The American public needs to remain calm and not give support, via their elected representatives, to a reoccupation.

The issue is not that ISIS represents the worst of mankind. Instead, the real issue is that the Middle East must sort out whether they wish to live in the 5th century or move into the 21st. At the heart of this is that Muslim men must forego the Koran interpreted “sexually privileged position” they are desperately trying to retain. This need to control women has rendered men easy prey for money seeking Mullahs who in turn will either lead militias, or cast their lot with others who look like they will be successful with the sword. This direction is a straight line to the 5th century.

The US has a right to slap about ISIS for action they do outside their home base.  We must also recognize that there will be some equally abhorrent group who will follow ISIS unless the basic Middle East muslim changes.

Islamic nations were once great leaders in math, science, and literature, and could be again. They simply cannot live as in the 5th century no matter how hard they try.

We also do not need to listen to the Dick Cheney’s who have never fought a war themselves but have been comfortable letting other people’s children do it


July 10, 2014

There was an article in a recent newspaper about someone who professed to be proud of being a jihadist. His rationale was that if he was killed, he would go straight to heaven, no waiting. What could make someone think that way?

The willingness to die for ones country or ones cause is not unusual. Most countries honor those armed service members who paid to protect their country with their life. Today we willingly honor our war dead on Memorial Day.

Dying in armed combat for the rights of Palestinian or Iraqi territories under most circumstances would seem either patriotic or at least duty bound. Dying because one had swallowed the recruiting lines of gaining 7 virgins or simply entry into heaven violates “truth in advertising”, I would think.

Islam, however, does not have the monopoly on superstitions. All the major religions have some whopper of a tale they want their followers to believe. And if one reviews, even quickly, history, one will find that many a soul has made his/her earth visit much shorter by following the superstition of the day.

And even more tragic are those who lost their lives because some other superstition believer felt they had priority in following their superstitions even if killing someone else resulted.

Of course many, if not most superstitions have a “self interest” component. “I believe in this superstition because life is better for me.” As Pascal famously wagered, “if I lead a good life and there is a god, I am on the right side of eternity (and eternity is a long, long time), if I lead a bad life, however, the penalties will be unendingly severe” (paraphrased).

Two huge superstitions have emerge around the world, (1) there is a supreme force, and (2) there is eternal life after death which resembles life on earth. Neither one is provable and both offer the purveyor of these myths a chance to collect “tribute” for leading the way.

Interestingly these two superstitions are so powerful and useful that competing claims of exclusivity have arisen.  “Follow me because I am the only right one”  Hmmm.

It would seem to me that if there were a god and a heaven (life after earth death) existed, those who thought of these superstitions would have formulated a doctrine with no reliance upon forcing their beliefs on others.

Rather, this new spiritual group would rejoice that they had discovered (or even made up) a way of living which was open to anyone, no strings attached, and would not interfere with any other group or individuals. In other words, these mystics had discovered sliced bread and they were willing to share it without any conditions attached.

This benevolent act would not eliminate the chance that some enterprising person, group, or country might see an opportunity for gain and hijack these superstitions.  If so, it would be that group who tarnished the myth.

These superstitions, if true, are, however, really alluring and with the right “branding”, could make money for the purveyor. History tells of victory and victory by followers of these superstitions.  Interestingly, each victory is associated with treasures going from one hand to another.  History tends not to dwell on who was on the other side of these victories (as if they did not count).

So why exactly would a loving and just god allow someone who would kill others, or in the extreme blow themselves up (and kill others) gain access to the good life of heaven?

Why would this spirit allow someone to cut in line?

The point of this post is not to debate theology. Rather it is to ask rational people (who may be also believers) how one can condone the practice of forcing any superstition upon others?

What say Hobby Lobby?

A Day To Reflect

April 20, 2014

Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, and Judaism all have roots that date thousand of years ago. In certain tenets or beliefs, each tradition claims a divine origin. All have been at one time or another conveniently aligned with secular leaders. Consequently, generational leadership changes have occurred as one secular leader was disposed by another and each tradition evolved.

All traditions offer customs and practices which promise to help one lead ones life in a way harmonious with others while keeping the person on a path to what ever lies ahead after death.

Members of all these traditions, at one time or another, have also engaged in bloody, cruel, and merciless attacks on others.

Today, within Christian religions, followers celebrate Easter. Christianity which emerged as a tradition more recently (just before Islam), engaged wholeheartedly in manifestations of hatred against fellow man while professing absolute certainty that divine intercession was guiding their way.

On Easter, Christian believers recognize a “man” who was conceived and born to a virgin, who preached a peaceful life philosophy. This “man”, however, was crucified and died. Easter represents the return from the dead, this “man” is said to have experienced. Hmmm.

All of these traditions have similar unbelievable tenets and attempt to connect the supernatural with life on earth today. Each traditions have believers who see their own tradition as real and those of others somewhat unbelievable. So what is one to believe?

Easter also has a unrelated secular theme.  A magical rabbit hides brightly color eggs, some filled with chocolates, for children to find and enjoy. There are plenty of hidden eggs so there are no winners or no losers. What an example for life.

In America, we speak of a Constitutional guaranteed “right of religious freedom”.  Christians celebrating Easter is a Constitutional right.

The Constitution assures everyone that they are free to follow any of these traditions, or none of them. The Government is prevented from limiting anyone’s practice of the religion of choice… providing the practice of ones religious tradition choice does not inhibit the right of others to practice their choice. In other words,

Catholics can no longer run inquisitions against Jews or Muslims, Hindus cannot slaughter Sheiks, or Sunnis cannot exterminate Shiites. Instead each religious tradition is invited to believe in what they want, regardless of what modern science says is possible.

In return, each tradition is expected respect the rights of those who practice other traditions. Hopefully on this Easter day, following the non-violent Easter Egg Hunt, many religious Americans will take the time to reflect upon this.

Troubled Times

August 7, 2013

It’s August.  This is the time for summer’s last flings.  Time for picnics and the beach.  And it’s so pleasant in Washington with Congress on break.  But, as the news reports indicate, all is not good around the world.  In fact in some spots life is down right miserable.

From Pakistan to Tunisia (including Sudan, Somalia, and other middle African countries) life is down right tenuous.  Why there and not here?

In these lands there is much killing.  Guns are plentiful.  Explosives, however, are used to boost the numbers. Bombs are so effective since others can be caught by surprise.  Suicide bombers are the method of choice.  Apparently there is a limitless number of eager volunteers.  You might say these life enders are just dying to make a point.  But what point?

Suicide is not unique to the Islamic world.  The US actually records higher numbers of suicides each year than any country in the Islamic world.  What seems to be the difference is that Americans (and Westerners in general) commit suicide for personal reasons.  They choose to end their own lives and do not choose to disturb anyone around them.  Only in the Islamic world do we find people who willingly self destruct at the behest of someone else.  And unlike many Buddhists who self immolate in recognition of some cause, these Islamic suiciders seems sure that taking as many other lives as possible is a worthy idea and will bring them accolades when they enter paradise.  Hmmm.

So what advice should the US be giving countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?  Should the US be sharing Thomas Paine’s writings?  How about explaining the US Constitution and how it is constructed?  Or, possibly the “Western Cannon” might find fertile ground.


I feel comfortable that Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain (who visited Egypt yesterday) thought that (1)after first helping Senator Graham’s upcoming Senate election campaign that (2) they could explain how the US would resolve a situation like the current Egyptian military take over.  Hmmm.

It is just striking that those who backed (and still back) the Iraq invasion and occupation are firmly convinced that Egypt will be different.

My guess is that they are correct, but just not now.  Maybe in 50 or 100 years.  Until Arabs clearly confine their chosen religion to their private lives and restrict the exercise of its ideology amongst themselves and do not interfere with others, communications will be limited to who holds the biggest stick.

Disclaimer.  Not all Muslims would choose to be a suicide bomber.  Not all Imams would teach or ask their followers to act this way.  And, for sure there is a thin line between some military actions where soldiers are sent into action where death is almost certain.


Old News

July 7, 2013

Syria is no longer front page news.  The killings and woundings continue.  They just don’t seem so newsworthy anymore.

The forces loyal to Bashar al Assad seem to be gradually regaining much of the land lost to the insurgents.  Syrian killing Syrian, Shiite killing Sunni (and vice versa), and a country decaying before the our eyes is no longer  qualify as new information.  With no end game in sight, this war’s 15 minutes of fame has come and gone.

And besides, there is Egypt.  The rich Egyptian fabric of social confusion offers much new to write about.  Like many third world countries, the discrete but powerful military is a cut of society all to itself.  The brass may speak of civil order, but behind those words is the unmistakeable intention to remain in power and in control of their way of living… (regardless of what some clerics say Allah wishes).

In Egypt, there are secularists and Islamists.  Some see modernity as the curse and others see the Koran as positive if balanced with western dress and technology.  The poor, like the poor everywhere, want bread and a place to live.  The young want jobs and then they will worry about Islam (isn’t it, Allah helps those who help themselves?).

Many Egyptians distrust the US and envy the paternalistic approach US foreign policy has taken.  On the other hand, those who hold the strings of power realize that US aide is essential to keep Egypt from blowing up in civil war.  The US quietly supports the Egyptian military and the military hold the reigns of power (new type of democracy?).

The intrigue of establishing an interim Egyptian government and the squashing of the inevitable street demonstrations will fill front pages and evening news reports for weeks to come.  Lost in this attention will be the gradual Assad consolidation of power.  The justice or lack there of concerning the continued rule of Assad will be lost.  Many Americans have thought it just sounded so right to want the insurgents to over throw a minority government.  Hmmm.

My guess is that when President Obama goes to sleep at night, his pragmatic mind dreams of Egypt finding some stable compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and an Islamic but religiously impotent government.  More of what Mubarak brought but this time without Mubarak.

Instead of counting sheep, President Obama thinks of Syria settling down with Assad at the helm.  This outcome is not ideal since there will continue to be Iranian influence (fueling Hezbollah for mischief in Lebanon and Israel) but the Sunni religious extremists who populated much of the insurgents don’t portend a great future either.  The President dreams that Iraq is too complex to even worry about, but an insurgent victory in Syria almost certainly would foretell of new Sunni versus Shiite trouble in Iraq.

What a mess the Middle East seems to be.  If there was anything in modern experience which is reminiscent of “pandora’s box”, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq certain makes my list.  Oh, for the good old days.


Looking Around Corners

June 18, 2013

New York Times columnist David Brooks said, in evaluating President Obama’s policies toward Syria (and maybe NSA spying), that the American people want a President who can look around corners and tell America what the government should be doing.  Brooks was contrasting President Obama’s tendency to quote poll numbers when saying why he was pursuing a certain course of action.  Hmmm.

I agree most people prefer a leader who is brave, bold, and right in his/her judgement.  From my earliest days with the cowboy hero who wore a white hat, I plus all America have been conditioned to respect leaders who do the right thing no matter what the mob thinks.  (I am not as sure about the impact of the modern “super heros”, however.)

“Looking around the corner” presupposes the “looker” sees things correctly.  I wonder whether Brooks thinks “W” and Dick Cheney saw very clearly around the corner when they elected to invade and occupy Iraq?  There are huge responsibilities that go with doing the un-obvious.

In the Clinton years, “triangulation” was popular.  Clinton would float an idea or policy position and see how the polls reacted.  If favorable he continued, if not, he floated a new idea or variation.  It was pretty clear that getting reelected was priority number one for Bill.

This proposition is also complicated by estimating what “no action” will bring.  Our media tells us, “only America can do it”.  Using Iraq as an example there can be few clearer examples of letting the genie out of the bottle.  Once out, it is extremely hard to predict what will happen, and usually it can be impossible to get the genie back in.

Many argue that had the US should have gotten involve in Syria sooner, thousands of lives might have been saved.  Maybe.  But maybe not.  Those fighting the Syrian government have yet to explain clearly how things will be different should the insurgents win.  If the rest of the Middle East is relevant, we should expect hard line Islamists to use the polling box as a tool to gain control and push everyone else out.  Once with control, the Islamists (depending upon whether they are Sunni or Shiite) will move to populate the military and the government with their supporters.  In the end, the “today have nots” will become “tomorrow’s haves” and “today’s haves” will become the “have nots”.  Simple but totally unpredictable.

When one looks back at the folly of Cheney’s Iraq War, one normally thinks of the many US dead and grievously wounded and the tremendous cost.  There is another unrecognized cost.  Iraq was not broken and had “W” had the fortitude to wait, the balance of power between Iran and its natural enemy Iraq would made the Syrian situation play out differently.

With Hussein still in power (and our no fly zone still in place), the US would have been much freer to pick a side amongst the Syria insurgents.  Today all that can be seen “around the corner” is that sunnis are just waiting to kill shiites and those insurgents most likely to win will be unsavory and become our new “friends”.

Maybe David Brooks is wrong.   Maybe President Obama did look around the corner and didn’t like what he saw.


Erdogan’s Problem

June 12, 2013

Fighting for front page attention are the demonstrations and the Turkish government’s response.  Protesters have been driven from Taksim Square after riot police applied sufficient force.  Erdogan has not been asleep while Tunis, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria enjoyed the Arab Spring.  Erdogan is not going to let these protests get out of hand.  Or have they already?

The Turkish cause is much different than that of those other uprisings.  Erdogan caused this one and he can fix it.

Turkey lies between Europe and the Middle East.  Within its borders reside very wealthy, very poor, Christians, Muslims, educated, not educated, progressives, and conservatives.  A true mixture and probably not a melting pot.

Strategically, Turkey is an important US ally.  It’s secular history (since the founding of modern Turkey) brings needed balance to the more conservative Islamic States which lie nearby.  Turkey has also maintained a supportive position towards Israel unlike its neighbors.

So why all this fuss?

Prime Minister Erdogan has been democratically elected three times and seems to want to be elected again.  Unfortunately along this path, he has appeased the conservative Muslim faction (in return for votes) with “small step by small step” hoping to reintroduced Ottoman Empire relics.  Each step seemed insignificant but in total are threatening to swallow the secularness of modern Turkey.

Last August, following Ramadan, during the two day national holiday, I witnessed in Istanbul, modern Turkey.  Everywhere one went, thousands of citizens, dressed in their best, were out and about.  Mosques, museums, parks, the Golden Horn, and public transportation were flooded with holiday enjoyers.  Dressed neatly in both western garb and traditional modern ethnic Muslim coverings, the Turks I saw were polite and respectful.  They were able to enjoy the holiday and demanded nothing of me or any other Western visitor.

The ironic aspect of Erdogan’s pro=Muslim policies (like with alcohol limits, dress, and women’s rights) is that in secular Turkey, 99% of the citizens are Muslim.  No one is required to drink alcohol or wear western dress (even though most men do).  Traditional dress for women, long skirts or pants, kerchiefs, and modest blouses and coats can be seen everywhere.

It is one question why, as a personal choice anyone would seek to reintroduce ultra conservative muslim dress, but the more telling question is why would Turkey step back in history by allowing Islamic clerics to specify what others should wear?

If Erdogan is to be remembered as a great leader, he will take this Taksim Square demonstration as a wake up call.  Young, modern, and entrepreneurial Turkey is saying “enough”.  Supporters (and there are plenty) tend to be the far less educated.

The loss of secularism will deal Turkey a severe economic blow and cement Erdogan as the anti-Mustafa Ataturk anti-hero.

The Syrian Slide

April 29, 2013

What to do about Syria?  Around Washington, that is the seemingly most urgent question.  Should the US stand back and provide only humanitarian aid, or should we take a more active role?  And, although this is not being asked openly, which side should the US support?

A “red line” has been drawn around the Syrian Government’s potential use of chemical WMD.  The President has said if Syria used them against their own people that would change the calculus.  Hmmm.

So now there are reports of chemical weapons being used.  What is the proper response for the US?

Fortunately, the Obama Administration is not being stampeded.  The evidence of chemical weapon use has been provided by the insurgents and not verified by independent sources.  But even if the reports are true, it is not known whether this was a Government approved action or the work of a “few bad apples”. (Heard that before?)  The US response would depend upon knowing this.

There must be a humanitarian aspect intermixed in the US decision.  Syrians are dying and there seems no pending end to the conflict.  Some argue that the West should intervene and at a minimum establish a “free zone” where insurgents could reside in some form of safety.  Hmmm.

Here are the two most likely bad options.

  1. The US could support the insurgents and tip the balance of power.  An insurgent government would come into power, draw up a constitution, and most likely fall into the Muslim Sharia Law orbit.  Most likely too would be the dominance of Sunnis and a real bad time for Alawites and all non-Sunnis. (Look at Iraq today where Shiites hold the power.)   We should expect nothing that much different from what has transpired in Egypt or Libya.
  2. The US could support the Syrian Government (read Bashar al Assad) and make the bet that predictability and stability are the best both the Syrians and the rest of the world could hope for at this time.  Killings would continue but soon would be replaced by a Syria-wide police State.  Doesn’t sound like democracy but the killings would fall dramatically.

Americans’ gut reaction is to help the insurgents against a despotic regime.  It just feels like the right thing to do.  Unfortunately that option, to be successful, presupposes an insurgent government that thinks like the US founding fathers.  Not going to happen.

So let’s take a deep breath.

“We the People…” when applied to the broad area from Tunisia to Afghanistan is composed of relatively poor people saddled with a religion whose tenets make little or no sense in the modern world as we know it.  The utter absurdity of Sunni killing Shiite or vice versa says it all.  Pile on the preference for religious law above secular law, the clownish treatment of women in public in contrast to their “sex slave” status in the home indicates also that these people are not ready for anything that we recognize as democratic.

And the most important point, it is neither our duty, or our right to tell anyone what their religion should be or should advocate.  That is their choice as it is our choice to live as we do.


This suggests that a cold war foreign policy of “containment” might be the best policy for the West.  Let’s let these Muslim countries work things out their way.  Contain their life styles to the greater Middle East and their foreign policies and behavior, especially countries like Iran to other Muslim countries.

Maybe in another 500 years, these countries could rejoin the rest of the world.